This is the post about independence that I have been threatening to write for months.
I am seriously considering voting SNP at this year’s Scottish Parliament elections. But I will probably stand in the voting booth thinking long and hard about it, with my hand quivering. And it will definitely be only for the constituency vote — purely as an anti-Labour tactical vote. The SNP are in the second place in my constituency. I’ll see how the local campaign pans out, but for the time being, voting SNP is the only (slim) hope of booting Labour out of Kirkcaldy.
However, I normally wouldn’t vote SNP. Yes, they are probably in my eyes the second least-worst party, but that says more about the shoddy state of political parties than anything else.
There has been an awful lot of talk about independence in the past few months and I wouldn’t blame SNP supporters for getting carried away. I said a few weeks ago, though, that I thought there wasn’t really a proper debate on independence. For most people it has just been an issue that’s been there for decades. As such, it doesn’t get tackled properly by anybody on any side.
Take, for instance, the SNP’s astonishing reliance on oil. Unbelievably, this still sits at the heart of SNP ideology. It is an argument that might have been convincing in the 1970s. But it should have stayed in the 1970s.
Economic report after economic report rubbishes the SNP claims that oil would keep Scotland’s economy afloat. Surely even the most blinkered nationalist has to realise that the oil argument is in trouble when the SNP’s rebuttal to Professor Arthur Midwinter’s report is to cite the GERS report which said much the same thing!
I don’t know about you, but usually when two studies come to broadly similar conclusions — and conclusions that are supported by the majority of fiscal policy experts — I take that to usually mean that there might be something in those conclusions.
The joke normally goes that if you have two economists you get three different opinions. Here we have economist after economist lining up to give the same opinion — that the oil argument is a complete red herring.
The fact that the SNP are left pointing out differences in the size of estimated deficits is telling. The fact is that these estimates are both deficits. Whether it’s £11 billion or £4 billion, it’s a lot of money to be chucking down the chute.
Meanwhile, the reaction from the nationalist commenters on the Scotsman.com website speaks volumes about how much the average independence supporter actually cares about economic arguments, with such incisive gems as:
I got as far as paragraph three….zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
Putting aside arguments over balancing the books, for an independent Scotland’s economy to rely almost solely on oil would be incredibly dangerous. I say “almost solely”, although I’m sure most nationalists would soon be able to pull all sorts of other things out of the air that provide “evidence” of how much Scotland’s economy is superior to the UK’s. But why do we never hear as much about these?
The SNP acts as though oil is a panacea to all of Scotland’s economic ills. But you have to be burying your entire body in the sand to believe that it actually would be. An economy that relies upon one single industry — one single natural resource, indeed — is a very unhealthy economy indeed. It’s called putting all your eggs in one basket.
So what happens when the oil runs out, which is bound to happen within a matter of decades? North Sea oil production has already halved in just the past eight years. Since Scotland will have lost its biggest argument in favour of independence within a matter of a few decades, I suppose it will be time to sign a second Act of Union in 2050?
You want more? Let’s leave the economy completely out of the equation. How about the environmental effects? The SNP touts itself as a green party. Yet at the very core of its ideology sits a love of consuming oil. Exactly how environmentally friendly is that? Ryanair would have a more convincing claim to be an environmental group.
Below I have written two lists. The first list is of things we know about oil for a fact. The second list is of things that we just don’t know about oil.
- Oil is a finite resource and is bound to run out sooner or later — we know this for a fact
- Oil markets are highly unstable and prices fluctuate wildly — we know this for a fact
- Oil extraction causes pollution and oil consumption is a major contributor to CO2 emissions — we know this for a fact
- Will North Sea oil be enough to plug an independent Scottish government’s budget deficit? — we just don’t know, although the evidence strongly suggests that it wouldn’t
I really don’t understand why the SNP isn’t picked up on this more often. This is a raging, gaping hole that sits at the very core of the SNP’s plans. Moreover, the fetishistic love of oil is at odds with the SNP’s desperation to present itself as environmentally-friendly. And here we sit considering the possibility that they might be in charge come May.
But oil is not my only beef with independence. The main reason why I don’t support nationalist movements of any form is that I just don’t believe that it matters where you are governed from. What matters is how you are governed.
I once read an SNP supporter say that a unionist criticising nationalism is a hypocrite because while a supporter of Scottish independence is a Scottish nationalist, unionists are British nationalists. But this is nonsense. I am not a nationalist of any sort. I don’t have to be “proud” of Britain to recognise that the Union works by and large.
I find it difficult to be proud of Scotland. Being proud of the country in which you are born is as bizarre to me as being proud of this week’s lottery numbers. I certainly have a love of and affinity with Scotland. But I recognise that this is only because I was born here and all of my memories are from here. If I was born in any other country I would love that country also. That is why I can’t be proud of my nationality.
Moreover, while there are many parts of my culture that are derived from Scotland, it is not difficult to find the influence of Britain. It is no inconsistency to say that I feel equal parts Scottish and British, and even European. I find the idea that I cannot be both, or that I somehow have to choose between them, offensive.
And I should make clear here that I am not in favour of London having all of the power. I am a federalist. I was in favour of devolution. To me, it makes common sense for national issues such as defence to be controlled at one level and for issues such as education and health to be controlled by a more local level, just as most people believe that the council is the right body to arrange rubbish collection.
I am also in favour of greater fiscal autonomy. Perhaps the biggest problem with the Scottish Parliament as things stand is that it does not have the responsibility to raise the tax money that it spends. I was struck by an article in The Economist which said:
Holyrood’s politicians… do not, however, suffer the discipline of having to raise their revenue themselves: they are like teenagers on an allowance. And they have no incentive to promote economic growth through taxation.
The Scottish Parliament has only a piddly power to vary tax levels by ±3%, and it is too scared to even use that. The Scottish Parliament needs to mature. Greater fiscal autonomy would allow this to happen.
But that does not mean that we should leave the United Kingdom. It is crazy that in an increasingly globalised world that we should consider building a barrier. And let’s face it, if drawing a boundary isn’t designed to build a barrier, what is the point?
By now some nationalists will be shrieking, saying things like, “Look at Ireland!”, or, “Imagine if Norway wasn’t independent!” Norway is a favourite example of everybody who wants to advocate a certain policy. I remember a few years back David Farrer praised the prosperity of Norway, suggesting that it might be because it was outside the EU. Though I doubt Farrer would be too quick to praise Norway’s generous welfare system.
Whatever the causes, Norway apparently does well for itself. Nationalists believe that this is because it is independent. The thing is though, we already live in an independent country. It’s called the UK. This brings me on to a point that I have never heard a supporter of independence adequately respond to:
The relevant question isn’t, “Why should Scotland be independent?” The relevant question is, “Why should Scotland be independent?”
What is so magical about Scotland that it should deserve to be independent? Scottish nationalists know full well that if Scotland were to become independent, that wouldn’t be the end of the debate. It would probably just mean that the Orcadian nationalist movement would stamp its feet more loudly.
Maybe Aberdonians would start an independence movement on the basis that “It’s Aberdeen’s oil”. And who would blame them? After all, surely even Newcastle has a stronger claim to North Sea oil than, say, Stranraer.
Latching on to words like independence and freedom tugs on people’s heartstrings and gets people heated. But it ignores one vital thing: we are not oppressed. And if we are oppressed, it isn’t because we are ruled from London.
And this brings be on to yet another bugbear of mine about the independence movement. Nationalists often make the claim that Westminster politics is corrupt and that the only solution to it is for Scotland to become independent. But we are talking about politicians here. It is every bit as conceivable that an Edinburgh-based administration would be just as bad (or good) as a London-based one. As I said before, what matters is not from where you are governed, but how well you are governed.
Just moving Scotland’s politicians from one building to another won’t make politics any rosier. And in case you need reminding, the shitbags that currently run Westminster enjoy their greatest concentration of support in Scotland. As we Scottish bloggers have been noting recently, that support is too unquestioningly loyal.
And while I believe that the claims that there is a “Scottish Raj” are overstated, it is difficult to ignore the fact that the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer were both born in Scotland, and there are more Scottish cabinet ministers. It hardly fills me with a great amount of confidence that an independent Scotland would have inherently better politics.
I could actually go on, but for the good of my readership and my page load times I’m going to call it a day there. But to think that this is the party that I’m actually thinking of voting for. At the risk of sounding like Polly Toynbee (please, no!) I’ll have to get the nosepegs out.