In all this unseemly scrabbling for political lifebelts by the UK government as the rudderless SS Great Britain rushes ever nearer the Falls of Brexit, there is little manifestation of either the Dunkirk Spirit or the stiff upper lip or the unsinkable Jolly Tar who built an Empire with their bare hands and held on to it in its darkest hours. For that is not the Britain that the brexiteers are burning to create. What they seem to want is some global version of Del Boy— an amalgam of Canary Wharf with Open All Hours.
There is nothing wrong in creating well through enterprise. Capitlaising on the opportunity of Empire, Scots parlayed themselves into the richest country in the world in 1910. The IFS has now taken a jaundiced view of the Sustainable Growth Commission’s recent economic projections for an independent Scotland. They pours cold water on the likelihood of achieving such economic greatness again. In fact, they predict the need for commenting austerity for at least the next decade.
Is this all of which we are capable? A country that explored the world, invented the agricultural and industrial revolution, spawned successful countries like the USA, Canada and Australia, established the planet’s first lingua franca is reduced to a has-been with a penurious future? It is true the Great White Queen no linger paints the globe pink, that we no longer manufacture steel and shirts and ships for the world.
Have the Scots no option but to join in the traditional Tory dirge of “too wee, too poor”, sung to the tune of “Rule Britannia“? Hell, no!
Those Scots who have raised their eyes beyond the myopia of Little Englanders to how small countries like Norway, Ireland and Singspore have fared since parting with their colonial masters (in 1903, 1922 and 1961, respectively would learn that their first decade did not overflow with riches. But any plebiscite to return to the mother country held now would fail to gain any support. In fact, no countrry, once freed, has sheepishly asked for readmission.
Hardline Brexiteers want Britain out of the EU because they claim it will release trade and enhance affluence. But they are in a time warp when Britain still had the global clout to deal from a position of strength. Britain has no strong card to play in the poker game of global trade. But Ireland has parlayed EU bases for multinationals, Norway has parlayed oil, Singapore has parlayed Asian financial service and shipping hub into prosperity Britain now envies.
What Tories, the OBR, the IFS and other naysayers all assume is that an independent Scotland would simply continue as an unimaginative branch office of the sclerotic sate that Chancellor Brown led us into 1997-2010.
What if Scots revived the pride and entrepreneurial magic of a century ago and exploited similar niches. What if we made Weir Pumps into the global powerhouse for high pressure engineering that Apple is for smart electronics? What if we cornered the market on tidal and wave power, as well as wind? What if we exploited the imminent loss of the Arctic ice sheet by seeing Scapa Flow as the obvious trade trans-shipment hub for transpolar traffic to/from China?
What if, instead of wresting over the same inward-looking fixations as the English like waiting times, train punctuality and airport runways, we raised our eyes, not just to independence, but what we could DO with it? What if we tapped into the guts and vision of the Glasgow tobacco barons who made their city famous? What if we tapped into the imagination of ship architects who made the country famous? What if we said, politely, to our uncollegiate southern cousins: “thank you for three centuries of profitable and proud partnership but we are off to join the world again”.