It probably should not come as a surprise that a journalist employed in an organisation with little practice in providing context and perspective when reporting Scotland sometimes reveals a blindspot. Or perhaps engages in unintended irony?
Yesterday BBC Scotland’s Business and Economy Editor wrote an article for the BBC News website under the headline: ’Difficult decisions’ for Kate Forbes. Tucked away in the midst of a lengthy piece I spotted something a bit odd which I share for mild amusement.
Bear with me to get the context! The Editor tells us this: ‘A growing gulf between Holyrood revenue and spending is reaching crunch point, as the finance secretary today sets out plans up to the next election.’ Adding: ’The problem is that being generous, where resources are constrained, comes at a cost to lower priorities.’
And then readers are offered expert insight into the Scottish Government’s challenges. Firstly, we are presented with the choice of how to address the challenges – framed as ‘borrow or tax’. Secondly we’re given this as one version of a response: ’So don’t constrain them’, goes the response – ‘if only Holyrood could borrow more’.
Then, whilst finally ‘revealing’ the reality that surely most of his readers know by now, the Editor asserts something rather odd. Can you spot it?
‘It could (borrow), given the powers or if Scotland were independent, but let’s not pretend borrowing could be an infinite source of income for the Scottish government, that it could be achieved without risk and cost, or there would be no need to make choices. More significant: for now, it’s not allowed to.’
To me this is the odd bit — ‘let’s not pretend borrowing could be an infinite source of income for the Scottish Government’. No sensible, well-run, ‘better togetherish’ independent country could ever be run on borrowing like that …. could it?
Now 1997 to 2021 is not an ‘infinite’ period of time over which borrowing has supported the UK – allowed it to go on ‘pretending’ – but in political terms it might as well be! But if not convinced see the chart below courtesy of Wikipedia. (I believe graphs of UK indebtedness back to the Napoleonic Wars if not before have been compiled!)
Even this BBC Scotland Editor acknowledges elsewhere in the article that the UK is still permitted to keep up the ‘pretence’ that borrowing is indeed an infinite source of income:
’This week’s event (in the Scottish Parliament) is not a budget, so it doesn’t have to be balanced. Nor did Mr Sunak’s £15bn giveaway last week, because he is allowed to borrow most of that.’
‘A fine pretence my good fellow
‘You take pretence, I’ll take ….. independence’
(With apologies to Jerome Kern & Dorothy Fields!)