Friday, 28 June 2013

The choice we have to make

The choice facing Scots in September next year could not be clearer: we either retake our political independence and govern our own country or we remain in the UK and suffer savage cuts to jobs and public services for years to come.

We now know for certain that whichever political party or parties forms the UK Government after the 2015 Westminster Election, if Scotland remains in the British Union we will continue to be hammered by devastating austerity measures. Independence allows us to elect a Scottish Government with the resources and the full economic powers necessary to chart an alternative and specifically Scottish course to building a more sustainable and socially-just country.

Multi-millionaire Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne last week unveiled the latest Tory-Lib Dem Spending Review, which made clear that cuts to jobs and public services will continue at least until 2017/18, but probably well beyond that point. Over 100,000 people employed to provide the services we need will lose their jobs as a result of the measures introduced by Mr Osborne, and that’s on top of hundreds-of-thousands already thrown onto the dole. In addition, wages and conditions will continue to be eroded every year for the foreseeable future, while the growing number of unemployed will be attacked through cuts to already inadequate benefits and savage welfare reforms, with the poorest and most deprived suffering the most.

The UK is now officially in the longest and deepest economic recession since the 1870s, and the current Tory-Lib Dem Government – which Scots rejected at the ballot box but have imposed on us because we are part of the British Union – is continuing to borrow even more money to service existing debt. Essentially, government policy is like a massive Ponzi scheme, which if it was being carried out by anyone else would result in its perpetrators going to jail.

Currently, UK taxpayers are forking-out around £50billion a year in interest on the debt run-up by successive Westminster Governments. That figure is projected to rise to £70billion by 2017/18. Remember, those figures represent just the interest on UK debt. Those from whom Britain borrowed billions of pounds – including the Peoples Republic of China – are getting very rich at UK taxpayers’ expense.

There are two main scare stories associated with UK debt and an independent Scotland. You will have heard them trotted-out by the ‘No to Independence’ (Better Together) campaign: the first is that an independent Scotland would not have been able to bail-out the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) when it got into trouble and almost went bankrupt in 2008. Only the much bigger UK could afford to ‘save’ RBS, so the British unionist argument goes.

As ever, the facts are very different. Firstly, it is doubtful that an independent Scotland would have followed the head-in-the-sand UK policy of ‘light-touch’ regulation of the banks, which was a main factor leading to the economic collapse of 2008. However, even if the same policy had been followed in an independent Scotland, the Scottish Government would only have had responsibility for safeguarding the bank accounts of Scots and for covering RBS business within Scotland. What British unionists don’t like you to know is that, despite having the word ‘Scotland’ in its name, over 90% of business carried out by the Royal Bank of Scotland took place beyond Scotland’s borders and outwith the responsibility of the government of an independent Scotland. That is why RBS was partly bailed-out by the American government, which covered the risk to investments made with the bank by US citizens.

Secondly, British unionists argue an independent Scotland would be ‘saddled’ with huge debts resulting from us having to take our share of the current UK debt, which would make us an economic basket case. Don’t you just love them? Apparently, we can’t be an independent country because the dysfunctional UK would offload so much of its debt onto us.

Clearly, an independent Scotland would require to accept our fair share of debt accrued while we were members of the UK, just as we would be entitled to our fair share of current UK assets. In addition, during the independence negotiations that would take place following a ‘Yes’ vote on September 18 next year, the SNP Scottish Government would certainly make the case that Scotland was due a rebate, given we have contributed almost 40 years of tax revenues to the UK Exchequer through Westminster’s exploitation of our oil reserves.

In the financial year 2011-12, UK debt stood at £1,100billion, which translates to 72% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the main measure of an economy's output. On a population basis, an independent Scotland’s share of that debt would be £92bn - 62% of GDP (relating to a nation of just 5-million people with ownership of 90% of North Sea oil and gas fields). Scottish Government economic analysts calculate that with a rebate for the years Westminster has fleeced us of our oil wealth, an independent Scotland’s inherited share of UK debt would be £56bn - 38% of GDP. But even without such an oil-related reduction, the level of debt would be much more manageable in an independent Scotland than is currently the case for the UK. It should be borne in mind that virtually every country in the world operates with significant but manageable levels of national debt.

An independent Scotland would be the 8th-richest nation on the planet, with Scots enjoying one of the highest standards of living, similar to independent Norway, which discovered oil in its sector of the North Sea at the same time as fields were identified in Scottish waters. Of course, Scotland was, and currently remains, just a region of the UK and our oil wealth was taken by successive Westminster governments. The Thatcher government of the 1980s used oil revenues to meet the cost of mass unemployment in the 1980s as it closed most of Scotland’s manufacturing facilities and mines.

Over the same period, independent Norway invested much of its oil wealth in the interests of the Norwegian people. Today, Norway has a ‘Futures Fund’ worth £450billion, which guarantees the high living standards of Norwegians.

Ah but, British unionists will argue, we’ve missed the boat regarding oil, it’s running out. They’ve been telling us that since the 1970s, and while oil certainly is a finite resource, current estimates put the value of oil still to be recovered from the Scottish sector of the North Sea at around £1.5trillion.

So, that’s the choice we face at the Independence Referendum on September 18 2014. The Labour Party has confirmed it will stick to Tory-Lib Dem spending levels and austerity measures if the party is returned to power at the Westminster Election in 2015. It really is crystal clear: all British political parties will continue down the road of savage cuts to jobs, benefits, public services and standards of living. The only way for Scots to avoid it is for us to retake our independence next year.

Incidentally, while the current SNP Government would represent Scotland in the independence negotiations following a ‘Yes’ vote in the referendum, there is no guarantee the party would form the government in the first independent Scottish Parliament. The first election after a vote for independence will be held in May 2016, at which we can vote for any party we choose, and we will get the government for which we vote, unlike the case with Westminster elections.

Prosperity in an independent Scotland or austerity in the UK – the choice is ours.

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