“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.

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  • Suilven

    Having lived in Scotland for 15 years, I have to say that belligerent self-congratulation isn’t a trait I could associate with the populace, apart from the odd Glaswegian drunk! Cautious pessimism would maybe be closer to the mark…

    I think John Kay’s barking up the wrong tree here.
    Scottish Labour’s forcefeeding of vacuous slogans like “the best small country in the world” while having manifestly done very little during 8 years in power to make it true, is one of the reasons they’re about to be heavily punished by the electorate in the Holyrood and council elections.

  • RG Cuan

    Not certain about the trait but one thing is for sure: the SNP are ready to give Labour a massive run for their money.

    The question is, how will the north’s loyalist contingent get their heads around Alba breaking with London and becoming an independent state?

    Psychiatrists will be pretty busy in the years ahead…

  • Scotsman

    There might have been some complacency among Scottish capitalists before World War One, but since then the elite has mostly emigrated or stuck out the begging bowl in the way you see the Northern Ireland parties doing today.

    I don’t think the “Wha’s like us?” attitutde is any more prevalent in Scotland than any other country. I suppose it is less common among English intellectuals ashamed of the Empire who dislike displays of patriotism and prefer cosmopolitanism- a kind of snobbery anyway.

    Naturally, many Scots harbour a sense of grievance mixed with a sense of entitlement- but I don’t why that should affect capitalists’ abilities to flog whisky overseas.

    Poor effort from John Kay- it reads like a self-justification for leaving Scotland all those years ago.

  • This is the part that struck me as being relevant to some of the issues prevalent in Northern Ireland:

    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.

    This seems to me to be an interesting way to measure up the desireability of Scottish independence. As he also notes:

    Union benefited Scotland in the two centuries after 1707, but its effects in the subsequent 100 years is more uncertain. The pull of London diminished other trading centres. While Edinburgh is today the second financial city in the UK, it trails a long way behind. Free trade with England and its colonies benefited Scottish manufacturing before 1914 but these advantages diminished as empire fell and protectionism rose. Today, free trade is available to all small countries that are part of an international community.

    The subvention to Northern Ireland which was once guarded now seems to be an open secret. Figures I’ve heard veer between £7 – 9 billion, depending on whether the spending of the NIO is accounted for in the local figure.

    Whilst a Brown government is likely to continue it’s high public spending to sustain its peripheral regional economies, it is likely that a future Tory one will not, at least in the longer term. Scotland will have some degree of choice in terms of the parties it chooses at the next election. We have the much cruder device of a periodic border poll. But the current largely passive disposition (or ‘cautious pessimism’, if you like) is very similar.