Monday 3 October 2022

Killer arguments and estimated numbers


It’s not at all clear that the report on the ‘fiscal deficit’ for Wales by Professor John Doyle (available here) is quite the game-changer as which Plaid have tried to present it. It no more ‘proves’ that an independent Wales would be financially viable than any figures quoted previously have ‘proved’ that it would not be. The Tory leader, a man who has never knowingly issued a press release that doesn’t ‘slam’ somebody or other for something or other, has ‘slammed’ the report and all associated with it. That was entirely predictable which means that it can be easily discounted, but that would be premature for reasons to which we will return shortly. The chief sins for which the report has been duly ‘slammed’ seem to be the fact that the report’s author has dared to assume that an independent Wales might actually do anything different rather than simply replicate UK policy, and that there is more than one way to prepare a guesstimate. A country of 3 million behaving as though it were a country of 3 million is a truly horrific crime against economics, apparently. Imagining a different future is something with which his limited imagination just can’t cope.

The report does tell us a number of things:

·        The numbers prepared previously by the Office of National Statistics setting out the fiscal position of Wales within the UK are unfit for the purposes of assessing the financial situation of an independent Wales;

·        Those numbers are based on some assumptions and estimates which may not be entirely correct; and

·        Preparing estimates on the basis of different assumptions gives different answers.

It’s all useful stuff, but anyone who’s been paying attention knew all that anyway, even without a learned professor putting his name to it. The obvious conclusion – that the financial position of an independent Wales would probably be broadly comparable with the financial position of any similarly-sized country – is so blindingly obvious that it shouldn’t even need to be stated. When it comes to the economics, there is nothing special or unique about Wales; nothing which condemns us to be poorer than any similar country and nothing which makes us an unviable basket case, and any suggestion that there is has been based on a set of estimates and assumptions specifically designed to demonstrate precisely that.

That does, though, brings us back to why it would be premature to dismiss the Tories’ response, just because it is economic nonsense. There are, of course, some people who aspire to see an independent Wales but are worried about the finances, and who may therefore be swayed by this sort of report. However, I suspect that group is actually quite small. No matter what any ‘game-changing’ report might say, no matter how strong the evidence, no matter how well the case is put, those with closed minds cannot and will not engage in debate around the true economics of independence, and will prefer to double down on a claim that ‘my expert estimates trump your expert estimates’, no matter how utterly discredited (or rather, in this case, irrelevant to the context) they may be. People who don’t want Wales to be independent cannot imagine how it ever could be, and that subset of the population isn’t limited to members and supporters of the Conservative and Unionist Party. They may hide behind their precious numbers and exaggerated deficits, but the idea that their objections are simply financial is nothing more than a pretence to avoid debating why Wales should not become an independent country. Trying to persuade them to accept a different set of numbers implies that there is a willingness to debate the issue if only the financial objections can be removed. It’s a fool’s errand: there is no such willingness.

In truth, none of us knows what the detailed financial implications of independence would be – but then what the unionists never admit is that neither do we know the detailed financial implications of continuing in the union. The future is shaped by events which have yet to happen and decisions which have yet to be taken and is essentially unknowable. In the absence of any credible reason why Wales, uniquely in the world, should be incapable of running its own affairs (and opponents of independence have yet to come up with such a credible reason), the logical and rational assumption to make is that Wales is as capable as any other similar country. We can do it if we want to. The real question is whether or not we want to – and carefully worked out sums can never answer that question.


CapM said...

I appreciate your point and it's importance.

I think we need such reports and others focusing on how eg health education social care, etc etc are impacted by Cymru being part of the UK rather than being independent.
I don't think independence can be brought about by appealing to the "heart" of the masses alone no matter how intellectually robust, logical the argument is.

Arguments that appeal to the "head" are needed. Of course those that are against independence will rubbish any figures they don't like but the availability of such figures and research provide potential supporters of independence with windows onto a Cymru that could be. And those that like what they see will be able to use those figures and research to justify their change of opinion, defend it and advocate it to others.

Also such figures and research contribute to the acceptance of the idea even amongst unionists that Cymru is capable of being independent.

John Dixon said...

I hope that it didn't look like an argument that we don't need such reports at all - that was not my intention. But assuming that such reports are going to win the argument would be naive, because many of those arguing that 'we can't afford it' are being less than honest about their true motivation.

dafis said...

Reports are useful insofar as they offer an analysis based on data. That data could include some quantifications of a) where we are now and how that revenue and cost base is accumulated and apportioned, and b) where we might want to be, perhaps in discreet stages.

Tories will almost always err on the side of the worst case scenario as they are wedded to the sanctity of the Union and all its costly trappings.For instance,they cannot bear the thought that Wales might run a Defence Force without all the pageantry that seems to hand in hand with the British Armed Forces. One goat should suffice for ceremonial and no fancy uniforms just best on duty kit. And all those embassies is just bollox in these times of secure comms with occasional visits and meetings to deal with serious stuff. We might even halve the ministerial population although Welsh Labour would fight hard to hang on to some of those relics.

CapM said...

Assuming that such reports, in isolation are going to win the argument for us would indeed be naive.
But I think they have their place, in particular shifting the ground
from - independence is not possible for Cymru, therefore for us the Union it must be.
to - independence is possible for Cymru, therefore there's a choice for us to make.

This appears to have happened to such an extent in Scotland that even many Unionists (and most Unionist politicians) are now loathe to say that Scotland couldn't make it on it's own. However I've no idea how much of that shift is due to reports and the figures they contain.

Jonathan said...

I like the way you and CapM try and work out how head, heart and facts motivate Welsh voters. You have both though about this a lot, but the Welsh psychology is elusive.
Welsh head - should be OK with Doyle type facts, but don't bet on it. Too many like fluffy statecraft (virtue signalling about the climate, diversity). I can't think of any Welsh person who can hold a candle to the people who got Indy for the US colonies, Ireland and others, which was never easy, in fact damned hard.
Welsh heart - will support a Welsh team. But lacks the English heart or gut-instinct which drives them to (a) unite, and (b) put the head down and charge for Brexit = Indy for them.
Facts - don't get you very far with head or heart in Wales.
I wonder if he real problem in Wales is infantile fear. Of losing the familiarity/security they have with the Westminster 'insurance policy'. It'll take a lot of head+heart and facts to get the Welsh to grow up and fend for themselves. Apart from anything else the zietgeist is just not right. The self-sufficient lot went to London, US or other colonies ages ago.
I will keep banging away though........