It’s not the size of what you’ve got; it’s what you do with it that counts
|February 14, 2012||Posted by Fraser Archibald under national|
For Hugh Oberlander’s economic arguments against Scottish independence, click here.
It is the question of what we as the Scottish nation do with ourselves that defines the debate on independence. What do we want from our country?
Currently with the Scottish National Party in the ascendant, and a referendum on the matter now promised sooner or later, by both the unionists and the nationalists, it seems that soon we will finally hear the voice of the Scottish people. As an advocate of Scottish independence, I’ll try to distil some of the arguments for this choice into the next few hundred words. In its simplest form, the reasoning for Scottish independence comes down to this:
The people who live in Scotland are the best people to make decisions about Scotland’s future.
Scottish nationalism is not about mawkish sentiment or braveheart politics any more than unionism is about nostalgia for empire or colonialism, although I do think more must be done by the London parties to shake that image.
In Scotland, we have many opportunities available to us. We desire a progressive country. We are achieving that in many respects already with the devolved powers available to us. These include government departments for Education, Health, Transport, Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Environment, Sport and the Arts, and Local government to name a few.
Devolution has served us well in Scotland. The Scottish government has introduced radical legislation such as the smoking ban (copied in England and Wales). It has taken exciting steps in land reform and made Scotland one of the leading lights globally in the fight against climate change. Such success cannot be understated. Not only is the parliament located closer to the people of Scotland, it is more accountable than Westminster: the Scottish parliament’s petitions commission considers every submission and all expense claims are publically listed. The Scottish parliament building may not be beautiful, but our representatives are responsive to the Scottish people’s needs and acts accordingly.
To some, this might sound like the ideal set up. Scotland looks to be able to act on the matters that affect the daily lives of the Scottish people. We are protected by the might of London- controlled military might, a military with the third or fourth largest budget in the world. We are part of Britain, a member of NATO, the G8 and have a squeak of a say through Britain’s seat on the UN Security Council.
The unionists will state again and again that this is a relationship, that to leave the UK would be to break it. The thing is, they miss the point.
A brief look back at our recent economic history is illustrative of why being independent does not mean that co-operation and collaboration will end. Many unionists continue to claim that the banking collapse highlights exactly why Scotland’s notions of independence are at the mercy of international markets, that Scotland could not “afford” to keep our national head above the mountains of debt arising from the bank bail outs.
Andrew Hughes Hallett, a professor of economics at the University of St Andrews, was the first economist to state: “By international convention, when banks which operate in more than one country get into these sorts of conditions, the bailout is shared in proportion to the area of activities of those banks. In the case of the RBS … roughly speaking 90% of its operations are in England and 10% are in Scotland.”
This, combined with the fact that across the water the governments of France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg joined forces to help the Fortis and Dexia Banks operating across their borders. Independence means that we can work together when problems require it, but will finally give us the real flexibility we need to address our economic challenges.
Hallett’s position was endorsed by other economists, including George Walker, a professor of international finance law at Queen Mary, University of London and also the University of Glasgow, and Andrew Campbell, professor of international finance law at the University of Leeds.
The union is not a relationship, at least not one of equals. The banking bailout highlights the magnetism that London, the seat of power, has. These so called “Scottish banks” have been drawn to London, the plughole of talent and industry that has drawn so many away from their homeland in Scotland. Canary Wharf has a lower corporation rate than Scotland. With such preferential treatment for the south-east of England, what can the periphery – not just Scotland – do to redress this balance?
We can step up, and promote our strengths and the opportunities available to us. Scotland is a well-resourced country. We are blessed with natural energy wealth from the wind and waves, as well as the oil that lies beneath our seas, which David Cameron recently admitted will continue to provide wealth to our country for at least the next 50 years.
It is not just our natural resources, however, that give Scotland opportunities. The human resources, the skills of our nation, also grant us opportunity in abundance. Scotland is leading internationally in the fields of biotechnology and digital expertise.
The simple fact is that independence would allow us to sidestep our national weaknesses and promote the areas where we have the ability to out-compete other economic units. This is the economic theory of comparative advantage – conceived by Adam Smith – and we need to act on it. London currently undermines our ability to do this.
Despite a vastly differing topography, demographic spread, climate, geology and distribution of mineral wealth, we cannot tailor our own policy as yet to grant Scottish opportunities the fulfilment of their promise.
Despite significantly different health issues and social problems, we as yet do not have the economic levers to significantly change the economic framework of Scotland, to grant the opportunity of work and success to all.
We are restricted from altering our tax regime further than the token “tax-varying powers” the Scotland Bill granted us. It is not just that we cannot act ourselves, but that we are frequently forced into actions which are actively against the Scottish interest. For example, we are tied into many of London’s misadventures that do not help the Scottish economy. Nuclear power might be necessary for the dense urban conurbations of England, but in Scotland, with a lower population density and superior renewable resources, we have the opportunity to create a cheaper, greener energy supply. Scotland’s finances should not be ploughed into the security and potential clean-up of an industry that would do naught but compete with our native advantages in wind, wave and tide.
There are a thousand examples of this.
Scotland has enjoyed a budget surplus in four of the last five years, and in each of the last financial years our financial position was stronger than the UK. But whether or not Scotland currently pays more or less into the UK treasury is a moot point.
What is not a moot point, however, is that as long as London’s focus remains on London – the seat of the 2012 Olympic games, the centre for the vast majority of defence procurement spending – then northern England, Wales, Cornwall, Northern Ireland and Scotland will all be disadvantaged. London should not receive such preferential treatment. The insular focus of British institutions on this city is detrimental to the rest of the UK body. Euro-scepticism is another symptom of the inward-looking perspective of the Conservative and little-England parties. Scotland, and I am sure much of the rest of the UK, would prefer and do better from a more outward-reaching government. When it comes to economics, a proactive stance towards the international community would be much more advantageous than the stand-offish one the Tories have currently adopted.
The vital reason for independence is that we could make choices which would help our country grow. The Scandinavian countries are all small and yet successful. They are successful due to the fact they are able to choose their own path. Scotland could do the same.
Much of the discussion about Scotland and her independence centres around unionist “scare stories” that health care or education would go downhill after independence. The unionists seek to create uncertainty about our future.
I will say now, however, that if the Union represents certainty then it is a dark one. The aggressive misadventures of London’s military into the world have cost lives across Britain, even across the globe, and billions have been spent on a mission of questionable success. Afghanistan and Iraq are less stable, with more potential for civil conflict than the antebellum period. Pakistan is destabilising. Britain spent at least £9.24bn in Iraq and £11.1bn in Afghanistan between April 2001 and March 2010 – and we’re still there and still spending.
If independence is uncertain, the certainty of London’s warmongering seems more worrying, and more certain. Even if London initiates no more military calamities, the sheer cost and content of our military sometimes has me baffled. For some time now, the Scottish parliament has questioned the retention of nuclear weapons by the London administrations. For some time, the Scottish people have asked: “Why do we need them? Whatever for?”
The simple, and straightforward answer is that we don’t.
Homer states “the blade itself incites to violence.” Damn right I’d say. It is absurd that a medium-sized state like the UK still insists on maintaining armed forces vastly out of proportion to its economic capability. The British armed forces are full of good, honest men and women. But the regularity with which they are sent to war by at times seemingly unthinking London politicians is tragic. Something is far from right in that situation.
It is unacceptable that nuclear weapons are housed in Scottish waters. Only Scottish sea lochs are deep enough to house these submarines – the shallower waters around England would leave them vulnerable to attack. Nuclear weapons have not made Scotland any more secure than other European countries that lack them. They cost huge sums to maintain, are unethical, and primarily I’d prefer to see those public monies spent on making sure our elderly citizens have better quality care homes, or our future generations have top of the range IT equipment in their classrooms.
I want my Scotland, my nation, to promote positive action – even if our national might is less than Britain’s aggressive power. More can be done to improve world security through promoting women’s rights (Scotland is already doing so in Malawi), or through developing distributed sources of renewable energy which can spur industry and economic success in rural areas of developing countries that might not have electricity connections. Through these means, and many other initiatives which increase access to opportunities, we will improve security. War and conflict will only create deeper scars.
We can do more for world security by being excellent at home than by kicking in doors across the Middle East. The abject failure of these excursions highlights why we need to be involved with UN peacekeeping missions, as opposed to trying to enforce Britain’s will on the world via the UN Security Council. The unionists say we would not be as well represented, but I would contest this. As an independent nation we’d gain much greater representation in the European Parliament (currently we have 6 MEPs; Ireland has 12), a voice in the World Health Organisation, but most importantly a voice for ourselves. Scottish independence is about re-starting conversation with the world; it is about re-joining the international community. At the moment we are cut off by a parliament that seldom speaks in our interest.
The Scottish parliament has shown it is a force for progressive politics. It is time for the Scottish people to choose positivity, to choose to contribute, to seek to stand on our own two feet, with friends, in the international community.
I state again: the people who live in Scotland are the best people to make decisions about Scotland’s future.