There was a bit of magic at the Edinburgh festivals last night, but it wasn’t on the fringe. Instead, at the Edinburgh Book Festival, former PM Gordon Brown rolled out two of the longest standing tricks in the anti-independence magic book. We had a display of the political black arts at their finest.
North Sea revenues
First on display was a good old-fashioned ‘now you see it, now you don’t’. For Mr Brown, now you see the revenues from North Sea oil & gas in the UK’s accounts, and now you don’t see them in the Scottish national accounts.
One of the ways the anti-camp try to demonstrate that Scotland is too poor to be independent is to ignore the wealth and revenues from the Scottish continental shelf. This knocks about a fifth off our national wealth and income. A nice trick if you can pull it off. The reality, however, is that if you include all Scotland’s resources we move to become the 6th wealthiest nation in the developed world in terms of GDP per head – an excellent starting point for any independent nation (and well above the UK on the world wealth league tables).
We have a North Sea asset worth well over £1 trillion and that provides Scotland with a safety net for the next 40 years as well as untold opportunities for investment in our economy and society. In the real world, that’s not something you can just magic away. And as the return from oil and gas slowly diminishes, we are blessed by a second offshore energy bonanza, with Scotland home to 25% of the EU’s offshore wind and tidal energy potential, promising billions in revenues in the years to come.
The second trick of the trade is the ‘mysterious disappearing revenues’. We’ve long heard the antis say Scotland is subsidised and that, as an independent country, we would have to raise taxes or cut spending. Mr Brown trotted out these old myths once again last night. But to pull off this trick you’ve got to ignore one half of the financial equation.
Scotland has 8.4% of the UK’s population and we receive 9.3% of UK spending. But what Mr Brown and others don’t talk about is the fact we also contribute 9.6% of UK tax revenues. Over the past 30 years that has meant Scotland contributing £19 billion more to the UK. That’s £19 billion we could have used to improve public services, reduce the debt, invest in jobs or even create a more competitive tax system.
And, as we move forward, this underlying strength in Scotland’s finances means that we will return to surplus before the rest of the UK. As an independent country this will see us paying off our share of the national debt more quickly and being able to provide the economic stimulus our economy so badly needs to generate jobs and growth.
So beware former Prime Ministers presenting only half the picture. Keep your eyes wide open for the anti-independence sleight of hand which sees unionist politicians like Mr Brown try to create the illusion that we are better off with Mr Cameron taking decisions on our economy and society.
Scotland is blessed with talent, ingenuity and resources. We all know our nation can and should be fairer and more successful than it is today. All the raw materials for success are there. We can all see the one thing holding us back – we let someone else take decisions for us. However, we are lucky, this biggest barrier to success is one we can remove in an instant – with a Yes vote in 2014.