The Deputy First Minister John Swinney has confirmed that the Scottish Government is to publish a “comprehensive financial plan” for independence. The plan aims to provide the public with “relevant and realistic” information about the financial prospects of an independent Scotland. This kind of information is sorely needed as until now the debate about Scotland’s finances have been dominated by discussions based on the annual GERS figures (Government Expenditure and Revenues Scotland) which even the most dedicated graph creating opponent of independence has been forced to admit tell us nothing useful about the finances of an independent Scotland. Informed critics of the figures insist that they tell us little that’s useful about the finances of Scotland, full stop.
The GERS figures were devised by the Conservative Scottish Secretary of State Ian Lang in the 1990s as he wanted a political tool to use against those arguing for the creation of a Scottish Parliament. Three decades later the GERS figures are still being deployed as a political weapon against those arguing for greater Scottish self government. As a source of realistic financial information about the Scottish economy the GERS figures are worse than useless, but as a campaigning tool for opponents of greater Scottish self government they have been highly effective. It’s hardly surprising that they are fetishised as being tantamount to holy writ in British nationalist circles and anyone who dares to criticise them is condemned as a heretic to be burned at the stake.
However a corrective to the inadequacies and manifest inaccuracies of the GERS figures is sorely needed. The fictitious narrative, so beloved of British nationalists, that Scotland is an economic basket case which is hopelessly dependent upon the largesse of UK Treasury and the English taxpayer is derived from the GERS figures. That is after all the picture that the designers of the GERS statistics set out to paint. Yet, as this blog has pointed out on numerous occasions, even if this tale of woe and penury was accurate, it’s scarcely something for opponents of independence to be proud of, far less to make the basis of their case against independence. It would merely illustrate that the Scottish economy has been shockingly mismanaged by successive British governments to the point that Scotland, uniquely amongst the nations of North Western Europe, has been rendered incapable by the economic policies of the British state of providing its citizens with the basic level of public services that all other countries in this part of the world take for granted.
That’s not an argument against independence, it’s an appalling indictment of British rule and a sign that escaping this criminal British mismanagement as quickly as possible is a moral, economic, and political imperative.
The entire point of independence is to do things differently from Westminster and to manage the Scottish economy and Scottish resources in a way which is beneficial for the people of Scotland and not the political and strategic interests of the British state. A set of figures which are based upon guesstimates derived from Westminster’s spending priorities are fundamentally unsuitable for providing a basis from which to discuss the financial prospects of an independent Scotland. You cannot make the financial case for independence by basing it on a set of statistics which were designed to demonstrate Scotland’s supposed financial dependency on Westminster.
We need to move away from the myths and misinformation of the GERS figures, which is the main reason why John Swinney’s announcement is so welcome. It’s not the only reason however, the announcement is also welcome because it is a much needed sign that the Scottish Government is serious about pursuing independence and is putting in the preparatory work which will be vital for winning the second independence referendum campaign.
The new prospectus is required because previous work has been rendered out of date by Brexit, the economic challenges of the covid pandemic, and the increased urgency of the climate crisis. Previous plans for the economy of an independent Scotland which placed a significant reliance on Scotland’s potential as a producer of oil and gas have now become historical documents. The motor for the future economy of an independent Scotland must be this country’s immense potential as a producer of renewable energy, resources which Scotland is blessed with an abundance of. Above all else the economy of an independent Scotland must be sustainable in the longer term in order to guarantee the public services and standard of living that we have come to expect.
For my own part I would like to see the prospectus contain proposals for the rapid establishment of a Scottish Central Bank to be up and running as soon as possible after a Yes vote in the referendum, and a plan to move as soon as feasibly possible to the establishment of a new Scottish currency. While Scotland is fully entitled to continue to use Sterling for as long as it chooses to, and any British nationalist suggestions to the contrary must be robustly rebuffed, in the longer term the Scottish Government must not have its hands tied by the fiscal policies of the government of another country and must be able to create new money for investment in the economy, as any normal country with a fiat currency does.
Any new financial prospectus will have to strike a fine balance between providing the public with realistic and convincing answers to the questions they have about the currency of an independent Scotland, pensions, and the long term and sustainable funding of public services. On the other hand it needs to avoid merely providing opponents of independence with fresh targets to attack. It’s a tall order, but I have no doubt that John Swinney and his team are up to the job. If they succeed they can progress the case for independence beyond the sterile and pointless GERS-based arguments and put the independence campaign on a secure and robust footing for a campaign during which the British state is going to throw all its capacity for scaremongering, threats, and fomenting division against us.
There won’t be a new blog article tomorrow as I have a physiotherapy appointment in the morning and am likely to be wiped out and drained afterwards. This weekend it’s my birthday, so I’m taking a couple of days off.
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