Friday, April 20, 2007

Be Careful What You Wish For

In today's Scotsman there's an exclusive interview with Tony Blair. It all hinges around if we vote SNP it's a small step to breaking up the Union argument. Labour are on the ropes in Scotland. Joke's lack of ability as a farce minister and as the local party leader, coupled with all the anti Labour government in London sentiment in Scotland makes the Union argument about the only thing left to try and stem the rising tide of anti-Labour public opinion. The problem is that the Lib Dems have been cornered by the vote for them is a vote for Labour strategy (that was a brilliant move); not helped either by the one man party syndrome of making Nicol Stephens the star (I bet that came from a focus group). No one can see the Tories winning, although there’s a definite mood swing, which says that they are not the big bad Thatcherites of old. Their vote will definitely increase. But none of this does anything to help Labour.

However, one statement by TB does resonate. "A lot of these people criticise the Labour Executive from the right, they say you have too large a public sector. I've seen the SNP policy programme. It's not to cut the public sector at all. On the contrary, it's to make a series of unfunded spending commitments."

I repeat my earlier assertions that the nitty gritty of independence will inevitably add to the costs for an independent Scotland by increasing the size of the administrative burden. If we are independent will we just not have all the departments and offices that the government currently have – much of the departmental running of the country is done from England. How much will Scottish Embassies around the world cost, or will we have an annexe, a small office out the back of all the British Embassies? What will the status of soldiers be who are in the British Army - mercenaries? Will what's left of Great Britain have bases in Scotland rather like we did in Germany. How much will a Scottish Passport office cost?

The list is endless but for me the devil is in the detail and I worry that the machinery of state that is necessary to run a country is one that takes an awful lot of organization and experience. It's not a jibe at Scots ability or anything close to it. We have people of tremendous ability here, but unravelling from one system and building another is the nightmare scenario. And while we do have a population that's roughly the same as Finland, Denmark and Norway (individually) but they've developed their apparatus of government over many years.

One argument that just does not ring true for me is the one put forward by some commentators that there are huge numbers of Scots in exile overseas waiting to do a Sean Connery and come on home once the Union Jack has been struck from every building.

Opposition is easy, although winning an election can admittedly be a tough, but this could be a poison chalice for the SNP. The euphoria, the excitement of the post election revelry will soon make way for the cold light of dawn. The Salmon might not appear so chirpy nor little Nicola quite so light on her feet when they have to deliver.

2 comments:

Steve Kelly said...

It would be interesting to compare potential public spending figures for an independent Scotland with, for example, the Republic of Ireland. They have a population of around 4 million. We have a population of around 5 million.

Browsing the net for some rough figures suggests that we have a total government spend of around £47bn (Euro 69bn) according to a an article posted on BBC's website back in December (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/6169353.stm). Looking for a comparable figure for ROI I stumbled upon a report from UCD (http://www.ucd.ie/economics/staff/cmccarthy/browson.pdf) which would appear to put gross public expenditure at around the Euro 35bn mark. Lets not quibble and say this is roughly half the Scottish figure.

It would appear there is reason to believe that we are already grossly overspending, if in fact these are comparable figures, before we begin to spend even more in order to fully establish ourselves as an independent nation. Or perhaps it is just a case of robbing from Peter's departments to start up Paul's and in the process find a way to cut overall public spending.

Richard Havers said...

Steve, robbing Peter to pay Paul and cutting public expenditure - that's a tough ask. If we were say 15% away from the ROI there's a case to be made, but as I've suspected all along, and most other people, except those of a staunch SNP persuasion, do too, things are already out of control. The size of the public sector here in Scotland is colossal and would be worse were it not for the stellar growth in the Edinburgh financial sector. If yesterday’s reports are true then our other big business – tourism – could also be in trouble.

There’s a dilemma for businesses here in Scotland. If they don’t show support for the SNP there’s the risk of being called unpatriotic. Loyalty to the home country is understandably stronger than loyalty to Great Britain. In short a swipe at the SNP could be bad for business.