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.
— Stronger United (@StrongerUnited1) April 13, 2014
Nationalists replying “too wee, too poor, too stupid” show their lack of an argument preferring a phrase nobody has ever said #indyref
— Effie Deans (@Effiedeans) June 2, 2014
— Gary Short (@garyshort) June 11, 2015
— Water Buffalo (@thewaterbuffalo) September 24, 2014
— Ted Ditchburn@NNP (@TedDitchburnNNP) January 25, 2016
IDS accuses PM of saying Brits are too poor, too wee, too stupid for Brexit vote. Self pitying trope, invented by SNP but blamed on No camp
— MichaelWhite (@MichaelWhite) February 28, 2016
Peter Jones (Perspective, 12 November) asks if any reader could pass on to him the source of the now oft-repeated SNP myth of “unionists” claiming that “Scotland was too small, too poor and too stupid” to break up the UK and run its own affairs.
I have followed with some passion and dedication every twist and turn in the referendum debate since it began, and long before, and I cannot find a single instance of a pro-UK source saying anything remotely like this.
Most, in fact, go out of their way to say that is not the argument at all; it is simply that we and our children would be much better off in every imaginable way as a vibrant part of the UK.– Alexander McKay, letter in The Scotsman
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:
“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:
- would be “too small… to exercise any significant influence or restraint on the EU”;
- would be “too small to make any impact as an independent nation”;
- would be “too small to matter to anyone but itself”;
- would be “too small” to bail out the banks, and “have little influence” in Europe;
- “would be too small to absorb shocks, whether to oil prices or its banks”;
- is “too small a country to be independent”;
- has stuff “we’re too small to do by ourselves”;
- would be “too small to support or defend a moderate currency attack”;
- “would be too small to be a lender of last resort to banks like RBS”
- would be “a beautiful country, but on its own could become too small“;
- would be “too small on its own”;
- “would be too small to go it alone”;
- “is probably too small to be a viable economic entity”;
- is “far too small to be a viable economy at present”;
- “is much too small a country to be out on its own and separated from the United Kingdom”;
- “isn’t big enough economically”;
- couldn’t “survive“;
- wouldn’t “survive on her own”;
- “will not survive without the help of England no matter how you look at it”;
- “should not, and will not, survive alone”;
- “would not be able to defend itself“;
- would have a “small,” “limited,” “difficult to maintain,” “truncated” and “stripped” defense force;
- would have “a navy with no ships, an air force with no planes and an army with no guns“;
- would be a “mini-state unable to contribute meaningfully to global security”
- “would be refused entry to NATO“;
- “risks irrelevance“;
- would be an “irrelevance in Europe” with “little clout”;
- would have “less voting power in the EU than Greece“;
- “would be forced to give up the pound as its currency”;
- “would almost certainly be forced to join the crisis-stricken Euro“;
- would “make it harder for Scotland to realise its vast renewable energy potential”;
- “wouldn’t have the influence” to combat global attacks on women;
- “will go back to being a failed state”;
- “would fail to attract the right quality of researchers” as a small nation;
- “would need almost one million immigrants by the middle of the century to boost the workforce and defuse its pensions time bomb”;
- “would be a complete nightmare” in terms of immigration policy;
- would be “more likely to suffer catastrophic terror attacks“;
- could see England “bomb the hell out of Glasgow Airport and Edinburgh Airport“;
- “must lose the protection afforded by Trident’s nuclear umbrella,” and “Any first strike on Scottish soil would therefore not constitute grounds for WMD retaliation by the rest of Great Britain.”
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:
- “would be entirely bankrupt and probably scuttling to the IMF”;
- “would now be bankrupt“;
- “would be bankrupt within weeks”;
- would have been “immediately bankrupt“;
- “would fail within a year“;
- would have a “junk credit rating“;
- “would have been in the most atrocious economic place”;
- would have needed “an IMF bailout in the first year of independence which would have come with Greece-style austerity”;
- would “destroy the economy, hit investment, and force companies to move to England”;
- would require “austerity on scale seldom attempted in Europe”;
- is “not financially viable” and “just doesn’t work”;
- would be “in imminent peril of economic collapse“;
- would be “an economic wasteland“;
- would be “an economic disaster“;
- would be a “proven economic ruin“;
- “couldn’t afford what we have now”;
- “can’t afford” independence without cuts”;
- “can’t afford oil fund without major cuts”;
- “can’t afford” to defend itself”;
- “cannot afford the current level of healthcare provision”;
- “cannot afford it”;
- “could not pay its welfare bill”;
- “simply could not afford to maintain” UK military assets;
- “probably could not afford” costs of renewable energy subsidies;
- “would be pretty catastrophic, economically”;
- would be “incapable” of being a Green powerhouse;
- would be “a laughing stock and a backwater with a third world economy“;
- “would feel EU rebate pain“;
- “could easily have been the next Greece“;
- “would be falling into economic abyss“;
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:
- “would have come cap in hand to Whitehall and the IMF, saying please rescue us from our own stupidity!”
- “would be stupid, reckless and painful“;
- is “a wretched idea riddled with inconsistencies and ironies“
- “is built on a big lie“;
- would be “committing suicide“;
- would be “economic, political and social suicide“;
- would be “an act of self-mutilation that will trash our global identity”;
- would be “self-destruction“;
- holding a referendum with three options would “confuse the voters“;
- was “daft, deluded, deranged, and downright dangerous“;
- would cause Scotland’s top universities to suffer a “brain drain“;
- “would have a damaging effect on higher education and research”;
- “would be forced to re-think” its free tuition;
- was “retrogressive, purse-lipped, stupid” and “isolationist“;
- would be a triumph for the “atavistic forces of nationalism and ethnicity”
- was “unequal to the task of self-government“;
- would end up “merely a third-world tourist destination by 2030“:
- was populated by “very many Scots who are stupid enough to believe” Braveheart was a documentary;
- “would take ten years” to sort out their laws;
- “would be madness“;
- would be “an act of insanity“;
- was “a nation” gone “mad“;
- “WILL BE HELL“;
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 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.