Andrew Wilson: Pull down barriers to build national success

Norwegian national day: 'A study in civilised beauty'
Norwegian national day: 'A study in civilised beauty'
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WILLIAM Golding’s Lord Of The Flies is a fine book and many schoolchildren’s introduction to the concept of “allegory”. This is a meaning behind the story, a message that lies beyond the narrative.

In this book the shipwrecked children descend into savagery as they compete for leadership and control of the “conch” which confers on them the power to visit suffering on one another. Were they not rescued, they would have surely consumed themselves like rats in a barrel from which they could not escape.

The allegory is clear in the story in the battle between dark and light, good and bad, savagery and civilisation. That savagery is natural and human civility has to be worked at.

We conclude, surely, that in working together for the common good we all civilise. Appeal to our base instincts and all cheer while destroying one another, and ourselves.

Cast around life and you see gentle echoes of this moral tale in the everyday choices we all make as well as the epic debates and battles of history.

Rarely are its core lessons learned. In politics the destructive pendulum swing between what we used to call the “left” and “right” of politics has too often been a jealous battle over who holds the conch.

It is pretty much self-evident across most of the globe that we are in an era where, in too many countries, far too few have lived far too high on the hog for too long.

For most people real after-tax income has been flat or falling in the UK, US and elsewhere for years. The only protection to our perceived standard of living has come from cheaper goods from low-cost eco­nomies like China. That could be ­changing.

At the same time the concentration of the control of equity, or ownership of capital, has grown, with an ever increasing share held by an ever smaller proportion. With fewer people with a stake in owning success, incentives are skewed and the wrong choices can be made.

It is all too easy to describe the problem or to be lured into a seemingly attractive solution that casts blame instead of bringing genuine improvement and reform.

Immigration is a classic example. All our ancestors walked first on the plains of Africa. Now that continent’s children are drowning in the Mediterranean as they flee poverty and terror. The movement of people, their trade and exchange has created the world we now call home. We are richer, healthier, safer and more comfortable precisely because people have sought a better life by migrating, creating, trading, risking, profit seeking and cooperating.

It hasn’t been a one-way street. For whole eras of history the world has retreated behind its man-made walls, sometimes literally, and made us all the poorer. Soviet communism was a disastrous experiment, if undoubtedly well-meaning in its original – if philosophically abstract – intent.

Inequality leads inexorably to conflict and discontent and costs everyone, rich and poor. The only question is the extremity reached.

The historical record is pretty clear. Open competitive societies and economies that respect human freedom, private enterprise and equality succeed in every sense, including material. Societies that erect barriers to opportunity, trade, migration, profit, enterprise, risk-bearing, success and enterprise diminish life standards and expectancy as sure as night follows day.

As a child politician, I once visited Norway at their government’s invitation to study their then young oil fund, and celebrate their national day. When I asked about poverty and inequality they scoffed, “We are all middle class, Andrew”.

And their national day? Well the monarch waved from the palace balcony and there were bands and flags but no pomp. Each school group of blonde youngsters was headed in most cases by a black (asylum achieving) child carrying the United Nations flag. It was a study in civilised beauty.

In the UK, the inequality in performance, possibility and achievement is stark and becoming more so. But the idea that barriers and scapegoating will solve this is as absurd now as it was in the Soviet Union.

This is not about left and right. It is equally absurd to chase the value of immigrants out of town as it is to chase the value of the rarest wealth creators down the same road.

We need to look ahead, not backwards, to determine what policies will win us the success we seek as a society in the decades to come.

The challenge for us is to expand our middle class and our tax base and welcome all who can help to our shore. We have 18,000 top rate taxpayers in Scotland; we should want to triple that number. And if many are immigrants? Ideal.

Scotland will succeed if it uses whatever powers it has to reduce all barriers to trade, success, enterprise, wealth and job creation. We need to create a magnetic pull for talent, hard work and wealth.

Then we might have earned the right to celebrate our own national day in our own unique way. Whatever that will look like. Let’s see.