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Wings Over Scotland

Britain’s ticking time bombs 11

Posted on April 19, 2012 by

This blog likes to think it can give credit where credit's due, so we have to take our hats off to the British establishment this week. Westminster has clearly been playing a far longer game than any of us had previously imagined when it comes to the threat of Scottish independence, and it's more than just successive Labour and Tory administrations suppressing the explosive McCrone Report way back in the 1970s.

Because it seems that Westminster has spent the last four decades (and possibly the last three centuries) cunningly sabotaging Scotland from within, with the intention of creating a Doomsday scenario whereby if the Scots should ever look like voting for independence, the UK Government can reveal the lethal Sword of Damocles hanging by a thread over the country's economic prospects and terrify them back into line.

We have, of course, already been hilariously told that should an independent Scotland reject nuclear weapons, it would have to pay the multi-billion-pound costs of the rUK building replacement facilities to house them, despite the stunningly plain fact that as the sole property of the rUK, the Trident fleet would be entirely the rUK's problem. (And despite the fact that Scotland never asked for or wanted it in the first place.) The taxpayers of independent Scotland would also be likely to be left on the hook for billions more to decommission nuclear power stations built by Westminster.

But the latest outbreak of gunboat diplomacy from the Unionists is pointed menacingly at Scotland's very heart. The media is suddenly full of tales of a staggering £30bn bill to clean up the North Sea oil rigs when they finally stop production 30, 50 or 100 years from now, and apparently that invoice will be coming straight to Edinburgh too.

It's an odd notion, and one immediately undermined by the fact that despite the screaming headlines, the incomprehensibly vast sum wouldn't actually be an expense as such at all – it would supposedly take the form of tax relief to be offset against income tax receipts from the sale of the oil. Nevertheless, the can of worms opened up by this theory is almost infinitely deep.

The questions are numerous and obvious. Since the UK has been enjoying the benefits of the oil infrastructure for the last four decades and collecting 100% of the tax receipts, how could it possibly expect to get away without sharing the burden of the clean-up for a mess it created? How can you offset unknown future costs against present tax receipts anyway? What would be to stop an independent Scottish Government from simply changing its tax-relief rules 20 years from now? And most bafflingly of all, how in the world is it going to cost £30bn to shut down a few tiny outcrops of steel in a vast ocean in the first place?

There are a lot of oil rigs and related structures in UK waters – almost 500, in fact – but it's not like they're radioactive. They'll only be abandoned when there's no more oil (or very close to none) left to be pumped, so the risk of pollution would be negligible. They're hundreds of miles from shore anyway, and well away from shipping lanes. Even if they were to somehow explode they're not going to present any discernible danger to anything, and would burn out soon enough. To be blunt, given all the horrific other stuff we're doing to the environment anyway, what does it matter if we just pour concrete down the pipes, walk away and let them slowly rust into the sea?

We're being somewhat glib and simplistic, of course. But we can't for the life of us see how it could conceivably cost £60m+ to shut down each and every oil-industry installation – some of which are extremely small – in the North Sea. And there's a very good reason for that: it can't.

The Great Oil Clean-Up is just the latest in a long line of Unionist scaremongering myths. If you were to believe every piece of half-baked gibberish that's cropped up in the last 12 months alone, an independent Scotland would be crushed under a debt mountain beyond imagining. According to the London parties and the UK media, we'd be lumbered with £30bn in oil clean-up, a £140bn share of the UK deficit, perhaps £20bn to pay the rUK to move Trident, another few billion to build some defence forces from scratch, a few billion more for the nuclear power stations, £187bn in bailout money for the banks (because naturally we'd be responsible for the entire support of both banks, as they did have the word "Scotland" in their names), and of course the small matter of a whopping £1.5 trillion in liabilities for them as well.

That little lot, if we throw in a bit extra for inflation and all the other stuff that's bound to come up, comes to a kick up the kilt off £2 trillion – or for perspective, around 1,500% of Scotland's entire annual GDP. We would lead the world league table of proportional debt by a dizzyingly vast margin – the current runaway leader, Zimbabwe, has managed to rack up just 230%. (Even if we discounted the liabilities part of RBS and HBOS, cutting the total to around £500bn, we'd still be on about 400%.)

There are, clearly, two things we need to draw from these figures. Firstly, that they're complete cobblers. But secondly, if we were to imagine just for the fun of it that they were true, Scotland would be by far and away the poorest country on the face of the planet. And if that's what being in the Union for the last 300 years has brought us, you have to ask just how much worse a job of things we could possibly do by ourselves.

Scotland after the referendum 10

Posted on March 12, 2012 by

If you’re a bit naive, it can be hard to understand why the parties of the Union are so bitterly opposed to a second question on the referendum ballot. All three of them, after all, claim to want more powers for Scotland (though not yet, and they don’t want to tell us which ones), and after all the fuss they’ve made before it seems odd that they don’t feel the need to get any democratic mandate for them.

It’s also odd because it’s pretty much agreed by everyone on all sides that a second question for, let’s call it Devo-X, would all but completely sink the SNP’s chances of winning a Yes to full independence, whereas in a straight two-way face-off it’s already very close and the numbers (as well as the arguments) are slowly but steadily moving in the Nats’ direction. That appears an awfully big gamble for the No parties to take purely in order to deny the SNP something (more powers, but short of independence) that all the Unionists are supposedly in favour of.

So what’s the real reason? Well, it’s not too hard to figure out.

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Why Labour doesn’t need Scotland 111

Posted on January 10, 2012 by

One of Labour’s sneakier tricks in opposing Scottish independence is to appeal to Scottish voters’ sense of social responsibility. The former party of socialist internationalism begs the Scots to show Unionist solidarity with their poor comrades in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, who would – the story runs – be abandoned permanently to the mercies of the evil Tories if the Westminster Parliament was deprived of its traditional sizeable block of Labour MPs from Scotland.

This narrative is regularly propagated by Labour’s friends in the media (and sometimes by gleeful Tories too). Only today, for example, the Scotsman carries the line in a piece which asserts that an independent Scotland would leave David Cameron “with an inbuilt Tory majority for his party in the rest of the UK”.

There are, of course, innumerable things wrong with this argument – for one, the dubious morality of using Scottish MPs to impose a Labour government on English voters who may have rejected one, when Scotland has its own Parliament and England doesn’t. (An offshoot of the timeless West Lothian Question.) And for another, the highly questionable premise that the modern-day Labour Party is ideologically significantly different from the Tories anyway.

But the biggest problem with the notion is simply that it’s completely untrue.

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The Bannockburn myth 12

Posted on January 08, 2012 by

Sometimes this blog wonders if it’s missed a meeting that everyone else in the Scottish/UK media and blogosphere was at. It’s hard to explain in any other way the sudden outpouring of absolutely demented, nonsensical keech that’s inexplicably spewed from all corners recently about the SNP planning to hold the independence referendum in June 2014, on the 700th anniversary of the Battle Of Bannockburn.

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