Much was, and still is, made of the economic arguments for and against independence. Many of these arguments can be open to opinion – for example how much of an impact you believe the “border effect” would have or what effect there would be on something like “Brand Scotland”.
What cannot be doubted is the current economic and fiscal performance of Scotland. This is a matter of fact. As Jim Murphy said in one of Scottish Labour’s better scripted lines, Nicola Sturgeon “is entitled to her own opinion but she’s not entitled to her own facts”.
Which is why a conversation on Twitter involving SNP MSP Stewart Stevenson so irked me this afternoon. Specifically, this tweet:
Mr Stevenson is repeating 3 classic nationalist myths:
- That the UK’s deficit is worse than Scotland’s
- That Scotland pays more in taxes than we get in spending
- That this is true even without oil
Not one of these assertions is true. It’s not open to interpretation. These are not contested figures. It’s not even as if Mr Stevenson would need to look very far to find out the facts. He’d need to take a look at just one webpage; one document produced by his very own SNP Scottish Government – http://www.gov.scot/Publications/2015/03/1422
Each of his three assertions are disproven on that page alone, using Scottish Government generated figures.
- The UK’s deficit is worse than Scotland’s – FALSE
People will quote a large number for Scotland’s deficit (£12.4bn) and compare it to a larger number for the UK (£97.3bn). But this is a false comparison. It’s like assuming that a £1000 credit card bill is as troublesome to someone earning £20k a year as someone earning £200k a year.
The comparison should be, and is, made against the deficit per capita or as a share of GDP. The Scottish Government uses the latter for GERS and, as you can quite clearly see here, Scotland’s position is relatively worse than the UK’s at 8.1% of GDP compared to the UK’s 5.6% – and set to deteriorate when our revenues take a hit from the low oil price.
- Scotland pays more in taxes than we get in spending – FALSE
This one really isn’t difficult. GERS records our revenues (including a geographical share of oil and gas revenues):
…and then our expenditure…
Our expenditure, £66.4bn, is higher than our revenues, £54bn. So no, we don’t pay more than we get back. That’s what the word ‘deficit’ means. It’s difficult to imagine a lay person being confused by this, let alone an MSP.
- This is true even without oil – even more FALSE
This time we’ll compare the revenues without oil and gas…
…with our expenditure…
… which leaves a higher DEFICIT…
So, as if there was anyone in Scotland who needed it explained to them, no we don’t pay more than we get back even without oil and gas. To suggest this is the case is disingenuous, at best.
So why does Mr Stevenson MSP repeat these lies? And I’m calling them lies because, even if he shouldn’t already be aware of these facts in his role as a publicly elected Member of the Scottish Parliament, we know he’s had the inaccuracies pointed out to him before – http://chokkablog.blogspot.co.uk/2015/02/simplify-exaggerate-and-carry-on.html
What else do you call a statement which a person repeats despite knowing that it isn’t true?
Over the past couple of years, I’ve come to expect such duplicitous fiscal falsehoods from nationalists – quite understandably as it is commonly accepted that the economy is a critical factor in any vote. They want to, perhaps even need to, generate these myths in an attempt to sway ordinary, practical Scots who want to understand the economic implications of independence. Most of the time, though, this comes from internet nutballs who, whilst they should still know better, might be forgiven for such partisan bias clouding their acceptance of basic fact.
But an MSP? Should a publicly elected figure be allowed to spread such disinformation so gratuitously? Of course not. The problem for Mr Stevenson is that he has painted himself into a corner; one which the SNP and the wider Yes campaign are also trapped in, albeit to a lesser extent.
By propagating these lies, Mr Stevenson is attempting to make the economy a central pillar of his case for independence. Otherwise, why would he lie? But when the lie is exposed, this pillar crumbles and with it comes his tenuous “economic case for independence”.
Perhaps I’m being unfair to Mr Stevenson, perhaps he isn’t lying but truly believes what he is saying. Perhaps he really does believe that, contrary to the evidence, Scotland pays more than we get back in spending. In which case I would invite him to present the evidence of that claim, hoping that he doesn’t try the usual nationalist deflection of claiming GERS are inaccurate given that I’ve already dealt with that fallacy.
If, unlike every nationalist I have asked this question, Mr Stevenson can provide a source for his claims, claims which contradict the Scottish Government-supplied GERS figures and SNP-produced White Paper, then I’ll happily amend this article. Until then, we have no option than to assume Mr Stevenson is simply lying.