The Cost of Dependence

From north to south a hidden poverty epidemic is spreading across the country. It is fast becoming a national emergency – this is the pandemic that no Minister ever mentions” – Gordon Brown, leader of the Better Together campaign and former Prime Minister in the Daily Record.

The hysteria which followed the trailing of Humza Yousaf’s speech in Glasgow University today has been a sight to behold. The shrieks of disdain has rained down on the First Minister for suggesting that people in Scotland could be better off under independence are fierce and loud.

Humza Yousaf said: “In a recent well-publicised report, the Resolution Foundation concluded that if the UK had the average income and inequality of similar countries then the typical household would be £8,300 better off.”

It’s pretty unexceptional stuff. Britain’s economic record is dire, and the social consequences plain for everyone to see (and experience daily).

After pointing out that Scotland has extraordinary resources such as renewable energy and some key economic strengths Yousaf continued: “That is the prize of independence. Not to match the performance of those independent countries overnight, no-one is saying that, but to start catching-up so Scotland’s level of prosperity becomes more normal, more like that of comparable nations. It is that UK that is the outlier.”

Stating that a country should aspire to ‘normal’ levels of prosperity alongside comparable countries has sent the entire wolf-pack of the commentariat into a state of apoplexy.

There’s much to debate about Yousaf’s wider claims but two things seem incontrovertible, the claim that “the UK economy is characterised by low growth, low productivity and chronic inequality: social, economic and geographical” and that “Both Labour and the Conservatives agree that the UK should be out of the EU and the huge European Single Market, and they both want to cut vital inward migration.”
These are just facts.

So we have the cost of dependence, which we can see very clearly – and is laid out by independent economists and social researchers, not ‘nationalists’ – and the cost of independence – which is widely contested.

It is up to those of us who advocate independence to make the economic case for it, and on several key aspects I do not accept the SNP’s case as convincing. But equally it is up to those of you who advocate remaining in the British state to do two things.
First you must account for Gordon brown’s ‘poverty epidemic’, which, as Stewart Lansley points out is not a new phenomenon: “Britain has been a high-inequality, high-poverty nation for most of the last 200 years, with significant consequences for life chances, social resilience, and economic strength. Because of the impact of inequality, the poorest fifth of Britons are today much poorer that their counterparts in other, more equal nations. Germany’s poorest, for example, are a third better off than those in Britain.”

So, why is this, and why is this good for Scotland to be part of?

The second question you must answer is: why is Scotland such an economic basket-case that it is risible, laughable, worthy of contempt to suggest that we might “start catching-up so Scotland’s level of prosperity becomes more normal, …like that of comparable nations.”

Why would that be, and how do you manage to equate your position that Scotland benefits so greatly from being in the Union and the reality of a ‘poverty epidemic’ within that Union?

There are normally two or three responses. The most frequent one is just complete stunned silence, a sort of awkward unknowing incomprehension. British nationalism operates largely in a complete silo such is the surround-sound of its own media domination.

The second response is to point to the huge ‘Union dividend’ – the argument that Scotland receives massive subsidy from its benevolent southern neighbour. This argument – whether you agree it to be true or not – doesn’t really answer the underlying question, which is why does Scotland need such subsidy in 2024? Why is Scotland so impoverished after 300 Years of Precious Union?

The third argument, not heard so often, is just that Scotland is a sort of blasted heath, northern, isolated, cut-off, with few resources and a lazy useless population softened by subsidy and a bloated public sector. It’s my favourite.

(there’s a fourth one that goes something like “Scotland doesn’t really exist linguistically, culturally, legally or historically at all” – but let’s leave that aside for now to make things fairer).


Comments (34)

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  1. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    The statement in today’s Daily Record is one that Bodger Broon could have made during the 1990s and addressed seriously during his time as Chancellor and Prime Minister. He did, in fact, make some quite effective redistributive actions, but he signally failed to seek to make the case that poverty was endemic in the UK and that redistribution AND MORE was justified. Instead he allowed the Tories and the media, including his beloved Daily Mail, to characterise these redistributive actions as ‘stealth taxes’. He and Blair accepted the Thatcherite economic paradigm and pursued it with greater privatisation in the NHS, rather than pointing out that it caused poverty. The only time The Bodger made what could be termed a vaguely socialist speech was the night before the 2010 election, which everyone knew he was going to lose, so, it fell on largely deaf ears.

    Starmer plans the same acceptance of this economic paradigm.

    Jon Cruddas’ recent book demonstrate’s Starmer’s inadequacy and lack of vision.

  2. Michelle S says:

    Well said Mike. If I may add the post office scandal which happened under the watch of Labour, Tory/libdem governments is a prime example of UK not working. When Unionists wake up to the structural changes the UK needs then I might take unionism seriously.

    1. John says:

      Michelle- the post office scandal is primarily about big organisations developing group think, defending their own organisation and interests. There was also an element of individual and corporate greed. It was a governmental organisation but it was at arm’s length from government and possibly because of this government left them alone and did not show interest in their management. In addition the Post Office outsourced the Horizon computer system to a private company without the required oversight.
      I would like to think it couldn’t happen in Scotland but I must confess I am not convinced that it couldn’t at present.

  3. Raymond Reid says:

    Too many people take in the rubbished spouted by the unionist media,they don’t think or research for themselves, the lies have been put out there for years and people still are taken in by them,Scotland is a powerfull resource rich country,has an the skills that smaller independent countries do not have,and if the electorate would just waken up and realise how better Scotland will be as an independent country then independence would soon become a reality.

  4. John says:

    Two questions that were put to me when I was ambivalent about independence:-
    Scotland has a lot of natural resources and we are told it cannot exist financially without handouts from Westminster government?
    If Scotland is such a drain on UK resources why is Westminster so opposed to independence and getting rid of the supposed financial burden?
    I couldn’t answer these questions and still cannot. Further reading only made me realise how ridiculous the situation is that we even ask these questions.

    1. Matthew says:

      Good questions that deserve answers.

      My personal view is that resources are not that important. Only oil & gas has proved to be a big employer with highly paid jobs. I don’t see forestry, farming, salmon farming providing lots of employment compared with financial services or IT. And if England needs water they’ve got Keilder to pump south first.

      Why hang on to us? Scotland’s one of the wealthier areas of the UK. And if we are going to ditch those that are a drain on the state would an indy Scotland dump Dundee? We would be left with Edinburgh and England would be London.

      1. John says:

        I don’t disagree with your philosophy Matthew but I do believe that the financial viability is a big issue with wavering supporters of independence. The deluge of too wee and too poor stories that we are bombarded with need to be overcome. If we are to gain the support of the ‘soft No’s’, which is key to converting the current 50/50 support to a clear majority,
        we need strategies to convince them that an independent Scotland would be financially viable despite the gloom of the doom mongers.
        Oil and gas resources may be diminishing but we have excellent renewable resources of wind and wave power and newer technologies. They can help ensure that we are self reliant for cheaper energy and their development should be a big future economic opportunity for an independent Scotland which would benefit all regions of Scotland.

  5. Edward Chang says:

    The questions the SNP need to answer are not concerning Scotlands eventual destination but the costs of getting there.As Mark Blyth put it re Denmark
    “That the problem that I’ve seen so far is the complete lack of specificity as to ‘here is what the Scottish business model is now, here is where we want to be, this is how we are going to from here to there by doing this.’
    “Instead of that we’ve got is ‘Denmark is awesome, we should be like Denmark’, if we were independent, we would be Denmark’. No, you wouldn’t be Denmark. Denmark took 600 years to become Denmark.”

    Ultimately all questions around Independence come back to this-what will it take to achieve the goal and is it worth it?The SNP answers “Yes” to the second but avoids the first because that’s where issues arise and these are often weaponised by Unionists.That isnt going to stop however ignoring those issues is not a winning strategy.Humza’s speech today concentrated on the second and,as usual,ignored the first so it won’t convince anyone.In that respect he really is the “continuity candidate.”

    1. Paddy Farrington says:

      Arguably, the Republic of Ireland took 50 years to become what it is today. While Scotland might choose a different destination, there’s absolutely no reason to think that rapid transformation, on a similar timescale, is impossible. But before setting out, we do need to be clear on why it’s worth doing.

    2. Yes this is all good but Scotland also took 800 years becoming Scotland. Scotland is not Denmark but it is not nothing and to suggest otherwise is infantilising.

    3. Matt says:

      I don’t know any yet-to-be-convinced people that believe that Scotland somehow couldn’t be a successful independent country. (And I know Kevin Hague!).

      However, the common thread is that they, and I, think that the transition period would be very difficult, and what is more concerning is that the Indy supporters want to gloss over this most crucial aspect.

      Where is the register of the apparatus of state that would need to be developed, and the rough costs and timescale? How will Sterlingisation fare when you are running fiscal and current account deficits? What are the tax and spend projections for the early years? Has anybody modelled the effect on trade with rUK when there is some sand in the gears?

      What’s being proposed has never been done before – to carve out a chunk of a first world country. There needs to be a plan!

      1. Graeme McCormick says:

        without the cooperation of the U.K. government there will be no transition. The SNP has failed to examine how we can become independent without transition.

        The only way is for a majority of Yes MPs to dissolve the Union under international law To do so required the SG to introduce AGFRR to replace all taxes do that it has the funds required to operate as a state without borrowing. dissolution without agreement means that the U.K. ceases and any decisions made on behalf of the former partners can only be done unanimously until a framework agreement is in place. This just takes a bit of guts, but can be done u der the Vienna Convention.

      2. 240109 says:

        The Scottish government is currently developing the bureaucratic infrastructure it would need to manage our public affairs independently of the UK government. My partner works for the Scottish government; a large part of her job lies in the development of this ‘shadow state’. There will of course need to be a transition of power from the British to the Scottish establishment, but this shouldn’t be too disruptive; as far as I can gather, not much will change and it will be more or less business-as-usual.

        1. Matthew says:

          Two very different views there! Graeme says that we can forget about income tax, corp tax, vat etc and go with AGFRR, whilst 240109 says that it will be business as usual!

          My personal view is that the transition period is probably 10 years to create the systems and structures of the state apparatus. Brexit has been 7yrs and we’re not finished yet.

          1. 240109 says:

            Yes, but no preparation had been made for Brexit; Scexit is ahead of the game in this respect.

            There are no plans to replace the established tax system with an AGFRR, and I can’t imagine the Scottish electorate ever electing a parliament that would subsequently enact such radical change.

          2. Andrew says:

            What you will find is that Continental Europe has already moved on from Brexit…the issue stems from British (English) intransigence and resistance to try and get the Europeans to bend to their will…this is exactly what Scotland will be up against following independence.

          3. Matthew says:

            You’re absolutely right that the EU have moved on, but they already had all the structures and systems to deal with third party countries. We would have to create them.

            Think of all the UK state apparatus that you or your employer interacts with (eg HMRC) and the UK level functions that we would have to replicate. I’ve yet to see a plan for this.

          4. 240112 says:


            My partner works for the Scottish Government. State-building has been underway, in preparation for independence, ever since the SNP first asserted the Scottish Executive (which operated in tandem with the UK government under the terms of devolution) as the Scottish Government (operating in opposition to the UK government). My partner is a cog in the machine of this state-building work.

            True; this bureaucratic transformative work has suffered chronic implementation deficit disorder, but it’s quietly creeping along under the radar and, come the day and come the hour, will deliver the essentially conservative institutions of an independent Scottish state (basically a kind of ‘tartan’ Whitehall) as a fait accompli.

            (BTW The current plan is for an independent Scottish government to continue to use HMRC to collect its taxes at least in the short- to medium-term, until it can establish its own agency.)

  6. SleepingDog says:

    Perhaps a fifth option is Scotland as Outland, a politically weak zone that can be farmed and turned into vast game estates, containing rugged landscape and mass poverty to create hardy desperates to fill the ranks of imperial armies, where activities and research that might offend the Anglicans can be foisted on/undertaken by the locals, a source of unscrupulous merchants and patronage-needing professionals, a well of patriarchal or pagan superstition and a mini-break destination, a feudal shadow to the royalist lamp in the imperial metropole to the South, making the latter’s shine brighter, a sacrificial appendage like a lizard’s tail in time of war.

    1. Already many of those things?

  7. Jane Kelton says:

    Sorry you didn’t say more about Scotland not existing. I think Hugh Trevor tried to make that argument in an essay where he argues that clan tartans were a makey-uppy thing invented by Sir Walter Scott for purposes of pageantry and that Scotland did not possess its own distinctive culture and therefore blahdy bladh. bladh. I know the 4th argument is too silly for words, but still hope you write about that one sometime. Alba gu bràth!

    1. 240109 says:

      In his posthumously published collection of essays, The Invention of Scotland: Myth and History, Hugh Trevor-Roper didn’t deny the existence of Scotland; he rather offered a genealogy of the idea of ‘Scotland’ that was constructed by the Edinburgh Tory nationalists of the 19th century.

      The book is also a critique of ‘tartanry’, the kitsch representation of traditional Scottish culture, particularly by the emergent Scottish tourism industry in the 18th and 19th centuries and by artists such as Sir Walter Scott, who sought to manufacture a romantic cultural identity for Scots within the political context of a United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. It was out of this Unionist project that tartans, kilts, and epic tales of heroic failure were born. This cultural identity, and the Tory ‘home nations’ nationalism that went along with it, was cultivated as part of the hegemony that the British ruling class exercised over society in these islands as a whole.

      A major concern of the Scots Renaissance in the mid-20th-century was to subvert the hegemony of tartanry (or ‘tartanitis’, as Ivor Brown termed it), which its activists saw as a fraud that had been perpetrated on the Scottish people, blocking the emergence of a more authentic or liberated Scottish identity. In fact, Trevor Roper’s book, in its critique of tartanry, can be read as part of the canon of the Scots Renaissance.

    2. 240109 says:

      ished collection of essays, The Invention of Scotland: Myth and History, Hugh Trevor-Roper didn’t deny the existence of Scotland; he rather offered a genealogy of the idea of ‘Scotland’ that was constructed by the Edinburgh Tory nationalists of the 19th century.

      The book is also a critique of ‘tartanry’, the kitsch representation of traditional Scottish culture, particularly by the emergent Scottish tourism industry in the 18th and 19th centuries and by artists such as Sir Walter Scott, who sought to manufacture a romantic cultural identity for Scots within the political context of a United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. It was out of this Unionist project that tartans, kilts, and epic tales of heroic failure were born. This cultural identity, and the Tory ‘home nations’ nationalism that went along with it, was cultivated as part of the hegemony that the British ruling class exercised over society in these islands as a whole.

      A major concern of the Scots Renaissance in the mid-20th-century was to subvert the hegemony of tartanry (or ‘tartanitis’, as Ivor Brown termed it), which its activists saw as a fraud that had been perpetrated on the Scottish people, blocking the emergence of a more authentic or liberated Scottish identity. In fact, Trevor Roper’s book, in its critique of tartanry, can be read as part of the canon of the Scots Renaissance.

      1. Dennis Smith says:

        Trevor-Roper wrote that “in Scotland, myth has played a far more important part in history than it has in England”. As an antidote to this Anglo-nonsense, have a look at Lorna Hutson’s new book ‘England’s insular imagining: the Elizabethan erasure of Scotland’. This is a superb demonstration of how Tudor politicians, ideologists and writers – not least Shakespeare – deliberately wrote Scotland out of history and out of British popular consciousness. As Hutson points out, these historical myths of England and an island and an empire still have political consequences – not least Brexit.

        Hutson should be essential reading for anyone interested in contemporary politics but – warning – she is a serious literary academic and does not cut corners.

        1. Dennis Smith says:

          Sorry – typo: “England as an island and an empire”.

        2. SleepingDog says:

          @Dennis Smith, I am not sure what your definition of “Tudor politicians, ideologists and writers” is, and why Shakespeare is included (having written plays on into the Jacobean period under a Scottish king), but Scotland is not ‘written out’ of Shakespeare’s earlier plays, either the histories (where Scotland, Wales and Ireland feature) or even the mythology-based King Lear (which features Albany). Indeed, Shakespeare’s Henry V goes out of its way to incorporate four British nationalities represented by four captains.

          Elizabeth Tudor seems to have ordered histories rewritten to make them more flattering to her regime, such as excising embarrassing accounts of activities in Scotland and Ireland, but that is not quite the same as “politicians, ideologists and writers … deliberately wrote Scotland out of history”: it is political censorship related to the concerns of English rulers. My source for this is ‘Art Made Tongue-tied by Authority’: Elizabethan and Jacobean Dramatic Censorship by Janet Clare. Indeed, that the offending passages in Holinshed’s Chronicles 2nd Edition in 1587 which were revised on Privy Council orders were apparently already printed suggests the opposite of what you are claiming. If Shakespeare used the revised version as a basis for his plays, that is surely because otherwise he might land in jail, have his hands chopped off, or worse (like some of his contemporaries).

          And as an independent nation at the time, surely Scotland had its own historians and other writers? Could produce its own histories?

          1. Dennis Smith says:

            Undoubtedly Scotland as an independent nation before 1603 had its own historians and ideologists – Fordun, Bower, Boece, Buchanan and many more. But they were outnumbered and outgunned by the English and after 1603 they effectively fell silent. The politics and religion of the Jacobean composite state were extremely complex and without a resident king Scotland could not speak with anything like a single voice. This is one reason for the rise (and temporary success) of the Covenanting movement.

            I won’t try to summarise Hutson’s book, which is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the issues. The devil is in the detail. Hutson lists plenty of cases is which English ideologists took Scottish sources and consciously distorted them. In seeking to prove English overlordship over Scotland some – notably John Hardyng – resorted to outright forgery of documents. (This is not to deny that some Scots displayed an equal but opposite bias.) Hutson is particularly illuminating on the ‘Rough Wooing’ and Somerset’s War of 1547-1550 when the English sought to take over Scotland through a combination of military assault and politico-religious propaganda.

            Shakespeare and his literary peers undoubtedly mentioned Scotland and the Scots, but before 1603 they strove to avoid any recognition of Scotland as an independent sovereign nation, and many references were openly derogatory. After 1603 the political situation was transformed. James VI and I (who undoubtedly had absolutist ideas) aimed to establish a British union and was resisted – largely successfully – by the English House of Commons. In some English eyes the Scots went from being disloyal subjects of the English monarch to dangerously competitive aliens.

          2. SleepingDog says:

            @Dennis Smith, you can find lots of derogatory remarks in Shakespeare’s plays because they are largely about conflict portrayed linguistically, and especially the historical plays deal with nations (or factions) at war (or civil war). I don’t see Scots being more denigrated. Even the English suitor in Merchant of Venice is slagged off by Portia. Joan of Arc is verbally abused and hideously murdered by the English in Henry VI part 1, yet I think it is clear Shakespeare’s portrayal of her is very favourable. In fact, Shakespeare pretty much lays English war crimes and royal murders bare.

            As some wise person will no doubt some day say, “art develops at scale”. Just because Cressida (and Helen) are ‘unfaithful’ doesn’t mean Shakespeare’s female dramatic characters are generally ‘unfaithful’ (quite the opposite). It is easy to cherry-pick from 37-odd plays.

            On your last point, I don’t think Elizabeth Tudor (who inherited a totalitarian state from her father and siblings), whose long reign was marked with terror and oppression, who had private torture chamber in her royal palace, was greatly different in absolutist terms from James Stuart. The commentary of Janet Clare on the variability within Elizabethan and Jacobean censorship is interesting in this respect, and the section on Eastward Ho is particularly relevant to your point: but was it anti-Scottish prejudice, or quite reasonable revulsion at the kinds of Scottish courtier (perhaps no worse than the English they replaced) descending on the English court? I mean, it’s not entirely derogatory if it’s true, is it?

            p118 “The controversy over the anti-Scots satire of Eastward Ho is a cause célèbre of theatrical censorship.”
            “Much of the play’s satire is directed against the rapacity and ambition of the Jacobean parvenu.” Embodied in character of Sir Petronel Flash. Upwardly mobile pretensions mocked. Scots accents.
            p119 “The King’s informant was Sir James Murray, one of the newly created knights.”
            Jonson, Marston and Chapman avoided ear- and nose-slitting for libel, Jonson pleading for patrons’ assistance from jail, defence included virtuous have nothing to fear from satire, since it cannot be aimed at them [a bit of sophistry]. Scots as tight, as apes, as numerous and flocking to sycophantic and dangerous court: some of these passages are censored.
            p122 “The arbitrariness of Jacobean censorship is borne out by the fact that Eastward Ho was published and twice reprinted in 1605.”
            Printer’s wide slugs suggest speech removal, likely implanting official orders on incensed King’s behalf.

            I mean, Scots flocking to Westminster hardly escape Bella’s biting wit in these modern times, do they?

          3. Dennis Smith says:

            @SleepingDog It’s not my job to defend Lorna Hutson’s book in detail. Read it for yourself and decide. The book is long, closely argued and well-documented. There are some things in it that I certainly don’t understand and others that I disagree with. In particular, I think she underestimates the role of religious (Protestant versus Catholic) polemic as against national-political (English versus Scottish) polemic. The two themes sometimes cross-cut in ways that she fails to pick up – but she is after all a professor of literature, not religion.

            It’s not usually helpful to discuss authors rather than books – play the ball, not the man. But it may be worth emphasising Hutson’s background. She is an establishment figure – Merton Professor of English at Oxford and a Fellow of the British Academy – with no obvious Scottish links. She spent several years researching the material and seems to have been genuinely astonished by what she found.

          4. SleepingDog says:

            @Dennis Smith, yes indeed, if you don’t separate the Catholic–Protestant conflict you might confuse Elizabeth Tudor’s regime’s enmity with Mary Stuart with anti-Scottishness. Where I think the argument as you have rendered it falls down, is that James Stuart seemed to have been the popular choice of monarch to replace Elizabeth Tudor, and it was only after the English public grew familiar with him and his ghastly crew of Scottish courtiers that some of them began to turn against him. The histories I am familiar with say James Stuart was widely acclaimed on his entourage’s initial two-month progress from Scotland through England to be crowned there, by lords and populace alike. That would surely not have happened if Scotland (which he ruled) had been successfully vilified.

            But this is the horror of (theocratic) hereditary(ish) monarchy: it’s a relief just to get one that doesn’t immediately plunge your country into bitter civil or expensive foreign wars. A horror that playwrights like Shakespeare were always pointing out, even if they had to worry about their ears and noses being slit for doing so. English people had been living though a nightmare of Elizabethan rule and succession crises. The popular portrayal of the corruption of courts preceded the Stuarts and did not end with them.

        3. 240109 says:

          Trevor-Roper’s specific point is that ‘neither in prosperity, nor in defeat, did Anglo-Saxons, in their six-hundred-year rule in England, inspire a single work of myth or romance’. He doesn’t deny that, by Tudor times, England had it’s own constitutive myths.

          I’ve just finished reading Lorna Hutson’s new book and have barely begun to evaluate its arguments. Its basic thesis is that the Tudors developed and deployed a mythical ‘British’ history as part of their campaign to remove the threat posed to their security by its northern neighbour. As well as attempts at conquest in the 1540s, the old justifications of overlordship, dating back to Edward I’s sponsorship of John Balliol’s feudal superiority in Scotland in the 13th century, mutated into literary and cartographic ploys to erase Scotland as separate kingdom.

          Like I say, I haven’t interrogated Lorna’s arguments in any great depth yet, but they’re based on an extensive and meticulous reading of the poetry, choreography, allegory, epics, and tragedies, history plays, and masques of the time, and I expect I’ll be hard-pushed to subvert them.

        4. Jane Kelton says:

          Thanks very much for your comments and the ref

  8. florian albert says:

    Mike Small assumes that being part of the UK is the main reason for the extent of inequality in Scotland. In reality, there is no political appetite in Scotland for measures that would make the country significantly more equal. The main political parties may indulge in egalitarian rhetoric but every one has a track record of accepting the economic status quo.
    When more radical options are put before the voters, they ignore them. The last to do so was R I S E in 2016. Since then, the Scottish left has given up on electoral politics.

    1. John says:

      Not all mainstream political parties have the same attitude or policies on inequality. The Conservative Party are far less concerned with inequality and it has risen due in good part to the austerity policies they have implemented. I substantiate this claim by pointing out how:
      inequality rose during 1980’s
      child poverty has risen since 2010 the policies implemented by Holyrood to alleviate poverty.
      The electorate in Scotland have not voted Conservative as most popular party for 70 years so it is unfair to claim that the electorate here have the same lack of concern to inequality as the electorate in England.
      The mainstream parties might lack the radicalism that you and other commentators on this site would like but your claim that effectively all political parties are the same is incorrect.

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