It doesn’t really matter how often a pro-independence organisation, website, or individual publicly refutes one the many lies perpetrated by the Better Together campaign, the lie continues to be asserted – all too often unchallenged by the supine British media. Just within the past few days, Alistair Carmichael repeated the spurious claim that Scotland benefits financially from the Union when in fact the reverse is true, and Alistair Darling repeated the multi-refuted Unionist fantasy that Alex Salmond need only snap his fingers and every indy supporter with a keyboard and an internet connection will stop taking the piss out of Better Together and its minions.
Speaking entirely personally, because I am not a member of any political party, I would love Alex Salmond to make a public statement asking people to be nice to Alistair Darling. I’d take it as carte-blanche to rip seven shades of shite out of Ali, and I wouldn’t be alone. Not out of badness, well not entirely, but because it would prove that Alex Salmond is not McAstaroth directing his minor demons (my demon name is Weegingerdugaroth and my special power is frying mince). We could demonstrate once and for all that this is not Alex Salmond’s independence referendum by blythely ignoring him and continuing to mock. Mind you it still wouldn’t stop Darling from blaming Eck for the extra abuse heaped upon him, nor stop the media from repeating the lie.
But onto the Big Lie, the one that deserves the capital letters. It’s the oil. It’s too volatile, and we’re lucky to have Westminster to look after it for us and give us economic stability.
The first part of this statement is true, strictly speaking. Oil is volatile. All commodities are volatile, but oil is especially volatile – in the sense that it evaporates away over time, leaving you with nothing but a rank sticky toxic mess and a stain that’s impossible to shift. Which is also a fair description of Scotland’s Unionist parties since the oil revenues started to flow into the UK Treasury. But the rest of the claim is utter bollocks which has been refuted more often than it’s been pointed out that Bruce Forsyth wears a wig. Didn’t they do well. Well, no, they didn’t.
Norway passed a wee historical milestone this week. Every Norwegian became a millionaire. The Norwegian state oil fund is now worth 5.11 trillion krone, or 1 million krone per head of population – around £100,000 for every man woman and child in the country. Of course that cash isn’t theirs to spend individually, it’s a fund for the country’s future so that generations of Norwegians to come can continue to enjoy high quality public services and benefit from first class infrastructure.
And while the Norwegians were quietly patting themselves on the backs of their expensive knitwear, what was the main topic of discussion regarding the future of the UK economy? Austerity in wongaland, indebtedness and cuts.
In the independence debate, the latest salvo is that the UK government will continue to guarantee the UK’s debts. Which in many ways is is merely a statement of the obvious dressed up as news. But they did also say words to the effect that the UK government would continue to guarantee existing UK debt, including that part which would be inherited by a future independent Scotland.
This is really rather important. It is in fact a tacit admission that Westminster will accept a currency union with an independent Scotland, and an admission that Westminster cannot force an independent Holyrood to accept a single penny of the UK’s £1.4 trillion debt. Scotland will of course accept a share of the debt, which will be owed to the UK, but only in return for a proportional share of UK assets. It helps to smooth the path of future negotiations on independence, and as such is a major advance for the yes campaign. Not that the media would report it like that.
But the point remains, they were discussing debt, not the vast assets of Norway. If an independent Scotland had started an oil fund when Norway started its fund, we would currently be discussing Scottish assets, not Scottish debt. If Westminster had established a UK oil fund then Scotland would now be discussing what share of it was ours. Instead it’s all about debt.
Norwegians are millionaires, but as part of the UK Scotland doesn’t have an oil fund, we have public debt. Our public services are bleeding to death, and our straining transport and communications infrastructure cries out for investment. If we remain in the UK we are screwed economically and face unparalleled cuts in public spending – not so much cuts, as amputations and decapitations.
Monday’s Newsnight on BBC2, the one for grown ups in London not the 20 minutes at the end tacked on to assuage Scotland, spent much of the programme discussing the extent to which the services of the UK state will be axed or privatised. We live in a UK where all the main parties agree on the need for cuts. They just differ on the presentation.
Scotland’s oil bonanza was pissed away on Tory tax cuts, benefits to the millions thrown onto the scrap heap of unemployment as Thatcher used people’s lives as a tool to break the unions and destroy heavy industry, casino banking, privatisations, nuclear weapons, and the odd foreign war or three.
Yet we’re supposed to believe that Westminster is a competent manager of Scotland’s economy. Better Together operates in a peculiar little bubble of parochialism where it imagines that not only are Scots unaware of the news from furren pairts, we’re also unaware of the news from the rest of the UK. The big oil lie exposes itself as a lie every time we read another headline about austerity. They want to spend what remains of the oil revenues on more wars, nukes, privatisations, casino bankers and tax cuts for the well off.
And that’s what really gets my goat about Alistair Darling. It’s not that he defends a system that benefits the few not the many. It’s not even that he exercises power without responsibility – because mere electoral rejection can’t kill off a Westminster political careerist. It’s that he expects to be beyond criticism, and beyond mockery. He’s so eager to avoid being mocked he’s turned Better Together into a joke without a punchline.
A Scotsman, an Englishman, and a Welshman got into debt. It’s the way you tell them, Alistair.