The Pitiless Storm and the Unequal Union

In ‘The Pitiless Storm’, one of the highest profile Referendum shows in this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, David Hayman portrays a trade union leader on the eve of accepting an OBE. In composing his speech, he is caught between the critical gaze of his memories of his father, his 17 year old idealist self, and his departed ex-wife’s abandonment of New Labour in the wake of the February 2003 80, 000 anti Iraq war march in Glasgow. Cornered in the nexus of his founding principles, Hayman capitulates to the inevitable acceptance that Labour have abandoned their values, and for the hope of any social justice for his people, that he has to go against his traditional party’s line and vote Yes in the independence referendum. The transformation of the character is hardly a subtle metaphor: the character is committed to the Union and the ideal of the benefits that it should – yet has failed – to bring, and undergoes a Damascine conversion on the night before his Knighthood (which I think an OBE is?). Yet Hayman’s personal commitment to Radical Independence makes him eloquent in his embracing of the character in both aspects – as well as somewhat impatient with questioners during the informal post-production conversation that he conducts with his audience while sitting on the edge of the stage. Perhaps that is why Argyll Council appears to have been systematically suppressing advertising for Hayman’s one-man show, although it still seems a massive overreaction, that on balance is more likely to provoke a ‘Streisand Effect’ (where an attempt to suppress information actually has the reverse of the intended result) in response.

Labour’s underpinning argument for the Union – that of collectivising, of uniting together and sharing effort helps working people – although a fine principle – is not supported by the evidential experience. The idea that a million families with children were lifted out of poverty in the ten years following their 1997 election is somewhat shaky grounds for justification of maintaining the Union, following the consequences of the next 3 years of that same government.

One argument I see from ‘No’ advocates along the ‘stronger together’ thread, is that the United Kingdom is ‘greater than the sum of its parts’. Is it? Frankly, I’m not sure that currently it is equal to the sum of its parts, never mind greater than them. The majority of the UK is held back from fulfilling its potential as more is poured into the city state of London – London is probably fulfilling its potential, but the rest certainly is not. Much of that is due to simple realpolitik: the Westminster Government (whether acting in the EU or elsewhere) will understandably fight for the interests of the majority of their population – which is the south-east of England. Scotland’s different needs with regards to population dispersal, fishing and farming, re-industrialisation and immigration are often argued against because they simply do not suit the agenda of the rest of the country – indeed those needs are diametrically opposed with regard to reindustrialization and immigration.
We are told the Union is ‘the most successful union in history’ (although it is hardly that, given a fair chunk of it left in 1922 – essentially the state that went to war in 1914, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, no longer exists to commemorate that hundred year anniversary), but if the ‘No’ campaign is to be believed as sincere in making this statement, then it has a romanticised view of how well the Union has actually worked for Scotland: it hasn’t, and the centralisation in London noted by Vince Cable is also making it a bad experience for the NE of England (and frankly other parts of the UK) as well.

In economic terms, we regularly hear that Scotland has been financially supporting the Union (in the sense of putting far more in than it gets out) for 33 years. Business for Scotland has argued that this is likely to have gone on for much longer, the former civil servant John Jappy noted figures in 1968 (before the oil boom) that showed that Scotland was paying disproportionately more per head even then. This is supported by figures showing that in 1952-1953 Scotland paid 410 million in revenues, and received only 207 million back in expenditure. Even more damningly, government figures for income and expenditure from 1900-1922 (recorded in HJ Paton’s book The Claim of Scotland) show that Scotland was receiving between 21% and 40% of its taxes in expenditure (I’ve excluded 1914-1918 for obvious reasons). Records seem to have been stopped in 1922 at the time of Ireland’s departure, perhaps in some trepidation that these figures might fuel ideas that Scotland was getting a ‘raw deal’, and give them similar ideas about secession (a harbinger of McCrone, in some ways). We may be the wealthy cousin in terms of supporting the Union, but we have not had the economic benefits of the Union that the other two regions (SE England and London) have had that so fundamentally sponsor the Union – and in that sense we appear to have been very much left as the ‘poor relation’ in terms of what is received back.

And this lack of economic distribution has resulted in a lack of opportunity – which can be indicated quite effectively by looking at figures of population growth and emigration from Scotland (either to London or further afield):-
– Between the 1981 and 1991 censuses, over a quarter of a million Scots left Lanarkshire and the former Strathclyde region alone.
– Between 1971 and 2011, England’s population grew from 45.9 million to 53.0 million, whereas
Scotland’s rose from 5.2 million to 5.3 million. That is a contrast between 15.5% and 1.9% growth over 40 years;
– Going back further, between 1952 and 1965, 345,000 people left Scotland;
– From 1901 to 2001, England’s population increased by 60%, whereas Scotland’s increased by 10%.

Armed conflict, of course, will take a proportion of these figures – and others have argued elsewhere over (for example) the higher per capita cost to Scotland of the First World War (although 53 parishes in England and Wales had all their servicemen returned from this conflict, there were no such settlements in Scotland or Ireland that achieved this). Although a family tradition of military service is an important factor, one has to remember that families rarely opt for such careers, when there are other opportunities (such as agriculture) which would enable people to stay at home.

Beyond the lack of population growth, the statistic of 19% of the population of Scotland being in poverty (this should be the country with the 14th highest GDP per head in the world, remember), and the burgeoning of foodbanks after 307 years of Union, are also not great indicators that there has either been a Union dividend, or that we are indeed ‘in it together’. In Westminster, the Labour Party failed to get a full turnout to pass their own motion to end the Bedroom Tax (the absentees would have been enough to secure the vote), yet enthusiastically voted for a welfare cap. In addition, they have promised to go even further on welfare cuts than the current government – cuts with an implementation deadline of 2016, that the Child Poverty Action Group has said will push a further 100,000 children in Scotland directly into poverty by 2020, following the 30,000 children pushed into poverty in 2013 alone. In health terms, this is further reflected: in particular, the correlation between long-term Labour wards and low life expectancy in Glasgow is striking. Life expectancy for males in Glasgow’s East End is lower than some warzones (including the Gaza Strip): Labour may espouse that it cares about the worker in Grimsby as much as in Glasgow – but that doesn’t mean that they are going to do damn all for either of them.

This picture of a donor sector of the UK, that has suffered disproportionately as a result, becoming historically poorer than elsewhere in the UK, is not a pretty one: in particular, the squandering of oil resources (at the same time as the possible benefits to an independent Scotland were kept secret in the suppressed McCrone Report of 1975) means that the UK is one of only two oil-producing territories in the world NOT to form an Oil Fund. And this is not an exclusively one party problem: this fiscal recklessness has been repeated by Westminster governments of all colours, and is not simply the domain/devoir of Conservative or Labour Governments, but of Westminster governments as a whole. This has resulted (as the old joke goes) in Scotland being the only country in history to discover oil – and become poor.

“If you agree that society’s ills transcend borders – of course they do – then you should wish to eliminate the influence of these elites from as many people as quickly as possible. The fastest way to do that is to vote Yes. Voting Yes removes the Lords’ power over Scotland forever in one fell swoop, and sends the unmistakable message that we won’t tolerate such injustice any longer. We can stand as equals with our friends in England, Norway, Iceland, Ireland, and beyond, and start building not just a better country, but a better world. It will also be the biggest slap in the face the British establishment has ever faced; a wholesale rejection of austerity; a rejection of weapons of mass destruction and reckless environmental policy; a rejection of centralisation and neoliberalism. This majestic act of defiance could be just what the left in England, Wales and Northern Ireland needs. A single act of defiance can inspire revolutionary movements.” (Magnus Jamieson, National Collective)

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