Thursday, 23 February 2012

It's Scotland's Snake Oil, pt.2

Looks like Union Jock wasn't the only one to look askance at Wee Eck's sovereign wealth fund fantasiesA report by the Centre for Public Policy for Regions has also expressed skepticism. In particular, "establishing such a fund would mean some very difficult decisions would need to be taken, in the absence of oil prices and production far exceeding current expectations" (nicely put!). Also, to get to £30bn would require "a substantially higher annual compound return than the 2% to 3% achieved by the Norwegian government's oil fund." In short, "There is little prospect of any surplus becoming available for an oil fund, and certainly not of the size being suggested." Quite.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

The view from two centuries ago.

Union Jock recently received a present of An Abridgement of the History of Scotland from the Death of Alexander III to the Union of the Two Kingdoms under Queen Anne, published in 1805. Naturally, he was curious to find out how the Union of the Parliaments had been presented, less than a century after it actually occurred. Skipping, therefore, to the end of the book, this is what it had to say on the subject:
The experience of a century of increasing prosperity supersedes any eulogium on the firmness and political sagacity of the men who planned and accomplished the Union; the pride of national independence has been cheaply exchanged for opulence and security; and the mind contemplates with satisfaction prejudices obliterated, the spirit of rivalship extinguished, and cordiality and confidence taking place of the rancour of hostility and mutual aggression. Divided, Great Britain might have fallen a prey to her more powerful neighbours; united, she holds a high and dignified place among the nations, and bids defiance to the threats and exterminating designs of the half of Europe.
Concordia parvæ res crescunt, discordia maximæ dilabuntur.
[By concord, small things grow, by discord, the greatest fall into ruin. Gaius Sallustius Crispus (86-34 BC) in Bellum Iugurthinum Ch. X.]

Thursday, 16 February 2012

It's Scotland's Snake Oil.

El Presidente reckons a separate Scotland could put less than 10% of oil and gas revenues into a sovereign wealth fund every year for the next 20 years and end up with £30bn by 2035. That would imply more than £10bn revenues every year for the next 20 years. Seems pretty optimistic, given that even the Scottish Government's own figures for Scotland's "geographic share" of North Sea revenue for 2009-10 was less than £6bn. Not to mention that UK oil production peaked in 1999, and according to official figures, somewhere between 76% and 90% of all UK oil reserves had already been extracted by the end of 2010.

And £30bn sounds a lot, but compare it with the £59.2bn total public expenditure in Scotland for 2009-10 (which, of course, didn't include all the considerable costs that an independent country would incur) and it doesn't seem so impressive.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

On Motivations for Secession

El Presidente, in his piece on "My Scotland" for the Sunday Herald a few weeks ago, claimed that the fact that there are now 190 members of the UN, compared to 51 when he was born, was some kind of justification for Scottish separatism. Of course, this is, as is to be expected from him, quite disingenuous. Some well-established nations, like Italy, Spain, Portugal or Japan didn't join the UN until after 1954. Most of the other nations were the result of the dismantling and fragmentation of various global empires, including of course, the British Empire that Scotland played a major part in building. And of course there were also the nations who regained in the 1990s, the identities they lost in the great failed 20th century experiment in communism. But, counter to this perceived trend, some of the former Soviet republics (particularly Belarus and Russia) have been making moves in recent years towards re-unification.

However, if we actually consider the notable separatist movements of recent years across the world, we see it usually involves some ethnic or religious motivation - think of the Basques, Catalonia, Quebec, Flemish nationalists in Belgium, the Balkans and indeed the former Soviet republics. Even the break-up of Czechoslovakia can be traced back to the fact that the Czechs and Slovaks didn't really have a great deal in common when they found themselves joined together after the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918.

But of course, there is no great ethnic, religious, linguistic or cultural divide marked by the Scotland-England border. In the worlds of William McIlvanney, Scotland is, just as the UK as a whole, a "mongrel nation", whether you consider either the indigenous descendants of Britons, Celts, Angles, Saxons etc, or our entire multi-ethnic, multi-national population. The theological differences between the Churches of England and Scotland are of little consequence to the Scottish separatist movement. Despite the existence of BBC Alba, Scotland is almost entirely an English-speaking land. And what possible cultural differences do we have with England that could justify tearing up a 300-year-old union? Eating haggis and ceilidh dancing?

So, what's left, without ethnic, religious or cultural divisions as a justification? The only remaining possible rational motivation is merely political. Despite the SNP's ham-fisted attempt to drum up some romantic Hail Caledonia! nationalism, this is really what it boils down to. The Scottish nationalist movement is the SNP, notwithstanding the lunatic fringe of Trotskyists and hardcore republicans. But the independence referendum will be about the future of a 300-year-old constitution, not the transient ebb and flow of party politics. Unlike a general election, there will be no opportunity in another five years' time to express your disappointment in what you just voted for.

And let's not forget that the most powerful country in Europe is the result, not of a secession, but of a unification of two countries with quite different political systems, 22 years ago.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Fat man speak with forked tongue.

Wee Eck likes to reassure us that a separate Scotland would keep the Queen as head of state.

Hmmm. Let us not forget that the Irish Free State was founded as a Dominion of the Commonwealth with the King as head of state. That didn't last long once the republicans gained the upper hand after independence. And the SNP certainly has its republican faction - Alex Salmond, Kenny MacAskill, Roseanna Cunningham and Stewart Stevenson were all members of the '79 Group, the self-proclaimed "Scottish Socialist Republican" SNP splinter group. Roseanna Cunningham certainly still holds republican views - how many others are keeping quiet about theirs until their time comes? And the official student wing of the SNP, the obvious breeding ground for future SNP politicians, is expressly republican.

And another thing... Salmond is being either ignorant or disingenuous about a separate Scotland "not leaving the UK". Prior to the 1707 Treaty of Union, there was no "united kingdom", either small u, small k, or capital U, capital K. There was a Kingdom of England and a Kingdom of Scotland, and they just happened to have the same monarch. In fact, the term United Kingdom only became official with the union with Ireland in 1801. So, no, Alex, a separate Scotland would be leaving the UK and we damn well should be reminded of this on our voting papers when the day comes.