The Union: An aberration? Part 2

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By Molly Pollock

Scotland’s education

Much maligned by Unionists, Scotland in fact has a well educated population – the percentage of Scots holding post-secondary school qualifications continues to be the highest in Europe. Our universities are ranked amongst the best in the world, we have a reputation for innovation and we are at the cutting edge of the industries of the future.

SNP: Scotland is ‘Europe’s best-educated country’ – https://www.heraldscotland.com/politics/19929900.snp-scotland-europes-best-educated-country/

Oh, but you’re too poor!

Whenever independence for Scotland is mentioned the first piece of negativity dragged out of the murky unionist closet is that Scotland is too poor, that GERS shows Scotland is heavily subsidised by England. GERS (Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland) is an annual estimate of the Scottish fiscal position, published by the Scottish Goverment though its figures are provided mainly by the UK Treasury. It provides a summary of how much revenue is raised in Scotland, how much the country pays for the public services consumed, and to what extent the revenues raised cover the costs of these public services. It takes the current constitutional arrangement as given.

So no matter what is said about Scotland’s current fiscal position GERS is a reflection of Scotland as part of the Union. Even so, there are those who rail against the figures, many of which are estimates. Richard Murphy, a British chartered accountant and political economist, has a video about GERS which is worth watching.

Under devolution Scotland receives a block grant from Westminster, and must balance its budget, though in recent years has only been told how much it will receive after its budget has had to be finalised. The Scottish Government is now allowed to borrow a small amount, whereas England has no such constraints – only that of the chancellor and his ultra Thatcherite politics. England has no block grant so just dips it’s fingers into the U.K. till for its spending money. Does that suggest a Union of equals?

Scotland’s so-called block grant, is a return to Scotland of some of the monies raised in Scotland through taxation. The Barnett formula is used by the UK Treasury to calculate the annual block grants for the Scottish Government, Welsh Government and Northern Ireland Executive. It therefore determines the overall funding available for public services such as healthcare and education in the devolved nations. The formula was first introduced ahead of the 1979 general election by the then Labour chief secretary to the Treasury Joel Barnett, whom the formula is named after. It was initially intended as a temporary solution for determining funding allocations between the UK’s nations, but has remained in use ever since.

Money is often spent and attributed to Scotland without discussion with our devolved Parliament. This is not a federal set up nor is it a sensible or sustainable devolved situation. It’s not the best of both worlds, it’s the most unsatisfactory, particularly now that the UK Government is determined to undermine the devolution settlement and override the Scottish Parliament, taking back powers. Scotland wants control over the money it raises and doesn’t want another government we didn’t vote for and whose policies we do not support, spending on our behalf, often for items or policies we do not agree with.

So instead of being able as an independent country to make our own spending decisions we are having them made for us, decisions which are not always appropriate to the direction Scotland is taking or to what is best for the people who live in Scotland or its economy.

Global Britain or underperforming Britain?

Far from world-beating Global Britain, the UK significantly underperforms compared to other northern European states. Data from the UK, ONS, EU and OECD all show falling standards of living and quality of life in the UK compared with our neighbours in northern and western Europe. The Nordic countries recovered from the 2008 financial crisis quicker than the UK which still has to factor in the horrific damage Brexit is causing to the economy and livelihoods.

According to the Spring Statement 2022 UK GDP grew by 0.9% in August-October 2021 compared to the previous three-month period (May-July). This compares to growth of 2.2% in the Eurozone in Q3 2021. The volume of UK retail sales decreased by 0.6%, house prices increased by 10.1% in the year to October 2021 and GfK’s Consumer Confidence Index, which measures consumer attitudes, was at -15 in December 2021. Not an encouraging state of affairs.

Economically, under the Union, Scotland fares slightly worse in some figures but often slightly better than many areas of Engand.

The UK figures are significantly skewed by the figures for London and the south-east where companies tend to be headquartered, where the financial sector has a big effect, and where spending on infrastructure has been concentrated. The number of businesses is low in Scotland, a reason why there is emphasis on this with the formation of the National Manufacturing Institute Scotland. Emigration in the second half of the 20th century deprived Scotland of many of those most likley to set up businesses, and Scotland is suffering the effects of that. Now there is Brexit sending many from the EU home as they can’t live in the hostile environment created by Pritti Patel. This has robbed Scotland of more entrepreneurs, and the ongoing hostility to refugees is not likely to help. An independent Scotland would have welcomed the positive contribution to our economy many of these people could have made.

Remember the quote in Part 1 about Margaret Thatcher’s legacy:

Manufacturing’s share of national income has fallen from a quarter when Mrs Thatcher entered Downing Street in 1979 to just over a tenth today.

In the wake of the Chancellor’s Spring Statement, Simon Jack, BBC Business Editor, tweeted:

The Chancellor’s recent Spring Statement has not been well received, seen to favour the wealthy and do little or nothing for those already struggling. Commentators are saying the Chancellor is inflicting the biggest drop in living standards since records began. Real misery lies ahead.

So the outlook isn’t looking rosy for the UK as a whole. Another reason why the UK government is desperate to hang on to energy-rich and resource rich Scotland. The mythical broad shoulders of the Union are twitchy and slumped. The next time a politician mentions those broad shoulders remember that for many people those mythical broad shoulders now mean poverty and an unending struggle to survive, the exception being the Tory party’s rich, often apparently Russian, friends. Scotland can, and must, do better than this.

In contrast to Sunak’s Spring Statement and his clawing back of the £20 a week additional paynent to those on Universal Credit, the Scottish Government’s Scottish Child Payment will double to £20 a week from April, with the payment then increasing to £25 a week by the end of 2022 helping to lift 50,000 children out of poverty. The Scottish Government also spends around £600 million every year mitigating some of Westminster’s policies, such as the bedroom tax, that have a huge impact on the less well off.

In case you believe matters under Westminster will improve in the coming years you might want to think again after reading this:

OBR Economic and fiscal outlook – March 2022

So, exports 15% lower with Brexit, which Scotland did not vote for, with productivity 4% lower after 15 years and none of the much lauded, much promoted free trade agreements having ‘a material impact’. Scotland can surely do better than this, it would be difficult to do any worse.

Differing priorities

Some people in England believe England pays for everything in Scotland – our free prescriptions, free university education and everything else – apparently unaware that, like them, people in Scotland pay taxes. All countries make choices about what money will be spent on and how much. Scotland has chosen to go down a Northern European route where money is spent on a social agenda, supporting people who live here and encouraging them to fulfill their ambitions. Ultimately this benefits individuals as well as the economy. A well educated, well trained, healthy and happy population reaps benefits for all.

What has been termed English exceptionalism blinds some people to the democratic right of people in Scotland to determine their own government and their own futures. Jacob Rees-Mogg said a few days ago to a Westminster parliamentary committee that he won’t pretend to respect the Scottish Government “because it’s led by an SNP administration that I think is not in the interests of the people of Scotland.” So Rees-Mogg is actually saying he doesn’t believe in democracy and doesn’t respect the Scottish people. He conveniently forgets, or wants to deceive people watching, that the SNP was returned to government less than a year ago with an overwhelming majority. The SNP MSPs along with the Green MSPs, with whom they are now in government, make up a substantial government majority in favour of independence. Let’s not allow Westminster and Unionists to con us over that.

When cabinet ministers can lie with such impunity then people have to ask themselves whenever he or she speaks whether anything said can be believed. Behind every quote that makes the headlines is an intention to mislead, to promote a right wing Tory agenda.

And for those who wondered why the UK Prime Minister often appeared not to be on top of his brief, making glaring mistakes in speeches, well it appears he relies on brief WhatsApp updates to keep him informed rather than bothering to read the papers in his red box.

Unfortunately there is misinformation and ignorance pedalled to people in England about Scotland. This is obvious on social media and call-in programmes. Some shrug and call the comments banter. Others believe it’s racism. Whichever, it could help explain the cringe, the inferiority compex that has haunted too many Scots for centuries.

This was on TalkRadio recently.

In England priorities differ, though as people near retirement some come to approve of Scotland’s different spending priorities and move north to avail themselves of our better staffed NHS, free prescriptions, care and bus travel as well as often lower living costs in a supportive and attractive environment.

The environment doesn’t just boost tourism, it is also a main factor in attracting businesses and overseas investment as employers look for highly educated, skilled workforces and places where there is an excellent quality of life to keep their employees happy. A competitive cost base, and supportive business environment also make global companies want to locate here.

Independence is normal

All these countries have gained their independence from the UK but we are led to believe this is impossible for Scotland. Few, if any, of these countries had the resources that Scotland has…certainly none of them had oil, gas, renewables and abundant fresh water on the UK’s doorstep.

The recent royal tour to the Caribbean has not gone as well as anticipated because of anti-colonialism protests and a few countries expressing the desire to become republics, with the Queen no longer head of state. More people coming to the conclusion that colonialism is outdated.

Independence has nothing to do with a dislike of our neighbours. We are all mongrels, many in Scotland have English relatives and family members who have relocated down south.

Independence has everything to do with wanting to take responsibility for our own lives – something Boris Johnson and members of his cabinet have been vociferous about recently in connection with the lifting of covid protections, and also with regard to Ukraine. In his speech on 24th February on the war in Ukraine Johnson wound up saying:

“This crisis is about the right of a free, sovereign independent European people to choose their own future and that is a right that the UK will always defend.

Sky News – https://news.sky.com/story/russia-invades-ukraine-prime-minister-boris-johnsons-statement-to-the-nation-in-full-12550289

Scotland and England on diverging paths

Scotland, as an old established European country, wants that same right, and expects the rest of the UK to defend our right to chose whether we remain as part of the UK or opt to become once again an independent country. We want to make our own decisions, build the kind of democracy we want, look after our population whether children, adults, elderly, no matter where they were born. We want to be able to elect our own parliamentarians in a democratic parliamentary system where advancement is by dint of knowledge and expertise not based on the ability to buy or wrangle honours in an anachronistic system where fraud is not unknown.

Scotland aims to be a caring country. Recently Westminster Tory MPs voted against the International Refugee Convention which Britain helped to draft in the wake of the Second World War, asking all countries to do their bit to help those fleeing the horrors of war. Westminster Tory MPs then voted to make it a criminal offence for Ukrainian families to arrive in UK without the right papers with a penalty of up to 4yrs in prison. They also voted to grant Priti Patel the power to send people seeking asylum – including children and the vulnerable – to remote offshore detention camps.

Meanwhile the Scottish Parliament voted uanimously to allow Ukrainian refugees immediate access to social security benefits. That surely is a sign of the compassionate, tolerant, world-focussed country Scotland can becone with independence. Such a contrast to the shameful actions taking place at Westminster.

Independence is normal yet some can support Ukraine against Russia, berating Putin’s threat to an independent country, whilst rubbishing the claim of Scotland to independence. Scotland was independent long before 1707. Indeed, as stated previously the Union could be regarded as an aberration – ‘a departure from what is normal, usual, or expected, typically one that is unwelcome’. Our desire is to return to our previous normal state of independence with a 21st century basis and focus.

In a 2014 article, as relevant now as then, in Bella Caledonia by Adan Ramsay – Scotland isn’t different, it’s Britain that’s bizarre he points out that:

“…when people say that Scotland is different, that the social democratic aspirations of Scots are an anomaly, they are missing the point entirely. The social attitudes of Scots, and the policies of the Scottish Parliament, are pretty much standard for a European country. Scotland isn’t the exception, it’s the rule.”

and he concludes:

“But for most of the Western world, the sort of Scotland that SNP talk about, that most yes campaigners say we can expect, isn’t exceptional, it’s not even better than average. I am a radical. I hope we can achieve much more. But the “cloud cuckoo land” aspiration of the Scottish Government is to be an average, run of the mill, bog-standard European country. Compared to where we are now, that would be a great start.”

The people in the rest of these isles will always be our neighbours, our friends, often our relatives, but they will no longer be our masters or overlords. We will work with them, collaborating over many issues in a constructive and positive way as friends do. But on many policies and issues we will go our own way, ploughing our own furrow, one supported by the majority who live here.

People in Denmark, Sweden, Norway (Believe in Scotland has an informative article on Norway gaining its independence) are first and foremost Danish, Swedish and Norwegian, but they are also Nordic and Scandinavian, Northern European, enjoying close links with the EU and other Northern European and North Atlantic countries. Scotland is, and always has been, a Northern European country. There have been suggestions that Scotland might be admitted to the Nordic Council. We already have links with the Arctic Council. New doors will open to an independent Scotland, the door with England will not be slammed shut, we’ll merely have to knock before we enter.

Independence – because nothing else makes sense.