Monday 9 May 2011

Scotland the Dependent

Last week’s Super Friday, a succession of elections across the United Kingdom, has produced some intriguing results, especially in Scotland, where the Scottish National Party (SNP) is now in command, having enough seats in the devolved parliament to govern without the consent of the opposition. There are runes to be read here, signs to be interpreted, though with a message quite different from that which you may suppose.

I’ve seen some alarming headlines about the end of the three hundred year old union between England and Scotland. David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, anticipating a struggle, has already said that he will defend it with every single fibre that he has. Alex Salmond, Scotland’s first minister, now has enough votes to leap into the referendum on independence that he has long desired, previously frustrated because of his minority ministry. Oh, but there is so much more here. It would be wrong to see the increase in the SNP vote as a mandate for independence.

I look between the lines. What exactly is it that I see? I see a nation that was shamefully taken for granted by the Labour Party, a nation treated like a feudal appanage, a fiefdom by a party mired in corruption, complacency and neglect. In government Labour set up a Scottish parliament with one aim in mind, and it wasn’t greater justice for the Scottish people; no, it was to see off the SNP, who had the temerity to challenge their political monopoly.

Once the Parliament was set up it was treated from the outset as the second division, a place for placemen and political mediocrities. The Big Boys, including Gordon Brown, the man who treated Scotland with the greatest condescension of all, stayed at Westminster, where the real careers were made.

Holyrood, the district of Edinburgh where the Scottish parliament is located, was for the also rans, reflected in Labour’s colourless and second-rate leadership; the leadership of Jack McConnell, the previous first minister, about as memorable as a wet day in Woolwich, and latterly the aptly named Iain Gray, who had not even sufficient residual wit to understand that the greatest challenge he faced during the recent election campaign came from the SNP and not the Scottish Conservatives, a pathetic bunch of blue socialists, Vichy Tories, as Gerald Warner, Scotland’s greatest export, calls them.

Gerald Warner, if you don’t know his work, is a journalist and columnist. Above all he is a brilliant polemicist, one who invariably aims at the Achilles’ heel. His comments on his native Scotland are bitingly exact, his comments on a culture of dependence that will ensure that the country, no matter how hard Salmond may leap and dream, is likely always to be locked into the Union. I have in front of me We’re all doomed!, an article he wrote in the Easter edition of the Spectator, full of eye-opening facts.

The narrative goes something like this. For centuries before the Union of the Crowns in 1603 the Scots mounted plundering raids into northern England by bands of reivers. It was a kind of subsidy for an impoverished nation, unable to live within its own meagre means. There are no more reivers but the subsidies still pour north, tribute from the beleaguered English taxpayers, a kind of Danegeld without the Danes.

The situation is quite intolerable. Scotland currently receives £1600 ($2000) per capita more in public expenditure than England. This invidious position is soon to be ended, as the so-called Barnett Formula, devised by a previous Labour minister, is being revised. So the SNP, riding high on a national wave, faces a budgetary shortfall of some £4.5billion, the reality of which will kick in well before the proposed referendum is put in place. Just at the present Scotland is a place bogus dreams are made on, its little life rounded with a sleep.

As I have said, Labour, which dominated Scottish politics for decades, treated the place like of fiefdom. But there is something more: it also treated it as a kind of Indian reservation, creating a culture of abject dependency with hideous levels of state expenditure, a tradition which the SNP ministry only continued, and has promised to continue still further. Amazingly, as Warner points out, by 2009 Scotland had attained global statistical significance as the third most state-dependant country in the world, after communist Cuba and war-torn Iraq. Out of four million Scottish voters just over half pay income tax. It’s even worse than that: for most of the tax payers are in public sector jobs dependent on tax.

It’s a vicious circle, a spiral from which there is no escape, certainly not in independence, unless Scotland, or Alba, to use the Gaelic name, wishes to go the same route as Albania. Perhaps there is something to be said for pyramid selling schemes after all, when there is nothing else, not even the builders of pyramids.

This is the reality of Alex Salmond’s brave New Scotland that has such people in it, people who have long lost the entrepreneurial spirit of Adam Smith, the technical ingenuity and business acumen of James Watt, have lost almost everything in the way of a free and productive bourgeoisie. Yes, dependent is the key work, not independence. New reivers will ride south, not able to live by their own devices. Can we afford them any more, can we afford Scotland? These are the questions that can no longer be avoided. For our sakes Scotland may have to have independence thrust upon it, even after the country votes no in Salmond’s referendum.


  1. (I must confess to having the odd memorable wet day in Woolwich as a teenager. Never in Dundee, however.)

    Grrrr.....what has happened in Scotland really angers me, even more than it upsets me. "Long lost the entrepreneurial spirit of Adam Smith" sums it up far too well. That figure you cite about it being the 3rd most state-dependent country in the world is deeply shocking. (Surely Northern Ireland is even more so, though)

    Sadly, I think the Conservative party have been to blame as well as Labour on the "feudal appendage" way, albeit through neglect (including some neglect that appeared wilful, above all over the issue of the Community Charge, and forgetting the ability of the Scots to nurse and bear grudges for generations) , rather than by naked favouritism (which nowadays they may aspire to, but not having their heart in it, are outclassed by those who are still more shameless).

    Salmond is shrewd and wily. All credit to him for getting his party, quite sincerely, and thoroughly, to reach out across the sectarian boundaries that are still so significant in Western Scotland and parts of the Central Belt. And by being all things to all men. With hand-outs all round. And for all its statist aspirations, Scotland as it stands is simply far too corrupt to behave like a Nordic state. All it has in common with them is a high level of alcoholism and violent crime.

    I'm still opposed to Scottish independence: but quite clearly a rebalancing in the relationship (both financial and in terms of balance of power) between England and the rest of the UK and Scotland is long overdue.

    Devolution - another malign and enduring aspect of Blair's destruction of our United Kingdom's constitution.

  2. If they have not learned to be self sufficient by now, they never will. Does Scotland get royalties from the off shore oil that the English exploit? They will be perfectly happy with the highland games and clan fueds.

  3. Went to the movies and saw 'Water for Elephants' not a bad movie $9.50 ea US. they have digital projection and sound which gives depth and dimension to the picture with rich and vivid color. No evedence of bugs either, New York had an epidemic a while back.

  4. I don't think Scotland was ever much more than 'not England' before Sir Walter Scott fabricated a myth for it. When England became united under the Saxons, Scotland was the undesirable bit of Britain left out. Dank, moody, unproductive . . . an agrarian purgatory.

    As for the people: there's more division between the Highlands and Lowlands, the Catholics and the Calvinists than between educated Scots and the English. Resources and opportunities lay always South - in England or France. Those who could took that road, leaving behind the lazy, feckless, drunk, and feeble.

    Scotland is a beautiful land if one need not make one's living from it, and it is a grand austere romantic place to be from, but it is far better experienced as a tourist or in the heart of memory than as a permanent home.

  5. Dominic, yes another Blair legacy, the creation of a disunited kingdom, all the more easily digested by the European Behemoth.

  6. Anthony, I think you may very well find that most of the off-shore exploitation is American, rather than English! As you can see from the above, Scotland gets more than its fair share of tax revenues.

    You surprise me; I didn't think that Water for Elephants would have been quite your thing.

  7. Calvin, it's certainly a lovely place to visit. My parents have a place in Easter Ross, so I've been going back and forward for years. But I do agree that Doctor Johnson's view still holds. We have plenty of Scots in London!

  8. The greatest example of Camerons willful stupidity is his inability to understand he has a stonking majority in England. Yet still, he prattles on we must defend the union.

    As for Salmond.
    Indeed, I think his victory is more a lashing out against Labour and the Liberals, than a call for indepandance, but great journies and single steps and all that.

    As you identify, Scotlands problems were heaped upon it intentionaly, by a government that wished to create a block vote, and cared little for the lives wasted in the process, but that is not an end.
    Scotland can drag itself up and, stood on its two feet, rebuild.

    The next election will be interesting, if the Tories maintain an English majority, but lose in the Union, I cant imagine the parliamentary party will be quiet about the issue.

  9. It was a Mothers Day outing, dinner and a movie and there were no bugs. Seriously, they had a bed bug epidemic in america about a year ago but not where I live.

  10. Scottish National Party! now that has a nice ring to it. 'Hadrians Wall' can now be used by the Scots to prevent their lands from being invaded by undesirable elements from the south.

  11. Anthony, it would require a fairly major repair job. Besides, there is a good slice of England north of the Wall. :-)

  12. It is just a long pile of stones,it could be moved and refurbished where it might do some good.

  13. Most of the SAS are Scots, Ana. For this one fact alone I would prefer to keep the Union. But if those Scottish Labour MP's do any more damage to the one and only Union I love I might just change my mind :-)

  14. Nobbby, they seem to be little more than lobby fodder, a Labour block vote. I'm not sure what purpose they serve beyond that.

  15. Nobby
    We have regiment of bloody Nepalise!
    Citizens of the Republic of Ireland are free to serve in the British Army, as are men from the commonwealth.
    No reason we'd kick the scots out.

  16. What happened to Raging Tory's comment? I was going to say...fair enough. May as well include this for my reply to you also Ana.

  17. Nobby, there was a blogger problem last week which, amongst other things, knocked out a lot of comments. RT's is back.