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Why shouldn't an independent Scotland be right wing?

Columnist ALEX MASSIE

A QUESTION for those readers who oppose Scottish independence: who would you wish to prevail in the first elections held in an independent Scotland?

Granted, you might prefer never to vote in such circumstances but, assuming the matter came to this head, who would you rather see form the first government of an independent Caledonia? The choice seems likely to be between the SNP and the Scottish Labour Party.

Hobson's choice, you may say. But I think you would be wrong. There are two arguments about independence. First, is it necessary and second what sort of Scotland might emerge if the referendum produces an answer that leads to independence? An independent Scotland is certainly feasible. Is it required and if so what is it required to do? Good people may surely disagree in good faith upon these matters.

What seems clear, however, is that the SNP prospectus for independence must disappoint many of those presently minded to endorse the great separatist cause while, perhaps paradoxically, offering some succour to at least some of those who might be thought least likely to rally their colours to the nationalist flag. This is Scotland and we do irony here.

For a long time now some of us have been pointing out that an independent Scotland would most probably have little room for manoeuvre in the realm of fiscal policy. That is, borrowing and taxation rates would have to be set with half an eye on whatever was happening in the rest of the (rump) United Kingdom. More particularly, it is very difficult to see how Scotland could levy taxation at rates significantly higher than those applying in England. Nor could the qualifying threshold for higher levels of income tax be significantly higher in Scotland than in England. Why not? Because Scotland will need its best, its brightest and, yes, its wealthiest too.

So it was gratifying to see John Swinney admit this last week. Mr Swinney is sometimes referred to as a "safe pair of hands". This is mildly patronising. He is rather more than that. The Finance Secretary is not a head-banging, delusional, dreamer. Or, as he put it last week, “I don’t envisage ­increases in personal taxation in an independent Scotland.”

It is sometimes forgotten that Alex Salmond is one of the few British politicians who still believes in the Laffer Curve. That, you will not need to be reminded, is the belief that there exists a level of taxation above which increasing taxes actually lowers revenue. It is not true, as some Conservatives believe, that all tax cuts pay for themselves but, equally, the Laffer Curve does exist and there is a point, dependent upon circumstances, at which tax increases cease producing additional revenue. The argument should not be about the Laffer Curve's existence but, rather, where we find its tipping point.

Mr Swinney appears to recognise this. So does his boss. The SNP's economic and fiscal leadership is more neo-liberal than many independence supporters may care to think. Of course, the SNP is not led by socialists. This should cheer non-socialist Unionists. And it should remind these Unionists that the battle for Scotland is not only a matter of the Union versus independence but of socialism versus a more prosperous, non-socialist alternative.

Or, to put it another way, is a neo-liberal independent Scotland preferable to - and liable to be better-governed - than a Scotland that remains within the Union but is ruled by a Labour party in London led by a politician as lacking in imagination or nous as, well, say, Ed Miliband?

This is a question rarely asked. Can Scotland afford the return of a government in thrall to old-fashioned tax-and-spend politics? Not necessarily. This is not a brand of politics that has served Scotland surpassingly well in recent decades.

Independence might concentrate minds. As Crawford Beveridge's Fiscal Commission reported this week, “An independent Scotland will need to establish its credibility on international financial markets to minimise its borrowing costs. This could be achieved by adopting a strategy for reducing public sector debt, and an effective budget constraint for the public finances.” Well, yes.

Mr Beveridge's suggestions, commissioned by the Scottish Government, add weight to the notion that Scotland's future lies as a low-tax, flexible, nimble, enterprise. It is not the Nordic future envisioned by some in which the state spends more than 50% of national income.

Of course perhaps Mr Beveridge, Mr Swinney and Mr Salmond are mistaken. They may be! Nevertheless it seems quite probable that cutting public spending - for one reason or another - will be one of the first tasks facing an independent Scotland.

The SNP desires a "competitive" rate of corporation tax. Since George Osborne plans to cut corporation tax to 21% by the end of this parliament one wonders how much room for manoeuvre any SNP government in an independent Scotland would really enjoy. Nevertheless, Mr Swinney's stated ambition remains laudable.

Increased growth is, of course, a good thing but no politician can guarantee that. If only it were so simple. True too, the spending commitments made by nationalist ministers often seem based on a number of heroic assumptions.

The SNP are caught between promising the earth and reassuring voters that relatively little will change. Especially on tax. I fancy it is those who believe the earth comes cheap who will be disappointed by independence while those who presently suspect independence must be a disaster might be pleasantly surprised by the degree to which it proves to be something less than a disaster.

That assumes, of course, that the SNP remain in power after independence. Perhaps they would not and Labour will become the dominant force once again. That is a sobering thought. That is for the future. The more immediate point is that Scotland just might - these things can never be guaranteed - be a more right-wing country, fiscally-speaking, than it presently is. Which leads, of course to this question: other than for reasons of sentiment (which reasons should not be dismissed) and assuming that Mr Swinney is speaking the truth, why should right-of-centre Scots be so afraid of independence?

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Article from Tuesday 12, February, 2013

User Comments

It would appear that this may be the first response to the commentary above, and I will make it brief and to the point: both sides of the independence issue are avoiding the real question. What is the “real question”, you may be cynically asking? It is this: From WHAT is the movement that wants independence for Scotland, wanting independence from? It is NOT from England, not from Wales and not from Northern Ireland, but from the United Kingdom. This raises the question: What is the United Kingdom? Is it Parliament? No, the half-elected (House of Commons) Parliament at Westminster is the ultimate power rules the United Kingdom. A clue. It is in the name of the sovereign nation. But if the Kingdom which is represented not by a king but a queen, has sovereignty, where does that sovereignty reside? It is with the British Crown. Therefore we should ask: What is the British Crown? It is a corporation sole. The present Queen is merely its representative – sort of like Minnie Mouse is to Disneyland in California. (I refer you to Minnie in this instance because in this instance we have no Mickey. The King is dead, long live the Queen. That is the essence of the Crown Corporation Sole. But if the Queen is merely that hand-waving old woman who likes to bet on horses, then who is running this “Crown Corporation Sole”? Answer: The Privy Council. Someone went to all the bother of asking if the Crown Estate is a corporation sole, and the answer came back – no its not. Of course it did. The Crown Estate is merely a part of the smoke and mirrors attribution of the Crown Corporation Sole that hides the real power. So what of these Privy Councilors? What do they do? Answer: Who knows – it is a highly secret organization – each member is sworn to secrecy. If you want to look for their handiwork – look for Orders in Council that are made at a level where Parliament has no say – they are above Parliament. Oh, I know about the charade of the “Crown in Parliament”, but the real power resides with the Privy Council. If you want to find their legal representatives look at the Treasury Solicitors – the guys with the flim-flam that conceal the stolen wealth (lands) of the so-called United Kingdom. Who is to blame for this mess? The Scots who sold-out and lined their pockets at the expense of the majority of Scots. Read what MP Willie Hamilton wrote years ago in “My Queen and I”. So before getting sidestepped into a debate over free markets, let’s begin at the beginning where Ron Paul started from: a written NEGATIVE constitution where The People told THEIR government beginning in 1789 what it could NOT do. The fact that Ron Paul thinks that the USA has gone off the rails is due to the ignorance of the average American who has not read their own constitution. But what do we have in the United Kingdom? Nothing. No written constitution at all. Since England was a republic between 1649 and 1660, it might be a good idea to see how a free nation can turn into a military dictatorship (Oliver Cromwell) without a negative written constitution authored in the name of The People. So before there is any more talk of libertarianism relating to money and wealth in Scotland, it would be advisable to look around for the group that is waving a negative written constitution for a free and independent republic. By the way, Cromwell’s republic came to an end when his Governor who was ruling Scotland switched sides and gathered an army at Coldstream, Scotland and staged a coup in London to put Charles II on the throne. There is a lot more to that story of course involving the Old and the Young Pretenders to the throne; a Dutchman who staged his own coup, followed by a line of Germans who also took over the throne, until one day we ended up with the present mess and theft of liberty based in London, England. Should Scotland be independent? ABSOLUTELY! But the question comes back to the fact that The People have to know what they are declaring independence from!

Posted on 23/06/2013 by freebornjohn II
Alex - a well argued piece as ever and good to see you are coming round to the YES p.o.v.? And you are right of course - surely the Scots if all people will be interested in low taxes and fiscally prudent government Not sure about using the term "right wing" though as it suggests a socially conservative ideology that seems a bit old fashioned Anyway you should come and join the YES campaign and argue for small, transparent government post 2014 !!

Posted on 18/02/2013 by George Shepherd
Again a good article which clearly alludes to the fact that there are a number of voters, who lean to the right of centre, who because of difficulties with the current SC&UP won`t join them, but who are prepared and are actively considering voting yes. The NO campaign therefore has top watch out for this but I get the feeling they don`t appreciate joust how prevalent that feeling and situation is.

Posted on 14/02/2013 by Jim Terras
Tax and spend 'is not a brand of politics that has served Scotland surpassingly well in recent decades.' How many MPs or MSPs would agree that tax and spend has been bad for Scotland ? Very few, I would suggest. Until there is a political force which can break free of tax and spend, the status wuo will remain. At present, the voters show no enthusiasm for such a force.

Posted on 13/02/2013 by florian albert
So where in the SNP is there a call for reduced immigration, where in the SNP is there a call from withdrawal from the EU?, where is in the SNP is there a call for the return of senior and junior secondary schools? so where in the SNP are their councils privatising refuse collection for instance. On most of the indices of what is right wing, the SNP fall clearly into the Social Democrat Camp

Posted on 13/02/2013 by Sandy Jamieson