The reality deniers who cling to the GERS figures

According to Labour MSP Michael Marra, a list MSP for North East Scotland since 2021, whose sole political achievement of note is that he replaced his sister Jenny Marra on Labour’s regional list for the North East after she decided not to stand for re-election to Holyrood, has used his sister’s hand me down seat in the Scottish Parliament to denounce those of us who have the temerity to criticise the GERS figures as ‘sad little men in their bedrooms,’ a very bold move indeed from a man who has only been saved from being a sad little man in his bedroom because his big sister gave him haunners.

I suppose I must be one of those ‘sad little men in their bedrooms’ to whom Marra was referring, although in my defence I feel the need to point out that I am not remotely sad, do not write in a bedroom, am taller than average and manage to maintain a positive outlook even when confronted with personal tragedies and challenges which would crush a lesser man like Michael Marra. Neither have I ever benefitted from any input from my big sister in order to establish my career.

But mostly I am not sad because I know that I am on the right side of history, Scotland is most assuredly on a trajectory which will take it to independence, notwithstanding the current and temporary travails of the SNP, which is merely a vehicle for the independence cause, not its destination. The demographics of independence support in Scotland show that Labour, and the other parties still trying to defend the indefensible Westminster system and pretending in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary that British nationalism isn’t really nationalist at all, are fighting a losing battle.

Marra parroted the language of the frothier end of British nationalism on social media by dismissing those of us who critique the GERS figures as ‘GERS deniers’ as though there was some sort of moral and intellectual equivalence between climate change denial or vaccine denial and critically examining a set of highly political figures which were designed and introduced by a Conservative led Scotland Office in the 1990s in order to create political ammunition to be used against those arguing for greater Scottish self-government, a purpose they continue to serve thirty years later. Marra’s use of the phrase merely illustrates his own intellectual bankruptcy.

Anti-independence politicians like Marra, whom one could usefully describe as a ‘British nationalism denier,’ are desperate to maintain the crumbling credibility of the GERS figures, it’s all that they’ve got left. During the campaign leading up to the 2014 independence referendum the anti-independence parties had a number of lines of attack. Firstly, and with the assistance of the overwhelmingly anti-independence media, the Better Together parties were able to frame the debate as being between ‘nationalism’ on the one hand, with all the negative baggage that word entails and ‘non-nationalism’ on the other. That is a tactic which is now so threadbare that it’s all bare and no thread.

In the post Brexit political landscape of a UK whose governments have repeatedly attacked and undermined the devolution settlement and in which both main parties, Marra’s Labour as much as the Tories have denied Scottish democracy and refused to recognise a democratic route for the people of Scotland to exercise their right to self-determination. The Tories have systematically by passed the Scottish Parliament and have even taken to vetoing its legislation. Now some Conservatives are even calling for devolution to be reversed, a demand made by Boris Johnson’s Brexit negotiator David Frost in a column in the Telegraph this week. The claim made in 2014 that Scotland was an equal and respected partner in a family of nations has been revealed as a blatant lie.

Both Labour and the Conservatives are determined to keep Scotland outside the EU, the Single Market and the Customs Union, against the will of the people of Scotland. So it is abundantly clear that opposition to Scottish independence is not opposition to ‘nationalism’ per se, it is support for a British nationalism which is functionally identical to English nationalism.

Another plank of the anti-independence campaign was to argue that Scotland depended upon Westminster to ensure basic standards of good governance, toleration of minorities, and indeed democracy itself. After the Conservative clown show in a storm drain of the past few years, that claim is frankly laughable. Westminster is incapable of maintaining basic standards of good governance within itself, never mind guaranteeing it in Scotland.

The same goes for the Better Together claim that being a part of the state of Greater England that likes to call itself a union enables Scotland to ‘punch above its weight’ on the world stage. It is clear now that all that Westminster offers Scotland on the world stage is invisibility and silence. That has always been true but is made abundantly obvious from recent British government attempts to ensure that Scottish ministers on trips abroad are brought to heel and are followed around by British diplomatic minders whose job is to squash any potential perceptions that Scotland is a nation in its own right and to ensure that Scottish ministers know their place as mere representatives of the northernmost province of the state of Greater England.

And of course by pandering to the basest instincts of right wing English nationalism the Tories, and now Labour too have blown up one of the strongest arguments of 2014’s Better Together campaign – the claim that it’s only by being a part of the British state that Scotland can benefit from membership of the European Union. It is now clear that even should political opinion shift in England and a government in favour of rejoining the EU was elected to government in Westminster, Brussels would be deeply wary about permitting the UK to rejoin. The quickest and safest route back into the EU for Scotland would be as an independent nation. And unlike an English dominated UK, the rest of the EU would welcome Scotland with open arms.

Relying upon GERS figures which purport to show that Scotland is an economic basket case utterly dependent upon a transfer of funds from the rest of the UK is just about all that the British nationalism deniers have got left. If the GERS figures are seen for what they really are, a British accounting exercise with a political purpose which have no bearing at all on the financial position of an independent Scotland, the likes of Michael Marra have got nothing in the tank. They stand exposed as apologists for a failing undemocratic unitary British state which reduces Scotland to the same status as an English region and which has nothing left but delusions of a former greatness. The Labour party in Scotland are reality deniers.


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