We Need To Talk About: GERS (2019-2020 Edition)

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it without a sense of ironic futility.” – Errol Morris

This article was previously published on Source under the headline “The UK is Pooling More than it Shares”.

You can also read my previous work on GERS on this blog behind the following links: 2013-142014-152015-162016-17, 2017-18, and 2018-19.

In many ways, this year’s GERS report marks the end of an era. It’s not that the report itself is going to change drastically or that we’ll finally reach the point of independence where we can stop moaning about how independence is impossible/necessary and that our fiscal position is fundamentally strong/weak and improving/declining compared to the rest of the UK (delete as per the report’s figures and your personal political position). It’s more that the Covid-19 crisis has completely changed the way that a state’s finances work. This year’s GERS report does include the initial measures implemented in response to Covid but only the initial responses up until the end of March. The full impact of this unprecedented fiscal year shall not be felt until the GERS 2020-2021 report next year.

We’ve entered a new era in which almost everything in government will be judged either as “Before Covid” (BC) or “After Covid” (AC). The assumptions that governed our economy have changed. Spending plans have changed. Priorities have changed.

But until then, this final GERS report of the BC era largely just repeats the arguments already well rehearsed in previous years.

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The Road to Independence Part One – A Democratic Event

“There is always a choice…Or, perhaps, an alternative. You see, I believe in freedom, Mr Lipwig. Not many people do, although they will of course protest otherwise. And no practical definition of freedom would be complete without the freedom to take the consequences. Indeed, it is the freedom upon which all others are based.” – Havelock Vetinari, Going Postal.

You would have thought that Lockdown would have opened up more time for me to look after my blog but instead Common Weal dove headlong into its busiest session of policy-making we’ve ever seen. Between pushing for more effective Covid strategy, analysing the impact of the pandemic on the Scottish economy and launching our post-Covid reconstruction plan I’ve been writing everywhere BUT here.

But most of that has now been completed and I’m currently on holiday which means that instead of writing about politics for work I now get a little time to write about politics for FUN!

Over the next few blog posts I intend to lay out what I see as the main strategic block on the development of the Scottish Independence campaign. Namely, a focus on developing “mandates” for another Scottish independence referendum rather than working out how to actually get one, where to go if one doesn’t happen and what to do after one happens.

This kind of thinking is long overdue but in the absence of it coming from the Scottish Government I’d like to offer my own thoughts and analysis to and for the sake of the independence movement.

190504 Sky Blue Saltires

Substantial parts of this series will be drawn from Common Weal’s strategy for gaining independence Within Our Grasp which you can read here.

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The Ever Molding Mandate

“To discover strategy is to fulfill mandate” – Sunday Adelaja

On Sunday Politics Scotland this morning, the new Secretary of State for Scotland, Alister Jack shifted the goalposts again. The 2014 independence referendum has now been declared a “once in a lifetime” event and that even a pro-independence majority in the 2021 Scottish elections or even an outright SNP majority in those elections would be insufficient grounds for him to grant Scotland his permission to self-determine our form of government.

He went even further than this extremist position by stating categorically that he believed that it would be “absolutely unacceptable” for Scotland to hold any such referendum at a time of its choosing and under our own terms – effectively attempting to apply a veto to the Referendums Bill passed by the Scottish Parliament recently.

I think we should have a look at this Tory attempt to stifle Scottish Democracy.

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We Need To Talk About: GERS (2018-19 Edition)

“Fact be virtuous, or vicious, as Fortune pleaseth” – Thomas Hobbes

It’s that time again! The annual GERS report has been released and interested parties continue to analyse, pick apart and spin the numbers as required. And my now annual tradition of diving into the numbers continues with another installment.

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You can read my coverage of GERS 2013-14, 2014-15, 2015-16, 2016-17 and 2017-18 behind those links.

You can read the report and download all of the data tables for this year’s report here.

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The Devolving Union

“Power does not corrupt. Fear corrupts… perhaps the fear of a loss of power.”  – John Steinbeck

Theresa May, in one of her last acts of power before abdicating as PM and turning over to either Boris Johnson or (perhaps) Jeremy Hunt has made a surprise announcement of a trip to Scotland to launch a “review of devolution” in the UK by Lord Dunlop – who was Head of Research within the Conservative Party during the Thatcher era and worked with David Cameron to formulate the UK Government’s strategy against the 2014 independence campaign.

Details of the review will be published on Friday but the early press release doing the rounds today has said that it will not “review” powers already devolved to the Scottish parliament and other administrations but will instead look at reserved areas to determine if they are still functioning optimally in the face of the changing politics of the UK and the last few rounds of devolution since the 2014 independence referendum.

This story comes in the same week that the Scottish Conservatives and Scottish Lib Dems are having an almighty temper tantrum at the thought of the Scottish Government running a round of Citizens’ Assemblies on various issues including the topic of independence. Elected MSPs have even been encouraging a boycott of these Assemblies by Unionist supporters, seemingly not quite understanding that those who abstain from democracy lose the right to complain about the results of it when it happens without their input.

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Source: Unsplash

I won’t “empty chair” democracy. I won’t be disengaging from this devolution review but will instead offer some thoughts on it and speculate about what it might discover if it chooses to look. Continue reading

And Then There Were Two

“It is likely that such a replacement will be from the Brexiteer wing. Rees-Mogg has ruled out a run for the job but I think he’d be happier as Chancellor of the Exchequer under his able deputy PM Boris Johnson” – The Common Green, November 2018

“Why PM Boris Johnson should appoint Jacob Rees-Mogg as Chancellor” – Bernard Ingram, June 2019

The Conservative and Unionist Party’s leadership contest has completed its first phase and has whittled the number of candidates down to two. These two will now make their case to some 120,000 Tory party members across the UK who will vote for their preference.

Once they have done so, Boris Johnson will become the leader of the party and, unless there is a general election, will become Prime Minister of the UK.

After the last three years of dismal Brexit jockeying the only thing that could have made this any more Brexit-y would be if the other person in the race had been Michael Gove. Then we could have relived that picture of the two of them standing at their “victory” press conference with that “What do we do now?” look plastered over their faces.

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But alas, Gove was knocked out by two votes and the other contender is Jeremy Hunt. And that look may have gone but believe me, the question hasn’t been answered.

So, with the caveat that my last attempt at a Brexit prediction failed badly because of my assumption of rationality and basic competence, let’s try and answer it. What will PM Johnson have to do once he takes the helm?

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Withdrawing Agreement

“Diplomacy is the art of letting someone else have your way.” – Sir David Frost

I was preparing this week to talk about the “Meaningful Vote” in the House of Commons which would have ratified or rejected Theresa May’s woefully inadequate Brexit deal.

A parody timeline of the Brexit negotiations. An incomprehensible tangle of flow lines point to scenarios such as "We're screwed", "Bring back Nick Clegg" and "Jacob Rees-Mogg as PM".

But things have progressed somewhat since I started planning that post. In a direction not necessarily to the advantage of the UK government. Theresa May, Strong and Stable, took her deal from the table.  She started into the face of the humiliation of losing a vote possibly by a triple digit majority and ran away to try to renegotiate with the EU – who have already said that renegotiation is not possible. If it turns out that they were not entirely solid on that principle, then they’ll surely exact a high price for any changes.

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As Many As Are Agreed

“No democratic nation has ever signed up to be bound by such an extensive regime, imposed externally without any democratic control over the laws applied, nor the ability to decide to exit the arrangement.” – Dominic Raab in his resignation letter as Brexit Secretary.

I pity the journalists who have to do this kind of thing for a living. Especially the ones who have to wait several hours before seeing their article in print. A week is a lifetime in politics. Today, an hour merely felt like one.

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The Brexit Withdrawal Agreement has finally been agreed between the EU and UK negotiating teams. It has also been agreed by the Cabinet of the government – albeit only “collectively” (read: not unanimously – merely by majority. Rumours speak of an 18-11 vote). It now needs to be passed by the UK and EU Parliaments and then it’s done. So…what could go wrong?

So, what’s in it and what has happened

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We Need To Talk About: GERS (2017-18 Edition)

“Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are pliable.” – Mark Twain

There’s no day that’s guaranteed to set the heather alight amongst Scottish political social media sects like the release day of the annual Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland report – also known as GERS.

GERS

I want to make one thing clear up front. No serious commentator now suggests that GERS can be used as is as a projection of the finances of an independent Scotland. My 2016 paper “Beyond GERS” shows some of the changes that would need to be made for this to be the case. But as a set of accounts for Scotland, the region of the UK, I’m content to use GERS as it is. Maybe improvements can and should still be made, but this is true for all statistical publications and the team behind the report do the best they can within their remit.

So what does this year’s publication tell us about Scotland, the region? Continue reading

It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like GERSmas

A photo of the Scottish countryside. The sky is split between the moon and the night on the left and the sunset on the right.

It’s beginning to look a lot like GERSmas
It’s on the news, you know.
The size of the deficit, is all that matters to it
No deeper in shall the headlines go.

It’s beginning to look a lot like GERSmas
What will the numbers have in store?
To the rest of the UK, we compare ourselves today
It becomes a chore.

If a tax here is tweaked and everyone is freaked
imagine if they tried something more.
To reform all the land, make sure fracking stays banned
tax the rich till they’re sore.
But till we can then GERS we have and here it comes again.

It’s beginning to look a lot like GERSmas
Here, again, we go.
The fight about all the stats, the guesstimates and the facts
Where we stand I doubt we’ll ever know.

It’s beginning to look a lot like GERSmas
For calm, I shall now say.
Why don’t we have a truce, and not let Twitter run a loose
This GERSmas day….

Just this GERS-mas day.

Merry GERSmas everybody.

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