Alex Salmond is a chancer in the mould of Paterson and Law

Robert Henderson

William Paterson was the main mover of the Darien disaster which bankrupted Scotland in the 1690s through a mixture of ignorance, general incompetence and embezzlement; John Law was the Scot who ruined the currency and economy of Louis XV’s France through the use of paper money backed by land.  The men  had something in common with Salmond: they were both hideously reckless. This disastrous trait was evident in spades during the first of the debates between  Salmond and Alastair Darling on 5 August 2014.

Overall the event was a truly depressing affair, being  little more than a shouting match.  Salmond  spent most of the time with a fixed condescending smile glued to his face while Darling,  thinking he had to be seen as assertive, frequently sounded and looked peevish as he adopted a behaviour  horrendously  at odds with his reticent and mild personality.

The discussion was horribly narrow, being concerned almost entirely with the material advantages and disadvantages of independence and even there much was either omitted or barely touched upon, for example, the  large numbers of  businessmen warning  of  a likely decamping from Scotland to England of many organisations if there is a YES vote or  the loss of UK government contracts if Scotland becomes a foreign country.   Other issues which had economic implications but a much wider significance, most notably  immigration,  remained unmolested by the debate.    To a significant degree the debate was limited in scope by the disproportionate amount of time taken up by  Salmond’s refusal to give a straight answer to the question of what currency Scotland would use  if the vote was for  independence . More of that later.

Completely lacking was any mention of   the consequences of a YES vote for the rest of the UK in general and  for  England in particular. The debate was  conducted entirely on the basis of what was to  the advantage of Scotland.  The fact that the programme  was only available on terrestrial television in Scotland on STV or streaming  through  the STV Player  (which crashed because it was unable to handle the demand)  made some unkind souls see this as  ironically symbolising both  the exclusion of the rest of the UK  from the debate and the many  warnings  from various quarters that Scotland would be a shambles if it goes  alone.

Darling had the better of  the debate simply because Salmond was so inept . Making cheap gibes about Westminster and repeatedly  telling the same old evasive lies on any topic which caused him problems  did not go down well even with the sizeable studio audience .  The polling after the programme confirmed it. The first   YouGov poll taken after the debate  showed  those who have decided  which way to vote will  vote  61%  No  and  39%  YES. With the undecided included   there were 55% supporting a No vote and  35% backing independence,  with  9%  undecided.

Perhaps even more telling than the polls, on the 13 August the Better Together campaign asked that no more contributions be sent to them because there had been thousands of donations  sent in after the debate and they were in danger of breaching the spending limits for the campaign.

 

Salmond was particularly weak on the question of the currency.   He started from the objectively false claim that the Pound belongs to Scotland as much as it does to England. Darling counter-argued that the Pound belonged to the entire UK.

Legally speaking they were both wrong. The Pound Sterling  is the English currency which Scotland was allowed to share when they signed the Act of Union in 1707, viz.

XVI  That, from and after the Union, the coin shall be of the same standard and value throughout the United Kingdom as now in England, and a Mint shall be continued in Scotland under the same rules as the Mint in England; and the present officers of the Mint continued, subject to such regulations and alterations as Her Majesty, her heirs or successors, or the Parliament of Great Britain, shall think fit.

The Scottish pound became defunct at the same time. If Scotland repudiate the Act of Union of 1707,  they lose the right to use the Pound Sterling in the sense that they no longer have a political right to share the Pound on an equal basis with the rest of the UK.

Scotland  could of course simply use the currency, but they would have no say over its  the management,  no printing or coining rights, and the Bank of England would not act as lender of the last resort to Scottish financial institutions.  Scotland would also have the problem of buying enough Sterling on the open currency market. To do that  she  would have to sell goods and services abroad to provide the wherewithal  to buy  Sterling.

During the time set aside for the Salmond and Darling to question one another,  Darling asked Salmond repeatedly what was his Plan B for the currency now that all three main Westminster Parties had stated categorically that there  would be no currency union between England and Scotland if there was a Yes vote in the referendum.  Salmond simply kept on repeating that if there was a Yes vote Westminster would cave in and accept a currency union. This so angered many of the studio audience that Salmond  was roundly booed as time and again he evaded the question of what would happen if there was no currency union.

Salmond has stuck to the same line on the currency since the debate  saying in an interview that “There is literally nothing anyone can do to stop an independent Scotland using sterling, which is an internationally tradeable currency.…the No campaign’s tactic of saying no to a currency union makes absolutely no economic sense. But it also makes no political sense, and is a tactic that is a deeply dangerous one for them.”

This is classic head-in-the-sand Salmon.   His position is built upon  two ideas: (1)  that anything he demands for Scotland must happen simply because he has demanded it and (2)  that any attempt by the English to point out dangers or look to their own interests is illegitimate and bullying.  At one point Salmond made the incredible claim that if Westminster did not grant Scotland whatever they demanded Westminster would be denying the democratic will of Scotland.  This piece of Lilliputian arrogance was sharply knocked down by Darling, who pointed out that all a YES vote would do would be to empower Salmond  to negotiate terms with the rest of the UK.

At another point Salmond claimed that if there was no currency union , Scotland would not take a proportionate share of the UK national debt. Incredibly Darling did not challenge him on this issue, most probably because he would have had to say that if they did not take  their share  Westminster would have to veto Scottish independence which is, legally speaking, ultimately dependent on the UK government agreeing terms.

No opinion poll over in the independence  campaign has shown the YES camp ahead. The odds are heavily on the  referendum will producing  a NO result.  If the ballot produces a seriously bad result  along the lines of the YouGov poll cited above,  Salmond  and the SNP could be in a very difficult position because it would put another vote on independence  out of the question for a long time, perhaps a generation.   There would it is true be new powers given to the Scottish Parliament,  but the ones likely to be on offer are things such as Scottish control over income tax rates and the collection of the tax by the Scottish government.  Such developments would mean the Scottish government having to take the blame for tax rises or public service cuts if taxes are not raised. That would make  the Scottish government and Parliament much more prone to unpopularity than they are now. If that happens,  those living in Scotland would probably become less and less enamoured of the idea of independence because they would have had a taste of what both sides of government – taxing and spending – would  under an independent  Scottish government.

Even if there is a NO vote with a small majority, much of the difficulty which would occur with a heavy defeat for the YES side would still exist, for it would still be improbable that another vote on independence  would be held quickly, probably not for  least ten years.  During that time those is Scotland would have plenty of opportunity to become disenchanted with their government having to make  the type of hard decisions on taxing and spending  which are the common  political currency of a fully fledged state.  Indeed, things might even be more awkward if the referendum is close rather than heavily against independence.  That is because the closer the vote the more powers Westminster are likely to grant Scotland. The more powers given to Scotland, the greater the opportunity for those in Scotland to blame the Holyrood government rather than Westminster.

There is also the unresolved question of England’s place in a devolved UK. In the event of a NO vote and the granting of greater powers to Scotland (and Wales and Northern  Ireland) there will be pressure for the number of Scottish MPs to be reduced, for English votes on English laws or an English Parliament.  This will eventually produce circumstances which reduce or even completely exclude Scots from English domestic affairs.

Both the increased powers for Scotland and the reduced participation of Scottish MPs  at Westminster will make it more and more difficult for  the Scottish devolved government to blame Westminster for so much of the decision making will occur in Scotland.  In addition,  if the Commons becomes  increasingly an English chamber through English votes for English laws or a completely English chamber if it is used as the English Parliament, that will produce   English politicians who will not be able to neglect English interests as they are now more or less completely neglected.

What does Salmon really want? He certainly does not want true independence because he wishes to have a currency union with the rest of the UK, to keep the Queen as head of state and to join the EU,   which would be a much harder and intrusive taskmaster than ever England would. I suspect that he does not want a YES vote but rather a narrowly won NO vote. That would allow him to get the most potent form of DEVOMAX.

What will be the consequences if, against all the polling  evidence, there is a YES vote?  Salmond will rapidly find himself in the mire. His fantasy world is one in which there  a currency union,   England acts as lender of the last resort  if Scottish financial institutions fail, Scotland is allowed to join the EU on the terms they now  enjoy as part of the UK, England continues to  push huge amounts of money by way of defence contracts and research grants to Scotland and  the revenues from North Sea oil and gas continue to flow like ambrosia from heaven.

There is not  one of the elements in Salmond’s fantasy world which will be realised. Even our Quisling Westminster politicians would not agree to a currency union which would involved England underwriting the Scottish financial system.  The EU will be less than delighted at the prospect of one of the major EU members losing part of its territory to an independence movement because of the precedent it set for places such as Catalonia and those parts of Italy which favour the Northern League.  It is likely that Scotland would have to apply for EU membership like any other applicant. This process would be both time consuming, perhaps several years, and Scotland would have to sign up to the requirements which any new EU applicant has to agree to, including membership of the Euro.  There is also the possibility that the remainder of the  UK could veto Scotland’s application to join the EU.

As for  contracts for defence work and  research grants,  Westminster would have every reason to keep those within the UK. At best, Scotland would have to compete for the contracts and research grants as just another  EU member.  At worst, the rest of the UK might vote to either leave the UK or  remain after obtain concessions which allowed preference to be shown to business and research institutions within England, Wales and Northern Ireland.  Either way Scotland could easily find itself excluded.

That leaves the oil and gas dream.  Production of  the oil and gas in Scottish waters  and the tax collected has been steadily declining, viz.:

 Significant production decline and increasing costs have led to total revenues from UK oil and gas production dropping by 44% in 2012-13 and by 24% in 2013-14. In the last two years Corporation Tax revenues have declined by 60% from £8.8 billion in 2011-12 to £3.6 billion in 2013-14 and Petroleum Revenue Tax by 45%  from £2.0 billion to £1.1 billion in 2013-14. [These figures are for the entirety of UK oil and gas production, some of which is in English waters].

The decline is likely to continue, perhaps even speed up, as shale oil and gas deposits are increasingly being exploited.  Nor should the possibility of other energy advances such as cheaper and safer nuclear power be ignored.

But those are only part of the problem for Scotland If the vote is YES. There are many public sector jobs in Scotland which deal with English matters, for example, the administration of much of the English benefits system. All those jobs would leave Scotland.   Many Scottish businesses, especially those in the financial sector  are likely to move at least their head offices to England.  There would have to be border controls to stop immigrants using Scotland as a backdoor to England. More generally, the Scottish economy is dangerously dependent on public sector jobs.  These jobs  would almost certainly have to be severely culled.  The  economy is also very narrow  with drink,  food, financial services and the oil industry making up much of the private enterprise part of it. .

The danger for England would be a Scotland which got itself into a terrible economic mess  and Westminster politicians bailing the country out with English taxpayers’ money . However,  because the  politics of the rest of the UK would  of necessity become ever more centred on English interests, that would become a very difficult thing for the Westminster government to do.

Salmond’s attempt to  lead Scotland to independence on a wing and a prayer is horribly reminiscent of Paterson and Law’s behaviour  300 years ago, with the idea riding way ahead of reality.

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7 Responses to Alex Salmond is a chancer in the mould of Paterson and Law

  1. Pingback: Salmond is a chancer in the mode of Paterson and Law | The Libertarian Alliance: BLOG

  2. TenMonkeys says:

    The first time I saw him I thought: “Used-car salesman.” It would be amusing if the SNP became rulers of an independent Scotland, but only for people standing at a safe distance.

  3. Garry Battershell says:

    Garry B.
    As an Australian, but descendant of people who emigrated from the British Isles in the 19th century (County Louth, Cornwall, Dorset, Home counties, Scotland, etc) this matter saddens me, though I am but a spectator to the Scots vote. It is sort of like your grand parents getting a divorce-sad.
    If it is good for the goose then why not for the gander-meaning that if it is thought proper for the voters of southern Scotland to determine the fate of all the rest of Scots, would it not be fair and just, for those areas (of Scotland) who wished to remain with England to be allowed to divorce themselves from Mr Salmonds plan. After all, if his argument is the right of peoples to be self governed then how do you limit this principle, without being hypocritical.

  4. Pingback: Salmond vs Darling round 2 – The  shameless chancer versus the trembling incompetent | England calling

  5. Pingback: All you could ever want to know about Scottish independence | England calling

  6. Pingback: All you could ever want to know about Scottish independence | England calling

  7. Pingback: Salmond is a chancer in the mode of Paterson and Law (Robert Henderson) | The Libertarian Alliance Blog

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