Sunday, 27 May 2012

The dangers of the big tent and broad kirk

While there are those of a flag-waving persuasion who view Scottish independence as an end in itself, the majority are slightly more pragmatic, preferring politics and ideology to the 'Hampden roar' approach to the issue.

A slightly more nuanced approach, on the other hand, is represented by the "core principle" outlined in Friday's Yes Scotland campaign launch, namely: "The reason for being independent is a simple one. It is fundamentally better for all of us if decisions about Scotland’s future are taken by the people who care most about Scotland - that is by the people of Scotland."

Which per se seems unlikely to appeal to more than a minority, because if it could be forecast with reasonably certainty that an independent Scotland would end up like Greece (say), then presumably the vast majority would prefer to be under the yoke of the Eton toffs at Westminster. So why take the risk?

However, the above principle does enable Yes Scotland to encompass a wide range of political opinion, as compared to the issue of independence being associated solely with the SNP, which is very probably most people's basic perception.

To that extent, however, the 'broad kirk' approach of Yes Scotland means that many of those supporting independence are likely to be disappointed. Eddie Barnes' column in today's Scotland on Sunday expands on the movement's ideological divergence, represented by the Scottish Socialist Party's Colin Fox at one end of the Left-Right spectrum, with the Thatcherite tax-cutter Peter de Fink at the other, as mentioned here yesterday. Both clearly think that independence would promote their own particular brand of politics but, equally, both can't be right.

Of course, it's probably true to say that the main driver for support for Scotland leaving the UK is that it would presage a more Left-leaning politics, rather than questions of sovereignty and autonomy for the sake of it.

In turn that's why, as argued yesterday, to a degree the broad kirk approach blurs the picture of what independence would mean rather than clarifies it, and to that extent represents more of a threat than an opportunity to Alex Salmond and his SNP. People generally are more pragmatic about what politics can achieve compared to the more idealistic - and possibly delusional - like Messrs Harvie, Fox and de Fink.

Naturally, the less politically extreme - but nonetheless supportive of the idea of a broad-based campaign - argue that the referendum won't be about what Scotland would look like, and instead that such questions will be decided by subsequent elections to Holyrood and/or further referendums once independence has been delivered. Thus it's unnecessary to spell out the details meantime.

Again, however, this simplifies too much. Most obviously, the majority will want to see a rough idea of where Scotland would stand politically on day one. The average tax-cutter, for example, won't want a Scotland run by Tommy Sheridan, say, and vice versa.

Also, and particularly in view of the associated questions of contemporary shared/fluid national sovereignties and the SNP's consequent attempts to water down their notion of classical independence, Scotland's position vis-à-vis the rest of the world - and rUK and the EU in particular - can't just be decided unilaterally after the event.

Thus the monarchy, the currency, monetary and fiscal policy, defence, pensions, North Sea oil, national debt and Scotland's membership of supra-national organisations like the EU and NATO are significant questions that concern voters, but can't realistically all just be left for Scotland to decide alone after decision day.

One example arose on Friday's Newsnight, when the SNP's Treasury spokesman Stewart Hosie defended questions about possible Scottish representation on the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee on the basis that its decisions are taken by technocrats rather than politicians.

Of course, this fundamentally misses the point, which is that an rUK MPC would have no remit to take Scotland's economy into account except in the unlikely event that that's been agreed. Indeed, since the SNP formerly argued that Bank of England monetary policy was inappropriate for Scotland because it was set primarily for London and the SE of England then presumably that argument would carry even more weight if Scotland was independent but kept the pound.

Thus Mr Hosie's argument about a lack of political involvement is a red herring as regards what's good for Scotland's economy. The then Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown's argument in making the MPC independent was to take monetary policy decisions out of the hands of politicians, who could use that particular economic lever to create a short-term boom for electoral purposes but at the cost of long-term damage to the economy. Of course, Mr Hosie no doubt knows all this, but for the benefit of his Dundee SNP colleagues and others who don't, it's basically the same principle which dictates that the City Council's licensing committee is supposedly a non-political quasi-judicial body rather than something to promote the interests of the SNP's cronies in the local taxi trade.

But it's issues like that above which demonstrate that the "sine qua non" approach to separation defended by Ian Bell in yesterday's Herald and Duncan Hamilton in today's Scotland on Sunday just doesn't quite cut the mustard, at least with those of a more realistic persuasion. It's the economy [etc], stupid, and not just a question of waiting to see what will happen post-independence because it just has to be better.

(And as regards my point yesterday about the crude fallacy of Nationalist positivity v Unionist negativity, how's this for a classic portrayal of that genre from Duncan Hamilton:  "Where the Yes campaign agrees on independence, the No campaign agrees on absolutely nothing other than opposing independence." No wonder he describes the Unionist position as "risible"! Of course, the reason for this self-serving and misleading juxtaposition becomes clear later in the paragraph, when Mr Hamilton opines that Unionist risibility "remains avoidable only if they embrace and champion an alternative to independence". Which surely he wouldn't point out unless he thought that full independence couldn't be won and wanted a devo-max/plus parachute?!)

But of course as well as bringing other parties and a wider array of opinions on board, the Yes Scotland concept also helps Alex Salmond and the SNP avoid the difficult questions that - as Stewart Hosie demonstrated - have been causing the first minister and his party difficulty, have made him look indecisive, inconsistent and opportunist, and has also threatened to fracture the SNP's generally united front on important policies.

Thus Yes Scotland is to an extent merely the SNP's big tent approach writ large, but unfortunately for them the more people in the tent with divergent views the more chance of dissonance and discord. Better in the tent pissing out than in perhaps, but not if those inside start pissing all over each other.

But if the intention of Yes Scotland is to neutralise some difficult questions and sweep others under the carpet until after 2014, the downside is obvious. As today's SoS leader claims: "That is, to say the least, a high-risk strategy. It revives the spectre the SNP has, until now, made much effort to exorcise: the view of independence as a leap in the dark, an invitation to Scots to vote for an uncertain future."

Thus rather than helping avoid difficult policy issues, the broad kirk could in fact bring them to the fore. Either way, the pivotal one third of undecided voters will still want to know more about the answers to the big questions before making their minds up.


Peter A Bell said...

A number of points call for correction and/or clarification. As regards currency, it is rather obviously fallacious to say that, were Scotland and rUK in some form of currency union, "an rUK MPC would have no remit to take Scotland's economy into account". Far from prior agreement on this being "unlikely", as claimed, it would be essential. A currency union involves such agreement BY DEFINITION. No agreement! No currency union! Alternatives are available. And the point of independence is that it allows us to choose that arrangement which is best under prevailing circumstances.

The comments on Duncan Hamilton's article display that contorted logic which is ever the hand-maiden of prejudice. How is it possible to be blind to the contradiction of, on the one hand demanding that the yes campaign must spell out in precise detail every conceivable implication of independence, while simultaneously insisting with at least equal fervour that the no campaign must remain free of any such evidential burden?

If we want to see a self-serving argument then we need look no further than the assertion that questioning the consequences of a no vote is illegitimate BECAUSE it seeks to discover the consequences of a no vote.

Then we have the entirely redundant dismissal of the inherently ridiculous idea that an independent Scotland's relation with other nations might be "decided unilaterally after the event". As if anybody had ever suggested such a thing! As straw men go, this one is exceptionally contrived and flimsy. Of course relations with other nations and international bodies will be subject to negotiation. Independence isn't about pre-determining the outcome of those negotiations. It is about who conducts those negotiations on behalf of the people of Scotland.

Stuart Winton said...

Peter, you're correct about a currency union needing agreement, but indeed that was my point as well - such an agreement would need to be made or at least agreed in principle before the vote, or the currency issue would be a pig in a poke. To that extent those who think all such matters can be left until afterwards are wrong, at least insofar as voters who want more concrete information on such matters are concerned.

Yes - lots of unknowns, for example as per the currency issue above. No - generally known, because it's the status quo.

But in fact my point about Duncan Hamilton's argument was his attempt to claim that those in the Yes campaign at least all agreed on independence, while the no campaign could only agree to oppose independence!

However, objectively the position is surely that Yes agrees only on independence, while no agrees only on the Union - it's that simple! It's Duncan Hamiltion's logic that's contorted, not mine! And that's why I described his argument as self-serving.

And indeed I think we're essentially in agreement about negotiations with the rest of the world, but again my point was that the Ian Bell/sine qua non argument is essentiall that these questions can be ignored until after the referendum.

Of course - and as per the point I made at the outset - some people will be quite content for these issues NOT to be considered in the meantime, but undecided voters generally won't.

Longshanker said...

Excellent post which covers my dilemma as an undecided.

I agree in principle that the Scots should be free to rule themselves if they want to.

If that's all it concerned I'd vote for independence tomorrow.

But the leap of faith as alluded to is a blind 'leap in the dark'.

There are too many unknowns which remain unknowns. And that does not breed confidence.

Seeing that Thatcherite Tory on television and his smirk when he stated that Salmond 'spoke like the left but acted like the right' filled me with dread.

I need to be sold a vision and not a basic MacBraveheart multiplex principle which envisions virtually nothing.

If Devo Max isn't on the table then I can only conclude that I'll be spoiling my voting paper.


Allan said...

You know, I have a suspicion that we will revisit this discussion again and again with regards to the SNP-led Pro Independence campaign not answering the questions that need to be asked. For example on the issue of Scotland entering/staying within (delete whichever solicitor you are taking adice from) the EU, currency (which the SNP have not nearly publicised enough if the BBC's cut out and keep from Friday is anything to go by - prehaps that's why there was a demo at Pacific Quay yesterday) and on the Monarchy.

The - to date - unfortunate thing about the yes campaign is that it seeks to over simplify a complicated issue which has a lot of facets that need to be debated in full and where every eventuallity does not seem to be taken into account.

Stuart Winton said...

Thanks Longshanker and Allan; I suspect our views reflect that of the undecided third.

What will be interesting of course is the white paper next year which is supposed to answer all these difficult questions.

Of course, it won't/can't answer them definitively, but if Duncan Hamilton and Ian Bell and their cheerleaders of the last few days are correct then what do we need a white paper for anyway?

Longshanker said...


Just a quick thankyou for putting my blog on your blogroll.

It's added quite a few readers. Hopefully they visit on a regular basis. Though my blog is mostly made up nonsense.

Just to follow up on a point Allan made regarding the SNP and the EU.

I was surprised at Sturgeon being so easily bushwhacked by Ruth Davidson on the BBC debate last night.

I thought Sturgeon was better than that.

Still, it made for entertaining television.

I think even Ian Bell would consider that Ms Sturgeon must do better.

Stuart Winton said...

Glad to hear that you've added a few extra readers, Longshanker, but if they've come from this blogging backwater did you have any at all previously? ;0)

Haven't seen the debate yet, but I thought the problem was that Ruth Davidson was so rude and aggressive that poor old Nicola couldn't get a word in edgeways? Or at least that's what I've discerned from reading elsewhere ;0)

Perhaps - and apropos the point in my blogpost about the Bank of England - the problem was that Ms Sturgeon made a bit of a faux pas regarding the Bank in thinking that if Scotland continued to use the pound then the it would be more amenable to monetary policy decisions with Scotland in mind and that we'd be automatically have representation there (as per article in today's Herald).

Like if as they claim the BofE effectively ignores Scotland at present it would pay more attention to our needs if we were a foreign country. Er, hello?

Anyway, due to the many comments elsewhere about the debate I've downloaded it for the iPlayer desktop, so that'll be a bit of enlightenment for later on!

Allan said...

Just seen the debate. 15 minutes for ther first mention of the S word - must be a record!

Like Longshanker, I was surprised at how poor Sturgeon was - especially when Davidson torpedoed her argument regarding the EU 24 minutes in...

Braveheart said...

The debate was revealing. Nippy Nicola wasn't poor exactly, she just had no real case to make.

And, while before, bluster and misdirection and changing horses at speed have worked in the past, they're wearing thin.

And it wasn't just Davidson and Sarwar who swept her aside.

The audience was relentless in its contempt for the Nat's economic, defence and constitutional positions.

That's the real significance of the debate.

Longshanker said...

"Glad to hear that you've added a few extra readers, Longshanker, but if they've come from this blogging backwater did you have any at all previously?"

Nail hit on head Stuart

The only readers I know I have for sure are my granny and my cat. (Though I think the cat really only reads it because I move the mouse pointer between the lines)

Anything readers after that core bunch is a bonus.

It's not going to stop me blogging though.

Some people find my site funny.

Humourless SNP types find it... fill in whatever anti-Scots, Unionist, English, psychotic, idiotic, insult you've no doubt suffered from yourself etc. etc. etc.

I know there are SNP supporters with a sense of humour. They just seem to suffer from humour by-passes when they're on-line.


Q. Want to know why the audience were contemptuous of SNP policies?

A. It was full of hand picked BBC collaborators who are out to thwart the SNP at every turn in order to further their imperliastic unionist aims.

I'm glad to say that it's only Cybernats who get that.

I'm glad to say also that I'm not a cybernat.


Stuart Winton said...

Have to say that I thought the audience could have been a bit more balanced, as per my latest blogpost.

Longshanker, you'll no doubt find that the more abusive contributors will either largely ignore you or the opposite.

To an extent being ignored by the more virulent contributors is good, but on the other hand it probably means that you're considered irrelevant, so personally I consider not having much in the way of adverse comments on here a blessing as well as a curse!

Braveheart said...


not sure if it was the audience that was imbalanced or that those willing to ask real questions were all intent in asking Nicola....

Nats hadn't much to say, even when they got the mic.

Stuart Winton said...

Whether it was an 'imbalance' or not it was certainly a lot different from the MacBlogosphre, MacTwitter etc ;0)