There we are: twenty days to go before people in Scotland go to the polls to cast their votes in the most important referendum the country has ever seen. The choice: continuing as part of the United Kingdom or going it alone. Considering that the union in its present form has been around for some 300 years, Scots can be forgiven for approaching the 18th of September 2014 with a degree of trepidation. The decision they are asked to take must not be taken lightly. It is important, therefore, that they are in full possession of all the available facts and able to separate lie from truth.
This is not going to be easy, for the amount of obfuscation purveyed by both the NO and YES campaigns is immense. Here’s an example: in the second televised debate the other day the ‘Better Together’ champion Alistair Darling raised yet again the question of what currency a sovereign Scotland would adopt. It’s the least blunt arrow in a quiver otherwise filled with duds for, although totally irrelevant, ‘currency’ to most people means the money in their pocket and nobody wants to wake up on the 19th of September and find the piggy bank emptied of solid Pounds Sterling and filled instead with worthless coins and notes. Never mind the fact that the Pound over time has frequently been far from solid (and isn’t as solid today as George Osborne would have you believe), it’s the money with the Queen on and therefore superior to all others. The ‘Better Apart’ spokesman, Alex Salmond, replied (as he had many times before) that if it was up to him Scotland would continue using the Pound Sterling. This should have relieved him of the job of looking for alternatives, for if the Scots are happy with the Pound they should have it, right? Wrong. Part of the NO campaign’s dark tactics is the veiled threat that London would not allow Scotland to keep the Pound. Oh dear.
Bullshit is not a word I often use, it’s a bit crude and there are better, more refined expressions available. But I’m using it here because it describes perfectly the nature of Darling’s so-called argument. If there is any reason, apart from sheer spitefulness, why London would try and snatch Scotland’s traditional currency away from it I’ve yet to hear it. If anyone can explain to me why and how a poundless Scotland would be better for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, let him speak. I’m all ears. Anyway, having thus struck fear into the hearts of the usually so valiant Scots, Alastair Darling (believing he was on to a good thing) continued by sketching the horrors of an economy without the Pound. Scotland could, of course, hang on to it regardless, but it would not have the protection of the Bank of England and inevitably sink to the level of, say, Panama. It’s true that Panama adopted the US dollar unilaterally, a move not sanctioned by Washington. But guess what? Far from being an impoverished backwater in Central America it isn’t doing badly at all. Less blessed with natural resources than, say, Scotland, it has an economy largely based on services. You know, administering the Panama Canal, banking, insurance, flagship registry and tourism, that sort of thing. In December of last year, Forbes quoted Panama’s annual growth rate at 10.7 percent. At that time, the Better Together United Kingdom (with far greater resources, manpower and home to the financial capital of the world) posted a mere 0.2 percent of growth. Unemployment in Panama stood at 4.4 percent, against 8 percent in the UK. Panama’s public debt amounted to 39 percent of GDP, while in the Scepter’d Isle a history of profligacy and reckless spending on unnecessary wars had pegged public debt at fully 90 percent of GDP. Yes, like Darling, I have picked precisely those figures that suit me and ignored others, so maybe I’m cut out for political office after all.
Alex Salmond, for his part, has failed to address a whole raft of important subjects and his attempts at imbuing the Scottish general public with a new elan and lust for adventure have not, on the whole, been impressive. I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt, though. So much of his time he has to spend revisiting the same tired old subjects of currency and the economy (what if the Scots find they’re 500 Pounds a year worse off, or better off, after September 18th?) that his energies must be sapped just a bit.
In a next blog I hope to address the matter of Trident, another bone of contention and a source of much truth-bending and fact-inventing, and maybe even dwell on the folly of referring to Scotland’s future as a sovereign nation as ‘independence’. Precisely for what Scotland currently depends on the rest of the UK I cannot think. Wait a minute….yes! Of course! Security and defence! About this and other complete bollocks we’ll talk next time.
Oh yes, before I forget: a currency is NOT the foundation of a country’s economy, as Alastair Darling falsely suggested in the debate, it is no more than a reflection of a country’s economic strength and the confidence that others have in it.