Guardian teams up with tax-avoiding Amazon. Does it matter?

Audible will be providing the Guardian's audiobooks, but a boycott would achieve nothing.

A Guardian editorial, titled "Taxing corporations: One law for them…" on 3 December:

Nearly four years have passed since the Guardian's tax gap series, as have two since the founding of UK Uncut and one since Occupy. In different ways, each shone a spotlight on the murky world of business tax, and to some extent succeeded – though until now nobody would have called it a mainstream concern. But the tax affairs of Google itself, together with Amazon and Starbucks, are suddenly just that…

The Guardian, Tuesday 18 December:

The Guardian and [wholly-owned Amazon subsidiary] Audible today announce the launch of The Guardian Audio Edition. This hour-long weekly audio digest, created in partnership with Audible.co.uk, the UK's largest provider of digital audiobooks, will be produced by the Guardian's award-winning multimedia team. Each audio edition will be introduced by Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland and will showcase the very best of news, culture and opinion pieces as published in the Guardian each week.

Of course, this actually says less about hypocrisy and more about the nigh-on impossibility of avoiding doing business with the companies which make up the backbone of the internet. Just as with the fact that UKUncut is hosted on Amazon's severs, the Guardian isn't making a decision to side with an immoral company; it is operating in an economic system fundamentally incompatible with making the sort of simple ethical stands which may have been possible in a bygone age.

As the post on By Strategywhich broke the UKUncut story, says:

First, modern supply chains, as this UKUncut example ably illustrates, are so dense it is impossible to avoid a particular company. Second, the idea of opposing consumerism by proposing ethical consumerism is problematic also. There is a huge literature on this. More often than not it moralises those who cannot afford to make these kinds of consumer choices (local bookshops, ethical eating, McDonalds versus local businesses etc) as bad, while failing to recognise, for example, stagnant wages. Finally, Amazon is neither going to be economically damaged nor morally persuaded by a boycott. Ask Nestle how effective long running boycotts are.

The Guardian and Amazon are BFFs. But so are we all.

Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty
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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.