Who You Calling ‘Foreign’?

I often wonder at the genuineness of unionist ‘confusion’ at what Scotland being a normal country would involve. Every other day another academic is dragged out from some ivory tower to furrow his distinguished brow over whether the sun could still rise over Britain if it contained two countries or a businessman frets that ‘separation’ would damage bulk-buying of stamps and could hurt profits.

Let’s leave aside that 100+ countries have become independent since 1945, half of them smaller than Scotland and that not one is clamouring to lose its independence. More specifically, Eire, despite a worse depression than the UK has suffered and a property market that has lost 50% of value did not come begging to reverse the 1922 treaty that set up the Irish Free State. Why?

Congenital naysayers like Jim Murphy had their fun coining the phrase ‘Arc of Insolvency’ when places like Eire and Iceland, both riding the credit wave of the mid-noughties for all they were worth, were hammered worse than the UK when the recession hit. Icelandic banks tumbled, along with Irish property magnates and the austerity imposed dug deeper there than here. So, that’s the lesson then—poor wee places like that can’t make it? Tosh!

Having hugely overstretched itself in the banking sector (the three government-owned banks that failed once owned assets 10 times Iceland’s GDP) the Financial Times says Iceland is “emerging from the shadow of 2008“. Meantime, in contrast to both Britain and the EU’s shrinking economy of 0.1% and 0.3% respectively, the Irish managed 0.9% growth last year and is on-track for the same in 2012. Not only are they not insolvent but both made a better fist of dealing with the crisis and with much less fuss and long-term damage than the £200bn ‘quantitative easing’ fest at the heart of Osbonomics.

So, smirk Mr Murphy but your boss of the time, Mr ‘Prudence’ Brown pillaged pension funds, invested squat in the future, spent beyond our means on social programmes, threw the FSA to the wolves of Canary Wharf and muffed the Northern Rock warning signal before running into the HBOS/RBS fiscal brick wall that made Iceland look like a playground lunch money heist. Allow me, for the first time, to quote yesterday’s blog because it is relevant here:

“The most recent expenditure and revenue figures for 2010/11 show that Scotland accounted for 9.3 per cent of UK public spending, but 9.6 per cent of UK tax revenue, and that our 9.6 per cent of UK tax was generated with just 8.4 per cent of the population.”

In other words, Scotland’s starting to look more like our recovering neighbours than the floundering economy that we are currently yoked to. The arc of prosperity is returning and we are prevented from being a part of it. Ah, but we’ve only touched on two of the countries that made up the original arc: what about our three Scandinavian northern neighbours? The contrast with the UK becomes embarrassing:

  1. No Scandinavian bank came close to failing (they had strict regulation: FSA take note)
  2. No Scandinavian country fell into recession
  3. Sweden and Denmark rank 3rd and 4th on the scale world economic competitiveness
  4. Norway’s oil fund (now passing £200bn) is the world’s biggest single financial reserve

All this has been done with the most generous welfare state on the planet and with standards of living and qualities of life that are surpassed only in dot-on-the-map financial havens like Liechtenstein, Monaco and the Caymans. It’s not that the Arc of Prosperity is back: it actually never went away. It just suits unionists to bubble on about the Euro crisis and Greek instability because it makes the British fiscal failure look good by comparison.

But, even if Scotland’s doing better than its southern cousins and looks like it might fit in the arc, how could we afford to dismantle the UK state, shoulder all the burdens that are currently carried by it and not drown in debt? Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that we want a world presence comparable to Eire. How would that work?

There are around 500,000 civil servants in Britain. Assuming we’d need 8.6% of them to run our 8.6% of the UK population, that’s a chunk of change—probably around £1.2bn. But we’re already paying for them with the 9.6% of tax revenue we send south (see above). Two issues to resolve is whether equivalent economies of scale are possible at our reduced size and just how the Department of Work & Pensions or the MoD or whatever could be sensibly partitioned. Given that avoiding that being disruptive would take time, there is no reason why Scotland could not contract with England to run parts of its civil service in the interim while the trickier ones (e.g. HM Revenue) are sorted out.

Let’s face it, Canada, Australia and New Zealand all made peaceable and almost unnoticed transitions to full independence. Australia, independent in 1900, kept the pound until post-WW2 with no ill effects to anyone. Much gnashing of teeth has met the idea of Scots keeping the pound because “we’d have no control over the currency“. Given the fact that Sterling interest rates are controlled by the Bank of England and set mainly in the interests of the London area, you have to ask what difference this would make. Having the same currency as our main trading partner simply makes sense.

Our place in the world, if modeled on Ireland, would involve about 170 embassies and consulates but, since we already own a 8.6% stake in the 200+ UK ones, its should be relatively straighforward to negotiate for a presence in those where we wished to be and invest in new premises where it made sense to do so. Embassies would only be part of the negotiations to apportion assets. Clearly the English would be getting the bulk of the deal and might therefore wind up buying us out of areas of Whitehall, Salisbury Plain, Chatham, Portsmouth, GHQ, etc.

Whether we’d want to make a stink about far more than 91.4% of motorway being in England would depend how hard-nosed they were about 90% of North Sea oil coming to us and how much they were prepared to pay to keep Faslane, as well as the Cape Wrath and Benbecula ranges. The point is that it’s in both our interests to make it as painless as possible. Trains will cross the border carrying grannies to see their grandchildren, just as before; the BBC will broadcast Eastenders as well as River City; there need be no more antagonism than we witness before a Calcutta Cup match.

Let’s face it, the transition of three-quarters of your day-to-day services like education or NHS to Scottish Parliament control in 1999 went largely unnoticed at the chalk-face, The distant bureaucracy of benefits, taxes, pensions, defence, foreign service, etc will be noticed even less. All of it need not happen overnight and there are over 100 recent examples to study how it can best be done.

From then on in the great and civilised land that is Englandshire, the Jocks will join the Paddys as visiting cousins rather than foreigners (whether the Taffys wish to make such a move will be up to them). You will notice that there IS no shorthand word for the English: given their dominance in Britain—and the continued cultural oblivion that has always gone with that—we on the Celtic fringe will simply have to shrug, smile and accept that even full political autonomy will be no proof against the ongoing family tyranny exerted by your big brother even after you leave home.

About davidsberry

Local councillor, tour guide and database designer. Keen on wildlife, history, boats and music. Stood for the Scottish Parliament 2011; lost by 151 votes.
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