The one great pillar of the argument against Scottish independence – greater than not being allowed into the EU, greater than being forced to barter with beads and potatoes because we wouldn’t have a currency, greater than losing Doctor Who or having the Chinese take their pandas back – is the economy.
Scotland is far too wee and too poor to be independent, they say – while indignantly denying that they’re saying it – because we only survive now thanks to a vast bailout every year from the rest of the UK, by which they in fact mean England. (Because it’s sure as heck not coming from Wales or Northern Ireland, which by any measure you care to choose are far poorer than Scotland.)
The name and size of this bailout vary wildly. Sometimes it’s a “deficit”, sometimes it’s a “black hole”, sometimes it’s a “fiscal transfer”, and it can be £8bn, £9bn, £10bn, £15bn, £28bn, £32bn or any other figure up to a hundred and eleventy thousand million bajillion squillion depending on who you’re talking to.
(The last one’s probably either David Coburn or Jackie Baillie.)
And while there are a dozen separate and compelling reasons why that argument is complete rubbish, none of them have any traction with diehard Unionists determined to believe that one of the richest and most blessed nations on Earth couldn’t possibly manage its own affairs like, say, Latvia or Ireland or Kuwait or Slovakia can.
But it turns out there IS a – surprisingly simple – way to get Unionists to categorically deny that England subsidises Scotland. You just have to ask them.
Because if you ask No voters flat-out whether England subsidises Scotland or not, barely a third of them – 36% – will agree that it does, with 42% disagreeing. Just 32% of Labour voters and 29% of Lib Dems agree that generous England happily hands over a fortune to keep the terrible whinging Scots in the UK, with significantly higher numbers disagreeing.
In the whole country, more than twice as many Scots – 54% to 26% – reject the idea that they’re sustained only by the largesse of the English as believe it. And that’s the rational view, because the idea that Tory governments in particular would hand over billions of pounds every year to an ungrateful nation that only elects one Tory MP, purely out of kind-hearted patriotic sentimentality, is so self-evidently ludicrous we’re embarrassed to even type it out.
(The so-called “fiscal transfer” is in fact simply a debt transfer. Westminster doesn’t give Scotland money, it borrows money on our behalf that we didn’t ask for and didn’t need, spends it on stuff we don’t want, then makes us pay it back. If an independent Scotland ran a deficit – like almost every country on the planet including the UK does – we could borrow it for ourselves and make our own decisions about how much we needed and what to use it for.)
And yet, simply by couching the proposition in different terms and supporting it with carefully-selected and massaged stats, hammered home daily by London-owned media and cringing Scottish politicians with an eye on the House Of Lords, the No campaign manages to get Scots to swallow the idea that they’re a nation of reckless beggars who can’t be trusted with their own purse strings.
We have to give them credit for salesmanship.