Ian Swanson: The fruits of Kiwi growth may have little appeal

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon
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OIL-RICH Norway is no longer to be held up as the model to show how an ­independent Scotland could thrive economically.

According to weekend reports, the SNP’s Growth Commission has decided that, rather than look to our Nordic neighbours, Scotland should instead switch its sights to the other side of the world and study the example of New Zealand.

It is said the ­collapse in oil prices since the 2014 independence referendum means Norway is no longer such a useful ­reference point and New ­Zealand, which has reportedly seen good growth rates in recent years, offers a more relevant comparison.

But the choice has not gone down well with some of the SNP’s allies in the independence movement.

The Greens object to any economic theory based on a “growth fetish”. Leader Patrick Harvie says: “The evidence shows, that for developed countries, growth isn’t the thing that increases the wellbeing of people.”

Colin Fox, leader of the Scottish Socialist Party and former Lothian MSP, is unimpressed with the record of New Zealand’s economic policies, which includes growing poverty and inequality. “New Zealand offers us nothing new,” he says.

Nicola Sturgeon has said she will decide between October and the end of the year whether there should be a second independence referendum.

At the moment the betting must be against another shot just at the moment. A Sunday newspaper poll found 57 per cent opposed to independence and 43 per cent in favour. The last thing the First Minister wants to do is lose by a bigger margin than before.

But the hope among Yes supporters was that the Growth Commission which Ms Sturgeon set up, led by economist and former SNP MSP Andrew Wilson, would produce an economic case for independence which was more convincing than the one advanced in 2104.

Mr Fox has said it was “the SNP’s hopelessly inadequate economic case” that “cost us the referendum”.

Many voters felt their concerns over pensions, currency and the cost of independence were never satisfactorily answered. Of course, small, ­independent countries around the world follow different economic policies and prosper in different ways.

New Zealand has one of the lowest levels of income tax in the developed world, which might appeal to some people – but certainly not all, given the poverty, inequality and high levels of homelessness which go with it. Ms Sturgeon herself may well be among the less enthusiastic about such an approach.

It may be argued that no other country can really provide a ­suitable model for an independent ­Scotland, even if they are a similar size or appear to have other characteristics in common.

Norway, after all, was always more an example of what Scotland might have been if it had been independent in the 1970s and had been able to establish an oil fund which then ­provided ongoing cash for investment, rather than an illustration of how Scotland would turn out if it secured independence now.

And a vote for independence should not really be seen as a vote for a ­particular economic policy. The Growth Commission may well have good points to make about New ­Zealand but it needs to do so carefully.