George Emsden - Guidance with a difference for people with cancer

McCaig’s Folly, Salmond’s Jolly

A Two P Blog – Pensions & Politics

Had a strange thought last week on the switchboard at TPAS – the Pensions Advisory Service Of the twenty-odd calls I took (longest one 26 minutes) two were from Scottish callers. All very good-natured and one even mentioned Alex Salmond in passing, but if Scotland does break away from the UK, then TPAS is one QUANGO that the Scots would have to set up on their own? Wonder if anyone has thought of this where TPAS’s £7 million annual cost is concerned – helped by the volunteer contribution valued at around £10 million a year?

With what Alastair Darling has rightly described as the “longest election campaign” he can remember, the latest opinion polls showing the Yes campaign for Independence ahead prompt me to put finger to keyboard.

A Little Bit of History

Main reason for Scotland joining the England, Wales & Ireland was that Scotland was bankrupt after the disastrous Darien Project where Scotland wanted its own colony too. Half of Scotland’s capital was invested in a project that failed after two years with sixteen ships sailing from the port of Leith. You will have heard of this project in the BBC 2 programme Coast where Neil Oliver likes to mention the inadequate preparations made – although plenty of money was set aside for wigs. One of the terms of the Act of Union was the English paying off Scotland’s debts of £398,000.

In the final part of ratifying the Act of Union in 1707, the Scottish Act of Ratification votes were 110 pro and 67 against (38 per cent). If you want a flavour of life at the time, you might enjoy The New Road by Neil Munro which is often compared to the much better known Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stephenson.

The Heart & the Head

Much of the debate seems very parochial with little comment about the issue in world political terms. One of the reasons UKIP is doing well is that many Brits feel bullied by Brussels which also serves as a scapegoat. With Scotland’s leaving reducing the size of the UK, this can only get worse.

But blaming Brussels all the time can be wrong. The latest row over banning vacuum cleaners over a certain power is a case in point – the measure is being driven by the Americans. And it is nothing short of amazing to see Christopher Booker saying that For once, the EU is right on something.

But the whole independence debate can be summarised as a classic choice between the head and the heart.

A Norwegian Viewpoint

If your heart is for independence, then there is nothing to say, but for an economic or head view, the following article from The Scotsman written by a Norwegian who has lived in the UK for 10 years, makes interesting reading:

“Hardship alert

I am a Norwegian who has been living in the UK for ten years and I understand the SNP looks at Norway as an example of how Scotland will be after independence. I have a number of friends in Scotland, love a good whisky and think the Scottish Highlands rival the beauty of my native country.

However, when pro-independence Scots look to Norway as a role model it’s obvious that they only see what they want to see and largely ignore the facts. It took us a long time to accumulate the wealth we now enjoy, and it wasn’t just a result of oil. Remember also that Norway voted on its independence in 1814, and the financial depression in the years that followed was the worst on record.

Our GDP per capita was consistently lower than Sweden, Denmark and indeed the United Kingdom every year since records began in the early 1800s until 1974. The few things that kept us going were unity, national pride and stupidity.

If Scots are willing to go through decades of hardship in order to build their own country, then fine, but no-one should assume that independence is a silver bullet that will automatically transform Scotland into Norway.

It is also worth considering the downsides of living in such a wealthy country as consumer prices in Norway are astronomical. VAT stands at 25 per cent, you pay £9 for a pint in the pub, and the price for a new, five-door Vauxhall Corsa is £20,490 (in the UK the same car is £9,600).

This is fine if you are a top earner, but I am sure no-one in Scotland believes that becoming independent will automatically lead to an accumulation of enormous personal wealth for the entire population.

Finally, if an independent Scotland succeeds it will be because it is totally united. When Norway wanted independence 99.5 per cent of the population voted Yes.

I don’t see that sort of unity in Scotland today, and for that reason alone there should not be a referendum at all.

Haakon Blakstad, Moore Street, London”

McCaig’s Folly

When I visited Oban on the west coast of Scotland for the first time, my Scottish friends pointed out “McCaig’s folly” which dominates the town. Built by a worthy local as a way of giving his fellow Obanians work, in these times of political correctness, it has been renamed McCaig’s Tower. Perhaps I’m getting bored, but this is what the independence debate is starting to feel like.

George Emsden
Now retired from being a financial adviser, George is busier than ever: running CancerIFA for the terminally-ill, writing (not just this blog) dancing (ceroc & salsa) volunteering (TPAS phone volunteer, Muswell Hill Soup Kitchen and Haringey Winter Shelter) plus being a very proud granddad

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