Scottish Government Brexit paper reveals its economic prejudices

Scottish Government Brexit paper reveals its economic prejudices

by Eben Wilson
article from Wednesday 24, January, 2018

THE OTHER DAY, the Today programme had a go at asking “why there were so few right-wing comedians”.  I say “had a go” because it was surreal.  A supposedly right-wing comedian was brought in to share the question with one of our typical left-wing satirists.

Of course, the very use of right-wing and left-wing is barmy; the piece immediately floundered in a muddle over corporate conservatism versus free market liberalism, added to which the term liberal is awkward when it covers both the social liberalism that uses political power to promote political correctness and the economic liberalism of free choice and consumer power.  This was Alice through the Looking Glass stuff.  Fun, but confusingly vacuous. 

Clarity of communication is always a struggle when a pre-conceived world view colours objective debate through embedded prejudice; in the mass media it is ignorance rather than bias that is unhelpful to a balanced and impartial expression of ideas.  In politics, well, other incentives apply.

Which brings me to the Scottish Government’s latest paper on the EU; I read this communication with some eagerness, hoping that I might get some insight as to how Scotland might be affected by Brexit.  Oh dear.

If your audience knows your political leanings and you propose to offer an objective view based on empirical data, you really ought to think about what data you use and how it is presented in your argument.

The document is bizarre in this respect because it is nearly empty of anything new.  Yes, it has references and a so-called technical annex, but it is tainted throughout by the clear presumption that its evidence must show that we are all doomed by Brexit and there is absolutely nothing good that can come from Scotland’s departure from the EU.  

The result is a propaganda harangue; and our colleague Jonathan Stanley has given a good review already through this site.  Is this really the best that Scots can be offered by our legions of academics and civil servants? My despair is in the narrowness of thinking that makes the paper so weak – there are swathes of commentary and evidence counter to what is offered.  

To cite HM Treasury’s now discredited report predicting fearful long term damage from Brexit, plus IMF and OECD papers sharing assumptions that in real life have been overtaken by events is crass. To be told that nearly all economists are agreed on the gravity model of international trade is simply wrong.  And could they please stop saying that the EU has lots of trade agreements.  It doesn’t; its record is appalling in this regard, there are a lot of “trade co-operations” and agreed “associations”, but few comprehensive free trade agreements.

Throughout this paper, single value statistics from pro-EU studies are offered like grenades to prove empty points that instead need time series and trend analysis to be in any way meaningful.  The technical annex is not technical, merely a re-statement of assumptions and source studies. Nearly all these pro-EU studies have been criticised for analysing only the macro-economic one-off downside effect of moving outside the EU protective tariff wall; as if the rest of the world as a trading destination offering real trade growth simply does not exist.  

While vague assertions such as “the UK would become a third country from the perspective of the EU, and trade is likely to diminish” are puerile, other assertions destroy their own case. For example, we are told that complex regulatory barriers would work against Scottish business interests, and that no agreement yet supports the freedom to trade in services; both arguments support the Brexit world view that the regulatory regimes of the EU are sclerotic protective structures restricting trade; only to deny its peoples a rate of growth that improves their lives as fast as open trading markets.

However, this counter-productive gloop goes on, spreading false fears that Brexit will “jeopardise the wider conditions which underpin trade. These include data transfer arrangements, aviation transport and the ability for people to move and provide services”; conditions seen as particularly important to SMEs.  Oh come on!  Are they suggesting that the EU will block us sending CAD files and IBAN bank details by email to Italy, turn back aeroplanes at Dunkirk or stop us visiting Rome to sell design services?  If that’s the EU they foresee, we should all want out.

And this is the key; there are deeply embedded prejudices behind this; our government is incapable of engaging with alternative arguments.  The question we need to ask is why the Scottish Government thinks that communicating tripe like this is helpful to them or helps its electorate. 

We are back to left-wing comedians here. One of the reasons why leftist sentiment can be comic is that it uses distemper-brush scorn.  The underlying approach is oh-so-easy criticism of the obvious; an empty carping that the those with power should do better, measured against an idealised outcome of justice, niceness, competence and inclusivity that the holier-than-thou left adhere to.

This is what offends us liberal-minded folk, not a conservatism, but that leftist carping is just too easy as a politicised choice in a world that is much more complicated than comedy can cope with.

Comic satire tries to deflate the powerful, and that is a useful job, but as a force for positive good it is empty. The Scottish Government’s position on the EU has become similar; it attempts of course to deflate Westminster and the UK for nationalist reasons, but it also carps in broad brushstrokes that are puerile because of its leftist presumptions.  SNP communications on the EU have become blackly comic; doing nothing useful in serving the Scottish people, but serving their political purpose of appearing concerned with justice and inclusion and designing this outcome through central planning.

This is so sad, because Scotland’s Brexit debate in particular deserves better; we are engaged in a fundamental argument about the liberty of a people and the role of the central state. Scottish thinkers discovered the insight of the enlightenment that well-ordered free societies produce unintended outcomes not through design but by spontaneous success discovered by their peoples, not their governments.  That’s why most of us are affluent and comfortable today.

The black comedy of our government takes its bleakness from the same intellectual source as the EU; that society must be constructed by good people (socialist politicians) doing good things (socialist policy).

Hayek pointed out that most intellectuals hold “the fiction that all relevant facts can be known … and that it is possible to construct from this knowledge … a desirable social order." He called this rational constructivism and a fatal conceit.

This political conceit is hugely damaging to Scotland’s economy, preventing our government from what it should be doing, accepting the UK Brexit vote and working for Scots on practical measures aimed at growing a truly global Scotland.  

The left always hate the notion that they might be wrong; fighting against what offends them by using diversion and false outrage. Yet they know as well as anyone else that the Scots people should be allowed a free choice between liberality and conservatism in both social and in economic matters and want objective information that helps them make that choice.  

What really offends our government is when it is pointed out that they are both socially illiberal, in their attitude to those that do not agree with them, and deeply conservative through their corporatist planning in economic matters. 

This latest pro-EU propaganda paper once again reminds us of the depth of their intent to retain power and control over us and cosy up to the elitism of the European Union against what many believe are the real best interests of the people of Scotland.

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