By Mark McNaught
Any notion that Scotland is ‘too wee and too poor’ to be prosperous upon independence was demolished last week month when former Chancellor Denis Healey admitted that the Labour government of the 1970’s deliberately lied about the wealth of Scottish oil reserves to discourage Scottish nationalism.
This comes simultaneously with Newsnet Scotland publishing the 1974 McCrone Report, which documents how keenly aware Westminster was of Scotland’s potential prosperity, and the lengths to which they went to obfuscate the truth and prevent Scottish devolution.
Among other cynical findings:
“An independent Scotland would tend to be in chronic surplus to a quite embarrassing degree and its currency would become the hardest in Europe, with the exception perhaps of the Norwegian kroner. Just as deposed monarchs and African leaders have in the past used the Swiss franc as a haven of security, so now would the Scottish pound be seen as a good hedge against inflation and devaluation and the Scottish banks could expect to find themselves inundated with a speculative inflow of foreign funds.”
Every succeeding UK government has upheld this mendacious tradition, including Prime Ministers, Chancellors, and MPs who are themselves Scottish.
Imagine if a ‘yes’ vote in the 1979 referendum for a Scottish Parliament had led to full independence a few years later. Imagine how Scotland could have developed with its full oil revenue, and the legislative power to distribute it fairly among the population to promote the common good.
Homelessness in Scotland could be non-existent. Labour unions could have been legally permitted to thrive and prosper rather than being decimated. Mass privatisation of Scotland’s wealth, patrimony, and public services could have been prevented, and revenue from public services could have been ploughed back into making Scotland a more egalitarian society rather than increasing ‘shareholder value’ for some investor.
All these years Scotland’s fortune has been chained to Westminster’s dysfunction and deceit. So much potential economic vitality has been wasted.
In the wake of Mr. Healey’s admission, Scots can begin to fathom what could have been if they had been allowed control over their own natural resources. Gavin McCrone, who conducted the 1974 report, himself held that Scottish GDP would be augmented by 20% if North Sea oil were included in its revenues.
Imagine what Scotland could have done with that 20%. Think how many painfully left Scotland for better opportunities abroad over the past decades; how many families were broken up because there were no opportunities at home. How many generations of Scots have had bleak economic prospects because of Westminster’s greed and deceit?
Once Scots begin to get over their justified rage at being lied to and short-changed for decades, they can better appreciate the bright economic future Scotland will have when they vote for independence.
Upon independence in 2014, fully benefitting from their own human and natural resources revenue, Scotland will have the capacity to become one of the most highly developed, best educated, egalitarian, and prosperous nations on earth.
More and better schools and hospitals will be built. Slums will be redeveloped. Investment will revitalize Scottish manufacturing. Highways and high-speed rail links will be built, and older infrastructure refurbished. Scots will no longer be limited by Westminster’s nearly exclusive focus on the South East and overall economic ineptitude.
However, it is vital that the newly formed Scottish state incorporate constitutional mechanisms to assure that this great wealth is directly invested in the improvement of Scottish society, rather than squandered to benefit the privileged few.
Anti-corruption provisions must be included in a written constitution that assure that moneyed interests will never be able to control and hamstring the government, as is so sadly the case in the United States. Scottish MP’s must uniquely serve their constituents; they must not become handmaidens to plutocrats who use the state as a means of enrichment. Strict campaign finance laws must help assure that the same corporate interests that infest Westminster will find unfertile ground in Scotland.
In short, an independent Scottish government must be hard-wired to serve and benefit all its citizens on an equal basis, for current and future generations. Only then will Scots be able to build a bright social and economic future in which all citizens benefit.
Over time, Scots will be imbued with a pride and confidence in what their country is economically capable of, rather than perpetually living in the grim shadow of Westminster.
Mark McNaught is a member of the Constitutional Commission and an Associate Professor of US Civilisation at the University of Rennes 2 France. He also teaches US constitutional law at Sciences-Po Paris.