World

Forget Greenland, Donald Trump should buy Scotland

24 August 2019

2:24 AM

24 August 2019

2:24 AM

Donald Trump’s attempted purchase of Greenland may have fallen through but if he’s still in the market, there’s some prime real estate in the neighbourhood. It’s smaller, yes, but just as cold, almost as sparsely populated and even has its own independence movement agitating for a breakaway. Happily, the president already owns a chunk of the country in question, so he might be able to get the rest for a bargain.

Scotland, not Greenland, is where Trump should redirect his interest. If it’s a few more golf resorts he’s keen on, we can provide the countryside. If he needs space for a military base or two the Highlands offer all the scenic seclusion you could ask for. If it’s another hiding spot for the aliens now that the millennials have discovered Area 51, he could do a lot worse than Glasgow’s East End. (No one would notice little green men staggering around speaking an unintelligible language there.)

The transaction, if we’re being honest, would benefit the purchase more than the purchaser. Adhering to the principle that there is no country on Earth that wouldn’t be improved by becoming the 51st state of the United States, Scotland would enjoy the protection of the world’s biggest superpower and gain access to the world’s biggest economy. The latest balance sheet on Scotland’s finances suggests we could use the help.

Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland (GERS) is the Scottish Government’s annual run through the accounts and, as in previous years, the news wasn’t good. Scotland has a notional deficit of £12.6bn, roughly equivalent to the entire health budget. (If nothing else, an independent Scotland would be a shot in the arm for manufacturers of hospital cash machines.) The UK’s deficit as a whole stands at £23.5bn, so it’s no surprise that Scotland’s fiscal shortfall is the largest in Europe, at seven per cent of GDP. At this rate, England could be forgiven for wanting to give us away to Trump free of charge.


The numbers — those stubborn little buggers — make for a bracing read. Last year, Scotland raised £62.7bn in revenue but spent £75.3bn; per head of population, we shelled out £1,660 more and generated £307 less in revenue than the UK average. What was the Scottish Government’s response to the damning black and white of its own analysis? It didn’t come from Nicola Sturgeon, who was too busy campaigning in the Shetland by-election, but her finance minister Derek Mackay was on hand to put some courageous spin on the figures:

‘Our notional deficit has fallen while public spending has increased thanks to our efforts to grow the onshore economy and the strong performance of taxes in Scotland.’

Mackay added that Scotland ‘could unlock our full potential with independence, allowing us to take the best decisions for Scotland’. Everyone has their role and he’s duty-bound to parrot the script but this line is so implausible it’s high time for a new writer.

Mackay is seen as a likely successor to the floundering Sturgeon and he, like she, must maintain the pretence that independence is just around the corner to keep the congregation amening in the pews.

But to continue to propose independence on the back of these figures is to recommend that Scotland throw itself in the River Clyde with rocks in both pockets. It is a cruel fiction practised on those who have the least and would suffer the most from austerity independence, the ex-Labour voters in the housing estates of Glasgow, Lanarkshire and Dundee who have switched to the SNP believing separation will bring an end to their misery.

Mackay is a more capable treasurer than his opponents give him credit for, so he already knows all this. This is the game and this is how it’s played. Independence at all costs, except the costs will mostly fall on those at the bottom of life’s heap.

There is precious little grown-up thinking in Scotland and even less willingness to confront any challenge that can’t be blamed on Westminster or Brexit. Maybe it would be better if Donald Trump did snap us up for the going price.

We could use the bailout. Besides, America has no decent football teams and substandard healthcare provision, so Scots would feel at home. Of course, urging Trump to buy Scotland is a thoroughly unserious proposal, but so much of Scottish public policy is thoroughly unserious, it’s hard to tell the difference.


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