Dream Merchants

New analysis by the London School of Economics show the full extent of the Brexit crisis suggesting that “Overall by 2024, the UK would lose £235bn with a soft Brexit and £430bn under a hard no-deal Brexit.”

That’s an astonishing figure.

Scotland would lose £30Bn – that’s double the notional deficit due to hard

I guess that’s what David Torrance would call “a significant weakness in any reinvigorated Unionist case.”

In a  an English translation of the original German piece by Thomas Gutschker, Political Editor of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung (FAS), published on 23.10.2017] Nina Schick outlines ‘Brexit Negotiations: Not Without Pain’ .

In painful detail Gutschker describes Theresa May’s personal disintegration over the last six months and her recent fraught meetings with European leaders.

Gutschker describes how:

“Merkel, Macron and Juncker know exactly, after all, how fragile her situation is. At the same time they recognize that May is no longer under any illusions about the effects of Brexit. Her initial threat that, “no deal is better than a bad deal” does not play any role in the negotiations at all. Macron has publicly pointed this out, and it is confirmed in Berlin.

With her Florence speech May has already changed tack. She acknowledged how bad it would be for the British economy if the country were catapulted from the single market overnight. Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, is quite different: he still tells people that Britain is going to have a “great future,” even without a deal. Better to negotiate with a realistic May than with the dream-merchant Johnson — that is the calculation on the Continent.”

Schick, the translator describes how – in pure financial terms what the costs of Brexit will be to Britain:

“the Commission estimates 60bn, Council estimates 90bn. The figure has to land somewhere between that…”

This is devastating, if not particularly surprising. It will no doubt cause another outbreak of civil war in the Conservative Party and its outlying fringes – more bloodletting in the English nationalist community still nursing grievance against its imagined enemies throughout Europe.

We’ll have to pay or their will be No Deal.

So it’s perhaps not the ideal day to launch These Islands (“a forum for debate that stands unabashedly for the view that more unites the people of the United Kingdom than divides them.”) These Islands we’re told by David Torrance in a puff-piece preview piece on a slow news day at the Herald yesterday (‘ Why a new pro-Union “forum for debate” is long overdue’):

“has three “leading themes”, the first of which is the “moral case” for the Union. This strikes me as a bit of a minefield, for the trouble with making “moral” arguments for a particular constitutional settlement, ie independence, is that it’s highly subjective and often spills over into sanctimony.”

Well, yes. Torrance turns quickly to hyperbole writing somewhat implausibly:

“These Islands reminds us, correctly, that Britishness was the original “civic” identity, inviting adherents from all corners of the Union and beyond. Furthermore, Unionism has always celebrated diversity rather than attempting to suppress the UK’s various nations and nationalisms; “the embodiment of the idea, since put to good use by the United States, that from the many – one”.

I’m not sure what the Sioux would say about that? Or the Gaels? Or the Welsh? It’s the sort of queasy light-headed ahistorical fantasy that does no credit to the unionist cause.

In the face of pending Brexit economic carnage it’s just embarrassing nonsense.

The argument is continued by Kevin Hague – who appears to be one of the leading lights behind These Islands, who writes on his own blog:

“The people of the UK are bound together by much more than a common language and the economic self-interest of a shared currency and the UK-wide single market. We have a long history of common endeavour and a shared a sense of responsibility to look after all of those who live on these islands.

This results in what we might term an implicit moral contract that most of us accept without ever really considering it. This assumed contract means that wherever you live in the UK, whatever your background, class or economic circumstances, we will pool together to look after you.

There are standards of education you should receive, healthcare you should access, public services you should be able to rely on, a sense of security you should feel and a standard of living you should be able to maintain which should exist wherever you live within the UK. These things should not be based on the economic contribution you individually (or your region collectively) make. As a matter of principle we pool and share resources to ensure that basic standards are guaranteed – and over time raised – for all of “us” in the UK.”

The mystical pooling and sharing explained at last.

This misty-eyed vision of Theresa May’s Britain as some sort of socialist utopia might have you a little confused.

I don’t think Kevin has seen I Daniel Blake.

This is really an excuse for enshrined poverty.

Hague explains:

“This moral contract lies at the heart of the emotional case for maintaining the Union and fairly obviously underpins the economic one. If you accept this implicit moral contract, questions like “why should we share our oil?” or “why should Scotland need fiscal transfers from the rest of the UK?” just seem daft: pooling and sharing happens because it’s the morally decent thing to do.”

Not asking questions – keeping quiet and not thinking – was the hallmark of Better Together and it stands as a defining characteristic of being a good British subject.

The problem for Torrance and Hague is that the ‘implicit moral contract’ is not accepted, not even by those who might have a sense of British identity and who will be appalled and rightly anxious at the prospect of economic chaos wrought by a Brexit settlement they voted against.

Hague continues:

“Similarly the flaw in the thinking which suggests “full fiscal autonomy” for any constituent part of the UK is some kind of ideal end-game becomes clear: if we economically ring-fence any geographic area of the UK we necessarily break this contract. Fiscal transfers are not a symptom of regional economic failings, they’re the tangible result of a positive moral choice.”

To translate: We might impoverish you, but if we do this over a very long time, we’ll give you some of your money back to offset this and call it “pooling and sharing”. We’ll then represent this as a positive moral choice and call it a ‘fiscal transfer’.

These are Dream Merchants and fantasists as much as Boris Johnson is.

Meanwhile other wider forces across Europe also come to bear on Scotland’s future.


As the Catalonian crisis unfolds and European states crack and split, the ongoing debate about nationhood and identity continues.

Paul Mason is one of the British left who really gets the independence movement and the shifting sands of the British crisis. Writing on Catalonia, Lombardy and Scotland he argues:

“As calls for autonomy and independence proliferate, mainstream left parties are failing understand the basic principle: in some circumstances, the national question is not a distraction from the fight for social justice – it is the frontline of it. And it is not going away.”


“The issue of national self-determination is back and unitary states are struggling to cope with it. The left, particularly, seems psychologically unprepared for the eruption of struggles for democracy and social justice where nation and ethnicity, not class, is the driver.”

This is an ongoing problem for the British left who would do well to pay closer attention to the left movements within Catalonia.

Mason suggests that this issue is not going away. Indeed Brexit comes as issues of self-determination come to a head:

“Understanding claims for secession and autonomy does not mean acceding to them: authoritative legal referendums are the method enshrined in international law to test such claims – and it is a disgrace that the EU and Spanish state have refused one in Catalonia. But in December the European court of justice ruled that article 1 of the UN charter, which guarantees the right of self-determination to states that are not yet independent, is a legally enforceable right in the EU. It has yet to be tested in relation to Catalonia, Flanders or Scotland, but it will be.”

He concludes with a case I have not heard – and remain unsure of:

“Above the problems of economic failure and racial polarisation, the positive factor driving progressive nationalisms, from Scotland to Catalonia, is technological change. Information-rich societies reward the development of human capital; so the ability to study in your first language, to participate in a rich national culture, to create unique local selling points for incoming foreign investment is more important than ever. If the regions, peoples and nations currently demanding more freedom seem to be driven by “cultural nationalism”, that in turn is driven by technological change plus global competition.”

Scottish politics feels like it is finding its way, mostly in a defensive posture against the madness that emanates from Westminster and the idea that we are participating “in a rich national culture” feels unlikely and subsidiary to the fight for social justice.

The Brexit costs can’t be hidden for ever and the propaganda exposed here by Peter Geoghegan and Adam Ramsay can’t mask the reality emerging from across Europe. Unionist fantasy about Britain’s glorious past are mirrored by self-deception about our glorious future. A £30 billion price tag should be a wake-up call to anyone who’s been sleepwalking through theses days. This is no time for dream merchants.



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Comments (11)

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  1. Jim Bennett says:

    Very good reading. Thank you.

  2. Iain MacGillivray says:

    Pool and share your resources Scotland is what they really mean…

    1. Alasdair Macdonald. says:

      I had a trade union colleague who had a maxim about bargaining: “What’s ours is ours but what’s theirs is negotiable”.

      That is the position of the British Unionist side.

  3. ben madigan says:

    excellent, thoughtful article

  4. Graham Hewitt says:

    Torrance and Hague are clearly not intellectuals. If they were they would have exploded with ribald laughter on reading the excruciatingly mawkish claptrap they had just written and pressed the “delete” button before bequeathing irrefutable evidence of their stupidity to posterity.

    But, yes, it all rings so true. Thanks to Thatcher’s revolution we have pooled and shared to support the City of London and financialisation which has been such a success, (barring a small hiccup or two) and we have looked after the millions thrown on the scrap heap of dismembered industries and done the “morally decent thing” of ensuring that ordinary workers are sufficiently insecure that they willingly sell themselves to the lowest bidder.

    Meanwhile, data from the ONS show a UK GINI of 0.91 for Financial Wealth and that “25% .. is held by less than 1% and nearly 50% are in debt”. Whar’s yer moral decency noo, Torrance?

    (figures and quote from: http://www.progressivepulse.org/economics/houses-wealth-and-income/)

  5. Wul says:

    Kevin Hague “…if we ring fence any geographic area of the UK”

    That’s one big problem right there; Scotland is a “geographic area”.

    Not a country within a union. Not a nation with it’s own culture, language, poetry, art, musical heritage, legal & educational systems. Not a place with any recognisable political differences to anywhere else in the UK.

    Just a “geographic area”.

    Aye Right!

  6. MBC says:

    I think Paul Mason was talking about the response to globalisation of smaller nations when he made that point about a rich national culture benefitting from new information technology and was thinking of Catalonia and perhaps Flanders in that context rather than Scotland. The word for it is social capital. It means things like people speaking to one another (in their own language) and being able and willing to work together more easily than having to mediate constantly through a second language, so that there is better transfer of information and more good will. Smaller nations are more nimble and more able to take up global opportunities than larger nations. They are less encumbered. They also have a greater will to correct the imbalances between losers and winners of globalisation and can affect redistribution more easily.

    Mason gets that there is a far bigger and wider picture to why modern European smaller submerged nations are seeking greater autonomy. It’s not populism or identity politics but a response to globalisation and a changing world order, where the international order is also shifting. There are more global movements and more global, international organisations maintaining security so the old larger nation states, like France, Spain, or Britain, which were really empires, not ‘unitary states’ (that’s a myth) are largely redundant in offering security and are actually an impediment to economic progress and democracy.

    1. Thanks MBC – make more sense now

  7. Craig P says:

    “These Islands reminds us, correctly, that Britishness was the original “civic” identity, inviting adherents from all corners of the Union and beyond.”

    Right, yes. Unless you were Catholic, Irish (or both). Not to mention every other subject people in the Empire, mocked to the modern day as picaninnies by no less than our foreign secretary, and our current Prime Minister’s ‘go home’ vans.

    You can just feel the civic oozing out of Britishness.

    1. Wul says:

      “Micks”, “Taffys” & “Jocks” all welcome.

      1. Alasdair Macdonald says:

        …. and, to which you can add ‘Teuchters’, ‘Tallies’, ‘Polacks’, ‘Pakis’, ‘Chinkies’, ‘Scousers’, ‘Geordies’, ‘Brummies’ etc. The existence of such appellations indicate we are not ‘real’ BRITS.

        All of these who have contributed to the economy and culture of Scotland and have joined with the rest of us in creating the Scotland we have and in continually recreating it, not least through their children and succeeding generations. Scotland has had and continues to have xenophobes and sectarians, but the Scotland I live in now is a more tolerant and humane place than the Scotland I grew up in during the 1940s/50s/60s.

        I think Mr Paul Mason has caught the idea of what independence for Scotland is about and, thanks to MBC’s useful clarification, I think we have an even better idea.

        A huge obstacle, in addition to the Colonel’s troops – whose position we know clearly – is the Left, the self proclaimed’progressives’ who populate the Labour Party, the Lib Dems, sections of the media and in managerial positions within the public services, such as education and health. Most of these people and I share a huge section of our philosophies. Collectively, we could achieve great change. But, such ‘solidarity’ has to be on their terms. We have to set aside key principles because they know what is good for us. We have to submit democratically to their authoritarianism (but they are blind to that aspect, because being who they are, they cannot be such!)

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