Is the UK Government trying to suppress academic research when it strongly suggests that an independent Scotland would be economically successful?
First published in April 2021.
Whenever some think tank or other produces a report claiming that an independent Scotland would be some sort of dystopian nightmare where public services would be slashed to the bone, or that there would be rolls of barbed wire all the way along the border from Gretna to Berwick, it always receives huge publicity in the Scottish press usually accompanied by apocalyptic headlines and a presentation on the BBC by Sarah Smith doing her trying but conspicuously failing not to look smug face. The report is equally invariably described as coming from an independent think tank, even when it has been issued by an avowedly right wing think tank with links to the Conservative Party. We are then treated to a barrage of assertions about how in an independent Scotland the streets will be full of greetin weans and starving puppies.
On the other hand, when there is some development that spells good news for independence, with the exception of the National, you’ll be lucky to find a two line mention halfway down page 23, squeezed between a news report about a fight in a pub in Kirkcaldy and an advertising feature about special offers on BBQ equipment in a garden centre in Blantyre.
You’d almost think that there was some sort of causal correlation between the fact that Scotland has an overwhelmingly anti-independence media whose preponderance of anti-independence headlines is wildly disproportional to the actual degree of anti-independence sentiment among the Scottish public and the difficulty of getting equal publicity for academic reports and think tanks which publish good news for independence.
This week however we witnessed a development which could potentially point to something more sinister going on than an overwhelmingly anti-independence commercial media choosing to highlight stories which reinforce a British nationalist narrative and downplaying stories which bolster the case for independence. There was a suggestion this week that the British government is intervening to censor and suppress academic research that is helpful to arguments in favour of Scottish independence.
Earlier this week the London School of Economics published on its blog an article by two academics, Geoffrey Chapman and Richard Mackenzie-Gray Scott. Mr Chapman is currently employed by the British Government as an economics advisor to the Department for International Trade. Mr Mackenzie-Gray Scott is a research fellow Research fellow at the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law, the British Institute of International and Comparative Law. Naturally the views expressed in their article are their own and not those of the Conservative Government for which Mr Chapman is an advisor.
The article details ways in which Scotland could become independent and achieve international recognition as an independent state even if Westminster were to refuse to accept the result of a referendum held without Downing Street’s express consent. The authors point out the considerable political and legal difficulties and dangers which would arise for the British Government if it attempted to block a referendum in the courts once the Scottish Parliament had decided to proceed with one after receiving an unarguable democratic mandate from the Scottish electorate to do so. In this respect the report strongly validates the current Scottish government’s position of pressing ahead with a referendum under the aegis of Holyrood and daring the British Government to take legal action to block the exercise of Scottish democracy.
The report also notes that it may even be possible for Scotland to make a successful unilateral declaration of independence should Westminster refuse to accept the outcome of a referendum which had produced a majority for yes.
The main body of the report examines the economic impact of Scottish independence and argues that although the initial period of independence will have its challenges, in the medium to longer term everything suggests that the new Scottish state would be economically successful. The authors look at the position of the Czech and Slovak Republics after the dissolution of the former Czechoslovakia. Upon independence, Slovakia’s international trade was heavily slanted toward trade with its former partner in Czechoslovakia, however in the years since independence both the Czech Republic and Slovakia have rebalanced their international trade away from their former partners and toward trade with other states, particularly Germany.
The authors conclude that the potential for Scotland is even better than it was for either the Czech Republic or Slovakia, saying, “Scotland’s historic economic performance has been strong, which bodes well for a small, open and independent Scotland. With modest population growth alongside good GDP growth, supported by stable participation in international trade, it seems Scotland is in a far better initial condition than either the Czech or Slovak Republics, and can therefore expect similar (if not better) post-independence outcomes.”
The report concludes: “Considering Scotland has all the necessary machinery in place to become an independent state, we see no obvious reasons why Scotland would not succeed economically if it were to do so, especially if achieved within the bounds of the law. Although our findings might be controversial to some, we hope to show that Scottish independence, while not inevitable, is far more nuanced a matter than many have claimed. There exist several options worth pursuing for the parties to this debate.”
Their findings certainly seem to have been controversial with some. Within hours of the article being published, it was wheeched of the LSE website. If you now follow the original link to the article (https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/scottish-independence-cost/) you can no longer read the research. Instead the article has vanished and there’s a disclaimer saying, “Update 2 April: We have been asked by the authors to take this article down temporarily. We will be making it available again as soon as we are able to and apologise for any inconvenience caused.”
However nothing ever truly disappears from the internet, and you can still see an archived version of the original article here.
AspokesTory for the Department for International Trade told the National newspaper: “This is not the view of the Department for International Trade or the UK Government, and the matter is being looked into.”
When Business for Scotland asked the British government whether it had pressurised the academics to delete the post, it would only reiterate that the article did not reflect the views of the British Government and refused to deny that it had put any pressure on the academics to remove from the public view some research whose findings are politically damaging to British nationalist claims about the supposed “dangers” of Scottish independence.
In recent days we have seen newspapers publish polls whose methodology was changed in order to give false results favouring the Union and others lying about the poll results to get pro-Union headlines and only correcting the poll days later to show a significant lead for Yes, by which time the anti-independence parties have reaped the propaganda advantage.
It now looks as though the British state may be trying to suppress legitimate academic research because it undermines the false narrative being touted by the anti-independence parties. If that is indeed the case it merely proves just how worried they are and that they are realising that Scotland’s desire for independence is a force that they will be unable to resist.
The title of this column reads like the title of an Agatha Christie novel, that’s because the British state is trying to kill off hopes of independence by fair means or foul.
- While Scottish independence would have immediate economic costs, history suggests there are long-term benefits (original piece, via web-archive) | LSE
- Scotland's economy can thrive after independence, Downing Street adviser admits | The National
▫ Wee Ginger Dug, also known as Paul Kavanagh. Blogger.
- Paul Kavanagh is the author of Barking up the Right Tree | Vagabond Voices
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[This piece was originally published in Wee Ginger Dug’s blog and re-published in PMP Magazine on 3 April 2021, with the author’s consent. | The author writes in a personal capacity.]
(Cover: Geograph/P L Chadwick. - A7 road, near Scotsdike, Dumfries & Galloway. / Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)