The world's most-read Scottish politics website

Wings Over Scotland


The big decision

Posted on July 30, 2013 by

You’ve bravely waded through a 3500-word book review already this morning, so let’s give you something a little more bite-sized to digest.

decision

This one could be a game-changer, folks. Brace yourselves.

We’ll keep this brief. We currently have a cash ISA (balance £3.42). It pays 0.1% interest.  The annual cash limit for contributions to an ISA is £5,760.

At 0.1% interest, that’s £5.76 a year.

Normally you’d be charged tax on that sum, at 20%. But because we’re better together in the UK, you don’t have to pay it!

(We’ll leave aside the obviously-mad notion that an independent Scotland could also grant tax relief on savings accounts if it chose to.)

That’s a saving of £1.15 every single year, thanks to the Union!

(Assuming you can afford to save almost six grand. Our donations page is here.)

We’re trying to imagine the small decisions now.

Print Friendly

77 to “The big decision”

  1. DMyers says:

    Looks like someone is using that piggy bank to store their cod liver oil tablets…

  2. Dunc says:

    You need to move to a better ISA. That’s the worst interest rate I’ve ever seen.

  3. NorthBrit says:

    @RevStu
    Isn’t the bigger point that they’re telling us that we will lose UK tax relief on something we won’t be paying tax on (because we won’t be UK resident)?  
    To put it mildly, this is a stupid argument.
    You mean “charged tax”.  Happy for you to have no idea what I mean.

  4. Rev. Stuart Campbell says:

    Dunc: I tried to, but they closed it down as soon as I sent the application form in.

  5. John Lyons says:

    Given a population of 5.2 million a large proportion of whom will be children, and assuming married couples have one between them(is that a fair assumption) are we really saying 2 million of us have Isa’s?
     
    I suppose if you include the ones that have £3.42 in them maybe we do.
     
    What’s 20% of 0.1% of £3.42? 0.000684? Stu, in 1000 years staying with the union will have benefited you  slightly more than half a penny. Vote no now! NOW! What are you waiting for?

  6. Rev. Stuart Campbell says:

    “Given a population of 5.2 million a large proportion of whom will be children, and assuming married couples have one between them(is that a fair assumption) are we really saying 2 million of us have Isa’s?”

    Children can have ISAs too, although the limit is lower.

  7. Linda's Back says:

    John Lyons
    Many people have more than one ISA as those wealthy enough can get a new one each year.

  8. It also seems to ignore the possibilty that any form of tax-free savings scheme could be set up in an independent Scotland.

  9. Tris says:

    Doesn’t the EU allow people to take out savings accounts of various sorts anywhere else in the union, or EEA?
     
    Of course, it’s fair to say that not every country may have tax free savings accounts on offer.

    The assumption also appears to be that the Scottish government would not also introduce a tax free savings scheme; one which, for small savers, might be even more beneficial.

  10. handclapping says:

    Oh dear, ISAs are now benefits are they; and being crowed about like the AAA rating by Better Together. Look to see them under Gideon’s cosh any day now.
    If Brown the Clown could bring British pensions provision to its knees in 13 years, then the ConDems can surely bring the British savings habit to a halt in 5.

  11. They’d previously said that independence would cost us £1 a year, if you add those then we’re already a massive £2.76 a year worse off.
    The FM said there was £300,000 in oil in the North Sea for every man, woman and child. Darling said he exaggerated by 12 times. So 300000/12 = £25,000 per person. I believe this was over the next 40 years, so 25,000 – (40*2.76) = 24,889,60
    This means we’ll only be £24,889,60 better off per person after independence or €28,724.34 after we’re expelled from the EU and forced to take the euro.
    A note of caution: due to the volatile nature of oil prices we may actually be €287,243.40 better off per person – don’t vote #Yes

  12. Robin Ross says:

    I tried to put money into ISAs when I could only to see them lose ground against inflation despite the tax free element because of the minimal rate of interest.  Tried three times to open a Post Office savings account and it failed every time through the incompetence of the organisation.  So when BT appeal either to my greed or to my canny housekeeping in the face of the abject failure of successive Westminster administrations to handle our tax income competently or ethically they are wasting their time. And when they claim we may not have a Post Office I am delighted, because once again successive Westminster administrations have destroyed the Post Office as we knew it, and in an independent Scotland we will have the opportunity to rebuild a viable public service.

  13. David Officer says:

    Children can have ISAs too, although the limit is lower.
    Are you sure about that Rev? They used to be limited to over 16’s and children don’t generally pay much tax so what would be the benefit?

  14. handclapping says:

    To nit pick, ISAs are not subject to tax relief but are exempt from tax. Better Together speaking with forked tongue, who’d of thunk it.

  15. David Morris says:

    Married couples cant have a joint ISA.  Its in the name Individual Savings Account.  

  16. handclapping says:

    @David Officer
    Junior ISA limit £3720 in 2013-14

  17. Robert Bryce says:

    You cannot open an adult ISA until your 16. And even then it’s only a cash ISA. It’s 18 for a Stocks & Shares adult ISA.
     
    Junior ISA has a limit of £3270 per annum

  18. David Officer says:

    huh, everyday’s a school day.

  19. dundee bloke says:

    Your brilliant Rev absolutely Brilliant 

  20. velofello says:

    When Gordon Brown, aye him again, pondered over ending the tax exemption I cashed mine. What use are they other the possible satisfaction of looking at the certificates as a sort of comfort blanket? inflation is running well ahead of the ISA interest rate.
    Then you have quantitive easing. If you’ve had the heirloom your Granny left valued at say £1000, and then the government lobs in 20% of sterling by quantitive easing your heirloom needs to be revalued to £1200. If you have £1000 sitting in a bank account, or an ISA you have lost 20% of your cash.

  21. Macart says:

    ISA, ISA BABY
    (BAGGY TROOSERS AND SIDEYWAYS JIG)
     
    WORD TO THE ISA.
     
    I can live without the one pound whatever relief.
     
    Word up. 🙂

  22. Willie Zwigerland says:

    Not a game changer, although if you had been putting in the maximum amount into ISAs for the last 10 years or so, the tax relief would be rather more substantial, particularly for higher-rate tax payers – i.e. the folk most likely to be tapped for cash in the People’s Republic of Scotland.

  23. Murray McCallum says:

    It’s beyond the wit of the [Scottish people] or [better together]* to continue tax free savings in an independent Scotland.
     
    * People resident in Scotland to decide which one applies.

  24. MajorBloodnok says:

    And there was me thinking you were all talking about Isa from Still Game.

  25. Bugger (the Panda) says:

    No more Premium Bonds too!

  26. Jeannie says:

    @major bloodnok
    I know!  2 million Isas benefiting from tax relief.  I’m changing my name. 

  27. Gordon Smith says:

    What if the iScottish government implemented a similar savings system. Would that be OK.
    Would  the iScottish AAA as opposed to the r’UK A+ put iScotland in a better place (rather than Conservative BetterTogether)

  28. Famous15 says:

    So can anyone explain the Times front page on charities being worse off by billions following YES. They said this was a surprise to Swinney. They were talking about pension schemes for UK charities. Bewildering…should we compensate charities for bad bookkeeping?

  29. scottish_skier says:

    Project fear is of course primarily aimed at the female electorate in Scotland.

    http://wingsoverscotland.com/the-story-of-project-fear/#comment-455667

    It’s all rather unpleasant.

  30. Jeannie says:

    I just don’t understand this latest offering from Better Together.  I have ISAs.  I don’t pay any tax on the interest because they are tax-free.  If it was tax relief, I’d have to factor in my personal allowances and would only get tax relief if my allowances weren’t already used up.  So, presumably post-independence, the same situation will exist.  I can buy the same product, but it will be up to the new Scottish Government to say whether or not they will class the interest from the ISAs as income and therefore taxable.  No?

  31. cirsium says:

    @Robin Ross 2.49pm
    Robin – the Post Office does not have its own bank. It uses one of the zombie Irish banks.   As well as a universal service, the Post Office in an independent Scotland should also offer its own retail banking service.

  32. Murray McCallum says:

    Jeannie
    I think your point is exactly right.  They are tax free at source.  You do not have to declare ISAs anywhere in self assessment to HMR&C.  Interest on them does not count against your personal allowance.  Same applies to SIPPS and Stakeholder pension plans.
    As you say, it is up to the government elected by the Scottish people to decide if they want previously tax free savings taxed.
    Am looking forward to hear the former Chancellors Brown and Darling lecture us on pensions security and their proven ability to ensure financial security.

  33. Arbroath 1320 says:

    Just a wee note to the wise folks. Anyone working the figures out must remember that the population of Scotland is 6 Million and NOT 5.2 million. As the great leader of the Better Together has been only too happy to point out Scotland’s population is 6 million. Now who are we, lowly cybernats, to question the accuracy of Mr Darling’s “creativity” with figures! 😆

  34. Robert Bryce says:

    Bugger (the Panda) says:
    No more Premium Bonds too!
     
    Yea, no more buying Westminster debt.

  35. The Man in the Jar says:

    My ISA is presently sitting at the grand sum of £00.03 so I will obviously have to give a no vote serious consideration after this devastating news. 😉

  36. Graeme Cowie says:

    Yes, this campaign is bizarre and another one to put on the “good things exist under the status quo, therefore vote Union” pile.
     
    But using an ISA bearing 0.1% interest on the maximum annual contribution as an example is hugely disingenuous. The vast majority of ISAs in the UK at the moment bear between 2% (for easy access ISAs) and 2.6%+ for fixed ISAS. That would represent about £23 a year tax discount for a standard rate payer and £46 or so for an additional rate payer. Still beans, but not remotely the amounts you’re suggesting.

    We can beat the Unionists’ strongest hand. Let’s stop hitting straw men and claiming triumphant victory, eh?

  37. Triangular Ears says:

    I transferred the putrid remains of my cash ISA into my stocks and shares ISA, bought some quality FTSE 100 shares about to go ex-div, got the 2 or 3% dividend (can’t remember exact amount), and sold the shares a couple of weeks later at a slight capital profit too.
     
    Cash ISAs were good once but are utter pish now.  Stocks and shares ISAs still have some benefits, but even they aren’t what they used to be.  The capital gains allowance is quite high now anyway, so most people won’t benefit from this relief.  The main benefit left is probably the reduced paperwork if you are a self-assessor!

  38. Juteman says:

    I would think that anyone who invested in an ISA was reasonably literate financialy, so will already be a YES voter. Whi is this fearbomb aimed at?

  39. Alex Clark says:

    I see a group of blokes (no women) with sweating brows sitting around a table pencils in hand discussing the next blow to the YES campaign. “ISA’s that’s it, let’s publish”
    hahaha if that’s their best shot there really is nothing to worry about. A spent force for sure, what will they have left for Sep 2014?

  40. Juteman says:

    OT.
    I hope that wasn’t one of your questions over on James Kellys blog, Stu? 🙂

  41. Rev. Stuart Campbell says:

    “Let’s stop hitting straw men”

    Um, it’s not a straw man. That IS what my ISA pays. Only noticed a few weeks ago, pretty shocked. But if we’re quibbling about numbers, how many of those 2 million ISAs get the maximum paid in every year?

  42. Edward Barbour says:

    Better Together now touting that the UK benefits from a £ 85,000 savings Guarantee that pays out if your bank collapses. Shame really that Better Together are clutching at straws, as its a fact that under EU regulations all countries within the EU have to guarantee the same for banks within EU territory of €100,000 protection per individual per bank.

  43. JLT says:

    Hi Rev,
    Slightly deviating here, but no doubt you will have seen this already on the BBC. I think this awaits Scotland if it is a ‘No’ Vote
     
    ‘Fracking OK for ‘desolate’ North East, says Tory peer’
     
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-23505723
     
    This could be a new line of attack on the Unionists, Rev. We know it won’t happen in an independent Scotland, but will McDougall, Darling, et al agree that it should also be the same if it is a No vote?

  44. Murray McCallum says:

    Edward Barbour
    Scottish financial institutions already pay their levy into the FSCS.  The £85,000 UK FSCS is totally independent of government.  The UK government does not guarantee the £85,000.  Again, better together are implying Scottish people are thick and incapable of realising that, if needs be, Scottish registered institutions would simply switch their funding to a Scottish FSCS.

  45. Angus McLellan says:

    BT just tweeted that Scots “benefit” from the UK’s £85K deposit guarantee. Leaving aside the obvious question – “What sort of idiot keeps £85K in the bank” – that’s less than in most EU countries. Ian Taylor’s dirty money pays for this “research”. Muppets.

  46. Dcanmore says:

    Hi Rev, just donated and taken your campaign up to the £6000 mark 🙂

  47. Mosstrooper says:

    Apparently I would lose about £500 with independence.
    SOLD! FECK ‘EM I’ll take that deal
    O/T There is a shop in Glasgow selling T Shirts with “AYE” and “NAW” on them
    The AYE’S are outselling the NAW’S 10 to 1

  48. Barontorc says:

    I’ve said it before and I’m saying it again – why are we not setting-up our own Scottish Savings Bank starting from Day1 of the rest of our independent lives. If these UK held ISA’s are producing zilch and likely to keep doing so as they go down the tubes, let’s offer a little extra and keep the dosh here in Scotland.
     
    I’m not talking casino banking – never again should that appear in our country in whatever form, but in a development bank designed to work for the Scottish people and its economic development. If it can be done successfully in the likes of Bangladesh, it must be adaptable in some format here with better than 0.1% return for your money:-
    http://info.worldbank.org/etools/docs/reducingpoverty/case/108/fullcase/Bangladesh%20Microfinance%20Full%20Case.pdf

  49. Murray McCallum says:

    Sorry forgot to put a link explaining how the UK Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) is funded.  Scottish institutions (and therefore their customers) are already contributing to this system in the UK.
    http://www.fscs.org.uk/industry/funding/index.html

  50. lumilumi says:

    This stupid scare story hinges on the assumption that an independent Scotland would not have a scheme for ordinary people to long-term save. Why? Do all the BT-partner parties envisage that IF Scotland voted YES despite all their efforts, and IF they were in the position to form the government of an independent Scotland, they’d raid people’s savings’ interests? Out of spite to those naughty voters who dared to break the great British union???
     
    I have to confess I don’t really know what the situation is like in Finland. I haven’t ever paid tax on the interest of my savings account (pitiful as the interest is – the other side of the coin of having a low mortgage interest rate), and certainly never on the savings capital, but maybe that’s because my savings have never been very substantial, a few thousand euro at best.
     
    The Finnish state has tried to incentivise people to be prudent with their money in several ways over the decades. There have been schemes to help people save  for their (first) home and build (self-build is still quite common in Finland – the real Finnish man builds a home for his family) or buy it. Part of mortgage interest on your own home is still tax-deductible (Sorry, no tax breaks for those who rent their home).
     
    Payments to private pension schemes are also partly tax-deductible, and the pension pot won’t be taxed – until you start taking it out, when it’ll be taxed according to the normal pension tax rate.
     
    These schemes and tax breaks are of course for people who can afford to put away some money every month. I’m a middle income person and it’s increasingly difficult to save. The income gap is nowhere as huge in Finland as it is in the UK, but it is growing, which is worrying, and the “aspiring tories” keep voting for our “tories” – a party which is actually left of Brithish Labour but our most right-wing mainstream party – which gives FA about (lower) middle-income aspirers.
     
    Anyway, this BT scare story about ISAs is just a big headline, no substance. Unless the BT parties, IF they get into power in an independent Scotland are going to scrap ISAs or similar schemes. Or, more worryingly, if Scotland votes NO, they’s end ISAs in Scotland as a trade off for more fiscal responsibility (but no fiscal powers), the jam tomorrow option they’re hinting at.

  51. Juteman says:

    I wish a Dundee shop would sell t-shirts.
    Eh or nut. 🙂

  52. Albalha says:

    @juteman
    Would it be ‘or’  ….good idea however
     

  53. Juteman says:

    ur 🙂

  54. Albalha says:

    @mosstrooper
    Which shop?
     
     

  55. Caroline Corfield says:

    that £85,000 by the way is for savings and money in a bank, and all it’s subsidaries (I know there is a red line but it’s a word I just can’t spell) If you take my bank, the Lloyds TSB, currently trying to cut itself in two as a result of the EU competition commission, that means Lloyds TSB, Scottish Widows bank, the Bank Of Scotland, the Halifax, Birmingham Midshires, The Agricultural Mortgage Corporation and a few others that are less likely to have your money in them. So really if you think you’ve spread your capital around, you haven’t and the other Big banks are just the same, Natwest is part of RBS as is a number of smaller ‘building societies’. It’s like shoe shops, there’s only actually two on the high street they just call themselves a load of different names. And the intersting thing is that Lloyds is splitting along geographical lines, what is in England will be called Lloyds and what is in Scotland will turn into a separate bank called the TSB, although HBoS will stay in Lloyds. Do Lloyds know something BT don’t?

  56. Albalha says:

    @juteman
      …….Eh’m sayin eh

  57. Edward Barbour says:

    Is there any links to the Shop selling the ‘AYE’ and ‘NAW’ T-shirts ?
    National collective are selling ‘AYE’ T-Shirts http://nationalcollective.spreadshirt.co.uk/aye-t-shirt-A21478287
    Sorry to have gone off topic…

  58. Jeannie says:

    God Sake!  Is it totally beyond the wit and skill of the t-shirt producers to provide t-shirts with a scoop or v-neck for well-endowed wimmen!

  59. Bugger (the Panda) says:

    Jeannie
    Blacks of Greenock do a special line for that
    Smiley face thingy!

  60. Albalha says:

    @jeannie
    Seems they know their audience … ‘Men’s classic cut t-shirt’
     

  61. HenBroon says:

    Hunners o ayes t shirts
     
     
    http://bit.ly/18PDxNh

  62. Jeannie says:

    @Bugger the Panda
     
    If Blacks of Greenock do a scoop neck, I’ll wear it!

  63. lumilumi says:

    I’m with you, Jeannie @ 7.06pm!
     
    But I will look through the links provided… ;-D

  64. Albalha says:

    @HenBroon
    Whatever the t shirts are let’s hope they’re printed in Scotland by a Scottish group of people, we don’t grow cotton so the manufacturing is most likely India, if so let’s hope it’s Fairly Traded.
     
     

  65. john king says:

    Jeannie says:
    30 July, 2013 at 7:06 pm

    God Sake!  Is it totally beyond the wit and skill of the t-shirt producers to provide t-shirts with a scoop or v-neck for well-endowed wimmen!
    ken whit ye mean jeannie, 
    these moobs dinnie keep themselves in ye ken

  66. HenBroon says:

    Caesar!lha, I would love to buy every single thing i need from companies that manufacture in Scotland. However we all know that ain’t going to happen any time soon. My first political awareness came about the age of 12, although i did not know it at the time. It was when i was drafted of to a boarding school, every single object I picked up seemed to be stamped “Made in England.” I searched in vain for the         ” Made in Scotland” items but they were very few and far between. What I have learned over the last five decades since is that this was a deliberate political agenda that caused this, not the fact that Scotland could not make things.
    I recently met a fine Polish gentleman, when I was in hospital. He was a retired butcher. He had been in Scotland since the end of the war, and was as Scottish as you or I. Amongst other things he made excellent Polish sausages which he exported to Poland? He told me that it used to enrage him that he could not export through a Scottish port, as the financial penalties were crippling. He was obliged to traffic his products though an agent in London, who was able to offer him very attractive rates and taxes.
    Scotland has been disadvantaged and discriminated against in so many subtle and damaging ways, we have just accepted it as part of life. That is why London and her apparatchiks are shit scared of Alex Salmond, and why they demonise him seeing him under every bed. Alex knows where the skeletons are, and he is slowly chasing them out of their cupboards where they have been secreted for 300 years or so. Watching him reeling in Cameron and his coterie of posh boys is just pure theatre.

  67. HenBroon says:

    Jeannie I asked a lassie in a shop in Tenerife if I could have a T shirt with the bumps on the front like what she was wearing. She translated it to what was her boss, he laughed so much he was crying. He took me next door to the Rangers pub and we got right royally pissed. And I got a free T shirt wif camels on.

  68. Jeannie says:

    @John King
     
    these moobs dinnie keep themselves in ye ken
     
    Ah love you new men!

  69. HeatherMcLean says:

    Juteman says:
    30 July, 2013 at 5:46 pm

    I wish a Dundee shop would sell t-shirts.
    Eh or nut.

      hahahaha!!! Juteman

  70. Iain More says:

    Well I must torpedo your argument Rev! I have a shares ISA and last year alone the tax haul for the Better Together Paradise Exchequer was a some 120 Bwtish Peso’s, dividends are taxed, at least some of those tax dodging FTSE companies pay out dividends.
    We are told that the recssion is over blah dee blah and that there was no double depression or a triple dip crash. Oh really? Everything is just wonderful in the Better Together Paradise. Uhmm not really! The same shares were paying out dividends such that the Exchequer could extort a grand total of 320 Bwitish peso’s two years ago.
    I am expecting even less Bwitish Peso’s next time round! Although I am proud to say that my letter of complaint to Aberdeen Asset Management brought some reward as they announced they fully supported Alex Salmonds policy in respect of men only Golf Clubs – I should think so to. The twisted bile from STV tonight on the issue was to be expected.I can only imagine that the BBC coverage was worse!

  71. lumilumi says:

    About teeshirts…  I got a brilliant one from the SNP online store a few months ago. It’s offensively orange, across the chest on a blue background in white letters it says “I’M-YES”, underneath “Independent Scotland – Original and best”.
     
    For some reason bright orange has become “fashionable” in Finland this summer, but still people ask me about my bright teeshirt. The colours, the typography, are a joke on Irn-Bru, and then I have to explain Irn-Bru. It’s not available in Finland but I explain it’s sort of like “keltainen Jaffa”, our most popular fizzy drink. Anyway, wearing that teeshirt has made many Finns aware that Scotland is a country, not just a northern region of England/Britain. I’m glad that awareness of Scotland is rising in Finland.
     
    Finns, and I suppose many others, are getting so fed up with the confusion about the British countries and what the fuck we ought to call them or their teams. I think most Finnish journalist and editors, even sports journalists, have given up and settled on “Britain” when they’re talking about the UK . Not Great Britain, mind you, just Britain. And even on Finnish public broadcast, Andy Murray was dubbed as a Scot, and the first Brit to have won Wimbledon in 77 years. (An Englishman hasn’t won it in 78 years…Say this if you want to wind up old-skool imperial English friends 😉 )
     
     

  72. David says:

    Is the ‘UK tax relief’ to Scottish ISA holders funded by tax payers in England?

    Another subsidy from England to Scotland?

    Only then would Scots be ‘Better Together’.

    The people promoting these lies have no shame whatsoever. The only Scots who are ‘Better Together’ are these poisonous parasites.

    Hopefully the fair minded people of Scotland will have seen completely through all these lies by 6:00 am on 18th September 2014 to vote YES on that historic day.

    I am against the death penalty but would under these exceptional circumstances agree with the one-off use of the guillotine against these liars on 19th September 2014.

  73. ianbrotherhood says:

    @lumilumi-
     
    This is the 4th time I’ve posted a link to this Irn-Bru ‘Russia’ ad – the one with the penguins on the Metro.
     
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c7bjxUWWH9Q
     
    Difference is, this version has only had 10 views – if you want to show it to your Finnish pals, and it gets another showing here on WoS, we might get an idea of how many folk are reading these posts.
     
    Just a thought. (And it’s always worth watching again anyway…)
     
    Cheers!

  74. Patrick Roden says:

    @ Scotish Skier,
    This is shocking, but the good news is that NS recently released the news that internal polling was showing women and youth were moving along the scale from 1 to 10 towards the Yes vote.
    She did not claim they were Yes yet, (if they were she would have let it be known) but the release let us know that the softly softly approach was resonating with women and they were being put off, by the nastiness and scaremongering of the BT campaign.
    This is why we need to be careful when we scream for a more aggressive campaign from SNP/Yes.
    In strategic  terms we could say that everyone who now says yes will not change their mind, so that’s about 37% in the bag.
    We need just 14% to guarantee victory as their will be nothing like a 100% vote.
    If the softly, softly approach is resonating with women and youth, while at the same time they are being repulsed by ‘Project Fear’ then regardless of the polling figures we are  in a winning position, as long as we hold our nerve.
    Patience!

  75. lumilumi says:

    @ianb 11.52 30.7.2013
     
    Just watched the fun ad, have sent a link to Finnish mates, but they don’t get Irn-Bru, it’s not available in Finland. To tell you the truth, I don’t like any sugary fizzy drinks, so, no, I don’t like Irn-Bru. I much prefer Scotland’s other national drink. Still, it’s great that Barr have found a market in Russia. 🙂
     
    And hey, those St Petersburgh (Soviet) metro stations. They’re like palaces, big, lofty, all marble and mosaics of Soviet “Heroes of Work” and gilded pilasters. The London Tube or the Glasgow Subway or the Helsinki metro are nothing in comparison.
     
    I first visited St Petersburgh in 1992 when it was still very much “Soviet”, not new Russia. A Finnish friend of mine was an exchange student at the uni there and got me and my boyfriend monthly passes for all the public transport in the greater St Petersburgh area (you could only buy them if you were resident). We wanted to pay him but he pointed out that they’d cost about 50 Finnish pennies (less than 10p Sterling). He also told us to keep and carry our plastic carrier bags from the taxfree shop as those were status symbols. I noticed later that many people were carrying plastic carrier bags from bog standard Finnish supermarkets. To show others that they had afforded to travel to Finland and actually shop there!
     
    My friend also took us to a palatial restaurant where the locals went, i.e. you paid in roubles, not western currency, like you’d do in restaurants aimed at tourists. We got the full spread: starters, soup, salads, mains, dessert. We ordered 3 bottles of Soviet sparkling wine and a bottle of vodka. It turned out, after we’d finished the second bottle of sparkly, that they had run out of sparkly so, with many apologies, would we mind another bottle of vodka instead..?
     
    I remember the startes (especially the pickled cucumber with honey) and the soup (selyanka fish soup) were lovely. I’m not sure what we ate after that but we had a great time, I have a recollection of me and my friend helping my boyfriend down the marble steps. I was still drunk when I woke up the next day. The whole feast had cost a fiver (Finnish marks, less than a pound) a piece. (About the same as a MacDonald’s cheeseburger at the time.)
     
    We did proper, cultural things as well, went to the Hermitage Art Museum and spent a whole day there, we walked along the Neva and the canals and admired the bridges and palaces. Kicked at the fallen leaves (it was October) and ate ice cream from a street vendor even though it was -5 C (Russians eat ice cream even in winter) Learned how “Techologiska Institute” is pronounced and written in Russian so we’d know when to get off the metro train at our (palatial) station.
     
    The next time I went to St Petersburgh, in January 1996, it was a lot more westernised and expensive though still cheap for a westerner. It was also very cold, -25C (and still they sold ice cream on the streets!), affirming us Finns of our saying “Cold as Russians’ hell”. 
     
    The last time I went there in 2011 it was totally different. Well, some things never change, it was in April and bitterly cold, but other than that… The old Soviet style bookshops and cafés along Nevski Prospekt had been crowded out by Louis Vuitton, Cartier, Chanel, DKNY… You get the picture.
     
    It’s interesting having this heaving Soviet/Russian metropolis at our doorstep. It only takes a few hours by train to enter a totally different reality, a different world. The population of the greater St Petersburgh area is 7m, the population of the whole of Finland is 5.4m. Makes you think.
     
    Greater London is about 7m, it’s a different country as well. Not as different and strange as St Petersburgh, but different nevertheless. St Petersburgh and London probably have much more in common with each other than they have with the countries they’re situated in.



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