Dependent Independence

BY EFFIE DEANS

I have no interest in going abroad so long as I might have to follow Covid regulations in a language I understand poorly if at all. I don’t see the point in going to a Spanish café while I have to wear a face mask. I don’t want to have to find whoever might give me a Covid test before I fly back and I don’t want to stand in a queue at the airport when I get home. I don’t much like very hot weather anyway, so I will stick to Scotland.

I have been discovering some of the places that I have missed all my life because I was going abroad. The glens of Angus are now easier to reach because I can bypass Aberdeen. I have been exploring each cliff and bay along the north coast from Fraserburgh to Inverness. On a few occasions I have got up very early so that I can get to the west coast and back again in a day. I know Scotland better and find nowhere in the world to match it.

Just after the election I stopped in one of the larger Aberdeenshire towns on the border with Moray. I had been there a few times as a child, but had not gone through it for many years. I remembered a place that was solid and prosperous. It still had the type of building that suggested Victorians with enough money to use the best stone to carve the idea of solidity. But it was all crumbling now.

The bank had shut and been turned into a café, but that had shut too now. Shops that might a year or two ago have been making a profit had for sale signs in the window. Half of the pubs and restaurants had for sale signs as well, the others were shut though it was Sunday afternoon. But who were the estate agents going to sell them too?

Would you open a pub or a café in a small Aberdeenshire town which is just about too far to commute to Aberdeen? I wouldn’t. The farming round about is still probably profitable, though it might require a subsidy to make it so. But what other work is there? A few will work in the distillery. There will be doctors and teachers paid for by the state. But who will be running the businesses that make the profits that pay for the doctors and the teachers?

I saw lots of yellow SNP signs on my tour of Scotland. But they were most in evidence in those places that were most obviously dependent on money from elsewhere. In a small Highland coastal village, there were only old people. The only obvious sources of money were very small-scale fishing, crofting which could not survive without a subsidy, i.e., it was making a loss and tourism, much of which comes from a place the inhabitants wanted to separate themselves from.

If I lived in a place that was completely dependent on money from elsewhere, the last thing I would be arguing for would be independence. If you are not self-sufficient, but dependent on someone else’s taxes, grants or subsidy then your concept of independence is based on someone else paying your wages. But if that someone else is from one of the more prosperous parts of Edinburgh, why can’t he be from London? What’s the difference, you are as dependent on the one as you are on the other.

The yellow SNP signs are concentrated most in those parts of Scotland that are most dependent. Where there are poor Highland roads and rural poverty, there you will find a whole wee village voting for the SNP. In the post-industrial Central Belt with high rates of drug abuse and sickness benefit claiming almost everyone will vote for the SNP and no one at all will vote Tory. Whenever there is somewhere that votes Conservative, you will find signs of prosperity. But this means that those Scots who are most independent, who pay more taxes than they receive benefits are least likely to vote for Scottish independence.

It means that Scottish independence supporters are depending on the taxes of Pro UK people to continue to subsidy them if they vote for Scotland to leave the UK.

But what if the Edinburgh banker votes to stay in the UK precisely because he knows that his financial independence depends on Scotland remaining a part of the UK. What if he knew that in the event of Scotland leaving, he would have to leave too in order that his bank would have a lender of last resort and because the bulk of his customers would not use his bank if it were in an independent Scotland?

If the most successful Scots who universally oppose independence are outvoted by those who depend on their taxes, they would still have the chance to move their assets and perhaps their jobs elsewhere to avoid the tax rises and spending cuts that independence would involve. In that case who would pay for the crofters and the sickness benefit of the drug addicts in Dundee?

Whether you support the UK or independence Scotland needs to be less dependent on Treasury money and more Scots need to be financially independent before we can begin to think about affording going it alone.

The SNP offers the hope that independence would bring better times for the once prosperous towns with boarded up shops. But Scotland receives more from the UK than we pay in, much more, which means that initially at least an independent Scotland would have less money than it does now. If you think you can make up the difference by taxing still more those Scots who already pay your wages and your crofting subsidy, you might just discover that they would prefer to pay less taxes elsewhere. Then who would pay for your pretty wee village where no one makes a profit?

If I were an independence supporter, I would be doing all I could to help Scotland be more prosperous so that more Scots no longer made a loss but instead made a profit. Once we were living within our means and once, we had done something to solve our problems with healthcare, drug use, education and rural poverty I would look again at whether Scotland’s problem was that we were part of the UK. It isn’t the biggest problems in Scotland are within the remit of our devolved parliament, which prefers to ignore them and is rewarded by the poor and neglected in Scotland for doing so.

At the moment I would conclude that far too many Scots are dependent on the state and until that changes there can be no question of independence being successful. Let us work together to make Scotland more prosperous for all Scots before we talk again about separation from the UK taxes that we depend on.

The excellent Effie Deans writes at Lily of St. Leonard’s here.