Lawrence Solomon: A U.K. independent of Scotland

(November 28, 2013) An independent Scotland that turned on its millionaires and turned leftward would soon be destitute.

This article was first published by the National Post.

The Scots stand to regain their country next year in their referendum for independence from England. The English stand to regain their culture of free enterprise.

The Scots arguably gave the world the greatest-ever gift to free enterprise in the form of Adam Smith. As if to atone for this extravagance, Scotland has become a bastion of socialism, thoroughly steeped in trade unionism and hostility to free markets.

In the United Kingdom’s last general election three years ago, the Conservatives won 306 seats — 305 in England and Wales and just one in Scotland of the 59 seats at play, the other 58 being divided among three leftist parties. As a result, the Conservatives fell short of a majority, forcing them into an alliance with the leftist Liberal-Democrats. Had Scotland and its 59 seats left the United Kingdom prior to that election, the Conservatives would have won 52% of the seats and a clear majority.

In previous general elections, the Conservatives fared no better in Scotland, garnering less than 20% of the popular vote and either one seat or none. Conservatives weren’t always unpopular among the Scots – in the 1950s, the Conservative party won a majority of the Scottish seats. But that was when Conservatives themselves differed little from socialists.

After Margaret Thatcher came to power and refused to prop up Scotland’s outmoded manufacturing and coal industries, Scotland turned decisively against her free-market Conservatives. As a measure of the visceral Scottish bitterness toward Thatcher and her legacy, during her funeral earlier this year most of Scotland’s local governments refused to fly their flags at half-mast, as is customary with the death of a former prime minister. Conservatives remain so hated in Scotland that Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, who is adamantly opposed to Scottish separation, doesn’t dare make his case prior to the referendum in a televised debate against Alex Salmond, the Scottish leader. The case for remaining in the United Kingdom will largely be left to the opposition Labourites.

If the Scots did vote “Yes” for independence, the loss would not be the United Kingdom’s. A U.K. shorn of left-leaning haters would tip the kingdom decisively rightward, making it thinkable that Britain could return to its former free-market glory – if nothing else, Thatcher remains widely admired for having put the “Great” back into “Britain.”

Scottish independence might also serve the Scots well. Even among those who don’t want to separate, resentments against the English often run high, with many believing that Scotland’s taxpayers have been getting less than they’ve given, and that the English have been unfairly exploiting Scotland’s resources. During the 1970s, when discoveries of North Sea oil off Scotland’s coast proved a boon for the U.K., “It’s Scotland’s oil,” became the rallying cry for Scottish nationalists, and the chief basis of their claim for economic independence. With conventional North Sea energy revenues declining, today’s nationalists want to fully capture Scotland’s vast potential for tidal and other renewable sources of energy.

The list of those promoting independence, in fact, reads like recruits for a grievance industry – artists, environmentalists, militant trade unionists, anti-monarchists and anti-war activists among others, many of them “fighting for an independent Scotland that is for the millions not the millionaires.” They expect that a victory will turn a leftist Scotland into a far-leftist Scotland. The result could be quite the opposite.

An independent Scotland that turned on its millionaires and turned leftward would soon be destitute. The more it tried to subsidize the arts, subsidize its industries and exploit those renewable sources of energy – as countries everywhere have discovered, renewables represent a ruinous cost, not a benefit – the faster it would sink into insolvency. The canny Scots might well learn this lesson quickly, given what could be a resurgent England in real time to its south, a successful Thatcher revolution within living memory, and the very icon of capitalism – Adam Smith – in its distant but rediscoverable memory.

Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Urban Renaissance Institute.

This article was first published by the National Post.

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About Lawrence Solomon

Lawrence Solomon is one of Canada's leading environmentalists. His book, The Conserver Solution (Doubleday) popularized the Conserver Society concept in the late 1970s and became the manual for those interested in incorporating environmental factors into economic life. An advisor to President Jimmy Carter's Task Force on the Global Environment (the Global 2000 Report) in the late 1970's, he has since been at the forefront of movements to reform foreign aid, stop nuclear power expansion and adopt toll roads. Mr. Solomon is a founder and managing director of Energy Probe Research Foundation and the executive director of its Energy Probe and Urban Renaissance Institute divisions. He has been a columnist for The Globe and Mail, a contributor to the Wall Street Journal, the editor and publisher of the award-winning The Next City magazine, and the author or co-author of seven books, most recently The Deniers, a #1 environmental best-seller in both Canada and the U.S. .
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