PMQs: Boris Johnson says Ian Blackford is ‘out of his mind’
Scottish National Party (SNP) Westminster leader Mr Blackford launched into a furious rant against Prime Minister Boris Johnson over the UK-Australia trade deal this week. In a fiery exchange during Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs), Mr Blackford described Mr Johnson’s defence of the free trade deal as “tripe”. He became enraged by the Prime Minister’s suggestion that the SNP should be focused on the need to “encourage” Scottish farmers to embrace the opportunities offered under the agreement rather than “run them down”.
Mr Blackford responded: “My goodness I don’t think even the Prime Minister can believe that tripe!
“Mr Speaker, in the Tories’ desperation to get a post-Brexit trade deal with somebody, with anybody they have given the farm away.
“Literally, it is blindingly obvious who are the winners and who are the losers in this deal.”
The outburst was not uncharacteristic of Mr Blackford, the politician having become known for his fits of passion and often questionable claims.
Ian Blackford: The SNP Westminster leader’s taxation claims were torn apart
UK-Australia trade deal: Scott Morrison and Boris Johnson pictured after announcing the deal
One such claim came ahead of the 2019 general election, when Mr Blackford said: “UK Government figures make it absolutely clear that Scotland has subsidised the rest of the UK in most of the last 40-year period.”
At the time, he and the SNP were making the case to hold a second Scottish independence referendum in the following year, a campaign cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr Blackford’s assertion was taken on by Channel 4’s fact checking service, which tore apart his argument.
It noted how the only data available to make such a claim was published by the Scottish Government in 2013, and contained discrepancies such as missing dates and only going back as far as the year 1980/81.
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This was despite Mr Blackford having said Scotland “has subsidised the rest of the UK in most of the last 40-year period”.
The data set was also published with a warning: “Please use with caution as these statistics are particularly liable to revision as the data sources and methods used to produce them are developed.”
It found that while it is true that Scotland paid more per head into the UK Government’s coffers than Britain as a whole every year from 1980/81 to 2011/21, the higher tax accounts for the fact that “most of the UK’s oil and gas assets are located in the North Sea, off the coast of Scotland”.
Channel 4 noted that there was also another side to the taxation argument: public spending.
Tax receipts have often been higher per head in Scotland, but so has public spending.
In 2013, Professor Brian Ashcroft of the University of Strathclyde looked at these figures and found that the extra spending per capita on Scotland cancelled out the extra tax revenue almost exactly over the 32 years covered by the stats.
However, his analysis did reveal that Scotland paid in slightly more than it took out.
Combining all of the findings, the fact checker concluded that Mr Blackford’s claim was “impossible for us to stand up”.
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Scottish oil: The analysis found that Scotland’s oil and gas assets accounted for the higher tax
It said: “Back in 2013, it was possible to use these figures to back the idea that Scotland paid slightly more into the UK’s coffers than it took out.
“That’s if you add up the tax and spending in those years cumulatively, and if you make a number of assumptions about Scotland’s finances, all of which are subject to argument.
“But the overall balance was close, according to one detailed analysis: even making concessions to nationalist arguments about Scotland’s likely historic debt, higher UK public spending on Scotland almost completely cancelled out any surplus created by ‘Scottish’ oil.
“The fact that the Scottish government has not updated or revised these figures since 2013 makes it impossible for us to stand up Mr Blackford’s claim at the moment.”
In response to the findings, an SNP spokesman said: “We have demonstrated to you using official Government statistics that Ian Blackford’s comments are correct.
“The evidence shows that tax revenues per head in Scotland have been considerably higher than the UK – that has unquestionably subsidised UK public spending over the period.
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“We have also demonstrated how your argument about public spending does not take into account the costs to Scotland of servicing UK debt that would not have been required had we been independent.
“There is nothing you have presented that suggests Ian Blackford’s comments were not true.”
It isn’t the first time one of Mr Blackford’s claims has been thrown into doubt.
In 2019, he suggested Scotland wouldn’t have to adopt the euro if it were to join the EU post-independence.
EU news: If an independent Scotland joined the EU it would have to adopt the euro
Yet, the EU has insisted that joining the Exchange Rate Mechanism isn’t voluntary.
It says membership of it helps to stabilise the outgoing currency and smooth the transition into the eurozone, for two years.
In 2017, then European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said, “the euro is meant to be the single currency of the European Union as a whole. All but two of our member states are required and entitled to join the euro once they fulfil the conditions”.
If an independent Scotland joined the EU after a referendum, it would have to adopt the euro eventually or else find itself “not fully compatible” with the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union – a key piece of EU law.