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Wings Over Scotland

Poor wee Scotland

Posted on March 11, 2012 by

The Unionist parties aren’t completely stupid. While we all know that one of their core arguments against independence is that Scotland is too wee, too poor and too stupid to survive without the rest of the UK, they’re not quite daft enough to be caught coming out and bluntly saying it in those terms.

So they were faced with a tricky dilemma with the release of the latest GERS figures last week, which showed that Scotland contributed over £2bn more to the UK economy in the 2009/10 fiscal year than it got back in UK Government spending. (And that figure itself neglects a number of large discrepancies in the figures, where money considered as “Scottish spending” isn’t actually spent in Scotland at all, such as almost a billion pounds on defence alone.)

One approach is to get friendly journalists to print unchallenged quotes and then use them in your headlines. The other, not-unrelated strategy is to spin the figures in such a way that Scotland subsidising the rest of the UK somehow sounds like the exact opposite – or as the Herald’s story put it, “Labour, Tory and Liberal Democrat politicians claimed the report proved Scotland was better off within the UK.”

The job of explaining this remarkable distortion of the truth fell to the unfortunate Ken Macintosh, finance spokesman for Scottish Labour, who was shoved onto Newsnight Scotland on March 7th to explain why Scotland having more money on the plus side of its books would be a bad thing. It was a tough line to push, and poor Ken was forced to begin by trying to convince viewers that he didn’t understand the basic concept of how arithmetic works. Let’s break down his comments and see how he did, and what it tells us about the Unionist vision of Scotland, starting with his opening gambit.

“The idea that somehow you can take figures that show an £11bn deficit and say we’re better off is ludicrous.”

Well, no it isn’t, if the alternative was to have (say) a £14bn deficit rather than an £11bn one. “Better off” is a relative term, not an absolute one. Apparently if Ken Macintosh was £14,000 in debt and his bank offered to write £3000 of it off for nothing, he’d tell them not to bother as it was “ludicrous” to suggest he’d be any better off as a result. This man wants to be in control of Scotland’s budget.

“At the very least, we’re just not as badly off as the rest of the UK, we’re all drowning in a sea of debt.”

We think he means “at the very most” there. But we’re pretty sure that “not as badly off” and “better off” in fact mean the same thing. At this point, Gordon Brewer stepped in with an observation making the point that budget deficits during economic downturns are a completely normal fact of life in almost every Western democracy, and that Scotland’s was relatively modest: “But what the figures show is that Scotland would be fine as an independent country”, he suggested.

“I don’t actually. I actually think that what the figures reveal yet again is that our finances and our economies are interdependent. The Scottish and the UK economy is one, we don’t have a separate economy.”

Now, we’re not quite sure what question “I don’t actually” is an answer to there, but it seems pretty clear that the gist of Ken Macintosh’s answer to Brewer’s point is that he disagrees. That is, he thinks Scotland WOULDN’T be fine as an independent country. On further pressing from Brewer, he explained why.

“The only reason for any difference between these figures [the contribution made by Scotland to the UK Treasury and the lower amount received back in spending] is because of oil, so the idea that we should base Scotland’s future on a commodity that’s finite – I don’t think that’s right.”

We’re tempted to ask what Ken Macintosh thinks an oil-rich country SHOULD base its economy on. Perhaps the Saudis should shut down their wells and get into financial services and nail-painting salons. But the SNP’s policy, stated roughly 20,000 times since 2007, is that oil money should be used in the same way Norway uses it, ie to build a sovereign wealth fund to invest in sustainable resources for the future.

But Ken wasn’t finished explaining why Scotland was too wee and too poor to survive.

“It’s nothing to be proud of, but Scotland’s had a fiscal deficit for 25 years now, quarter of a century…”

Thanks for clearing up how long 25 years is, Ken. Your predecessor as Labour’s finance spokesman, Andy Kerr, would probably have called it a millennium.

“…we’ve repeatedly been in a situation where we’ve been relying on the UK for our spending commitments.”

Well, no. Evidently we’ve been relying on the UK to get us into debt, while sucking tens of billions of pounds out of Scotland to spend on illegal wars, nuclear weapon systems we don’t want and lining the pockets of private business with extortionate profits from PFI contracts that our grandchildren will still be paying for.

(We note in passing that that Herald story is filed, bizarrely, under “Sport > SPL > Aberdeen”, which is presumably in order to make it easier for nationalist-leaning politics aficionados to locate.)

“If you just take, for example, the rescue of the banks – “

We must admit we zoned out for a bit at that point, readers, because we’ve heard this broken old lie of a record too many times before. But we shook ourselves awake just in time to hear Macintosh’s conclusion:

“So we’d end up in a situation a bit like either Greece or Portugal or Ireland… my pension and your pension would be at risk in that situation.”

So there you have it. The official position of Scottish Labour, as explained by its finance spokesman, is that Scotland COULDN’T survive as an independent country, that we’d end up like Greece, Ireland or Portugal, and that we’d all have no pensions. (As if we’re going to have any pensions if we stay in the UK.)

That’s the size of Labour’s pride in Scotland, and the positive case for the Union, there, in all their glory. Two for the price of one – or as we imagine Ken Macintosh puts in when he angrily hands back buy-one-get-one-free offers at his local Asda (or votes against a 60% increase in apprenticeships), a terrible rip-off.

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5 to “Poor wee Scotland”

  1. DougtheDug

    It's not really financial illiteracy on the part of Ken McIntosh, more a career decision.
    The Labour party is committed to the Union and keeping its place in the British Establishment with the resultant career path into the House of Lords, enoblement and lucrative directorships for its politicians.
    For the Labour party, any evidence that independence will be better for Scots and Scotland has to be weighed up against losing that touch of ermine at the throat and all that comes with it.
    In the light of that possible loss then any evidence which supports independence has to be obfuscated, buried or discarded in whatever manner possible, logical or illogical.

  2. Angus McLellan

    To go off at a tangent, Ken Macintosh might like something on the lines of this video – – only not played for laughs. Can't see that being made though.
    I suppose he'll just have to make do with the threatened TV version – see – of Mr Kirsty Wark's bad novel instead. And maybe a rerun of Scotch on the Rocks if the BBC can find the tapes.

  3. Bugger (the Panda)

    It is getting so obvious now that someone should just print off a list of the tactics, tricks and smears that the unionist camp have been using for years.
    Number the one to ten or so.
    It would save us time having to rebut them, within our own discussion groups and we could just flag them up a No 6 or or 4.5.
    Oiur own wee language of unionist nonsense.

  4. TamD

    Bugger (the Panda)
    "someone should just print off a list "
    Why stop at 10, there so many of them. Paul Kavanagh is already listing them (scare stories) at Newsnetscotland. Update weekly.
    Check it oot

  5. Patrick Stirling

    Rogue Nation! sounds like a load of FUD tripe, but you should never judge a book by its cover, so I'm gonna reserve a copy at the local charity shop.

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