The Myth of Scotland’s Huge Wealth


Most of the folk who live in the Central Belt have never seen the Huge Wealth of Scotland. Some claim it lies deep in the North Sea, others say it feeds on vast natural assets that grow around the coast. Experts who measure its GDP claim it is extremely impressive, though these are nothing but myths in places where work is scarce and badly paid, and life is tough for the sick and the unemployed. Scotland’s wealth is for the rich, not for them.

When the media say the economy will dominate the independence campaign, nationalists often think about the huge wealth of Scotland rather than how it is produced by Scotland’s working people. This year they will repeat the same story – Scotland is the eighth richest country in the world, our assets are second to none, and we have potential to be one of the world’s most successful economies.

Other nationalists of a more social democratic bent emphasise the importance of what we do with our wealth collectively. Scotland’s got what it takes to be a fairer nation, they say, and a Yes vote brings the opportunity to share our prosperity in a more just way.

Millions of people will vote Yes because they see their own fortunes tied to the shape and size of the Scottish economy, or because they see a fairer Scotland after independence. But for the lone parent toiling nine hours a day on minimum wage before going home to domestic chores; for the young graduate whose call-centre career gives them little to get up for; and for a million others who fall in and out of low paid work, a bigger share of the nation’s wealth is not much to believe in. Until they believe they will share in the wealth they produce, they will be skeptical of independence.

These people are open to a Yes vote, but arguments about Scotland’s wealth and how we share it fail to convince them. There may be a bulging economy, but working people’s contribution to the pile does not trickle back down to give them a fair income. In our exclusive economy the recovery is working for the rich by squeezing life from the rest, and the growing power and wealth of the rich will not be restrained merely by a Yes vote, and certainly not by the agenda of another SNP government. Shared prosperity from national growth is not an inspiration where there is exploitation in low-paid jobs, injustice in rising in-work poverty, inequality in the growing gender pay gap, and indignity in cuts to welfare and tax credits.

This is why for me, along with many other members of the Labour party, national prosperity or fairness is a limited ambition. Meaningful aspirations concern not just the fruits of our economy, but they way we produce them. The claim that ‘Scotland is wealthy enough to be a fairer nation’ may be meaty, but what bones does it rest on? Don’t we need deeper change than anything proposed in the SNP’s policy agenda?

This is why we argue for a Yes in 2014 and a Labour vote in 2016. We believe the SNP puts the wealth of the nation before the worth of the people, and says nothing that gives the rich anything to fear. Labour voters are looking for more than a merry consensus between business and workers, and doubt whether an SNP government in 2016 would use powers of independence to change the conditions of working life.

As long as discussion of national accounts and notional public spending continue to obsess the bean counters of Scotland’s political class, as long as the SNP’s limited vision of independence is seen as the only game in town, many key voters’ hopes will continue to rest with Labour’s fortunes at Westminster and victory for Yes will be much harder.

A Labour economic case for independence would maintain that progress requires common effort, and that for politics to work for the many it must effectively challenge the interests of those at the top. Nationalist social democrats dismiss the conflict this entails, but this radical realism is the basis for Labour supporters to be optimistic about Yes. A Labour Yes campaign will talk about the economy not by predicting strong national wealth, or projecting other societies onto our own, but with a narrative of how through three or four stages we decisively shift economic power in Scotland from the rich to the poor, from those who extract to those who contribute.

A Yes vote will be in sight when people believe that wages would begin to rise, and when it is explained how work will be generated in Greenock or Giffnock or Glengarry. We have three initial goals: higher taxes for the rich, laws to provide secure high-paid work, and an industrial plan under public control. This Labour Yes will be a demand to regenerate Scotland from below, moving beyond conscripted armies of call-centre workers and cashiers, to an industrial strategy suited to people’s ambitions, the condition of certain regions, and the threats of capital flight.

Labour supporters old and new are striving for independence not for its own sake, nor for the sake of Scotland’s economy, but so that Labour can form the first independent government of Scotland. We want a Labour government with full powers to give control of the economy to working people, and to resume the journey to social justice.

Cailean Gallagher



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