I’m sorry Sir Tom, but Scotland isn’t like Ireland

Ireland enjoys a fascinating reputation worldwide. St. Patrick’s Day is probably the most well-known and celebrated national holiday in the world, at least considering the size of the country. And of course the Guinness. And of course the goblins. And of course the luck of the Irish. And natural and natural and natural.

But this romantic image of Ireland, of the quaint and slow-paced side of life, belies the reality that it is a powerhouse. It’s an economic powerhouse – nine of the world’s top 10 pharmaceutical companies and 14 of the world’s top 15 medical technology companies are based in Ireland, we are told in a paper published this week by Sir Tom Hunter.

And while we’re aware of the Celtic Tiger economy over the Irish Sea in Britain, we’re probably less aware that it has significant deadweight. In TIMSS (the international survey of mathematics and science performance in schools), Ireland ranks in the top 10 in both domains and produces high-paid workers for these high-value sectors (British nations do not appear). You can also read; They rank fourth globally in the sister study PIRLS, which focuses on literacy.

It’s no coincidence that the Irish are also very adept at healthcare. Because of broadly the same investment in their health care as we Brits, there are four doctors for every 1,000 people; we have a little over three. They have 15 nurses per thousand compared to less than nine here. And they train twice as many medical graduates as we do.

The results are good too. The Irish have lower infant mortality rates and longer life expectancies than we do. They have fewer smokers and less obesity.

Once we put aside the lazy British stereotypes about the Irish, none of this should surprise us. Just a few dozen miles to the west, we’re dealing with a country that is uncompromisingly focused on outcomes, not inputs.

When it comes to the economy, it means the focus is on growth and wealth creation. It doesn’t matter if the Dail is controlled by Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil, the rules of the game are the same. You “put on the green jersey,” as they say, and you maximize economic growth. They’re all in there together.

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This does not provoke a social crisis. Irish people are acutely aware that a pro-business, low-tax environment that attracts foreign investment, creates economic growth and maximizes tax revenues is the best way to fund public services and protect their most vulnerable people. There is no moral doubt in celebrating the presence of large corporations and very wealthy individuals as they pay most of the taxes.

In Scotland, particularly in the nationalist community, we have spent years comparing ourselves to the Irish and implying that we could be just like them. Nonsense. We’re not like those people at all.

Scotland, on the other hand, is the land of concepts such as ‘progressive taxation’ and ‘feel good economics’. These made-up platitudes were created to convey a sense of moral superiority. a kind of People Make Glasgow applied to economic policy. But of course they do not represent economic policy at all, for they exist only to send out a high-level political smoke signal.

The result is a political culture where the Scottish Government and all opposition parties join in a circular firing squad to increase taxes and generally make life as difficult as possible for the individuals and organizations that create the wealth and provide the tax base funding public services, while lamenting that Westminster’s pocket-money system of funding is insufficient to run the country.

This is the saddest, most disheartening, somber yet inevitable outcome of Sir Tom’s intervention. Because while other struggling, anemic economies would tie down one of their most successful wealth creators and ask him to help realize his vision, in Scotland we will shun Sir Tom. We might even poke fun at Sir Tom because the limits of our moral superiority go far beyond anything he could guess.

The harsh, grim, and depressing truth is that our politics—which is dominated by constitutionalism at the expense of politics—simply isn’t designed to make any of this possible. Let’s put ourselves in the room of the leaders and political pundits of each of the major parties and imagine them reading Sir Tom’s recommendations.

The SNP will like Sir Tom’s comments on immigration powers, but will flatly oppose the tax agenda cut. She bloodily endorsed the “progressive taxation” agenda, and even if tempted, her Green coalition partners would never allow her to lower taxes on a company.

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But what about Labour, freed from the extreme influence of the Corbynists and poised to rule from the sensible center under Sir Keir Starmer? Ah, but no. You see, Labor believes in decentralization but not in competition. So while the country has no theoretical objection to decentralizing corporate tax or immigration, it would be strongly opposed to these tools being used to maximize Scotland’s economic advantage over other parts of the UK.

So surely the Tories? After all, this is the most natural terrain for a centre-right Liberal Business Party, isn’t it? Yes, but not if it involves the transfer of powers from Westminster to Holyrood. That’s instinctively grossly overkill for a party that harbors an intensely emotional aversion to moves they fear might improve the case of an independent Scotland. That this approach has made them the only primary centre-right party in Europe that has never been in power and never will be is not considered relevant or even interesting.

This is Scotland. If you could make a living cutting off your nose to mock the face, we’d be the world leader. Unfortunately no.

This is not Ireland. There is no blue jersey. Thank you Sir Tom but we are not interested.

Grace Reader

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