Ideas are powerful things. Many of us choose to engage in the battle of ideas on a weekly, often daily basis – through our hobbies, political affiliations, and reading material. Some of us even do it for a living.
It’s hard to deny that the prospect of change can be rather captivating. But every once in a while, an idea turns from captivating to dominating – pushing all others into the back seat, and along with them the inconvenient facts and snippets of reality that don’t confirm or conform to the idea at play.
This, I fear, is the lens through which to view the Scottish first minister’s call for a second independence referendum.
The circumstances under which Nicola Sturgeon believes an independent Scotland will thrive remain a total mystery. Almost certainly having to give up substantial subsidies from Westminster, an independent Scotland will find itself in an economically dire situation.
Scotland has the worst deficit in the developed world, standing at a staggering 10.1 per cent of GDP (nearly double the next-worst country Japan, at 5.2 per cent). With the oil price less than half today what the SNP predicted it would be during the first referendum, Sturgeon cannot rest easy thinking that Scotland’s economy will generate the wealth needed to keep services alive or handouts flowing. As Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale has said, a newly independent Scotland would be faced with “a £15bn gap between what it raises in taxes and what it spends on public services”.
Sturgeon has made it clear that if she snubs her biggest trading partner by leaving the United Kingdom, she will look to amend Scotland’s forced divorce with the European Union.
Yet we are receiving almost daily reminders that a Scottish attempt to rejoin the EU is, at best, unlikely, and at worst never going to happen. Just yesterday, Iceland threw its analysis into the mix, arguing that it could take years for Scotland to rejoin the Single Market, as it would need to be sovereign before consideration. This, the Icelandic foreign minister noted, was just to join the European Free Trade Association, not even the Union.
But it is not just the future prospects for an independent Scotland that have the SNP woefully ignorant of current circumstances. The dominating nature of their independence ideal has sidelined all other policy debates in Scotland, leaving core institutions abandoned and facing failure.
Already ranked below NHS England by the European Health Consumer Index, NHS Scotland is now facing an outright crisis, missing nearly all national targets on waiting times – including for cancer treatment and A&E. Scotland’s education system – which the SNP has intentionally shielded from the reforms implemented in other parts of the UK – faced international humiliation a few months back, after it received its worst-ever performance in the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) survey. Since 2006, Scotland’s rankings for reading, maths and science fell from eleventh, eleventh and tenth to twenty-third, twenty-fourth, and nineteenth respectively.
No doubt circumstances have changed since the independence referendum in 2014. The vote to leave the EU was one of such magnitude that it does indeed seem fair to allow Scotland to have another say on its relationship with its neighbours south of the border, who may have a fundamentally different view towards governance and foreign affairs. But independence is not the only issue facing Scotland, and it is certainly not the most pressing.
The disastrous policies of centralisation and heavy spending implemented by the SNP have driven Scotland’s finances and public services into the ground. What is needed now, more than any grand debate about nationalism or sovereignty, is for SNP leaders to focus on fixing the problems their policies have created. They need to get the basics of running a country right, before they try again to go it alone.