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Building a better future - lessons on independence from the Slovak Republic

There are few countries in the world with anything like Scotland’s long history of nationhood which are NOT independent. Scotland emerged as a kingdom in the 9th century and remained as an independent sovereign state until 1707, when it entered into the Treaty of Union. 

Looking at global examples is not meant to provide exact comparisons -  but it can be instructive to see the ways other countries successfully - and peacefully - journeyed towards independence. 

Lessons from the Slovak Republic

The Slovak Republic, now an independent country within the EU, has almost the same population size as Scotland - 5.4 million - but it is about one-third smaller. A landlocked, mountainous area of central Europe,  it was a semi-autonomous duchy within the Hungarian Empire in the middle ages, but became a fully independent country for the first time when it broke with the Czech Republic (both used to be part of Czechoslovakia).  It is often referred to as Slovakia, but its official title is the Slovak Republic.

Initially, nationalism was based on Slovaks’ desire to preserve their different ethnic and cultural identity, but in the 21st century, it has adopted the kind of civic nationalism that characterises the Scottish independence movement. 

Since independence, the Slovak Republic’s GDP has started to reach parity with the Czech Republic, which was better off before the split. Although it is not a wealthy country, the percentage of people at risk of poverty and social exclusion is lower in Slovakia than in the UK. 

The Velvet Revolution 

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, demonstrations began against Communist rule in Czechoslovakia. On November 20, 1989, an estimated 500,000 protestors gathered in Prague. The entire top tier of the Czechoslovakian government resigned a few days later - they peacefully relinquished power and the one-party state came to an end. In June 1990, the first first democratic elections were held. 

At that time the Czech area’s GDP was 20% higher than the Slovak area. Cash transfers to the Slovak area, which had been the norm, stopped in 1991. The two areas’ leaders decided to split into independent countries. There was no referendum.

As the dominant economic power, the Czechs were concerned about potential damage to their currency. The Slovaks agreed to introduce their own version - initially by stamping a crest on Czech banknotes. 

The Velvet Divorce

At midnight on December 31, 1992, Czechoslovakia peacefully split into the Czech and Slovak Republics. On January 1, 1993, the National Bank of Slovakia was formed. Just a few weeks later on Feb 8,1993, Slovakia introduced its own currency, the koruna, which replaced the Czech koruna at the same rate. The transition was smooth. The two countries remained in a currency union and continue to cooperate closely.  

Building a stronger economy post-independence

In 1995, the Slovak Republic signed an Association Agreement with the EU. In 2003, a referendum on joining the EU was held, with 93.7% voting Yes. The Slovak and Czech Republics were two of the countries that became EU members as part of the 2004 enlargement

On January 1, 2009, Slovakia adopted the Euro as its national currency. Slovakia became a more integral part of the EU than their neighbours, because of their adoption of the Euro and their greater enthusiasm for taking part in the banking and fiscal unions. The Czech Republic still does not use the Euro. 

Since joining the EU, Slovakia’s GDP per capita has risen to 95% of the Czech Republic’s. Poverty has also reduced significantly. Pensions are about the same rate in both countries. 

The Slovak Republic is subdivided into 8 regions, each having a certain amount of autonomy. The capital and largest city is Bratislava. In 2019, Zuzana Čaputová, an environmental campaigner, became Slovakia's first female president (there is also a Prime Minister). The country has been very dependent on Russian gas and is now attempting to speed up a transition to renewable energy. 

The rise of the Slovakian independence movement

Arguments for independence started to gain force in the 19th century when Slovakia was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. At that time, Hungary started to force people to assimilate, adopting the Hungarian language and culture. 

When revolution erupted in 1848, the Slovaks supported the Austrian Emperor’s side, hoping for independence from Hungary, but they failed. Thereafter relations between Slovaks and the state of Hungary deteriorated. 

The rise and fall of Czechoslovakia

After the First World War, in the chaos that surrounded the break up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, several territories broke away and joined together to form Czechoslovakia. 

In 1938, the Munich Agreement, which UK PM Neville Chamberlain famously signed with Hitler, allowed Germany to annexe part of Czechoslovakia - the Suddetenland. The remaining country became Czecho-Slovakia with more autonomy promised for Slovakia. In fact, Slovakia became a puppet regime of Nazi Germany. Almost all of the Jews, along with gypsies and dissidents were deported to death camps. In 1944, there was an uprising against Nazi occupation - the Slovak National Uprising. It was unsuccessful and thousands of people were put to death. 

After the Second World War, Czechoslovakia was taken over by the Soviet Union. It became a puppet regime of the USSR, behind the Iron Curtain. In 1968, armed tanks rolled into Prague to put down an uprising called the Prague Spring. In 1969, Czechoslovakia became a federation of the Czech and Slovak Republics but it remained under Soviet control, with only limited autonomy, until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

Conclusion - it is possible to build a better future with independence in Europe

There are of course many differences between Scotland’s story and that of the Slovak Republic. But when Unionists pour scorn on Scotland’s plans, it is useful to look at what Slovakia managed to accomplish in a relatively short time.

Since gaining independence, the Slovak Republic has managed to increase the prosperity of its citizens and to reduce relative poverty. They have seized the opportunity of joining the EU to improve trade and cooperation.

Scots have every reason to feel confident that Scotland can also accomplish the task of building an independent nation. Scotland is significantly more prepared, and has a wealthier more advanced economy that the Slovak Republic had when it became independent.

More independence lessons

Too wee, too poor for independence? Malta didn’t think so  - read more here

Why Norway Chose to Become an Independent Country –  read more here

Why Quebec’s independence dream went wrong - read more here

New Zealand’s century-long journey to independence - read more here 

As Jamaica proudly celebrates 60 years of independence - read more here

 

Media Watch: by recognising Scotland is an "energy goldmine", the Daily Express boosts case for independence

The right-wing, ultra British nationalist Daily Express is not normally the first to make the case for Scottish independence - but an article calling Scotland “an energy goldmine” can only strengthen support for the country to run its own affairs. The headline  “UK handed energy 'jackpot' as Scotland's huge goldmine could export £25bn a year to EU” was an own goal for the Unionist propaganda sheet.

It seems the cat is out of the Unionist bag. Scotland is hugely rich in energy resources boats the Express - although in truth Scots currently see little benefit. In fact, thanks to a combination of UK government privatisation, poor regulation and general mismanagement, Scots pay some of the highest energy bills in the world and that is fuelling support for independence. As an independent country, Scotland could manage its own resources and achieve levels of prosperity similar to other energy-rich countries like Norway. 

“Scotland could soon lead the way in developing hydrogen”

The Daily Express reported that Scotland’s hydrogen exports will be worth a huge sum:

“The UK is set for a major energy boost, as Scotland's green hydrogen plans are set to be worth £25billion a year in exports alone by 2045. As the UK looks for ways to reach its legally binding commitment of net zero carbon emissions by 2050, while also ensuring its energy security, many have pointed to hydrogen as an answer. 

“The gas - which can be split out of water by electrolysis - can be used for cooking and heating and when burnt only produces water as a byproduct, rather than fossil fuels. According to Angus Robertson, the SNP MSP for Edinburgh Central and Constitution, External Affairs and Culture Secretary, Scotland could soon lead the way in developing hydrogen.”

“Scotland gifted with abundant energy resources”

The newspaper admits for once that Scotland is exceptionally rich in energy - although the country has little to show for the huge reserves of oil and gas that have been harvested from its waters.

“Scotland has been historically gifted with abundant energy reserves in the form of North Sea fossil fuels and is regarded to be the largest producer of oil and the second largest producer of gas in Europe.”

Now Scotland is embarking on a new era of potential energy wealth, the Daily Express reports.

“But as the world shifts away from dirty fossil fuels, the region has also been developing renewable energy potential, which Mr Robertson notes is enough to "satisfy our own domestic requirements and also be exported".

“Given the vast potential for offshore wind, Scotland recently launched the world's biggest licensing round for floating offshore wind energy with the potential to deliver 27.6 gigawatts (GW). “He wrote in the Edinburgh Evening News: "The 'ScotWind' project opens up the exciting prospect of making Scotland a world leader in hydrogen production, which can be used in fuel cells to generate electricity or power and heat buildings."

Yet the Daily Express constantly paints Scotland as “too poor” to be independent

Despite reporting in Scotland’s vast potential energy wealth, the Scottish Daily Express frequently carries articles suggesting that Scotland is too poor to be an independent country

For example, in October under the headline “Nicola Sturgeon 'insulting our intelligence' say Scottish Express readers who'll not 'vote for poverty' with the SNP”, the Express was scathing about the Scottish government’s report detailing economic plans for an independent Scotland Building a New Scotland: A stronger economy with independence

“Nicola Sturgeon claims it is a “careful and responsible phased approach” but a Scottish Daily Express reader said: "Careful and responsible - That's Sturgy-speak for careless and irresponsible". That was just one in a series of articles similarly scoffing at Scotland’s ability to run its own affairs. 

So why has this good news story about Scotland's renewable potential been published? Well, we wonder if the holiday season has meant that the political editor wasn't around to spike the economics editor's factual reporting and os the truth has slipped through the paper's propaganda firewall.

Scotland will be a prosperous independent country

Scotland has little to show for the huge fossil fuel resources harvested from the North Sea. Now that the renewable energy potential of Scotland is clear, many Scots see that as a second chance they do not want to see squandered by a UK government Scotland didn’t vote for. 

Even the Daily Express admits that Scotland is an energy goldmine. Many Scots will question why, although some can look out of their windows at oil rigs and wind turbines, they can’t afford to heat their homes. Scotland has no ability to regulate, tax or otherwise manage the country’s vast energy resources at the moment.

Independence can’t come soon enough.