To borrow a phrase, I've got a lot of time for the STUC, and was a little surprised to see my own work featuring in the STUC blog page.
The claim is that arguments I have been making in two blogs on the Yes Scotland website are 'undiluted drivel'. Although, as I'll come to later, the author rather cheekily composited the two blogs and thus confused the second of the arguments.
The first argument is that wealth is not distributed fairly between the nations and regions within Great Britain and the second that wealth is not distributed fairly between the richest and poorest. The figures in question relate to statistics produced by the Office of National Statistics.
A video produced by the ONS shows that Scotland sits at the bottom of the league for the number of people in the wealthiest part of society. It seems a fairly safe and simple piece of logic that if you have fewer of the very wealthiest (and 1 person in the top tenth of society owns substantially more than 1 person in the bottom half) you have lower total aggregate wealth. Thus the argument that Scotland sits at the top of the league for wealth generation but bottom of the league for wealth distribution (as a nation, in total, we have a smaller share of the GB wealth pot).
It is fair enough to challenge this suggestion, logical though it may seem to me, and so I went away to confirm what the ONS does say about aggregate wealth in the regions and nations of Great Britain, and this is what the figures (the most recent, published 12th July 2012) tell us.
Not only does the argument "stack up", our position relative to the other nations of Great Britain seems to be even worse when it comes to the least wealthy.
So, is the logic I set out sound? This is what the ONS tells us about the sharing of wealth between the nations of Great Britain.
If we take median wealth, that is the wealth of the person who sits right in the middle of the distribution scale, Mrs Average Scotland has total wealth that is 78.5% of the GB figure. Mrs Average Wales has 99.6% and Mrs Average England has 102.7%.
What that means is that for every £100 that Mrs Average in Great Britain has, Mrs Scotland has just £78.50 in wealth (pension savings, property, investments, households goods etc).
And if we take total wealth in the country and divide it evenly among everyone, Scotland still comes out with a far lower share. This new average would see Mrs Scotland with £84.45 compared to Mrs GB at £100 and Mrs England at £102.
But what about those at the bottom of the scale. Unfortunately, for those in the poorest quarter of society, wealth seems to fall off even more sharply than elsewhere in GB. They fare even worse.
Mrs Low Wealth Scotland has just £71.90 for every £100 Mrs Low Wealth GB has. The equivalent for England is £102.20.
This is the table downloaded from page 11 of the ONS publication, so you can confirm the figures yourself:
I can only repeat and reaffirm the same argument once again:
"So despite generating more than our fair share of UK wealth, the Westminster system means that we get substantially less than our fair share of the benefit." We have fewer of the very wealthiest and the median, mean and poorest 25% are all behind their equivalents in England, Wales and Great Britain. We are towards the top for wealth generation and the bottom for wealth distribution.
I should make clear that the one area that fares worse than Scotland is the North East of England. As far as I am concerned, the sooner we can unleash Scotland's economic potential the sooner we can see the benefits impact positively on our near neighbours in the North East too, because a poor North of England is not in Scotland's national interest (even though it appears to be a price worth paying for Westminster).
The second and separate argument I was making, in the second blog, is that wealth within the UK is not shared fairly and that this has a direct consequence on the pockets of ordinary families in Scotland. In the criticism, the author takes a quote from this second argument and associates it with the argument being made in the first. This surprised me.
It says, "Stephen then asks ‘And what does it mean in terms of actual money in your pocket?’", before giving an answer based on income distribution within the regions and nations of the UK. But that is not the point I was making as the whole paragraph (and whole blog) makes clear. This is what I wrote:
"And what does it mean in terms of actual money in your pocket? This second image shows just how little most of us have compared to the 1% at the very top of the scale. Think about it, how far off £2.8 million are you and your family (or even the almost £1 million of the top 10%)."
It is nothing to do with income distribution between the nations, or regional disparities. it is clearly and simply about how wealth is (unfairly) shared between the very wealthiest and the rest.
The suggestion, in the response, that wealth in terms of pension pots, property, household goods or savings and investments isn't about 'actual money in your pocket' is also slightly strange. I know in my life these things are all directly related to how much I have to spend, how much I have to borrow or how confident I am in spending or borrowing. I'm pretty sure you are the same. If you have no savings or investment portfolio, few households possession and no property wealth, it is probably because you have less money in your pocket than the person with lots of investments, a topped up ISA and a lavishly furnished 8 bedroom mansion . . .
It is also worth noting that, in Scotland, the wealth of the bottom quarter is just 13% of the average, compared to 15.3% for Great Britain. A small difference in percentage terms, but thousands of pounds in actual money, suggesting that wealth distribution within Scotland is not flatter, but instead those at the bottom get an even smaller share of the nation's wealth. On my reading that tells us that inequality of wealth is even greater, making the case for a new approach, with new powers to make a difference, even more urgent.
We may continue to debate the first point - does Scotland as a whole have its fair share of UK wealth - although I think the figures speak for themselves and should put that argument to rest. But I know from conversations with many people in the STUC that we agree completely on the second, which is why I find it a little disappointing that the two were conflated in this slightly misleading way.
The STUC's contribution to this debate through the Just Scotland work is an exemplar for many other organisations. As they say, there is a better way. People in Scotland generate enough wealth to make Scotland a fairer nation.