The story goes that in 1787, as Russian Empress Catherine the Great travelled in the Crimea, her minister Grigory Potemkin erected fake portable villages along her route as a façade to hide deep-seated poverty in the region.
The Potemkin Villages, as they became known, were the means by which the gilded monarch was persuaded that all was right with the country under her gaze even though the truth was the opposite.
More than two centuries later in Scotland, former SNP MSP and businessman Andrew Wilson flatters to deceive by doing something of a ‘reverse Potemkin’ on anyone in the business community who cares to listen, on behalf of his pro-independence pals.
Writing in the Financial Times last weekend, Mr Wilson, a former RBS economist under the tenure of Fred Goodwin and later chair of the Scottish Government’s Sustainable Growth Commission, aimed to show why separation between Scotland and the rest of the UK made economic sense.
In the article, Brexit is described as “a populist campaign without any prospectus or detail on what would happen next”, before we hear in beguilingly optimistic terms what might happen if the SNP’s own populist campaign succeeds.
In doing so we are required to forget what we know about robust economic decision-making in favour of a ‘cut and run’ approach to the UK that many business leaders here in Scotland find frankly stomach-churning.
In fact, the economic vision proposed is far more poorly focused than the FT’s readers would be led to believe.
The Commission chaired by Mr Wilson was disbanded several years ago, its findings ignored by business and rejected by many on the left of the party. As an attempt by Nicola Sturgeon to subcontract thinking on economic policy to an ‘independent’ body though, it was a useful exercise in trying to show her party was at last grappling with the task of creating some sort of coherent economic case for separation.
Put simply, Ms Sturgeon’s government is renowned by business leaders in Scotland for its cluelessness in understanding what makes them tick.
So this arms-length approach was useful because its authors, including Mr Wilson, lent the exercise a veneer of authenticity. A useful PR exercise then; an elaborate Potemkin Village erected to impress voters turned off by the confusion of the Yes campaign’s economic case in 2014. Little more though.
What we’re now being asked to believe is that the SNP is being refreshingly honest because it admits that there will be “trade-offs and challenges” on a range of economic issues.
Yet on everything from the need for a new currency to borders, deficit reduction plans and the path of future alignment with the EU, those challenges are glided over. In truth Mr Wilson’s Potemkin vision of a post-separation economy shorn of rough edges at the behest of an arrogant political leadership was always a cynical tool. From the perspective of Scottish businesses coping with pandemic it is utterly valueless.
This ‘cut and run’ strategy ruthlessly exploits ill-feeling in Scotland about Brexit on one hand and the pandemic on the other to pursue a referendum at the worst possible time for our shared economic future.
Scotland’s business owners are acutely aware that it is HM Treasury payments that are supporting payroll and other operating costs while keeping devolved coffers topped up to the tune of £8.6bn in additional revenue since the start of the pandemic. Yet worryingly, most voters aren’t.
According to a recent YouGov poll, 30 per cent of Scots believe the money spent in Scotland on Covid support for businesses and employees comes from the Scottish government, while only 21 per cent believe that it originates in Westminster.
It is clear that there is deep and growing confusion about the role of the UK in improving the lives of people in Scotland, which risks feeding into an unquestioning acceptance of the case put forward by the Scottish government in the event of any future referendum.
It will never admit it but the SNP thrives on such confusion. In turn, the need to set the record straight places a duty and responsibility on politicians, business leaders and other supporters of Scotland’s place in the UK to ensure that the facts are known.
This is a point in our history when the UK’s role has rarely been more visible and relevant in the collective task we face of sustaining the economy and giving businesses the capacity to gather strength for future recovery.
Nothing about the SNP’s Potemkin prospectus for separation makes sense by contrast.
Robert Kilgour is Chairman and Founder of Scottish Business UK, and CEO of Dow Investments
This article was orginally published in City A.M.
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for start in time of national crises that is trumatizing the nation-covid-IS NOT time to make such foundemental decissions such as #INDY2. as for SNP economical policies thus far has been just a joke.yes they do spend money on some sectors of economy.alas all are just a poor facelift whilst Scotland has always needed to increase its manufacturing & inferastructures-non to be seen anywhere.all she has managed to do to attract tourism to Scotland is turn Ediburgh into Mickymouse of the north!that beautiful city with rich heritage has become poor cousin of Disneyland!SHE NEEDS TO BE STOPPED
Sadly too many of the “sheep” suffer from an unshakable belief that Scotland is in some manner owed money by Westminster, and that it has some vast reserves of assets that are being denied them. Of course when pushed, they are totally unable to say what these assets actually are.
Good article, but if I may suggest – and this bears repeating endlessly – that the root of the problem is not economics but law. It is true that apparent prosperity or lack of it is what drives voting behaviour, but what determines the limits of government dishonesty and manipulation is law – or lack of it. What determines business success in the long run is a fair and competent legal system. There will be no sanctity of property in an SNP Scotland. My view is that the SNP and their fellow-travellers, like the Greens and the Scottish Labour Party… Read more »
I just don’t see the value of Scottish independence.Well done SNP on your quest too make Scotland vote for Independence & running your own shop.But in doing so you are just voting for a political kiss of death,in the light of this horrible world & how it work’s out.The last thing you want is too turn into that tiny Bennie crappy countries in,Eastern Europe that no one pays attention too,living on Berlin’s pay roll waiting line for EU membership with a Lidi in every corner.Or having that poxy crass shelf important Neverendums like Quebec every now & then when,the menu’s… Read more »