The vanishing road

road_closedI would certainly prefer to be discussing the duration of a transition period between the decision to dissolve the Union and actual independence rather than the length of a delay in making that decision. But there is something else we must bear in mind regarding the “final principle that applies when it comes to project management”. We may not have a choice.

It’s all very well to say that we can pick any two out of ‘cheap’, ‘quick’ and ‘good’. But choices are constrained by circumstances. And the aspect of those circumstances which seems little considered is the reaction of the British state to the prospect of losing Scotland.

It is rightly pointed out that sketching plans for the future requires making certain assumptions. The manner in which the British state conducts itself would seem to loom large in any independence scenario. And yet, beyond a rather casual discounting of a “Madrid style campaign of political repression”, there’s precious little discussion of how the British state will behave. Or, more pertinently, the assumptions it would be prudent to make about how it will behave.

In this regard, the discussion of a transition period resembles ‘wait and see’ talk of postponing a new referendum. In nether case do we find any recognition of the fact that locking Scotland into a political union is an absolute imperative for the British state. Factoring that imperative into our thinking, along with what we know of how the British state responded in 2014 when it began to look like Scotland might vote Yes, the only sensible conclusion is that we must anticipate that the British establishment will resort to desperate measures. We certainly cannot afford to underestimate their capacity for the very lowest of low politics.

In terms of those project management options, it seems likely that, at least to some extent, both ‘cheap’ and ‘good’ may have to be sacrificed in favour of ‘quick’.

This, too, is true of both the transition period and the scheduling of a new referendum. In both cases, we are almost certainly going to be obliged to compromise on cost and quality in order to get the thing done quickly. There’s no point in complaining. There was always going to be a price to pay for the No vote in 2014. Part of that price is that the democratic road to independence is now much narrower and daily more littered with obstacles.

How long before that road becomes impassable, or is closed altogether? Is a three year transition period even a choice? And, even if it is a choice now, will it still be a choice should The Postponers get their way and there is a delay of one, two or even three years before that transition period can commence?

What mischief might be wrought on Scotland between now and 2025?

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Thanks, Andrew, but…

I confess, without a scintilla of embarrassment, that I have not read the Sustainable Growth Commission‘s (SGC) full 353-page report from cover to cover. I have skimmed through the thing a few times, lighting on bits which hint that they might prevent my attention from flagging completely. I have more thoroughly perused the less daunting 55-page summary. And I did devote some time and effort to more in-depth study of Section C – the stuff about currency and monetary policy that seems to be getting some people all worked up. Although I’m still not sure why. I am, I think, sufficiently aware of the report’s main proposals.

Other than for the purposes of discussion, there’s not really a lot of point in me poring over this tome. It wasn’t written for me. It was written for people who crave the scant comfort of a superficial order imposed on economic chaos; or those seeking diversion in the near-infinite potential for dispute; or those aware that they are sure to find opportunities to relieve the straining bladder of their pent-up outrage.

It was written for people who need to be convinced that Scotland is economically viable. That’s not me. I want independence for reasons which are almost certainly incomprehensible to those who suppose I might be persuaded by an economic argument.

With all due respect to Andrew Wilson, I don’t need him to tell me Scotland can pay its way. I know that already. I know that, not by studying statistics and graphs and tables of economic data and performing complex cost/benefit analyses which, for all their mathematical impressiveness, are really no more than an elaborate way of getting from a preconceived idea to a foregone conclusion, but by a simple process of observation. I am sure that Scotland is able to pay its own way because I look at what is actually happening in the real world outside all those fancy economic models. I look! And I see that Scotland is already paying its own way.

Everything we have in Scotland is supported by the Scottish economy. All the infrastructure and all the public services and all the pensions and all the benefits and all the rest, we pay for it. Who else is there?

The ‘Too wee! Too poor! Too stupid!’ narrative which is the constant underlying refrain of the anti-independence campaign rests entirely on the notion of a net fiscal transfer to Scotland from the rest of the UK (rUK). But you don’t need to be a highly trained economist to see that this is impossible. The UK economy is in deficit. You can’t have a net fiscal transfer from a deficit. You can’t get something out of nothing. There is no magic money tree.

The only thing that can be transferred from a deficit budget is a part of that deficit – together with the debt and debt servicing costs needed to sustain the deficit. We know for an absolute fact that rUK doesn’t ‘give’ Scotland money, because it is an uncontested fact that rUK doesn’t have any money to give. What is portrayed as a ‘subsidy’ is actually money that is, effectively, borrowed on Scotland’s behalf by the British government, in arrangement over which we have no control and for purposes of which we largely disapprove. The costs of servicing this debt are then charged to Scotland’s taxpayers in precisely the same way that taxpayers throughout the UK pay for servicing the UK debt as a whole.

In a worst-case post-independence scenario, Scotland would continue to run a deficit budget; continue to borrow to the same extent in order to sustain that deficit; and continue to charge taxpayers in the same way to service that debt. In short, nothing changes! Nothing changes with independence, other than our capacity to effect change.

I didn’t need this explained to me in a 353-page report. It is majestically obvious.

Nor was I shocked, horrified and/or angry to be informed that the starting point for Scotland’s economy immediately after the Union is dissolved will be what, for want of a better term, we may as well call ‘Tory austerity’. How could it be anything else? That’s where we are. We have to start from where we are. Other than in the demented fantasies of the terminally deluded, there is no option to start from where we want to be; or somewhere closer to where we want to be.

We start as a nation with its sovereignty fully restored from wherever the Union has taken us. Which is precisely why it is essential that we restore the ability to fully exercise our sovereignty as a matter of urgency. Because the Union is taking Scotland at a rapid and accelerating rate to a place from which recovery will be more and more difficult.

That recovery is a process, not an event. Independence is about reinstating the people of Scotland as the ultimate arbiters of how we go about repairing the damage done to our nation by the Union. Understanding the nature of the problems that the Union has bequeathed us is vital if we are to decide how best to rectify those problems. And accepting that ‘Tory austerity’ is the inescapable starting point is crucial to that understanding.

The SGC report is a tool for exploring possible ways in which the recovery process might work. It is one of several such tools. Every one of them should carry a disclaimer stating that all their calculations and conclusions are subject to revision in the light of how things actually turn out in the real world. The way things go in the real world will be decided by the people of Scotland. I see no harm at all in having such tools to inform our debates and deliberations. But I am well aware that you can’t answer a constitutional question with a calculator.

In part, at least, the SGC report is intended to offer reassurance to those who still harbour doubts fostered by decades of British propaganda. I have never entertained such doubts. I have always had total confidence in Scotland’s people.

Thanks all the same, Andrew, but I have never needed an economist to tell me that Scotland is ‘Clever enough! Big enough! Wealthy enough!’.

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The stroppy tendency

stroppy_tendencyThere is a delicious irony in the fact that Michael Fry’s thoroughly justified condemnation of the Scottish left’s attacks on the Sustainable Growth Commission’s (SGC) report is juxtaposed with him making one of the most serious errors of those he castigates. The following paragraph makes my point.

Now we learn, thanks to Andrew Wilson, that Nicola Sturgeon recognises this strategy has failed to inspire the new impetus the SNP needs to carry it successfully through the difficult period of Brexit.

Just like the “progressive socialists” he condemns for failing to properly appreciate the report, Michael Fry fails to understand that the document is intended to inform SNP thinking rather than reflect it. The worst misrepresentation of the report by righteous radicals is the oft-repeated assertion that it commits the party – and, inexplicably, post-independence Scotland – to immediate and irrevocable implementation of every word of Andrew Wilson’s recommendations.

The reality, of course, is that the report commits nobody to anything. It is, as Dr Craig Dalzell has been at pains to stress while offering his own critical analysis, a discussion document – nothing more. Doubtless large parts will emerge unscathed from what will inevitably be a very rigorous process of scrutiny and debate within the SNP. (A process not being replicated by any of those presuming to demand massive amendment (or incineration) of the SGC report without the formality of discussion.) But other bits are likely to fare less well at the hands of SNP members who will attend the planned National Assemblies in their thousands.

What emerges from this process may not even then be a true reflection of the SNP leadership’s preferences. But it will be something that the party as a whole can get behind.

It would be gratifying to suppose that the rest of the Yes movement might do likewise en masse. But I fear it would be naive to hope that those “progressive socialists” might set aside their partisan loyalties and factional agendas in the name of rescuing Scotland from a British Nationalist ‘One Nation’ project that threatens everything they supposedly value – and much more besides.

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