ONE of the features of the Yes campaign in the referendum on Scotland’s future is that it encompasses a wide range of hopes for an independent Scotland.
There are a small number of centre-right nationalists who see it as a gateway to a low-tax, small-government nirvana where commerce and industry can thrive free of state control. Other Yes campaigners fall into the category Nicola Sturgeon recently described as “existential nationalists” – those whose motivation is a simple gut instinct for national emancipation, for good or ill, regardless of the economics or practicalities, based on a burning belief in national destiny. But for the most part, Yes campaigners cite their desire for a country where the state would spend more than at present on welfare, hospitals, education and frontline social services. They regard independence – and the revenue from Scotland’s oil reserves that would accompany it – as a passport to a society with a Scandinavian level of social provision. That, they argue, is a far more civilised society than the one we currently inhabit. Lately, these voices have become considerably more vocal within the Yes movement, notably at a recent Radical Independence event in Glasgow that attracted 800 attendees and discussed a long wish list for extra public spending in a free Scotland. This is an entirely reasonable position, even an honourable one. But is it realistic?
Insights provided by two of our news stories today suggest not. As our political editor Eddie Barnes reports on page one, a Fiscal Commission of eminent economists tasked by Alex Salmond to come up with a blueprint for how an independent Scotland would operate in macroeconomic terms, will shortly report to the First Minister. This high-powered group includes a Nobel prize winner – Joseph Stiglitz – as well as specialists who know the vagaries of the Scottish economy as well as anyone. Their message should carry weight – and their message is a blunt one. They argue an independent Scotland would have to keep a tight grip on public spending and public borrowing if the country’s economy was to avoid falling into a debt spiral comparable to that which has recently befallen Greece. Adhering to this rubric is central, they say, to a newly independent Scotland demonstrating to the world that it will be a responsible and reliable economy built on solid foundations. Fiscal discipline will be essential, they intend to tell the First Minister, if Scotland is to avoid falling prey to markets which, in the light of recent events, now test a nation’s economic resolve with an unforgiving rigour.
The Fiscal Commission’s conclusions chime with a report from the Scotland Institute – a think-tank headed by Glasgow lad o’ pairts Azeem Ibrahim – on the scope that constitutional change provides for closing the gap between rich and poor. It concludes that an independent Scotland’s ability to do this would be severely constrained if the new Scottish Government insisted – as per SNP plans – on the country staying within the sterling zone after independence, instead of joining the euro or going it alone with a separate Scottish currency. The fiscal constraints of operating within this currency area – with interest rates determined by the Bank of England – would rule out the kind of spending spree many nationalists envisage. For many Scots, independence is a beguiling idea full of possibility – the promise of a nation unbound, free to act of its own volition. The question now is whether the economic realities of the age make this possible.
IT’S beginning to look a lot like Christmas. There is no escaping the nip in the air; no escaping the seasonal songs in shops; and those presents for relatives and friends on your Christmas list are not going to buy themselves. There are visitors to prepare for, social and work events to attend, and meals to plan. A busy time for all.
Understandable, then, if the practical aspects of Christmas tend to obscure its wider meaning. It is not only Christians who see this time of year as meaningful in a sense that goes beyond the commercial and hedonistic rituals with which we are all familiar. Whether in a spiritual or humanist sense, or even just in celebration of family and friendship, Christmas is a time when we count our secular blessings.
The past year has been a hard one for many, and few households will have escaped the chill wind of economic uncertainty. But it is at times of hardship that charity and fellow-feeling take on a particularly powerful resonance. It’s easy to be generous in the good times, harder – but more meaningful – when times are tough. In this spirit, this newspaper invites you to contribute to our Christmas appeal, which this year is in aid of Barnardo’s, a charity trying to improve the lives of vulnerable young people. We thank you for any help you see fit to give.