BY EFFIE DEANS
There is a difference between how we judge the taste of carrots and how we judge the effectiveness of face masks, the likelihood of Covid spreading and the performance of the economy. The statement “carrots taste great” can be both true if I say it and false if you say it. It is a matter of taste. It is subjective. But there is an objective truth about face masks, the spread of Covid and how well or badly the economy is doing. It may be difficult or sometimes impossible to know this truth, but it is there anyway. It is surprising therefore that opinions are so wildly divergent about these issues. It is as if one half of the population insisted that grass was in fact red and that everyone else was stupid, lying or trying to deceive everyone else.
Everything I have read and my whole understanding of economics tells me that at present Scotland spends more than we earn. Public spending is higher in Scotland than much of the other parts of the UK. This is not least because Scotland is sparsely populated and it costs more to employ doctors and teachers in the Highlands than in London.
It wasn’t always so. The northern parts of Britain, including Scotland were more industrialised than the southern parts and were the engine of the economy for centuries. If the majority of North Sea oil were considered to come from Scotland, then in the 1970s and 80s, it may well have been the case that Scotland contributed considerably more to the UK economy than we received. This demonstrates quite ably how pooling and sharing in a country ought to work.
We each contribute whether in terms of soldiers fighting wars or miners digging coal. Sometimes we contribute more, sometimes less, but because we are all working together, we can expect help in lean times, just as we may need to be generous if we’re doing a bit better than someone else. We do this because we are one people living in one country. It’s what enables us to have a single currency and a tax and welfare system that covers the whole population.
Scottish nationalism is selfish. Its essence is that we don’t want to share with the other parts of Britain, because they are not Scottish. We owe them nothing.
The SNP Government’s own figures show that Scotland is running a nominal deficit. We spend more than we earn through taxation. But of course, Scotland does not run out of money because the difference between what we earn and spend is made up by the Treasury.
But if that is the case then the Scottish nationalist argument that we send our taxes to London and we only get back what we paid in is false. We get back not only what we paid in, but more too. If that were not the case then we would not be running this nominal deficit. To deny this deficit is the equivalent of denying that there is an illness called Covid and that it has all been made up to make Bill Gates rich.
If Scotland were independent this nominal deficit would become an actual deficit. It would have to be financed through debt. Of course, Scotland could borrow just like every other country. But the markets would charge an interest rate on that debt dependent on whether they think it would be paid back. The problem an independent Scotland would have is that initially at least it would be borrowing in a foreign currency (pounds sterling). It would not be able to print that currency or use its central bank, if it had one, to create money (QE). The markets would also worry that in time Scotland might have to start its own currency, which might involve devaluation and then join the Euro which might again mean devaluation. This would make borrowing expensive because the markets would not be sure that they would get the full value of the money lent to Scotland.
The present situation is that the money Scotland receives from the Treasury does not have to be paid back. Instead of paying back to the markets at an exorbitant rate of interest we don’t have to pay back what we get from the Treasury at all. The SNP thinks this is worse, which is an odd understanding of the word “worse”.
But there is a bargain still in being part of the same country. If in the future the Scottish economy is doing better than the other parts of the UK, we cannot morally say “We’re off then.” We have obligations to our fellow countrymen in the future because we have received their help in the past.
The idea that is commonplace among some Scottish nationalists that Scotland in fact pays more into the UK than we get out, that we in fact receive no subsidy from the Treasury and just get back what we pay in from taxes, is to treat economics as if it were eating carrots. Because I want Scottish independence my opinion about the economic situation in Scotland is a matter of taste rather than a matter of fact.
This way of thinking is becoming ever more commonplace in the world and accounts for the extraordinary divergence of opinion about for example what a man and a woman are. The difference between generations is such that to people like J.K. Rowling it is obvious that the difference is objective, while to people like the young actors she discovered for the Harry Potter films, it is subjective.
It is perfectly possible to treat the Scottish economy as a matter of subjectivity, just as it is perfectly possible to treat being a man or a woman as similar to eating carrots, the problem is that reality is rather likely to intrude at some point in the shape of a carrot.
If we insist that being a man or a woman is not a matter of objective anatomy (carrots), but rather a matter of subjective taste, we are going to be confronted with “women” who are objectively not like other women. It is this that puts male anatomy in women’s changing rooms in Markies and it is this that leads “women” swimmers being able to perform at the same level as men swimmers and lap all the other women.
By all means treat the Scottish economy as a matter of subjectivity, but it is the equivalent of putting “women” with male genitalia into a women’s prison. Don’t be surprised when you get “f*cked” and there are some unwanted pregnancies a few months later.
The Scottish economy is not a matter of opinion. Its nature is matter of complex fact. If you think that it is a matter of taste then you are likely to end up with a diet consisting of oatmeal, neaps and carrots. These things grow quite well in Scotland.
Not being able to see a deficit when it’s the largest in Europe is like not being able to see a c*ck when it’s the largest in the women’s prison and growing by the second. You are about to discover whether women can be rapists.
Scottish nationalism (subjectivity) is not true just because you believe it to be. You might as well think Sturgeon is wearing a green coat.
The excellent Effie Deans writes at Lily of St. Leonard’s here.