Given the time of the year, a reference to Robert Burns, even one as fleeting as the above well known quote, is perhaps appropriate. As we are repeatedly reminded that the economy will be the determining factor, in the vote in the referendum on independence in September this year, some comment about the alleged figure which will be required to purchase the vote of a certain section of the Scottish population, is even more appropriate. Mind you, no one seems to know where the figure of £500 came from, as was pointed out by those who participated in last week's edition of Question Time. Nevertheless, it is trotted out at regular intervals by those who delight in pointing to the frailties of the Yes vote. I have to say, that anyone whose self respect and feelings of self-worth have been allowed to slip to such depths that a mere £500 is sufficient to purchase their "loyalty", may find it more appropriate to speak to someone other than a politician in search of votes.
If the economy is likely to be the deciding factor in determining the vote for a substantial number of Scots, what is it exactly that will persuade them to vote for independence? Some will use it as an excuse, claiming, as they have always done, that Scotland is too small, lacks the resources and the people of ability to make a success of independence. That argument is now heard much less than it used to be, at least in its starkest form, although variations on the theme are still alive and well, promoted by the more intellectually challenged Unionists. The uncertainty created in the minds of many Scots, certainly stems from fear that Scotland's economy would find it difficult to withstand the inherent instabilities in modern economic structures and markets. That is hardly surprising as it is something which has been nurtured by Unionists at every opportunity, and unfortunately, the majority of Scots have been prepared to accept their arguments at face value, ignoring the many examples of small nations throughout the world, which have been much more successful in managing their economic affairs than successive UK governments since the end of WWII.
Do Scots believe the performance of UK governments since 1945, has actually benefited Scotland? Do they believe the economic performance of recent UK governments, has been to the advantage of Scots? The certainty Scots appear to be demanding from the Yes camp on everything from defense to pensions, is not being demanded of the Unionists, those like Anas Sarwar, who admits Trident is wrong, the austerity measures are wrong, Tory policies are wrong, the UK economic performance is wrong, BUT who also insist Scots must wait until the message has got home to the English before anything is done about it. If Scots are really concerned about the economy in the future, particularly in an independent Scotland, they must be equally concerned about the economy if we remain a part of the UK and, I know just how concerned they have been in the past, about the future economic prospects under successive UK governments. On each and every occasion they have placed their trust in successive Tory and Labour governments, that trust has been thrown back in their face, as Scottish interests have been sacrificed for the benefit of England in general and London and the South East in particular. In short, has the economic history of the UK, the economic policies of UK governments as they have been applied to Scotland, taught Scots anything at all? It would seem the answer to that question is a resounding "NO" if we are to believe current opinion polls or the frequently expressed concerns of the average Scots voter.
The de-industrialisation of Scotland was allowed to take place, with little or no thought given to replacing the jobs that were lost. This de-industrialisation was carried out, sometimes deliberately as with Heath and Thatcher - more of which below - and sometimes through ignorance and a total lack of concern. When the coal pits were closed, the closures started in Scotland, with the number of pits in Scotland falling from 187 in 1947 to 2 in 1989. The British Steel Corporation was sacrificed by Heath, with the Scottish steel industry being wiped out, as part of the price of entry to the Common Market. Scottish fishing suffered the same fate, with over 100,000 jobs being lost in the industry. Successive Labour and Tory governments used the revenues from Scottish oil to restructure the industrial base in England and such was the extent of the deceit, that the 1974 McCrone Report on the potential of oil for Scotland, either as an independent country or as a part of the UK, was kept secret for over 30 years. It would still have been buried had it not been for the Freedom of Information Act, which forced its publication in 2005 under pressure from the SNP.
It is almost impossible to overestimate the potential benefits that could have been won had Scotland been in control of its oil wealth from the outset; in other words, had Scotland been independent. Jim and Margaret Cuthbert, in their most recent paper for the Reid Foundation, certainly go some way to plugging the gap in our collective knowledge, but anyone who doubts that Scotland could have been immeasurably better set up to compensate for the demise of its heavy industry, need only look across the North Sea to Norway. The Cuthbert paper carries this quote from the McCrone Report, ""Even after its discovery, the full significance of North Sea oil was not immediately apparent, and it still remains in large measure disguised from the Scottish public..." and the following from the Cabinet minutes of a meeting of 15th December 1977, "Above all, the creation of an oil fund would play into the hands of the Scottish Nationalists, for whom it would become a major political target." In other words, Westminster would rather waste the oil than provide a fund for future benefit, just so that no political advantage could be gained by the SNP.
The Cuthberts conclude by saying, "....the Union has proved itself incapable of exercising proper stewardship, either of an irreplaceable resource like North Sea oil, or of the UK economy. Secondly the Union has failed to honour the kind of implicit bargain of good faith that should exist in any properly functioning union." Those who doubt that to be true, may try to explain why it is that for the past thirty years the annual growth of the Scots economy has been 0.5% lower every year than that for the rest of the UK; why between the years 1995-2002, growth in the Scottish economy averaged 1.9% per annum while it was 2.7% in the rest of the UK. In the early years of his tenure of office as Chancellor, Gordon Brown was hailed as the "wonder kid" the man who abolished "boom and bust". In his Mansion House speech to the Financial Services industry in 2007, he said, "I congratulate you on those remarkable achievements, an era of that history will record as the beginning of a new golden age for the City of London..." The recession and the banking crisis was just a year away. Brown also managed to destroy the UK pension industry, sell 395 tons of the UK's gold reserves at the bottom of the market, as well as create PFI. (For more detail of Brown's tenure as Chancellor see "It's The Economy Stupid" on jimfairlie.blogspot.com)
The legacy left by successive Westminster governments has not been without the direst consequences for much of Scotland's most vulnerable people. It is inconceivable that in a country such as Scotland in 2014, we have food banks and daily requests on TV, to give generously to charities which cater for the underprivileged in our society. Since 2008, the number of under-25s who are unemployed has almost doubled to 90,000; low-income families increased from 125,000 to 150,000, part-time workers looking for full time employment rose from 70,000 in 2008 to 120,000 in 2012. A boy born in the most deprived 10% of areas has a life expectancy of 68 - 8 years below the national average and 14 years below boys born in the least deprived ares. These figures, taken from Poverty Alliance, show that Scotland has 910,000 people living in poverty, 220,000 of them children.
Some of those figures will be out of date but the trends which they represent have been part of the Scottish landscape for all of my life. They are a disgrace in a modern society such as ours, in a country with the resources enjoyed by Scotland. It is inconceivable that any Scot, with even the briefest of knowledge of the record of successive UK governments, could even consider that more of the same is preferable to the freedom to create a society so much better, in an independent Scotland. The only guarantees the Scottish people are likely to get in the upcoming referendum, is the guarantee that if they vote for more of the same from another Westminster government, that is exactly what they will get - more of the same.