Sunday, 27 May 2018

Growth

So, we finally have the report of the SNP Growth Commission.

Supposedly this was to set out the economic argument for Scottish Independence. Its publication has been much delayed and it was eventually virtually sneaked out on the Friday of a long Bank Holiday weekend. Having had a look at it, the reason for reticence is clear. Even honest Nationalists have ultimately to concede that there really isn't an economic case for Scottish Independence.

Nobody is saying it is impossible but then nobody on my side ever said it was impossible. We simply pointed out that it would involve a significant degree of economic hardship with no guarantee at all of ever even getting back, economically, to where we started. And, here, almost four years after we were attempted to be sold the "land of milk and honey" nonsense of the 2014 White Paper, it turns out that is confirmed by a document produced by the SNP themselves.

But others have made that point elsewhere so there is no point in me labouring (sic) it. Rather I want to look at what I think is to be welcomed in the document; the recognition that to date, and by that I mean not just under SNP administrations since 2007 but under the Labour/Lib Dem ones that preceded these, not nearly enough effort has been made under the devolved settlement to promote economic growth.

The Growth Commission rightly points out the asymmetrical nature of the British economy. We regularly deploy Scotland's fiscal deficit as an argument against independence without recognising that every one of the small nations in our Union has a per capita deficit at least as large as Scotland, as indeed has every region of England outwith London and the South East. And that is not as it should be. Indeed, as Andrew Wilson points out, it is not as it is in virtually any other Country in the developed world.

But this is something that Devolution was meant to do something about and yet it hasn't at all. In truth it has hardly tried.

It was not always thus. Scotland, at least urban Scotland, profited as much from the British Empire as did England and Wales, as indeed did we mutually partake in the benefits of the industrial revolution. Certainly, I share the criticism of late Thatcherism/Majorism and then New Labour that they were far too content for growth to be largely generated in the area of finance capital but when that tendency started the one part of the UK outside London that had its own indigenous financial sector was Scotland. Far from riding that wave, since 1999 we have actually seen a relative decline. And that despite technological advance which has effectively removed the geographic advantage of "being in the room".

And while we continued to bewail the lost of heavy industry that is never going to return, what has the Scottish Government done to support diversification? I am all for wind turbines but the capacity to manufacture them in Scotland falls far behind demand, never mind opportunity. And as for much of our food and drink industry, it survives (and prospers) against a barely concealed climate of hostility to its often "red in tooth and claw" (and foreign owned to boot!) capitalist model.

Then we have our new industries, bioscience, computer gaming (which currently astonishingly employs directly more than 20,000 people), distance learned vocational education? What Government help or support do they get? Do they even get asked how the Government might help?

And what could be done in many cases is bleeding obvious. Better links between colleges and industries; better basic education at school level. Infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure. A Scottish Investment Bank, certainly, but one working alongside private capital rather than giving money to hopeless projects already turned down by those with a nose for business.

Andrew Wilson gets this but he is not alone. Richard Leonard arrived in Holyrood only in 2016 but long before he aspired to the leadership he was the driving force behind the publication of Scottish Labour's new Industrial Strategy, sourced largely from experience he had gained working for one of the few Trade Unions with a significant residual private sector membership. Next week, Ruth Davidson will make a long trailed speech setting out her own ideas in this area. And the Growth Commission is an important contribution to this debate as well.

Andrew Wilson is widely regarded as one of the most thoughtful of Scottish nationalists but his wiser colleagues might ponder his hidden message. Independence would be very painful indeed if the UK Fiscal transfer was removed overnight, probably so painful that a majority will never vote for it. But if the need for that transfer was reduced or even eliminated? Well, that would be a very different proposition indeed. And the key to that is not more flags or more marches. It is more growth.

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