Michael Fry: Interest in pro-independence ideas

The emergence of a pro-independence right-wing group should come as no surprise to anyone, writes Michael Fry
There seems to be little point to independence unless it is used to make Scotland a wealthier nation. Picture: Neil HannaThere seems to be little point to independence unless it is used to make Scotland a wealthier nation. Picture: Neil Hanna
There seems to be little point to independence unless it is used to make Scotland a wealthier nation. Picture: Neil Hanna

Like a woman preaching or a dog walking on its hind legs, a group on the political Right that supports Scottish independence seems to surprise many people simply by appearing at all.

Dr Samuel Johnson found the preaching woman or the walking dog still to be pleasant surprises even while he acknowledged that these actions could not be done well. But in the group Wealthy Nation, that has just been launched, we hope to show how making Scotland an independent country is something that can be done well, on sound principles and with a proper sense of possibilities. Dr Johnson, a closet Jacobite, would surely have approved.

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Just like Dr Johnson, we are living in a time of catastrophe for Scottish Toryism: for him the catastrophe had happened in 1745, for us it happened in 1997. In both cases, decimation in battle – the one military, the other electoral – was followed by a period of proscription and persecution.

The surviving Jacobites withered away in genteel fashion, rallying only for good dinners washed down by loyal toasts to the House of Stewart. In Wealthy Nation we have good dinners too, but I hope we can respond a bit faster than the Jacobites did to their contemporary political reality. They were finally saved from oblivion by being turned into the great tartan cult that thrives right down to the present, though only after they were all dead.

In their own time, the Jacobites would have done better to leave defeat behind them and respond to Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, published in 1776 and destined to become the foundation of modern capitalism. The name of our group alludes to it, and it points to the path we propose for the Scotland of today.

There were always devolutionist Tories (I was one of them) who hoped that, after the re-establishment of the Scottish Parliament, their party would adapt to a new order in Scotland as it has adapted to so many unpalatable political facts in the past, so as to make the best of things and to uphold, come what may, some basic Conservative principles. Fifteen years on, there is little or no sign of any such adaptation, so I think the remnant of the Scots Tory party can be left in its turn to genteel withering.

But there is then in the rest of Scotland the real problem that, as we take a greater and greater part in all the major political debates that go on in and among normal self-governing nations, we hear only one side of the argument. We hear only the ideas of the Left, most of them long ago exploded in the real world. We hear nothing of the ideas of the Right, by which that real world is actually governed.

The big task for Wealthy Nation is therefore to inject into the arguments round the referendum on 18 September, 2014, elements of realism that are not negative, as in the No campaign, but positive, showing how an independent Scotland can thrive amid modern economic reality too.

Our part in the Yes campaign will be to demonstrate how the huge benefits to be won for a future Scotland will come not from the mere fact of its independence but by thinking hard about what that means in modern economic reality and how its potential can be fulfilled in our actual context, not in some never-never land.

On blogs and websites I can read any number of bright ideas from the cybernats, ranging from universal benefits to universal nationalisation, a sort of endless shifting of the deckchairs on the Titanic. The key to future happiness lies not in the redistribution of wealth, which would quite likely make Scotland as a whole poorer by placing resources in the hands of people less likely to invest them productively. The key to future happiness lies in the creation of wealth.

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In fact there seems to be little point to independence unless it is used to make Scotland a wealthier nation.

Otherwise we may as well just drift on as a depressed province of the UK, getting fobbed off with regional subsidies that perpetuate rather than solve the problems. If fact they are one of the best reasons for seceding from the UK.

In recent times, the UK has at best achieved an annual growth rate of about 2 per cent, and Scotland’s contribution to that has been lower still. On becoming finance secretary, John Swinney undertook to raise the Scottish growth rate to the British growth rate, but he has yet to achieve this on any sustained basis.

Even if he did, the achievement would still look fairly paltry compared to the growth rate in some of our near neighbours – the average of 4 per cent in the Scandinavian countries, 5 per cent in Finland, 10 per cent in the Baltic nations and 10 per cent again in some other European record-breakers such as Slovakia and Slovenia.

There are many in Scotland who admire the Scandinavians for their generous social provision. Less often mentioned is the higher economic growth out of which that provision is paid for .

If Scotland is going to have higher economic growth, it can only come from the policies of the Right – it has certainly never come from the policies of the Left, here or anywhere else. So we need to deregulate, to lower taxes, to flatten taxes, to slim down government, to cut out public extravagance and waste. That is what the Slovaks and the Slovenes did, starting from something like the same sort of collectivist economy as we have. After such action we will, like them, get investment and profits and jobs. To see how all this can be done, you should read the Wealthy Nation website over the next few months.

Once we have created the wealth, then we can redistribute it. Nobody in Wealthy Nation will say a word against that.