Category Archives: consequencesofunion

You can’t have a proper argument without disagreement

Scotland is much more pro-EU than England.
Scotland is much more pro-EU than England.
I have the impression that my friends and family in Denmark are surprised that I haven't been campaigning harder to remain in the EU, and I must admit that I had expected to be more active.

However, I've realised it's really hard to have a good argument about something when everybody in the (physical or virtual) room agrees with you.

The independence referendum campaign was great because there were so many views and a real willingness to discuss them.

This time, on the other hand, most people in Scotland are in favour of continued EU membership, and the only people I know who are thinking about voting Leave are seeing it more as a tactical ploy to ensure we get a new Scottish independence referendum sooner rather than later. (I think this is a rather stupid and dangerous argument, but there you go.)

I can see there are genuine discussions down in England about what to do -- for some people it seems to be almost as inspiring as the independence referendum was north of the border -- but up here most people are simply watching the Johnson, Gove and Farage show with dread and fear.

I don't think this blog has many Eurosceptic readers, so writing about Brexit feels like preaching to the converted.

It's such a shame we lost the independence referendum, because it means we have to spend our time debating the issues that interest the Tories in England, and indeed it's looking increasingly likely that the Little Englanders will drag Scotland kicking and screaming out of the EU. It's so frustrating.

The Law of Jante and the Lad o Pairts

'Murder Victim' in the Basement
'Murder Victim' in the Basement.
A term that is often used to describe Nordic culture is the so-called Law of Jante:

Generally used colloquially in Denmark and the rest of the Nordic countries as a sociological term to negatively describe a condescending attitude towards individuality and success, the term refers to a mentality that de-emphasises individual effort and places all emphasis on the collective, while discouraging those who stand out as achievers.

There are ten rules in the law as defined by Sandemose, all expressive of variations on a single theme and usually referred to as a homogeneous unit: You are not to think you're anyone special or that you're better than us.
The ten rules state:

  1. You're not to think you are anything special.
  2. You're not to think you are as good as we are.
  3. You're not to think you are smarter than we are.
  4. You're not to convince yourself that you are better than we are.
  5. You're not to think you know more than we do.
  6. You're not to think you are more important than we are.
  7. You're not to think you are good at anything.
  8. You're not to laugh at us.
  9. You're not to think anyone cares about you.
  10. You're not to think you can teach us anything.

Although there are differences, I tend to think Scottish culture can be similar to this -- people tend not to brag about their own achievements (perhaps even to the point of self-deprecation), and they tend to strive to fit in. The Scottish cringe is at least partly a consequence of this, because it is often the result of people standing out by being too Scottish compared to the consensus level. Perhaps the hatred many people feel towards Alex Salmond can also best be explained as a consequence of the Scottish Law of Jante.

However, in the Scottish version there has historically been an outlet for people who wanted to pursue their dreams, namely becoming a lad o pairts (I've seen it defined as "the young boy from humble origins who demonstrates academic talent and is able to achieve success, often in London or in the colonies, owing to the historically superior Scottish educational system").

Of course some Scandinavians have also "escaped" to other countries -- for instance, the Norwegian playwright Ibsen was absent from Norway for 27 years, and the Danish poet Henrik Nordbrandt has spent most of his adult life in Greece and Turkey.

However, one of the consequences of the British Union is that it has always been extremely easy for anybody talented to have a career to London -- in many cases probably easier that achieving the same in Scotland.

Of course, in today's globalised world talented people from everywhere flock to London, New York and other global hotspots, and indeed talented Scandinavians seem to emigrate much more than they used to.

The Scottish lads o pairts therefore don't depend on the UK any more, and it would probably be much better for the Scottish economy if it was easier to have a successful career without having to leave Scotland.

Update (15/01): See also Gerry Hassan's article about the Scottish Tut.

Letter from a No future

We can imagine many different futures. Here is a letter from a future where Scotland voted No -- not the only such future, but a possible one. Please read it in conjunction with this letter from a Yes future.

Abandoned building
Abandoned building by Paul Macrae, on Flickr.
I'm writing this during the 2034 independence referendum campaign.

After the No vote in 2014, many people thought things would revert to how they had been before the referendum was agreed on, but this didn't happen.

The popular Yes movement had become an important part of Scottish life, and BBC bias demonstrations in Glasgow and independence marches in Edinburgh became a part of Scottish life. This really scared the stock markets because the future of Scotland and the UK remained uncertain, and lots of money was removed from the entire British economy, but especially from Scotland.

Scotland got a few new devolved powers, but it quickly became clear they didn't make any real difference, and most Scots started to realise they had been conned into voting No. The Herald for instance published a heartbreaking mea culpa editorial where they lamented their naïve optimism about the prospect of federalism being implemented after a No vote.

An opinion poll five years after the referendum showed that 75% of people claimed to have voted Yes in 2014, and fully 85% now supported independence, helped no doubt by the exit from the EU implemented by the new Conservative-UKIP coalition in Westminster.

However, Westminster had now learnt its lesson and blocked a new referendum.

At the same time, the repeated cuts to the block grant meant the SNP government had to introduce tuition fees and privatise part of the NHS, and they lost the subsequent Scottish Parliament election. The new Labour-Tory coalition imposed legislation to make it even harder to call another referendum.

In the years after that, the independence marches grew and grew, and recently we formed a human chain from the West Coast to the East Coast, consisting of three million people.

The pressure was now incredibly strong, and the Scottish Government is now organising a new referendum, although it's not approved by Westminster, so it's anybody's guess what will happen afterwards.

Also, Scotland has suffered a lot under austerity and repeated recessions since then, and the new Treaty Against Fossil Fuels will enter into force soon, meaning that the remaining Scottish oil will be worthless.

If only we had voted Yes back in 2014!

Forced opportunities to work in London

BBC Television Centre
BBC Television Centre by Mike Fleming, on Flickr.
Better Together campaigners love to wax lyrically about the opportunities that are available to Scots as a result of the Union. For instance, here's Ruth Davidson: "Why shouldn't thousands of Scots seize opportunities to work in London, one of the world's great cities? [...] Young people in Scotland want to make it in life - they see the opportunities their parents had, and they want those opportunities too, and more besides."

They forget that London is a global city (37% of the population were born outside the UK), so it would be rather strange if London suddenly refused to accept people from Scotland after independence.

They also forget that for many people moving to London isn't a choice, it's a necessity. There simply aren't enough opportunities in Scotland.

Iain Macwhirter provided a good example in a very interesting article in The Herald today:

Scotland has had no shortage of broadcasting talent, but it largely gets exported to London, which is why Scottish accents are so prevalent in the media village. Anyone who wants to get on in the BBC has to go to London -- as I did -- because that is where the jobs are, where the careers and the budgets are. I spent more than 20 years in the BBC, nearly half of it in London, and it seems to me that the present situation is the worst of all possible worlds.

In the BBC "family" Scotland is always the poor relation, and required to know its place. BBC Scotland is run by a defensive clique of managerial trusties whose main job seems to be holding the line against the Nationalist menace. [...]

Many Scots do try to come back from London, of course, but it is a big risk. I was speaking recently to one of my contemporaries, who started in the BBC when I did and became one of the best documentary film makers in Britain, with a string of Baftas and other awards to her name. She tried to come back to Scotland three years ago, and found she simply could not get any commissions from the BBC. So she had to go back to London. If you are not in the metropolitan village you are little people.

I definitely think it's good for many young people to travel and see the world, but if the only job openings within a given field are in London, they can hardly be described as opportunities any more.

Danes would never put up with a situation where many careers forced people to move to Stockholm, Berlin or London. Why should Scots?

I want my kids to have the opportunity to have rewarding careers in Scotland if they so desire, and ideally also to be given a chance to work anywhere in the world if that's what they want to do. However, I don't want them to be forced to moved to London.

We need independence to create the careers at home that people need. Creating more opportunities here doesn't mean that the jobs abroad suddenly disappear. On the contrary, they go from being forced choices to being genuine opportunities.

Move to London if you want a promotion

Yes, Minister
Yes, Minister by D Huw Richardson, on Flickr.
I used to work in the Scottish branch of multinational corporation that -- like so many others -- has its UK HQ in London. During my years there I observed how management in London kept bringing more the people reporting to them down south to make things work more smoothly there. The effect might have been positive there, but the effect in Bishopbriggs was a dwindling number of employees and a strong feeling that you had to be willing to move away if you wanted a career.

My dear wife has also told me plenty of stories about uni friends who were told to relocate to London if they wanted a promotion. Some of them were able to move back to Scotland after a few years there, but others got stuck for life.

It was one of the consequences of moving to Scotland that I just wasn't prepared for at all. In Denmark, it's possible for almost everybody to spend their entire working life in that country without emigrating. In a few multinational companies, it might be preferable to spend a few years in other countries, but that's generally only required for top management, not for people in the middle. So when I moved to Scotland, I naturally expected I would be able to have a career without flitting abroad once again.

I therefore found the Tories' Devo Jam proposal (PDF) very interesting. Apart from the proposals for giving the Scottish Parliament full income tax powers, it contained the following on page 12 (my emphasis):

Civil servants obviously play a key role in the development and
commissioning of policy. We believe that the Scottish Government and Parliament should be able to call upon the best and brightest from across the Civil Service UK wide. We also believe that the rest of the UK would benefit from a Scottish view and accordingly recommend that civil servants who expect to reach the higher echelons of their profession in Scotland should spend a part of their career development in other parts of the UK.

In other words, they want to ensure that what I encountered in my previous job becomes obligatory in the Civil Service. You shouldn't be able to spend your entire working life in Scotland unless you're happy never to get promoted. If that means that your children grow up in England and effectively become English, that's just the how things are if you're Scottish. (One shouldn't forget that because the education systems are different in Scotland and England, it's not easy to move back and forwards if you have school-age kids -- it's the equivalent of moving between Copenhagen and Stockholm, not between Århus and Copenhagen.)

Would it be possible to imagine this rule applied to everybody, so that civil servants starting their career in Whitehall had to spend a number of years in Edinburgh, Cardiff or Belfast in order to gain a promotion? Of course not! It's a way to enforce a UK mindset and to emphasise London's role as the only place in the UK that really matters.

I want to live in a country where moving abroad is an option for the adventurous, not an obligation for a large part of the population. If my kids want to move abroad like I did, that's fine, but I don't want them to be forced to do so because there aren't any decent jobs to get at home.

Incidentally creating more managerial jobs and company headquarters in Scotland will also increase the tax base, making it much easier to create a Scandinavian-style welfare state here. We can create a country where nobody is starving or homeless and nobody is forced to emigrate. We just need to vote Yes in September.

The IFS report and population growth

Yesterday's IFS report is quite interesting. It's basically confirming that an independent Scotland will do well at first, but they have some worries about the longer-term sustainability of the Scottish economy once the oil has stopped flowing.

However, these worries are due to the fact that the IFS are simply projecting current trends into the future. Because Scotland is currently part of the UK, economic policies are broadly identical, so the only real difference between Scotland and the rUK is the projected population growth.

Basically, if two countries have similar economies, but one is growing rapidly and the other one isn't, of course the former will end up with fewer pensioners per worker than the latter.

So what are the population projections the IFS are using?

Between 2012 and 2062, in the ONS’s ‘low migration’ projection, the population grows by 22.8% in the UK compared with 4.4% in Scotland. In addition, in Scotland, all of this population growth arises from growth in the population aged 66 and over, while in the UK there is projected to be growth in the population at all ages. The median age of the Scottish population is projected to increase by six years from 2012 to 2062 (from age 40 to age 46), compared with an increase of four years (from 39 to 43) for the UK. [p. 13f]

In other words, they think Scotland will have a static population, and probably a continuation of the current situation where dynamic young people feel they need to move south to further their careers, whereas England will grow by more than 10m people.

Population growth 1900-2010.
Population growth 1900-2010.
This would indeed be a continuation of past trends. The graph on the right shows how England's population nearly doubled over the past century, while Scotland hardly grew at all. (Interestingly, Ireland seems to have suffered from Scotland-style stagnation for a few decades after independence, and then their growth rate started to mirror other independent countries.)

However, is a continuation of current trends really likely? I hear English politicians going on about the need to cut down on immigration, and I hear Scottish politicians talking about the need for more immigration here.

If an independent Scotland starts growing at a faster rate than the rUK, the fiscal gap will be smaller here in fifty years' time than down south.

It would have been nice if the IFS had highlighted this instead of talking only about the need for higher taxes and/or lower spending.