Thursday, November 04, 2010
Jack McConnell, Scotland's longest serving First Minister gave the Royal Phil lecture last night entitled "Has devolution improved Scotland's place in the world"?
It started at 7.30 with a rather amusing story about George Bush at the G8 meeting in Scotland - OK then at the main dinner he had to keep his shirt on because the blood was seeping through his shirt. He had nasty scrapes on his arm & back. He & a couple of bodyguards had decided to go mountain biking in the hills behind the hotel where G8 was going on & on the way back a policeman, seeing 3 bicyclists approaching (obviously leftist greeny anti-globalist saboteurs) stepped in front of them with the results Newton's laws of motion predict. Thus the first policeman to be knocked out was not by anarchists but by the president of the USA.
Having got the audience onside he lectured on the glory of Scotland having been given a limited amount of foreign aid to Malawi. Malawi was chosen because it is sufficiently small the aid might be noticed & because of some historic links including that it had been annexed by Britain after a Scottish Church 11,000 signature petition calling for annexation to protect it from the Portuguese & slave raiders.
This lasted till 7.55 taking up most of the lecture. Then followed 15 minutes on how his "first priority" had been fixing the economy, including the remarkable claim that in 2007 Scotland, having been poorer, achieved the same per capita GNP as England, explained what great advantages we have from scientific capacity to tourist attraction & a few other odds & ends ending at 8.10. The rest was Q & A.
My question (did you guess I was going to ask one) was:
"You mentioned improving the economy being your "first priority" & you have said that many times before, particularly before elections. Ireland, which really did make the economy the priority has achieved 7% annual growth since 1989, Britain as a whole has achieved 2.5% & Scotland only 1.5%. You explained the advantages we had & we could clearly have matched Ireland's achievement, at least, had we had a government which really made the economy the "first priority" which if done over the last 11 years would have made us all nearly twice as well off. Do you regret making no attempt to do so."
He said "3 years ago that would have been a difficult question to answer" & explained that
1 - Ireland now has structural problems
2 - Ireland's growth was because they poured money into education
3 - Since the "world recession" the Irish/Icelandic "models are no longer appropriate"
4 - They got a lot of EU aid.
5 - We had the unique problem of the electronics industry moving to Eastern Europe about which we could do nothing.
6 - This meant we had 2 quarters of zero growth so we are bound to perform badly.
7 - Ireland's growth was high because they started at a lower level.
Because I couldn't make an ancillary remark then (neither could pther questioners) I will answer here & send him a copy so he may answer in turn if he wishes.
1 - They are still 27% wealthier than us, much of their problem is that they are tied into the Euro, another "problem" is that they aren't borrowing 12.5% of GNP to artificially pump up the economy but are actually facing their deficit.
2 - That would be no excuse but it isn't the case either. Ireland's growth was because of their low tax free market economy.
3 - If that is what he meant by "Irish & Icelandic models", which have little really in common, then he is wrong. This apparent admission that supporting enterprise would have worked in the past but that that time has, for unexplained reasons, passed is a tactic that has been used for a long time & I expect we will see more of it in future.
4 - Less than we got from the Union "dividend". Also most of their aid went into agriculture, the one area of the Irish economy not to have achieved spectacular growth.
5 - It is not a unique problem - industries move worldwide - that has been an opportunity in Ireland.
6 - Indeed.
There seems to be some dichotomy between admitting that we have had a 1% average lower growth rate than England & his repeated claim that we have "caught up". I know of no evidence for the latter claim & perhaps he will provide it in his answer.
7 - Firstly it has repeatedly been shown that it is easier for richer countries to grow, though it is an excuse repeatedly used by politicians in failing countries. Secondly since Ireland passed our wealth about a decade ago that is a double edged argument.
Other points raised in questions were his belief that Scotland has poor media - giving an example of the fact that not all papers reported the celebrations of the Scotland Malawi partnership, in particular Scotland on Sunday were criticised for not reporting it despite having been "tipped off a month ago". I agree they are crap but for the opposite reason. Scotland/Malawi is not a news story since nothing has actually happened lately it is simple political placement by politicians wanting publicity. Yet it did get a lot of coverage by newspapers that simply will not report that the Forth crossing is £2,290 million fraud; that our environmental agency has spent millions on investigating radiation pollution that obviously doesn't exist; that spending £41 million on mot building a Glasgow airport link was not good value when they had an offer to build it for £20 million; that the isolation of the west Highlands & Islands is wholly unnecessary when we could, for no met cost, build tunnels linking them all; that the man chosen to "investigate" climategate was the one person found to have been responsible for the Parliament building scandal (thus getting all the politicians) & who has since had plum jobs from the politicians; the influence of government controlled fakecharities in forming opinion; the fact that we certainly could have had the growth McConnell & others promised to try for if they had tried for it. etc etc etc. Journalism nowadays seems to consist of rewritting press releases & briefings from poliyicians & fakecharities rather than doing actual investigation & I think that discreditable.
His support for mass immigration was made clear, including the remarkable claim that "California is successful because of immigration" - in fact California is bankrupt, partly because of it.
On Trident he said he had supported making preparations for it but that it should be put on the table in international negotiations - something with which I agree.
Asked on his most lasting achievement he said the smoking ban (& got applause - it is that sort of audience) - saying he was "so proud of the country" because there had been no serious public disobedience. I must admit I feel it shameful that descendants of people who marched to Derby for Price Charlie & had to be cleared from George Square by tanks are now so supine.
On sectarianism he was proud to have opposed it. The only problem is that it always seems to be Protestant sectarianism that gets targeted. It is, for example, notorious that Glasgow provosts are always Catholic (though I once heard a former provost, Mr Patrick Lally state that he had never even heard of this). I wonder if Jack has asked his wife, Bridget, who has a very well paid, no failure standards, arty job with Glasgow Council whether she has ever noticed any preponderance of persons of Irish Catholic antecedents?
Finally he had some words about the nature of our Parliamentarians with their 9 to 5 attitude & lack of interest in making it a real Parliament with real thought & discussion but he will have more to say on that in future.
UPDATE 11/11 From McConnell's office "He has noted its contents." So no attempt to support his arithmetically remarkable claim that though we have grown slower than the UK our GNP caught up.