Monday, June 11, 2007

The Worst Small Country in the World?

Jack will be disappointed. It seems that despite all the marketing boasts which greet passengers at our airports, Scotland might not be the best (small) country in the world after all.

The Federation of Small Business has produced a report comparing Scotland to 10 other countries with fewer than nine million people, including Norway, Iceland and the Republic of Ireland. The measures compared included data on economic performance, employment rates, health and education. Scotland's poor life expectancy was a major factor in coming bottom.

In socio-economic terms, Scotland is like the curate's egg. The wealth enjoyed by Edinburgh, West Lothian, Perthshire and Aberdeen is not matched in much of west central Scotland. There's no doubt that perceived poor life opportunities and a general lack of care for personal wellbeing is a huge factor in our less than optimal economic performance. Nicolas Crafts of the London School of Economics sketches it starkly when he estimates that if Scotland simply matched English life expectancy, our GDP would increase by over 20%.

However, Scottish GDP is already fairly high, reaching £111bn once oil is factored in (this takes public spending as a share of GDP down to c. 41%, in contrast to the oft-cited figure of 50%). These figures would, on the 2003 OECD figures, make an independent Scotland the 8th richest country in the world per capita, sandwiched in between the USA and Sweden. Admittedly, a relatively static population massages the GDP per head figure somewhat, but you get the idea. Problems we may have, but a basket case we certainly are not.

There's no need for us to plunge into a collective national gloom over these indicators. Sure, they make for pretty grim reading, but the opportunity for us to do better is there. A number of measures can be taken to improve growth and help rebalance our population profile, such as cutting business rates and reducing the burden of graduate debt. However, one of the single most significant measures we could take is to improve the link between taxation and public spending, by introducing fiscal independence.

We're not a poor country, nor are we subsidised by anyone else. No-one holds us back, and no-one will prevent us in the longer term from taking the actions that the other independent nations seem to be able to use to deliver better life outcomes for their peoples. Taking greater responsibility for our own affairs, on both personal and governmental levels, is surely the best way to deal with our unique set of national strengths and weaknesses.

Small Nation - Worst Wee Country
Devil's Kitchen - The Best Wee Country In The World?
Pat Kane - Scotland Is Unwell


wonkotsane said...

You're making the mistake of assuming that when the division of wealth, resources and liabilities takes place prior to independence, Scotland keeps what has been so generously donated to it.

The maritime border between England and Scotland used to follow international convention which dictates that a maritime boundary is an extension of the land boundary. In the case of the Anglo-Scottish border, this meant that England's territorial waters extended north east and north west. I believe it was in the 60s when the boundary was moved with the Continental Shelf Act (I could be mistaken on the name) to extend at a parallel conveniently placing most north sea oil and gas in Scottish waters. The English weren't consulted on this mass transfer of resources.

Then there is the national debt. Pretty large and Scotland has had more out of the coffers than it's put in for a long time.

You're also assuming that as a terminally socialist country, Scotland doesn't turn into an overburdened, border-line communist state and end up vying for bottom place with Albania.

The gravy train for Scotland started 300 years ago with the money England gave to make Scotland somewhere near solvent again after bankrupting itself trying to colonise Panama. Scotland has benefitted hugely from the English empire which was later expanded as a British empire. For the last few decades Scotland has been receiving subsidies worth billions thanks to the Barnett Formula. Until Scottish Labour took over, Scotland was in the periphery - over-represented at Westminster but always in the shadow of England.

Can Scotland suddenly go from being the proverbial kept woman to a working woman without actually becoming the other type of the proverbial "working woman" selling herself to the EU?

Richard Thomson said...

'Generously donated?' - get over yourself.

I know that some folk like to pretend that anyone dipping their big toe into the sea off the beach at Aberdeen, that you would be doing so in English waters, but even following a north-east trend from Berwick, it still leaves most of the reserves in what would be Scottish waters. The boundary to which you are referring comes from the 1968 Continental Shelf (Jurisdiction) order.

I don't know where you get this idea that Scotland is a terminally Socialist country. Have you been here recently? It was a long time since anyone could describe Labour as socialists and it's not a term which finds much favour in the social democratic SNP. In fact, both 'socialist' parties got wiped out in Scotland at May's elections.

What your potted history of the union lacks in accuracy is more than compensated for in comedy value. The union had a certain logic at the time for both Scotland and England, but its time is past and independence is the way to go for both Scotland and England.

I know that some folk in England worry about how they would manage if they were left on their own, finding it so much easier to complain about the Scots instead. But I'm sure you could make a go of it without our help if you really set your minds to it :-)

Martin said...


Whenever I read a comment like Wonkos, I wonder if someone's left the budgie's cage open.

Richard Thomson said...

Most of the CEP bloggers I come across can't seem to make up their minds whether they want to keep the union or not. Much of it seems to be less about England, and more about putting the sweaty socks back in their place. Shame, really, because despite the low signal/noise ratio, they do have a point.