Update, 26/09/2020: The joke at the foot of this post, the pseudo-graph from pseudo Kevin Hague, has been picked up and republished by Munguin’s Republic, a lovely site with stunning nature pics, a strong but unencumbering commitment to Scottish independence, and jokes. Thanks, Tris, and best wishes in the ongoing struggle.
IT’S TIME for a brief look at GERS, the “Government Expenditure and Revenue in Scotland” report. The usual narrative is:
• Scotland has a deficit, because it spends more on public services than it raises in taxes.
• The UK funds that deficit by giving money to the Scottish Government (the “fiscal transfer”). This means that Scotland sponges on the UK.
• An independent Scotland couldn’t fund that difference.
All nice and clear, then – and all nice and falsely spun. Let’s look at those falsehoods.
Firstly, deficits are normal: all countries in the world have deficits, bar a handful of tax havens. What matters is whether a country’s deficit is “sustainable”. Having a deficit means that a country has to borrow money to spend on public services, and that means paying loan-interest. So it needs to generate enough revenue to cover the loan-interest. If it can do that, its deficit is “sustainable”. If it can’t, it isn’t.
The UK deficit goes up and down on a ten-year cycle, becoming a surplus in one or two years in each ten. Its economy generates enough revenue to meet its interest payments, so its deficit is sustainable. Virtually every country in the developed world has a sustainable deficit, unless its government is very silly. Scotland’s deficit too will be sustainable.
Secondly, it says above, the UK funds Scotland’s deficit by giving money to the Scottish Government, in a fiscal transfer. No, it doesn’t. There is no “fiscal transfer”, and no money changes hands. Scotland gets a block grant. But that “block grant” isn’t a grant at all: it’s simply the amount of Scottish Government spending that the UK will underwrite. The Scottish Government doesn’t have to spend it all, and in past years it hasn’t always; but if it spends more than the laid-down amount, Scottish ministers go to jail. The UK calls it a grant, but in fact it’s a cap.
Thirdly, Scotland covers its deficit by notionally borrowing money from the UK, and pays interest on that loan. Here is the line from GERS that tells us it’s a loan:
“Public sector debt interest” is the interest on the UK’s national debt, which is all the money that it’s borrowed since ever, less whatever it’s paid back up till now; this line shows Scotland’s share of that interest. Wrapped inside it is the interest Scotland is paying to fund its deficit (i.e. its shortfall for the current year). So the UK borrows money to fund Scottish public spending, and charges Scotland interest on the loan that the UK has taken out. This is normal and fair, and it means that the UK doesn’t pay for Scotland’s deficit. If the UK did pay for Scotland’s deficit, Scotland would be getting a free lunch, and free lunches don’t exist.
Scotland has no money of its own: all its tax revenues go directly to the UK, and the UK underwrites all its expenditure. Further, it has no borrowing powers: it “borrows” only from the UK. The Scottish economy, in short, is wholly controlled by the UK. Which leads us to:
Fourthly, why, after 300 years of economic integration, is Scotland so poor? Maybe it’s because its people are ineducable blockheads, whose only contribution to cultural life has been the work of Adam Smith, Francis Hutcheson, David Hume, James Watt, John Logie Baird and Alexander Broadie and the creation of four world-class universities. Or maybe it’s because the ineducable blockheads have recklessly wasted their natural resources, leaving Scotland, per head of population, with only one-and-a-half times as many farm animals as the rest of the UK, two-and-a-half times as much timber, twice as much cereal, six times the renewable energy (wind, wave and solar), and nine times as much hydroelectic energy. (Who could make a living out of that?) Or there again, it may just be 300 years of exploitation, under-investment and false accounting.
Let’s wrap this up with a graphic, so that it can be understood by even a prolix and repetitive blogger who nobody takes seriously any more:
A – Amount of Scottish deficit.
B – Amount that Scotland “borrows” from the UK, standing on a scaffold with both hands tied behind its back and its head in a noose.
C – Amount that an independent Scotland could borrow on the open market, so that it could elect the government of its choice, run its economy how it thought fit, and prosper like a normal country.
That title reminds me of a linguistic joke, so let’s get that over with:
New student at Harvard, seeing a clearly established student whom he can ask for information: “Say, is this where the library’s at?
Established student (snootily): “This is Harvard. We don’t end sentences with a preposition.”
New student: “Oh, I’ll rephrase my question. Is this where the library’s at, asshole?”
To the point, now. It’s been a long time since the Scottish independence movement has been anything other than murky, unpredictable, unbelievably baffling or just plain hopeless. However, things are beginning to turn the corner, with some upcoming dramatic events:-
- This coming Wednesday, it is said, Nicola Sturgeon will set out her response to BJ’s refusal of the request for a Section 30 order. This either will or will not contain a commitment to an indy referendum this year. It’s difficult to see how it will plausibly do that. But if it doesn’t, the SNP’s credibility will slide down by another notch.
- The background to this, and the basis of all SNP policy on independence since 2015, is their belief that independence can only be securely won with the consent of the British government; anything else will create too much division in Scotland, and too much risk of non-recognition abroad.
- An alternative explanation of the SNP’s conduct since 2015 is that they don’t in fact want independence – they want to stay in power and keep their jobs and perks for ever. Political life after independence will become much more difficult for the SNP, with their primary aim accomplished and the rise (let us hope) of a proper Scottish opposition.
- The Alex Salmond trial opens soon, and there’s open discussion among commentators that this will destroy the SNP. It will destroy the SNP because the accusations against Salmond are (commentators say) a stitch-up, and Sturgeon (they say) played a large part in setting that stitch-up up. She did this (they claim) to demolish a rival who wanted to take the party in a direction she didn’t favour. (The thought of the honest, open, red-headed wee wifie whose mouth butter wouldn’t melt in being revealed as a corrupt and self-seeking political turd is an unsettling one, until you remember Blair’s metamorphosis in just a few years from left-wing poster-boy to financial scammer and international war criminal.)
- A line of argument that might mitigate the SNP’s dishonesty is that their proposed direction – indy with consent – is truly the only viable one, but that this will take ten to twenty years. Their only dishonesty is that they haven’t admitted to that timescale.
- If the SNP is eviscerated by the Salmond trial, a new party will head the independence movement (let’s just assume it’ll call itself the Scottish Independence Party, for heaven’s sake!). It’ll be much more aggressive in calling out the lies of the mass media on Scotland’s economic and cultural strengths, and in challenging Westminster’s machinations to erode devolution. If the movement is eventually forced to go for UDI, it will be a UDI which Scottish voters are in favour of because they’ll have listened to all the arguments, and one for which international recognition has been prepared through diplomatic initiatives.
- This might not be far off. After January 31st, an EU that wanted Scotland to join it (because of its economic potential and cultural compatibility) would be able to twist the arm of the UK, because the UK will no longer be an EU member and the UK will want a trade deal.
The Scotsman doesn’t believe this last point: it reports that the EU has stated categorically that it will not readmit a Scotland that has separated from the UK without consent. What The Scotsman doesn’t say, however, is that the EU will twist the British government’s arm to give consent, and that will be the price of the trade deal. So there’ll be consent, and therefore indy. And the Northern Ireland settlement shows that BoJo does actually back down when he has no cards.
If you think this post is going to be a rant about unredeemable bigotry among those that fought under the butcher’s apron, think again. We need to be more nuanced than that.
My wife and I had an encounter with a non-indy person after the march, two Saturdays ago, as we were coming out of the Mitchell Library (ah, the arcane leisure pursuits of the Byres Road glitterati!). He’d been leaning on the balustrade by the kerb opposite the outside door, smoking, and walked across the pavement to speak to us, a bearded and tidily turned-out man in his twenties. “See this march,” he said, making eye contact. No doubt he’d noticed the SNP badge throbbing yellow on my lapel. “Ah don’t haud wi’ a’ that.”
We raised an eyebrow.
“See me, Ah’m a soldier,” he said. “Ah wiz sent by Blair and Bush to Iraq, and when I came back, there was no help of any kind for me. Naethin, not from the British Government nor from the Scottish Government. So these politicians, Ah don’t believe anything they say. That’s why I think this Home Rule is a’ mince.”
Home Rule is an endearingly old-fashioned way of describing what we campaign for (is that really what the British Army calls it?), but this wasn’t the moment to take up that point.
“They should have helped you,” I said. “Whether they’re Scottish or British, they’re the government, and they should have helped you.”
“Helped me!… Helped me!!!…..” He roasted them for their failure by producing a content-free stream of expletives, sullying the ears of my public-school-educated octogenarian partner. And with each expletive he reached out and touched her, apologetically, reassuringly, on the arm. “Sorry…sorry…” He really was contrite; they teach you manners in the British Army, and deference towards the posh elderly. “See, Ah fought for Britain. And this Union – it ain’t broke, so don’t fix it.”
My answer needed some thought. This Union is broken – England has exploited Scotland for more than 300 years, sucked the lifeblood out of it, and is still sucking benefit from the husk. But being a soldier is no joke, and someone who’s shown that level of commitment is not going to react positively when told they’re talking nonsense by some toffee-nosed tosser with an Oxford accent. So I discarded, “We never get the government we voted for,” and, “They’ve stolen all our oil,” and settled for, “This is a rich country. We have renewables, oil, water, agriculture. We could be much more prosperous that we are.”
He didn’t look convinced.
“It’s England that’s holding us back,” I went on, “because we don’t have the powers to develop our potential.”
That sounded vague and unconvincing to me even while I was saying it, and not surprisingly he still looked sceptical. But he hadn’t interrupted, so I went for the jugular. “Norway has a one-trillion-dollar oil fund. We could have had that.”
There was a lot of harrumphing, and objections I didn’t quite get, and more streams of expletives – all with the obligatory apologetic touches to the arm, of course. When it subsided, out came his summing-up. “See this SNP.” he said, “If we did this, would they be a good government?”
Gobsmacked, I tried to show no emotion. “Yes, of course.”
We parted on good terms.
Nice wee comment from Dr Jim on Wings over Scotland recently, about Scottish cultural practices:
Damn Scots insisting on being Scottish, they’ll be wanting to speak their own language next, dear God what’ll happen if they decide to drive on the wrong side of the road or do *all* their counting in centimetres
Yoon wummin/manny goes into a shop and says can I have 3LBS of Ayrshire potatoes please, the assistant says *It’s aw Kilos noo* Yoon wummin/manny says OK 3LBS of Kilos then
It’s the future
Trouble is, I can’t find this comment on the WoS website. I think it was time-stamped as 12:56pm on 1 March 2019, but there’s no post of that date in the WoS archives. But thanks to Dr Jim all the same.
It’s wrong to think that politicians are more hated now than they’ve ever been. Viscount Castlereagh was probably the world’s leading politician in the first 20 years of the nineteenth century, masterminding the recovery from the Napoleonic Wars, re-establishing the old elite and stifling aspirations of liberty throughout Europe. So it wasn’t unexpected that he should be savaged by Shelley:
I met Murder on the way,
He had a mask like Castlereagh.
and (of Castlereagh and his buddy Sidmouth):
Two scorpions under one wet stone…
Two vipers tangled into one.
Castlereagh, the epitome of stability and frozen power, committed suicide by cutting his own throat on 12th August 1822. Byron marked it with this epitaph:
Posterity will ne’er survey
A nobler grave than this.
Here lie the bones of Castlereagh:
Stop, traveller, and piss.
Our invective skills aren’t what they were. I blame the SNP.
Liked this response of Nicola Sturgeon to an awkward moment. And her self-deprecatory comment about a lot of people wanting to do the same shows a level of self-awareness and public engagement that not many politicians have. Good on the girl.
BBC video clip copied, tealeafed and duplicated from Munguin’s New Republic. Well done, Munguin!
Vile Blogger Stuart Campbell (Wings over Scotland), for whom I have a high regard, appears to be indisposed for a few days. So since I’m by profession a linguist, here’s a Scottish/English joke to cheer him up:
Queen Victoria, on a visit to the Highlands, after eating Stu (correction: stew [pun intended]): That was delicious. Tell me, what was in it?
Highland Clanperson: Och, weel, ma’am, there’s leeks intillit, and potatoes intillit, and…
Her Maj: Really lovely! And what, pray, is “intillit”?
Highland Clanperson: Och, weel, ma’am, there’s leeks intillit, and potatoes intillit, and…
The conversation could go on for ever – she’s asking about the meaning of the word “intillit”, and they’re telling her what’s in the stew. And that takes us on to
about two old besoms hingin’ oot the windaes in Auld Reekie (gosh, what a patronising choice of words!), of whom Dr Johnson said, “They’ll never agree. They’re arguing from different premises.” Indies and Yoons simultaneously beheaded at one stroke. And the mention of Dr Johnson takes us on to one of the founding fathers of the Scottish Enlightment, Francis Hutcheson, and
in which Hutcheson talks of passing a building-site where the builder’s chimney has accidentally fallen on him and killed him, and a cleric quotes somewhat tastelessly from the Bible with the words, “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord, for they rest from their labours, and their works follow them.” That’s why we need no Tories, but we do need Health & Safety!
Can somebody please get this tweeted to Stuart Campbell? Remember his official name on this site: Vile Blogger Stuart Campbell open brackets Wings Over Scotland close brackets, with capitals on each word.