Better Together’s self-styled “Project Fear” has bombarded the Scottish electorate with Independence scare stories. If all of their worst nightmares came to pass, an independent Scotland would have an economic and political profile virtually identical to New Zealand: a country to which tens of thousands of Scots have emigrated in search of a longer, happier and better quality life.
It has been known since June 2013 that staff at the Better Together campaign privately dubbed themselves “Project Fear”, as they implemented a campaign strategy of trying to scare the Scottish people out of voting for their own Independence and Democracy.
Project Fear started with myths and scares about the viability of Scotland, peddling the view that we are “too wee, too poor and too stupid” to be an independent country. Then someone pointed out that with 5.3 million people, we would be 117th out of 243 nation states in terms population. In other words, more that half the world’s existing countries are smaller. The McCrone report was then exposed, showing that the Scottish people were systematically lied to for 40 years about our oil wealth, by UK governments of all parties. Then the Financial Times and Standard and Poors pointed out that we would be a wealthy country with an AAA credit rating. Next, some smart Alec reminded us that we have more top 200 Universities by population that any other country. In the end, David Cameron himself was forced to concede that Scotland could be a “successful, independent country”, “such as Switzerland and Norway”.
So Project Fear moved on from trying to scare us about our own inadequacy, to peddling stories about things beyond our control. What, they wondered, could an independent Scotland not guarantee, and if that went wrong, what would it look like? The areas of policy they decided to focus on were: our possible dependence on oil, our currency arrangements, and our EU and NATO memberships. Potential disasters involving these dark, external forces were then duly catastrophised to us on a daily basis.
The aim of this strategy is to provoke anxiety. Cognitive psychologists understand anxiety as a state in which distress is caused by a belief that bad things will happen if we are exposed to certain conditions. When anxiety becomes unhealthy, they recommend confronting our fears, and testing if things really are as bad as we believe. This can take the form of gentle habituation (like being shown a photo of Alistair Darling), through to “flooding” where the anxiety-provoking stimulus is applied uncontrolled, until the feelings of distress subside. The most extreme form of this, “immersion therapy”, might involve something like being locked in a dark cupboard with a live George Osborne until you stop screaming.
Time is of the essence in our national debate. So to confront Project Fear, let’s immerse ourselves in a nightmare Scotland, where all of Alistair Darling’s dreams have come true.
In this Scotland, due to a type of geological event currently unknown to Science, North Sea Oil will stop flowing on Independence Day. You might think this seems unlikely. However, 8000 years ago, Britain was separated from the rest of Europe by the mega-tsunami caused by the Storegga mudslide, so anything is possible. Norway, it seems, hasn’t always been so kind to Scotland. In this scenario, the Financial Times estimate that without oil, Scotland’s GDP per capita will rate above Italy’s. Standard and Poors stated recently that “even excluding North Sea output and calculating per capita GDP only by looking at onshore income, Scotland would qualify for our highest economic assessment”. Truly terrifying.
Next, the UK government will live up to its pledge to deny Scotland access to Sterling. Even worse, they will find mechanisms as-yet-unknown to Economics, to deny us the ability to use the Pound as a reserve currency. Perhaps they would employ some clever sanctions that trigger a previously undescribed form of liquidity crisis. Scotland will be forced to use another currency. Horrors.
Just as we are reeling from this blow, the EU will unleash a mechanism not available in its treaties, or anywhere else in international law, and withdraw EU citizenship from Scotland’s entire population. We will be left out in the cold, and, unable to use the Euro, will also be forced to establish our own currency and central bank. How ghastly.
In a final humiliation, NATO will take a proper fit of pique over our desire to comply with the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, and be a nuclear-free country. The removal of Trident from Faslane will prompt them to make the strategic masterstroke of excluding most of the North Atlantic from the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Ah, the shame, the ignominy!
Scotland will be left without oil reserves, and with a GDP of $39,913 per capita, outside of the EU and a non-NATO nuclear free state, with its own currency and central bank. We now need to scour the international league tables of countries to see what kind of failed nation this would result in. Sadly, there is actually one pariah state which fits this wretched profile:
|Category||iScotland of Doom||New Zealand|
|Population||5.3 million||4.5 million|
|Economy||GDP $39,913 per capita||GDP $39,840 per capita|
|Net oil importer||Net oil importer|
|Scottish Pound||NZ Dollar|
|Independent Central Bank||Independent Central Bank|
|Major trading partner rUK (57.9 million people)||Major trading partner Australia (22.7 million people)|
|Nuclear free||Nuclear free|
|Life Expectancy (born 2012)||78.9||81.0|
|Happiness (UN, 2013)||22nd (with UK)||13th|
|Prosperity (Legatum, 2013)||16th (with UK)||5th|
Yes, we would be reduced to the depraved state of the dread Realm of New Zealand. Perhaps it is no coincidence that Mordor and Mount Doom are found there.
If you were reading carefully, you may have noticed that there are a couple of differences in the international comparison. While being equal in almost every other respect to Project Fear’s Scotland of Doom, Kiwis live significantly longer, happier and higher quality lives than Scots in the UK. Perhaps this is why at least 50,000 of the Scots who emigrated there in the 20th Century decided never to come back.
Nobody is pretending that everything in New Zealand is perfect. While their education system is comparable to Scotland’s (it was established by Scots), their health system has introduced elements of private and insurance-based provision which would not sit well here. They are also presently engaged in a national debate about whether, since 2008, their current right-wing government has increased inequality, and reduced happiness and social cohesion. It is a fact that they have slipped in the UN happiness rankings from 8th in 2012, to 13th in 2013. In the same period, the UK dropped from 18th to 22nd, probably for similar reasons.
Income inequality in New Zealand has not recently been much lower than in the UK, and as a result the country performs significantly more poorly on a wide range of measures of social problems than the more egalitarian Nordic countries. Nevertheless, their overall quality and length of life, and reported levels of personal happiness, are similar to those of people in Norway, but achieved on about half the average income.
An independent Scotland of Doom would in any case have significant advantages over New Zealand. We share a land border with our biggest market of 57.9 million consumers, and have proximity to the largest single market in the world (EU). Even as non-EU members, much trade would still be possible with Europe.
We would, of course, almost certainly still have the advantages of our oil, Sterling, and EU and NATO membership. But even if we didn’t, we’d have democracy, self-respect, greater equality and the opportunity to be a smaller, happier, longer-living country, with a higher quality of life, like New Zealand. Perhaps we might even get a bit better at rugby.
So there you have it. Even Project Fear’s systematically constructed nightmare scenario for an independent Scotland turns out to be a country that would be better to live in than the United Kingdom.
There is nothing to be frightened of in that.