Give the people what they think they want

5 June 2021

9:00 AM

5 June 2021

9:00 AM

I have a mean streak. Perhaps my cruellest urge is to give people what they claim to want. When political parvenues disparage capitalism and the unfairness of meritocracy while talking up an ‘equitable’ socialist utopia, I want to stick them personally in a society where work pays the same as sloth, the well-off flee and the left behind expect everything to be free — just so long as the rest of us don’t have to submit to this inert destitution, too. When eco fanatics demand zero carbon emissions by 2025, I yearn for their own Amazon orders to arrive months later by donkey cart. I’d grant their wish: dead phone batteries on windless days and nights that are cold and dark.

This mean streak comes especially to the fore regarding the prospective dissolution of the United Kingdom. As karmic vengeance, nothing would seem more fitting than to give Nicola Sturgeon the Scottish independence she claims to crave. It would be simply delicious to watch this previously popular politician maintain the free prescriptions, elder care and university education that her compatriots now view as their birth right, then break the news that Scots themselves have to cover the bill. Meanwhile down south, we’ll charge Scottish students the far higher tuition fees paid by foreigners — more rough justice, as currently English students in Scottish universities don’t benefit from the waived tuition that their parents help finance.

Two-thirds of Holyrood’s budget is funded by the Westminster block grant. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, thanks to the barmy Barnett Bribe, as of March government spending per head is 30 per cent higher in Scotland than in England: £1.30 for every £1 spent on the nationals whom more or less half of Scots are keen to spurn. Government largesse is funded by the public. With a fiscal deficit per head of £2,700 (according to the Office for National Statistics), Scotland’s largesse is partially funded by the wrong public.

At my nastiest, I would love to see Scotland struggle to defend itself; have its bid to re-enter the EU vetoed, because Spain is loath to encourage other breakaway movements like Catalonia’s; or at least fail to be admitted to the euro because of an unacceptably high deficit — already a disqualifying 8.6 per cent in 2019/20 and up to 25 per cent in 2020/21 (IFS). A bit of a ha-ha at this point, yes, but in theory eurozoners aren’t meant to run deficits higher than 3 per cent. But never mind, because our friends in the north could keep themselves cosy with all that distinctive cultural specialness and giddy autonomy. Ask any young adult suddenly paying rent and doing laundry. Autonomy isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Look, I’ve always been this way: congenial enough around a dinner table, but viciously eager for zealots to bring about their own self-destruction when it comes to public policy. But I’m surprised to discover how many of my English neighbours share my mean streak. According to a Telegraphpoll last week, a mere 32 per cent of the English oppose Scottish independence, and of those only 20 per cent ‘strongly oppose’ it. One quarter actively support Scottish departure, while a full 30 per cent have no opinion and so couldn’t be arsed either way. Thirty per cent — more meanness — would deny go-it-alone Scots the pound.

Meanwhile, in a YouGov poll a year ago, a hefty 35 per cent of the English support full English independence — an end to the United Kingdom — including 49 per cent of Tory voters. With well over half of the English either oblivious or pushing Scotland out the door, the message from south of the border is clear: ‘Piss off. See if we care.’

Yet 44 per cent of English voters in that Telegraphpoll believe an independent Scotland would fail. Given the meagre 32 per cent of the English who even mildly oppose independence, a goodly chunk of those respondents must have been driven by pure meanness. ‘Thou plan an act of folly, and thou shalt own thy folly!’

Granted, as an American import I may be missing an emotional gene here. I’ve never felt sentimental about the integrity of the United Kingdom, 84 per cent of whose population lives in England. Released from their dependents, the English might feel a debateable loss of prestige, but their country would be little changed and perhaps more prosperous. During my dozen years in Belfast, I backed unionists for democratic reasons: they were then in the majority. Should a united Ireland come about legally by border poll, fine.

Besides, it’s the Republic of Ireland that lights my mean streak like touch paper. For decades the Irish have blithered bathetically about their Valhalla of a united Ireland, a prospect so enchanting that a ghastly proportion of Southerners at least passively supported a 30-year campaign of murder, assassination and destruction to bring this soft-focus romantic ideal about. So out of sheer spite I want to give it to them. Costlier to the British exchequer per head than either Wales or Scotland, the North would constitute an economic Old Maid: draw it and lose. The province’s biggest employer is the civil service. Per capita, the Northern Irish cost about £5,000 more than they contribute. Great crack surely, but Northerners are expensive company. They also cost in aggro, and the South ought justly to inherit the very political fires that their politicians have stoked — not least the constitutional absurdity of the province’s current, incendiary trade arrangements with Britain.

I may be denied my vengeance. After all this fiddly-dee-dee nationalism, according to last month’s poll in the Irish Independent, two-thirds of Southerners support unification, but 54 per cent would abruptly reconsider if it hiked their tax bills. Only one in eight Southerners would opt for a united Ireland if that meant assuming the full cost of subsidising the place. And who the hell else would pick up the tab, once the North was officially ‘decolonised’?

Unfortunately, punishing unrealistic Scottish, Welsh and Irish nationalists by giving all these eejits exactly what they’re demanding would disadvantage any number of innocents who don’t deserve it.

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