WE are in the midst of a frenetic and unparalleled period in British politics. As the Brexit crisis deepens, politicians of all parties are desperate to make as much noise as possible.
We don’t know what the end result will be, but we do know what the SNP will say. Regardless of what happens, the Nationalists will claim that the solution to the constitutional chaos of Brexit is even more constitutional chaos. Nicola Sturgeon used her ‘programme for government’ speech this week to make this very argument.
But whatever you think of Brexit, the SNP’s proposal is wrongheaded. The difficulties Britain has faced in trying to leave the EU would be far greater for Scotland leaving the UK, given more than three centuries of political, social and economic union. A hard Scexit would be infinitely more disruptive than a hard Brexit.
But that is what Nicola Sturgeon wants, no matter the consequences, and her party is already ramping up its campaign to divide the people of the UK.
She will be distraught that a majority of Scots want to remain in the UK, according to the most recent opinion poll. But the country is split and nobody should be complacent.
So amid the heat and noise, it is incumbent on those of us who passionately believe we are stronger together to make the positive case for remaining in the UK.
That the devolution settlement we have is a much more effective guarantee of social justice than the risks of greater austerity with separation.
Because it is now beyond doubt that breaking up the UK would lead to turbo-charged austerity.
The latest GERS figures on the state of Scotland’s economy are compiled by the Scottish Government’s own expert economists, and it is shameful that so many nationalists have sought to rubbish them by concocting conspiracy theories and promoting disinformation.
Only a few years ago, in the run-up to the once-in-a-generation independence referendum, senior SNP politicians were desperate to highlight the official figures.
In 2013, MP Angus MacNeil used the GERS data to point out that Scotland generated 9.9 per cent of UK tax revenues and received 9.3 per cent of public spending in 2011-12, amid an oil price boom.
Since then, the dramatic oil price crash has turned the situation around. In 2018-19, Scotland generated 8 per cent of the UK’s total revenues and still benefitted from 9.3 per cent of the UK’s total public spending.
That’s how the pooling and sharing of resources works. Scotland did not have to impose crippling cuts on hospitals, schools and services for the elderly to deal with the deficit because it is part of the UK.
Now that official figures no longer back up his argument, Mr MacNeil recently tried to dismiss GERS completely, writing on Twitter: “The belief in any of its figs is a cause of laughter.”
His hypocrisy knows no bounds.
Fortunately, the people of Scotland can see through this SNP spin. They understand the importance of the UK dividend, which is now £1,968 per head or £7,872 for a family-of-four.
And they understand that no, Scotland doesn’t account for half of the UK’s deficit, because many regions of England also run a deficit - while London and the south-east run a large surplus. That’s how pooling and sharing across the UK works.
That’s the positive case for the UK.
It’s the SNP’s vision for Scotland that is negative: deeper cuts; higher taxes; more borrowing; abolishing the pound; building barriers between families and friends. These aren’t choices we have to make.
Problems facing public services in Scotland will never be solved by leaving the UK. But they can be solved by a Scottish Government focussing on what matters to people, rather than obsessing about a second independence referendum and trying to divide our communities.
Co-operation between Scotland and the rest of the UK achieves far more for all of us than unnecessary constitutional wrangling.
Narrow nationalism will always seek to divide, but there is a positive vision for Scotland’s future that can unite us all: remaining in the family of nations that is our United Kingdom.
Pamela Nash is chief executive of Scotland in Union