See No “Wee,” Hear No “Poor,” Speak No “Stupid”


Behold the Three Wise Monkeys, the Mystic Apes of Eastern thought. Mizaru, who covers his eyes, “sees no evil.” Kikazaru, who covers his ears, “hears no evil.” Iwazaru, who covers his mouth, “speaks no evil.” In its original context, it was a proverb, a maxim by which to lead one’s life according to propriety – to prevent evil from corrupting a healthy mind. In modern times, a new meaning has developed – a warning against shielding oneself from external evils to the detriment of others. Turning a blind eye, a deaf ear, and being silent in the cause of righteousness. There is a certain appropriateness in such a change in meaning from a Chinese philosophical perspective: seeing, hearing and speaking no evil being both good and bad for humanity.

There’s a similar duality at play with the infamous phrase “too wee, too poor, too stupid,” and its variations. It is most often repeated as a mantra by independence supporters as a shorthand characterisation of the perceived arguments of union supporters – that Scotland is too small, impoverished, and incapable to succeed as an independent nation. It has since been used against independence supporters by unionists who seek to characterise them as poor debaters more interested in knocking down strawmen than engaging with the real arguments.

The central argument from unionists is that no-one who advocated a No vote has ever used the phrase “too wee, too poor, too stupid.” It was John Swinney, you see, who made the phrase popular as a paraphrase of the more cynical fear-based mantra against Scottish independence. You would think that people would understand that Mr Swinney was not saying that the phrase was a verbatim quotation from the mouth of Alistair Darling or another Better Together champion – but apparently not. If nobody ever said that Scotland was “too wee, too poor, too stupid” in those exact words, then the Nats have completely made it up, and the sentiment behind it is meaningless.

Semantics, eh?

I’ve looked very hard for evidence of the No campaign using this line I really have. I’ve engaged with those referencing this slight to the Scottish Nation and asked them to show me where they read it, who said it, when.

In response I get links to people pointing out some of the challenges an iScotland will face (tough negotiations with the EU, increased exposure to certain economic risks, damage to trade with the UK etc), lots of rational and reasoned arguments that are well covered elsewhere on this blog.

Those links have never yet pointed to anyone saying an iScotland is “too small” (either economically or – as hilariously implied by the “responses” to this imagined slight – physically).  Similarly they never link to anybody arguing an iScotland would be “too poor”; just to some people who argue as to why an iScotland may be relatively worse off economically as a result of breaking the Union. Not “too poor” without the Union, not unable to stand on our own feet …  just better off within it. I don’t even need to discuss the “too stupid” line, agreed?
Who Says Scotland’s too Small to be Independent?

There is a phrase the Nationalist like to use to rabble rouse. “too wee, too poor, too stupid”, they think by saying the intelligent among us will jump into bed with them and support their cause.

Scotland isn’t “too wee, too poor, too stupid”, it never has been…
Arc of delusion, unpopular Nicola Sturgeon tries to place herself as ‘destiny’s woman’ to lead Scotland to independence; Scotland rejected Nicola Sturgeon on the 18th September, lame duck in waiting waits to take First Minister post, her lack of class is a serious issue, common and it shows! (Yes, that’s the title)

Going back to a Wings Over Scotland post, many prominent Unionists have indeed protested that they have not only never used the phrase, but have never so much as thought words to the same effect:

“I have no time for those who say there is no way Scotland could go it alone. I know first-hand the contribution Scotland and Scots make to Britain’s success – so for me there’s no question about whether Scotland could be an independent nation.” (David Cameron, February 2013)

“The question is not whether Scotland can survive as a separate state. Of course it could” (Alistair Darling, June 2012)

“I reject the arguments that some people make on my side that Scotland is too poor and too stupid. ‘Cos I don’t think it is. I think it’s well capable of being a vibrant, successful nation. (Willie Rennie, July 2013)

“It is insulting to suggest, as many Labour politicians do, that, while Norway, Sweden and Denmark can exist happily on their own, Scotland could not. Of course Scotland can survive on her own; she is a strong and capable country full of brilliant and talented people.” (Tory MP Eleanor Laing, November 2012)

“This isn’t a question of whether or not Scotland could go it alone — of course Scotland could.” (George Osborne and Danny Alexander, April 2013)

“No-one from Better Together thinks that Scotland couldn’t go it alone.” (unnamed Better Together “spokesman”, April 2013)

And here are some more:

“I believe Scotland is big enough, rich enough and good enough to be an independent country.” (Ruth Davidson)

“Scotland would probably be a successful country if it was an independent country.” (Anas Sarwar, former MP and now list candidate)

“I do not think Scotland is too small, too poor or too stupid to stand on its own.” (Iain Gray, former leader of the opposition at Holyrood)

“You’ll never hear me suggest that Scotland could not go its own way.” (Michael Moore, former MP & Secretary of State for Scotland)

“I have never subscribed to the view that Scotland couldn’t be independent because of economic issues.” (David Mundell, MP and current Secretary of State for Scotland)


According to Unionists, no one has ever said Scotland was “too wee” to be independent, using those exact words, as part of an argument against independence. Nowhere. Ever. At all. They have, however, said an independent Scotland:

This is totally different from calling Scotland “too wee.”


No one has ever said Scotland was “too poor” to be independent, using those exact words, outside of quotations. They have, however, said an independent Scotland:

This is totally different from calling Scotland “too poor.”


No one has ever said Scotland was “too stupid” to be independent, using those exact words. They have, however, said an independent Scotland:

This is totally different from calling Scotland “too stupid.”

So, is that clear?

It seems to me that those who claim just because no-one has actually said “too wee, too poor, too stupid” then the sentiment of the phrase is also entirely absent are afflicted with a curious affliction.

They see no “too wee” – they just see “too small,” “defenseless,” “irrelevant,” “insignificant,” a “failed state” that “couldn’t survive.” They hear no “too poor” – just “bankrupt,” “backwater,” “couldn’t afford,” “couldn’t pay,” an economic “abyss” or “wasteland” or “disaster.” They speak no “too stupid” – just “daft,” “deluded,” “deranged,” “dangerous,” “unable,” “incapable,” “retrogressive,” “atavistic,” “madness.”

The question is, is this a case of being unable to perceive these things, or simply unwilling? Are their horizons too wee, their spirit too poor, and their mind too stupid to even comprehend the possibilities of independence, let alone what they’re saying? Or do they know fine well that they will happily leave voters with the impression that Scotland would fail as an independent country – as long as they vote No?

If Better Together prided themselves on presenting a positive case for the union, where they utterly repudiate the claims that Scotland could not be a successful independent nation, then it must have come to a great shock to them that 82% of No voters disagreed with them in a 2013 Panelbase poll:


The fear factor has been cited in polls since the referendum, most famously the Ashcroft poll which showed almost half of those who voted No did so because “the risks of becoming independent looked too great.” In other words, the fear that the perceived risks wouldn’t pay off. Fear of an independent Scotland failing to protect their pensions, or support the NHS, or defend the nation’s waters, or maintain jobs. A pragmatic unionist would acknowledge the power fear had in the referendum campaign. But to deny it – to perpetually protest at the characterisation “too wee, too poor, too stupid” – is to repudiate the most often-cited reason Scots voted No in the first place.

And they can’t pretend any more. Right now, the mantra of Unionist parties is “aren’t you glad we’re still in the UK?” “We sure dodged a bullet, didn’t we?” “The SNP must apologise to the people of Scotland!” If Unionists truly believed that Scotland had all that was necessary to be a successful independent country, then why are so many of them thanking their lucky stars it didn’t happen? Why do they angrily insist that the SNP apologise for daring to suggest what they themselves hotly protest they agree with?


You literally just typed “Scotland can’t afford independence.” Sake.

You can’t have it both ways. You can’t say you believe Scotland could prosper as an independent nation on one hand, then say it would be a bankrupt economic wasteland on the other. You can’t say you believe Scotland would be a confident and hearty contributor on the world stage one moment, then talk about how irrelevant, ineffectual, and incapable it would be the next. You certainly can’t say you believe the Scottish people are capable of running their own affairs, and then call it madness, insanity, delusion or atavism. Either you can’t, or you won’t, see or hear or speak what you really feel.

Maybe you dodged a bullet in 2014. But that’s nothing compared to the barrels of ammunition you’re sweating now.

8 thoughts on “See No “Wee,” Hear No “Poor,” Speak No “Stupid”

  1. ebreah says:

    Stunning analysis and debunking

  2. I Clark says:

    Thanks for a very good and usable article.

    During the last month of the referendum campaign I talked to two people who explicitly expressed two of the above sentiments. One – an intelligent, socially concerned, labour sympathising aquaintance – vehemently demanded of me “You tell me how we can afford it.” A year later he was emphasising that he was an ‘internationalist’.

    On a doorstep, an older, Scottish man was being very critical of Alex Salmond and the SNP government and I said to him “But you don’t believe that Scottish people generally are incapable of running their own affairs”. He replied that he thought we were incapable. I remember being shocked, then leaving and thinking about the degree of self loathing involved in saying such a thing.

    We have seen a version of this self loathing, expressed nationally, by the leaders of Scottish Labour, Tories and Lib Dems during this last week. Obviously there is self interest and political calculation involved as well. But it is nauseating nonetheless. And what of many ordinary, intelligent, non Tory ‘No’ voters? How many of them have reflected on their fear and, perhaps subconsciously, rationalised their choice?

    This article successfully highlights the continuing attempt to deceive – and perhaps self deception – practised by those politically active Britnats who insist on the ‘Better together’ narrative in the face of the reality of the shameful “too wee, too poor, too stupid” one.

    • alharron says:

      I’m thinking the rationalisation is a big part of it. When the media & other parties are constantly hammering in the oil aspect to the exclusion of all else, it offers them reassurance: you did vote the right way. A lot of people don’t like the idea they made a mistake on the biggest vote they were ever likely to make in their lifetimes, so they latch onto anything which legitimises that choice.

      That’s why I have particular hopes for the SNP’s newly-announced initiative to reach & converse with No voters – when we know exactly why 2 million were recorded as No voters, we can go forward. Thus far, the Never voters have dictated the terms, because they’re the most vocal and outspoken. Most No voters weren’t Never voters who despise the SNP with all their might, who adore the Union and the Queen and everything it stands for – they were people who had their own reasons.

      If we know their reasons for voting no, we can address them – hopefully convince them. We have an inkling from polls that the vast majority of No voters just didn’t believe Scotland *could* be independent – the risks were too great, not enough money, etc. Only a minority – between a third and a quarter of No voters – cited an attachment for Britain as a factor.

      See, I don’t know why No voters are complaining. If the SNP know why so many people voted against independence, surely that would only aid their cause? If the case for independence was truly shot, then *no* amount of convincing would shift opinion. The only reason No voters could have a problem with the SNP listening to No voters is if they think things could change. They don’t want that, do they?

  3. […] an independent Scotland would be. Because “too wee, too poor, too stupid” is just too blatant, even for […]

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  5. […] would undoubtedly have been conquered by England. We don’t need constant reminders of our own inferiority, which is manifested in the English people […]

  6. […] belief that they’re too wee, too poor, and too stupid to do it alone (even if they protest they never use those exact words); when your entire Parliament can be overruled by your neighbour’s even on issues that have […]

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