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Too Wee, Too Poor, Too Stupid

by Graham Kelly 8 months ago in politics

#1: Too Wee

Too Wee, Too Poor, Too Stupid

The main arguments articulated against the case for Scottish independence tend to follow three broad themes: that Scotland is too wee; that Scotland is too poor and that Scotland is too stupid. Although unionists (usually) take care not to be so offensive and brutal when making the case against independence as to say such things outright, if you analyse the substance of their arguments, the essence of them are quite clear.

It is a common occurence for concerns over Scotland's size (or lack thereof) to be articulated as a reason to reject independence and stay in the larger and more powerful United Kingdom (an argument that looks increasingly futile in light of Brexit). Unionists argue that Scotland would lack influence on the world stage due to its small population and would be at the mercy of a global geopolitics dominated by larger nation states.

Likewise the weakness of the Scottish economy is regularly cited as further reason to reject self-determination. This argument in particular tends to be the subject of wide-spread hyperbole and hysteria, with comparisons between Scotland and Greece not uncommon. They suggest that Scotland has a large and unsustainable deficit, meaning independence would lead to economic calamity, unemployment and social chaos.

Similarly, concerns over Scotland's inate ability to govern itself are often cited by unionists in coy and subtle ways: questions have been raised about the 'quality' of Scottish politicians and the Scottish body-politik, about the 'strength' of Scottish insitutions, and about the intelligence, the work-ethic and the profligacy of the Scottish populous.

Such arguments against Scottish independence are voiced frequently in the media and in public discourse. What unites these claims other than their sheer ubiquity is the fact that they are falsehoods. Scotland is not insufficiently sized, economically weak or intellectually lacking. On the contrary, Scotland is big enough, wealthy enough and smart enough to be a successful independent democracy. I will attempt to deal with each of these issues in turn and make the case for Scotland's transition to independence.

Too Wee:

As aforementioned, the case against independence, as far as Scotland's size is concerned, is usually predicated on the basis of the nation having a small population. The argument follows that the country's insufficiently large population lacks the work-force, and hence tax-base, to fund functioning public services and the necesary infrastructure required to support a competitive economy.

Whilst it is true that Scotland has a relatively small population by international standards, it does not follow that this inevitably means the country is too small to support itself. On the contrary, many of the world's smaller nation-states are amongst the most successful. Take Norway, for example: situated across the North Sea from Scotland, this resource-rich nordic nation sustains a strong mixed-market economy and is the only European nation state not burdened by a sizeable national debt.

Norway and Scotland have many similarities: both are small, northern European democracies; they possess similar landscapes and geography and both boast strong reservoirs of oil and natural gas. However, the stewardship and managment of these reserves of natural assests are strikingly different: where Scotland's resources have been mismanaged by Westminster governments, Norway's have been stewarded intelligently. The financial proceeds from Scotland's oil deposits were used in order to sustain the UK economy when it was under huge strain in the 1970s and, as a result, virtually none of the wealth has been invested in oil funds or national savings.

Norway, on the contrary, developed a state-owned oil-extraction company known as Statoil (recently renamed Equinor) which remains one of the world's most successful asset companies. Using Statoil as the medium, Norway invested in a sovereign oil fund: depositing a percentage of the annual assets which fluctuates according to yearly turnover and public spending commitments. Today, this is the world's largest soverign wealth fund of any kind with a net worth of $1.09 trillion as of October 2019 (compare this with Scotland being yolked to an economy with a naitonal debt of approximtaely £1.8 billion).

This vast accumulated wealth means that although Norway's oil reserves will one day run out (as is such with all finite resources), their economic benefit will resonate in the country for a long time after such resource depletion occurs. This is in stark contrast to Scotland's predicament: not only does Scotland (as part of the UK) not possess a soverign wealth fund, there has also been a palpable lack of investment in infrastructure or the wider economy from the oil proceeds. Although Scotland, like all nations, has to transition away from fossil fuel extraction in order to prevent ecological catastrophe (I am personally in favour of leaving all unextracted reserves in the ground), the contrast between Norway's careful stewardship and the UK's careless mismanagement is a powerful symbolism for why Scotland needs independence.

In addition to possessing the world's largest soverign wealth fund, Norway also boasts the world's second highest GDP per capita. Impressive as this, the relevant point to note when viewed through the prism of Scottish independence is that Norway has a smaller population than Scotland. Norway is home to 5.3 million inhabitants, whilst 5.4 million live in Scotland. This small, independent Scandanavian nation is living proof that size is no impediment to economic bouyancy.

The economic strength of any nation-state is not dictated by its overwhelming size but rather by complex, myraid factors including the extent of its resources (both natural and human). Take India, for example, a huge country with the world's second largest population. If the unionist argument that Scotland is too small to be independent were true, then, by convention, one would expect India to be the world's second most successful economy. Although the country is growing its economcy quickly, India remains a developing nation with complex economic problems.

It is important to note that another facet of the 'too small' argument is centered on the lack of world influence that Scotland would exert were it independent; unionists claim that Scotland benefits from the UK's power on the global geopolitical stage. This, however, is something of an oversimplification. Whilst it is true that Britain is influential on the world stage (although often pathetically sub-ordinate to American interests) there are examples of small nation states punching above their weight in this regard. First and foremost, the simple fact of being independent enables small countries to priortise their interests. Looking again at Norway, being an independent democracy, the country has been able to develop a relationship with the European Union that benefits its economy and people. Whilst not formally being a member of the political structure of the EU, Norway operates within the European Single Market (ESM) and was a founding member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). Although this arrangement is imperfect, it is in sharp contrast to Scotland being dragged out of institutions against her will.

In addition to Norway, there are several other examples of small nation states which peform well economically and make valuable contributions to the international order through progressive and iconoclastic policies. Denmark, for example, which has a population of 5.6 million is a global leader in harnessing renewable energy, and is on course to meet over half of electricity demand from renewable energy sources. Whilst Denmark's nordic neighbour Finland is one of the most digitally literate nations on earth: the country has invested heavily in education and digital literacy over recent years and this has provided a robust defence against the damaging impact of fake news. Additionally, New Zealand (4.8 million people) and Iceland (362,860 people) have trailblazed well-being budgets, which prioritise people and planet over endless economic growth. This is revolutionary in concept and contrasts sharply with the priorities of many of the world's larger nation states which are myopically fixated on increasing GDP.

The abovementioned examples of small countries pursuing radical policies is perhaps a result of their small populations rather than being merely a coincidence - it is surely the case that it is easier to bring democracy closer to the people in a smaller nation? Although one of the core arguments in favour of Brexit was the stifling bureaucracy dictated from Eurocrats in Brussels, the UK itself is highly centralised. Economic decision-making is mainly the reserve of central government and austerity has been the agent of choice in transferring ever more wealth to the already wealthy. In contrast, the Icelandic population, for example, enjoy a degree of agency over economic spending through Participatory Budgets (PBs). PBs facilitate the priorities and concerns of everyday citizens and attempt to reconcile these in spending decisions. This is true democracy, with decision making being devolved to everyday citizens rather than being the exclusive right of the executive. An independent Scotland could take inspiration from such policies and devolve politics horizontally across society rather than there merely being a vertical swap of power from Westminster to Holyrood.

With independence, Scotland could take its own place in the world and follow other small nation states in practising bold, progressive policies which have ecological sustainability and the interests of normal citizens at their heart. The UK may be large, but within it Scotland finds itself diminished: our democratic choices overlooked, the unique requirements of our economy and society ignored and our ability to meet future challenges limited and stifled. Scotland may be small, but independence would enable us to look outwards, engage with global problems in a constructive way and properly take our place in the world.

Graham Kelly
Graham Kelly
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