I get fed up having to justify my dream of independence when all I ever hear from the No side is reasons why it shouldn’t happen. If I give a reason, I have to spell out all the arguments and have them challenged in microscopic detail while the Naysayers offer no alternative vision, just No Change. Remember the Positive Case for Union? It seems to amount to the longest list in history of Don’t Do’s.
There are many reasons why Better Together would never dare to produce its own white paper entitled Britain’s Future, according to Kevin McKenna in the Observer. “For how could any Scottish Labour supporter subscribe to a document that would talk of penalising the poor; cutting the taxes of the rich; allowing our defence and intelligence policies to resemble those of Texas and re-introducing a light touch for bankers? Not to mention leaving Europe and telling immigrants to go home.”
For my case I suggest national dignity, making new international friends, being fairer, unleashing our economic potential, investing in our human capital and the rest of what has become the longest list of good reasons to do something – ever. Today I’m adding another. I want to be richer.
That’s right. I want more money. I want to be better off, not just scraping along above soup kitchen level, but tangibly, measurably wealthier. And before Robin McAlpine pings me an email about social justice, I want us all to be richer. That’s what independence can deliver. It means keeping our own wealth here in Scotland and deciding how to spend it and invest it, not handing it over to someone else with other interests paramount and getting back what they decide I should get. If we decide wages should be higher and the money is there, we can do it. If we want to rewrite the welfare rules so it’s easier to remove staff when an employer is struggling but we make the welfare safety net stronger so the unemployed can live with dignity and find another job, we can…if the money is there. If we want to retain our universal benefits to keep household expenditure down, we can, and if we want to create a less stressed, savings orientated, debt-limited country, we can…if the cash is there. And that’s the point. The money is there.*
Every utterance from the No side is laden with doom about needing the security of the UK, spreading risk and ironing out imbalances. This is how it is working…. “One in five of Scotland’s children – 220,000 – are officially recognised as living in poverty. In some areas over one in three children grow up in poverty. With Scotland’s undoubted wealth this is a scandal. Its effects last a lifetime, negatively impacting on health, education, social and physical development and seriously harming future life chances and opportunities.” That’s from the Child Poverty Action Group. We have 18 per cent, or 910,000 people in poverty and those numbers are significantly higher than in other European countries. What exactly is the Better Together justification for this as a case for Union? The numbers are coming down they may say, although I think you’ll find it’s a topic they would rather ignore. Scotland’s government is playing a key role in this and it’s not as if the UK government sets out to make people poor yet there will be massive rises in child poverty in the coming years. In Scotland alone forecast trends would suggest between 50,000 and 100,000 more children will be pushed into poverty by 2020 – because of Coalition cuts and benefit reform. That is Scottish poverty and I regard that as my poverty. Total eradication is probably impossible but how can we have a chamber full of MPs cheering the economic news when across Scotland we are consigning a city-sized population of children to a life of poverty, lack of achievement, disengagement, ill health and probably crime? Every report makes clear that apart from the human misery, the cost to the national finances is massive.
But I also want a Scotland in which the ideological divide between business and customers which acts as a brake on progress can be buried forever. One of the worst aspects of the UK has been the generational acceptance of a boss culture. At its most trivial it is the company car and allocated parking space and at its worst it is executive incomes. Chief executives of FTSE 100 companies earn an average of £3.7m – or 145 times the average wage. By 2020 they are expected to be paid 214 times more than the average. Remember these are the people who say in interviews how important it is to keep costs down and reduce workers influence through trade unions. According to the High Pay Unit the top one thousandth of the British working population currently receives 5 per cent of the country’s entire earnings, a ratio equivalent to that in the 1940s, the report says. If these trends continue, income for the highest paid will account for 14 per cent of the country’s total by 2030 – the same proportion as in pre-universal franchise 1900. Aren’t we supposed to be making social progress? Do you think those numbers would receive popular approval if they were put to the people in a referendum?
And before you say That’s the Tories for you, here’s another part of the analysis. During the decade Labour was in power, income at the top grew by 64.2 per cent, while that of an average earner increased by 7.2 per cent over the same period. Redistribution, New Labour-style. Thanks, Alistair and thanks, Gordon.
I’m planning a look at Scotland’s so-called business community in the near future – sorry, but in my experience it’s more like a tankful of circling sharks than a community – because for all my left-of-centre sentiments I am…and this may be upsetting for some…pro-business. I think the lack of a detailed business start-up strategy is one of our country’s weakest points and that is also true of the referendum campaign. (More soon)
In the meantime I think it’s interesting how quiet the CBI has been lately. This is an organization that is a front for the business big boys and is supposed to do all their bullying and barking for them. We are constantly told how our poor wee business folk are trembling at the knees about the prospect of working in an independent country but they knock even more if they’re asked to speak up in case the fearsome, frothing beast from Alien that is John Swinney bursts out of the cistern in the executive loo and slavers over them hissing… “I’ll lower your corporation tax if you vote Yes…”
Strange, no? Where’s my chum Air Commodore Iain McMillan who has fearlessly defended 49 per cent executive pay rises and £400,00 a year additional pension contributions while in my studio….The other side, Business for Scotland is one of the highlights of the debate. Its material is up-to-date, informative, punchy and its representatives bring real added value to broadcast debates. They are credible business people taking the case away from the anoraks like me and changing the dynamic. When I started reporting politics in the late 80’s you couldn’t find anyone who would go public in backing independence if they wore a suit in an office. It was very unusual and limited career options so credit to folk like Swinney, Salmond and Hyslop for whom it was a career-risking step to campaign in public.
*But back to the money…just when you get tired of banging your head against a wall the FT comes out and says: Stop it, you were right all along. Here’s a section of today’s report on Scotland’s finances.
If its geographic share of UK oil and gas output is taken into account, Scotland’s GDP per head is bigger than that of France. Even excluding the North Sea’s hydrocarbon bounty, per capita GDP is higher than that of Italy. Oil, whisky and a broad range of manufactured goods mean an independent Scotland would be one of the world’s top 35 exporters.
An independent Scotland could also expect to start with healthier state finances than the rest of the UK. Although Scotland enjoys public spending well above the UK average – a source of resentment among some in England, Wales and Northern Ireland – the cost to the Treasury is more than outweighed by oil and gas revenues from Scottish waters.
And here is Business for Scotland…. “New figures from the Global Connections Survey demonstrate that Scotland is one of the world’s top exporting nations with the economic strength to succeed as an independent country. Exports were worth nearly £100 billion in 2012 alone, a 17% increase on 2008. The Financial Times reports that the figures offer a picture of a mature and independent trading nation that would be a vibrant exporter of other goods and services to the rest of the world.
Scotland’s strong export figures create a trading surplus that enhances UK Sterling’s balance of payments. The UK currently suffers from a large trade deficit, but Scotland’s use of the pound underpins the value of the currency. This is a key reason for why a currency union is in the best interests of the rest of the UK.”
The money is there and the case is getting stronger. I think instead of being defensive about currency and economy, we should instead be moving on and claiming our right to be richer. The FT figures confirm we would be richer by £7b on today’s evidence. We should be declaring that there is a gulf between what we earn here and what comes back from the Treasury and it stops us being as wealthy as we could be. I want to be independent so I can be richer…**
** and I don’t care what Robin McAlpine says