I read today the latest article in The Scotsman by Brian Wilson who is a leading Scottish Labour advocate for a “No” vote in September’s independence referendum in Scotland. See : http://www.scotsman.com/news/comment-high-cost-of-making-uk-a-foreign-land-1-3496966
Mr Wilson re-iterates one plank of the Unionist opposition to independence which is that a large proportion of all Scottish trade is with the rest of the UK, and that being so large, Scotland should not create a political barrier with the rest of the UK which could harm this trade.
Just for fun, I’ve decided to summarise one aspect of Mr Wilson’s argument and then brainstorm some of the uncertainties that this might give rise to. I could do this with any issue, in any article, by any journalist, any day of the week. I am just using Mr Wilson’s article to keep myself amused and I hope he doesn’t take it too personally (though I doubt he will read this). As my time is limited, I am going to restrict myself to the vexed issue of postage costs. So, here we go:
Mr Wilson says that : “Scotland would, in the event of a Yes vote, become a European destination for the UK’s Royal Mail, just like the Republic of Ireland, with increased charges.” My objections to his argument are:
- Mr Wilson should have discussed whether or not the UK and Scotland could negotiate a bilateral arrangement which would be an improvement on Scotland being just one more European postal destination.
- He should have considered how to make use of modern technology so as to reduce the need for post.
- He should have discussed commercial alternatives to Royal Mail which may reduce postage costs in some cases.
- He should have considered the possibility of the Scottish Government providing advice, support or even subsidies to businesses most affected by increased postage costs.
- He should have estimated extra postage costs as a proportion of all business costs and so evaluate the scale of the problem.
- He should have balanced the extra postal costs against the projected financial gains that independence might bring in other policy areas e.g. from greater oil revenues or ending contributions to Trident.
- He should have said whether or not he believes that the Republic of Ireland should rejoin the UK and then have gone on to estimate the reduction in postage costs to Scottish businesses that unification with Ireland could yield.
- He does not mention if the UK Government has a policy on postage costs in the event of Scottish independence and if so, what this policy is and how it might impact on the debate.
- He does not balance the risk of extra postage costs against the desire for greater national self-determination that many Yes voters and waverers have been noted to display.
In the midst of some unkind comments about the politicians who run the Scottish Government, Mr Wilson goes on to conclude that :
“Turning this [Scotland] into a foreign export market would create costs and complexities which have not begun to be explained or addressed by the Nationalists. Just denial.”
Turning this on its head, I could argue that Mr Wilson has not begun to explain or address any of the uncertainties I have admittedly only just now accused him of, in respect of just one issue – postage costs. He could of course reply to all the points I have made with convincing arguments. After all, his article is only a page long and obviously there are space constraints. Or he could have suggested a debate on postage costs with his opponents with the idea of exploring issues in more detail and narrowing differences. But there are also time constraints – we have other things to do in our lives than just analyse each others’ analyses of future events. Voters tend to want a précis of the main positions on the issues which are most important to them.
Alternatively, if Mr Wilson was open to the idea of an independent Scotland, and optimistic about making it work, he could have written to Mr Salmond offering his advice and help on how best to overcome the possibility of increased costs arising from separate postal systems. Mr Salmond has a lot on his plate and so I like to think that he would welcome contributions on specific policy issues from across the political spectrum.
Maybe that’s the point. I wonder if in fact Mr Wilson is not actually open to the idea of an independent Scotland? I wonder if he is not open to working with the Scottish Government to make the case for independence more credible and ultimately to make independence a success, in the event of a “Yes” vote? If so, I wonder if his reasons are more fundamental than, for example, the risk of extra postage costs or other economic uncertainties? If this is the case, perhaps Mr Wilson should state this openly so that voters can put his arguments e.g. on postage costs, into a wider context.
Taking this further, I wonder if Mr Wilson has deliberately identified a whole host of uncertainties on the economic risks of independence purely as a campaign tactic? As I said before, any commentator can do this for any topic, if they put their mind to it. I’ve done it to his own arguments on postage costs. If Mr Wilson has a campaign tactic of creating uncertainty, then why?
Answers on a postcard please (don’t forget the stamp).