The extent to which the Scots, the Welsh and Northern Irish Catholics actively wish to leave the UK is debatable. Their widespread resentment of England and all things English is not. In fact, things have come to such a pretty pass that to be English in any part of the UK other than England is to risk utterly gratuitous insult which ranges from the naked and vulgar abuse of the working classes to mean spirited bourgeois whining. Those who blithely dismiss anti-English Celtic feeling as being either the product of a small minority of political activists whose importance is unduly inflated by media attention or simply sporting chauvinism – implausible even by the dismal standards of liberal apologia – are either dullards or wilfully dishonest.
Celtic antipathy might prove to be a transient and inconsequential matter were it not for Labour’s reckless provision of assemblies for Scotland and Wales and Britain’s membership of the ever growing Leviathan of the Europe Union. From the specious promise of these political phantasmagoria grow outlandish Celtic dreams of an independence liberally financed by foreigners. The time is more than ripe for a few hard truths to be placed before the would be Celtic separatists and home rulers.
The hardest and most important truth is that England enjoys such a preponderance in population, wealth, educational opportunity, industry and commerce that it inevitably hugely dominates the other parts of Britain. Those Celts who imagine that England has exploited their countries in a peculiarly gratuitous, vicious and avaricious fashion should look at the general historical (and, indeed, present) fate of small countries faced with powerful neighbours. That general fate includes occupation by force, the reduction of conquered populations to a servile state, wholesale depredations, chronic legal disadvantages, the refusal of free trade – even with the occupying power, the absolute exclusion from government and, at the worst, genocide.
Compare such behaviour with that of England’s towards Scotland, Ireland and Wales for the past century and a half (at least). During that time all Celts have shared absolute legal equality with Englishmen, have enjoyed the immense benefits of free trade with England, had an inside track to the first industrial revolution, have been able to export their surplus populations to England, have received greater parliamentary representation than the English, have benefited – particularly since 1945 – from preferential government spending paid for by the English, and, most important for small peoples, have received the protection of the British state which would be nothing without England. In truth, it is a very long time since the English state behaved with gratuitous harshness or deliberate unfairness to even Ireland, despite the fact that Irish Fenians remain to this day a source of provocation which would bring condign punishment in most parts of the world as it is now and which would have guaranteed such punishment everywhere at any time in history prior to the nineteenth century. If Celts had an ounce of intellectual and emotional honesty they would stand amazed at England’s moderation, not shout their unreasoning hatred or bleat imagined wrongs.
The next unpalatable truth is that there is no guarantee that Britain or, in the event of a break-up of the UK, England, will remain within the EU or that the EU will exist either in its present form or at all in twenty years time. Moreover, the Celts belief that they may have an independence within the European Union which will provide subsidies to replace those currently given by England is, with the dire state of EU economies in general and the Eurozone countries in particular, its recent great enlargement embracing many poor states and prospective further enlargement, a fantasy of colossal proportions.
What would be the consequences of a dissolution of Britain with England also removing itself from the foetid embrace of the EU? For England it is difficult to envisage any insuperable disadvantage, but easy to see definite and substantial advantages. She would be shorn of the burden of Celtic subsidies, both direct and indirect, while her very considerable population, wealth and general sophistication would ensure that she could maintain without any real difficulty the present levels of government provision from the welfare state to the military. Moreover, England would be able to act wholeheartedly in her own interests rather than constantly tailoring national decisions to take into account the demands of the Celts, who in all honestly, increasingly resemble a squadron of albatrosses around Albion’s neck.
The only important disadvantages for England could be balance of payments difficulties (primarily from the loss of oil, gas and whiskey production) and ructions in the international institutional sphere. Happily, adverse balances of trade are (eventually) self-correcting even if the correction, as is the case with America, can seem an age coming. Moreover, with the free global currency market and a floating pound, an adverse balance of trade does not hold the horrors it once did, for international borrowing is, even with the current recession, infinitely easier than it was even twenty years past and devaluation of the currency is not viewed as a national humiliation. England might be temporarily embarrassed by a substantially increased trade deficit, but there is no reason to believe that it would be prolonged or seriously affect the English economy.
As for international upheaval, it is conceivable that England would be unable to sustain a claim to Britain’s privileged position on international bodies such as the UN Security Council and the board of IMF. However, this is unlikely for a number of reasons. To begin with there is the precedent of Russia which assumed all of the Soviet Union’s international entitlements. Britain is also the United States’ only halfway reliable ally on most of these international boards. To this may be added Britain’s position as one of the larger international paymasters and providers of reliable military muscle. None of these facts need essentially change with the substitution of England for Britain. Perhaps most importantly, the denial to England of any of Britain’s institutional places would pose the awkward question of who was to take any vacant position. This could (and almost certainly would) in turn raise the whole question of whether the constitutions of most world bodies are equitable or suited to the modern world. (The constitutions were after all created approximately fifty years ago and are in no sense equitable). To deny England could mean the opening of a can of worms. Conversely, it could be plausibly argued that membership of such international bodies represents a liability rather than an advantage and England would be well shot of them.
But if England could contemplate independence without real qualms, the same cannot be said for Wales, Ulster or even a Scotland with a right to oil and gas revenues. The sobering truth (or it should be one) for Celtic nationalists is that the Celtic provinces all produce a substantially smaller tax revenue per head than England, viz:
“In Wales, public spending exceeded taxes paid by £9.3 billion. For Scotland, the deficit was £2.1 billion [RH this calculation is based on Scotland receiving all oil and gas revenue, a very improbably event], Northern Ireland’s deficit was £7.2 billion.
London pays £16 billion more in taxes than the Government spends in the capital, Oxford Economics said — equivalent to more than £2,000 for every person in the city.
By contrast, spending exceeds tax by more than £4,000 per capita in Northern Ireland, by more than £3,000 per capita in Wales and £2,600 in the North East.
Calculating exactly how much tax revenue is generated in any part of Britain is extremely difficult, not least because some people will live in a particular region or nation and work in another. “
Figures from Oxford Economics study via Daily Telegraph 30 9 2008
To these benefits may be added a disproportionate Celtic share of government subsidies to bribe firms into setting up factories on inappropriate sites and a large, perhaps disproportionate share, of public jobs financed by national government, Scotland, for example, administers much of England’s social security, PAYE and schedule D tax and has a disproportionate number of army regiments; Wales plays host to the Vehicle Licensing Centre; Ulster contains the Short shipyard. On top of these publicly financed benefits may be placed the inestimable advantages of free trade with England and the assurance which being part of a prosperous and advanced nation state of fifty eight million gives foreign investors and companies.
There is also considerable expenditure involving non-devolved items such as social security which is paid on an individual basis. This is higher per capita in the Celtic countries. Taking the identifiable territorial spending, that is identifiable spending in each of the home countries which is for the direct benefit of those in the territory the position is this as expressed as a percentage of the UK average:
122 Northern Ireland
These calculations do not include items such as the amount of public service employment which has been shifted from England to the Celtic Fringe.
The Celtic countries have dangerously high proportion of their GDP concentrated on public spending. While England has a a public sector which is 43% of GDP, Scotland has one of 56% of GDP, with Wales posting over 60% and Northern Ireland over 70% (The Sunday Times, January 11, 2009: Scotland on a par with Cuba for state largesse Jason Allardyce)
Bad as these figures are the near future is much bleaker. A recent report by the Centre for Economics and Business Research projected the Scottish public spending to rise to 67% of GDP by 2012. (Telegraph Auslan Cramb, Scottish Correspondent 11 Jan 2009).
Because Celts receive considerably more in taxpayer support than England, they make a lesser proportional contribution to those matters of national importance – the armed forces, diplomacy and so forth – than the English.
Exactly how much the English have subsidised the Celts is difficult to say, but the Taxpayers Alliance had a crack at it in 2008, viz:
“Government spending on public services in England was £7,535 per person, in 2007-08. In Scotland it was £1,644 higher. In Wales the gap was £1,042 and in Northern Ireland spending was £2,254 higher. The differences are caused by the controversial formula, which allocates public money around the UK and leads to claims that England is “subsidising” the three smaller nations. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have had a cumulative extra £200 billion in public spending since 1985/86, compared to what they would have received if they had been funded at English levels, a new report says today. £200 billion is the equivalent to £8,000 for every household in Britain. The report, written by a former Treasury economist for the Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA), will add to pressure on Gordon Brown to change the spending rules that give his home country more money than England. The report says that since 1985/86, public spending in Scotland has been £102 billion higher than if the country was funded at English levels. The difference was £43 billion in Wales and £57 billion in Northern Ireland.” James Kirkup 10 Sept 2008 (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/2711051/Taxpayers-8000-Barnett-Formula-bill-for-services-in-Scotland.html)
The truth is that none of the would be Celtic states, unlike England, would be large enough or rich enough to maintain government spending and services at anywhere near the current level. Moreover, the cost of their separate state administrations would almost certainly be proportionately substantially greater than that of England because of the loss of the advantages of scale. Nor for reasons already stated would they be likely to obtain the largesse currently handed out to the Republic of Ireland by the EU. Indeed, it is quite probable that all or some of them could be refused membership of the EU because of Germany’s fear of incurring liabilities for more beggar nations.
It is also reasonable to ask what would happen if an external military threat appeared. (Unlikely in the immediate future but not improbable over the next fifty years). Even if independent Celtic states were members of the EU, it is carrying optimism to the limit to imagine that they would receive active military help from that quarter. In the end they would have to turn to England for help.
The Celts should also realise that an independent England could act, without infringing any of its general international obligations, in ways which would gravely disadvantage the Celts. It could impose passport regulations. It could refuse reciprocal social security and health provisions. It could insist upon work permits. Because the need for emigration is much greater in the Celtic parts of Britain than in England and the number of Celts on benefit in England vastly exceeds that of the English in Scotland, Wales and Ulster, such measures could be utterly calamitous for independent Celtic states.
There is also the ticklish problem of the national debt. In the event of the independence of Scotland, Wales or Ulster, or the amalgamation of Ulster with the Irish Republic, a proportionate share (based on population) of the UK national debt would have to be borne by a seceding part of the UK. Even before the financial crash in 2008 that would have a heavy burden With the vast expansion of the National Debt due to the reckless behaviour of the banks, most particularly the two Scottish banks RBS and HBOS, the burden now would be immense.
At the end of March 2010 general government debt was £1000.4 billion, equivalent to 71.3 per cent of GDP. (http://www.statistics.gov.uk/cci/nugget.asp?id=277). It will have grown by the end of March 2011 by about £160 billion. That makes a total of £1164 billion. That would mean Scotland taking on around £111 billion; Wales £68 billion and Northern Ireland £57 billion. That is the present situation. Even assuming the gap between government expenditure and income goes according to the Coalition Government’s plan, by 2015 the national debt will be over £1.4 trillion. It is obvious that any of the Celtic countries would be overwhelmed by such burdens.
Ulster has a particular problem whether it remains independent or becomes submerged in a united Ireland. The removal of English subsidies alone would be a massive blow because they are of a different magnitude (not only is the direct subsidy much larger, Ulster has very high unemployment and low average pay) to those to Scotland and Wales. Moreover, if the EU refused to continue, either in whole or in part, subsidising the Republic of Ireland, Ulster would almost certainly have to bear a massive decline in Irish cross border trading. As it is, the dire state of the Republic’s economy will impact heavily upon the Northern Irish Ulster economy.
When it comes to paying their own way independent Celtic states would also have to consider the effect of confidence on their finances. If independent Celtic states were deemed to be poorer credit risks than Britain is now as a whole, which is probable, they would have to pay more for their future public and private borrowing in the form of higher interest rates. That would include the financing of their share of the UK national debt. That would apply whether or not they were members of EMU, for a universal ECB bank rate does not mean that everyone can borrow at the same rate. A lender still has to believe that the borrower is worth the risk. In the case of Scotland, there is also the financial albatross of RBS and HBOS’ bad debts. Left to its own devices the country simply could not support the banks.
Even if the most favourable conditions envisaged by Celtic Nationalists could be secured – membership of the EU with large EU subsidies, control of most of the oil and gas – the omens would not be good. To begin with beggar nations within the EU can never be sure that the money will keep hitting the bottom of the begging bowl. To have an economy as dependent upon handouts as the Republic of Ireland’s is simply courting disaster. Then there is the natural price to pay for such money, the supporting of the donor nations through thick and thin. This can, and often does mean, going against the direct interest of one’s own people. (England – because it is from England rather than Britain that the EU Danegeld is extracted in practice because of the English subsidy to the Celts – has the sovereign distinction of uniformly voting against the interests of its people and being the paymaster to the beggar nations). Nor should beggar nations be under any illusion that the EU will generally protect their interests in international disputes. The equation is quite clear: votes for money and to hell with the long term interests of the populations of the poorer EU states if these clash with the interests of the powerful.
Looked at unsentimentally, the prospect for an independent Scotland, Wales or Ulster is one of poverty, a decayed welfare state, established companies moving across the border into England, foreign companies refusing to settle because of a lack of subsidies and the absence of the security of a large nation state, massive emigration of the middle classes and extreme levels of unemployment for those left behind.
But what about the oil and gas? I can hear the Scots Nationalists positively screaming. Well, the current tax take is relatively trivial in terms of the revenue an independent Scotland would require. Even at its present levels it would barely finance their share of the current national debt and in years when the oil price drops to average levels would fall well short ( http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/stats/corporate_tax/table11_11.pdf ). Moreover, not all oil is in Scottish waters – if the territorial waters are determined by extending a line from the angle of the coast at the Scots-English border on the North Sea a considerable proportion would fall within English waters.
Further, even the revenues from oil within Scots waters might be claimed in part by both the various islanders, who fear Scots rule, and England (on the grounds that because the project was started when Britain was a unitary state, the rewards should continue to be split proportionately according to the new states’ various populations). There are also the unfortunate facts that British oil is very expensive to produce and may well become uncompetitive as countries such as China expand production or other forms of energy become cheaper, and, more definitely, oil extraction at its present level is unlikely to last for more than another generation. Oil and gas production revenues would be a poor pair of crutches to prop up an impoverished independent Scotland.
In seeking independence or a large measure of home rule, Celts risk rousing a sleeping giant, English nationalism. By offering even limited devolution to Scotland and Wales the Labour Party will almost certainly create the desire for an English parliament. The natural outcome of such a splitting of political responsibilities will be the growth of a resentment by the English of the subsidies currently given to the Celts. From such a resentment will come a desire within England for each country within Britain to finance both the cost of home rule and a proportionate share of general charges such as defence and the servicing of the national debt. From that point it is but a single stride for any of the constituent parts of the UK to full independence, the sloughing off of the emotional bonds which have bound Britain together by a declaration of independence. What the Celts cannot reasonably expect to have for very long is home rule financed by England, for that would be having your political cake and eating it.
Celts should keep ever before them one salutary possibility. They may find the independence decision taken out of their hands for the English, if constantly insulted and traduced, could decide to declare their independence. Think long and hard, you Scots , Welsh and Catholic Irish, before attempting to making complete Celts of yourselves.