It depends on who you’re talking to. Some people, they say we’d be scuppered without money from Britain. Others say we’re losing millions by duplicating everything north and south. So let’s make a modest start, look at the economic argument and see how the economic case for union stands up. (Health warning:I tend to get the head staggers if too many sums are thrown at me too quickly, so if you’re that way inclined too, proceed with caution.)
- Unionists politicians say we get £10.5 billion annually from London. That sum’s arrived at by calculating the gap between the money we raise here in the north and give to London and what they give us. OK. Pretty solid money, that. Except it’s not solid. That £10.5 billion is calculated by the Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP) here. They do it by using a report that the SNP said in 2006 was pro-union and designed to score over all opponents. The Scots Nats drew this conclusion from information leaked by the same economists who produced this dodgy report. To make things even dodgier, while unionist politicians present this £10.5 billion as money that comes here, the fact is that the sum includes money which is directed by Whitehall departments, not money which is overseen locally. Key point: the claim that we get £10.5 billion annually from London is built on sand.
- So why don’t we just ask London how much more money they give us than we give them and be done with it? Get it from the horse’s mouth? Well, that’s tricky because the Brits simply won’t say how much money we generate. That makes it a bit hard to work out the difference between what we generate and give them, and what they give us. There is a local estimate made by the Department of Finance and Personnel here that says we generate £12.7 billion. But that’s just an estimate. For example it doesn’t include corporation tax that’s paid by companies with headquarters in Britain. And the calculation of the amount of VAT, of tobacco duty, of alcohol duty paid is based on information drawn from a survey of (wait for it) 147 households here. Once more, shaky figures. We need firm facts if we’re to do the sums.
- A final point (for now). The British government says it needs £23.2 billion to run the six counties. Right. Except that this includes money we never see - money that goes on the British military, royal palaces and royal travel, among other things. So that’s another shaky/dodgy figure.
The core fact is that for whatever reason, the amount we give the London government in taxes and the amount they give us - both are shrouded in a mist of uncertainty. If the economic reason is THE reason for union with Britain, shouldn’t Britain quit acting coy and spit out hard, verifiable data so that we can look at it and do the sums? Maybe they’ll come out in favour of continued union with Britain. Maybe they’ll fall well short of favourable. But it really is time we were told the facts of our financial life. We’re all adults here, aren’t we?