Sturgeon Loses The Plot

Scotland has delivered a strong, unequivocal vote to remain. The vote here makes clear that the people of Scotland see their future as part of the European Union.’ Nicola Sturgeon - Scotland's First Minister; June 24, 2016

So spoke the Scottish First Minister the day after the referendum last June. Anyone puzzled as to why she yesterday announced her party’s intention to pursue IndyRef 2 should be under no illusion about what the Nats are about. They are hard coded to pursue independence at any moment of opportunity and to do so all the time. Logic, good sense and good governance come way behind their short, medium and long term pursuit of that single aim. In this context, soft or hard Brexit are simply an irrelevance. If it wasn’t this torch they would find something else. The ‘once in a generation,’ mantra during the last referendum was insincere. It was simply a tool to push undecided’s over the line.

Without question, many Scots are firmly in the independence camp and probably always will be. For some it is a rational conclusion that they have come to having weighed up their optionality. For many, it remains an emotional response in tune with how they see their position in relation to the rest of the UK and the rest of the world. Unfortunately few, especially those leading the SNP, can present an economically coherent case for independence which would underpin the political case. The SNP’s manifesto for independence in 2014 estimated oil revenues at £7.9bn. Following the fall in the oil price that number is some 90% or more lower. An independent Scotland simply could not absorb such a financial shock. The Scottish governments own figures show that they spend £127 for every £100 raised in tax, a ratio that is difficult to find anywhere else in the developed world. For every £100 pounds spent per person in England, £120 is spent in Scotland. The SNP will attempt to talk through, over or round the fact that Scotland’s deficit at 9.5% of GDP is the worst in the developed world. That number alone would keep the door to Europe firmly slammed shut even if resistance from some European countries such as Spain did not already exist. Had Scotland gained independence the country would now be staring down the barrel of slashing and burning state spending by 15% or raising taxes by 19% or a combination of the two. The quantum of those rises would be to raise the basic rate from 20% to 39% or VAT to 40%. Alternatively, an 82% cut in health spending would get them there. It is difficult to think of any country that has embarked on such a vicious austerity programme in peacetime. Regardless of oil revenues being high or low, it is a fact that Scotland has run a deficit every single year since devolution in 1999 and the deficit has deteriorated over recent years, and is now running even higher than during the aftermath of the 2008 Crash. Even in 2011-12, when the North Sea oil price peaked at $125 per barrel, Scotland's deficit was 5.7% of GDP.

So why go now? Bearing in mind that to Nat’s any opportunity is a good opportunity, the SNP are not actually in the commanding position they enjoyed three years ago. They have been in government now for 9 years and it is slowly dawning on Scottish voters that the SNP is not perhaps as capable at running a country as they are election campaigns. Despite the constant lecturing and grievance chasing it is apparent that while there is an open debate and willingness to explore new ways to improve public services efficiently in England, and which are meeting with some success especially in education for poorer children, few such improvements are evident in Scotland. Partly because the SNP are wary of upsetting some of their core constituencies, such as teachers, their solutions always veer toward more centralisation, more money, more government. The Scottish electorate are alert to this and the popularity of Sturgeon is consequently on the wane with the Scottish Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson, somewhat implausibly ahead of Sturgeon in the approval ratings.

Sturgeon’s move is simply irresponsible. She is putting her party’s historic political aims above the best interests of Scotland. The timing is theatrical. To demand a referendum as Brexit is being finalised will create an unnecessary distraction both to the UK and to Europe. I can guarantee the last thing the EU will want or need, if it still exists then in its current form which I very much doubt, is a small country with a banana republic sized deficit clinging to its coattails. The UK government will though acquiesce and offer a referendum but probably after Bexit, that is, after 2019. The SNP will stamp their feet and have sequential hissy fits about not being taken seriously or ‘insults to Scotland,’ but the only people who will take them seriously will be themselves. A growing number of Scots are fed up with their holier-than-thou ranting and simply want things done that matter to them and done properly. The English meanwhile are less and less animated about independence and that is more evident the further north in England you travel. As the English demographic has changed so have traditional ties to Unionism. Millennials for example, for the most part, see self-determination as an entirely fair and reasonable aspiration; ‘if you want it, have it.’ It would suit the SNP to have a much more robust response from the English but I think they will be disappointed. In fact, the quieter and more mature arguments that are presented the more likely they are to enrage them all the more which is kind of satisfying.

So, what should Sturgeon have done?

Seen through an SNP lens, I see Brexit quite simply as a lost opportunity to quietly build a firm economic platform for succession on a ten year timeline. Instead, all Mrs Sturgeon has succeeded in doing with her ill thought out announcement is to put a cap on Scottish property prices, to disincentivise long term inward investment and put a question mark over firms and central government looking at expansion in Scotland. In her stilettos, I would have done the following,

  • Seen Mrs May and offered quiet cooperation in return for,
    •  No change to the Barnett formula
    •  More shipbuilding orders
    • No further defence reductions in Scotland
    •  Inward investment incentives from Westminster for areas of special need
    •  HMG help and assistance overseas in capturing inward investment
    • (insert other items from economic shopping list as desired)
  •  Stepped down from the soapbox marked ‘grievance,’ and focused on internal matters pertinent to Scots; employment, housing, education, NHS Scotland etc. Adopt a stance of industrious humility and work tirelessly to organically improve the Scottish economy
  • · Stop obsessing about the single market (which, after all, was a creation of Mrs Thatcher through her former trade Secretary Frank Cockfield!). Scotland is in a single market. It is called the UK. Stop being emotional and start being pragmatic. Is it really sensible to leave the UK and then have your economic relationship with your biggest trading partner, (64%) negotiated by Brussels
  • Immediately sterling was devalued thrown open the doors to the country to visitors from across the world and aggressively pursued the tourist dollar / Euro / Yen. Pursue them with a generous international marketing budget and do so on a three year view
  • Dial back the incredibly short sighted pious remarks made about the US President and make friends. Usually, US Presidents go straight to Ireland and effect a sort of Plastic Paddy persona, playing to the gallery on their own East Coast and Chicago. A US President with a Scottish mother, who actually likes Scotland a lot, doesn’t come along very often. A successful visit to Scotland by Trump could unleash a tsunami of tourists from the Southern States and at least a reasonable shot at business investment.
  • Raid every educational establishment in the UK and US, business and the media for the best Scots, (or other), minds available and begin to establish the intellectual and economic case for inward investment and beyond that, independence. It simply does not exist at the moment.
  • Monitor Brexit and quietly learn from negotiating mistakes and inevitable errors of judgement.
  • Be humble and learn from success stories such as education in East London instead of dismissing everything south of the border as irrelevant.

In summary, Mrs Sturgeon and the SNP should cease and desist generally from the hectoring Calvanistic tone adopted in every interview or speech. Scots may be proud and they may be romantic but most are also gritty realists who can see through the flannel, (the SNP’s own independence newspaper’s circulation is down 30% in 12 months). They can also see that the SNP are not making any friends. Friends that economically at least, Scotland very badly needs. The big danger for Scotland is that the rest of the UK simply gets worn down by the SNP’s incessant moaning and just gives in. That would be tragic for Scotland and tragic for the UK. Having a next door neighbour throwing itself into economic Armageddon would not be good for any of us. Referendums are unpredictable but I’ll be hoping for 3/3 and will be relying on old fashioned Scots common sense when I place my bet today. Growth in Scotland has been put on ice with a breathtaking display of selfishness and arrogance which potentially sets Scotland on a road with a destination signposted ‘Catastrophe.’  It need not be so.

What Mr Cameron Should Say

We're all pretty uninspired with being constantly berated with warnings of gloom and despondency should we have the temerity to vote to leave the EU. It goes against the national character to just give up and meekly toe the line. David Cameron and the Remain camp have so far failed to articulate a positive path forward which will not only be good for the UK but also kick start the process of drawing the rest of the EU together which is anyway, decaying from within, something that few are keen to draw any attention to. 

How then, should David Cameron tackle this deficit in vision and positive thinking?

It is a basic truism in politics that what you see on the surface does not in any way reflect what lies beneath. When all the rhetoric is over and the votes counted, many in the remain camp will be keen to restore business as usual. That would be the world where we tolerate the meddlesome excesses of Brussels and where the government of the day can park troublesome ministers or ex ministers who have been turfed out by the electorate into enhanced pension positions in Brussels. David Cameron should rip up the status quo and make it clear that this referendum is a game changer. If we vote to stay, we'll be fielding our A team from here on in, not the wheezy boys with coughs and notes from their Mum on the bench.

 A civil service office in Madras, India during the British Raj

In another age 1,000 British civil servants ran the Indian Civil Service. That was on average of one civil servant for every 300,000 Indians, (although the total number had fallen to 688 by the time of partition). It is broadly acknowledged that they did a pretty good job. All of them however, were the very best candidates for the job on offer, having studied either at Oxbridge, the School of Oriental studies or Trinity College, Dublin. Similarly, British officers in the Indian Army had to pass out in the top half of their course at Sandhurst to have a chance of being selected for the Indian Army and when serving in India promotion was subject to passing examinations in Urdu.

1975 was a more positive campaign by 10 miles of good road

David Cameron should take inspiration from this experience and  make it clear that mediocrity will no longer be accepted, that we are going to engage with Europe by deploying our brightest and best minds at the political and administrative level and no individual can expect advancement to the highest reaches of their government career paths without serious time spent in Europe. He should emphasise that his administrations new mission to 'inform and influence,' policy and decision making in Brussels has the highest priority and the British government will henceforth take a long term view of its involvement at every level. The education system, honours system, diplomatic corp and government HR policies will be directed to reflect this new positive stance. "If we are going to do it, we are going to do it better than before and better than anyone else." Europeans will immediately adopt the look of stunned mullets, such will be the hanging air of disbelief but it would sway many voters currently sitting on the fence.

The Prime Minister won't do any of this of course. He is following the advice of his advisors to, 'scare the bejeesus out of them.' Personally, I think that tactic is past it's point of what usefulness it may have had and is now producing negative drag on the Remain campaign. I happen to hold that very positive mental attitude on the prospect of leaving but can see it can swing both ways for here is the thing, optimism and enthusiasm are infectious.

Scottish Independence; The Wolves Lair

The Wolves Are Waiting

Salmond has had a fairly easy run up up until now with his mendacious and toxic mix of lies and hyperbole while unleashing the worst traits of Scots character. I can’t yet decide whether he reminds me of Haig before the Somme, lining up his citizens Army before they go over the top and into oblivion or Kinnock at Sheffield in ’92 when his victory grandstanding was actually followed by ignominious defeat. Perhaps though, Salmond’s smug triumphalism most reminds me of Napoleon………… and he may be about to meet his Waterloo.

Salmond has had everything going his own way since he was found wanting in the first televised debate. His scheduled debate this afternoon with Alistair Darling on Mumsnet though may be looked back on as an error of judgment on the part of the “Yes,” team. Just look at some of the questions already posted,

Salmond is going into the Wolves Lair and I don’t rate his chances. The questions so far are overwhelmingly sceptical. These Mum’s don’t care about waffle; years of listening to excuses from their husbands about why they haven’t “mown the grass / mended the hoover / forgot about the dinner party / forgot to pick Jonnie up / looked at their friend that way at the party / lost weight / not noticed their hair / not recorded their favourite programme / ………. and so on,” have battle hardened them to excuses and are trained now to just go straight for the jugular and rip the arms of helpless, mumbling men. 

I’d rather be anywhere on the planet than where Salmond will be at 1:45pm, and I’m not joking; the press will seize on this. Darling meanwhile should say nothing, (especially after his disastrous interview on BBC Scotland last night by Jackie Bird), but if he has to, just agree with everyone – just like the rest of us do when faced with angry women.


Oddly though, I don't seem to be able to get my own question for the debate posted

Balancing this off is of course the visit of the other party leaders to Scotland which may neutralise any damage Salmond ships today because its difficult to see any circumstance where the #westminsterschooltrip can end well. For what it’s worth, I think honest straight talking would have more value and garner more respect than sycophantic toadying to many who will not ever change their minds. My question to Cameron is, “would you indulge your young children in this way if they didn’t get what they wanted no matter the cost or how ridiculous the demands?” The “reverse engines,” on Devo Max is actually harming the “No,” campaign because voters can only see headless chickens in a flat out panic who are throwing honesty and integrity out of the window.  Their target must be the small percentage of Labour voters who have swung to “No.” The bookies meanwhile, or rather the punters, are still backing “No,” and whatever the media noise level, I wouldn’t dismiss that.

Finally, the press have reported that assets have been leaving Scotland. That’s a bit presumptuous and premature. It’s not as if everything would shut down on the 19th in the event of a “Yes,” vote, indeed it would take years to disconnect and unravel Scotland from the rest of the UK and many things simply wouldn’t change at all. Nonetheless, as I alluded to yesterday, changes in the psychology of the crowd can quickly surge and overrun accepted thinking. Watch the ATM’s. Big and widespread cash withdrawals would be illogical but watch what happens, that would scare voters.

A few interesting articles,

Paul Krugman in the NY Times doesn’t get it

John Redwood on the role of Scottish MP’s

Heffer takes offence at South African comparison and a good deal else.

Scotland’s Financial Service Industry – Reuters

International impact; Vuc Jeremic in The Times

Prof Charles Pattie with a reflective view of an unsettled future

Forecasting Scottish Migration in the context of the Referendum; University of Southampton