BRIAN WILSON’S COLUMN

Columnist Brian Wilson, Finance Minister Kate Forbes and the flags of Scotland and the United Kingdom.

An old-fashioned concept called inter-dependence cries out for revival, as demonstrated by the annual exchanges over GERs statistics.

The facts are not in doubt. Even most Nationalists have given up denying the work of their own government’s statisticians. Scotland spent £15.1 billion more last year than it raised in taxes, a GDP deficit of 8.7per cent. Facts are chiels that winna’ ding.

Their opponents use these figures to assert dependence on being part of the UK. The Nationalists’ response is that they represent an indictment of the constitutonal status quo, rather than its justification.

In advancing that case, Kate Forbes sounded like the zealot of a cult, reliant on faith rather than evidence, more than a responsible Finance Minister. Yet pensions, benefits and jobs are not funded by abstract conviction. The stakes for our children are higher than for one-dimensional political believers.

Accepting realities should not, however, equate to endorsing the “dependence” line.  I do not feel the least dependent or subsidised because I live in a part of the UK – and of Scotland – where per capita public expenditure is higher than elsewhere.

There are good reasons, historic and current, for the differentials of inter-dependence. It is only when statistics become weaponised in a battle of flags – which Scottish politics has been reduced to – that these arguments of fairness are obscured. Personally, I prefer fairness to flags.

That was a more widespread view in the 1970s when statistics might have pointed in another direction. The vulgar “Scotland’s Oil” campaign ultimately repelled most Scots who concluded they faced much the same challenges as working people in Newcastle, London and Liverpool. So why would we not share in transient good fortune?

Reciprocally, hardly anyone in England cares that £2000 more per head is spent on public services in Scotland than in their own communities. It barely impinges upon them. Different parts of the state we live in have different needs, different demography, different geography. So what?

That principle was enshrined in the Barnett Formula which has served Scotland incredibly well.   It built on the longer-established principle that Scotland’s characteristics justified proportionately higher spending – for example, from the earliest days of the NHS.

Until recently, these differentials were used to exemplify the politics of fairness – which is where they still belong.  It is only the grievance-ridden constitutional debate, in which a shoulder must be found for ever chip, that turns them into weapons to be paraded or denied.

Far removed from Ms Forbes’s nonsense, I read something rational from another Nationalist perspective. George Kerevan, an old leftie, pointed out that, in theory, the deficit would become a surplus if Scotland raised far more in taxes.  In other words, our deficit is not endemic but due to the UK’s “neoliberal tax regime”.  That is an honest critique, to be taken or left.

I doubt if it will feature in the official SNP prospectus but even if it did, there would be a major problem –  i.e. whenever they use existing powers to increase taxes, the result is less revenue rather than more. If the Kerevan solution was applied, the outflow of taxable individuals and businesses would soar accordingly, across what would by then be a fiscal border.

When the Scottish Parliament was created, I doubt if anyone expected the GERs deficit, 20 years later,to be widening. Why has this happened?  Contrary to myth, there is no shortage of powers to make Scotland more enterprising, more dynamic, more interesting. That might even have made the constitutional case for going further.

Instead, the reality is an abysmal absence of industrial or business policies which might galvanise the Scottish economy and its wealth-creating potential. We have government by mediocrity in which the only strategy is “send more money” while insisting the solution lies in separating ourselves from that lifeline. It is a con, even more than in 2014.

The alternative politics is not to wave a different flag but to espouse positive belief in inter-dependence based on need – within Scotland, within the UK, within the world. Does division really sound better or easier than that?

ANTI-NUCLEAR PREJUDICE HAS COST SCOTLAND DEAR

With more vision and less prejudice, Scotland could be leading the world as generator of carbon-free electricity in reality as well as unfulfilled headlines.

Scotland had the ideal combination – nuclear baseload and massive potential for renewable energy.  We have blown both.

We could have remained massive exporters of electricity while providing thousands of well-paid jobs. But prejudice prevailed and Scotland turned its back on civil nuclear power.

Many who now make a living from wailing about climate change preferred global warming to a balanced energy policy which included nuclear new-build.

Some environmentalists understood the stupidity of that contradiction. They might not have liked nuclear, but they feared global warming. Such voices were drowned in the righteous clamour of “green” orthodoxy – and counter-productivity.

Now we are world leaders in nothing.  Globally, there are 50 nuclear stations under construction. Scotland will become importers of nuclear power from England.  We might get a few supply chain orders, if that is deemed morally acceptable.

Over six decades, Hunterston made a massive contribution to Scotland’s economy.  It breathed economic life into the constituency I represented for 18 years. It fostred well-paid, skilled careers. I salute all that as much as I hold its detractors in contempt.

The vision of a Labour government in the 1960s – to use nuclear power for peaceful purposes –  created a great Scottish nuclear industry, thousands of jobs and economic security for generations of Scottish families.

With an open door to renewables, the Scottish Government has certainly created jobs – in Germany, Denmark and Spain but precious few in Scotland.  Last week, SSE confirmed all 103 turbines for its Shetland windfarm will be manufactured in Denmark and it hardly raised an eyebrow.

Spot the difference and weep.

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