Thursday 16 June 2022

Chopping off the Scottish branch


The SNP apparently wants “independence in the modern world” as opposed to independence in the ancient world or indeed in the world of the distant future. It wants Scotland to be wealthier, happier and fairer, but these would be changed little by independence.

My wealth depends on the job that I do, what I inherit or my luck in winning a lottery. It therefore depends on my ability, my education and how hard I work. My wealth only depends on the Government if I depend on it also. Some people are born more intelligent than others. They are more likely to get better qualifications and better jobs, but the SNP cannot eliminate this unfairness and nor can make everyone earn the same unless it plans to create a Scottish Soviet Socialist Republic.

One person can be happy with few material possessions, while another can be depressed while owning millions. Scottish nationalists would be happier if Scotland were independent, but the rest of us at least for a while would be unhappier. But Governments don’t make us happy and nor for that matter does political independence. A fulfilled life, with family and friends will do more for your happiness than Sturgeon can ever do whether you believe in independence or not.

While Pro UK people are continually accused of being negative about Scotland, Scottish nationalists are allowed to be negative about the UK. The SNP compares the UK with a variety of small European countries such as Denmark, the Netherlands and Austria and lists the ways in which the UK does worse. The implication is that if only Scotland were to leave the UK it would immediately and rather magically become like them.

But this depends on statistical slight of hand. On some measures the UK does perform worse than places like Denmark, on the other hand the UK has the second largest economy in Europe behind Germany. Large economies have certain advantages and disadvantages as do small economies.  

Gibraltar has a higher GDP per capita than the UK, but this does not mean that if you give a peninsula with a rocky outcrop in the West Highlands of Scotland independence that it will become Gibraltar complete with monkeys.

Germany has a lower GDP per capita than Denmark, but to suppose that if Germany split into its formerly independent states such as Saxony, that they would automatically become like Denmark is preposterous. No account would be taken of the costs and disadvantages of breaking up Germany.

If the UK is doing worse than some of our neighbours, this is an argument for introducing economic policies that will allow us to make more, sell more and work more efficiently. It’s hard to imagine that partitioning Britain and creating an international border where none previously existed will contribute to this goal.

Each European country has strengths and weaknesses, but these are a matter of their history. Poland is less wealthy than the UK because it endured decades of communism. Switzerland is wealthy because of its unique political structures, its low government spending as a percentage of GDP and the quality of its banking. But the idea that Scotland could reproduce Switzerland without having Switzerland’s history is like saying Scotland could produce wine without having a climate like France.

If the UK is not doing as well as it ought, this is as much the fault of Scotland as anyone else. If four alcoholics are sitting on some steps drinking extra strong cider and they see a rich man going to work, it would be ridiculous for one of them to say I’m poorer than him because of you three I’m off and that will immediately make me rich.

There is no obvious way in which independence would immediately make Scotland richer.  We might decide to join the EU, but while that would allow us once more to be part of the Single Market, it would take us out of the UK’s Internal Market and create a regulatory and tariff border between England and Scotland.

The SNP has no obvious plan to make Scotland more competitive by lowering taxation and cutting public spending, because those are Tory policies. Instead, it sees independence as an opportunity to make Scotland more left-wing. This is supposedly the motivation of independence supporters rather than nationalism.

But neither being part of the EU nor increasing public spending has made Scotland wealthier before, so why would they make us wealthier after independence?

It was possible in 2014 to argue that Scotland would benefit from a greater share of oil revenues, but the SNP cannot benefit from oil that it refuses to drill for whether in secret oil fields or not. But what other resources are there in Scotland that would suddenly make us wealthier? The resources we have we are already using to generate wealth. It is not obvious how leaving the UK would increase them or make them generate more.

But the SNP argument is not really about wealth, or happiness or indeed fairness. Despite claims to the contrary, it is about nationalism. It is about why not Scotland?

This argument is similar to the “independence is normal” argument. It points to all of the independent countries in Europe and says to Scots if they can be independent why can’t we?

We are all fortunate to live in the UK. It could be more successful than it is. But it is still one of the wealthiest countries in the world with a higher standard of living than most of Europe. We have a long and successful history in which Scots as much as anyone else have achieved great things. Why would you want to destroy that? To become Luxembourg?

You might just as well become one of Europe’s poorer countries that the SNP ignores such as Armenia, Moldova, Portugal or Romania.

The disadvantages of leaving a post Brexit UK are now so obvious that only a nationalistic argument could justify it. Why would anyone want a hard border between England and Scotland with trade barriers except for a nationalistic argument?  Scotland would have to start life outside both the UK and the EU, which is more likely in the short term to turn us into Chad than Denmark.

But independence is normal and “why not Scotland?” keeps chipping away at the Scottish psyche and dares us to leap into our pot of gold if only the sun will keep shining through the mist and the showers.

But the independence is normal argument is completely false. There are 27 members of the European Union. Why couldn’t Scotland make 28? But each of these 27 states is itself made up of formerly independent countries. Sometimes dozens of them. It is perfectly normal for the former Kingdom of Burgundy to be part of France. It is equally normal for East Germany to be now part of Germany.

If it were normal for formerly independent states to secede, then we would have an independent Vermont, a Free Territory of Trieste and a Free City of Danzig. We would also for that matter have a Kingdom of Strathclyde and the Lord of the Isles.

It is as normal for a Burgundy to be now part of France as it is for France to be independent. While the SNP might ask “Why not Scotland?” this same question could be asked equally logically of Prussia, Fermanagh, Sicily or Alsace.

Scotland in European terms is not remotely unusual. We should not be comparing ourselves with Denmark or the Netherlands. We have not been like them for hundreds of years. We have been part of a whole and have evolved with it. It would damage both France and Burgundy if the latter were to leave, not least because they have been intertwined for centuries. To suppose that Burgundy could become like Denmark by leaving France, would appear to people in Dijon as downright peculiar. It would be to ignore how the economy of Burgundy is so interconnected with the rest of France that to pretend to their being benefits from separation would be like supposing chopping of a branch would help its leaves to grow.

Chopping off the Scottish branch of the UK tree would damage the tree, but it would be as nothing compared to the damage to the branch on the ground hoping that it can now grow Danish leaves.