Inside the goldfish bowl looking out

According to a recent study* by Croatian academic Dr Jaroslav Tir of the University of Colorado’s Department of Political Science, an independent Scotland could be one of the most pacific nations in history.

It’s not that sort of pacific, Calmac ferries will not call at Tahiti en route to Rothesay.  We’ll not be blessed with tropical sunshine, Gaugin paintings of Polynesian maidens, and hordes of Australians on weekend breaks.  The kind of pacific that’s in store for us is even better – Scotland will be a country which is blessed by the prospect of peace, which will enjoy freedom from war, and experience exceptional democratic stability.

This good news, which Dr Tir delivered during a recent conference at Glasgow University, was completely drowned out by Project Fear’s insistence that iScotland will be unable to protect itself against rampant hordes of Russian cybercriminals, god-botherers with bombs, and Faroese trawlerboats.  We’re defenceless against North Korea drilling a hole through the centre of the Earth and dropping a missile though it so it can nuke Hampden in revenge for the flag incident.  We’ll be a little lost country, shivering alone in a big bad forest full of foreigners with dastardly ways.

Project Fear never stops to ask itself who we need to defend ourselves against, and why.  In the James Bond universe of the No campaign, villains need no motive.  They’ll act just like Westminster will after a No vote, apparently, and will punish us out of sheer spite.

In essence, Project Fear’s campaign boils down to “Vote No or we’ll kick your arse, and while we’re kicking your arse, these other baddies will kick your arse too – for no reason other than we’re all basterts.”  It’s understandable that they’re finding it difficult to put a positive gloss on this.  But if the basterts are going to kick our arses anyway, I’d rather take my chances with a Yes.

Despite the increasingly discredited and discreditable threats of Project Fear, Dr Tir’s work tells us that our chances of living a nice quiet life are rather better with a Yes vote.  He has analysed the process of independence in many countries, and the factors that influence how peaceful the new state becomes.

What he discovered is that there is a correlation between the peacefulness of the country’s independence process and the likelihood of that country becoming involved in wars.  The more peaceful the independence process, the less likely it is that the new state will be belligerent and prone to getting into artillery exchanges with its neighbours.   A nation that becomes independent peacefully develops into a peaceful state.

The Scottish independence process is exceptionally peaceful.  The worst that happens is that someone gets called a name, and even then the outrage is most often manufactured.  It would appear that political violence in an independent Scotland will most likely consist of some politicians occasionally taking the huff over a supposed slight by some other politicians.

The rest of us can live with that quite easily, unless you’re one of those peculiar people who loses sleep over Alistair Carmichael saying he’s been called a nasty name.  However unpleasant being called a name is for the sensitive Carmichael, it’s a whole lot less life threatening than invading Iraq.

The experience of living inside a goldfish bowl is very different from viewing it from the outside.  For all the supposed bitterness and vitriol of the Scottish debate, the rest of the world holds us up as a model of how a nation can attain independence.

Those opposed to Catalan independence contrast the sober and issue based debate of Scotland’s pro-indy campaigners with the supposed “unreasoning passions and emotions” of Catalonia’s independentistas.  Meanwhile the independentistas cite the Edinburgh Agreement and the legality of Scotland’s referendum as proof that the Scottish No campaign recognises the democratic legitimacy of a claim to national self-determination, even while being opposed to Scotland exercising its claim.  Both sides point to Scotland and say, “See, they’re acting like grown ups and that’s how it’s supposed to be done.”

But we’re inside the goldfish bowl, so all Scots independentistas see is Westminster gobbling all the fishfood and Ian Davidson doing a jobbie in the watter.  Whereas Project Fear sees independentistas as a voracious carp which is about to swallow their political careers whole.  Which admittedly isn’t entirely incorrect.

But despite this, none of the fish in our bowlful of Loch Ness watter are killing each other.  Our monsters are mythical.  We’ve avoided cannibalism, headbutting, devouring our young.  We’ve had no physical violence, not so much as a fin has been nibbled.  Our piranhas are only metaphorical.  As a nation, we need to give ourselves a bit more credit for this because it doesn’t happen very often.  Our non-violent independence campaign is in itself proof of the democratic maturity of Scotland.

The other major issue determining how peaceful and stable a country is going to be is them next door.  Countries which can’t agree with the neighbours over where the garden hedge is situated are countries which are likely to spend decades fighting over the petunias.

Here again, Scotland is exceptionally fortunate.  If you’ve ever looked at a historical atlas, you’ll be struck by the ever changing kaleidescope of borders across Europe.  From around the year 1000, Poland has waxed and waned, at times stretching across much of Eastern Europe, at other times wiped from the map.  After WW2 it ended up pretty much where it started 1000 years earlier.  It’s not just Poland.  Across Europe borders came and went, populations ebbed and flowed.  The end result was a whole lot of states which had claims on all or part of another country’s territory, and took a chainsaw to the hedge and trampled all over the neighbour’s vegetable plot.

Scotland’s sole land border has been one of the most stable and enduring in Europe.  For the best part of the past 1000 years it’s been in more or less the same position, give or take Berwick.  Although Scots have emigrated in their thousands, there are no solid blocks of Scottish people in some other land, calling to be “reunited” with the hameland.  Scotland has no territorial claims, and no other state has any territorial claims upon Scotland.

What all this means is that Scotland is an exceptionally favoured country.  It is a racing certainty that as an independent nation we will have few enemies, we will stay out of wars, our defence force will not sally from its barracks and overthrow the legitimate government, and the worst manifestation of political violence we’ll witness will be the weekly hurling of insults at Furst Meenister’s Questions.

The alternative we’re offered is the almost continual war of the United Kingdom, “punching above our weight” in military conflicts which have nothing to do with us, and seeing future generations of young Scots going off to die in foreign fields.  And we still get Johann Lamont’s weekly sneerathon.

* Unfortunately Dr Tir’s original research doesn’t seem to be available online.

I’m afraid updates to this blog will be a bit erratic over the next week or so as my partner has been admitted to hospital for tests.

Proud Scots but

Alistair Carmichael is making a keynote speech, which is Union-speak for “having a wee moan”.  He’s allegedly upset that the Yes campaign have  allegedly alleged that No voters are less Scottish than Yes voters.

The “Yes campaign” in question consisted of a carnaptious cooncillor from the SNP who had described Koalamichael as a “supposed Scot”.  This was a sardonic reference to the cuddly cabinet meenister’s valiant defence of jobs in Govan, which consisted of assuring the shipyard workers that if they vote Yes next year they’ll lose their jobs, lose their homes, their children will be sent to sweep chimneys, and worst of all they’ll still have Ian Davidson as their MP.

I’ll say here and now that the cooncillor was wrong.  There’s nothing supposed about the Koalamichael’s Caledonianosity.  He is as Scottish as any other person born or brought up in Scotland, living in Scotland, or possessing a Scottish accent – and that last caveat is only required because of Tony Blair, absolutely no one wants to admit to him.  But none of this applies to Ian Davidson, he’s not Scottish.  He’s not British either, his nationality is Twattish.  It’s a small island in the Ocean of Self-interest.

What’s interesting about this, if indeed there is ever anything of interest in what comes out of a LibDem’s gob, is that the supposed slight “supposed Scottish”, doesn’t work in reverse.  Whatever you think of the Fife cooncillor’s remark, it’s understandable – perhaps not in the moral sense, but the linguistic sense.  “Supposed Scot” is a phrase which has meaning.  It is comprehensible, like “two faced Scottish Secretary”, “hypocritical MP”, or “lying Lib Dem”.

The opposite, “supposed British”, doesn’t make any sense when used with reference to independence supporters.  The reaction of yer average indy supporter to being called “supposed British” by a Unionist would be “Eh?”  It’s not at all clear what the phrase might mean.  The utterings of apologists for Westminster are often nonsensical and frequently outrageous, but at least they consist of insults you can feel insulted by.

“Supposed British” is one of those zen koans devoid of lexical content that you find in the holy speeches of St Johann the Rarely Visible.  Johann’s mangled syntax is the SLab equivalent of “What is the sound of one hand clapping, grasshopper”, before it slaps you across the mug.

The lack of sense of the phrase “supposed British” can only be because it doesn’t make sense without the “supposed” bit prefixed to it either.  Britishness is for most Scots a vague and nebulous concept, which is why the Westminster parties are so determined to make out that they are the only body able to give the word any definite import – like they’re the Oxford English Dictionary or the Dictionary of Scots all of a sudden, and we instinctively turn to Johann Lamont, Ian Davidson or Magrit Curran for guidance on the finer points of linguistic usage.

The not at all supposed Scot Koalamichael is living proof that Scottish people are not immune to rank hypocrisy, wilful ignorance, or a truly astounding lack of self-awareness.  He illustrated this by his warning that the Yes campaign are on dangerous ground by mixing “patriotism with politics”, saying without an apparent shred of irony: “I tell you this: once you start mixing up politics and patriotism you can quickly get into dangerous territory.”

No shit Alistair.  All those exercises in flag waving, royal events, and Great British telly programmes are entirely coincidental.  It’s not mixing politics with patriotism to repeatedly warn us that we’ll all become foreigners, because it’s well known that being foreign is a bad thing.  And it’s not mixing politics with patriotism to declare like Jim Murphy that he’s a proud Scot but he’s also proud to be British with the “best armed forces in the world”.  No patriotic grandstanding there then, oh no.

This raises an altogether deeper and more interesting question.  To the No campaign, British patriotism is like British nationalism.  Neither exists in their universe, and no amount of rationally pointing out to them that supporting the British state is a form of nationalism is going to penetrate their skulls.  If they were truly non-nationalists and viscerally opposed to nationalism in all its incarnations they’d be arguing for the abolition of Westminster and its replacement by one world government.

Trying to demonstrate to a British nationalist that they are indeed a nationalist, and so hasn’t got a moral leg to stand on when they decry a Scottish desire for independence, is a bit like trying to demonstrate to a homophobe that they are indeed homophobic.  It will not compute with them.  In fact, they are liable to respond angrily, because some people believe that being called a homophobe is actually worse than being homophobic, just as the likes of George Galloway will fiercely reject any suggestion that he’s a British nationalist as he tours the length of the land exhorting us to “Just say naw” to indy.  We’ll just say naw to George instead.

Certain people and organisations habitually define homophobia in such a way as to exclude themselves from it, allowing them free rein to argue that gay people shouldn’t be allowed to marry or have kids or have equal legal rights.  Typically they redefine homophobia so it only means “physically assaulting a gay person out of malice or spite”.  It’s a strategy for dealing with cognitive dissonance, allowing them to continue to discriminate without seeing themselves as discriminatory.  The redefinition permits them to accuse the people they discriminate against as being the wrongdoers, and portray themselves as the victims.

This is in fact the exact tactic adopted by a number of Christian churches, not only do they believe they have the right to define the meaning of the word “marriage” for everyone, Christian or not, they also believe they have the right to define the meaning of the word “homophobia”.  They discriminate against gay people because they believe a god of love tells them to do so, so it cannot possibly be homophobic for campaign against legal equality for LGBT folk.  It’s gay people who are the bad guys, causing all that upset and fuss.  And if you scratch a bit further, it’s because deep down they believe that only straight people are normal, gay people are abnormal.  Only those who are themselves “normal” are entitled to define “normal” meaning.

The ability of humans to hold mutually contradictory ideas simultaneously is called cognitive dissonance, and the strategy of redefining meaning to suit oneself is a classic means of achieving it.  Koalamichael’s pronouncements against “mixing patriotism with politics” are another example of the exact same cognitive dissonance, only this time applied to a different struggle for civil liberties, the Scottish independence debate.

The UK government and the Westminster parties want Scotland to continue as a country which isn’t properly a country, and a nation which isn’t properly a nation, without confronting the cognitive dissonance that this entails.  They want to justify Scotland remaining a nation which doesn’t enjoy the full range of rights possessed by any normal nation.  Unionists achieve this by being “proud Scots but”, and portraying themselves as victims of evil Scottish rupturists.  Pointing out the disadvantages of Scotland remaining in the UK is a far worse crime than actually perpetrating those disadvantages upon Scotland.

Only Scottish independence is nationalist, and only mixing Scottish patriotism with the political desire for independence is dangerous.  Westminster is normal, an independent Scotland is abnormal.  Unionists argue that Scotland couldn’t possibly cope with the challenges that face any normal country, the subtext being that Scotland is not a normal country.  Naturally only normal people like Johann Lamont or Alistair Carmichael can define these concepts normally, but that’s much harder sell for them.

This is certainly hypocritical of Unionists, but they’re not actually lying – at least not in this aspect of their arguments – because lying entails a conscious telling of a non-truth which is understood not to be true by the person making the statement.  Unionist politicians don’t have that much self-awareness.  They’re proud Scots … but.

Don’t expect any of this to change before September 2014.  As the American socialist author Upton Sinclair said:  “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”




Adventures in forensic linguistics and the art of sock puppetry

The key to a well balanced and sane life is to have multiple obsessions.  Apart from boring the arse off my relatives about the need for Scottish independence – a project in which I’m making slow but steady progress – I’ll also bore the arse off you about obscure languages spoken by 5 elderly folk and a parrot up a valley somewhere in the Andes.  I’m a geek, an anorak, a nerd, the linguistic version of the guys who stand on the ends of station platforms obsessively jotting down train numbers.

Not that any of this has ever proven of much practical use in daily life, although when watching Pointless I did once get 3 pointless answers when the category was “official languages of India”.  Mind you, it’s not that hard really.  You can also get 3 spectacularly pointless answers when the category is anything to do with Westminster politics.  Just yell at the telly “Magrit Curran, Ian Davidson, and Jim Murphy” and you’re sorted.

But back to linguistics, forensic linguistics to be precise, and its usefulness in the Scottish independence debate.

Forensic linguistics is the science of gleaning information about people’s backgrounds from their linguistic patterns.  Language is like fingerprints, it follows repeating patterns, but each of us have uniquely identifying traits.  In certain Sherlock Holmes stories, our pipe wielding cocaine snorting hero is able to say with confidence that a particular suspect comes from the north side of a particular street in a small district of a particular town.  In real life, you can’t be so precise, but people’s speech and language patterns do reveal a lot of information about their background.

I’ve posted previously about watching Unionists who post obsessively in the comments sections of newspapers.  I’ll mock them en-masse, but wouldn’t ever single out an ordinary individual who seems to be who they claim to be.  They’re just opinionated punters like the rest of us, they have no more power or influence than anyone else, and they’re entitled to their wrong opinions.

But there is a significant, albeit small, minority who are clearly not who they claim to be.  Suspiciously well briefed, they post lengthy comments.  They’re sock puppets, party hacks who have created false identities in order to manipulate a debate in their own interest.

I’ve searched for similar examples amongst Yes supporters, but have failed to find any.  Those Yes supporters who are also SNP activists are up front about it.  The Yes campaign has genuine, and massive, popular support online, it has no need for sock puppetry.  Sock puppets are a Unionist phenomenon.  What’s interesting is that the Unionist camp has so little confidence in what it has to offer that it feels the need to lie about the sources and providers of their message.

Better Together has form for this sort of behaviour.  Wings Over Scotland has highlighted a particularly staged looking leafleting session Better Together held in Edinburgh on the day of the Rally for Independence.

Better Together does the same in the online comment sections of newspapers.  One poster who pops up regularly in the Herald and the Guardian claims to be a disinterested foreigner from a small European country, who is simply concerned enough to point out all the terrible problems with the practicalities of becoming independent, and so we really shouldn’t do it.

If you click on a poster’s user ID in the Guardian, you can see their posting history.  This individual only ever posts on threads about Scottish indy.  Never on the (few) threads relevant to the small European country from which they claim to come.  That’s interesting all by itself.

And this is where forensic linguistics comes in.  This person’s posts are lengthy and copious.  Actually they’re bloody tedious, but they do form what linguists call a comprehensive corpus.  I read through it.  See how I suffer for the cause?

What was interesting was not the content, it was the total absence of a single grammatical, syntactic, or semantic indicator which would point to the writer’s mother tongue being that of this particular small European country.  Anoraks who jot down grammatical information at the ends of train platforms know what to look for.

I noticed another person in the Guardian had obviously pointed this out to our mysterious European, only to be subjected to a rant.  It was racist to assert that people from this small European country could not learn English properly, apparently.  But it’s not racist to point out the universals of human linguistic behaviour, and speaking as a former professional translator, I can assure you that professional translators only ever translate INTO their mother tongue.  You never translate into your second language, you never write for professional publication in your second language.  Those who do have the assistance of native speaking sub-editors.  No matter how fluent you become in your second language, there are always tell tale signs that give you away.

The reason for this is that many of the rules of a language are triggered by some words but not others, and there is often no logical basis for deciding which is which.  You just have to know.  So in English the words ‘leaf’ and ‘herb’ are count nouns, and must appear with a determiner, you have to say “a leaf”, “a herb”, or “an herb” if you’re American and talk funny.  But the word ‘grass’ is a non-count noun, and can appear without an article, it’s just “grass”, not “a grass” – unless you mean a wee clype.  I’m a grass just now, because I’m grassing this poster up.

Definite and indefinite articles in English are used differently according to whether a noun is a count noun or a non-count noun.  There is no logical semantic or grammatical reason why leaf is count but grass is non-count.  It’s just one of the many wee quirks of English.  All human languages have wee quirks like these.  Learners of the language just have to learn them individually, and it’s impossible not to make the occasional mistake because there is no rhyme or reason to them.

So you can imagine that if your mother tongue doesn’t have definite or indefinite articles, learning how to use them correctly 100% of the time in English is no mean feat.  This person claims to be a native speaker of a language that lacks definite and indefinite articles.

There are other linguistic give-aways, but I’m not going to say what they are.  I’m not about to explain to Better Together how to make their sock puppets more convincing.

The person making all these posts is clearly someone whose dominant language is English.  They do not display any of the signs of a person who has learned English as a second language, and who still resides within the milieu of their mother tongue.  The only possible conclusion is that the person is a native English speaker who lives amongst English speakers.

Even more intriguingly, this person’s user ID is the translation into this south central European language of the name of a gay festival held in the neighbouring (German speaking) country.  It’s a festival which attracts visitors from all over Europe, including Scotland.

Despite the fact that the Guardian newspaper regularly publishes stories of LGBT interest, including stories directly relevant to LGBT people living in small East European countries, this poster has never commented on any of them.  They only comment on stories about Scottish independence.

So I am breaking my own rule here, because this person is not an ordinary punter who is telling the truth about themselves, their background and their motivations.  Jezerna Roza is a Gay festival which isn’t in Slovenia, and neither is “Jezerna Roza”.   “Jezerna Roza” is no more Slovene than I am.  He, and it’s most assuredly a he, is a gay man who is also a Labour party activist.  He is more Lothian than Ljubljana, more Motherwell than Maribor.  I can think of a number of suspects.

Jezerna Roza’s posts deserve no further consideration.  After all, if you’re misrepresenting yourself, just why should we believe anything else you have to say?

This is the lesson that Better Together and the Unionist campaign have signally failed to learn.  Don’t lie to people.  You’ll get caught out, and it will be your undoing.

Vote Yes, for Kirriemuir Gingerbread

When you’re a full time carer, managing to get out for an hour or so to the local branch of Morrisons to get the weekly shopping counts as ‘quality me time’.  It allows me to stock up on favourite munchies and comfort food.  I like a wee slice of Kirriemuir Gingerbread, slathered with butter.  The other half enjoys a thick slab of it in a bowl, covered in Devon Custard with a dollop of double cream.  Bugger the cholesterol.  But the other week there was none in the usual aisle, just a pile of Christmas cakes – and it was only bleedin October

I asked a guy stocking shelves where they’d moved it to. He apologised, and told me there wasn’t any in stock.  All the ordering is done by Head Office down in England he said, and they’d sent instructions that no more would be ordered until the New Year in order to make space for piles of Christmas cake.  In October.  Who eats Christmas cake in October anyway?

He added that the store manager had been on the phone to them, explaining that cholesterol laden grumpy auld gits throughout Scotland buy a lot of Kirriemuir Gingerbread, and they moan a lot when they can’t get it.  We sell a lot of it here, the shelf-stacking guy assured me.  But Head Office in England was insistent that we really want to eat Christmas cake for the next 3 months.  It’s a Union benefit to shake us out of our provincial Kirriemuir Gingerbread munching ways.

The phrase “Head Office in England” got me thinking.  Supermarkets account for a large chunk of weekly expenditure, especially in low income households, like those of the typical carer and cared for.  Money spent in a Scottish supermarket belonging to one of the large UK chains – like Morrisons, Tesco, Asda, Sainsburys, or, if you’re posh, M&S – generates VAT and other tax revenue for the UK Treasury that is identified as originating from the company’s head office, which is most often in London or the South East of England.

Of course much of what we buy in supermarkets, like many foodstuffs, is zero-rated for VAT, but non-food items like deep clean skin cleanser and toilet duck are all liable for VAT at the standard rate of 20%, as are “luxury” food items like chocolate coated biscuits.

The same holds true for non-food retail chains.  None of the VAT collected on the flat screen telly you bought from Currys before it closed down counted as Scottish revenue, despite the fact it was a tax paid on sales in Scotland.  None of it could be used by a Scottish Government to protect Scottish workers against job losses.

Since it doesn’t count as Scottish revenue, taxes generated by the money Scottish residents spend in most large retail outlets is not credited to Scotland in the UK Government’s GERS (Government Expendture and Revenues Scotland) figures, the figures upon which much of the argument about Scotland’s economic viability is based, and which Westminster uses to tell us how poor we are.  Although on their own figures, Scotland generates 9.9% of UK tax revenues, with just 8.3% of the UK population.

Even on the UK’s skew-you statistics, Scotland is doing better than Better Together would like to acknowledge, but an independent Scotland’s finances would be even healthier, and by a considerable margin.  The truth is that the GERS figures are about as realistic as the financial forecasts Craig Whyte made for the Gers.

As a furrinstance, the sales of toilet duck and choccie biccies in supermarkets mean that the revenues of an independent Scotland would be rather higher than the UK’s GERS figures give us credit for.

In an independent Scotland, tax due on all sales or profits generated in Scotland would be paid to the Scottish Treasury.  The 50p VAT on your toilet duck from Morrisons supermarket is an additional 50p that would go to the Scottish budget over and above the official statistics currently being bandied about by the UK Treasury.  The 50p would no longer be tax income originating from a head office in London.  It would be tax income originating from the company’s offices in Scotland.

A bottle of toilet duck here and a packet of wet wipes there adds up.  So just how much is Scotland being shortchanged?  Finding out the exact figure would take a crack team of forensic accountants on speed, but we can get a rough idea.  Let’s have a wee look at the largest UK retail chain, Tesco.

During the last financial year, 2012/13, Tesco reported UK sales of £48,216,000,000.  Much of this is food which is not liable for VAT.  On my last trip to the supermarket, around 15% of the amount spent was on non-food items, and so liable for VAT.  That’s as good an estimate as any in order to work out some rough calculations.

I couldn’t be bothered adding in the chocolate biscuits.  In what universe is a McVities chocolate digestive a “luxury”?  It could only be in a country where a spare room for the wheelchair, the walking frame and bathroom equipment is a luxury for people on benefits …  Oh.

But let’s lean over backwards to give Georgie boy and the Treasury the benefit of any doubt.  With a standard VAT rate of 20%, and assuming zero-rated food items make up 85% of Tesco’s turnover, this means the company forwards roughly £1.44 billion annually in VAT to George Osborne’s account books.

This figure does not include other taxes paid by Tesco to the UK Treasury, such as corporation tax.  The company says that it paid a total of £1.5 billion in direct taxation to the Exchequer in 2012/13, a figure which includes corporation tax, property taxes etc., but doesn’t include VAT payments.

All this money is counted by the UK Treasury as revenue originating from Cheshunt in Hertfordshire, just beyond the boundary of Greater London, where the company’s head office is located and its tax returns are filed.

The revenues which the UK Treasury regards as originating from the company’s head office were generated by the company’s 3146 stores across the UK.  Tesco traditionally has a smaller presence in Scotland than in England, where the bulk of its stores are located.  However Tesco has many more “Express” and “Metro One Stop” outlets in England, these are much smaller than the company’s main supermarkets and therefore do not generate the same amount of revenue for the company or the taxman.

According to the company’s submission to the Scottish Government’s consultation on alcohol, it has “over” 126 stores in Scotland.  Let’s say 128 then.

Getting out the back of a fag packet so we can make some rough calculations, and with the additional assumption that Tesco’s Scottish stores each generate the same average revenue as stores elsewhere in the UK, this gives us a ballpark figure of £1.44 billion VAT + £1.5 billion direct taxation x (128 Scottish stores / 3146 UK stores) – working out at £119 million annually in tax payments to the UK Treasury from sales and profits generated by Tesco operations in Scotland.

Since a higher proportion of the Scottish stores are large supermarkets, and Tesco is also involved in non-food retailing such as financial services, this figure is probably a low estimate.

By way of comparison, Tesco Ireland has 137 stores in the Irish Republic.  The Irish arm of the business is roughly the same size as Tesco in Scotland. Tesco Ireland generates a total of €3.07 billion (£2.64 billion) in sales annually. The standard rate of VAT in Ireland is 23%. Assuming the same 85% figure for zero rated food items, this means that Tesco Ireland forwards around €105 million (£90.3 million) annually to the Irish Government in VAT alone. At the 20% VAT rate in force in Scotland, Tesco’s retail sales in Ireland would generate €92.1 million (£78.6 million) annually in VAT revenues for the Irish Government. This figure does not include the other taxes that the company pays to the Irish Treasury.

Our estimate of £119 million for the total potential Scottish revenues from Tesco is likely to considerably underestimate the true figure, it includes several other taxes as well as VAT.  More realistically, the total due in VAT alone to an independent Scottish Treasury from Tesco operations in Scotland would be similar to the Irish figure, probably greater than £78.6 million annually.

Since the total in other taxes paid by Tesco to the UK Government is greater than our deliberately low estimates for VAT, the true figure for the taxes Tesco would pay in an independent Scotland is certainly well over the £140 million mark.  At the moment, Scotland is not credited with a penny of this amount.

£140 million is a large sum of money, working out at 147 million packets of Kirriemuir Gingerbread at 95p per pack, or 582,758,206 tins of Tesco own brand baked beans at 29p per tin. The contents of the tins would be capable of producing more fart gas than a Better Together press release.  But only by a tiny wee margin.  If laid end to end a half billion tins of beans would wrap around the world almost one and a half times, or form a tower 34,600 miles tall stretching high into geostationary orbit. We could have our own space programme, and we could adapt Michelle Mone’s bras to make a slingshot to get our astronauts to the Moon.  Or possibly even Michelle herself as she’s not keen on living in an independent Scotland.

But remember £140 million is only the hidden Scottish revenue from just one supermarket chain.  What applies to Tesco applies equally to Morrisons, Asda and all the rest.  It also applies to M&S, TopShop, John Lewis, and the other retail chains on our high streets and in our shopping centres.  In these outlets the large majority of sales turnover is liable for VAT.

Few of these companies are headquartered in Scotland, yet together they make sales in Scotland worth billions of pounds annually, and the billions they generate for the UK Treasury are filed in tax returns from their head offices, which are usually in London.  This is how London “subsidises” us.

There are other ways in which Scottish revenues are invisible in the official statistics.  Much of the alcohol duty paid by our whisky industry is not counted as revenue from Scotland.  Alcohol produced in the UK which is exported abroad becomes subject to UK alcohol duty at the point of export, and a large proportion of Scotland’s multibillion whisky exports gets shipped out from ports in England.  The UK Treasury counts the duty levied on this whisky as income from the tax region in which the port is situated.

Billions of pounds of Scottish revenue is magicked away in the official statistics, and doesn’t count as Scottish revenue.  It masquerades as revenue from other parts of the UK, most commonly as revenue from London.  In total, the extra revenues which do not currently figure in the GERS statistics, but which would accrue to an independent Scottish Treasury, would be considerably larger than the entire annual income from the North Sea.  Who needs the yle when you’ve got Tesco own brand baked beans eh?

This is why Project Fear is ramping up the hysteria.  Scotland generates far more for the UK Government than it wants to admit to.

And so far I’ve not even mentioned how the expenditure part of the GERS statistics are likewise a skew-you to Scotland.  That’s a whole other rant.

Anyone who tells you Scotland cannae afford independence is farting verbally to the tune of half a billion tins of Tesco own brand baked beans.  We would in fact be considerably better off than the GERS figures suggest.  We could probably even afford the few extra pennies for the Kirriemuir Gingerbread with the icing topping.

No doubt in an independent Scotland the supermarkets would still insist on starting Christmas in September, but at least the revenues and taxation they generate would go to the Scottish budget, and count as income for the Scottish Government, to be spent in Scotland and on her population.  And we’d be able to buy Kirriemuir Gingerbread all year round.

Vote Yes, for Kirriemuir Gingerbread.

28th October 2013:  This is an amended and corrected version of the original article, after it was pointed out to me that like the Kirriemuir Gingerbread crazed eejit that I am, I had forgotten that food in the UK is not liable for VAT.  It was the withdrawal symptoms that made me do it.