Friday, 13 April 2012
A convenient cover story for the Nats
What's the big deal? Well the cover is certainly provocative and the humour is a tad puerile, but surely that's the point. It's tongue-in-cheek, and it's hardly the first time the magazine has sported a front cover characterised by satire or parody.
Of course, that doesn't really matter as regards the eminently predictable Nationalist outrage, with the SNP's Angus Robertson leading the charge with the accusation that the Economist is "grossly offensive" and "insulting every community in Scotland". Elsewhere are charges of "racism", "treats Scots like idiots", "too wee, too stupid, too poor", blah, blah.
But the reality is that the related article and leader column are reasonably balanced and compellingly argued. For a start, they acknowledge that in terms of economic output Scotland is one of the best performing parts of the UK. They say we're perhaps over-reliant on the public sector, but agree that an independent Scotland could pay for this with North Sea oil receipts. They also point out that this fact was kept under wraps by the Westminster Establishment when oil bolstered the independence cause in the 1970s.
However, the crux of the Economist's case is based on the future. It points to dwindling oil reserves and that the commodity's price is highly volatile, both important factors for an economy that would be highly dependent on the black stuff. The fact that Edinburgh's financial sector seems unlikely to fully recover from the RBS/HBOS debacle is also highlighted, as are question marks over the future of subsidy-hungry and largely technically unproven renewable energy. Then there's the uncertainty regarding Scotland's position in the EU, not to mention the related issues of the currency, monetary and fiscal policy, and our credit rating. And even while arguing that Scotland's future might be less potentially volatile as part of a much larger and more diverse economic entity, the Economist does acknowledge that: "If Scots really want independence for political or cultural reasons, they should go for it. National pride is impossible to price."
All of which seems perfectly reasonable, but the magazine's front cover has provided the Nationalists with a convenient diversion from discussing the economic substance of the Economist's pieces. As usual it's not clear if the outrage is largely synthetic or born of the chip-on-the-shoulder-the-size-of-the-Cairngorms, but conflating the import of the articles with the levity of the cartoon cover has served its purpose.
Equally, there's a huge dollop of hypocrisy in all of this. The same people who shout about "Westmidden" and that the UK is bankrupt (when it still has a triple-A credit rating) just can't seem to take a bit of questioning and critique in the other direction. Of course, they also think that the Scottish media should exist only to rearrange SNP press releases, and that it should concentrate on criticising the opposition parties rather than Scotland's government, thus seeking a Caledonian Pravda that's as supine as backbench SNP MSPs.
In fact there's little in the Economist's pieces that hasn't been repeated almost ad nauseam elsewhere. The pro-independence reaction is probably due to the fact that the publication carries a bit more weight than the likes of this blog, and is also read by an international audience.
The 'Skintland' jibe has merely provided a useful 'cover' for the Nationalists regarding the substantive economics of separation.