“Scandinavian” Scotland is total fantasy

I have seen much to admire about the case being made by “Yes Scotland” for standing on your own feet; but I have been equally frustrated by some of the notions it puts forward which are, frankly, utter fantasy. Most obvious among those is that Scotland, with its geographic location and oil, could turn itself magically into a wealthy Nordic country like Norway.

There are two prime reasons. First, as I have written many times before on this blog, the “left” has funny ideas about Scandinavia, with its huge private-sector public service provision (even the ambulances are privatised in Denmark), negotiated wage settlements (with no minimum wage) and utterly different housing system (often more cramped in practice).

Second, Scotland just isn’t Nordic – culturally, politically or financially. It doesn’t have the basic Lutheran ethos which underpins the Nordic social settlement; it doesn’t have the consensus politics; and it has vastly lower taxes and thus lower public spending.

The last of these is the most relevant. For three years if not seven, the SNP has had the ability to put up income tax by three points, at least to nudge in closer to Norway’s taxation levels (currently close to double Scotland’s). Has it done so? On the contrary, it intends to reduce taxes after independence – a tax race to the bottom much more American than Scandinavian!

In fact, an “independent” Scotland dominated by the Finance and Oil Sectors with its monetary policy set in London would inevitably shift away from the Nordic Model.

This is another example of the stark lack of honesty in the debate (not that that dishonesty is all one-sided to be clear). Somehow, Scotland is to reduce taxes to become more like countries with vastly higher taxes? It’s a fantasy, pure and simple.


13 thoughts on ““Scandinavian” Scotland is total fantasy

  1. Scots Anorak says:

    “Scotland, with its geographic location and oil, could turn itself magically into a wealthy Nordic country like Norway.”

    Whether that happens or not, it seems a reasonable aspiration, given the fact that both countries have vast natural resources, of which oil is only one. On the other hand, there seems a clear lack of aspiration among Unionists, who seem to be arguing that the current situation is dandy when it is clearly not.

    Denmark presumably has more negotiated wage settlements because its unions weren’t eviscerated in an ideologically motivated industrial shakeout in the 1980s, so I’m not sure that differences on that front are an argument against independence. I also note that Germany has also now decided to introduce a minimum wage, so there’s nothing that would preclude one in Denmark at some stage either.

    “It doesn’t have the basic Lutheran ethos which underpins the Nordic social settlement; it doesn’t have the consensus politics; and it has vastly lower taxes and thus lower public spending.”

    As we know, Scotland is (or was) Presbyterian, and it has been argued that the Reformation of 1560 was an exercise in social democracy (no church hierarchy, poor law, a campaign to promote universal literacy, etc.). There is no doubt, however, that the smaller and more homogeneous a society is, the more solidarity there is among its citizens.

    If the Scottish Parliament keeps its current electoral system, there will be many coalition governments in future (the current situation being something of an anomaly). And all the parties represented there except the Tories subscribe to the post-war social-democratic consensus.

    It’s true that Scotland currently has lower public spending, but again, that’s as much of an argument in favour of independence as against it. As for income tax, as you know, only the standard rate is variable under the current devolution settlement, meaning that there is no possibility of cutting that while raising the top rate, nor of raising income tax while cutting VAT, making it a fairly blunt instrument for redistributive purposes. Indeed, it was probably deliberately designed with that difficulty in mind; the current bizarre Labour proposals only make that purpose more obvious.

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  3. Martin J Frankson says:

    A couple of years ago I heard oil was found off Kerry and then radio silence. Do you know what happened at all?

  4. Annika N Brown says:

    I think a more apt comparison for Scotland is Ireland, which after independence was one of the poorest countries in western Europe. That is, until the moment it abandoned Irish agricultural nationalism and re-embraced British industrial open-market values…

    • Scots Anorak says:

      So Scotland today is more like Ireland 100 years ago than it is like Norway today? That’s a bold argument! By the way, I think you’ll find that when Ireland became independent, the British actually held on to the industrial part of the country … which has since become de-industrialised.

      This vote is not about left and right — otherwise George Galloway wouldn’t be in cahoots with Ruth Davidson — but about getting the policies you vote for. Scots voters will have every opportunity to choose a right-wing Government if they so wish, and there are many people who predict a resurgence of the Scots Tories after independence (they are currently very much a fringe phenomenon).

      All that they ask is that that Government do them the courtesy of getting elected by the people of Scotland first.

  5. other paul says:

    First off, I’d like to state that I consider myself ambivalent when it comes to Scottish independence.
    However, I can’t help but detect a degree of inconsistency(hypocrisy?) in your comments regarding the celtic fringe of the uk. As far as NI is concerned you’ve a track record in bigging up minor (typically sporting) achievements as “look at what this small country can do/achieve”, “we’re world class in NI” like it means that we’re on the cusp of producing some semblence of a private sector or something. Yet, sometimes within days of blogging that, you go on and comment with extraordinarily negativity at Scotland capabilities/chances/aspirations.

    For the record, I share some of your concerns about Scotland, but NI, and Belfast in particular (with the sole exception of “Culture night” in Belfast), is a shithole. I can’t understand what anybody would want with us, and for the sole reason of getting shot of us, I can totally understand why Scotland would want to declare independence. If the Yes vote is successful I can only wait with baited breath as both England and Wales declare independence from us for the same reasons.

    Therefore, I can only re-state, what I’ve replied to your blogs before. The answer to all this is that NI pre-emptively declares independence and joins the US (or China). We’d be strategically valuable, and they would either have green tinted glasses (or won’t speak our language good) so they probably won’t catch on that we’re total scumbags until it’s too late. That way, at least we’ve half a chance of getting a private sector investment, or massive military bases installed so that we could all get paid serving our foreign masters like the dogs that we are.

    • Don’t accept your criticism in this case. I could scarcely have been clearer – even above – that I admire the basic positivity of the “Yes” campaign and have some sympathy with it. I also attack the frankly shocking record of NI’s politicians, who are masters only of exclusive populism and nothing else.

      I cannot accept for one second that Belfast is a “shithole”. It is somewhat parochial and lacks some things (a decent-sized stadium for example), but it is a fine city and vastly better than it was. Titanic Belfast and the neighbouring film studios are top class; Victoria Square is a magnificent feat of architecture; even today the views of the surrounding hills from Donegall Square were superb. The people are funny, the pubs and bars are fun, the variety of traditional entertainment and quality of the amateur arts are top notch. Is it Dublin or Edinburgh? Not yet. But I’m proud of it and so should you be.

      • Jonathan says:

        Ian as Phillip Stevens in the FT wrote today: “As the vote approaches, the SNP has stripped off the veneer of civic nationalism to play the darker game of identity politics.”

        I hear my non-Scottish friends, who have been living there, telling me it is now, in recent times, very uncomfortable for them now. I have no reason to doubt them. They are very non political people.

        To say that the Yes campaign is “Team Scotland” is as revealing as it is insulting. There is an identity card being played.

      • I’m loathe to say too much because I haven’t even visited Scotland since 2011.

        However, what you say is indeed my underlying point. There is a degree of ethnic nationalism at least in suggesting that Scots are innately more socially minded, more caring, and more egalitarian than the English – and make no mistake, that is what underlies the nonsensical contention that Scotland could be “like Norway”.

        Actually all the *evidence* suggests the contrary, if anything.

  6. Scots Anorak says:

    “There is a degree of ethnic nationalism at least in suggesting that Scots are innately more socially minded, more caring, and more egalitarian than the English”

    All those points are political rather than ethnic. It is a simple fact that people who vote for left-wing parties are, on the whole, more caring than those who vote for right-wing parties. They have different talking points. I don’t know many left-wing people who find Jeremy Clarkson or Katie Hopkins amusing, for instance. Ethnic nationalism would suggest someone saying that you had to be Presbyterian / white / a Gaelic-speaker or whatever to be a Scot, or that the referendum were wholly or mainly about those things. To my knowledge, no one is saying any of that. Nor is anyone saying that those are genetic Scots qualities (Scots administered the Empire, after all, and Glasgow was once a centre of the slave trade). What they are saying is that the political cultures of Scotland and England (especially the populous south that has so much influence) have diverged.

    Evidently George Galloway made a point about Nationalists and Auschwitz in last night’s debate, but the BBC cut it out, presumably because his disgusting hyperbole would have reflected badly on Better Together.

    • Jonathan says:

      It has been made clear by the BBC that the BBC did no such thing. See conversation on George Galloways twitter feed today.

    • Politically there is no evidence Scots do vote for parties which then behave in a more left-wing manner. The SNP doesn’t. It engages in middle-class giveaways and cutting Health Spending, in line with its centre-right heritage.

      Broadcast-wise, this vendetta against the BBC is self-defeating. That claim about Auschwitz etc has been shown to be nonsense, like most “Yes” claims about the BBC. I am not satisfied that the BBC has met the highest standards of impartiality, but then it is not easy to be impartial about a two-side campaign when one side is threatening your job.

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