Sunday, April 12, 2015

Against 'full-fiscal autonomy'

During one of the Scottish 'leaders' debates' Nicola Sturgeon reiterated her party's commitment to 'full-fiscal autonomy' for Scotland, something she hopes to extract from whatever government is formed in Westminster after May's General Election.  The so-called 'black hole' of over £7 billion that Scotland would have to fill either with tax rises and, or spending cuts is not my primary concern, not because it is unimportant but because I think there are two very good reasons to oppose fiscal autonomy even if it was a measure that was fiscally neutral.

1) It is not an economically stable solution to the national question within the UK.  People who are suggesting it - and they are not all nationalists - rather give the impression that the Eurozone crisis never happened.  The fact that the Eurozone has a single monetary policy but not a single fiscal policy is part of the reason why EU countries have found the recession so difficult to cope with.  For a currency union to work, you need cross-border transfers.  Given this is broadly the consensus with regards to Europe it seems very odd to suggest that within the UK we should ignore this and go for fiscal dis-integration.  This is just repeating what I said here but it might be worth elaborating a little.  As pre-referendum Alex Salmond used to like pointing out, Scotland has often ended up with an inappropriate monetary policy because said policy was formed primarily to cool an overheating economy in London and the south.  True enough but within the fiscal union, the effects of this were ameliorated with transfers in the form of welfare benefits that could be paid in Scotland without having to rely on exclusively Scottish tax revenues.  There's no reason that this situation wouldn't happen again but next time it would be without these automatic stabilisers.

2)  It is not a politically stable solution to the national question within the UK.  One wonders if this is a policy that anyone really wants?  The Nationalists may say that they do but I'm not convinced.  One of the defining characteristics of the SNP is their refusal to take responsibility for anything.  Nothing that happens in Scotland is ever their fault, even though they've been in power since 2007.  Local government cuts because the council tax has been frozen for years?  Or because they refused to even think about using Holyrood's tax-varying powers?  Don't be silly.  All ills can be attributed to the fact that we're locked in a constitutional prison with cold-hearted neo-liberals who don't like children or kittens.  The Nationalists, on the other hand, would love to help the children and kittens but they can't because they don't have enough 'powers'.  Why the ones outlined in the Smith Commission aren't enough they haven't bothered to explain.

There is no reason to think this would not continue in the future because whatever powers are given, any short of independence will never ever be enough.  Moreover, the powers that would be left reserved to Westminster would be those that rank pretty high in Nationalist demonology.  For them, particularly evil is defence spending - for lots of reasons but primarily because this involves having nukes.  Now having these is not something I'm too keen on myself but they form but a part of spending which accounts for less than 2% of GDP.  It is around the world average and slightly below that which NATO considers a minimum requirement but the notion persists that the UK devotes an abnormally high share of public spending to defence.  For the Nationalists, there is no limit to the spending that could be devoted to 'bairns', were it not for the fact that we had 'bombs'.

That would leave other aspects of foreign policy and immigration.  Here I think the Nationalists are kidding themselves a bit that we're a nation of Euro-philes who would like to see more immigration but I happen to agree with them about both EU membership and the need for a more relaxed immigration policy. In fact, I'm kind of left wondering what would be the point of remaining part of the UK in a situation like this?  I'm sure that thought has occurred to them as well, which is presumably why they're suggesting this.  I don't believe they are sincere in wanting to pay a subscription to those policy areas of the British state that they disapprove of the most.  They don't want to be part of the British state and they are clearly not reconciled to the fact that a majority of Scots do not share their view.  I don't think fiscal autonomy would work and I don't believe the Nationalists want it to work - as good reasons as any for opposing this daft idea.

Monday, April 06, 2015

An introduction to nationalist realpolitik for dummies

Wife accuses her unfaithful husband of cheating.  If he wasn't a total dawg, he'd be calmer, more reassuring.  "Don't be silly, there's no-one else..."  But what fires his indignation is that on this occasion he really was working late.  "The very idea!  How dare you!"

Nicola Sturgeon's response to the Telegraph story that she expressed a preference for a Tory victory in May's election strikes me as being exactly like that.  I doubt very much that she would have said what she was reported to have said and one of the key reasons for thinking this is the reason she gave just doesn't ring true.  She may have said she doesn't think Miliband is Prime Ministerial material - but as a reason why she wants Cameron to win?  Nah.  For why should she care if Milband isn't Prime Ministerial material?  A Labour PM who isn't up to the job would suit her just fine, although not as much as a Tory PM, whether he's up to the job or not.  Why?  Well, I hate to break it to the likes of Owen Jones and Zoe Williams but because she's a Nationalist and Nationalists are not the least bit interested in forming part of a 'progressive centre-left coalition' that will govern Britain.  Why, if they thought such a thing was possible, they might even give up Nationalism but clearly they haven't, which is why of course the SNP want a Tory victory.  Anyone who thinks otherwise just hasn't been paying attention.  Nationalism needs enemies.

It's depressing to have to spell this out.  The SNP want independence.  To get this they have to undermine support for the Union in Scotland.  Does anyone really think they are more likely to achieve this under a Labour government than a Conservative one?  Get the latter and you get a few more years of being told this is a government we haven't voted for, as if 'we' voted as a homogeneous bloc.  

And for the Conservatives, there's an obvious attraction, which I assume is the reason why the Tories, post 'Leaders' debate, have been anxious to talk up the performance of Nicola Sturgeon at every occasion, as well as being why Cameron didn't confront her properly during the debate itself.  The SNP are for the Conservatives the last hope they have of ever winning a majority in Westminster ever again.  It tends to be forgotten that they haven't won a Parliamentary  majority for over twenty years are are unlikely to do so in the foreseeable future - unless Scotland leaves, or get 'Home Rule', which would presumably mean scrapping the Barnett formula, a reduction in the number of Scottish MPs and/or EVEL.  If you're an English Tory, "what's not to like?" is a question I'd imagine fewer and fewer have a convincing answer to.  

This is why we are were we are.  Did Sturgeon say what she was reported to have said?  I personally doubt it but this shouldn't distract from the unspoken Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that now exists between the Scottish Nationalists and some (many, most?) English Conservatives.  I'm not at all confident that the Union can survive this contemporary political class that puts the need for electoral advantage quite so blatantly above country.  It matters to me for reasons I've already elaborated but I also think many others will miss the Union when it's gone.  If it does fall, I think there'll be many other people who realise that "anything's better than this" is one of the most over-used phrases in the English language.  Or any other language, for that matter.

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