Sunday 30 January 2022

Turning off the SNP ventilator


As Mr Putin lines his tanks up along the border of Ukraine, it remains to be seen whether he will use them to invade or whether he is merely bluffing. But whether he invades or doesn’t there is a cost involved in all these tanks and soldiers being kept there. There is financial cost, but there are other costs too. The focus of the Russian government at the moment will be almost exclusively on planning what to do or not do with these tanks.

So too as Nicola Sturgeon moves her metaphorical tanks once more to the border with England ready at a moment’s notice to create an international border, there is a cost involved whether she is seriously intending to hold an independence referendum during 2023 or indeed if she is bluffing.

The SNP intends to hold a vote in the Scottish Parliament on an independence referendum. Sturgeon also will appoint a group of civil servants to come up with another independence plan. There is a cost to this, though given that the civil servants are employed by the British taxpayer it may not be paid by the SNP. But the more important cost is that Sturgeon and every other SNP MSP will be focussed this year and next on doing what they can to at least give the impression that they are planning for an independence referendum.

It may well be the case that they are doing nothing of the sort. It is very hard to get at what is really going on in the minds of people like Sturgeon. There are few if any leaks. It may be that she is as keen as the most fanatical Scottish nationalist to have a repeat of 2014 as soon as possible. It may on the other hand be the case that she keeps promising a referendum next year without seriously thinking that there will be one. But the cost to Scotland is the same.

Just as the Russians cannot easily be getting on with helping Russia recover from the effects of Covid on the Russian economy, while they have their tanks on the border of Ukraine, so too Sturgeon attention will not be on helping the Scottish economy to recover from Covid, but rather on constitutional issues.

She may claim that she can focus just as much on helping Scotland recover while planning to separate it from the UK, but she is frankly looking rather tired and the SNP and its followers can only really ever get enthusiastic about one issue and that issue is neither schools nor hospitals.

The Scottish economy has been rather more damaged than some other parts of the UK because Sturgeon when faced with a choice always chose the most restrictive option. She is not going to change. If there is a new wave of Covid later in the year, we can expect her back on the TV telling us what to do. She plans for us to be compelled to wear masks for years.

But Sturgeon promised that there would not be an independence referendum until the pandemic was over. How can the pandemic be over if we are still forced to wear the masks that began wearing a few months after the pandemic began? Either it is safe to go the shops without a mask or it is safe to hold an independence referendum. Alternatively, we must conclude that wearing masks is not about preventing the spread of illness, but rather about Sturgeon retaining control over the Scottish public.

There is uncertainty at the moment about how Covid will develop. There is also uncertainty about areas of the economy such as tourism and hospitality. Many of us are going to continue working from home at least some of the time and the SNP wishes to encourage this as it will cut down the use of fuel for transport. But this is already a very radical change to the nature of work. It will have consequences for property ownership of offices in cities. It will have consequences for busses and trains and for shops and pubs in city centres.

The SNP then wishes to add to one of the greatest uncertainties facing the Scottish economy in decades, the uncertainty about whether we will still be part of the UK in a few years. This is a rather riskier adventure than even Putin’s tanks invading Ukraine, because there is little doubt that Putin will win in the end at least in the short term.

It is hard to imagine a worse time for Scotland to choose to be independent. The Scottish economy depends on a ventilator controlled from number 11 Downing Street in order to stay alive. It pumps in pounds and Sturgeon spends those pounds while planning to switch off the ventilator. Perhaps the civil servants writing their cunning plan will tell us where they are going to get those pounds after the switch off. Perhaps they might also tell us if an independent Scotland would intend to pay back the money that kept us alive.  

Until the SNP has a credible plan for how it would replace the money Scotland now receives from the UK Treasury, then the only honest civil servant plan must conclude that independence would make us all massively poorer. By all means ask the Scottish people in a referendum “Do you want to be poorer?”. It could even have a Yes/No answer and we could have it next month rather than next year.   

But until intelligent informed Scots can credibly view independence as at least economically neutral, we must conclude that Sturgeon is bluffing. She will know that her civil service report would be analysed during a campaign not merely by independence supporters, but by the best economic minds in the country. If it fails to make a credible case for switching off the economic ventilator, then it is highly likely that the Scottish electorate will vote to continue breathing.

But we all have to go through the charade of the next year because Sturgeon is controlled by Scottish nationalist voters who would prefer choking on their own phlegm and dying in a free Scotland to our sharing a country with English people.