An English Argentina?
There was an interesting article by Simon Nixon in The Times last Thursday:
Then there is the government’s cavalier approach to the institutions of state. These are vital to providing the stability valued by investors. Indeed, that is what marks Britain out as dierent to Argentina. Yet under Mr Johnson’s premiership, this government has already illegally tried to suspend parliament, threatened to renege on an international treaty that it had signed months earlier and is threatening to break international law. It has attacked lawyers and judges and resisted legitimate scrutiny. This year Moody’s downgraded Britain’s credit rating in part over concerns about its governance.
Britain is far from Argentina. But then Argentina was not always Argentina. One hundred years ago, it was one of the richest countries in the world, but decades of populist governments, starting with that of Juan Peron and his wife Eva, destroyed investor trust. It is a warning to guard against complacency.
This is by no means the first time commentators have compared Brexit Britain with Argentina.
For instance, in this podcast released a year ago, they were wondering (after 4:40) whether Boris Johnson might be turning the Conservative Party into a Peronist one. (According to Wikipedia, the pillars of Peronism are social justice, economic independence and political sovereignty, and the ideology is described as both authoritarian and populist. Does this sound familiar [perhaps apart from the social justice bit]?)
And four years ago, I wrote a blog post here:
Perhaps things won’t be that bad, but I’m starting to think the UK could go the way of Argentina, which over a hundred years fell from being on the same level as Germany or France, to a point where their GDP per capita is less than 30% of the USA’s (see the adjacent graph).
The prize, however, goes to
CassandraGarvan Walshe. Not only did he discuss it before anybody else (and before the Brexit referendum), he also did it better. He’s a former National and International Security Policy Adviser to the Conservative Party, and in an ususually prophetic article in Conservative Home a week before the Brexit referendum, he wrote this:
Before the First World War, Argentina was the richest country in the world. It had successful export industries, took in huge quantities of foreign investment (mainly from Britain) and attracted hundreds of thousands of immigrants from Europe. Buenos Aires boasted both a Harrods and a Hurlingham club.
Yet by the 1980s Argentina had come close to becoming failed state. Its military dictatorship murdered as many as 30,000 people in a dirty war, and lashed out at its old British ally by invading the Falkland islands. Defeat doomed the junta, but the democracy that followed struggled from economic slump to currency crisis to default, and back again.
Argentina suffers from a chronic political virus: with only brief interludes, it has since the 1930s been run by populists who maintain that the system is run for the elite, and against the people; that any experts are the system’s hired clerks, their wisdom corrupted by money; that the plain anger of the ordinary man isn’t just right, but righteous. […]
If you listen to the Leave campaign, Britain in 2016 is like Argentina in 1935. An elite runs the country at the expense of the people: rigging markets in favour of big companies, and bringing in cheap labour to undercut the locals. So-called institutions are in its pay: the Bank of England and Institute for Fiscal Studies are alleged to be suborned husks. The common man, of course, is held in contempt: demonised as racist for worrying about immigration. […]
Before the campaign started, a case could have been made that Britain outside the EU would be governed better than it is at present, and while EU membership raised the level of, say, Italian, governance, it lowered ours. Freed from this European average, we could rediscover our Anglo-Saxon traditions: the rule of the common law, impartial public administration, and small government. But this campaign has shown that Leave are willing to trash that heritage, not restore it. In place of the representative government of English tradition they demand French-style implementation of the people’s will. In place of parliamentary democracy, where crude majorities are tempered by centuries of constitutional convention and experience, they plan to overturn a system that their chief strategist, Dominic Cummings, thinks “got every major decision wrong since Bismarck.”
As much as you might want a British Singapore, if you support Leave you’ll get a British Argentina.
Of course the UK isn’t necessarily destined to repeat Argentina’s mistakes – it’s quite possible that the Tories regain their senses soon or that Labour wins the next election and becomes the natural party of government – but it cannot be ruled out, either.
That creates a problem for Scotland. If the UK is sinking – not like a stone, but slowly and steadily – there’ll never be a calm moment for a new independence referendum, and the UK government will always have other things to deal with. Effectively, Scotland could end up like the proverbial frog that gets boiled alive because the temperature increases slowly and steadily, so there’s never an urgent need to jump out.
As I wrote four years ago in the blog post mentioned above:
Unless the majority of non-Brexiteers in the House of Commons get their act together and kick out this mad government before it’s too late, Scotland has to get off this sinking ship fast or we’ll get dragged down with it.
Will it be a British or an English Argentina?
One thought on “An English Argentina?”
The SNP’s main strength over the past few years has been it’s ability to mitigate some of the effects of the UK Government policies (eg bedroom tax) and also introduce initiatives within Scotland (eg baby boxes). While these are undoubtedly a good thing, the continuation of the ability to do such positive actions after January is unlikely. While the 15th consecutive poll shows support for independence in the mid 50’s, the indications are that it has been the chaotic and clearly misleading actions of the UK that have driven this, especially around Brexit. So the SNP can’t claim that it their actions that have resulted in this fairly recent increase in support for independence.
Yet the SNP look forward with an expectation that they will not only win the May 2021 election, continue to be in the driving seat of a Scottish Government and be able to continue their mitigation and Scotland wide initiatives as now, but also be able to convince a UK Government increasingly suffering the results of a catastrophic Brexit lie, to allow a referendum that it would know it would lose. ‘Now is not the time’ will openly become ‘there never will be a time’. The warning signs are already clear that current decision making powers that the Scottish Government have will not continue once the UK leaves the EU in January.
One clear result of Brexit is The Internal Market Bill (UK Power Grab), a standardisation of rules based on what the ‘UK’ needs to help reduce the impact that a 4 nation set of differing rules would have on UK trade agreements. This Bill would lead to a massive reduction in Scotland’s ability to make decisions separate from the UK. Even just proposing it lets their intent be crystal clear. The SNP are sleepwalking into a fool’s paradise. The gloves will come off after January and the UK will attempt to ‘take back control’, this time of the Union.
I used to think that comparisons with Norway were too nostalgic and not relevant now. ‘Water under the bridge’ given that so much of the oil has gone and the economics of oil are now different due to the negative impact fossil fuels have. But the harsh reality is that Scotland is much poorer than it could have been if it had had control over the oil revenues and instead the oil lottery win was squandered by a UK, that as Brexit continues to show, still has not come to terms with it’s true position in the world. While (West) Germany after 1945 implemented an export led investment plan, with the result that they overtook the UK in terms of wealth in the 1960’s, the UK has failed to develop any plan for a modern economy following 1945. North Sea oil revenues bailed out the UK from the late 1970’s onwards as did the subsequent selling of public assets. Selling the family silver became the main UK economic strategy, with council housing & nationalised companies following on oil. Th UK is now down to selling the untouchables – the NHS. All because the UK does not have or want any other plan. It’s decline was and is inevitable. If the UK can’t get it’s economic act together when gifted with North Sea oil, it never will. The squandering of oil revenues by the UK was inevitable. As Brexit shoes, so is it’s contimued decline.
In order to keep Scotland within the UK, the UK has repeatedly relied on proven lies (oil isn’t worth much, GERS) and deceitfullness (McCrone Report). The end result is that they have stolen from Scotland a prosperity similar to Norway’s and that is not just water under the bridge. The squandering of oil revenues reflects a callousness that Brexit shows is still the prevailing UK governing attitude. Anyone that thinks that from January the UK Government will not then start to reduce the Scottish Government’s ability to make decisions for Scotland to an irrelevance is delusional. By or shortly after May 2021, the current powers that the SNP/Scottish Government have are likely to be gutted. Following on from the election, if it even happens, no matter what the result is, the Scottish Parliament will become increasingly irrelevant within the UK and to the vast majority of people in Scotland.
Do the SNP curently even look like a Party getting ready for independence? It’s incredible that in 2014, the main reasons given for voting No were economic – the economy, the Pound, yet what have the SNP done to address these concerns? GERS is published each year with barely any rebuttal from the SNP. Others have and are doing some necessary heavy lifting, such as on the currency, banking, GERS etc, yet the SNP have largely ignored this work to date. The only way for Scotland to gain independence and avoid the coming UK wide economic and social disaster is to get serious about how the SNP is run and what it’s priorities are. If the SNP continue as they are now, they may win an election in May, but it will be a Pyrrhic victory. People will have voted for an SNP Government that will increasingly have no real say in anything significant on how Scotland is run.
The only hope to escape from the coming certainty of huge further decline as part of the UK is for the SNP to sort themselves out and become a party prepared to do what it takes to gain independence. The changes at the NEC may be a start but unless other internal issues are openly addressed – ie the involvement of the SNP in the Alex Salmond case & the ring fenced independence funds, and most importantly, they prepare for an external legal fight against a UK Government whose attitude to Scotland will have shifted from a position of sarcastic intransigence and to one of outright dictatorial scorn, then the current SNP position is simply pointless. Without a change of focus and determination within the SNP, it literally wouldn’t make much difference if they ‘won’ the May 2021 election or not. At best it may slow down negative changes, but not the final outcome. The only win position is that of independence and the jury is out on whether the SNP will make the necessary changes to make that happen. It’s either forcefully driving for independence or suffer further humiliation and decline at the hands of the UK until the Scottish Government becomes a very minor Branch Office of the UK Government.
2019 Annual GDP per Person PPP (currency adjusted for each country)
Norway – $63,633
Denmark – $57,184
UK – $46,699
This is what Scotland has already lost. Are the SNP prepared to allow it to continue and continue to get worse? So as well as the question about whether the future will be an English Argentina or a British Argentina, a directly related question is whether there would be any point in voting for the SNP in May if they are still as they have been since 2014. The only real choice I see for a viable future for Scotland is with an independence focused SNP not the SNP that exists now. The people to do just that are there, I just hope they get into positions to make the necessary changes happen.