Thursday 25 August 2022

Bail us out once more before we leave


There is an odd conjunction of events in Scotland. On the one hand we are still, I think, supposed to believe that there will be an unofficial referendum in October of 2023, on the other some Scottish nationalists are demanding that this winter there should be a second furlough to keep us warm. This means that these people will perhaps acknowledge that Scotland has needed the UK Treasury in 2008, 2020 and 2022 in order to keep going, but after October 2023 we will need it no longer. It’s an odd argument.

Why did the Treasury bail out Scottish Banks in 2008 and pay us 80% of our wages in 2020? It is because we are British citizens. Sturgeon makes the usual mistake of Scottish nationalists in conflating citizenship with geography. Her being British has nothing whatsoever to do with her identity and it has nothing whatsoever to do with Scotland being part of the British Isles.

When Sturgeon says she is “British” she is playing the same game that the SNP played in 2014. She is trying to argue that nothing much would change after independence, look I’d still be British. I seriously doubt that an independent Scotland would promote itself as being both British and Scottish. Irish citizens after all do not think of themselves as British and object to the term British Isles.

But what matters anyway is not whatever identity Sturgeon chooses to have, but what the reality would be. People living in Scotland can rely on the Treasury, not because of our identity or lack of it, but rather because we are whether we like it or not British citizens.

We owe an obligation to our fellow countrymen that we do not owe to anyone else. Most of us accept the principle that we pay taxes in order that the money raised is shared with other citizens. I pay for schools and hospitals even if I have no children and I am not sick. My taxes go to the unemployed even if I have always worked. But we do not expect our taxes to pay for French hospitals or the French unemployed. But Scottish nationalists never quite get to the stage of accepting that Scottish citizens would become like the French. British citizens would no longer have any particular obligation to help.

Sturgeon might or might not, I suspect the latter, feel British after separation, but it would be irrelevant what she felt, Scotland would no longer be part of the United Kingdom, indeed the United Kingdom would have ceased to exist. Those people living in England and whatever else remained would have no obligation to help Scotland, even if in 2024 or 2025 there was another crisis.

We have discovered again from the statisticians employed by the Scottish Government that financially at present our standard of living depends on our being British citizens. Scotland raises £221 per head less than the UK average, but spends £1963 per head more. After independence there might or might not be an immediate change of fortune. The successor to Amazon and Microsoft might be developed in Edinburgh and Glasgow. Scottish scientists might discover fusion power and then sell it to the rest of the world. But we can probably assume that in order to break even the Scottish Government would have to raise £221 pounds per Scottish citizen and spend £1963 less.

Let’s say energy bills this year will be £6000. If the Scottish Government wanted to furlough Scots on its own, it would have to borrow the £6000, but only after already cutting the £1963. Otherwise, it would have to borrow nearly £8000.

On top of this the Scottish taxpayer would have to deal with the initial costs of setting up our Brave New Scotland and would start life with no trade deal either with the EU or with the former UK, plus a hard border. The cost of borrowing for the Scottish Government would be higher, because it would lack its own currency, could not print it and therefore would be more at risk of default. So how much do we add to the figure of £8000? Do we add another two or three thousand per person or would it be more?

Most parts of the UK including most parts of England are subsidised by the Treasury. There is nothing wrong with this. It is not really England subsidising Scotland. England is not a sovereign nation state. There are no English citizens. Rather we have British citizens from wealthier parts, especially London, subsidising poorer parts.

But this only works if we really are British. I cannot expect taxpayers in one part of the UK to subsidise my standard of living if I don’t think they are my fellow countrymen. That would be like expecting the French to pay for my children’s schools.

Most of us accept that we pay taxes for things we don’t use at present, because when we are old, we might need hospital care or we might need benefits if we lose our job. But to expect someone to subsidy me now, when I intend to cease to be a fellow countryman is dishonest. Scots can only morally take out of the common pot if we are willing to pay into it later. But it is just this that Scottish nationalists intend not to do.

After independence Scottish taxes would not fund former UK schools or hospitals or pay unemployment benefits. Worse the SNP argues that the cost of furlough 1 and one assumes the cost of furlough 2 should not be paid by an independent Scotland. The SNP does not intend to accept a population share of the national debt, but rather will only make an annual payment as a contribution to the interest.

So, the Scottish nationalist argument is this. British taxpayers took on debts in 2008, 2020 and now will do so again in 2022 so that our banks did not go bust, our wages were paid and our heaters were kept warm, but in October 2023 we intend to vote to leave without paying back any of the money that was borrowed for our benefit.

Such an argument looks dishonest, but it also looks stupid. Because we are British citizens, every year we get around £2000 from the Treasury, which we don’t have to pay back. It enables us to offset the added costs of living in the Highlands and Islands and to make post-industrial Scotland have a higher standard of living than it otherwise would. But because we dislike Tories we will tell our British fellow citizens, that we don’t want to be fellow citizens anymore. We can manage on our own.

But if we really can manage on our own, why doesn’t Sturgeon first give up the £2000 per person, why moreover did she not say at the start of the pandemic that we don’t need your furlough and we don’t need your vaccine, because we want to be independent. If you want independence, first be as independent as you can be by living within your means and not asking for any furlough or any Barnett formula or anything else, then have your referendum.

Now two years after the pandemic started Scottish nationalists want Scotland to be bailed out again by the Treasury because otherwise, we will be cold. But what happens two years from now when we want furlough 3, but we’ve already voted for independence. No doubt we would expect British taxpayers to bail us out again, because Scotland would still like Ireland be part of the British Isles.

Help me, help me cousin Liz cried Nicola Queen of Scots as Scottish history is repeated as farce.