I’ve sat on the sidelines watching the spat over Scotland’s tax-varying powers – or rather the now lack of them – grow into a full blown row. And waited for what seems like an opportune and appropriate moment to comment. Trying to be a non partisan blogger can be a bit of a tough gig at times. Particularly when there doesn’t appear to be any middle ground to occupy, or anything new to add. Though that might change when the implications for local income tax or the Calman tax proposals filter through…
But there’s been something else nagging at me about the whole shenanigans. And after listening to a news piece on Radio 5 live on the excellent Morning Report on Sunday, I think I’ve finally worked out what that is.
Here stands Scotland, a rich country by any yardstick, with resources aplenty, fighting like ferrets in a sack over our ability to have more. If ever we wanted evidence that we are all Thatcher’s children now, this episode might well provide it. And it all seems so petty and pointless and parochial.
Because at no point in the debate has anyone asked, far less answered, two crucial questions: do we actually need more money? And what do we need more for anyhow? The territory that is missing from the debate – always missing from it frankly – is defining the kind of Scotland we want to be.
We need to grow our economy. Uh huh. Into what? A nation that makes and does what exactly? We need to save jobs. Ah, but are those jobs worth saving in the first place. We need to have more and better services. Really? Are our ills so great that we will always need more state intervention to make us a better people? We need to have more money. We don’t know what for, we just know that we need it. It’s pester power writ large.
While we squabble, all around us in the world there are things happening that we have no time nor inclination to play a role in, yet they will shape our destiny and that of our children’s irrevocably. There is so much more Scotland could be doing to take its place in the world, to give it a role in the membership of nations, that doesn’t actually require more money, a different constitutional settlement, or any financial levers. For sure, having all these in place would enhance our status and capability but actually, it comes down to culture and mindset.
Dr George McGavin, an eminent entomologist – and irony of ironies, he’s a Scot – warned that this is our last chance to save the tiger. The quote above is his. If we do nothing, if we cannot find the political will to stop trashing the tiger’s habitat, to stop eating its prey, and most importantly of all, to stop killing it to put its skins on our walls and its bones in our remedies, then the tiger will become extinct. In fifteen years. In our lifetimes.
Here’s a Scot, who probably, largely in spite of his country’s narrow mindset, has gone out in the world to make a name for himself by doing something that contributes to our global greater good. Sure, he’s a media friendly type and has made a successful career out of it, but he does stuff that makes a difference. He plays a role on the world stage and behaves like a global citizen.
And it made me wonder: surely this is what Scotland could do? This is the nation we could be, a world super power on conservation.
So, we work out how to live side by side – in perfect harmony if you like – with our eco-system. We equip our young people with the skills and knowledge to do this at home and abroad. We become the go-to nation when issues arise relating to conserving species. We work out how to offer a new community model that enables developing countries to create economic and social structures and wealth that do not destroy their habitats.
And we do it by starting at home. We invest in different. We use the powers we have to start the process and make the case for having more powers – but only if we need them! – to complete the job. We start by cleaning up our own midden. We grow our economy by investing in the skills and knowledge we need to have a future. We create a USP for Scotland that doesn’t involve shortbread or tartan. We make money, we have a key contribution to make in the world, and as a wee side benefit, it makes us feel good about ourselves. We might even manage to remove the Scottish cringe from our psyche for good.
Naive? Probably. But at least it’s an idea. With ambition. At least it’s positing something out there that takes Scotland forward, beyond the he says, she says stage we appear to be at in our relationship with devolution.
That boldly suggests that we determine our vision for the future first and then decide what powers we need to deliver it. That hints at the possibility of hope, of better for our nation and others. Hell, we might even help save the tiger.
(To listen to the Morning Report interview with Dr George McGavin, go to about 20 minutes in on the programme).