29 December 2012

Independence Quotation of the Day...

I'm an honours list grinch. I imagine a good few of you are too, and survey the bi-annual dishing out of damehoods and ennobling shoulder-bonking with the regal scimitar without enthusiasm. Within the British state, grousing about such fopperies avails us not at all, but the combination of disgruntlement and powerlessness is not entirely without its psychological compensations. Our egalitarian-minded girning never has to contend with the heavy political weather of actually abolishing the ermine, the gewgaws, the ribbon and the magic names. 

You can imagine the Scotsman headlines, if any parliamentarian had enough brass neck to introduce an Abolition of Nobility (Scotland) Bill. "Outcry as Olympic hero Hoy to be stripped of knighthood"; "Abolishing dukedoms 'violates human rights', experts claim"; "Foulkes 'forced to live rough' if deprived of his Barony".

Courtesy of Pater Peat Worrier, my Christmas morning stocking was plump with a copy of the late Stephen Maxwell's Arguing for Independence: Evidence, Risks and the Wicked Issues (2012) this year.  It is a lucid, accessibly-written volume, which will prove invaluable for anyone trying to convince skeptical family members or cronies about the potential benefits of independence, or who risk political conversations down the pub.  Perhaps the greatest strength of the book is the extent to which it tackles the issues of risks and probability head on, without fear, and without apology. 

Maxwell isn't feart to recognise both upsides and downsides, opportunities and challenges, which Scottish independence might bring. Whatever your views on the national question, this candour is refreshing and the level of the debate would be significantly improved, if unionists as well as nationalists leant Maxwell's arguments some of their time. A number of the book's themes resonated with me, but for the moment, let's focus on just one: responsibility.  Over the past year, we've heard a good deal from a number of commentators about Scotland's (often only abstract) social democratic sensibilities. It also came up in our conversation with Kevin Williamson and Rory Scothorne in episode seven of the For A' That podcast, and to an extent, in Alex Massie's prediction that an independent Scotland would not be a "socialist nirvana" as some hope, but a state likely to resort to more "neoliberal" forms of governance.  

In a chapter headed The Cultural Case, (p. 148), Maxwell writes:

"By equipping Scots with the authority and responsibility to act across the whole spectrum of issues, independence would expose Scotland's moralising rhetoric of resistance to sterner tests than it will ever face under the forms of devolution currently touted by the Unionist parties.  It would remove the alibi for inaction provided by the Union and confront the voters with the consequences of their collusion in the politicians' rhetoric.

How much would we be prepared to pay in higher taxes for our opposition to spending cuts? Ho many more asylum seekers or economic migrants would we be ready to welcome to Scotland when the UK Border Agency is no longer there to do the dirty work of control and deportation? How much redistribution of income and wealth are the better off prepared to accept in the name of a fairer and more compassionate Scotland? How many jobs are we prepared to jeopardise in the short term as the price of terminating our role in the UK's delusional defence strategy?

The answers might be unsettling, but our public culture would be the better for being able to subject politicians' rhetoric to the test of practical responsibility."

Rings bells for me. Between the idea, And the reality, Between the motion, And the act, Falls the Shadow.  As Kenny MacAskill almost said, eventually, one really ought to grow tired of just girning. Arise Sir Wiggo.


  1. LPW, seems your hero gres with Johann Lamont then....

  2. Hardly, Braveheart. Merely that these things would have to be decided by the Scots rather than UK.
    Rhetoric is all very well, but reality waits in the wings

  3. Norman

    the question is not about constitutional arrangments, it's about

    a. whether Scots are more inherently "socialistic" than the rest of the country

    b. whether, which and how social benefits can be afforded.

    You don't need "independence" to address these points. Johann Lamont is attempting to do it and being monstered by the Nats for the attempt.

    So much for Nat not being feart to face the issues...


  4. b. whether, which and how social benefits can be afforded.

    You mean like rubbish collection, primary and secondary education, access to libraries, fire and police forces, street lights etc which are all Benefits to the wider society.

  5. I mean;

    LPW quotes with approval one of Stephen Maxwell's judgements which seem to be in agreement with Johann Lamont's ideas as expresssed in the last six months and rubbished by many Nats.

    Or as I put it above.... "seems your hero agrees with Johann Lamont then...."

  6. @Braveheart
    "LPW quotes with approval one of Stephen Maxwell's judgements which seem to be in agreement with Johann Lamont's ideas as expresssed in the last six months and rubbished by many Nats."

    LPW quotes with approval one of Maxwell's arguments: that independence "would remove the alibi for inaction provided by the Union and confront the voters with the consequences of their collusion in the politicians' rhetoric"

    Is that Lamont's argument? Really?

    No. Lamont has not been attempting to discuss this topic at all. Lamont doesn't WANT to discuss it, because it's about what decisions would need to be made with independence.

    Lamont has instead been attempting to smear the SNP by claiming policies she and her party stood on in common with the SNP are suddenly "bribes" and "something for nothing". Nothing whatsoever to do with Maxwell's arguments about the shape of an independent Scotland, with full powers and control.

  7. Well lets suppose for a moment that this writer does agree with Lamont, and examine it a length.

    Here he is talking about Scotland facing up to its own responsibilites and the arguments that will come from them.
    What he does not do, however, is state what Scotland would choose to do. The question is open because its not for him to answer it.

    Lamont on the other hand, has chosen her answer. Cuts. She will exclude people from benefits because they are paid too much, despite that fact that paying their taxes entitles them to said benfits. She wants introduce english style fees on education. Deprive the elderly of their bus passes. She wants people to pay for prescriptions, even though they have paid for them. She want's inflation busting rises in council tax. But she wants to keep spending more than we can afford on defence. She won't consider any reform of PFI or strip private firms of public subsidy.

    Maxwell is pondering the choices faced by an idependent nation, and they are hard questions, with nothing off the table.

    Lamont is making an argument,to allow her, as is Miliband, to triangulate the shrinking tory vote. She is not doing what she is doing because of some deeply held conviction. She is simply picking on easy targets just like the tories do.

    So in conclusion I would reject your assumption, as while Maxwell poses questions, he leaves the answers to the Scots themselves.
    Lamont has already chosen what she wants regardless of how Scotland feels. Hope this clears it up for you Braveheart.

  8. It's interesting that we all agree, but some want to make an argument of it.....

  9. braveheart clutching at straws!
    Maxwell is highlighting the fact that we the Scots would be able to choose what WE want and yes nowhere to hide!
    Lamont on the other hand is simply following policies to from Westminster designed to appeal to 'One Nation' middle England , at the same time suggesting that the SNP are promulgating the unaffordable. The fact that these policies totally contradict their policies for the 2011 elections tells you something else.
    So please don't insult Maxwell by association with a lightweight like Lamont!

  10. I'd have thought that the whole purpose of independence was to take the difficult decisions ourselves. It is pretty obvious that we'd have to have our own rules about asylum seekers, etc.

    What's the problem with that?

  11. "It's interesting that we all agree, but some want to make an argument of it....."
    Which suggests you are mistaken when you say "we all agree"?

  12. Lamont is not actually arguing anything. She is using the language of managerialism to say we can't afford this that and the next thing but she is not actively arguing for anything as yet.

    We will wait and see what amendments Labour put forward in the Budget - that will demonstrate whether they are actually serious about proposing major changes to public spending. It will be interesting to see if they do put forward amendments or simply abstain while saying "we need to have a debate".

    If that is what happens they will have absolutely no credibility left. It is actually fair enough to move away from a previous policy position if you have something else to put in its place. But if you are too scared to do that and instead just repeat ad nauseum that we need to have a debate about spending priorities that is just weak and meaningless.

    For me however the underlying flaw with the way Labour has approached this is that it has involved absolutely no consultation with public service users as far as I can see. With public service providers - yes. You could find managers in local authorities across the land who would agree with Johann Lamont on why universal services should be scrapped.

    But what of the users - the taxpayers who actually fund the services? There appears to be no consideration of them. Just a brusque instruction that they must stop expecting services which they pay for to be provided to them.

    You couldn't make it up really. If you sat down and thought what is the worst possible reaction to austerity, what would guarantee that you would lose the next election, what could best undermine trust in the Union to provide ordinary families with confidence in the ability of public services to meet their needs, this would be it.