The world's most-read Scottish politics website

Wings Over Scotland


Neither Brigadoon nor GERSland

Posted on March 17, 2013 by

Brigadoon is the story of a Scottish village which only appears for one day every hundred years. GERSland, on the other hand, is a country – similar to Scotland in many ways – which has appeared, albeit fleetingly, every year since 1999.

brigadoon

GERSland too suffers from Caledonian Antisyzygy – it is simultaneously like Scotland and unlike it. It is not Scotland as we know it and it’s not a glimpse of an independent Scotland either, despite the dogged insistence of countless journalists, analysts and commentators less insightful than Wings Over Scotland’s on presenting it as such.

It is, as the lawyers say, sui generis, or a special case.

GERSland differs from present-day Scotland in many ways. For example, it has a defence budget but Holyrood doesn’t. Even if they are ignored by lazy journalists, cheap pundits and politicians in search of a soundbite, this sort of difference between GERSland and an independent Scotland is relatively easy to understand, even if it isn’t always easy to put numbers to.

As well as the annual appearance of GERSland out of the depths of the Scotch mist which hide it away for 51 weeks in a year, this month also saw the long-awaited announcement on army rebasing. This shock announcement, confirming what had been public knowledge for three months (see Q37 & Q38), took most of the media by surprise (though in fairness the Scotsman was on the case in January). This provoked the usual complaint that defence spending in Scotland is substantially less than a population share would suggest.

But how is this related to GERSland? For that, we need to turn our attention to another news story, the OBR’s letter to David Cameron. Austerity, say the OBR, reduces growth; government spending increases it. Who knew? While the OBR disagree with the IMF and many economists on the impact of spending, they don’t deny that there IS a link. So let’s see where this gets us.

When it comes to these fiscal multiplier effects, GERSland is a country with a serious handicap faced by no real-world independent country. A considerable part of its budget is spent abroad, mainly in England. Perhaps half of the defence budget, say £1.5 billion in round numbers, is producing a multiplier effect close to zero.

But it’s worse than that. All expenditure is not created equal in its multiplier effects, and GERSland’s defence budget allocates just over a third of its spending to personnel costs whereas countries of comparable size generally allocate at least half of theirs. So not only does much of GERSland’s defence budget get spent “abroad”, what’s left tends to get spent in ways which minimize the local benefit and maximize the returns to the shareholders of corporations like BAE, Lockheed-Martin and Boeing.

The bottom line is that GERSland is, via the defence budget, exporting jobs – not just the uniformed personnel and the civil servants and the defence contractors, but also the civilian jobs which their wages support – and therefore money, to the rUK and to the USA, in a way that no small independent country would. Denmark doesn’t spend half its military budget on bases in Germany.

Other central government departments represent a similar picture of economic madness, if GERSland is supposed to stand for an independent Scotland. For example, GERSland notionally spends £150 million or so on foreign relations, employing about 400 home-based staff. But GERSland spends this money in London.

Although Ireland may spend more on foreign relations, it spends much of that money at home and gains taxes and related economic benefits from doing so. To put some numbers to those benefits, Ireland plays host to 55 foreign missions, with 300 foreign diplomats and perhaps 2500-3000 local Irish employees, as well as employing 1300 full-time civil servants at home and abroad.

Poor GERSland, meanwhile, hosts only a handful of consulates with an insignificant number of people working in them. However good a job GERSland’s foreign affairs ministry is doing at representing it, the can be no disputing the fact that it’s doing so in a way which reduces the multiplier effects of the spending to approximately zero.

Rather than arguing about the meaning of GERS results showing Scots as being £842 less worse off in one fiscal year, or whatever the number may be, it might be better to talk about the reasons why GERSland is not, and will never be, any sort of guide to the shape of an independent Scotland. (Except geographically.)

As Gerry Hassan might say, in order to properly discuss the realities of the latter nation we need to tell a story, and that story should not start “Once upon a time in a faraway land which only existed for one week in a year …”

Print Friendly

    25 to “Neither Brigadoon nor GERSland”

    1. Morag says:

      Can we have a mouse-over for that picture, Stu?

    2. benarmine says:

      That is excellent stuff Angus, thank you. As we all keep saying, how can this be put on the front page?

    3. Peter A Bell says:

      Excellent article making some serious points.

    4. Jiggsbro says:

      I’m always cheered by reading these sort of intelligent, well-researched pieces highlighting what a poor deal Scotland gets out of the union.
       
      Then I remember that most people aren’t reading this, they’re reading that we’ll have no blood to treat the wounded when Russia invades to take the oil we won’t have because Shetland will have declared independence.

    5. Adrian B says:

      Then I remember that most people aren’t reading this, they’re reading that we’ll have no blood to treat the wounded when Russia invades to take the oil we won’t have because Shetland will have declared independence.
       
      Aye, it could only happen under the Union.

    6. Angus McLellan says:

      Thanks Benarmine. Giving credit where it’s due, this article might never have existed without the inspiration provided by Professor Brian Ashcroft although Professor Ashcroft’s point is much broader than this narrow argument about GERSland. Thanks also to Peter A. Bell, and to Rev Stu for editing the dull prose.
       

    7. Dave McEwan Hill says:

      I can’t be doing with these Northern Isles LibDem separatists
      Is it the fact that the whole cost of Trident is charged to the Scottish account in the GERS report?
       

    8. JLT says:

      Then I remember that most people aren’t reading this, they’re reading that we’ll have no blood to treat the wounded when Russia invades to take the oil we won’t have because Shetland will have declared independence.
       
      You can actually expand on that…
       
      Then I remember that most people aren’t reading this, they’re reading that we’ll have no blood to treat the wounded when Russia invades to take the oil we won’t have because Shetland will have declared independence. Scotland will be unable to defend itself against the Russian hordes as it will have no amry, no navy, no air force or nuclear weapons.
      Bizarrely …the Pound will remain steady during this conquest, even though Scotland will still share it with the rUK. Even more bizarrely, England will remain in the huff with Scotland; angered that the Scots won’t take their usual medicine of 40 years of perpetual Tory – UKIP rule. England will not defend Scotland as ‘it will be our own fault’, and yet England won’t be bothered that the Russians now sit 6 miles from Carlisle.
      And at the end of the day, there is nothing that Scotland can do about it, as we have no one to protest too, because we have no money for Embassies in any nation …at …all.
       
      Now…why doesn’t the Scotsman run that as a scare story. Everything nicely wrapped up for it!!!

    9. Angus McLellan says:

      No Dave, Trident isn’t all charged to Scotland in GERS. Like the report’s authors say (p. 9) defence is a public good [Wikipedia] which benefits everyone in Ukania, so the expenditure is allocated on a population share basis. For the reasons set out here, the other half of the equation – revenues – doesn’t work like that in the real, devolved world or in GERSland.
       
      The case of Trident neatly points out the dangers of assuming that the public and private sectors can be neatly separated (as the Telegraph did here, to pick one example among many), or that direct employment created by government spending can be found in government statistics. The 1500-2000 people who work for Babcock, Serco and the rest supporting operations at Faslane and Coulport and Greenock are private sector employees. But as Mr Davidson and his committee have made clear, their jobs are every bit as dependent today upon MoD spending as any civil servant or anyone in uniform.

      At one time, say back in the 70s or earlier, GERSland would have had those Babcock and Serco people shown as industrial civil servants. Today they, and the huge number of others working for Westland-Augusta, BAE, etc on government contracts, have disappeared off the books. That miracle was made possible by the twin wonders of privatization and PFI. It made little difference to the taxpayer, but it did make any attempt to reconcile GERS with reality, let alone with a future independent, much harder. And that’s before we start thinking about the unthinkable, best represented by ATOS and health assessments.

    10. cath says:

      “Scotland will be unable to defend itself against the Russian hordes as it will have no amry, no navy, no air force or nuclear weapons.”
       
      Oh but it WILL have nuclear weapons, as we won’t be allowed to get rid of them if we join NATO, even though we also won’t be allowed to have them due to the non-proliferation treaty.

    11. Iain says:

      Good piece, always refreshing to occasionally take the the Britnat stereotypes (Brigadoon, Braveheart etc) and fling them right back.
       
      ‘Denmark doesn’t spend half its military budget on bases in Germany.’
       
      or Akrotiri, the Falklands, Gibraltar, Ascension, and all the other Kabuki masks necessary to keep the UK feeling good about itself.

    12. Indion says:

      Germane Angus! And doubtless a boon for the tireless Rev Stu in expanding his one man band at WoS into an orchestra of contributors.

      At first sight what follows may appear out of context, but – since kininvie recently drew attention to the lack of blogs such as WoS by the as yet unpersuaded – Jiggsbro’s comment at 5:54pm sparked a concern I’d been pondering about how best to reach out to the undecided when he wrote:
      “ I’m always cheered by reading these sort of intelligent, well-researched pieces highlighting what a poor deal Scotland gets out of the union. Then I remember that most people aren’t reading this …. “

      Now, I came to this post about 2 hours ago via this #indyref tweet by it’s scouring originator’s service to the cause in searching out and relaying the most pertinent latest:

      Look Aboot Ye ?@ThereWasACoo
      Neither Brigadoon nor GERSland – http://wingsoverscotland.com/brigadoon-and-gersland/ … #IndyRef #VoteYes #bettertogether #YesScot

      What struck me was not the 3 x pro-indy to 1 x agin #tags, but the thought that perhaps our search for converts could be expanded further by the grassroots campaign if such tweets were re-relayed to a broader audience in all walks of life  who do not follow political #tags, but who nonetheless might be drawn through their own interests into the associated wider considerations of resolving peoples problems.

      So, does anyone know if there is anyway of finding out which are regularly the most used #tags in Scotland in general that we old, middle-aged and young folk follow socially or for any other reason, and if so how/where? For instance, is there such a thing as a #tag cloud over Scotland, or is that an analytical tool only available to the twitter service beyond the trending shown?

      We’ve already got indy for all sorts springing up. Which are the most popular #tags for all sorts?

    13. Ron Wilson says:

      Excellent piece, for too long the pro Scottish side has suffered from an inferiority complex on defence. You should get Jim Mather on the case distilling the MoD/defence info into PowerPoint & Mindmap.

    14. ianbrotherhood says:

      New Irn Bru ad.
      Deconstruct this!

    15. Thomas Dunlop says:

      Is that Alastair Darling sitting at the back in the picture?

    16. Jiggsbro says:

      We’ve already got indy for all sorts springing up. Which are the most popular #tags for all sorts?
       
      I don’t think there’s any way to separate Scotland from the UK (not a sentence I would have imagined typing). Twitter will tell you which hashtags are trending in the UK, and some of them (#StMirren, for example) will be obviously Scottish. Some of them won’t. In any event, I’m not convinced of the efficacy of piggy-backing hashtags, unless there’s a clear link to be made (if, for example, it was an argument that #StMirren would win the League Cup more often under independence).

    17. Indion says:

      Jiggsbro at 9:33pm
      Point taken, especially on ‘trending’. Eg in the case of this post, what #tag would economists and associated staticians use in their twitter forums to add to ours? Ditto when topics such as oil, taxation, benefits and pensions and so on are covered when ‘trending’ in the UK as I reckon they will be before, during and after Thursday’s budget and thus simply being alert to spotting and piggy back on to at the time.
      Beyond that, I’m trying to get handles for the popular everday #tag usage by the many mickles who could be persuaded to mak our muckle.

    18. Megsmaw says:

      After reading yet again more pish from the Bitters, I am reminded of The Matrix and the following quote from Morpheus.
      “The Matrix is a system, Neo. That system is our enemy. But when you’re inside, you look around, what do you see? Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters. The very minds of the people we are trying to save. But until we do, these people are still a part of that system and that makes them our enemy. You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it.”

      I find it aptly fitting.

    19. Breastplate says:

      The blue pill or the red pill?

    20. The Man in the Jar says:

      @Magsmaw
      Good comment!

    21. Indion says:

      @ Megsmaw – thirded!

      The sole purpose of the UK state is to remain in being for the haves lest all end in having nought.

    22. Craig P says:

      JLT – I like your idea of an omnibus scare story, an aggregation of all the scares in one bleak picture of an independent Scotland where our beer is astronomically expensive, the English bomb our runways and… think of all the forms to fill in!

    23. Indion says:

      On 17 Mar 9:00pm Ron Wilson said:

      “ Excellent piece, for too long the pro-Scottish side has suffered from an inferiority complex on defence. You should get Jim Mather on the case distilling the MoD/defence info into PowerPoint & Mindmap. “

      Jings Ron , work would have been much simpler if we only had MindMaps when I was at MoD!

      Whatever, we should all bear in mind the MoD is no different to any other UK Ministry of State in being politically led and staffed with civil servants for whom the professional hired help in its case are the military tearing their hair out in the background. And I’m sure that would have been and still would be much the same case if other ministries had any professionally hired help too – apart from the Treasury, where I suspect there are far too many bean counters if not economists anyway.

      On its own, a PPE degree in administrative policy making is worthless unless underpinned by experienced professional nous as to acceptable risk if common sense outcomes are to be attained and maintained over the long term. Without that, governance is prey to the consultants and lobbyists for self-interest groups both within and ouwith the corridors of apparent power.

      Hence, for example, the rich pickings for consulants to the Northern Irish, Scottish and Welsh Offices, of whom Devolution Matters springs to mind, despite it dawning on him the excluded middle had not been by a single all inclusive question and so now beavering away at one of the devolved negotiating positions in the event of a Yes vote.

      As to ‘a pro-Scottish inferiority complex on defence’ matters, I beg to differ having assessed the SNP’s open pronouncements and their erstwhile supporters’ smokescreening to be consistent in positioning for negotiated transitional arrangements from which to create our own bespoke defence force – much as all else in fact given the absolute priorty must be fiscal discipline after the failure of successive Con and Lab maladministrations at least since Big Bang to prevent these financially induced anything but times of plenty.

      Beyond transitional arrangements, my preference would be for a single composite force of regular and reserve Marines with integrated air, land and sea elements for home defence – including voluntary and contracted rescue services, that hence could be readily deployed alone or melded into an allied task force for UN, and in time – subject to resolution of the nuclear red-line – UN sanctioned NATO operations of our chosing to be part of elsewhere.

      (As an aside, there is no reason why any of such forces should not be named after our traditional Scottish regiments, albeit the Cameron or Gordon Highlander’s might not be a popular choice ahead of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlander’s right now for a multi-role fighter outfit, whereas the Seaforth’s would be a shoe-in for a ship!)

      We’ve got what it takes to do our own thing in sharing our sovereignty in the mutual interest of the totality of all our relationships with families friends and fellow folk in the British Isles, Europe, the Commonwealth and wider world.

    24. Ken Johnston says:

      Just the thing I have been asking the SNP and Yes for data on to do an A4 to go with the YES leaflets. Not GERS speak, but the pounds and pence of the cashflow, credit and debit accounts. Not 8.6% of this and 9.3% of income and 9.6% of this and that. £ and p, profit and loss. If I may, KIS.
      If your not patriotic enough to be a Yes without being told you will be better off, then that void Has to be filled. And the only way is by leafleting and talk. I have been making a point of asking people I bump into if they are using social media and most are not. I don’t.
       How much does Crown estates  raise. I saw someone ask if fines, I presume motoring fines, go to the Exchequer. Fuel tax might be another. The unseen cash flows.

    25. Ken Johnston says:

      I might add, London cross rail, London Sewerage project, national grid charges, or in the south, rebates for generation projects. BBC funding, Olympics funding v Commonwealth games funding, now HST at 30billion.



    Comment - please read this page for comment rules. HTML tags like <i> and <b> are permitted. Use paragraph breaks in long comments. DO NOT SIGN YOUR COMMENTS, either with a name or a slogan. If your comment does not appear immediately, DO NOT REPOST IT. Ignore these rules and I WILL KILL YOU WITH HAMMERS.




    ↑ Top