Brian Monteith: Austerity is just fact of life

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ONE of the arguments often made for Scotland to leave the United Kingdom is that we shall be able to leave austerity behind. For those who like spending other people’s money it sounds very attractive.

Politicians can then wax lyrical about how many services they can improve, how many sweeteners they can give away free to pensioners, mothers and students and how many railway lines or trams they can build. They can puff out their chests and feel good about themselves, while those voters who believe them can sleep soundly at night thinking a new, happier Scotland will be created.

Only it won’t.

All of the unionist parties offered one form or another of austerity in the last UK general election. Guess what? The one that offered the most austerity did best. That was the Conservative Party, which together with the Liberal Democrats won more constituencies in Scotland than the anti-austerity SNP. Of course, Labour did best, but it, too, was offering its own brand of austerity – for it understood that it had spent money it did not have, that it had borrowed against the taxes from the future earnings of our grandchildren – and that the bill had to be reduced otherwise the interest payments would sink us all now and into the future.

Across Europe austerity rules the roost, too. Other countries in the eurozone had also been guilty of spending money they did not have – and some, like Portugal, Ireland and Greece had to be bailed out by the European Union and International Monetary Fund. It was not a pretty sight, jobs were axed wholesale and salaries were slashed for those that held on to their posts. In Ireland, the pain was real but austerity is working.

Yesterday, some new economic figures were released showing that the two largest EU economies performed poorly over the last three months measured. The German economy shrank by 0.2 per cent, while the French economy stood still, neither growing or shrinking. This is bad news for them, bad news for other countries in euro currency zone – but also bad news for Britain as it means we will find it tougher to sell our goods.

Interestingly, it is also very bad news for the SNP and the nationalist campaign in general – for the bleak economic statistics were accompanied by yet more attestation of loyalty to the policy of austerity by the European Commission and the individual governments, whether they use the euro or not.

What this means is that were an independent Scotland to join the EU it would be inside an austerity straightjacket that it could not escape from. Being independent would not allow Scotland to take a different route, austerity would rule, just as it has in France, where the president was elected saying he would fight the policy but then had to go along with it.

There is another reason the SNP’s claim of avoiding austerity is a falsehood and it surrounds its support for the pound Sterling.

If we accept for a nano-second that Alex Salmond is correct and the rest of the UK will agree to Scotland formally using Sterling then we would only be able to do so if we accepted the austerity rules that govern the rest of the UK.

In this scenario, the only way for Scotland to escape austerity would be for a Westminster government (one that we no longer had any say in electing) to adopt a new policy so that Salmond had the breathing space to try something different.

So in summary the nationalist’s love of re-joining the European Union and using the United Kingdom’s currency would force it to adopt the austerity policies that they say they wish to leave behind.

If the Yes campaign is honest with the electorate about ending austerity it would be saying that Scotland should not rush to join the EU but should wait to see what is in Scotland’s best interests and that Scotland should have its own currency so it can decide whether or not to spend its way out of economic crisis.

The reason the Yes campaign is not honest with the voters on this subject is that it uses Scotland’s alleged europhilia as a way of trying to define us as different from the rest of the eurosceptic UK and that were a Scottish currency to inflate public spending there would be a run on the currency, sending interest rates through the roof – creating more austerity than any UK government has ever planned.

The reason we have austerity is that European, British and, yes, Scottish politicians spent money they did not have.

Edinburgh councillors do it, too.

Now they are having to try and find savings and reduce the annual deficits and the resulting debt.

It is in fact an admirable exercise in that it will make life easier for our children and grandchildren – and as the people who voted for those
politicians it is only right that we pay for our mistakes. Or at least for some of it.

Whatever we may think of austerity, trying to escape it is not one of
the reasons to vote for independence.