One of the good thing about unionists is that they’re committed. And when the more thoughtful ones—of which I cheerfully admit there are many—pester you with questions, they are often questions deserving of not just an answer but a fair bit of pondering and self-examination in order to supply that answer.
One such epiphany happened this week on Twitter, when a particularly terrier-like series of questions revolved around the presumption that Scotland would do better on its own just ipse facto, quite apart from any other factor. That wasn’t quite what I had asserted. I had been claiming that Scotland was, on balance, prospering even now:
“Taken as a unit, all of it is: Tower Hamlets is a basket case but next-door Canary Wharf & the like make London boom.”
But this wasn’t good enough for my correspondent:
“The parts not engaged in successful industry are not doing so well. Edinburgh & Aberdeen prosper. I’m more of a Michael Porter / John Kay kind of guy. The focus should be on industries & regions rather than national borders.”
This is a thought-provoking point. Do we, in our political fixation with where laws and cultures run, get fixated on boundaries that make little sense in a global economy where raw materials, factories and customers are scattered across the globe. The Nation State is dead: long live the Multinational?
Back in the Seventies, I read The Sovereign State of ITT, a non-fiction portrait of how Harold Geneen created a continent-spanning monster out of the non-American segment of AT&T. Back then, it appeared only a matter of time before GM, IBM, Macdonald’s, Disney and other darlings of Wall Street took over the Third, as well as First, World. Now I don’t believe my correspondent was necessarily a fan of such philosophy but he did dismiss the relevance, if not the importance, of sovereign states.
But I would contest that. While there are certainly enough cases of states running their own affairs running them into a wall, this is not the norm. Certainly Africa offers a rich suite of examples how not to run a country and other parts of the world are no better. Mighty and elusive though multinationals may appear, there are sharp limits to what they can achieve without the active co-operation of the countries in whom they do business. Entire sectors get nationalised, tax regimes are adjusted and it’s not at all clear that multinationals do have the whip hand.
But let’s look at how well sovereign states do as units to better the lot of their inhabitants. You might think that most countries in a demographic grouping, such as Europe would do pretty much the same, with the ‘big’ countries dominating, the odd specialist like Switzerland alone being able to break the mould of ‘big is better’. You’d be wrong.
Taking a long view to iron out the vagaries of war, recession, oil shocks, etc, let’s look at European countries from a GDP purchasing power parity perspective (PPP—an accepted way of comparing economic apples with apples). The chart below is pretty self-explanatory.
This provides an interesting picture. Major European countries have done well for their citizens, providing GDP growth of 1000% and more over the century. The UK is actually the worst at 879%, this can be explained by the UK being the world’s largest economy at the time and therefore other countries’ later growth would be likely to exceed it.
Most interesting of all are the countries that barely existed 100 years ago. Norway had just recently asserted its independence from Sweden in 1905; since then it has come on a whopping 4,409%. Finland would break from being a province of Imperial Russia during the mayhem of their revolution in 1917, after which it has managed 3,030% growth.
But the star performer is Ireland. After being a surly and fractious component of the United Kingdom for 121 years, it was granted independence in 1922 by an ill-tempered still-imperial/imperious Britain that sought to retain Ulster and thereby kept the most surly and fractious component.
Ireland did not prosper in its early years. Having little industry and few obvious natural resources, it suffered endemic migration of its best and brightest for over a generation until they joined the EU and played a shrewd hand of being an English-speaking manufacturing and distribution hub within the EU boundaries that played to those same multinationals we discussed above.
The rest, as they say, is history. Since the 1980’s when Ireland wrong-footed a slew of British development agencies at this game, in the 30 years since they have caught up with and surpassed anything other countries have achieved in a century with an out-of-the-park score of 10,100%.
While none of the three top countries and necessarily templates for what Scotland could achieve post-2014, it is up to the unionists to explain how staying a part of Britain slices to 1/10th the growth in wealth that the people of Ireland experienced by leaving—not staying—in this Union.