There's actually a fair and balanced article on Scottish independence in the Telegraph today. No not penned by Alan Cochrane, but by Tom Hunter: The Scottish independence debate needs pragmatism not Braveheart (sadly the headline writers and indeed the picture editor just had to get Mel Gibson in there somehow).
But better than the article itself is a superb comment from Harrbrian which I've shamelessly copied below (Harrbrian, I've assumed your consent but I'm happy to remove this post if you prefer). It's a brilliant summary of the problems afflicting the UK. Enjoy...or rather don't enjoy, and then resolve to change this unholy mess that the UK is in...
"What the Union requires is a fact-based debate that centres around the positives – of Scotland staying put, moving out or indeed accomplishing Devo-Max." At last a grown up comment in this newspaper.
The issue for Scotland is the same for all the regions of the United Kingdom - Westminster's overwhelming grip on revenue and political power, but in Scotland's case history and sentiment may provide the energy for change. For comparison: local councils in the UK are allowed to raise only 25% of their own revenue (which is why they ramp up parking fees), the Scotland bill will allow Holyrood to raise up to 35% (while taking away some powers), meanwhile local municipalities in Denmark, nearly 100 of them in a pop'n of 5.5M, raise 60% of their own revenue, and in Sweden it is 70%.
The politicians talk about sentiment and principle but this is about power. Westminster will not hand over powers voluntarily (nobody ever does - Blair was pushed into devolution by the EU), hence the refusal to consider the undefined but popular option of Devomax. The SNP obviously want more power in Edinburgh.
The catch that Westminster cannot see is that it is precisely its monopoly of power that makes Westminster so dysfunctional. Unlike in the other European democracies, we have no other centre of power, except perhaps Holyrood, which has less revenue raising ability than a Danish municipality. In England Westminster interferes with bin collection and how often nurses make their rounds, for god's sake. Lack of local responsibility turns citizens into fractious whingeing children, (read this comments column). You cannot run a medium sized business like this let alone a complex modern country.
In whatever form it comes, Independence or Devomax - the more power that is taken from Westminster the better.
The incompetence of Westminster is clearer the further you get in any direction from London, and wider travel plus the internet have made the comparisons easier to draw. It is not just the scandals like the Iraq war, MP's expenses, News International, the power of unregulated banks, although they are shameful enough, or even the hilariously inconsequential public inquiries ("Carry on, Westminster"): it also shows in the numbers.
Google almost any economic measure - GPD per capita, percentage industrialisation, balance of payments history, balanced budgets, external debt levels - and all the North European countries, (except France and Finland on some measures), outperform the UK. The UK's long term economic failure versus its Northern European competitors is being achieved despite reduced union bargaining power, significant privatisation, and it being made easier to sack staff than in any of them, and also despite repeated devaluations (a factor of 5 compared with German currencies of the last 40 years). The UK has had North Sea oil and still achieved a permanent trade deficit: genius.
For most social indicators - life expectancy, obesity, cocaine usage, teenage pregnancy, % GDP spent on Health, % of the population in prison, etc - the UK is nearly always the worst, and the more time you spend in Northern Europe the more you sense this. The internet also reveals that the same is true for less obvious indicators - social mobility, Gini index, percentage of women in positions of power, pay differentials, pension regulation, percentage of youth in training, liveable cities,
renewable energy capacity, etc.
With its secretive ways (look up the McCrone report if you live in Scotland), and massive centralisation of power, Westminster is failing the individual populations of England, Scotland and Wales. The McCrone report also contains some interesting remarks about the inevitable failure of regional policies.
But despite the crowded trains, the cracked pavements and pot holed streets that catch your eye when you return here, Westminster will not make the comparisons: it thinks in terms of its own importance, total GDP -" we're 6th in the world", rather than that of its citizens, GDP per capita - "we're poorer than everyone in Northern Europe". It is not just Westminster that is dysfunctional, but so is the underpinning "Great British" culture of its political and chattering classes, a culture that is encapsulated in its veneration of the polar explorer Scott, whose men died of starvation and who lost to Amundsen, whose men put on weight. It is not just the endless wrangling of left and right idealogues, any form of drama is more valued than a grasp of the numbers, cooperation and long term thinking. Costly and outdated assumptions are not challenged, as if Britain somehow deserves its UN security council seat, as if it can afford Trident and its military spend, and so, from Suez to Iraq, it is considered normal to indulge in murderous, self important adventures. Most disabling are the myths - Westminster being the mother of parliaments has nothing to learn from other democracies - and distorted narratives of identity - we won WW2 and have little to learn from our neighbours. The arrogance of empire without the fact.
The current British state works well for the metropolitan chattering and political classes, Westminster in short, who even if they do not believe all the myths buy themselves out from sharing the health and education services of their fellow citizens, and who, looking only to the USA, enjoy empire by association; however, for over a generation Westminster has failed to meet the test of basic competence, let alone the aspirations of the governed.
Unlike the successfully capitalist countries of Northern Europe, the UK is simply not earning its living in the world. As a result it can afford less and less of the modern goodies, like infrastructure investment, market regulation, targeted welfare and wide access to education and training: this leads to its making worse use of its only asset, its people, who become relatively less resourced, educated, numerate, healthy, less
socially mobile and less united in purpose, which in turn leads to relatively less wealth creation, which in turn leads ... etc, etc.
In Scotland the SNP are quite rightly looking to the more successful countries of Northern Europe as their model, because it would be almost impossible to be more dysfunctional than Westminster, from whom the rest of us should try to remove as much power as possible: the more the SNP succeed, the more we may all benefit.