When in Russia, I sometimes tell people about the complaints that some people in Scotland have about the UK. It’s all met with utter bemusement. But what’s wrong with Britain they say? What indeed?
There are few countries in the world doing as well as Britain. There’s a simple reason for this. In order for a country to be successful you need three things: Democracy, free markets and the rule of law. Look around the world at countries which are doing poorly in nearly every case you will find that one or more of these things is lacking. Of course there are some rich tyrannies which happen to have been lucky enough to be sitting on an expensive resource, but without the resource they would soon be reduced to poverty. The solution to poverty around the world is to introduce the three things that they lack. If every poor country in the world could introduce democracy, free markets and the rule of law they would rapidly cease to be poor. But that’s easy. Why don’t we do it tomorrow?
Have you any idea how few full democracies there are in the world? There are 24.
The trouble is that it’s not easy setting up a democracy. Most people think that it’s about achieving power. It isn’t. It’s about being defeated and accepting that defeat without a murmur. In most countries democracy is rigged so that only one person or party really has a chance. It took Britain hundreds of years to develop democracy. It is a very fragile thing that can easily be lost, but it is a very difficult thing to create. Many countries in the past 50 years have tried to create a democracy from tyranny, nearly all have failed. By the way in every country there are parts that habitually vote differently to the whole. That is not flaw in a democracy, it’s a feature. It therefore matters no more that Scotland sometimes votes differently to the UK as a whole than that Aberdeenshire sometimes votes differently to Scotland as a whole. There is no democratic deficit in Scotland. In each case the majority rules. That’s democracy.
Some people in Britain complain about the undemocratic House of Lords. I’m not a great fan either, but it actually does work as an effective check on the UK government. I’m far more concerned that the Scottish government has no check on what it can do at all as it has a committee system that works like the Supreme Soviet doing its master’s bidding. But anyway the answer if you are concerned about the House of Lords is to seek to replace it with some form of elected upper chamber. That too might be useful in Scotland.
The UK economy is one of the most successful in the world. The average standard of living here is very high compared to the vast majority of countries in the world. Even compared to Europe, Britain is doing extraordinarily well. How do we know this? One way we know that the UK is doing well is that people in their hundreds of thousands want to come to live and work here. This is in part because we have the lucky advantage of speaking a language that they too can speak, but also because on the whole we are welcoming. People are voting with their feet to come to Britain. We should thank each of them who compliments us by doing this. We should also reflect on the peculiarity of some contrarians who want to leave.
If you travel around Europe at the moment you will find economies in crisis. If you go further afield you will find a situation that is still worse. In every case the solution is to introduce freer markets. North and South Korea started from the same point when they were tragically divided. One is now poor the other is wealthy. The difference is quite simple. In North Korea there are not free markets, in South Korea there are. This experiment has been tested to destruction. There are only two models of economy that work. You can have free markets with social democracy or you can have free markets which are a little bit freer tending towards laissez faire capitalism. There is a degree of political choice here. In the end it’s a decision about public spending. Do you want the Government to spend around 30% of GDP or do you want them to spend between 40 and 50% of GDP. There’s a balance. The less the state spends the more the economy will grow, but lots of the things we want in society depend on government spending. There is a balance also between growing the economy and trying to make a pleasant inclusive society where everyone has a chance and no-one is left behind. In Britain there is actually very little substantial difference between the economic views of the main parties. This is because any other view would demonstrably make us all poorer. Unfortunately some people on the fringes have yet to realise this.
Social democracy can work, there are lots of countries which have a social democratic model. But socialism does not work. It will make you poorer. The SNP is socialist and lack a credible economic plan, partly because they would do or say anything to break up Britain, partly because breaking up Britain is in itself economically incoherent. Why break up one of the few countries that is actually recovering from the 2008 economic crisis?
There is inequality in the UK. But perfect equality is neither possible nor desirable economically. In every successful economy there are rich people and poor people. How much you even this out is a matter of political choice. But poor people in Britain are doing hugely better than poor people in nearly every country in the world. It is because we have a successful economy that we can afford healthcare, benefits, pensions and all the other things we want. The best way to help poor people is to create an economy where there are jobs and which can afford to pay ever higher wages. Britain is creating jobs. This is why people from all over Europe and indeed the world are coming here.
Like democracy, the rule of law is something that takes centuries to develop. The enemy of the rule of law is corruption. Many SNP supporters complain about Britain being corrupt. There are in fact very few countries in the world that are less corrupt that the UK. I wouldn’t try to bribe a policeman in Britain for I know that it will only get me into still more trouble. I don’t have to pay a doctor a back hander in order to get treatment. Students don’t have to bribe academics to so that they don’t fail their courses. Some people think that our politicians are corrupt. In fact we have some of the most honest politicians in the world. The whole parliamentary expenses scandal was in fact a lot of nonsense. How much did these expenses cost the government? At most a few million. In an economy the size of the UK, this is a quite trivial sum. The whole problem stems from the fact that MPs are grossly underpaid. Someone involved in running a country should be paid a competitive amount, yet they don’t even earn what a GP earns. This is silly. Pay MPs an index linked sum that is the equivalent of a director of a small company and then say they must have no expenses whatsoever. Problem solved.
Some SNP supporters complain about paedophilia in Westminster. I find it morally degenerate to try to use child abuse for political purposes. Child abuse exists everywhere in every country including in Scotland. There have been cover ups in Britain. People have been protected who ought not to have been protected. But the fact that we know about these things, the fact that the police are investigating is a demonstration of how little we are corrupt. In a country that is really corrupt you never hear about corruption and no-one dares mention it anyway.
By any normal standard of judgment Britain is a great country. We have problems like everyone else, but the solution is to face them together rather than splitting up and trying to face them apart.
Nationalists assume that everything that’s great about Britain would continue even if there were no Britain. But it is the fact that we have worked together for centuries that has given us free markets, democracy and the rule of law. Everything I love about Scotland except the mountains came into existence during and because of the union. None of these things existed in a proper way prior to the formation of our country.
The glue that holds us together is that we are British. Many SNP supporters hate the word British. They reject it. I wonder if they know what they are rejecting. British is the identity of choice of most people who have come to the UK from overseas. Many people who were not born in the UK or whose parents do not come from the UK feel unable to describe themselves as English, Welsh, Scottish or Northern Irish. Those identities tend to be available most to those who can trace their ancestry back centuries. I wish that this were not so. But it is so. British is the far more inclusive identity that is shared by all of us equally. I don’t care where your parents come from, if you are a citizen you are as British as I am.
Too many British citizens at the moment are focusing on what divides us rather than what unites us. It is making Britain a very unpleasant place to live. We should all recognise how lucky we are to be here. There are countries that do things better than us perhaps, but there are far, far more that do things worse. What we have, what we share would not necessarily survive divorce. The danger of turning against each other is that we turn against anyone who does not share one of our identities. This frequently is where nationalism leads. I have seen levels of hatred in Scotland that shock me. Simply for putting forward a political view using reasoned argument I have been shouted down and abused in the most despicableway. This is not civic nationalism, it is not even civil nationalism it is hatred against those who think differently. Nationalism is dividing Scotland in a deeply unpleasant way. It is not founded on reason, for it is an attack on Britain and the British which looks faintly ludicrous from a perspective of overseas. Everyone I know in Russia thinks Britain is a great country. One of the best. Everyone I meet admires British history and culture. They find the hatred of Britain and the British by the British simply incomprehensible. I do too. It’s a form of self-hatred and it’s poisoning our country.
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