Wednesday 24 September 2014

The most successful family of nations

It’s a beautiful piece of rhetoric, and was deployed repeatedly in the ‘battle to save the union’ as some saw it.  But what exactly does “the world’s most successful family of nations” (or other formulations of the same phrase) mean?  Is it true?
Since we know (because they tell us) that those using the phrase are not jingoistic nationalists – indeed, they reject nationalism in all its forms – then the phrase has to be based on some facts and truths, surely.  I have two questions to ask in thinking about this.
The first is this: “how are they defining ‘success’?”.
They could, of course, be referring to the successes of the past; and in that context it’s worth noting that the same people seem to find it difficult not to mention the war.  The military history of this island state seems to be a key part of their identity, along with the empire on which the sun never set.  Less militaristically, they could of course be referring to the British rôle in the Industrial Revolution and the leading rôle of British scientists and inventors.  But, as the warning to investors always says, ‘past performance is no guide to the future’, and to be an argument for carrying on as we are, ‘success’ has to be defined in terms of what’s happening now, and what is likely to happen in the future, not what happened in the past.
Present ‘success’ would look very different from different perspectives.  I can certainly see how the top 1% would see the current state as being a huge success; they have after all done very well out of it.  But the hard statistics show that the UK is an immensely unequal country in terms of income and wealth.  And whilst there are all sorts of caveats to be placed around the definition of ‘poverty’, the government’s own figures suggest that up to 20% of the population are living below their own defined poverty line.  It would be an oversimplification to argue that ‘the union’ is responsible for that (and it affects parts of England as much as it affects Wales and Scotland) but the point is that the current state hardly looks like a ‘success’ from the perspective of those affected.
Of course, it doesn’t need to for the phrase to be true, because the phrase is a relative one, not an absolute one.  And that brings me to my second question: “In defining ‘most’ successful, with which other states is the comparison being made?”
Actually, I’m finding it difficult to find any direct comparators.  There’s Spain, of course – another family of nations, including Basques and Catalans, coerced into a single state.  Or France, with its Bretons and Basques, perhaps.  I’m not sure that they’re direct comparators, but I suppose one could argue that Spain is less economically successful than the UK, even if it would be harder to argue the same in the case of France.  Perhaps the former Yugoslavia is another example.  The bloody and bitter nature of the breakup was a tragedy, but the states which emerged from the wreckage actually seem to be doing rather better than their former state.  It’s a case where the sum of the parts really does look greater than the former whole – not a comparison which helps the unionist cause a great deal.
It’s possible that there simply are no fair and direct comparisons.  That would mean that I’d have to accept that the phrase is true, and an accurate description.  After all, the only entry in any category is bound to be the most successful.  It’s equally true of course that the only entry in any category is also bound to be the least successful…


Anonymous said...

Fortunately almost no reasonably educated person believes a word any politician ever utters. And so whatever was said up in Scotland would not have been believed by a large majority of the electorate, truthful or otherwise.

As for the constituent states of the former Yugoslavia doing rather well at the moment, you might want to reflect on the 1 million or more that died during the various civil struggles for independence.

Take one million people out of any country and you'll find, after a while, that things can only get better. But not even the stupidest economist would suggest this as a recipe for permanent success.

(anon y)

John Dixon said...

"Take one million people out of any country and you'll find, after a while, that things can only get better."

I'm not at all sure that that is true; but I'm not going to argue since the comment is at best tangential to the point of the post.

Anonymous said...

You mean the deaths were worth it for independence? Collateral damage, I guess.

I wonder how many need to die before Scotland is set free?

Anonymous said...

Some other possible candidates for "most successful union of nations"

1. USA. Whether US is made up of seperate nations is debatable but clearly it is ethnically diverse and different states have very distinct cultures - e.g South vs North. The US is the richest, one of the most developed and most influential country in the world.

2. USSR. Despite the many crimes by the Soviet governent, it did turn the former Russian empire into a world power and increase living standards dramatically.

3. Yugoslavia. Relatively peaceful and prosperous state until the 90s.

4. Denmark Union of Denmark itself, Faroe islands, and Greenlands and 5. Kingdom of the Netherlands. Both have higher levels of human development than the UK has.

Then there's less formal unions of nations, such as Spain, France, and Italy. You could even add Germany to that list.

What's a union? What's success? The people who use this pro-UK meme will probably define it in ways beneficial to themselves.

John Dixon said...

Anon 19:04,

No I don't mean that, and only someone whose grasp of language is seriously challenged could suggest that I do. Any more comments as offensive as this will not be published.

Anonymous said...

19:17, those wishing for independence for Wales never concentrate on what would be good in an independent Wales, rather they just focus on what is bad about the current situation.

Interestingly enough, the SNP only started winning votes in Scotland when it started to talk about, in detail, what it would do if and when it secured power.

Imagine, if Plaid Cymru said it would freeze council tax for the new four years I suspect its popularity would shoot up almost overnight.

But then, of course, it must also deliver on such a promise.

G Horton-Jones said...

Anonymous 19.0

There has as you rightly point out been a continual campaign about what is wrong in and with Wales for a very long time. The tragedy is that as UKIP put it in their conference the Labour Party sat back on their guaranteed Welsh MP,s for decades ans when in power failed Wales in every department

I am also dismayed by the press and the Main TV channels whose Anglo- centricity has reached new levels of madness How in Gods name can Elisabeth Battenberg purr at the fact that at least 1.6 million of her subjects dont want her. If I were her I would be in my coach en route to Varennes or possibly Saxe- Coburg

Plaid could freeze Council Tax for four years Council wages have already been frozen or cut for just under this period of time in Wales The problem is that there are an awful lot of people in Wales employed by Councils or dependent on them which makes any strategy almost impossible if you do not have control of all the reins of government at your disposal within your own country
Barnett is a millstone and the recent statement that it is to continue beggars belief.
Barnett has to go and we have to have full control of our own finances here in Wales