Marc Coleman: Scottish politicians would do well to look more closely at home than attack the Irish economy
So MSPs Iain Gray (three weeks ago), Wendy Alexander (two weekends ago) and now Ian Davidson MP have attacked Ireland's economic record. They'd do better to look at their own record in Scotland.
Ireland's GDP per capita is 30 per cent above the European Union average, while Scotland's, sadly, is well below it. Labour has ruled Scotland for 13 years, and it's been a very unlucky 13 indeed with Scotland's population and relative living standards falling far behind.
Ireland's economy in 2010 is 360 per cent bigger than when we joined the EU – by far the best growth record in Europe.
And, according to forecasts of the International Monetary Fund, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the European Commission, once the correction of the last two years is past, the Irish economy will resume its record of growing faster than both Britain and the eurozone.
Of course, this is predicated on the global recovery continuing, something no small nation such as Ireland can control. But as a small open economy – far more like Finland and Israel than Iceland – Ireland remains Europe's leading export performer, thanks to a concentration of hi-tech multinationals attracted by our low corporation tax rate, young educated workforce and pro-enterprise culture.
The nation that invented the phone, television, penicillin, the Enlightenment, modern economics (I could go on), is just as capable as Ireland, if not more so, of rapid growth. But not if its politicians love their Westminster careers more than their country. And not if a one-size-fits-all economic policy – ideal for the south-east of England but devastating for Scotland – draws economic activity and talent away from the north and towards an already over-congested south-east.
If Ireland's image has been dented it is because we've been transparent: Where "Prudent" Gordon Brown froze Britain's bad bank assets for 20 years, we published an honest estimate of them, about 20 per cent of GDP. And when our pension reserve fund – a precaution Gordon forgot to put in place for the UK – is accounted for, our debt is no worse than Britain's.
Unlike Britain, our population surged from 3.6 million in 1996 to 4.5 million now, a rise of 28 per cent. A high birth rate means our population continues growing and this, plus the 5 per cent of GDP we spend on infrastructure each year, justifies much (but not all) of our borrowing. We also have 1.9 million people working in the economy as the recession ends, 250,000 up on 2000 and 750,000 up on 1993.
Compare that with Labour's jobs record in Scotland. Sure, unemployment has risen, to 293,000 according to the latest count. But Ireland has been generous in welcoming 400,000 immigrants to its shores in the past decade. I can assure Gray, Alexander and Davidson that that generosity will not be extended to them if they visit here.
• Marc Coleman is economics editor of Dublin-based Newstalk 106-108fm
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