Based on my experiences on this trip I'm keen to write about democracy and state control of media. I have a draft blog written about how even the structure of the Chinese language impacts the way we should think about our business and social interactions with Chinese business partners, colleagues and friends.
But these blog posts will have to wait, because today I feel compelled to focus on one topic: economic growth.
I return home to read of a predicted Scottish landslide for the SNP at next week's General election. If this happens (and it seems clear it will) this will be the greatest escape since ... well most of them didn't escape in The Great Escape but I'm too jet-lagged to think of an alternative analogy. Let's just say it will be a great escape.
Since the referendum the publication of two sets of Scottish national accounts ("GERS") and the focus on the economic realities of Full Fiscal Autonomy (FFA) should really have nailed the SNP's economic nonsense once and for all.
I make no apologies for repeating this graph of the Scottish Government's own GERS data because it powerfully illustrates this point.
Without oil we consistently run a long-term onshore deficit gap to the rest of the UK of about £9bn. We are currently shielded from that by pooling and sharing with the rest of the UK - Scotland does not "suffer" this deficit gap currently.
As an aside: some people react to this graph and say it's "just a snapshot". Below I have removed the most recent two years' data and highlighted the "snapshot" 5 years that were used for the Independence White paper. The Yes campaign used this period to justify their "we're independently fiscally as strong as rUK" rhetoric, long after more recent data became available.
Now *that's* what I would call taking a misleading snapshot. To point out - as many of us did - that the figures actually showed how exposed Scotland's economy was to volatile oil income was dismissed as "talking Scotland down" or "suggesting oil is not an asset". Infuriating.
So might oil come to our rescue? This seems highly unlikely - not because the oil price will never recover but because their is an underlying decline in North Sea profitability due to rising extraction costs. It's profit that get's taxed - so the North Sea tax yield has been deteriorating independently of the oil price decline. Few people seem to understand this graph but I'll repeat it anyway - the black line shows the actual historic amount of North Sea tax generated for every $ of oil price. The line declining shows the declining tax yield. Contrast that with the red line showing the oil price and you should see my point.
It's quite possible therefore that North Sea oil revenues are in terminal decline. At the very least we are seeing a stark illustration of the fact that they cannot be relied upon as the basis for an independent Scottish economy. North Sea oil really does have to be considered as "just a bonus".
Faced with this harsh reality the SNP can no longer hope to deny the scale of the onshore deficit gap between us and the rest of the UK.
When asked quite how this will be delivered they reel off a series of tax cuts - cutting APD, reducing VAT on tourism and unspecified "targeted tax cuts to SME's". In the short-term at least this would of course reduce the tax take and exacerbate the deficit problem but this is simply glossed over. We're told we need to take a longer term view, look at the big picture, show some ambition and believe we'll grow our way out of this.
Let's put aside for a moment that there is little to suggest that the raft of tax cuts proposed would drive enough economic growth to offset their revenue reducing impact. Let's ignore the fact that if this strategy would work it would be as appropriate to the UK as a whole as it is to Scotland. Let's run with the theory that the main Westminster parties are simply too stupid to realise that this political elixir is available to them.
Instead let's just ask three questions.
- How much economic growth would we need to close this deficit gap?
- How long would it take take to achieve that growth?
- What would we do in the meantime?
OK so what about how long? I decided to search the Independence White Paper for any indication of the growth levels that the SNP were aspiring to back then. After much trawling (head-shaking and teeth-grinding) all I could find was this gem on page 108:
If Scotland moved from the rates of growth it has experienced in the past to instead match the levels of growth of small European countries, the benefits for people in Scotland in terms of prosperity and employment would be significant. As an illustration, had growth in Scotland matched these other independent nations between 1977 and 2007, GDP per head would now be 3.8 per cent higherSo the illustration they chose to demonstrate the sort of difference we could expect to see from independence was 3.8% higher GDP growth over a 30 year period.
At that rate of relative economic growth it would take us about 120 years to close the gap.
I think it's reasonable to conclude that the SNP's claims that growth alone will address the onshore deficit gap fails this "sanity check" rather spectacularly.
So as we come to the third question: what would we do in the meantime? There are limits to how far we can go with debt - I think I might have once heard some Nationalists suggesting the amount of debt we have now is too much - so the answer is extremely simple. We'd have to dramatically reduce public spending.
The SNP campaign to scrap Trident but not to dramatically reduce the defence budget, they talk of "unfair cost allocations" without actually pointing to any material examples - and in fact they talk of increasing public spending (alongside reducing business taxes).
The SNP position is transparently, demonstrably, economically nonsensical - and yet a large proportion of the Scottish electorate appear to accept it.
The SNP know what they are doing of course. Tell big simple lies and keep repeating them, offer the people a bogey-man to blame, sell the hope and ignore the reality. It is cynical, calculated political deceit.
What makes it worse is that the people who will suffer most if the SNP succeed are those to whom their messages appeal most; the worst off in our society.
It appears the scale of the SNP's deception may only be realised by the Scottish people when it's too late to do anything about it. Of course by then the SNP aim to have broken up the BBC and to have their own state-controlled media in place. Having just emerged from a week behind the Great Firewall of China, I have some perspective on the potential for politicians to exert influence over the masses through media control - but that is a topic for another day.