Saturday, 8 June 2013

Arguments for Scottish independence part 3: Assets and practicalities

Picking thru the requirements of what an independent nation needs, Scotland is already very well placed thanks to devolution and stuff left over from the 18th century

Here’s a brief list:

Legal system? Check.
Education system? Check (schools, universities and professional associations fer goodness sake)
Multi-party democracy? Check (plus independence would remove a tier)
National health service? Check

And so on and so on. Really, the existing infrastructure is so well developed and already sufficiently autonomous  as to render many of the practical arguments against independence redundant. Hence, much of the pro-union chat focuses on the softer benefits of the union, like how we’re better together just because we are really, and how being in the union meant Scottish people got to wear British swimming trunks at the olympics. Now that’s all lovely I guess, except the union also means being part of an electorate that voted in the ConDems and appears to support punishing the disabled.  

However, that’s another post. Getting back to the practical issues, there is one, glaringly big exception, which is the financial system and the economy more generally. This is accordingly where the more practical opposition to independence is going to town. Its also a big-big-biggie given the credit crunch and Scotland’s unfortunately disproportionate contribution to the British experience.

Except, the pro-union mentality on display really needs to get a grip. Following on from the HM Treasury propaganda, this blerk here has produced a less biased, more constructive analysis of “Scotland's currency options”. But, even then he just can’t resist the cute point scoring. Like when he talks about currency boards and describes the Irish experience as follows “Ireland chose to fix its exchange rates at parity when leaving sterling. The Irish central bank then spent the next fifty or so years defending the exchange rate until joining the ERM”, he forgot to mention sterling had a fixed exchange rate for much of the same period that HM Treasury also spent years defending i.e. the actual point here isn’t currency pegs are somehow intrinsically a bad thing, rather its what was ultimately a fixed exchange rates proved a serious constraint (by contrast a Sterling currency peg right now would be to a floating currency).

However, its when he says (in the 3rd paragraph) “An independent Scotland would have to move swiftly to create the necessary institutions and capital markets. This would include a central bank, a payments system, deposit insurance, prudential and conduct financial regulators, a debt management office, an exchequer, a tax collection agency, a fiscal commission, equity and capital markets and, of course, a currency mint.” I’m left thinking cool the beans there a minute bawjawz, cool the beans.

This is because of how he chooses to discuss an independent Scotland’s assets and liabilities. In liability terms, its about how Scotland would need to take its fair share of UK national debt with it. Now, this is an important point to make, however, the discussion of Scottish assets is less good, because it focuses almost exclusively on oil.

Actually, though, Scottish assets also include Scotland’s share of UK level institutions, you know the ones Scottish taxpayers have paid into and been governed by. As with the divvying up of the national debt – incurred partly to finance the creation and running of said institutions – giving us a bit of them would only be fair.

To give a practical example drawn from bawjawz’s willfully intimidating shopping list, establishing “prudential and conduct financial regulators” – fine, we’ll have a copy of the PRA (was FSA) rule book we helped pay for please, some 12 month secondees to the existing Edinburgh office and we’ll advertise for new staff on Monday. And yes the job adverts will big up how existing PRA staff can transfer their existing skills to a city with more affordable housing and a better commute than London.

Oh and not having such a complex financial system as London to regulate means it could well be cheaper and potentially safer to do so here given there’s only the one Scottish bank with serious, but shrinking investment bank capabilities as opposed to the teaming hordes scattered across London. Bonus! (and another example of the positioning issues affecting the pro-union lot; they, rightly, say an independent Scotland would have a disproportionately large exposure to the financial services sector, but it would also be at a remove from so-called “casino” banking e.g. a Glasgow insurance company call centre poses less systemic risk to the Scottish economy than Mayfair's hedge fund bods do to the UK. And, they probably pay more tax!).

As for some of the other stuff on the list, well bawjawz is just being silly. Take “and, of course, a currency mint”; really? Again with the memory lapse given the EXISTING Scottish note issue and the fact the Royal Mint already makes coins to order for foreign countries.

Personally, I’m increasingly left wondering why the pro-union lot is placing sooooo much emphasis on the scare tactics even when it involves making basic factual errors. In the meantime, when you run thru the assets and infrastructure Scotland already has, from a practical perspective independence doesn't strike me as an especially daunting prospect. Saying that, the 2014 Commonwealth games mascot is an embarrassment.

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