Something to consider for the Scottish Parliamentary elections next year: Iain Gray isn't much of a statesman.
Regardless of whether the Scottish Parliament is independent or not, it's surely a matter of common courtesy and respect not to demean other nations for party political gain. Again and again, Labour politicians are more than happy to slag off other nations in order to demonstrate how poor, wee and stupid they believe Scotland and her people really are.
The trouble is, these other nations might hear Mr Gray. They might not be too impressed. If Mr Gray was in charge of Scotland, such public denouncements might even result in damage to Scotland's trade and diplomatic relations. After all, would you want to deal with a man who clearly has no respect for you?
Mark Coleman, the Economics Editor with NewsTalk in Dublin and columnist with the Sunday Independent, can be heard on the iPlayer (around sixteen minutes in) giving his rather pointed reaction to Iain Gray's comments at this weeks FMQs. He says:
"...Looking at 10 years of Labour leadership has left Scotland unfortunately with a GDP per capita that's significantly lower than the EU average and the EU, so perhaps the credibility of that remark should be filtered through that simple fact.
"All I will say is that Ireland's population is a million higher than it was 14 years ago; we have a quarter of a million more employed, a quarter of a million more in work than we did a decade before; we have a quarter of a million people in Ireland now working from other EU countries, a GDP per capita 30% higher than the EU average...
"...Have we taken a blow, we certainly have. Are we still standing, we absolutely are."
Labour's argument is painfully backwards - it's obvious that despite their current difficulties, Ireland isn't interested in rejoining the UK, Iceland isn't going back under the wing of Denmark, and for that matter none of the small successor nations of the former USSR are looking to cede their hard-won sovereignty back to mother Russia. Yes, some nations are facing hard times but none of them are questioning their independence.
Managing your own finances is just one of the many things that normal independent nations do every hour of every day. Scotland is not uniquely incapable of doing the same, despite what Labour would have us believe. The main barrier to independence is Scotland's own self-doubt.
Until independence comes around, we need someone to fight Scotland's corner, to win friends and gather as much support for the development of our nation and our economy. Building solid relationships with our neighbours and other smaller independent states is a good start.
I've decided to reproduce Iain Gray's questions from FMQs. You can judge for yourself whether this man is capable of leading Scotland.
Iain Gray: It was one of those clear autumn mornings this morning when we feel like we can see for miles. Where should we look for the First Minister's arc of prosperity today: Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Iceland or Ireland?
The First Minister: I think that we should take a variety of international examples in following best practice in Scotland. As Iain Gray knows, I recently visited Norway and made a number of announcements about renewable energy and collaboration in Scotland. One thing that particularly impressed me as I visited Norway was the £200 billion oil fund that that country has accumulated by having access to its own natural resources. Would that Scotland had been in the same position over the past 30 years.
Iain Gray: The fact of the matter, of course, is that Norway's oil fund has been built up because Norway—
Members: Is independent.
The Presiding Officer (Alex Fergusson): Order.
Iain Gray: It is because the Norwegian state still owns its oil and gas industry. If the First Minister is proposing to nationalise the oil and gas industry, he should probably tell us. [Interruption.]
The Presiding Officer: Order.
Iain Gray: It is no surprise that when the First Minister is asked about Ireland nowadays, he talks about Norway. The First Minister once said:
"I am sure that most of Europe's Finance Ministers would give at least one limb—possibly more—to have Ireland's problems".
Today, the cost for Ireland of bailing out the Anglo Irish Bank reached €34 billion. The finance minister warned that its failure would destroy Ireland's economy.
Which limb would the First Minister give to have that problem?
The First Minister: Iain Gray will forgive me if I correct him on his understanding of the Norwegian oil fund. The Norwegian oil fund was built up from
revenues from oil—not just from Statoil, the Norwegian state oil company, but from all the major oil companies exploiting oil in the Norwegian sector. It is unbelievable! I thought hitherto that Iain Gray opposed the concept of Scotland benefiting from its own natural resources because he wanted Westminster to have them. I now realise that it is because he did not even understand the proposition. I will send Iain Gray a paper on the Norwegian oil fund. Given that so much is changing in Labour and given that new Labour is buried, despite Iain Gray's attachment to it, if all the policies are changing, who knows, maybe Labour will be in favour of an oil fund before long.
I point out two things to Iain Gray. First, on direct capital investment in the Scottish banks, currently the Treasury is making a profit, given the current share price of Lloyds and the Royal Bank of Scotland. [Interruption.] That is a fact nonetheless. Secondly, Ireland, like many countries, has substantial economic problems at present, but I note that its wealth per head is actually higher than that of the United Kingdom.
Iain Gray: It was an Irishman who said that there are none so blind as those who will not see. Ireland is teetering on the edge of collapse, and Scotland's banking sector is 10 times the size of Ireland's. The Royal Bank of Scotland alone had a balance sheet 15 times the size of the Scottish economy. The investment in saving those banks was £470 billion. Will the First Minister admit that, in an independent Scotland, RBS and HBOS would have collapsed and the Scottish economy would have collapsed with them?
The First Minister: Just as Iain Gray confused Statoil with the Norwegian oil fund, he is confusing capital injections into banks with general support for the financial and monetary system. The capital injection into the Scottish banks is now making a paper profit for the UK Treasury.
Iain Gray says that the Irish economy is on the brink of collapse. Judging from Labour's conference, I thought that it was the UK economy that was on the brink of collapse. The Labour Party has argued, with some justification, that the UK Government is risking a double-dip recession because of an approach to an austerity programme that goes too far and too fast in its cuts in public spending. I agree with that proposition on the basis of the evidence from Ireland. If that is the argument that Iain Gray is putting forward—that, unless an alternative policy programme is agreed, the UK risks moving into a double-dip recession—does that not support the argument that we should look to European countries such as Norway, which have avoided that by mobilising their natural resources to power
their economy forward? I would that we could do the same in Scotland.
Iain Gray: Support for the Scottish banks was £470 billion—£70 billion capital injection, £100 billion special liquidity scheme, £100 billion credit guarantee, £200 billion asset protection scheme and £10 billion in fees. The Government may get some of that back, but if it had not had it at the time when it was needed, we would have suffered the consequences. Everyone in Scotland knows that, in a separate Scotland, our two biggest banks would have gone and, with them, all the jobs, savings, pensions, mortgages and salaries. Everyone in Scotland knows that we would have tipped over the edge on which Ireland teeters today. Is Alex Salmond the last man in Scotland who does not realise that his personal obsession with independence is daft, deluded, deranged and downright dangerous for this country?
The First Minister: Alex Salmond realises that it is only with economic powers for this Parliament and this Government—the economic powers that would be delivered by independence—that we will have an alternative to 10 years of despair and public spending cutbacks in the United Kingdom.
As they also say in Ireland, if I was going there, I would not start from here. That applies to Iain Gray's questions. He has confused the capital injection into the banking sector that is taking place in Ireland at the moment with general financial support for a monetary system. The two things are entirely different. It is not me who claims that there is a profit to be gained from the capital injection into Lloyds and RBS; that is in the Treasury documents—not just the Treasury documents of the new coalition, but the Treasury documents that were produced by Iain Gray's old boss, Alistair Darling.
Ed Miliband evoked a new atmosphere of consensus at the Labour conference when he said that he would not attack policies to restrict short-term sentences and say that people were being soft on crime. As Ed Miliband moves in a sensible political direction and supports the SNP Government's policy on crime, which has been so successful, will not Iain Gray eventually realise, in that changing atmosphere, the obvious, inarguable point that only in our having economic powers and growing the Scottish economy is there any alternative to being at the mercy of coalition cutbacks, two thirds of which were started by his own party?