Category Archives: postindependence

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.

Scottish foreign aid and East Kilbride

Danida funded toilets in Parakou
Danida funded toilets in Parakou, a photo by profbury on Flickr.
One of the most recent scaremongering stories to come out of Westminster is Justine Greening’s threat to make the DFID’s employees in East Kilbride redundant: “Development Secretary Justine Greening told MPs on the international development select committee that the future of her department’s headquarters in Scotland which employed around 600 people and is worth £30 million to the East Kilbride economy, would need to be reviewed and would probably be moved if Scotland becomes a foreign country.”

While I agree that it would be odd for the rUK to keep a large part of their employees in Scotland after independence, the real question of course is whether the East Kilbride staff will be able to transfer into an equivalent job for the independent Scottish Government.

Fortunately, Humza Yousaf has promised to increase spending on aid: “With independence we will legislate to enshrine the UN’s 0.7 per cent aid target in law, effectively future-proofing the aid budget. That contrasts to the UK’s record on aid, which is one of missed targets.”

He has also promised to try to protect the jobs in East Kilbride:

The Department for International Development (DFID) currently employs just under 50% of its staff in East Kilbride.


Last month Mr Yousaf told the same committee the SNP would “look to preserve employment” for the 550 permanent and 50 contract staff who worked for DFID at Abercrombie House in East Kilbride.

It’s interesting to contemplate the details of this. If Scotland commits to spending 0.7% of GDP on foreign aid, and if we assume Scottish GDP is £27,732 per person (PDF), the yearly Scottish aid budget would be roughly £1028m.

According to Wikipedia, “[i]n 2009/10 DFID’s Gross Public Expenditure on Development was £6.65bn. Of this £3.96bn was spent on Bilateral Aid (including debt relief, humanitarian assistance and project funding) and £2.46bn was spent on Multilateral Aid (including support to the EU, World Bank, UN and other related agencies).”

The DFID seems to place the higher-paid jobs in London as a rule:

If you looked at Abercrombie House five to 10 years ago, it was dominated, probably 90+%, by corporate and transactional work. That’s changed quite a lot now. We’ve moved policy jobs, we’ve moved some of our bilateral aid programme management jobs, some research jobs; some of the multilateral work is done from there. The balance of work in East Kilbride has moved that office from what it was originally set up as—effectively a transactional and corporate support function—to one that’s much more part of the core headquarters of the Department. […]

However, although policy posts are being moved to East Kilbride, the majority of posts there are at Band B1 or below (295 out of 463). In contrast the majority of posts in the London office are at Band A2 and above (451 out of 756).

My guess is that this means that after independence, the job descriptions will change in East Kilbride. There will be more highly paid jobs, but probably fewer corporate and transactional jobs.

Of course, the UK’s aid budget is more than twice the size of what an independent Scotland will be spending, so it’s likely that we’ll need a slightly smaller foreign aid department. On the other hand, Scotland will also need many other government departments that are currently not devolved (foreign affairs, tax and benefits, etc.), so it should be easy to place enough of these jobs in East Kilbride to ensure nobody will face unemployment there as a consequence of independence, and many people will actually get a more important and better-paid role.

I really wish the Westminster politicians wouldn’t default to scaremongering so easily. Of course there’ll be changes in East Kilbride after independence, but obviously creating an independent government apparatus in Scotland will lead to more jobs in Scotland, not fewer, so why pretend these people will face redundancy when they’re more likely to get a promotion?

TV channels after independence

Some typical cable TV channels in Denmark.
Some typical cable TV channels in Denmark.
In Denmark, people in southern Jutland and Funen have been able to tune in to the standard German TV channels for decades, and for a similar amount of time Copenhageners have been able to watch Swedish telly.

When cable TV was introduced, the typical package therefore included the main German channels (ARD, ZDF, NDR, Sat1, RTL), the Swedish ones (SVT1 and SVT2) and the Norwegian one (NRK), and this is still frequently the case, I believe.

Something similar happens in most other countries. It’s generally the case that viewers can watch the main TV channels from neighbouring countries.

We would expect to see something similar in Scotland after independence.

Of course, before this can happen, Scotland will need to get its own TV channels. I reckon BBC1 Scotland, BBC2 Scotland and BBC Alba will become independent of the rUK BBC in 2016 and be renamed to something along the lines of SBC1, SBC2 and SBC Gàidhlig. At the same time, STV will probably continue more or less as before, except that its coverage will be extended to include all of Scotland. Channel 4 and Channel 5 are a bit trickier — they could either continue as before, or be made to set up Scottish subsidiaries.

The Scottish channels will surely do their best to broadcast what Scottish viewers want to watch, and this will include buying rUK programming (such as Eastenders, The X Factor, The Apprentice, and nature programmes). Sometimes they might want to create a Scottish version instead, such as a Scottish Big Brother.

What’s important to understand here is that the purchasing of programming is a commercial negotiation, and as such, it’s expensive to reveal your hand. In other words, if the Scottish Government guarantees that the SBC will broadcast Eastenders, the price is likely to double. We should therefore not expect to see the details of SBC programming to be fleshed out in details in advance.

Once these new channels have been created, it’s likely that many Scots (at least those with satellite or cable TV) will get the option to receive the rUK BBC channels, perhaps at a modest fee. What this means is that many households will get twice as many TV channels as they do now.

Broadcasting is one of those areas where independence will lead to change, but on the whole it’ll be a change for the better.

What will happen to the Scottish political parties after independence?

Everyone leads a party
Everyone leads a party, a photo by WordShore on Flickr.
The Scottish political scene is rather odd when compared to the political spectrum one tends to find in independent democratic countries.

Firstly, independence rather than any other political question is the biggest political shibboleth, separating the SNP, the Greens and the SSP from Labour, the Tories and the LibDems.

Secondly, the fact that the Scottish Parliament has almost no tax-raising powers means that the parties don’t divide into higher-tax-and-higher-spending parties on the left and lower-tax-and-lower-spending parties on the right. I guess the Tories are trying at times, but their message clearly doesn’t appeal because they can’t promise to lower any taxes.

After independence, independence will cease to be a dividing line — I’d be very surprised if any mainstream party advocated reunification with the rUK after independence.

Furthermore, in an independent Scotland it will again be possible for a party to get votes by promising to lower taxes — all Scandinavian countries have powerful centre-right parties, so even in a Scotland committed to the Common Weal project there will be people wanting to reduce the size of the state.

The consequence of all this is that the Scottish political landscape will most likely undergo a period of rapid change after independence.

The exact changes cannot be predicted. It’s likely the SNP and Labour will continue to be the two largest parties, but it’s impossible to say whether Labour will continue to be more right-wing than the SNP, or whether they’ll quickly become a left-wing party again once the ties to London have been cut. Also, although I’m certain there will be a centre-right party, I’m not sure whether it will be a descendant of the Conservatives, Labour or the SNP.

This doesn’t mean that Holyrood will suddenly look like Westminster. For instance, the centre-right party in an independent Scotland is likely to be a decent mildly Conservative/Liberal party more like the ones found in continental Europe rather than being dominated by lunatic Thatcherites, and left-wing parties will probably be in power more frequently than has been the case in the UK till now.

I’m definitely looking forward to Scotland becoming a normal country in this respect, too.

Scotland as a Nordic country

Scotland and the other Nordic countriesA year from now, the most important referendum in the history of Scotland will take place.

In foreign policy, England has always tended to ignore the Nordic countries and preferred to look south towards France, and the UK has of course always been dominated by England in this regard, but after independence Scotland can revert to being a Northern European country.

Obviously, Scotland isn’t part of Scandinavia like Denmark, Norway and Sweden. However, can an independent Scotland be regarded as a Nordic country? If so, joining the Nordic Council would be possible.

The usual definition of the Nordic countries includes only Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Finland, Greenland, the Faeroe Islands and the Åland Islands. However, a brief glance at a map shows that Scotland would be a natural addition to the list.

Scandinavia is largely defined by language — Danish, Swedish and Norwegian are mutually intelligible after a few weeks’ exposure. This isn’t true for the other languages of the Nordics, however. Also, people from all the Nordic countries are increasingly using English amongst themselves, so not knowing a Scandinavian language might not be a real problem.

In fact, I have a suspicion that the Finns and the Icelanders might be quite happy to get an excuse to use English — although Finnish-speaking Finns learn Swedish at school, almost none of them are able to understand spoken Danish.

Historically, the non-Scandinavian Nordic countries are, or have been, ruled by a Scandinavian one: the Faeroes and Greenland are still controlled by Denmark (although they have devolution), Iceland was Danish until 1944, and Finland and Åland were part of Sweden until 1809.

Orkney and Shetland were part of Denmark-Norway until 1468, when they were pawned to Scotland, and many Scottish islands were under Viking rule a few centuries before that, so there are definitely some historical connexions there that might be useful when submitting the membership application.

However, at the end of the day the Nordic Council is a club for small Northern European countries with a Social-Democratic mindset. If Scotland goes down the Common Weal path, I expect the Nordic Countries will be more than happy to let Scotland join.

“There would be little point in the SNP as a party”

In a blog post about a speech by Michael Moore on the Liberal Democrat Voice website, LibDem activist Caron Lindsay wrote:

The one thing I would be a bit wary of is that it’s not realistic to expect the nationalist camp to come up with just one vision of independence. They can’t. The nationalist movement is by its nature going to be full of people with a diversity of views. Should Scotland choose separation, there would be little point in the SNP as a party. There would be nothing to hold it together after the first effort to build the new nation. There are liberals, socialists, greens, republicans, right wingers within it. They would most likely join other parties or start new ones.

It’s good to see that at least some people in the Unionist parties are starting to realise that an independent Scotland won’t be an SNP dictatorship and that independence offers a huge opportunity to other political parties.

Too often I’ve talked to people who say they’re voting No because they don’t like Alex Salmond and/or specific SNP policies. In reality, the SNP is a very broad church that is held together by the quest for independence, so there will have to be a realignment of the Scottish political spectrum after a Yes vote.

It’s even possible that Labour will lead the first government in an independent Scotland, as I’ve blogged about before.