I am getting increasingly pressed for my view on Scottish and Welsh independence. This is it – as it stands today.
Official Green Party policy on the matter is short and sweet: Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will enjoy the degree of autonomy, perhaps involving full self-government or independence, which the citizens of each, expressing their views through referenda, wish them to have.
This is a bit of a cop out admittedly. What do we think they should wish to have? Natalie Bennett has made it clear why we support the Scottish YES campaign. She points out that, at one level, answering why the Green Party of England and Wales supports a YES vote in the Scotland independence referendum is easy. The clue is in the name; our members in Scotland chose independence in 1990, and since then we’ve agreed that on issues specifically relating to Scotland, the England and Wales Party will take its lead from the Scottish Green Party.
And the Scottish Green Party is throwing itself heart and soul into the Yes campaign, where the focus has been on the chance to build an exciting, new, different, fair and equitable society. But our support for a “yes” vote isn’t just a matter of passively following the lead of the Scottish Green Party, nor is it even just our no-compromise respect for the principle of self-determination, the right of people to decide their own future.
First, we can see the enticing possibilities for a new state in Scotland. It’s a country whose voters have never voted neoliberal. Tory dogma of privatisation of public services and its austerity agenda has got the Tories to where they are today north of the border, which is nowhere at all. This is why the Blue Tories are being kept at arms length and the Red Tories have been charged with leading the NO “Conservatives and Labour together” campaign.
There’s clearly a great possibility of rebuilding the welfare safety net that this government has been dismantling, and stopping and reversing the privatisation of the NHS, of taking advantage of the tremendously rich renewable energy resources, that our current government is determined to ignore, as it rushes to appease the Ukip anti-wind lobby and the oil and gas frackers that help to fund the Tories (and for whom so many of their MPs work).
It could be a great model for us to follow. However, there are some cold economic facts that lead me to be cautious, at this stage at least, about thinking that independence for Wales could be as successful as I believe it can be for Scotland.
So what do we the statistics tell us?
(All figures c. 2012 per capita per year)
Indicator: GVA1 Tax revenue2 Public spending3
England £20,450 £7,600 £8,530
Scotland £19,750 £7,100 £10,150
Northern Ireland £15,800 £5,700 £10,880
Wales £14,850 £5,400 £9,700
(1 Office for National Statistics 2 Institute of FiscalStudies 3 House of Commons Library)
All economic indicators have limitations, but I favour GVA (Gross Value Added) as this is linked as a measurement to GDP, as both are measures of economic productivity. The relationship is defined as:
GVA + taxes on products – subsidies on products = GDP
As the total aggregates of taxes on products and subsidies on products are only available at whole economy level, Gross Value Added is ideal for measuring gross regional domestic product of entities smaller than a whole economy.
Scottish readers will dispute these figures, as if they succeed in getting a geographical share of North Sea oil and gas, their GVA shoots up to around £24,000 (England’s would come down slightly), while their tax revenues would also increase to around £8,000. Either way, these figures are substantially greater than for Wales. The difference between the tax revenues and public spending figures is a crude indicator of the gap in public finances being bridged by borrowing. The gap is almost 50% bigger for Wales than Scotland.
It is patently clear that Scotland is in a vastly better position to balance its books and survive independently. If it secures its fair share of North Sea resources, it would be better off than England. This is why the English establishment is worried about losing Scotland. England (not Scotland) is better off together.
Do not expect such resistance to the idea of cutting off Wales (or Northern Ireland). It is patently clear that England would be better off without us. One pound in five earned in London subsidises the rest of the UK – Northern Ireland, Wales and North East England receive more than a fifth of their income as subsidies from outside the region (according to the Centre for Economics and Business Research).
Does this mean Wales should reject independence? Probably, at this time at least. Some sort of Devo Max would be the most sensible route to pursue right now. But I do not completely rule out independence. It would need a political revolution in order achieve the economic restructuring that could make us better off, but that is possible.
Put simply, although Wales may have a significantly smaller cake to share out, it could be shared out a lot more fairly. And there is evidence that this, in itself, can help drive up living standards and quality of life for just about everybody.
If you look at the Nordic countries (Iceland, Sweden, Finland, Denmark – less so Norway as it shares the North Sea with Scotland), They are relatively sparsely populated, with few industrial raw materials and difficult environments. It does not stop them beating the UK in terms of GVA. It does not stop them having much better public services. It does not stop them regularly topping the ‘Happiness’ charts.
Their secret is a simple one. Reducing income inequalities. Tax the rich and eliminate poverty. This is anathema to the neoliberals of the Con/Dem/Lab establishment. Real progress in Wales would therefore not be achieved by independence as we would simply be substituting one self-serving bunch of neoliberals (Westminster’s blue Tories) for another lot (Cardiff Bay’s red Tories).
Scotland’s SNP government has the Nordic Model firmly in their sights. Wales’ only hope is for the ecosocialists in Plaid Cymru and the Green Party to hold sway and build a successful alliance together. There are genuine prospects of this happening. If they can become the new establishment in Wales, then, and only then, should the people of Wales consider full independence. My worry, re Plaid Cymru is that may get overexcited if Scotland votes YES, and wish to jump too soon. This could be catastrophic. Scotland’s time is now. Wales’ will come – but it is a long way off just now. But watch this space.