“the best small country in the world”

In the Financial Times [subs req] economist, and Scot, John Kay, identifies belligerent self-congratulation as a common Scottish characteristic – although it could probably be evidenced wider afield – and whilst recognising the benefits of the Union in the two centuries following 1707 argues that “its effects in the subsequent 100 years is more uncertain.” It’s part one of a two-part argument. Although the FT article is subscription bound [adds actually it’s also available here], John Kay has his own website and reprints the article thereIn an echo of some of the recent arguments citing the necessity of an “indigenous” deal here, he also picks up on the link between Scotland’s relative economic decline and “the appeal of separatism”.

Still, the main responsibility for Scots’ relative economic failure lies with Scots themselves. Belligerent self-congratulation is ill-suited to a changing economic environment and Scottish corporate responses to new technology and new competition were defensive and inept. Locomotive and ship builders responded by consolidating under weak leadership. Trade unions quarrelled not just with management but with each other for a larger share of a diminishing cake. The Distillers Company amalgamated independent whisky producers into one business whose decades of complacent mismanagement ended only when the company was acquired by Guinness.

The appeal of separatism in modern Scotland is linked to the country’s relative economic decline, as self- congratulation turns to grievance in response to failure. The crucial issue for Scotland’s future is whether independence would reduce that sentiment, or aggravate it.