Friday, 18 October 2013

Independence - money matters

Last week a friend told me he wouldn’t be voting for independence.

His reason? Someone he knows works in the financial services sector in Edinburgh, and they said an independent Scotland would be skint.

I should really have asked for the name of the financial ‘guru’, because anyone taking advice from someone so out of touch with reality is likely to lose their money.

All of the British unionist scare-stories are a variation on the core theme of Scotland can’t be an independent country because we are ‘too wee, too poor and too stupid’. Uniquely amongst all the peoples of the world, it is only the Scots who are incapable – intellectually and financially – of successfully governing their own country.

For the unionist case to appear to ‘stack-up’, they have to ‘do-down’ Scotland. Since the 1970s unionist governments in London have told us Scotland is an economic basket case, dependent on hand-outs from the benevolent taxpayers of England. The facts, however, show the exact opposite: the McCrone Report – commissioned by the Tory Government of 1974 and delivered to the subsequent Labour Government – found that an independent Scotland would have financial surpluses so large they would be “embarrassing”, but that didn’t stop UK governments telling us we couldn’t stand on our own two feet, while London-based newspapers branded us ‘subsidy junkies’. Needless to say the McCrone Report was buried in the Whitehall files, only seeing the light of day in 2005 following a Freedom of Information request.

Coming right up to date, this month Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC) for the first time produced a report showing tax receipts for each of the four UK nations – Scotland, England, Northern Ireland and Wales. The report also calculated oil receipts on a geographic basis, which revealed that, since devolution alone (1999), Scotland has contributed £42.5billion more to the London UK Treasury over and above our population share. In fact, Scotland has generated more tax per head than the UK for every one of the last 30 years.

British unionists have also been telling us since the 1970s that North Sea oil is running out. Forty years later and economist Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp recently reported the views of a director of the London-based industry body, Oil & Gas UK, who indicated his belief that there is at least 40 years of oil left – with other industry experts agreeing the value of identified reserves still to be extracted from the North Sea stands at around £1.5trillion. That’s before we even look at potential oil fields around the north of Scotland and down the west coast.

Ah but, the unionists say, you can’t base your economy on oil alone. No, and an independent Scotland wouldn’t. In addition there is our food and drink industry, where annual turnover was recently recorded as £12.4billion. Scotland’s creative industries had a turnover of £4.8billion; Life Sciences - £2.9billion; our manufacturing sector exported £14.7billion-worth of goods in 2011; and the Scottish tourism industry currently employs around 200,000 people: and that’s just a few of the contributors to the Scottish economy.

Overall, international comparison of statistics shows an independent Scotland would be the eighth-wealthiest country in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) – compared with the UK in 17th place. We have the potential to be the eighth most-prosperous country in the developed world, instead of our current status as a devolved region within the British Union where the number of our fellow Scots living in poverty and dependent on food-banks is soaring.

If we needed any further evidence of just how successful an independent Scotland of 5-million people could be, we need only look across the North Sea to Norway, which has a similar population and discovered oil in its waters at the same time as Scotland.

Of course, the difference between the two countries is that Norway has been independent since 1905 and therefore had full control of its resources when oil was discovered in its waters 40 years ago. Scotland, as region within the British Union, handed-over its resources to successive UK Governments.

Today, Norway is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, regularly topping international indexes recording human, prosperity and democratic development, and social mobility. Norway also maintains a welfare model that provides universal health care, subsidised higher education and a comprehensive social security system.

In addition, with control of its natural resources, Norway has built a sovereign wealth fund that currently stands at around £170billion (projected to be worth £600billion by 2020). The fund is used to guarantee the prosperity of future generations of Norwegians.

In contrast, Scotland today has record numbers of people living in poverty – latest figures show 1-in-5 Scottish children are growing up in poverty (in some areas the figure is more than 1-in-3).

Scotland, even with a devolved parliament in Edinburgh, continues to hand every penny of our oil wealth to UK Governments in London. Over the same period that Norway prospered and invested in the future of its people, UK Governments used Scotland’s wealth to pay for soaring unemployment and an economic system that promoted low-paid jobs and low taxes for the super-rich.

The question Scots should ask themselves before we vote in next year’s referendum is not ‘can we afford to be an independent country’ but rather ‘can we afford not to retake our independence’.

We can do so much better than condemn every fifth Scots child to a life in poverty within the British Union. Like Norway, an independent Scotland can be a successful, prosperous and socially-just nation.

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