The pension lie and other separatist myths

The pension lie and other separatist myths

by Jill Stephenson
article from Wednesday 10, February, 2021

WOULD YOU Adam and Eve it? The SNP’s propaganda rag, The National, has published an article called ‘Fears for pensions in an independent Scotland quelled in Yesser’s new video’. The fourteen-minute video in question is made by one Robert Anderson for ‘Yes Perth’ – no bias there, then – to try to allay Scots’ fears about a separate Scotland not being able to afford to pay out the state pension. This, apparently, is to address pension “lies told by Better Together” in 2014. 

It is a common separatist myth that, allegedly, Better Together campaigners tried to scare pensioners into voting to remain in the UK by telling them that, if Scotland left the UK, they “would lose all their contributions” they had made through National Insurance payments in order to be eligible for a state pension. Well, I know a lot of pensioners, but I have never heard of any who were told by anyone from BT – or anyone else - that they would lose the contributions they had made. It is clear that Mr Anderson is peddling fake news.

This is not an isolated case. Mr Anderson has made other videos of a Scottish nationalist apologist complexion. The one concerning the Scottish economy could be dissected minutely to detail its falsehoods and chicanery. Let us mention one here: that “Scotland has been the only UK nation to have exported more than it imported, since records began”. The verdict from the Ferret Fact Service is that this claim is “Mostly False:

While the HMRC figures show more exports than imports, that does not reflect the full picture of Scotland’s trading position as it only accounts for goods traded overseas.  Trade with other UK nations makes up a majority of Scottish trade, and when services are included in the statistics, Scotland is shown to have an overall net trade deficit.

Further, Graeme Roy of the respected Fraser of Allander Institute reported on 14 February 2020 that “our international exports are equivalent to around 20% of Scottish GDP. For the UK as a whole, that figure is 30%”. By sleight of hand, then, Mr Anderson is turning Scotland’s trading dependence on the rUK market – 60 per cent of Scotland’s trade is with the rUK – into a virtue, even though that is a strong piece of evidence in favour of Scotland remaining in the UK. 

Mr Anderson tells us that we should base our understanding of Scotland’s economy on HMRC and Office of National Statistics figures, but his own presentation is based overwhelmingly on the manipulation of these figures by nationalist sources, including in particular the “business support site”, as he calls it, ‘Business for Scotland’. Everyone needs to know that ‘Business for Scotland’ is NOT a ‘business support site’. It is an SNP front organisation that churns out dishonest SNP propaganda and sponsors propaganda polls in its campaign to break up the UK. 

Much of its propaganda is in bright colours and simple shapes, with fake news claims and figures. ‘Business for Scotland’ has nothing especially to do with business or with businesses. Its purpose and activities are purely political – to promote the idea of Scottish separatism and to do so by propagating lies and distortions. This includes what the website ‘Scots Nationalist Lie Destroyer’ has termed ‘The “Big Meaningless List” Scottish Assets against population meme Lie’. Scarcely surprisingly, Mr Anderson trots out this list in his film on the economy. The Business for Scotland meme on this unforgivably gives the impression – deliberately, of course – that Scotland has 90 per cent of the surface fresh water that comes out of our taps in the UK. This is utter dishonesty.

On pensions, it seems that Mr Anderson has fallen for the customary separatist misapprehension, namely that the contributions that we make through NI go into our own ‘pension pot’, which we redeem as pension at retirement age. This is a myth. After all, when Lloyd George introduced the old age pension in 1909 (with a qualifying age of 70, which was more than life expectancy at birth by fifteen years for women and nineteen years for men) no-one had built up a ‘pension pot’, yet pensions were paid. Now, as then, pensions are paid out of recurrent income. Those paying NI today are paying for pensions for today’s pensioners. When those paying NI today reach pension age tomorrow, they will receive their pension, paid for by tomorrow’s NI contributors. It really isn’t difficult to understand, but Scottish nationalists have managed to fail to understand it. It could, of course, be constructive ignorance, to try to concoct yet another lie about the pro-union campaign. The bottom line is: there is no ‘pension pot’. Mr Anderson, please note.

The other part of the SNP’s fake news about pensions after Scexit follows from the ‘pension pot’ myth. It is that the UK will continue to pay out to Scottish pensioners, because Scottish pensioners paid into the pension fund while they were paying NI in the UK. Diehard cybernats peddle this untruth unrelentingly. It is impossible to get through to them that the SNP’s White Paper of 2013, the separatist prospectus for the 2014 referendum, tells us: “for those people living in Scotland in receipt of the UK State Pension at the time of independence, the responsibility for the payment of that pension will transfer to the Scottish Government” (p. 144). It could not be clearer. This is the nub of the problem: separate Scotland would become responsible for paying pensions. How would a country with an 8.6 per cent deficit – before Covid costs – be able to maintain payment of the state pension at its current rate?

That is what BT campaigners asked voters whom they canvassed and told them that it was unlikely that a separate Scotland would be able to afford to pay the state pension at its current rate. It is hard to argue with that. It is, after all, something that the SNP’s John Swinney – at the time, SNP finance minister – warned about in 2013. On 7 March 2013, The Independent newspaper published an article entitled “Scottish independence: leak reveals SNP fears over finances”. Swinney’s paper warned the then first minister, Alex Salmond, and his cabinet colleagues that the nation’s finances – including its ability to pay for pensions and public services – would be at risk because of fluctuating oil prices and the cost of an ageing population. At the time, oil commanded a price of $86 per barrel (which, when adjusted for inflation, would be $96 today). Now, the price is around $55 per barrel. That does not take account of the tax regime and the oil companies’ setting of substantial decommissioning costs against tax. In 2015-17, oil brought in pretty much no tax revenue at all, and it brings in relatively little now. We certainly dodged a bullet in 2014.  

The fact that dependence on oil revenues had been ‘baked into the White Paper’ was confirmed by the SNP’s own Andrew Wilson, author of the Growth Commission Report. As reported in Daily Business, 6 March 2017:  

“Mr Wilson, whose final report on the economy is due to be published soon, said Yes campaigners had argued ahead of the 2014 referendum that ‘oil was a bonus and not the basis’ of the economic case for independence. He said: ‘But we did have oil baked into the numbers and it was indeed a basis’.” 

Mr Anderson tells us that a separate Scotland would be able to afford higher pensions because, he tells us “Scotland is wealthier than England” and can be even wealthier – more natural resources, higher levels of exports and dynamic economic growth. You have now reached your destination: Scottish nationalist fantasy land. 

The respected Fraser of Allander Institute has warned against basing future expectations on enhanced growth, yet nationalists have, for no discernible reason beyond unwarranted optimism, assumed that leaving the UK would be a recipe for higher rates of growth. Mr Anderson goes through the usual nationalist litanies, disparaging the Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland (GERS) figures that were acknowledged in 2014 as authoritative by the SNP’s leading members, including Alex Salmond – “GERS is a Kitemark document” – and Nicola Sturgeon, John Swinney, Angus Robertson, Stewart Hosie, Humza Yousaf. Scottish nationalists who claim that the GERS figures are false, or imposed on us by Westminster, the usual bogeyman, seem not to realise the calumny that they are propagating. GERS deniers, like Mr Anderson, dismiss as false the GERS figures that are carefully calculated by the Scottish Government’s own professional statisticians. Mr Anderson tells us on film categorically that “GERS is a falsified account of Scotland in the Union”. He, like other GERS deniers, is, in effect, saying that the assiduous professional experts employed by the Scottish government who painstakingly calculate the GERS statistics are either incompetent or dishonest. There can be no other explanation.

Mr Robertson’s final flourish, “All I can guarantee is that you will not lose any money in an independent Scotland”, is as false as everything else he has said. This ‘guarantee’ is worth as much as Salmond’s “I guarantee that the Royal Navy will build warships in an independent Scotland”, made on television in 2014. In neither case was the claim being made by a person who was in a position to deliver. The tragedy of the Scottish people is that too many of them believe the downright garbage that Mr Anderson and his fellow travellers parrot, having been fed it from SNP propaganda sites. If the SNP ever had its way and inflicted Scexit on us, their gullible followers would soon discover that the gospel they have been fed is a tissue of lies, and that they had voted themselves into bankruptcy – where not being able to pay for pensions would be the least of their worries. 

Postscript 

In recent days, yet more evidence has emerged to show that – as David Smith put it in The Times on 18 December 2019 – “an independent Scotland is not economically viable”. Last week, the Centre for Economic Performance at the LSE published a report on the damaging consequences for Scottish trade of leaving the UK – three times as damaging as Brexit. And it would be in addition to Brexit. Beyond that, every Scot – even every Brit – should read the sobering analysis by John Ferry in the Spectator 7 February 2021, “Is the SNP prepared for Scotland’s next financial crisis?” A fuller version of this article appears on the These Islands website.

Ferry has assembled a group of international experts who are unanimous that if Scotland left the UK, the financial ramifications would be eyewatering. As Ferry says, “it seems clear that large-scale government spending cuts and/or tax rises would be required immediately”. 

This is what the SNP wants us to vote for, dressed up in a dishonest good news guise. I hope my fellow Scots will not fall for this confidence trick.

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Jill Stephenson is a former Professor of Modern German History at the University of Edinburgh. 

Elderly people traffic sign by Frank Gärtner from Adobe Stock. Screenshots by the author.

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