"All things are wearisome, more than one can say." - Ecclesiastes 1:8

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

The economics of Independence

Over at Independence, there is a discussion about the lethargic condition of the Scottish economy (bottom of the OECD ranking for competitiveness it seems) - and given that by "independence", we're talking Scottish nationalism, there's no prizes for guessing who the culprit is : Scotland's poor economic performance is all their fault - the omnipotent masters of economic destruction, the English.

I'm going to throw away all my old economic history textbooks because now I've seen the light; in this, and this post we have the revelation that economic performance is, apparently, solely a function of political independence.

All my life, I've been listening and reading arguments favouring a given political outcome, justified in the name of economic growth; proportional representation, devolution, strong local government, a large state, a small state, high levels of welfare, slashing welfare, membership of the EU and withdrawing from the EU have all been advocated in the name of higher economic growth - so I don't suppose one can blame the nationalists for doing the same. But these sorts of choices should be primarily civilisational - not economic.

Moreover, even if this argument isn't accepted, the simplistic equation of independence with economic success is, in any event, complete bollocks. It just takes two of the countries on the list here to demonstrate this : Hong Kong is number 6 on the list; when - pray tell - was Hong Kong independent? Or Ireland - Mr. Salmond's favoured example - it stands at number ten. Stuart Dickson has helpfully put the dates when various countries were made independent in brackets for the reader to draw the inference that the economic success of Ireland is due to the fact that she is independent where Scotland is not.

But you don't need to know too much about either economics or history to immediately spot the flaw here. Ireland gained its independence in 1921; does that mark the point at which the Irish economy - freed from colonialism - started to take off? Er, no : Ireland's relative economic success is dated much later, with growth particularly strong in the 1990s - so I think other factors have to be considered. (The same fallacy is used as an argument for joining the single-currency but, as with the independence argument, the dates simply don't fit.)

That Alec Salmond et al speak of the "Emerald Tiger" economy of Ireland should set off alarm bells because it was drawn from an expression used about economies such as Korea, Singapore, Japan etc. These examples were used by the right to argue for a range of reactionary measures such as privatizing welfare, draconian policing and, that perennial tory favourite, family values.

I argue for the union not on economic grounds but because, apart from anything else, I prefer belonging to a polity based on civility rather than ethnicity. Making arguments like these in this part of the world inevitably draw the accusation that you're suffering from the "Scottish cringe" from the more-Scottish-than-thou brigade.

The only sense in which I'm any less Scottish than anyone else is genetically; being as I am half-Scottish, quarter English and quarter Welsh. To use this against me would be a bit dodgy - and if you think that those cuddly non-racist, forward-looking, civic nationalists would never do such a thing, I regret to inform you that you'd be quite wrong...

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