I decided that for 2014 I would boil down my intention to vote Yes into one simple, single reason that, in my mind at least, is unassailable. That way I’d be ready for the increasing number of ad-hoc discussions on the referendum that will likely take place this year and, who knows, maybe I can convince a few floating voters to vote Yes with my pre-prepared killer argument.
For me, that single reason is spending decisions taken by Westminster and, specifically, the grossly inflated amount of money that we waste on Defence. This isn’t just about Trident and nuclear weapons, healthy reasons for voting Yes as they are, but it’s about the expensive delusion that the British Isles needs to be the 4th biggest military budget in the World (as a % of GDP).
The United Kingdom is (and an independent Scotland would be) a member of the United Nations, a member of the European Union and a member of NATO. We are adequately protected as the self-respecting countries making up these alliances are stronger together and weaker apart, to borrow a well-worn phrase.
So, to compare what the UK spends on Defence against, say, what the Scandinvavian countries spend is maddening as money that should be being spent on more important areas is being frittered away on tanks, guns and artillery that we simply don’t need.
Let’s look at the numbers (figures taken from latest available tables on Wikipedia):
The UK spends $61bn a year on Defence (2.5% of GDP)
Sweden spends $6.2bn a year on Defence, (1.2% of GDP)
Denmark spends $4.4bn a year on Defence, (1.4% of GDP)
Norway spends $7.0bn a year on Defence, (1.4% of GDP)
Finland spends $3.7bn a year on Defence, (1.5% of GDP)
Clearly there is a significant difference between what the UK (and, by extension, Scotland) spends on Defence and what the Scandinavian countries spend.
Let’s look at spending as a %age of GDP on education:
United Kingdom – 5.5%
Sweden – 6.6%
Denmark – 7.8%
Norway – 6.8%
Finland – 5.9%
So Scandinavian pupils have better-paid teachers and better-resourced schools to learn in.
Let’s look at spending as a %age of GDP on research and development:
United Kingdom – 1.7%
Sweden – 3.3%
Denmark – 2.4%
Norway – 4.2%
Finland – 3.1%
We live in a competitive world and, combined with our lower education spend, we are way off the pace in developing the skills and future technology that will put us at the front of the pack.
Let’s look at spending as a %age of GDP on welfare:
United Kingdom – 25.9%
Sweden – 38.2%
Denmark – 37.9%
Norway – 33.2%
Finland – 32.3%
So while Scandinavians can afford appropriate parental leave, comfortable nursery subsidies and generous unemployment/disability benefit, we are scrimping by. Note also that George Osborne is due to cut welfare by a further £12bn in the near future.
Let’s look at probably the most important rating for any Western democracy, poverty rates (per Unicef):
United Kingdom – 19.8%
Sweden – 2.6%
Denmark – 5.1%
Norway – 3.9%
Finland – 4.3%
This is simply embarrassing and needs no further comment.
I’m not making these numbers up, nor am I being selective in what categories I choose here. It is clear that we are putting ourselves at a disadvantage on considerably more important spending areas partially as a result of our bloated Defence budget and, if recent history and voter priorities in the rest of the UK is any guide, that is not going to change irrespective of whether Labour or the Tories are in charge at Westminster.
If Scotland makes up 10% of the $61bn Defence spending total then we are spending $6.1bn a year. Reducing that to Swedish levels of Defence spending would save us over $3bn, or about £2bn. Just think how far a Government of any hue at Holyrood could make an extra £2bn a year go.
The independence referendum in my eyes is a choice between more needless spending on Defence or more spending on education, research and development, the welfare state and, crucially, less Scottish kids in poverty.
It really is a no-brainer.