I am in Ghana and had some Ghanaian friends in the apartment here while I was watching the budget. I was ashamed, and they were incredulous, at the sheer crassness of the entire event. Hammond’s manner and delivery were beyond embarrassing. The constant stream of infantile jokes, of which the lengthy stream of toilet humour was just one part, was beyond childish. The worst thing about it is that Hammond apparently genuinely believed he was funny.
But even worse was the petty party nature of so much of it. The obsequious reference to DUP MPs by name, the grovelling towards new Tory “star” Ruth Davidson, the puerile digs at the SNP, the shoehorning in of an anti-semitism reference, the pathetic jibe at John MacDonnell’s accident. The Ghanaians with me observed that it would all have disgraced a school debating society.
Most of the budget’s rehashed public spending announcements and tax cuts for the wealthy are not worth analysis. The condemnation of PFI was very welcome, but it has taken 20 years for the political class – Red Tories or Blue Tories – to acknowledge the blindingly obvious, that they have used it as a device massively to abuse public services to rip off the taxpayer to the benefit of the bankers and wealth managers who funded the PFI schemes.
Hammond made the constantly repeated Tory claim that the income gap between rich and poor in the UK is shrinking. It depends what you are measuring. While it is indeed true that the income gap between the top and bottom deciles is slightly shrinking, the gap between the top centile and the bottom decile – or any other decile, including the between the top centile and the top decile – is expanding very fast. In short, we are taking on the characteristics of a helot society, where distinctions between the upper middle class and working class are reducing, but the gap to the extremely wealthy is growing.
In Ghana this last week I have made a point of asking a large number of Ghanaians, from drivers and students to businessmen and senior ministers, whether, in exchange for a higher standard of living and free immigration to the UK, they would give up Independence and become a colony again. I have been met with incredulity and outrage that I would even ask such a question, and even anger from those who misunderstood my motive in asking.
Ghanaians are of course quite right. Any nation should be outraged at the idea it would voluntarily become subservient, or that its allegiance can be bought for money. Which is why I am incapable of understanding the mentality of unionists in Scotland, many of whom were swayed in 2014 by arguments their pension might be reduced or their currency depreciated.
As everybody who canvassed in the 2014 knows, and opinion polls confirm, it was not those on the breadline who were influenced by these arguments. The worse off were solidly pro-Independence (except for the Orangemen, whose thought processes are not rational). It was the bungalow dwellers of suburbia who were swayed by the fear that they might not be able to trade in their Nissan Qashqai after three years as they intended.
In fact, I think the arguments Scotland will be worse off after Independence are demonstrably nonsense. But even were they true, I cannot express the degree of my contempt for those who value national freedom in pennies, and weigh self-respect against gold.
Independent states which are geographically, climatically, and in population and demographics closest to Scotland – Ireland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Iceland – are all markedly wealthier than Scotland, despite Scotland’s terrific endowment of national resources. Why do some Scottish people believe they are inferior to the inhabitants of these countries, and would be unable to run their own affairs and economy?
The fact that Ireland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland and Sweden are all markedly wealthier than England, but that Scotland is poorer, should be sufficient indicator that the Union has not brought the claimed historical benefits, compared to those small independent states. So should the fact that, in 1707, the population of Scotland was a quarter that of England, and after three hundred years of Independence it is a tenth, while the population of the Highlands has only just returned to the original level. The fact that the A1 is, amazingly, still not much dualed north of Morpeth, while Crossrail is a national UK expenditure; the fact that high speed rail – like Crossrail accounted for in GERS as a national UK expenditure – will not come north of Leeds; the massive concentration of central government functions in London, and the long term effect of that on economic development: given all these indicators, you have to be slightly crazy to believe an independent Scotland would not be better off.
Astonishingly, this collection of untalented careerists that constitutes the “government of the United Kingdom” is managing currently to extend its lead in the UK wide opinion polls, while falling back again into third place in Scotland. I have sympathy for friends in England who do not wish Scotland to be independent, because the Tories have such a majority in England. But they have no right to force Scotland to live under a succession of Tory governments, which it has not voted for in over 60 years. Similarly, the Scots have no right to prevent the English from living under Theresa May – or even under Jacob Rees Mogg – if the English continue inexplicably to wish to do so.
I have expressed for many years the hope that I will see Scottish Independence and a United Ireland before I die. I am happy to say I am now convinced that I will do so. That the end of the UK would be marked by such a squalid, incompetent and dysfunctional political leadership I could not have dared to hope. Thank God the UK will soon be over.