2007 - 2020

Born Honest Born Clever

7bb15d3924f9fe70fd8818939c4db083How a nation is born – and how it behaves as it is born – matters. History tells us this. A nation born in blood almost always has a future of blood ahead of it. A nation which has to struggle for its freedom builds the love of freedom deeply into its nature. A nation born anew which turns on its neighbours is trapped in a cycle of recrimination and revenge.

Scotland must get its early days right. It must begin confident in its ability to make itself anew. It must rediscover a national strength that has been subsumed in a union where strength is an attribute of the south and endurance is the attribute of the north. But, quoting Gandhi, in those early days it must also be the change it wants to see. If it wishes to be a nation of justice it must act justly.

As I’ve been trying to make clear over and over, unless the UK accepts Scotland beginning its independent life as a continuing state (something the UK point-blank refuses to even contemplate), we have no formal obligation to do, accept or agree anything. This is not Scotland’s doing, it is the rules of the game as chosen by Whitehall. Were we to behave as Britain has behaved throughout history we would be focussed almost entirely on working out what we can grab for ourselves at the expense of any handy nation we can rob.

In this instance, if we are ready to forego Sterling, the remainder of the UK would be entirely ripe for the robbing. If all the things they have that we might want are added up and subtracted from a population share of the debt, it remains a big negative. Walking away would make Scotland one of the very richest nations on earth – massive natural assets, no debt whatsoever.

But it isn’t really right. The citizens of Scotland had virtually no say in the running up of that debt. Whether we wanted to let the banks go bust or not, no-one was asking us. Our money was given to the financial elite by the political elite. The debt, rightly, belongs to Alastair Darling and Fred Goodwin, the two horsemen of our debt apocalypse. One had no democratic mandate to give it and the other had no moral right to take it.

Still, the people of England were robbed by these bandits every bit as much as the people of Scotland. Indeed, Darling Bandit was sent to London by the Scots. My position is clear on this; if this debt was to be repaid by the elite that created it I’d be off like a shot, leaving them to drown in the backwash of their corrupt financial system. But it isn’t. The elite are never the ones that pay for their crimes; it’s always the people. And it is the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland who will be paying for the behaviours of the elite. I for one will have no part of leaving them on their own with no cash to invest in their society while Osborne and Darling enjoy their personal millions.

But – and oh what a size of but this is – the terms on which we repay our debt to the English, Irish and Welsh people will be our terms. Every intransigent action take by Whitehall in negotiations which costs Scotland money will be subtracted from that debt. If they really did refuse access to Sterling then the cost of a foreign currency reserve (the cost of running a currency pegged to Sterling) would be taken off that debt. If they mess us around on our share of the assets, we’ll make the unilateral decision on what we’re deducting in kind. And so on. If the people of the rest of the British Isles want us to take our share then they have the responsibility to make their democratic government behave in good faith. I promise them that the Scottish people will seek to do the same to their own negotiating team.

The next point is important. We will not and under no circumstances come out of this with any debt. The idea that there would be a debt transfer has already been ruled out by all involved. Scotland will simply agree to pay for a sum equivalent to the cost of servicing our share of the debt. Think of it like this; England remains stuck with the mortgage, we’ll just set up a Direct Debit to help them out a bit. Let’s call it the British Aid Payment.

And this next point is yet another that hasn’t been properly discussed; it would be procedurally wrong for Scotland to agree to pay the ongoing costs of the UK debt. Scotland will have no democratic responsibility for the management of that debt. The debt belongs to the UK, not to Scotland, and so Scotland cannot influence how that debt is managed. It is not just theoretically possible that the UK could screw up its economy further, it’s a likely outcome. By failing to make any substantial changes in the way the financial sector is structured and regulated, almost all of the risk and bad debt which caused the 2008 crash are still there. Britain is another financial crisis waiting to happen. If it did, Britain would have no capacity to further bail out the banks. If they borrowed to do it it is the remainder of the UK and not Scotland which would face the ‘crippling’ borrowing costs. Were that to happen, it is simply not acceptable that Scotland would pay the price of a failure by the government of another country. So Scotland would agree a fixed-rate repayment deal. Everything else is down to London and not our problem.

This is a little bit like debt. But then PFI is a little bit like debt and the Treasury doesn’t include that on its books. So Scotland has no debt, just a payment programme. And it is a payment programme with no risk to us – London’s debt management is its problem, not ours.

So how much would it be? There are Better Together hangers-on who bellow their usual ‘if I say it loud enough the Scots will fall for it’ lines. I’ve heard them claim that it would ‘have to be’ distributed on a GDP share. This is the only time that they are ever heard to admit that Scotland’s GDP is substantially higher than the UK average. For fun I think we should just tell them that future oil income is volatile so we should take them at their worst makey-uppy future analysis, the ones in which Scotland is bankrupt and proportion it to that. But that’s not what’s happening. If Scotland has a moral responsibility to debt (which it does) then its a democratic responsibility and so its a per capita share. As a starting point. Before we throw our weight around at all.

I could just stop here. But I began by arguing that Scotland should behave from its birth as it plans to go on. So let’s think about what we could do for the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. I repeat, it is to them that our obligation lies, not the City of London. As a starting point we might wish to demand that a windfall tax be levied on the super-rich of London and the tax-dodging corporations who caused this and have suffered not a penny of loss. If there is to be a tax deal added to the negotiation of Sterling at London’s behest, then there can be a tax deal on debt added at Scotland’s. We shall assume a one-off wealth tax to be levied in the remainder of the UK which writes off 25 per cent of the debt. If London refuses to levy that debt that is up to it, but it is a condition for us and so we’ll just take it off the total debt.

Or regionalism. The most galling thought is not that Scotland is paying back to the English people but that we’re really giving it to George Osborne to piss away on tax breaks for all his rich pals. Scotland is not the part of the UK that has suffered most from London rule. Perhaps we should act to redress that issue. Perhaps we should pay a proportion of our annual ‘direct debit’ payment not to the Treasury but to local authorities in the North of England, Wales, Ireland, Cornwall, the Midlands… Better still, perhaps we should set up large cooperative development funds in these areas and put all our payments into them, allowing the people of the North of England and so on to manage their own resources. Scotland could send them money in a way London never would. ‘You can’t do that’ screams Boris Johnstone. Sure we can Boris.

See! Once you get past the scaremongering, Scotland’s responsibility to UK debt turns out to be quite fun.

Comments (25)

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  1. Marian says:

    I watched Osborne and what struck me immediately was his economy with the truth. The main one being the impression he gave that Scotland couldn’t use the £sterling without Westminster permission which is nonsense given that many independent nations have used other currencies over the years without entering into a formal currency union which is desirable but not essential.

    I also thought he was scraping the barrel with his comments about the bail out of RBS implying somehow Scotland was responsible for that when we know that its the nation in which the debt was incurred who is responsible and anyway I’m pretty certain independent Scotland wouldn’t tolerate casino banking in the nation in the first place.

    I await the Scottish Government detailed response with interest.

    Much as it would be right and proper for the FM to be accorded the right to reply on TV I expect that the media will close ranks and prevent him from doing so.

    What this says about Scotland’s present position within the union in the eyes of Westminster is also enlightening.

    The independence campaign has exposed the nasty vindictive streak that runs through Westminster. Scotland massive contribution to the wealth and security of the UK has been taken for granted for 300 years and Scotland is now declared to be worthless and a burden on Westminster by transient opportunistic Westminster politicians who put their party above all else and have now decided to adopt a scorched earth policy in their campaign to prevent the people of Scotland enjoying better government and a far better quality of life.

    Scots had better wake up to this and get out from under Westminster rule whilst they can by voting YES on 18 September.

  2. David Comerford says:

    Can someone please get Robin to get an RSS feed for his site!

  3. Peter A Bell says:

    Superb stuff, Robin. Possibly the best thing you’ve ever written. Totally nails the essence of the issue.

  4. Bruce Stuart says:

    Sweet!

  5. Jim says:

    Great piece. Recommended reading.

  6. Aidan says:

    A calm oasis of utterly beautiful ideas.

    I’ve not read the like of it anywhere else in the desert of claim and counter-claim.

    I’d be happy to accept this fine blend of truth, possibility and good-heartedness as a source of illumination for the way ahead.

  7. Barontorc says:

    Take the smoke and mirrors away and the doodly-speak of the financial sector and make it plain talking. What you write is simple common sense Robin. I actually see a future where we can have independent freedom, not just in Scotland but in all areas of the UK with a menage -type mutual inter-support to raise prospects for all.

    Whereas, Labour has disappeared over the horizon chasing a mirage and nothing else.

    Great articulate thinking. Many thanks.

  8. Fay Kennedy says:

    Thanks for the guid plain speaking. Brilliant. I cannot offer more than that but keep on with the good work. The day will come – there is no turning back – when this small nation will be much better than it is today.

  9. florian albert says:

    Instead of concentrating exclusively on debt, Robin McAlpine should have given some attention to borrowing. It was not very high levels of debt, but the inability to borrow, that sank Greece, Ireland and Portugal.
    Unless an independent Scotland is going to run a balanced budget, it will have to borrow from international capital markets. Such markets are unlikely to agree with Robin McAlpine that ‘Scotland’s responsibility to UK debt turns out to be quite fun.’

    1. Crubag says:

      I’d agree. It was lenders doubting these countries ability to repay their debts that put the pressure on them. They were never locked out of the markets, but lenders were insisting on much higher interest rates to justify the risks.

      The hard/liberal right are quite liking the idea of sterling/euro/dollarisation just because it would force an iScotland to run a balanced budget, and been extremely parsimonious in public spending.

    2. Strategist says:

      “Unless an independent Scotland is going to run a balanced budget, it will have to borrow from international capital markets.”

      Yes, and international capital markets have to lend. The money burns a hole in their pocket if they don’t. They’ll assess Scotland as a good risk – even as a safe haven – and will offer a good price.

  10. sean mcgee says:

    “Nations born in blood” etc…….ahistorical nonsense!

  11. Absolutely superb, and inspiring…publish as far and wide as possible! Aye!!

  12. TheBabelFish says:

    Reblogged this on The Babel Fish and commented:
    A refreshing take on the ‘successor state’ issue. I particularly enjoyed the idea of direct payments to areas of need rather than to London.

  13. Alistair Gray says:

    Utterly brilliant.

  14. Crubag says:

    I don’t think this is your best article (though was also hoping to read about the launch of the Common Weal thinktank).

    “A nation born in blood almost always has a future of blood ahead of it.”

    What are you thinking of here? America, Pakistan, India, Switzerland, Belgium?

    “Be the change you wish to see”

    A solid sentiment but not Gandhi’s http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/ahmedabad/Misquotes-that-Bapu-is-forced-to-wear/articleshow/10211948.cms?referral=PM

    “See! Once you get past the scaremongering, Scotland’s responsibility to UK debt turns out to be quite fun.”

    Which ignores the bits where we need rUK support to become an EU Member State (whether Article 48 or 49, it doesn’t matter), or that we will need a stable arrangement, reliant on rUK systems, to collect taxes and provide benefits for years to come until we can put our own in place. (Along with everything else from TV licences, to DVLA, to passports.)

    We’re going to need a much more mature, and dare I say it, boring, relationship to make that transfer possible

  15. Abulhaq says:

    To acknowledge Scotland as a continuing state would be tantamount to admitting equality. The Anglo-norman ascendency is not disposed to oblige. So if, as they tell us, the pound is theirs not ours then everything associated with its “performance” sn’t ours either. Sometimes a “nation born in blood” is one whose tolerance of the barbs and goads it receives is exhausted.

  16. Douglas says:

    ” A nation born in blood almost always has a future of blood ahead of it…” etc…. So, Robin, that would be every nation on earth then?. Homo homini lupus est…etc…

    In any case, it would certainly be Scotland. What happened at Bannockburn again? I didn’t attend the recent celebrations, the wick of my torch needed replacing and there was no time but I think we routed the English horde….”the English steel we could disdain / Secure in valour’s station / But English gold has been our bane / Sic a parcel o rogues in the nation…”

    As for this idea that we get to decide everything and pay back some of the debt if such and such happens, optimism is braw, but I personally cannay see it. Sounds like Left wing “whae’s likeism” to me….

    I think politics is about the wee but very real and concrete things. A universal pension was a huge step forward, so was the NHS. If we can widen the circle of fundamental human rights to include a living wage, that would be just as big. But to widen the circle we all need to have our feet on the ground.

    1. tartanfever says:

      ‘I think politics is about the wee but very real and concrete things. A universal pension was a huge step forward, so was the NHS. If we can widen the circle of fundamental human rights to include a living wage, that would be just as big.’

      Utter garbage.

      Votes for all were the fall out from WW1, that was the democratic pay off for the establishment to the populace of the UK. Likewise the welfare state only happened because of WW2. Any large democratic step forward has usually been the result of great tragedy, not out of a sense of democracy or moral care from the UK’s ruling elite.

      So in your quest for a living wage for all, what ‘wee’ thing would need to occur before that came ? Armageddon ?

      1. Douglas says:

        You think that a universal pension and the NHS do not constitute a big step forward then?

        Surprising and interesting. For me that is obvious they are two of the markers of a humane society.

        It’s a very big simplification and absurdly reductionist to say that the universal franchise came about because of the 1914-18 War, just as it is to maintain that the Welfare State came about directly and exclusively because of WWII.

        The most cursory glance at history would tell you that a whole number of factors were at work for both of these steps forward to occur,and that the most important of these was the labour movement.

        You seem to want to downplay the importance of organized labour and the huge gains it won for ordinary working people, at the cost of enormous personal sacrifice.

  17. Auld Rock says:

    May I remind everyone that the Icelanders had the right idea – they threw the greedy bankers in the pokey.

    Auld Rock

  18. Duncan McLean says:

    Gandhi was a religious bigot and hypocritical pacifist, whose recommendation to the persecuted Jews of Europe was that they should commit mass suicide to alert the world to their suffering. But, okay, ‘Be the change…’ is a nice quote.

  19. Phil Robertson says:

    Difficult to make sense of this post. It begins with “A nation born anew which turns on its neighbours is trapped in a cycle of recrimination and revenge.” It then descends into a combination of threats and macho posturing – “we’ll make the unilateral decision”, “we will not and under no circumstances come out of this with any debt”, “we throw our weight around”.

    Negotiation is a matter of give and take. And one area where agreement would be needed is the oil licences which are with the UK, not the Scottish, government. So I would suggest avoiding being too dogmatic about how debt is handled until you have secured the assets.

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