How to make an informed choice

Whatever John Curtice may say, there is no such thing as “the economics of independence“. Firstly, economies are not static. They are dynamic. One might even say organic. Secondly, they are not discrete. All economies are connected to one another. Fluctuations in the subsistence farming economy of a village in Africa may not have any measurable direct impact on the global economy, but it affects the economy of the nearest town. The economies of these towns in turn affect the economies of the large cities. And so on. A simplification. But it makes the point. There is really only one economy, and that is the economy of the world. When we talk about the economy of Scotland or any other nation we are simply focusing on one small part of that larger economy. We are discussing an abstraction and not a concrete entity.

If there is no such thing as a discrete economy, how can it make sense to talk as if there is an “economics of independence” as distinct from an economics of the Union? It is not a real thing. It is not something that can be described. It can only be an imagined thing. And, being an imagined thing, it can be pretty much whatever the imagineer wants it to be depending on how willing they are to test credibility and the fundamental laws of nature.

Two things will determine the economics of independent Scotland. All the economic activity within Scotland. And all the economic activity outwith Scotland. Which is exactly what determines the economics of Scotland now.

Which is not to say that nothing will change. It is only to say that there is no way to predict with any useful level of confidence what those changes might imply at any given time or over any given period. There will be some different people making some of the decisions that ultimately impact the economy. But the major forces driving the dynamic will remain unchanged. There will be economic change after independence is restored. But it will be no more predictable than it is now. Which is to say, not predictable at all.

Economists don’t predict what economic change will happen. They analyse the economic change that has happened in an attempt to explain why it is not the economic change that the politicians predicted would happen. Politicians don’t manage economic change. They manage the local impact of economic change. To that limited extent it matters who the politicians are and what their political philosophy is. It matters what power they have. It matters how they acquire that power. It matters in whose interests that power is exercised. It matters how they are made to account for the way that power is used. It matters how they may be relieved of that power. None of which are economic questions. All are constitutional questions.

A constitutional question cannot be answered with a calculator.

Those who would encourage you to dwell upon the “the economics of independence” do so for one of two reasons. Either they don’t understand the question. Or they are intent on ensuring that you misunderstand the question. Either way, they should be ignored. For whatever story they’re telling you about the economy of independent Scotland that story is entirely a product of their imagination. It is a story contrived for a purpose. Their purpose. And the first question you should ask concerns what that purpose might be. It cannot be to better inform you about the implications of restoring Scotland’s independence. There are no predictable economic implications. Their story, and their effort to convince you of its significance for the constitutional choice before you can only be to divert you from the fact that it is not in any way an economic choice, but entirely a constitutional choice.

An informed constitutional choice cannot be made on the basis of an imagined account of “the economics of independence”. Such an account has no information value other than what it may tell you about the person telling the tale and their motives.

It is not possible to be informed about something which is as dynamic and unpredictable as the economy. It is therefore not possible to be informed about the economic implications of independence. It is perfectly possible to be informed about the constitutional implications of restoring Scotland’s independence.

It is not informative – or even relevant – to compare one or other necessarily imagined account of Scotland’s inherently unpredictable future economy as part of the British state with one or other necessarily imagined account of Scotland’s inherently unpredictable future economy as a normal independent nation. It is perfectly possible – indeed, it is essential – to compare Scotland’s constitutional circumstances under the Union with Scotland’s constitutional circumstances once independence is fully restored. All that is required is that we ask the right questions – the relevant questions – of each. Those questions were famously stated by Tony Benn as the questions that must be asked of those in power as a test of democracy.

What power have you got?
Where did you get it from?
In whose interests do you use it?
To whom are you accountable?
How do we get rid of you?

Ask those questions of those who wield power over Scotland under the constitutional arrangements of the Union. Then ask the same questions of any credible constitutional arrangement in an independent Scotland. Make a two-column list. Study it. Discuss it. Refine it. Then you will be equipped to make an informed decision.

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4 thoughts on “How to make an informed choice

  1. I don’t think it is perfectly possible to be informed about the constitutional implications of restoring Scotland’s independence. Semi-constitutional monarchy? Constitutional monarch? Republic? Federation? It’s just as hazy as economics, if not more so. My money would be on a semi-constitutional neo-liberal monarchy the same as we have ATM.


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