Monday, 25 January 2010

The Truth About Independence

The Truth
About Independence

MYTH: We need Trident for security and to save jobs.
TRUTH: Trident is not an independent British weapon system.  The UK is technically dependent on the USA for the missiles and the maintenance of the Trident system. It has massive destructive power. The UK has 4 submarines and each has 16 nuclear missiles.  Each missile has multiple warheads that can fall on separate targets. Its accuracy means that it can be used as a first-use weapon. With the end of the ‘cold war’, there has been no answer to the question of where these missiles are to be targeted.  The only reply to that question is a vague reference to possible rogue states. That kind of justification is even weaker than the reasons Iran could give since that country is in a region with Israel, Pakistan and India with nuclear weapons. The only real security is to move to complete nuclear disarmament which we signed up to in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. But instead of initiating serious steps towards a non-nuclear strategy, the British government is proposing to spend £20 billion pounds in the development (and £100 billion over the lifetime) of a new Trident which would commit us to another 50 years of nuclear weapons. All of these weapons are based in Scotland at the Coulport/Faslane base.
The justification of some MPs and MSPs for going along with this is that jobs would be lost if we didn’t. Interestingly the Scottish Trade Union Congress does not support this position. Only 30% of the civilian workforce at Faslane is employed in Trident-related work. These are mainly 400 in MoD police and security, 310 on outfitting and steelwork and other technical, and 70 on administration. These could be absorbed into civilian police and security in the West of Scotland area and into the rapidly expanding developments in alternative energy equipment. We do need an Arms Convergence Agency to oversee these and other changes. To put this in context, there have been 40,000 defence-related jobs lost in Scotland since 1990.
Another important factor is that the government has said that the investment costs for Trident replacement will not come at the expense of the conventional defence budget. If that is the case, it will have to be at the expense of other public investment or expenditure programmes. This will cost many jobs. But if we do not go ahead with Trident renewal (and decommission the existing Trident submarines) this will provide a bonus that can be used for socially useful employment.

MYTH: Scotland is too poor to survive as an independent country. We have a black hole in our national accounts which means we can’t afford to be independent – even with oil revenues.
TRUTH: For many years Scotland has had the lowest average economic growth of any small west European country. It is no coincidence that Scotland’s economy is a responsibility “reserved” to Westminster. And most economists, including those with Unionist sympathies, accept that Scotland would be successful as an independent country. Just a few of them are identified in a Sunday Times article reproduced in our media section on this site. The same applies to most political commentators such as George Kerevan of The Scotsman who has shown how an independent Scotland would be highly successful even without a penny of oil money.
The Tories and Liberal Democrats have stopped claiming Scotland is economically incapable of independence. To believe we must remain economically dependent is to believe that Scotland – the birthplace of Adam Smith and the market - is somehow uniquely incapable. Only Labour now consistently decries Scotland’s economic potential by insisting we are too inept to look after ourselves financially.
Even if that was true, someone must have brought us to this stage – and that could only be the Westminster government. If we truly are in such a tragic economic state then Labour ministers who have run our economy for all those years should resign in shame. They won’t, of course, because they also know the truth.
It was first revealed by Gavin McCrone, the government’s own top economist, at the start of the North Sea oil boom. He showed how an independent Scotland would thrive as an oil-rich nation. And so his report was suppressed by successive Labour and Tory governments until it was uncovered under freedom of information laws in 2006. In the interim Scotland sent more than £125 billion to the British Treasury in London in oil revenues – and almost all of it stayed there, bankrolling such adventures as the Iraq war and Clyde-based nuclear weapons which are an affront to popular Scottish opinion. But oil is just part of the argument. Even without oil, an independent Scotland would thrive, just like most small nations inside or outside the European Union.
Labour keeps producing the so-called GERS figures – public spending and revenue statistics – as “proof” that Scotland is a basket case. It is almost as if they were proud of this dismal argument. The Tories first invented these figures in the 1990s as political propaganda against devolution. Labour now uses them to argue against independence – despite the fact they have not the slightest relevance to how an independent Scotland would fare. Scotland’s economy under independence would, of course, depend on government policy of the day. Even the Tories and LibDems accept that. Let’s face it, when you are bottom of the economic growth league, the only way is up.

MYTH: Labour ‘s Douglas Alexander claims that an independent Scotland would have to leave the EU and that we would then be stuck at the end of the long queue of countries applying to join. “This is a factual matter of European law which the European Commission and leading academics agree on,” quoth he. Most Unionists disagree but only Scottish Labour seems determined to perpetuate this nonsense.
TRUTH: If Scotland became independent it would then be in exactly the same position regarding the EU as England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the so-called rump UK. Curiously, no-one seriously suggests they would be left queuing for renewed EU membership. The Maastricht treaty conferred EU citizenship on the citizens all member states. For Scotland to be forced out of the EU would, therefore, require us to be stripped of our EU citizenship and expelled at a time when the EU wants more members. Such a decision would have to be taken by an EU summit of heads of state and government – and it is impossible to imagine why any one of them would reject Scotland. The European Commission has never said Scotland would be expelled from the EU for reclaiming its independence. Indeed many senior European figures have said exactly the opposite, eg Eamonn Gallagher, the Glasgow-born former EU ambassador to the UN, who said: “There could be no sustainable legal or political objection to separate Scottish membership of the European Union.”
What would happen is straightforward. An independent Scotland would become a member of the EU in its own right after its financial arrangement with Brussels was negotiated. This would mean Scotland would be either a net EU contributor or net recipient – and we would most likely be net contributors as the economy settled after a period of transition.

MYTH: The four British nations are stronger on the world stage as the UK and weaker if they are independent.
TRUTH: Scottish independence is defined by most people as Scotland having a seat in the United Nations and – subject to the people’s will – being a member state of the European Union. No-one can question that having a UN seat would give Scotland a voice which it does not have now on the world stage. In the EU Scotland would probably have seven eight votes in the council of ministers, just like member states of a similar size including Denmark, Ireland, Lithuania, Slovakia and Finland. England, Wales and Northern Ireland would inherit the bulk of the present UK’s 29 votes. The EU would not simply dock seven from the UK’s 29. The size of the rump UK’s population would prevent that. And so there would be a voting bonus when the “British” presence was disaggregated. It would benefit all countries because almost all of the time they would vote together on matters of common interest.
An independent Scotland and the rump UK would therefore have more, not less, voting power than at present. Scotland would also gain perhaps 12 or so Members of the European Parliament to speak for us in Brussels and Strasbourg whereas now we have only seven (and five of them are Unionists). We would also be entitled to one European Commissioner whereas currently we are represented by Peter Mandelson! So Scotland has nothing to lose from independence and much to gain in our dealings with the outside world.

MYTH: An independent Scotland would find itself in a currency cul de sac.
TRUTH: An independent Scotland would have three broad currency options - retaining sterling, launching a separate Scottish currency, or joining the euro. Like every country’s currency options each option has its own balance of advantages and disadvantages.
Retaining sterling would continue to expose the Scottish economy to the effects of the current arrangement within the Union, exposing the Scottish economy to the interest rates set by the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) in London. The fact that Scotland would no longer have political representation in the Westminster Parliament is secondary as the MPC is operationally independent under the 1998 Bank of England Act, though some mechanism for discussing budgetary impacts on interest rates would be required. The fact that Scotland's economic performance has edged closer to the UK average reduces the economic disadvantages of sterling membership as does the narrowing of the gap between euro and sterling interest rates. As part of the sterling area Scotland would be able to use all the other levers of economic development - fiscal, tax, industrial, labour market and so on - available to other independent states.
A separate Scottish currency would give Scotland formal control of its own interest rates. However interest rates would be strongly influenced by monetary objectives. An independent Scotland would have a strong interest in keeping its currency stable against its main trading partners in the 'rest of the UK' and interest rates would have to be set accordingly. In the early years of independence there would likely be some uncertainty about the strength of the Scottish economy relative to its main trading partners and that might exact an interest rate premium. As the benefits of independence began to work through the economy the prospects for a strong and stable separate Scottish currency would be clarified.
Membership of the euro would give Scotland the advantage of lower interest rates. On the other hand it would expose it to the eurozone's budgetary deficit constraints. On the most recent Government Expenditure Review for Scotland (GERS) figures touted by the opponents of independence that could be a real constraint on Scottish public expenditure levels. However the GERS figures are partial and in many instances provisional. More important, they do not claim to be a budget for an independent Scotland, merely an estimate of Scotland's expenditure and revenue as part of the United Kingdom. Although formally a successor state rather than a new member of the European Union Scotland could expect a transitional period to full compliance with Maastricht terms.
The currency options available to an independent Scotland are the same as those that other comparably sized Western European countries have - Ireland which has been successively in sterling, with its separate currency and is now in the euro, Norway outwith the euro and the European Union, and Sweden in the Union but not in the euro. And all of them successful economies.

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Andy the Daft Hermit lives 45 minutes outside Inverness with his wife Mel in an old bus parked in a layby. This current home of theirs is the longest they have ever stayed in one spot. “I’ve been travelling now 25 years,” said Andy Lowe. “Mel’s been travelling 15. One of the reasons we’ve come and stayed up here is because of Mel’s health. I wanted to bring her to the mountains for fresh air and clean water and just a slower pace of life.” Mel has had breast cancer twice, skin cancer once, and for three years believed she had bone cancer after being wrongly diagnosed. Andy’s belief in the restorative powers of the north made them pack up ‘The Black Bus’ that they live in and cross the border into Scotland. New Highland home for hermit couple Andy and Mel “I think we both believe in trying to get to a more simple way of life,” said Andy, “but it’s strange for us because we are sort of hermits, or we like to live separate, but it’s not being anti-social… it’s just the way we are that allows us to be creative.” Andy first began travelling when he left the army. Fed up with bureaucracy he packed a rucksack and left for France and has been travelling ever since. By investing any money the couple have earned into solar panels and wind generators they now live a self-sustaining existence, without electric bills, and collect rain water “straight from Heaven”. “It’s not easy,” said Mel. “There might be time when there might not be enough facilities around, but you always find a way, you know?” Rather than rejecting technology, Andy blogs about his travels online and collaborates with artists from around the world via his ‘Scratchy Heid Film Studio’, which he runs from a static trailer next to the couple’s bus. He explained his philosophy: “My belief is that if you can go through life and you drop dead and you’ve got a balance there that slightly outweighs the good than the bad, you’ve done alright. “Yesterday, with what Mel’s been through with the cancer and all that, I had a woman on one of my sites there that thanked me for the writing, for the positive things, and to me that’s worth everything. You can keep your millions, we’re not interested. That is what we do.” To check out Andy’s artwork and video projects check out his website. MORE FROM THE NORTH

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