New Year celebrations in Edinburgh. Photo: Getty
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Sean Connery on Scottish independence: “Simply put – there is no more creative an act than creating a new nation”

The 2014 referendum is an opportunity too good to miss.

Having been on this journey to independence for more than 50 years, it seems to me that the arguments have been kicked about like a bladder on a beach.

But as the 18 September approaches and, one by one, the scare stories are burst, a new sense of opportunity and hope for the future is now in sight. Scotland has an opportunity to make a step change.

More than anything else, culture defines a country. It provides international visibility and stimulates global interest more than a nation’s politics, business or economy ever can.

So, with our colourful history, strong identity, deep-rooted traditions, a commitment to artistic innovation and diverse and beautiful landscapes, Scotland is truly blessed.

All these attributes mean that Scotland is one of the most familiar countries on earth. As a Scot who has lived much of his life furth of Scotland, I am always amazed by people’s knowledge of and affection for the nation.

I have no doubt that this is due to our reconvened Scottish parliament. It seems to me that devolution has encouraged a new expression of cultural values, fostering a new pride in our national heritage and providing a support framework for everything from the Gaelic language to cutting-edge architecture. Attending the opening of the parliament in my home city was one of the proudest days of my life. 

I believe Scotland can and will go further. A Yes vote in September will capture the attention of the world. That inevitably means there will be a renewed focus on our culture as well as our new politics, presenting us with an unparalleled opportunity to promote our heritage and creative excellence.

The powers of independence will allow Scotland to develop and enrich its culture as well as marketing it more effectively.

We can build on the success of events such as Homecoming, winter festivals like Edinburgh’s phenomenally successful Hogmanay, this year’s sporting spectacles such as the Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup, as well as the other diverse festivals around Scotland.

Culture and creativity are a force for public good and with the enhanced resources offered by independence, Scotland will compete with the best.

No one will be surprised to learn that I am particularly excited by the possibilities a Yes vote offers for the Scottish film industry, with new inward investment encouraged and the international promotion of Scotland as an iconic location. A bigger and more confident film and broadcast sector will mean an inflow of resources and new jobs and training.

Having researched the numbers, it is clear that there are huge economic benefits to be gained as well as cultural ones. Scotland’s creative industries generated £2.8bn for the country’s economy in 2011. The historic environment brought in over £2bn, supporting 60,000 jobs. These are impressive numbers. With independence, they can be more impressive still.

I fully respect that the choice facing Scotland on 18 September is a matter for the people who choose to work and live there – that is only right and proper. But as a Scot and as someone with a lifelong love for both Scotland and the arts, I believe the opportunity of independence is too good to miss.

Simply put – there is no more creative an act than creating a new nation.

 

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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.