25 November 2015

Not so Little England

The December 2015 issue of Prospect magazine seems particularly exercised by the possibility that the UK could leave the European Union. Anatole Kaletsky tells readers that “Leaving Europe could be the biggest diplomatic disaster since losing America” – An ugly divorce. Peter Kellner, President of pollster YouGov, warns that “It cannot be taken for granted that voters will keep Britain in the EU” and Edward Docx (Word ® users should resist reading that as edward.docx) thinks that the “in” campaign is faltering, while the “out” campaign has the benefit of Dominic Cummings, who he describes as “ferocious, committed, unafraid, serious, passionate and utterly certain of his cause”. In his article, called The problem with the EU Debate? The “In” campaign… and the “out” campaign on the Prospect website and Nigel Farage’s Dream in the magazine*, Docx warns:
Make no mistake: in less than a year, Great Britain could be out of the EU and no longer Great or, indeed, Britain. David Cameron’s departure will surely follow Brexit, which will also be followed by Scotland’s attempted split from Britain. The splenetic strain of the Conservative Party will be left running Little England—for that is what we will be—and its business for decades to come will be the treaty-by-treaty renegotiation of our relationship with every other country in the world.
Perhaps he’s right, but just how small would this “Little England” be? To answer that, it first has to be defined and presumably for Docx it would consist of the UK less Scotland, that is to say, the countries of England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

In terms of area, he clearly has a point as the table above shows. During the discussion of Scottish independence in 2014, rUK, (r meaning rump, residual or ‘rest of’), was used rather than Little England, so for brevity I will use it here. rUK has only 68% of the area of the present UK, something which would be reflected in comparisons with the other major EU countries (and the USA):

The UK is the 8th largest EU country (of 28) in terms of area, between Italy and Romania. Curiously, rUK would still have been 9th between Romania and Greece. Scotland would be 15th between the Czech Republic (up to 14th in rUK’s absence) and Ireland. However, in population terms, because Scotland has only 8% of the UK’s people, the difference is rather different, as the next table shows:

So, within the EU, where UK is 3rd largest between France and Italy, rUK would have only dropped to 4th between Italy and Spain. Scotland on its own in the EU would be 19th between Slovakia (up to 18th in rUK’s absence) and Ireland.

Another way of presenting these conclusions is to plot population size against area as below. This shows that rUK would have remained one of the handful of EU countries with a population over 20 million, while Scotland would join the ‘shrapnel’ of over 20 smaller ones. Of course, the disproportionate influence of these countries in terms of their population is an important aspect of the EU’s democratic deficit. It might also explain in part why EU membership would be so attractive to an independent Scotland.

While on the subject of population, the UK Office for National Statitics (ONS) has recently published its projections to 2035. As the table below indicates, if Scotland were to become independent by 2025, the rUK population would be 5.6 million lower than the UK’s would have been. However, by 2035 rUK’s population has increased to the same level as the UK’s had been 10 years earlier.

Even more instructive are the equivalent Eurostat projections out to 2080. By 2050, the UK has become the most populated country in Europe. However, so would be rUK by 2060 – hardly “Little England”. (This table is calculated assuming that Scotland’s population remains at the same percentage of the UK’s from 2030 onwards, whereas the ONS figures show a downwards trend from 2015 onwards).  The quality of life in such a densely populated country as rUK (essentially England) will become is also likely to be on a downward trend.

Finally, and probably most importantly for many who will vote in the Brexit referendum: perceptions of the economic benefits of leaving the EU. The chart below, again from Eurostat, shows GDP per capita in PPS**relative to the EU’s overall 100. Many people would expect rUK to be better off than the UK, which now makes net payments to the EU while rUK is making transfers within the UK to Scotland. Conversely, Scots could be expected to be worse off. Perhaps the “in” campaign, rather than worrying about “Little England”, should concentrate on disproving this expectation – if they can get their arguments past Dominic Cummings.

* On Docx’s own website, it’s called Are we Sleepwalking to Brexit?

**According to Eurostat: “Gross domestic product (GDP) is a measure for the economic activity. It is defined as the value of all goods and services produced less the value of any goods or services used in their creation. The volume index of GDP per capita in Purchasing Power Standards (PPS) is expressed in relation to the European Union (EU28) average set to equal 100. If the index of a country is higher than 100, this country's level of GDP per head is higher than the EU average and vice versa. Basic figures are expressed in PPS, i.e. a common currency that eliminates the differences in price levels between countries allowing meaningful volume comparisons of GDP between countries. Please note that the index, calculated from PPS figures and expressed with respect to EU28 = 100, is intended for cross-country comparisons rather than for temporal comparisons."

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