Of course David Starkey should just be treated with complete cold contempt for his recent comments spewed forth into the public domain by an atavistic media addicted to lowest common denominator shock-journalism.
But there was one striking thing in his mad mutterings about the SNP ‘seizing control of a whole country’ * that caught our eye. His assertion that the SNP hold a “passionate belief in economic self-sufficiency” – conjuring visions of Nicola Sturgeon emerging as a resplendent figure floating somewhere between Felicity Kendall and Leni Riefenstahl – struck a chord with this dumbstruck organ.
As the Labour Party struggles in soul-searching north and south of the border, the essential message from the People’s Party is the same as the lime-lit historian. As Ian Bell writes about Junkie Scotland and FFA: “As it turns out Scotland would be daft to wean itself off the alleged subsidy. One of those hellish black holes has appeared. Fiscal autonomy is a crackpot notion that can lead only to spending cuts, tax increases, or both. The message, loudest from Labour, is to cling to the Barnett Formula no matter what. It’s not what you’d call ambitious.”
As we laugh (or rage) at Starkey, consider this. His message is the same as Labour’s: don’t have ridiculous ideas of any sort of financial responsibility, autonomy or control over your own economy. Even within the union.
This isn’t new. Remember John McTernan’s outburst of 2011?. “This is the first dirty secret of Scottish politics: that Scotland is doing very well, thank you. When it comes to public spending, it is a mendicant nation, always looking for more” (the term mendicant, from Latin: mendicans, “begging”, refers to begging or relying on charitable donations).
The idea is predicated on a simple idea of the wealthy south and the barren north; giver and recipient. Any challenge to that framework is unacceptable.
It’s essentially the same as the repellent Kelvin (‘The fact that anybody is in work in Scotland is due almost entirely to the wealth created by the clever and resourceful people in England’ ) or Ross Clark describing how “The message for English voters is: Granny McTavish is living it up at your expense.”
As Labour politicians and unionists scribes prostrate themselves in gleeful over-excitement about the ‘facts’ of the OBR and IFS projections – the sad truth is that, when we get back to basics, the dismal prospects are not for long-term Scottish economic stability, but for political parties who’s vision is still wedded to a message saying: ‘this is as good as it gets’ – ‘don’t change a thing, everything’s fine’. This abject lack of vision, hope, aspiration or urgency will destroy Labour futures, north or south, and is far more relevant than whether Gordon Matheson or Ken McIntosh – Andy Burnham or Liz Kendall – head the party.
It’s a repressed state of managed decline. It states: “You have no economic future (no reason given), you are reliant on the benevolence of your larger neighbour. Our advice: hold on tight.”
Sometimes this is distilled to the simple, handy: ‘pooling and sharing’ code or the even handier: ‘UK:OK’ initials. This normcore politics is now hard-wired into the Unionist politics and a declining oil price is greeted with unconfined jubilation – it’s the heavenly hallmark of this dead certainty. Game over. Shut up and eat your cereal.
Yet as Bell points out, there’s an uncomfortable reality that, in fact, the OBR hasn’t been right yet. And, more worryingly for the narrative of despair: “Despite its peaks and troughs, the average oil price has increased in every decade since the Second World War” and poor old narrow-shouldered ‘separatist’ Norway has (foolishly) “acquired a trillion dollar piggy bank out of it.”
God knows there’s a billion reasons other than economic insecurity to shift the Scottish economy – or projections on the Scottish economy – away from oil. Just ask the Pope.
But it’s the total lack of innovation that is galling – and reflective of a political enclave void of ideas. Think of the story of Nokia in Finland, or of wine making in New Zealand as parables of how countries can innovate change and inspire. Labour and Tories don’t want to think big, they want to cling-on to dead and dying models of proven failure, so, for example, ship-building equals, and can only equal defence contracts. More handouts.
Scotland has resourceful businesses, social enterprise and innovators all over the place. Dundee’s booming computer gaming sector and world leaders Rockstar are more Minecraft than Mein Kampf.
The myth that Scotland’s viability is predicated solely on oil is widely upheld by our media. It’s up to us to explore the alternatives for ecological sanity and the ‘long game’ of creating the grounds for a viable economy, not one based on exploiting our natural resources and causing catastrophic emissions, but doing a lot less a lot better. Make less, create more.
Many of us have a ‘passionate belief in economic self-sufficiency’- because it could and should mean divorcing ourselves from an economic system that creates and sustains mass poverty and immiseration next to obscene wealth whilst raising a national debt of £1.533 trillion to £1.617 tn, as we’re told George Osborne intends.
- he means being elected