There’s a stereotype of Scottish people that their reaction to a sunny day is that of this post’s title – that good weather now isn’t something to be enjoyed, but merely a harbinger of much less favourable conditions to come.
Rather than make hay while the sun shines, runs the old joke, the pessimistic (and stingy) Scots go out to the shops looking for umbrellas being sold at a discount.
Such is the wholly predictable Unionist response to today’s GERS figures.
You can read the entire document here. But the short version is that in 2011-12, for the privilege of having a Tory-led government in Westminster imposing welfare cuts, public-sector job losses, the bedroom tax and the continuing presence of Trident nuclear weapons, Scotland paid £4.3 billion to the rest of the UK.
That’s the difference between the deficit Scotland ran up as its share of UK finances (£7.7bn) and the one it would have had as an independent nation (£3.4bn), assuming the independent nation would have done everything the same as it did inside the UK.
That last bit is kind of important. Because if an independent Scotland was going to do everything exactly the same as the UK, there really wouldn’t be any point in independence. But having control of its own affairs would enable Scotland to make different choices. It could save a billion pounds a year overnight on defence, banishing Trident and slashing the money it sends to Westminster to interfere in other countries’ business to malign effect.
An independent Scotland could abandon and outlaw the crippling obscenity of PFI, which sucks hundreds of millions more out of the nation’s coffers to feather the beds of private companies at the cost of our children’s and grandchildren’s futures. It could ensure companies operating in Scotland paid proper levels of tax. It wouldn’t have to cough up billions of pounds for grand infrastructure projects which will benefit only the already-pampered citizens of London.
Unionists have been carefully preparing the ground for this year’s GERS figures. Treasury secretary Danny Alexander insisted last week that oil revenues would be far lower in 2016-17, inexplicably attempting to create the impression that anyone – let alone him – knows what the price of oil will be in five months, never mind five years.
And of course, the No campaign has even more bizarrely been highlighting that Scotland (if it made all the same choices) would still be running a deficit with oil revenues, as if that was (a) some sort of endorsement of 300 years of Westminster’s economic management, and (b) anything unusual for any modern Western country.
The table below comes from Global Finance magazine. Click to enlarge.
What it shows is that the UK is, even after almost three years of vicious austerity, the fourth most-insolvent OECD nation on the face of the planet in terms of deficit. It also shows that 28 of the top 32 countries run a deficit, even the economic powerhouse that is Germany.
The UK’s much-mocked “Arc Of Insolvency” neighbour Ireland is only one place worse off, and the supposed basket case of Iceland is in fact healthier than the UK on the actual 2010 figures and – to a far more dramatic level – the forecasts for 2011, 2012 and 2013. But another nation’s position in the table is of particular interest.
At the very bottom of the bad-economy charts is a small Northern Hemisphere nation of around five million people, rich in natural resources from the North Sea. (Sound familiar?) Norway regularly earns at least 10% more than it spends, despite having one of the world’s highest quality-of-life indices, far above that of the UK.
Norway’s reaction to the national sunny day of oil revenue wasn’t to spend it all on keeping its population unemployed and miserable. Despite its vast riches, small armed forces and lack of nuclear deterrent, Norway doesn’t seem to have been invaded or besieged by international terrorists (which we’re sure is entirely unrelated to the fact that it hasn’t elected itself the world’s policeman, or to be more accurate the world’s policeman’s bag-carrier). And of course, in addition to that hefty annual surplus, it has a £433 billion rainy-day fund to fall back on if and when the weather does turn nasty.
The cringing army of “We cannae dae it!” Unionists are right about one thing – independence wouldn’t turn Scotland into Norway overnight. The Scandinavian nation’s lavish public services are funded by high taxes. But then, those taxes come out of far greater wages than the UK’s. The average Norwegian takes home over £4,500 a month, more than twice the UK figure of £2,208. That’s a lot of cushioning if Scotland wanted to pursue a social-democratic model of political ideology rather than the disastrous neoliberalism that’s left much of the West bankrupt after the last 30 years.
Scotland still basks in the warm glow of the North Sea rigs, and will do so for decades to come. The UK is frantically sucking out every drop of oil it can get while it still has its hands on the pipelines. The projections of professional industry experts seem strangely at odds with Danny Alexander’s view of the next few years in terms of oil revenue. We wonder who could possibly be telling the truth?
Right now the sun is shining. While we might never be able to catch up on the healthy bronze tan of our Norwegian cousins, it’s still not too late for Scotland to get out and make the most of its rays to store up enough economic Vitamin D to see us through some dark times. Because make no mistake – if we choose to stay within the UK, Scots face a cold, bleak winter stretching as far into the future as anyone can see.