Wednesday 10 March 2010

Icelandic Lessons?

For such a very small country, population only 320,000, Iceland has been much in the news recently. Particularly in Scotland and the rest of the UK. Here Unionists of all hues have rushed with undisguised glee to use the temporary difficulties of Iceland to further their own political agenda. Specifically they claim that the financial and economic challenges facing Iceland somehow proves that Scotland could not survive as an independent country. The fate of Iceland is a lesson to us all, they loudly and incessantly proclaim. However a closer look at the Iceland affair shows that there are many lessons to be learned, none of them of much succour to Unionists.

In the first place the glee with which UK politicians and commentators have pounced on the current and almost certainly temporary difficulties in Iceland leaves a very bad taste in the mouth. The sight and sound of politicians and commentators from the UK of all places deigning to lecture Icelanders and Scots is breathtaking in its arrogance and its ignorance. Surely this is not the behaviour that Iceland would have expected from a friendly neighbour? But of course the UK is not much of a friendly neighbour. Witness their continuing attempts to force punitive interest rates on Iceland for the repayment of their debts. Not to mention the UK’s penchant for invading and occupying other countries. So lesson number one is that the UK as usual proves itself to be a nasty little bully all too keen to lecture and boss around others. Why would we in Scotland want to remain part of this Union?

This posturing on the part of the UK is even more galling when nearly everyone is aware of the extent to which the UK was partly responsible for the whole global financial crisis in the first place. The incredibly lax regulation in London for financial companies and the gung-ho approach of major UK banks were significant factors in the development of the crisis, much more so than the three Icelandic banks. It is not as if the UK economy is in such a healthy state either. With a national debt and budget deficit approaching Greek dimensions, and an economy still showing little or no signs of recovery, you would have thought that the UK was in no position to lecture anyone. So lesson number two is that the UK for all its bluster is deep in dire economic straits. Why would we in Scotland want to remain part of this declining economy?

Despite its current financial and economic difficulties, Iceland as a country has not collapsed. And most significantly of all from the Unionist perspective, no-one in Iceland has suggested that the answer to their problems is to give up their independence and become part of Denmark once again. Instead Icelanders are facing up to the situation facing them, and trying to learn their own lessons from what happened. In particular they seem determined not to ever again allow their country to become prey to greedy financial speculators. The near future may be painful with cutbacks and the proverbial tightening of belts. However they are able to use their independence to a) fight off the attempts from the UK and the Netherlands to impose punitive conditions; b) work out their own solutions which involve a fair sharing of the burdens and c) rebalance their economy to avoid overdependence on any one sector.

Sooner or later the UK too will have to pay the price for its role in the crisis. This too will be painful and judging from the prescriptions from the leading political parties it is unlikely to be equitable. As usual in the UK it will be the poor and the less well off who will bear the burden of repaying the debt. A debt substantially the result of very rich bankers and other financial speculators. There is unlikely to be much attempt at rebalancing the UK economy and our dependence on footloose finance will continue. Nobody in the UK seems to be willing to even break up the “too big to fail” banks that helped get us into this mess. So lesson number three is that the UK faces an uncertain, but certainly painful future. And it is not as if Scotland is going to be immune from this pain. Once again, why would we in Scotland want to remain part this unjust and skewed Union?

One of the most intriguing questions which this whole affair raises is just why are the Unionists in England so, so keen on keeping Scotland within the Union? And just about everyone in England is a Unionist. All the major UK parties and most of the minor parties are strongly in favour of keeping Scotland in the UK. One can reasonably ask why? After all they spend virtually all their time lecturing us here in Scotland on how poor we are and how without this largesse from England we would be living in deep poverty. If this was even remotely true, then at least some of the political parties and the leading political commentators would be advocating independence - for England. But no, none of them do so. Could it just be that for all their bluster, the Unionist know that without Scotland it is England that would suffer most? After all, though Scotland represents only about 10% of the UK it has a much larger share of the natural resources. The revenues from Scotland’s share of North Sea oil and gas have played and continue to play a crucial part in the UK’s economy. Without Scotland, and possibly Wales, England reverts to a very small country indeed. No longer Great Britain, but mere little England. Would England on its own continue to drum up the necessary support to retain the UK’s veto on the Security Council? Without Scotland would England on its own be able to persevere with its imperial delusions of world power status? So lesson number four is that it is England that has most to lose from Scottish independence. Or to be more precise it is the delusional English elites that have most to lose. The majority of English people would probably welcome a rebalancing of England’s economy and place in the world. So the final lesson is that Scottish independence would not only be good for Scotland but would also be good for England.

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