Brian Monteith: ‘Progress’ will lead nowhere

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SCOTLAND could become a beacon for progressive opinion south of the Border – and further afield – so said Alex Salmond this week when speaking in London.

Well, if that’s one of his key reasons for Scotland becoming independent he can keep it, for his idea of progressive would take Scotland up a cul de sac to economic and social decline – leaving us more dependent on other countries, not less.

I have never doubted the idea that an independent Scotland could be more prosperous than it is now, but to achieve that we need to have the economic policies that built capitalist Hong Kong, not the state intervention of pre-Thatcher Britain that Alex Salmond still hankers after.

Salmond’s economic policies went out with the dinosaurs of union bullying and state direction that developing nations in Africa and Asia are now glad to abandon.

In utter contradiction to the economic policies we would need to see high economic growth are also the social policies Salmond admires – a welfare paradise where everything appears to be free but is in fact paid by higher taxes than we currently endure (you may think that impossible but VAT is 25% in much of Scandinavia – a role model for Salmond).

For our First Minister the grass is always greener outside the UK, unfortunately when all the items on his wish list are put together they just doesn’t add up to being affordable and that’s why the idea of a progressive vision is a dangerous mirage and one that would leave us desperate for help.

It was interesting nevertheless to hear Salmond list in his own smug and self-satisfied way what he considered the type of policies that England and the rest of the world should take from us.

Basically, it was that everything should be free. Free prescriptions, free university tuition, free personal care for the elderly – why he missed out free bridge tolls, free bus travel anywhere I don’t know – maybe he thinks they could be expendable?

None of the above is of course free; they are paid for by taxpayers and usually represent a transfer from the masses to the middle class – a complete reversal of the Robin Hood ethos Salmond pretends he represents.

It is ordinary working folk’s taxes that pay for the free prescriptions of people like me who can afford to pay for their own drugs.

It is the majority of ordinary working folk’s taxes that subsidise the education of a student minority who then go on to earn an average of some £800,000 more in their lifetime – so what’s wrong with asking them to make a contribution of about £25,000 after they have graduated?

Not only is free tuition morally reprehensible it is already economically unsustainable and has, irony of ironies, only been made to temporarily possible by charging higher fees of up to £9000 a year to English students.

Alex Salmond appears to have forgotten that under European Union rules for educational exchange an independent Scotland would, overnight, have to give English students free education – plunging Scotland’s universities into an economic crisis that only higher taxes could rescue it from.

Salmond also mentioned the smoking ban and minimum pricing on alcohol as if these are worthy of emulation. That would be the same smoking ban that has repeatedly had its advocates’ claims for health improvements shown to be delusional junk science – and for what? The incidence of smoking has not fallen, indeed in some cases it has actually risen, while local pubs and bingo halls – the social havens of many ordinary working folk – have gone to the wall.

Progressive? Sounds more like the type of world that political bullies that think they know what’s best for us aspire to – so they can push us around even more. Greater prohibitions on alcohol are coming, with special taxes on so-called unhealthy food next in line – with progressive Denmark showing us the way. If that’s being a beacon it’s leading our freedoms to the rocks.

But even if you disagree with me and like these policies there’s a contradiction in what Alex Salmond was saying. The model of independence that he put forward could – for practically everything he said was a benefit – be delivered without gaining independence. How daft is that?

Much as I don’t care for free government benefits that create a middle class welfare dependency the fact is Scotland achieved them within the boundaries of the United Kingdom through devolution. It could continue to do so and indeed do more without leaving, so why should we want to throw out the baby of devolution with the bathwater of independence?

Just so we can have our own embassies? Well we would inevitably have far fewer than we have now. So we could have our own armed forces? Well, they would inevitably be far smaller than they are now.

Progressive or not, Salmond has yet to spell out the benefits of losing our solidarity with the rest of the UK. Salmond’s narrow nationalism is not independence but just greater devolution – so let’s have that and stay in the UK.