I try my best not to be too critical of fellow independence supporters, but sometimes I feel like I have to plant my colours to the mast. Such a day is today, where Neil Mackay hosts an interview with Andrew Wilson, former SNP MSP and currently (in)famous for the Growth Commission prospectus on an independent Scotland.
I feel I owe my pals in the SSP, RISE, & kindred groups an immense apology. Back when the White Paper was released, I was among the first to defend some of its more controversial aspects, like the pledge to reduce corporation tax (mostly by saying “at least we’d actually enforce it.”) Likewise, I had to contest with my Green friends who balked at the notion of continuing to use Scottish oil for fossil fuel purposes, suggesting that it would lead to a greener future once we had our independent Scotland sorted out. And, of course, I had the Labour for Indy faithful who extolled the cause of independence while absolving themselves of SNP alignment, where I said an SNP government is by no means an eternity with independence.
Nonetheless, I never felt truly comfortable aligning exactly with any of the parties. Part of the issue I have with politics in general is the insistence on over-complicating matters, and this is as evident in the left as in the right: a plethora of jargon, reams of dead old people to read, and ultra-categorisation that gets in the way of what the politics are trying to do – help people & improve society. So I tend to stay away from it.
Through it all, despite finding myself aligning with much more radical views than the SNP in general (lots of abolition in my prospective Indy Scotland), I figured that since the SNP were crucial in gaining Scotland’s independence, supporting the party was more than worth any individual policy disagreements. Nonetheless, the broad church of the SNP practically demands such disagreements, with the knowledge that the cause comes before everything else – for the simple reason that independence is the foundation on which all else must be built.
It is in that spirit I must disagree politely, but most profoundly, with Andrew Wilson (and Neil Mackay, as it happens) on several things.
IF the Yes movement has a brain, then it’s called Andrew Wilson – the man who’s crafted the SNP’s vision of independence…
…Wilson is, after all, the man who has done the hard thinking for the Yes movement. The 49-year-old economist and former SNP MSP was the brain behind the Sustainable Growth Commission, which built the economic case for independence.
Now, a lot of grassroots independence & SNP activists would think “really?” in response to such an assertion. This is, I feel, a bit unfair. Mr Wilson has a long history in the SNP dating back to his Federation of Student Nationalist days, including a term as an MSP, where his pro-market economics & support for Full Fiscal Autonomy gave him a veneer of respectability & reasonableness to the sort of dunderheids who didn’t see the 2008 Financial Crisis coming. After he missed out on re-election in 2003, he went on to join what was formerly known as the RBS Group and WPP, while still appearing sporadically on the independence scene, giving lectures & writing pro-independence columns for anti-independence newspapers (which was, at the time, basically all of them).
Veterans of past SNP campaigns, or even the 2014 referendum, could be forgiven for wondering when Mr Wilson became “the brain of the Yes Movement” given he was not granted such a sobriquet any time prior to the Sustainable Growth Commission – which, you’ll recall, started in 2015. You would think he would’ve been mentioned in, say, the launch of Scotland’s Future – which, unlike the SGC, was designed as the prospectus for an independent Scotland with a referendum on the way.
Wilson goes on to discuss “squabbling” and “factionism.” Given the nature of some of these “squabbles,” I find it rather patronising to reduce such profound disagreements on policy to be so described – especially when they’re ones the party management disagree on. Is it really “squabbling” to disagree with – say – the SNP’s stance on an independent Scotland’s relationship with NATO, given how tight the 2011 resolution was, not to mention the immensity of its repercussions? So too does Wilson regard the fallout of the Salmond enquiry as “difficult to understand” – an assessment which, to be frank, I find difficult to believe – and the Edinburgh South West contest is simply another example of politics, with nothing more behind it.
Up to this point I’m happy to disagree with Mr Wilson. But then this:
When it comes to winning independence, “the biggest lesson is to learn how not to do it from Brexit – don’t go low, don’t go populist, as even if you were to win on such a prospectus the aftermath would be really bad”. Wilson is concerned about any hint of populism in the Yes movement. “It would worry me as A, I don’t think it would win, and B, if it did win it would be more like what we’re experiencing with Brexit.”
That’s why he is bitterly opposed to false promises, ideas like Modern Monetary Theory with its plans to print money, and claims that independence is a panacea. “We used to say because of oil that everything would be easier from day one – now some say we can just print money and everything will be easier. Neither of those were ever true.”
I cannot believe Mr Wilson genuinely believes that “going low” or “populism” is why the UK is leaving the EU, or that even the merest hint of those things was somehow a lesson for Scottish Independence supporters.
Scottish Independence, as a cause, is purely about the idea that a nation and its government should be coterminous: that the people of a nation alone elect the government which represents them. There is nothing inherently good or bad about it: it is simply a belief about the nature of nations & governance. It is that central truth which drives support: a simple, logical idea that hundreds of nations around the world practise daily.
The UK leaving the EU is nothing like Scottish Independence, even at a very basic level. Even if you strip away all the extenuating circumstances, leaving the EU is about leaving a trade bloc. There is no existential crisis, no great conundrum, no profundity: a dull, dry question of regulations & shared commitments. There should be no worry about Scottish Independence to be “seen” as like the UK leaving the EU, because there is no basis for such a comparison beyond a wilful misapprehension about what Scotland, the UK, and the EU are.
(“Populism” is a term abused by upper class conservatives to terrify middle class liberals out of engagement with the working class. Just about every major revolution in history, from independence movements to civil rights, has been “populist.” What Mr Wilson is referring to is clearly nativism.)
This is all quite apart from the fact that the UK is leaving the EU because the people behind the Leave campaign literally broke the law in order to win, and the worthless Remain camp refused to engage it on that level. Instead, they preferred to pretend 17 million people are irredeemably racist rather than lied to by criminals with their own agenda.
But then, Mr Wilson dismisses ideas like Modern Monetary Theory out of hand, suggesting they simply “will not work.” As opposed to quantitative easing? Federal reserves? Saving banks over the public? I am no economist, but I never cease to be amazed by how certain economists tend to be about things that regularly turn out to be incorrect.
But then there was this…
“We must remember that even our most bitter opponents will be citizens of an independent Scotland the day after [a successful Yes vote],” Wilson says. “The minute we win, our opponents have to become our allies.”
After a Yes vote “we’d seek to bring the most experienced talents of Scotland to bear on what happens next” – namely negotiations with Westminster. “I’d love people like Alistair Darling, Gordon Brown, and others, to play a role in making good the decision of independence.”
Prominent No figures should sit on a “council of the country which pulls together our best and most experienced states-people”.
I mean, am I the crazy one here, or is this actual lunacy?
Alistair Darling, the lying leader of a campaign which told their activists to lie to pensioners that they would lose their pensions after a Yes vote. Gordon Brown, the lying figurehead who cravenly lied that independence would threaten lives reliant on organ & blood donations. Two men who have done untold damage not just to Scotland through their catastrophic mishandling of the 2008 Financial Crisis (which they insist they handled well), who killed their party’s hopes of government for 10 years and counting, who personally sold off Scotland’s assets & neglected Scotland’s people after promising salvation from the grip of Thatcherism. Who in their right mind would want them anywhere near such a monumentally vital task as building a 21st Century Independent Scotland?
I understand, and stronglu agree with, the notion that people who don’t necessarily support independence should be involved in making the best of a newly independent Scotland. That is necessary and plain logical. There are plenty of intelligent, considerate, and honest individuals who are not necessarily independence supporters out there, and they would be very important and welcome.
But Brown and Darling are not individuals such as these. Imagine the World Health Organisation decides to put Judy Mikovits on a council to deal with the Coronavirus emergency. Picture a Cancer summit with Bharat Aggarwal holding a talk. Behold an Autism conference hosted by Andrew Wakefield. Or, more politically, imagine a newly independent Latvia inviting Alfrēds Rubiks to help build a nation he personally fought to keep under Soviet control; try to visualise the newly-independent United States of America encouraging Benedict Arnold to stay & build the new nation; think of literally any other nation, having won its independence, deciding “you know who we need? The people who lied and cheated and swindled us all the most.”
More than anything, Brown and Darling represent everything independence-supporting Scots want to get away from: pathetic specimens of Scawdishness all too eager to defer to their cultural & national betters, all too willing to sacrifice their nation’s health and happiness and pride on the altar of the British Establishment’s insatiable hunger, all too prepared to suffix their Scottish pride with a “but.” The sort of people who say they genuinely believe an independent Scotland would be worse off than a Scotland under the jackboot of the UK Government, yet cannot seem to stop lying in the process.
This is hardly unique to Mr. Wilson. There are plenty of folk in the SNP who, somehow, genuinely seem to believe that the same people who have thwarted our national ambitions with deceit and derision will convert to reason like Saul on the road to Damascus. They think that they won’t seek to undermine our fledgling nation at every turn, either through their discredited economic policies, or the sheer spite of defeat. These people shot down the SNP’s demands for Devo-Max in the Smith Commission – the very thing they promised Scots in 2014 – then dared to blame the UK Government for their betrayal. This is how they act in victory – what on Earth persuades you to think they would be any better in defeat?
But that’s the danger the SNP find themselves in – the credulity of someone who doesn’t really think the UK Government establishment is all bad. These are folk in the SNP who have dinner with the landed gentry, chatting with war crime apologists, form think-tanks with the architects of Better Together, and think that they can influence them – change them. Then, when the people they spent all this time trying to convince to the Indy side end up deserting them, betraying them, stabbing them in the back, they have the temerity to act shocked at the betrayal.
No one person can truly be the “brains” of the Yes movement any more than any one person can be the leader, or the treasurer, or the boatswain. We are a movement, not a party, and treating us like such diminishes us all. But God almighty, if this is the brains of our movement, we’re in desperate need of a transplant.
A set o’ dull, conceited hashes
Confuse their brains in college classes!
They gang in stirks, and come out asses,
Plain truth to speak;
An’ syne they think to climb Parnassus
By dint o’ Greek!
- From Robert Burns, “Epistle To J. Lapraik, An Old Scottish Bard” (1785)