The new independence project is already a basket case - John McLellan

After this week’s launch of the new SNP paper on independence, “Why the UK is terrible at everything”, who’d bet on a referendum next October?

By John McLellan
Thursday, 16th June 2022, 4:55 am

Ok, so the snappy title was actually “Independence in the Modern World: Wealthier, Happier, Fairer: Why Not Scotland?” but what was supposed to be a “scene-setter” turned out to be a superficial and predictably partial look at a clutch of economic comparisons to demonstrate how rubbish the United Kingdom is compared to small European countries.

If it wasn’t for that awful United Kingdom, with its unfair Barnett formula sending all that money north against its will, we would, according to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, be as happy as the Danes.

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Why not Scotland indeed, but when she has spent virtually the whole of her record stint in office scowling on TV about how downtrodden we powerless, dependent Scots are, is it any wonder we all need cheering up? And how do we become wealthier from a partnership with the Greens who oppose growth?

Without even an inkling of a plan, the paper’s blunt methodology is to take UK average figures for a range of indicators and compare them with the likes of Finland and Austria, but it conveniently overlooks regional and national differences.

It ignores both higher levels of Scottish public spending and Scottish Government control on so many key responsibilities. It lists reserved powers, but not those devolved, and even the section on social security leaves out the Scottish Government’s extensive welfare powers.

Plenty of direct comparisons are available between Scotland and the selected basket of small countries ─ like productivity, public spending, poverty and educational attainment ─ so why omit them unless the picture they paint of SNP failure is too bleak?

The last thing they want is the independence debate to be dominated by analysis of its performance, but a campaign founded on attacking the UK’s record will inevitably turn on the SNP’s record.

UK life expectancy is mentioned, yet with total responsibility for NHS Scotland for 15 years there is no mention of Scotland’s appalling record, with a Glasgow man expected to die at 73, six years earlier than the UK average.

The paper cites low national debt as a good thing, which is unquestionable, but not a day goes by when ministers don’t demand more public spending and regularly argue they need powers to borrow even more to top up the £15bn above Scottish revenues they spend.

It quotes economics professor John Kay, whose new book, A Better Nation, inconveniently estimates Scotland’s share of UK debt would be around £180bn and would need to borrow to meet an annual budget deficit of anything between £10 and £20 billion.

Packed with assertions, the paper won’t move the independence dial one notch, so the SNP must hope momentum will build with the promised drip feed of other papers, including currency and on re-joining the EU, which Ms Sturgeon was forced to concede would create a disastrous hard goods border.

Predicted queues of lorries at Gretna are no “Project Fear”, but as the leadership is becoming resigned to keeping the pound and ceding monetary control, EU membership is off anyway. Never mind a basket of comparisons, the independence prospectus is already a basket case.

John McLellan is director of the Scottish Newspaper Society and a former Conservative councillor on the City of Edinburgh Council