Small countries are successful. Scotland’s success is guaranteed. What is up for debate is how that success is shared.

During our interview with leading Irish Economist David McWilliams, he stated a fact, obvious to everyone in the global north who wants to see it: small nations are successful. Scotland he says has “nothing to fear” from independence. Why not watch the bite-size interview or the extended interview with David McWilliams (follow him on Twitter).

Scotland is a mid-sized European nation with a glittering array of natural resources. It has one of the most educated populations in the world and rich cultural history. It punches way above its weight when it comes to international recognition and it has brands, products, and entire industries revered and respected across the globe. An independent Scotland would be a unique global event: never before has a country so wealthy entered onto the world stage. All of this in undeniable so why isn’t it simply accepted?

The 2014 Scottish referendum campaign was bogged down by a unionist narrative of Scotland being “too wee, too poor and too stupid” to succeed. The independence movement fell into their trap spending too much time arguing (for a blatantly obvious fact) that our nation wouldn’t just collapse after independence. Instead of wasting time trying to justify a position against which there is little evidence, the independence movement should have been communicating what type of successful country we wanted to become.

As we build towards a final independence referendum we have to change the discussion from “if” we will be successful, to:

  • who will benefit from Scotland’s success
  • what type of economy do we want and
  • what type of society do we want to create

Unfortunately for the unionist side, looking at all the available evidence, success for Scotland as an independent nation is guaranteed.

An independent Scotland will be a successful small European nation

And here’s just some of the evidence Countries with a smaller population or less than 10% more population than Scotland highlighted in bold.

Top 10 Countries with the Lowest Gini Coefficients (%) – World Bank:

  1. Slovenia – 24.6 (pop 2,108,977)
  2. Czech Republic – 25.0 (pop 10,700,000)
  3. Slovakia – 25.0 (tie) (pop 5,459,000
  4. Belarus – 25.3 (9,399,000)
  5. Moldova – 25.7 (2,618,000)
  6. United Arab Emirates – 26.0 (9,890,000)
  7. Iceland – 26.1 (368,792)
  8. Azerbaijan – 26.6 (10,110,000)
  9. Ukraine – 26.6 (41,650,000)
  10. Belgium – 27.2 (11,560,000)

The Top 10 Richest Countries in the World (by GDP per Capita, current prices US$ – World Bank)

  1. Monaco – $190,512 (pop 39,511)
  2. Liechtenstein – $180,366 (pop 38,000)
  3. Luxembourg – $115,873 (pop 640,000)
  4. Switzerland – $87,097 (pop 8,637,000)
  5. Macao (China SAR) – $86,117 (pop 69,000)
  6. Ireland – $85,267 (5,100,000)
  7. Norway – $67,389 (5,379,000) 
  8. United States – $63,543 (pop 329,500,000)
  9. Denmark – $61,063 (5,831,000)
  10. Singapore – $59,797 (5,450,000)

As any regular viewer of SCOTONOMICS will know we aren’t big fans of GDP as it measures the success of capital and is not a measurement for an economy that works for everyone, however, it is the best we have at the moment to point towards the “wealth” of a nation.

The lower the Gini coefficient the lower the income/wealth inequality in a country. These are the two rough gauges of the wealth of a nation.

Of the twenty entries above, only two have populations above 12 million. This is striking in itself: small nations are successful.

Outwith the economic wealth of a nation, we can look at two of the most popular measures of the health of our democracy firstly the corruptions perspective index

Top 10 least corrupt nations

Top 10 least corrupt nations

Only two of these countries have a population of over 11 million (Germany and Netherlands).

And the world press freedom index

Small countries have a better press

Small countries have a better press

There are no countries with populations of more than 11 million people on the list.

How about per capita spending on R&D? (World Economic Forum) half of the countries in the top ten have populations of under 11 million people.

What about pensions? “When it comes to the best pension plans across the globe, Iceland (368,792) the Netherlands (17.60 Million) and Denmark (5,831,000) have the top three systems” (Visual Capitalist The Best and Worst Pension plans by country)

How about healthcare? (World Population Review) Here are the top ten countries:

  1. Denmark
  2. Norway
  3. Switzerland
  4. Sweden
  5. Finland
  6. Netherlands
  7. New Zealand
  8. Germany
  9. Luxembourg
  10. Austria

Only two countries have populations of more than 11 million people.

Three things are likely to strike you from these lists.

1. Small nations are successful.

2. The majority are small/medium –  comparable to Scotland – European nations.

3. The UK is posted missing.

A magnificent seven?

We have included seven measurements commonly used to signify the health and wealth of a nation. Of course, there are a lot more measurements to choose from but this trend is common across most wellbeing measurements. The evidence is beyond doubt: small nations are successful. Here are a few more perspectives:

Why do so many small economies perform better? (World Economic Forum)

Small Countries Are Better: They’re Often Richer and Safer Than Big Countries (Mises Institute)

In a Lamentable Year, Finland Again is the Happiest Country in the World (World Happiness Report)

So how do we change the narrative?

The most important thing to state is that every view on how to allocate the prosperity of a successful independent Scotland should be welcomed. We should be very open to discussing tax, corporate governance, resource allocations, pensions, spending, investments, infrastructure, the currency, use of budget deficits, and the role of money in our economy.

We should also welcome debate on whether Scotland would be more successful if it stays part of the UK. Now this is a valid perspective and in a sensible world is what the unionist supporters should argue as there is evidence to support that claim.

But where the evidence is lacking is that Scotland when independent would not be successful, that it would be a failed state, that it would be unique in the world in failing to live up to anywhere near its potential, to take such a position is to denigrate a nation, its people, and its resources.

“David Cameron has conceded that Scotland would succeed as an independent country” The Times 2013

To insist that Scotland would fail it to pour scorn over its culture, its impact in the world, its uniqueness, and its homogeneity with other similar nations: to re-use the tired and ludicrous “TWTPTS” trope.

An independent Scotland will be successful and of course so with rUK. We see a picture painted by both sides of the constitutional debate of a calamitous outcome after Scottish independence as the new Scotland struggles without the broad shoulders of the UK and rUK loses resources and its global position of strategic importance. Neither position is supported by any evidence, the end is not nigh for rUK or for Scotland.

The countries on these islands will still be successful, the significant difference is that power will sit closer to the people. In Scotland, we will be more actively involved in the decision-making process on how that prosperity is earned and shared. As David McWilliams says, independence is no panacea it is “warts and all” but “independence is how a nation takes its place in the world”.