The Economist’s “domestic problem”

"Looking for a future".
"Looking for a future".
The Economist's special report this week is about "the big decisions ahead for Britain", which is trying to conflate the Scottish independence referendum, the future EU referendum, the English attitude to immigrants and a couple of other issues. Perhaps tellingly, the cover photo shows three cricket players searching for a lost ball.

The Economist used to be an intelligent magazine with an internationalist outlook, but it seems recently to have become the local newspaper for the City of London, and their latest report is quite typical in that respect.

The leading article introducing the report demonstrates how parochial this publication has become:

On Scotland, Mr Cameron and Mr Miliband are on the side of Great Britain. But it is a decision for Scots. Although a Hibernian [sic!] state could more or less pay its way to begin with, assuming that it was able to hold on to most of the North Sea oil- and gas-fields, that resource is drying up. An independent Scotland would be too small to absorb shocks, whether to oil prices or to its banks. And the separatists cannot say how the country could run its affairs while keeping the pound. For their own sakes, Scottish voters should reject their political snake-oil.

I'm sure there are many people who are not aware of the difference between Hibernian and Caledonian, but if you want to give the impression that you're highly knowledgeable about the Scottish independence referendum, it's perhaps not the best start. (And the rest of this paragraph is of course poorly researched scaremongering sound-bites. As Business for Scotland recently wrote: "This is solid proof that oil price volatility isn’t a problem, for if it was, then at least once in 32 years Scotland’s revenues would have dropped below the average for the rest of the UK but it never did.")

The rest of the leader isn't much better. Bankers in London might think that "[i]n many ways Britain has a lot going for it right now. Whereas the euro zone’s economy is stagnant, Britain is emerging strongly from its slump. The government has used the crisis to trim the state", but this is hardly the consensus view elsewhere.

Their provincial outlook is also making them see the prospect of Scottish independence purely from a London point of view. For instance, the leading article contains this:

The most straightforward way Britain could shrivel is through Scotland voting to leave the United Kingdom next September. At a stroke, the kingdom would become one-third smaller. Its influence in the world would be greatly reduced. A country that cannot hold itself together is scarcely in a position to lecture others on how to manage their affairs.

The Kingdom of Scotland wouldn't become any smaller, and our influence in the world would be greatly increased. I'm not saying they should present it like this, but perhaps they should just once try to imagine how the referendum looks from the other side of the border.

It gets worse on page 4 of the report:

The country also needs to deal with a domestic problem. Ten years ago Scottish nationalism was in headlong retreat, but in a mere ten months from now Scotland will vote on whether to become an independent country. If it opts to leave, what remains of Britain will cut a greatly diminished figure on the world stage. Together with the referendum on EU membership, which may take place in 2017 or even sooner, the vote could set the country on a path to serious isolation.

A domestic problem? A domestic problem?!?! One of the two founding members of the Union leaving is now just a wee annoyance that needs to be dealt with?

Finally, on page 13 they write:

If Scotland votes for independence, what remains of Britain will be shaken. The state will be slimmed mathematically, as 8% of its economy and population disappears, together with 32% of its land and almost all of the North Sea oil- and gasfields. It will be diminished militarily. The Scots supply more than their fair share of uniformed men, and Britain’s nuclear-armed submarines are parked in a deep Scottish loch, with no decent alternative berth. It will also be humiliated. A country that cannot hold itself together is greatly diminished in the eyes of the world. Scottish independence would give succour to Welsh nationalists and would cause an existential crisis in Northern Ireland, where many unionists have Scottish roots.

I put this quote on Twitter two days ago together with this comment: "Is that supposed to be a reason to vote No?" and it got retweeted 68 times, so it must have touched a nerve. As Tweeter @CyberBrat1320 replied: "Stopping British militarism, encouraging Welsh nationalism, and creating an existential crisis in NI? Bring it on!" (I realise that it can sound a bit harsh to relish the prospect of causing an existential crisis there, but perhaps the disappearance of political Britishness could make them agree peacefully on a path for the future, either as part of a united Ireland or as an independent country in its own right, and surely that'd be a good thing.)

I really despair in The Economist. If they can only see Scotland from a London perspective, they shouldn't be surprised if we complain that London isn't representing us well on the world stage any more.

If they want to get their heads round what's happening up here, they need to stop limiting their research to watching the BBC. Ideally, they should hire a Scottish journalist to explain the referendum campaign to their international audience. What they're doing at the moment is frankly embarrassing.

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