From the Herald. It sounds cheap at the price. 65% of Scots would opt for independence if they were £500 better off as a result, according to the latest poll from the Social Attitudes Survey. With all that cash the SNP has been accumulating recently through legacies and donations, Alex Salmond must be tempted just to send out a brown envelope with every referendum ballot paper. Perhaps they could redirect redirect some of that £60bn in fantasy funding for infrastructure projects announced this week. Scotland could be taking its seat in the United Nations before the decade is out.
There has been much scorn heaped upon Scots for appearing to put a price on their continued membership of the UK. Almost as much as has been heaped upon the Scottish Infrastructure Secretary, Alex Neil's, Mega Plan for road and rail projects, including a high speed rail link, with a sprinkling of housing and hospitals. Most of the projects won't come to fruition until the 2020s and beyond, and rely on optimistic funding from NPD, PPP, PFI or whatever form of private finance initiative happens to be in favour at the time. The Mega Plan also depends on the Scottish parliament getting the borrowing powers contained in the Scotland Bill, to which the SNP government is vehemently opposed. The consensus amongst the Mcchattering classes is that it has the ambition of Roosevelt's New Deal, but little prospect of becoming a real deal.
But at least the SNP are trying to do something. Industry bodies, including the Scottish CBI which is no friend of nationalism, have been praising the scheme for trying to inject confidence into a flatlining economy. Some foreign pension funds are reported to be interested in financing projects which, like rail, have guaranteed revenue streams. Most of the scornful newspaper comment concedes that someone somewhere really needs to be talking about growth and the SNP government is at least suggesting there may be life after the recession. Certainly Neil's plan puts the UK government's £5bn infrastructure plan announced in the Autumn Statement in the shade.
In a country like Scotland, where half the economy is the state, no one will invest if the government isn't taking a lead. For every £100 million invested, 1400 jobs should emerge in the wider economy. It's just a pity that so many of the projects are unimaginative road improvements, picked from the briefing sheets supplied by transport lobbyists: Forth Road Bridge, M8 link, A9 duelling, Aberdeen bypass, etc. I thought that the SNP was supposed to be in the green investment business, developing renewable energy.
But there is a broader political objective here. The SNP is playing a game of fantasy independence – giving voters some idea of how life might be in future if Scotland were to to it alone. Everything the SNP does right now, from Alex Salmond lecturing the Chinese on Adam Smith, to getting civil servants to research a “Scandinavian” prospectus for independence, is all about preparing the ground for the referendum, which looks like coming in the middle of 2014. The task is to eliminate the negatives – make independence sound like a bracing hill walk rather than a leap in the dark. The SNP is trying to think us into leaving the UK.
And that much-derided poll from the Social Attitudes Survey is, they believe, an indication that Scots are thinking the unthinkable.. A £500 a year bung may seem a crass, materialistic reason for seeking national freedom, but read differently it suggests that most Scots would now opt for independence if they thought it could be made to work economically. . Certainly, there appears to be precious little romantic or emotional attachment to the United Kingdom, kith and kin, the flag or any of the other symbols of Britishness.
Perhaps this a consequence of the very materialistic way that unionists have posed the argument. Opponents of independence invariably resort to versions of the “divorce is a costly business” argument. - the £4 billion deficit, the loss of the Barnett Formula. Scotland hurled out of the EU and left destitute like a single parent on a bleak housing estate. It is the cost of the divorce that is always emphasised, not the emotional bonds that led to the original marriage. In fact, the Union – Parcel o' Rogues aside – was a moral project as well as an economic one.
Even during the days of the British Empire, when Scottish soldiers shot the natives, Scots graduates ran the colonial administration, and Scottish bankers took all the money, there was a sense of mission: that this was somehow bringing civilisation to the world. After the fall of the British Empire there was a new moral union. It was based on working class solidarity, trades unions, the war against fascism, the 1946 Labour government and the National Health Service. Scots were fully signed up to the social democratic project, to the welfare state, and largely remain so today, even though the industrial working class is no longer a political force, and the welfare state is under challenge as never before.
Scots are thinking hard cash because they no longer recognise any coherent moral message from an increasingly eurosceptic United Kingdom, dominated by the City of London, and run by a government largely composed of ex-public schoolboys. Why should Scots keep faith with a union based on plutocracy, where personal enrichment is the only mission around? The SNP believe Scots are ready for a new political narrative in which Scotland figures as a rugged equalitarian Nordic nation, with a history of self-reliance and self-help, that doesn't need state handouts and can do very well on its own.
And talking of prospectuses, the nationalists think they can offer a pretty convincing IPO for the referendum: highly educated and versatile work force; £350bn in North Sea Oil; a quarter of Europe's wind and wave energy; thriving tourist industry, five world class universities and an awful lot of water. It would be pretty poor management that could make a mess of those numbers. If I were a Japanese pension fund, I might consider investing in it.
So, unionists should take little comfort from that risible price drop poll. Scots are increasingly taking independence seriously, and are costing the future. A leap in the dark might be better than being left in the lurch.