Alex Salmond is not the canny operator many paint him as


1:30 pm - January 13th 2012

by Shuggy    


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Canny is a word often used to describe Alex Salmond by journalists who seek to impress on an audience who have hitherto not paid too much attention to our First Minister or the political threat he represents.

The description is not entirely without foundation. Salmond is an impressive political operator who has consistently wrong-footed his opponents on the political scene in Scotland. One of his advantages is that he has simply been at it longer than the leaders of any political party in the UK.

But his talents have also been greatly exaggerated.

This is partly big fish, small pond syndrome: Scotland is a small country which is bound to have a narrower pool of talent than the UK as a whole – and it is made smaller still by the fact that the ambitious in the unionist parties have historically sought to build their careers in Westminster.

It is also partly on account of hagiography within the nationalist movement. If anyone troubles themselves to become acquainted with their history, they have moved from being an eccentric minority to commanding a majority in a legislature which adopted a voting system that was supposed to prevent such an event from happening. For the believers, Salmond is the political colossus who made all of this possible.

But Salmond also has an impressive record of calling it wrong, and doing so on some of the most significant political and economic issues of our time.

For example, he described the Kosovo campaign “an act of dubious legality, but above all one of unpardonable folly.” The intention of reminding people of this is not to invite debate on the merits of the NATO intervention. I was in favour, I remain of the view that it was the right thing to do – and I have an emotional interest in the case, having taught students who had come to seek shelter in Scotland from Milosevic’s army. But I appreciate that good people opposed this intervention in good faith.

Rather it is that Salmond’s predictions of the outcome that were completely wrong, as was his belief that he would gain political capital from this at the ballot box. And his comparison to the bombing of Clydebank by the Luftwaffe was too absurd to dignify with an argument.

Then there was the whole ‘arc of prosperity‘ thing that Scotland was invited to join.

As this doesn’t distinguish him from the UK political mainstream, I would be disinclined to make too much of Salmond calling the Euro wrong – were it not for two factors. One was that he is an economist and should therefore have been more alert to the possibility of failure than most. The other is that his attitude like of the Tories in that both seem to pick exemplar countries that have absolutely nothing in common except one bare point that politicians wish to identify themselves with.

Finally, there is the Salmond tendency to pick on firms in the way he seems to choose countries. Forget the details, they are examples that can bolster the nationalist case. A significant howler in this regard is the attitude of this former economist with the Royal Bank of Scotland to his erstwhile employers. “Good luck with the bid”, he wrote to the now disgraced Sir Fred Goodwin in relation to his intention to acquire the Dutch banking enterprise ABN.

Despite all this, Salmond is seen as some kind of invulnerable political demi-god.

If Salmond is some kind of hero of mythic proportions, the one I’d chose is Achilles. There’s always the hope that someone with a straight bow will hit the target, which is why – while gambling is the one of the few vices I don’t understand – I won’t be placing a bet on Alex Salmond in the next couple of years.


Shuggy blogs here, where there is a longer version of this post

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Reader comments


“Salmond also has an impressive record of calling it wrong, and doing so on some of the most significant political and economic issues of our time.”

Like Iraq, Trident and a host of social and environmental issues you mean? I happen to agree with him on Kosovo too, but we can disagree about that if you like.

However his reputation comes from more than simple small pond syndrome. This is a man who took a party with a very low level of support and no MPs and led it to become the largest party in the country. Not impressed?

He is a man who was *expelled* from the SNP and went on to lead it. He is also a man who lost the leadership and won it back again – name me a party leader capable of such a feat no matter what size the pond is.

He’s not a god by any means, nor is he always right, but compared to political midgets in Labour, Lib Dems and Cons he has a lot more going for him.

I doubt we’ll see his political demise in the next couple of years regardless of the outcome of the independence referendum and his opponents under-estimate him at their peril.

With regard to the big fish, small pond angle, it’s probably worth re-stating that, at a time when Labour couldn’t get a root in a brothel, they managed to hold on to all their Scottish seats in the General Election. Salmond and the SNP were targeting “20 for 10” and ended up with… 6.

He’s a smart politician, but his virtues are exaggerated by the shortcomings of his opponents.

I like him. He’s done really well. If he successfully achieves independence for Scotland he’ll have claimed a place in history and it’ll be rightly and richly deserved. And I hope he does achieve it. I haven’t heard anybody make a case against Scottish independence that isn’t born of English self interest, and given the trajectory of the UK and London as a whole it could be a smart move for Scotland to cut itself loose before things all go bad.

I don’t think your “narrow talent pool” observation has a strong statistical basis.

The lack of (supposed) talent comes rather from the fact that the Scots “big fish” prefer to play in the bigger Westminster pond, e.g. Smith, Brown, Darling, Cook, even arguably Blair.

4 – that’s what he’s saying isn’t it?

This is partly big fish, small pond syndrome: Scotland is a small country which is bound to have a narrower pool of talent than the UK as a whole – and it is made smaller still by the fact that the ambitious in the unionist parties have historically sought to build their careers in Westminster.

Monglor “I haven’t heard anybody make a case against Scottish independence that isn’t born of English self interest”

LOL, I reckon there’s a lot more English in favour of full Scottish Independence than you realise.

Sadly it seems all too easy a game to get people going by whipping up their latent Nationalism and making promises of a glorious future (whether you can deliver on that or not) without those nasty ‘other’ people. But ultimately Nationalism is a dead end philosophy, and I’m quite surprised to see a Green and a Socialist like Jim J having a good word to say for a Nationalist of any kind, no matter how effective they are at winning people to the Nationalist cause.

“With regard to the big fish, small pond angle, it’s probably worth re-stating that”

It really isn’t. Voting SNP in UK General Elections is like trying to make the tide go out by pushing it with your hands. Scottish voters understand that perfectly well and so do the SNP, which is why the party spends vastly less money fighting Westminster elections than Holyrood ones, while the Unionist parties take the opposite approach.

There was actually something I was wondering about re: Alex Salmond’s policies. He criticised David Cameron’s veto of the latest EU treaty, so I assume that he’d have signed it if he were FM of an independent Scotland. But the treaty also talked of making national parliaments OK their budgets with Brussels before voting on them, right? And, since I don’t think that the Scottish Parliament has to do this with Westminster, Salmond would actually be happy for Scotland to have *less* control over her financial affairs than she currently does?

9. Anon E Mouse

@6 – Birdie

Completely agree on the English opinion on this matter.

Have a UK wide referendum and I can assure you the majority of the population will give Scotland their independence and these tartan skirted throwbacks can take back Gordon Brown and Dougie Alexander at the same time.

Quite like Alistair Darling though.

If there’s a better politician on these islands than Alex Salmond they are good at hiding their light under a bushel…

As a simple observation, Mr Salmond is an effective politician, with a presumably effective team behind him.

But he has not been tested by proper opposition – the Labour party in Scotland is mainly lazy, and the brighest and best of them (as well as the most brutal operators) as unionists go for the national level. The Conservatives are not taken seriously (or perhaps are taken too seriously…), and the Liberal Democrats are limited in their appeal to certain areas.

Whether Mr Salmond can compete effectively against Mr Cameron (like him or not, he is a good politician in his own right, and is also good at being lucky), on a campaign which will no doubt by headed on the No side by someone carefully selected (perhaps not even a politician) is a different question. After all, voting the SNP into power does not indicate that everyone who did actually supported independence – they just preferred them to the alternative (which considering the state of Scottish Labour is hardly surprising).

No politician ever puts a foot wrong.

But it is worth remembering the previous leader of the SNP, John Swinney, who failed miserably.

He is no demi-god but without him the SNP would be in a much weaker position than they are at present. You can’t say that of any other leader of a major political party in the UK right now.

that should say “doesn’t occasionally put a foot wrong.” It’s been a long day, sorry……

@9. Anon E Mouse: “If there’s a better politician on these islands than Alex Salmond they are good at hiding their light under a bushel…”

As Shuggy recorded in the OP, Salmond is a very capable political operator. That does not mean that he is a capable manager or legislator.

My only real problem with Salmond was his ‘size 10 boots’ comment. To me that made him look like a spoilt child who had been told off by Cameron. I imagine that Scots would not like that (little Scotland being told off by big UK)

15. Rob the crip

Compared to the lot we have in England he’s a giant.

@15. Rob the crip: “Compared to the lot we have in England he’s a giant.”

If that is the case for you, you should think about affiliation.

A challenging and crucial technical issue ahead is about what currency a fully independent Scotland should opt for. The options are:

(a) continue with the Pound with the Bank of England’s continuing management of monetary and stability policy;

(b) go for entry into the Eurozone – an option that Salmond originally said he wanted but which now looks hugely unattractive given the Eurozone’s apparently intractable problems for the foreseeable future;

(c) issue its own national currency – I wonder what ratings the agencies would give it, a crucial issue as that would affect borrowing costs?

Given that Britain’s financial crisis was largely caused by the collapse of those big Scottish banks RBS and HBOS, I doubt that international agencies will feel especially comfortable about reposing much confidence in the competence of Scottish banks beyond the control of the Bank of England to manage a new national currency. Recall that Salmond cheered on the takeover bid of RBS for ABN Amro, a bid that finally sank RBS. So much for Salmond’s expert insight into banking issues.

Naturally, in Scotland, 16 and 17 year-olds are fully up to speed on currency economics issues when they come to vote in the forthcoming independence referendum.

18. Leon Wolfeson

@9 – Oh yes, gotta get away from those Scots. Not racially anglo-saxon, after all.

And of course you want your One True Party state.

19. Maltese Cross

Of topic, but re Ed Balls U-turn. Haha!!!!!!

20. Anon E Mouse

@13 – Charlieman

Personality trumps ability it seems – it’s why Ed Miliband is doing so badly despite some interesting political points. He’s just too weird to be considered to lead this country but Salmond, irrespective of his managerial abilities, just looks like a winner.

Put it to the whole of the UK I say and we’ll let the Scots know how we feel.

(And that comes from someone who lived in Scotland for years whilst on subs in the Navy and whose younger daughter is Scottish)

The only reason Labour needs Scotland is because as a party they are finished without the MP’s….

21. Anon E Mouse

@18 – Leon Wolfeson

Since I’m not racially anglo-saxon myself what’s your point?

Apart from your usual New Labour smearing of course….

@20: “Personality trumps ability it seems ”

That was obviously the case with Blair.

That aside, the real costs of pulling the UK apart will be horrendous but I sense a growing disenchantment with the Scots south of the border. Extending the scope of the referendum nationwide could lead to an unexpected result.

On the well-documented evidence, the Scots are a nation of self-satisfied, aggressive drunks given to sectarian hatreds and racist bigotry – and I say that as Londoner born in Lambeth before WW2 who has lived and worked in Scotland.

Nobody, anywhere at the time of the RBS bid could, or would (although they should) have voiced concerns that reliance of crazed testosterone fuelled delided banking was the wrong. Nobody: Labour relied on it, Scotland like the whole world held its breath and hoped the massive bloody bubble would never burst. Nobody emerges with glory.

jim jepps – no, obviously he’s a substantial politician, head and shoulders above everyone in Scotland and my concern is that this is so in England too with Cameron being outmatched. The point about Kosovo, which I think I made clear in the post, was not to raise the issue of its merits or otherwise but that it serves as an example of an occasion where Salmond misjudged the electoral benefits.

It’s just that commentary about Salmond is increasingly looking like some kind of Great Man of history theory with him cast as some kind of tartan Bismarck. There are institutional reasons for his success which I referred to fleetingly in the post but which are discussed in greater detail in this fairly boring but accurate, in my view, analysis of the 2011 Holyrood election.

I would add that one of the reasons for his success within the SNP is they too are rather bereft of leadership material. Remember John Swinney’s spell in the role?

I haven’t heard anybody make a case against Scottish independence that isn’t born of English self interest

It wasn’t my purpose to do so in the post but I think I have in the past – and certainly plan to do so in the future – make a case for the Union that has nothing to do with English self-interest. Although I’m not sure that’s the case anyway – and this is another aspect of the politics of independence that has been overwhelmingly to Salmond’s advantage, which is that the case for the Union is made in an overwhelmingly negative way, framed in terms of what a disaster for Scotland it would be if the UK broke up. This is no way to run a campaign. Even when there is a strong point – the problem of the Euro, for example – it is made in the most clumsy way imaginable, as we saw from Osborne recently.

I’m sure Scotland would do perfectly well on its own, I just don’t happen to think it is desirable because I quite like Britain. I think those commentators who are talking about separation as if it were inevitable will find that there are rather more people like me than they imagined.

rentergirl: “Labour relied on it, Scotland like the whole world held its breath and hoped the massive bloody bubble would never burst. Nobody emerges with glory.”

That’s rubbish. RBS, managed by Fred the Shred and cheered on by Salmond, aggressively bid to buy a dead duck and it was successful in doing so because it miserably failed to conduct sufficient due diligence.

There were several warnings from professionals about the inflating house-price bubble going back to 2002 from Charles Goodhart as well as from Roger Bootle, who produced a book: Money for Nothing
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/economics/2758979/Goodhart-warns-on-house-price-boom.html

Instead, Gordon Brown changed the inflation target of the Bank of England in February 2004 from the RPIX index, which included an element for housing costs, to the CPI index which didn’t. The two indicies diverged. Had the BoE continued to follow the target set by the RPIX index, interest rates would have been set higher so the credit boom would have been curbed.

Note that contributors here are persistently dodging the challenging currency issue @17. One of the saddest features of modern Scotland is that the leading figures of the Scottish Enlightenment, David Hume and Adam Smith, are least respected in Scotland.

Alex Salmond and the SNP annihilated all the opposition in the 2011 Scottish Parliamentary elections, forcing all 3 party leaders to resign and Labour the next biggest party took until December to get around to electing a new leader.

Despite the vast resources of their UK party machines to call on, the neoliberal, neoconservative unionist opposition to the SNP are a complete and utter shambles and have no idea how to respond to the SNP and its anti-neoliberal policies,

Just in passing, NATO committed war crimes in the former Yugoslavia, and the UK has 1000% official debt in relation to GDP,not counting off-book debts such as PFI. Good luck with your unionist imagining you are better than others in the ‘arc of prosperity’ as the UK economy continues to tank, and the likes of Iceland gets back on its feet and Norway is hardly touched.

I mean people recognising the bubble was going to burst: I mean specifically politicians. And saying this out loud. NB: I saw it coming, from a BTL perspective. Wrote about it on my blog.

Latest news from the supposedly failed ‘arc of prosperity’ –

Statoil announces big find
Ice News – news from the Nordics
13 Jan 2012
http://www.icenews.is/index.php/2012/01/13/statoil-announces-big-find/
“Norwegian state oil producer Statoil ASA has announced a major oil find in the Barents Sea off the coast of northern Norway.
The company called the reserve, named Havis, a “twin” of the biggest-ever find in the area, the Skrugard field. Officials from Statoil, Norway’s largest energy firm, said in a statement released that the Havis field likely holds between 200 million and 300 million barrels of retrievable oil equivalent.”

I know whose economy I would prefer an independent Scotland to emulate, and it isn’t the one run by Etonian City spivs and failed neoliberal parasitic banksters whose success depends on, for instance, its huge loans abroad to the Irish being honoured.

@20. Anon E Mouse: “The only reason Labour needs Scotland is because as a party they are finished without the MP’s….”

I am not a Labour Party member so I don’t give a kipper about that. However, the LibDems have relied on smart Scots MPs post-Asquith and the strange death, and in living memory the Liberal leader on day X was probably Scottish. The Conservative Party relied on smart Scots until the party’s electoral black-out.

In similar fashion to Scots, Welsh politicians are overly represented as “talented” on the basis of population count.

rentergirl: “I mean people recognising the bubble was going to burst”

House-price bubbles tend to be popular with those who already own homes, which is why politicians tend not to mention that bubbles are not sustainable – and despite the fact that we have been there before with the South Sea Bubble of 1720, as well as the house-price bubbles of the early 1970s and the late 1980s.

The bursting of price bubbles has painful consequences. That something was amiss was clearly from the rapid escalation in bank borrowing (leveraging) from 20 times their capital to 50 times over seven years – which was evident from the banking stats. And there were well-informed professionals warning about the bubble – as well as the risks from trading complex derivatives supported by assets of dubious quality. The warnings were all ignored by the politicians and the regulators. This was incompetence on a grand scale.

But that is a separate issue from the RBS persisting with an aggressive, successful hostile takeover bid to buy the dead duck of ABN Amro, which sank RBS. The bubble would still have been a problem if RBS had dropped the takeover bid – and vice versa. The conjunction of the failures of both RBS and HBOS sends out an important message about running banking headoffices in Edinburgh. Btw before the merger between Lloyds and HBOS went through, I said to the manager of my local Lloyds bank branch that it wasn’t a good idea.

@28. joe kane: “I know whose economy I would prefer an independent Scotland to emulate…”

Your example, however, is geological. Norwegians have found oil in their national waters. An economic argument must have an economic basis.

@ 24. Shuggy

You know maybe why none of them can construct a positive argument for the Union is because they can’t think of one. The funniest thing this week is the full panic mode of the London metropolitan elite whether they they are on the left or right. No matter where they claim to be on the political spectrum they exhibit the same London-centric outlook. They simply can’t conceive a world outside of London control. A world where people would want to run their own lives is a confusing place for them. When they look at a map of the world it must be quite perplexing how all those damn nations manage to knock along fine without London control. From the pages of the Telegraph to the Guardian the London imperialist mindset lives on.

The thing is Salmond does not have to be anything to rise above the current shower that inhabit UK politics. All he has to do is stand back and watch the same ineptitude that lost them Ireland lose them Scotland. The Simon Jenkins article is probably one of the best on the subject
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jan/12/david-cameron-scottish-referendum?INTCMP=SRCH

It is simply an arithmetical fact that the population of England outnumbers Scotland by a factor of 10. Therefore, in our current centralised UK monstrosity, England will obviously dominate. However, when the metropolitan elite runs out of misinformation and propaganda the people of England will gradually come to realise that it is London that dominates to the detriment of the rest of England. What has already been happening is that it is London that seceding from the rest of England. London developed as an entrepot through which England interacted with the rest of the world. That no longer happens and London as a global hub interacts with other global hubs and the rest of England is like an appendage tied to London. As that reality dawns on the rest of England they will agitate for more control over their own affairs. A loss of control by London is not something desirable in the eyes of the metropolitan elite because their default position is that London knows best. It therefore makes sense for Scotland in such a setup to want to control all their own revenue and spending priorities. The Barnett formula and block grant system could only be defended if one has a Stalinist central planning perspective. It causes immense resentment by the misinformation conducted through the media and has to go.

The British Isles are a geographical fact. Independence in an interconnected world is not very meaningful. A British Isles confederation containing an English parliament for England, and the Westminster parliament for joint interest seems the best way to untangle the centralisation of the British state and makes more sense than outright independence. That is how the Irish question should have been answered, but I doubt whether they will now come back to a BI confederation. Scottish independence would cause immense defence and foreign policy for the London elite. Hence, the misinformation conducted through the media. Apart from Scotland supplying around 20% of UK armed forces personnel. There would be the not inconsiderable logistical problem of where to house the UK nuclear arsenal. I doubt whether it would be on the Thames. The permanent seat on the UN security council would almost certainly go and illusions of Great Power status matters to the elite more than it does to the general population. Keeping Scotland as part of the UK while conceding devo-max would suit Scotland and the rest of the UK.
http://www.rusi.org/analysis/commentary/ref:C4DF0A2F39DAA2/

If the London elite display their historical ineptitude in dealing with people like Salmond he will not need to have any canny abilities to succeed. Salmond and Scotland in general can’t pretend that these issues do not affect all parts of the British Isles. However, the principle that power and responsibility should be devolved away from the centre is a powerful one. There is nothing abnormal about people wanting to run their own affairs. The current UK governmental setup infantiles the UK population and all the people of the UK would benefit from having more control over their own politics.

Joe Kane – one of the points I made in the piece is the random way Salmond picks exemplars that have absolutely nothing to do with each other save they are all small countries. You’re merely reinforcing that. Norway is now the favoured example because Salmond’s favourite Ireland (large bank with small country attached) no longer serves as a model to emulate, to say the least. Norway is not in the EU nor is it in the Eurozone and its banking sector doesn’t carry the weight it does in either Ireland or Scotland. I think we should be told whether this is the model the Nats want us to adopt or not. Last I heard he was still keen on EU membership although less so on the Euro, for obvious reasons.

Salmond didn’t ‘annihilate’ the opposition. The Tories didn’t do much worse than they normally do and while I outline in the piece I linked in the comment above the admittedly dismal performance of the Labour party, their share of the vote hardly fell at all. Rather, it was the breath-taking collapse in the Lib Dem vote in Scotland that probably aided the SNP the most – along with the impressive campaign they themselves fought.

More generally, the notion that the SNP are anti-banker scourges of neo-liberalism is just simply ridiculous. Salmond was just as keen on anyone else on the status quo re: banking sector and his failure to see anything other than an example of triumphant Caledonian capitalism in the RBS is perhaps all the more glaring coming from someone who was once employed by them as an economist. The only nationalists offering any alternative to this were the Sheridan faction and what’s left of the SSP, who did less than badly. Disappointing for you? I imagine they’d be more your sort of thing…

@32. Shuggy: “Rather, it was the breath-taking collapse in the Lib Dem vote in Scotland…”

I am a Lancastrian, Shuggy, and your business is your business.

Regarding LibDem vote in Scotland, the only LibDem MSPs were elected by Orkney and by Shetland. That is part of years of those islands up north shouting “we are different”.

Has anyone in the SNP asked Orcadians and Shetlanders whether they wish to be more closely governed by Edinburgh or London?

If Salmond picks and chooses then it’s quite obvious you are doing the same Shuggy. You take your examples to argue your case from Kosovo, which was about 12 years ago, and another from 2006 about the ‘arc of prosperity.

Wether Alex Salmond supported banks in his own time is neither here nor there. He isn’t a neoliberal, which is the main point. The anti-neoliberalism of the SNP is what is getting them the votes, and the one which is responsible for voters getting behind the idea of independence, wether they support the SNP or not.

What happens after the independence of Scotland an the Rest of the UK we can guess, but Scots are being shown by the SNP that there is another way, especially in the midst of an economic disaster brought about by an unresponsive and irresponsible system of government that refuses point-blank to reform itself.

I don’t think anyone is claiming the SNP are flaming revolutuonaries, hence the reason they might support the notion of profit-making banks, but neither are they neoliberal, neoconservatives unlike the all the 3 unionist Westminster parties put together.

The Labour vote might have held up at last year’s Scottish Parliamentary elections but that can be easily interpreted, in some respects, as Tory voters shifting their votes to Labour, seeing as how they are both right-wing parties, and traditional Labour voters shifted their votes to the SNP. I mean, the traditional Labour vote in Eastwood, Beardsden and Milgavie and the likes of East Renfrewshire held up! Left wing? I don’t think so. In my own constituency, which parallels one of the safest Labour seats in the UK, the Labour candidate won by only 800 votes, which is just utterly unheard of.

After a week of emtpy Westminster show-boating and haranguing the Deputy First Minister in the BBC kangaroo court of Question Time, here is some proof of how it’s just playing into the hands of the pro-independence parties in Scotland. The out-of-touch parasitic inhabitants of the London-centric Oxbridge-Whitehall-Westminster bubble are going to have to discover the truth of the success of the SNP the hard way. Hopefully they won’t realise until its too late what they’ve actually done –

SNP membership soars – 800 join in 5 days
14 Jan 2012
http://www.snp.org/media-centre/news/2012/jan/snp-membership-soars-800-join-5-days

“Has anyone in the SNP asked Orcadians and Shetlanders whether they wish to be more closely governed by Edinburgh or London?”
– Charlieman, I read a comment recently by the excellent Andy Wightman that the reason the islanders of the north don’t vote for Edinburgh or London parties, and after all the Lib Dems are supposed to be federalist which could mean parliaments for Orcadians and Shetlanders, is because of how the rest of Scotland has been treated by the law courts in Edinburgh.

As Andy W says “the poor had no lawyers”. The Scottish legal establishment in Edinburgh has been instrumental in stealing the land from under the feet of the Scots and handing it to present day British establishment parasites like Sutherland, Breadaldane and Argyle.

Given the emptiness of most of Scotland, it’s no wonder the Orkneys and the Shetlands don’t trust the welfare of their communities to the tender mercies of the Edinburgh establishment.

You take your examples to argue your case from Kosovo, which was about 12 years ago, and another from 2006 about the ‘arc of prosperity.

I mentioned Kosovo in a specific context, which I think is clear enough. If I repeat what it was, that would be the third time making the same point so I’m not going to. I don’t understand how you can possibly claim I’m picking and choosing at random in the way Salmond does. It isn’t me who is trying to bolster my case with international exemplars, which then turn out to be not to be very good examples of the case I’m making.

The Labour vote might have held up at last year’s Scottish Parliamentary elections but that can be easily interpreted, in some respects, as Tory voters shifting their votes to Labour, seeing as how they are both right-wing parties, and traditional Labour voters shifted their votes to the SNP.

I’d be quite happy for you to interpret it like this if you had any supporting evidence. In its absence, I’d suggest the convoluted shift in voting behaviour you’re suggesting is implausible. More likely, Lib Dem voters simply shifted to SNP. There was no significant transfer of Tory votes and there wasn’t that many to transfer in the first place. And sure – in some cases Labour voters shifted to SNP. Shettleston in Glasgow where I work, for example – and Anniesland, where I live.

@34 Joe Kane: “Wether Alex Salmond supported banks in his own time is neither here nor there. He isn’t a neoliberal, which is the main point. The anti-neoliberalism of the SNP is what is getting them the votes, and the one which is responsible for voters getting behind the idea of independence, wether they support the SNP or not. ”

I’m not a neo-liberal either – as might be evident from the many times that’s I’ve posted about why the notion of “free market capitalism” is rubbish.

The fact is that the Blair-Brown governments ran a much drier non-interventionist industrial policy than did the Thatcher-Major governments, which incidentally poured billions of public money into propping up the coal board as can be easily confirmed from looking at the annual borrowing requirements of the coal board in David Butler: Twentieth Century Political Facts 1900-2000, page 444. By the time British-Leyland, renamed the Rover Group, was privatised in 1988, £3.4 bn of public money had been sunk in the business.

It doesn’t follow that all and any form of government intervention in market economies is necessarily beneficial – some is and some isn’t. I’ve already remarked on the benefits that Boeing gained from its corporate experience in the design and production challenges of making the B47 and B52 bombers under US military contracts which fed into the subsequent design and production of Boeing’s successful range of jumbo jets for civil airlines around the world. The early technical and market risks of producing microprocessors and memory chips were underpinned by US military contracts in the late 1950s and 1960s. It’s just nonsnese to claim that the successes of the American economy are all due to private enterprise and free market capitalism.

But whatever became of Silicon Glen in Scotland? In the 1990s, many hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ money were poured into promoting that. OTOH Silicon Fen around Cambridge is still going strong with minimal taxpayer funding.

39. Frances_coppola

@17 Bob

Generally spot on, as usual. A few things to note:

1) Remaining in monetary union with the UK appears to be Salmond’s preference at the moment, but I don’t think he’s really thought through the implications, judging by his extraordinarily silly comments yesterday: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-01-13/scotland-s-salmond-says-osborne-thinks-he-owns-sterling-1-.html

The Bank of England is mandated to run UK monetary policy to the benefit of the UK. It would have no mandate to adjust its policy to suit an independent Scotland running a different (maybe looser) fiscal regime than the UK. Therefore Scotland would either have to ensure convergence with UK fiscal policy – which would probably run contrary to SNP manifesto commitments – or face the sort of loss of competitiveness that peripheral countries in the Eurozone have experienced.

2) If Scotland were to shoulder its share of the UK debt, it would not meet criteria for entry into the Euro. If I were Salmond I would want to negotiate a much lower share based upon Scotland’s claim for past North Sea Oil revenues.

I’m also concerned by the SNP’s assumption (in their manifesto) that an independent Scotland would automatically be a member of the EU by virtue of its former membership of the UK. Is this really the case, or would they have to reapply and meet convergence criteria? And they would certainly have to establish a central bank and obtain gold and FX reserves to submit to the ECB.

3) RBS and HBOS are no longer Scottish banks. RBS is 84% owned by the UK government and HBOS is wholly owned by an English bank which itself is 43% owned by the UK government. Salmond at present is arguing that the costs of the bailout of these banks should be borne entirely by the rump of the UK, not in any way by an independent Scotland. Even Alastair Darling has questioned the justice of this demand. However, the easy way of resolving this would be for these banks to remain in the hands of the UK government (and probably eventually privatised with any profits going to the UK). In which case they will not be able to issue a new Scottish currency, and the UK government may well decide it is appropriate to move the RBS headquarters to London and rebrand it as NatWest.

Bob B, forgive me for not knowing you from Adam, but you’ll have to ask the unionists to explain the on-going failure of their economic policies throughout the decades. Given they are the ones, after all, in charge of mis-running the government.

I seem to recall, Oxbridge uni’s are the most government subsidised in the UK. That might have something to do with the usual corporate parasites who always appear whenever there is a sniff of a free taxpayer welfare handout to private shareholders in the offing.

Shuggy, there’s nothing convoluted about explaining right-wing Scottish unionist Tories shifting over and voting for right-wing unionist Labour. They’ve been doing it for decades now in Scotland – Eastwood, East Renfrewshire, Bearsden and Milgavie.

The most rabid reactionary right-wing politicans are found in Scottish Labour such as Harris who was even a candidate for the “Scottish” Labour Party leadership.

42. Leon Wolfeson

@21 – I don’t believe you, given your typically highly xenophobic, racial-purity social darwinistic postings.

And you still don’t believe anyone can hold real views on the left, I see, BNPer. Gotta get rid of any *trace* of the left which you detest so much! I’m sure you’ll repeat your gulag calls soon.

Joe Kane: “Bob B, forgive me for not knowing you from Adam, but you’ll have to ask the unionists to explain the on-going failure of their economic policies throughout the decades. Given they are the ones, after all, in charge of mis-running the government.”

Compare this from Sam Brittan writing in the FT last year:

“The relative decline of the British economy in the century up to the late 1970s has been reversed. Since then, the UK has caught up with and even overtaken its principal trading partners. The previous two sentences are neither a typing mistake nor a daydream. They are the sober conclusions of the country’s leading quantitative historian, Prof Nicholas Crafts”
http://www.samuelbrittan.co.uk/text399_p.html

44. Leon Wolfeson

@42 – Don’t worry, this government are fixing THAT. They’re not even *remotely* up to Thatcher’s weight class…

More QE, right. Higher inflation. Which they will NOT fight, since it reduces the effective debt.

“The chancellor, George Osborne, would surely not be so small-minded as to reject the suggestion because the Labour shadow chancellor, Ed Balls, has already made it.”

Yes, he is.

@43: “More QE, right. Higher inflation”

Let’s await the assessment of the BoE’s monetary policy committee in February after the latest quarterly inflation report becomes available.

I emphatically reject any sweeping claims that Quanititative Easing necessarily leads to higher inflation, especially when a looming danger in the Eurozone and in Britain is the possibility of mounting deflationary pressures which lead to falling prices on trend, a trend that can be very difficult to reverse judging by what happened in Japan in the 1990s.

If consumers and businesses expect prices to be generally lower next year than this, they have a powerful incentive to postpone planned expenditures to await lower future prices. This postponing of spending leads to reining back total demand for goods and services and that feeds and perpetuates the deflationary spiral.

Btw try this interview of Alistair Darling in Saturday’s Guardian:

Alistair Darling warns of profound risks in Scotland’s gamble for independence
http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012/jan/14/alistair-darling-risks-scotland-independence

Thanks Bob B. I take it your on the same drugs as the City spivs.

Joe Kane: “Thanks Bob B. I take it your on the same drugs as the City spivs.”

You are evidently unable to resist the ad hominems, which is most revealing.

Why not try a new tack instead by addressing the substantive issues? The analysis of the inflation risks from Quantitative Easing posted @44 is very mainstream and has nothing to do with “City spivs”.

You are clearly rather confused about the economics – early recourse to some basic textbooks is advisable. In another thread here, Duncan Weldon is warning about the possibility of deflation. The general level of prices cannot be both simultaneously rising, as in inflation, and falling, as with deflation. The point of QE is to boost aggregate monetary demand so as to avert deflation, which can be very difficult to reverse if a spiral sets in.

48. Leon Wolfeson

@44 – “I emphatically reject any sweeping claims that Quanititative Easing necessarily leads to higher inflation”

Yes, I mean, the evidence is does is irrelevant!

Now, sometimes it may be useful – and QE *combined* with other measures to negate it’s consumer impact would potentially be good. But we’re looking at naked QE.

Moreover, a significant minority of the current “deflationary” pressure is in areas where spending can’t be deferred – food and other perishables.

49. Frances_coppola

46 Bob B
47 Leon Wolfson

I agree with Bob that QE is not directly inflationary. It doesn’t get into people’s pockets when banks aren’t lending freely, so it is pretty useless as a demand stimulus, and as it is only an asset swap – exchanging one sort of money for another – it can’t have inflationary effects at the investment end either.

BUT….

Sterling has devalued by about 25% in the last 3 years. The higher inflation we are experiencing is coming partly from energy and imported foodstuffs rising in price as the currency falls. QE does depress the value of the currency, I’m afraid, because of its effect on gilt yields. Therefore it is, indirectly, inflationary unless action is taken to support the currency.

50. Leon Wolfeson

@48 – Well, when inflation spikes after QE, I’m happy to call it inflationary, frankly.

And while stirling has deflated, so far it’s essentially gone back to the long-term levels (i.e. ~1.5 USD to ~1 GBP). So I’m not precisely panicking about that result. Any more “adjustment” is really going to hurt though: and we’re looking as I said at more naked QE without any other steps, from this government.

Just three things about the Arc of Prosperity

1) Amazing how folk keep forgetting about norway

2) Iceland is recovering and on several measures is doing better than the UK

3) Ireland is doing the same as the UK, cuttting back as opposed to Keynsian investment, and it is doing badly the same as everyone else doing that. if they had done as the SNP would (and Gordon Brown too) they might be doing better

52. douglas clark

Shuggy @ 24,

You say:

It wasn’t my purpose to do so in the post but I think I have in the past – and certainly plan to do so in the future – make a case for the Union that has nothing to do with English self-interest. Although I’m not sure that’s the case anyway – and this is another aspect of the politics of independence that has been overwhelmingly to Salmond’s advantage, which is that the case for the Union is made in an overwhelmingly negative way, framed in terms of what a disaster for Scotland it would be if the UK broke up. This is no way to run a campaign. Even when there is a strong point – the problem of the Euro, for example – it is made in the most clumsy way imaginable, as we saw from Osborne recently.

Please, be the first to make the positive case, because no-one else has even tried to make it. Indeed, people on my side of the fence don’t believe there is one.

It would be good to hear what you have to say.

Confound me!

Whatever else, Salmond has certainly convinced the English.

As suspected, in this latest poll in the Sunday press, the English would vote in favour of independence for Scotland:

“The poll shows that while a substantial proportion of Scots (40 per cent) back independence, 43 per cent want to remain inside the United Kingdom.

“However, among English voters – who would not get a vote in any referendum – there is a clear lead for those who support independence for Scotland (43 per cent) over those who want the Union to be preserved (32 per cent).”
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/scotland/9015374/Britain-divided-over-Scottish-independence.html

Frankly, I’m not surprised. After WW2, Scotland had a flourishing, if heavily subsidised, shipbuilding industry – both the trans-atlantic liners, the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth were built by John Brown on the Clyde. Shipbuilding failed. By the 1950s and 1960s, the Scots wanted a motor industry. They got a subsidised motor industry. That failed. In the 1980s and 1990s, the Scots wanted an electronics industry. With hundreds of millions in grants from taxpayers, they got Silicon Glen. That failed. Whatever happened to cheap electricity from wave power? Salter’s Ducks sank shortly after launch. By the 1990s and 2000s, the Scots wanted a banking industry. They had a banking industry – and in 2008, RBS and HBOS failed too.

As Cameron might have more aptly said: There is such a thing as national character – but it’s not the same as the state.

Of course, there have been some Scottish success stories too – such as whiskey and brewing, growing beef, fish farming, and food processing as well as an innovative national cuisine such as kippers, haggis and fried battered Mars bars, none of which are too cerebrally challenging.

54. Leon Wolfeson

@52 – So Scots are thick now? A new low for you.

I just look at the evidence . .

56. Leon Wolfeson

@55 – And the evidence is you’re acting like a racist.

Oh, incidentally, the games industry in Scotland is doing very well.

(And also the North East. In the south, it’s dead and dying…)

57. douglas clark

Leon Wolfeson @ 54,

I take it you meant @ 53, not @ 52?

I would really like to see a dispassionate case for the Union. Shuggy shouldn’t hide his light under a bushel, let’s be having it!

@45

“Alistair Darling warns of profound risks in Scotland’s gamble for independence
http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012/jan/14/alistair-darling-risks-scotland-independence“.

You surprise me (not).

59. Frances_coppola

Bob B

The two main reasons why the English are keen on Scottish independence are the Barnett formula and the West Lothian question, both of which could be resolved without breaking up the union. In my view the nature of the union does need to be reviewed and adapted to modern political and economic realities. After all, the reasons why the union is as it is have largely disappeared. We no longer fear Jacobite treasonous insurrection, and I don’t think very many people now would be seriously bothered by the prospect of a Catholic monarch (although it would cause some interesting issues for the Church of England). It’s just a shame that the driver behind this is anger on both sides about perceived inequalities and discrimination. As someone said the other day – the English think they subsidise the Scots and the Scots think that England dominates them.

It would be much better in my view if there could be a sensible debate about how the different countries in the union want to work together – maybe move towards a federal model, or something looser such as independence coupled with a bigger role for the British-Irish Council. I’d be surprised if many people really want complete independence, and as far as I can see the economic and political case for it doesn’t stack up. But unless we can put aside our hurt and anger about perceived injustices – current and historic – we may find ourselves falling into a separation that doesn’t really benefit any of us.

Leon: “And the evidence is you’re acting like a racist.”

Your usual rubbish. Get lost. It’s long been fine for the Scots to abuse the English or beat up ex-pat English living in Scotland for flying English flags during football tournaments – I can post the links – but any apt response back is condemned as xenophobic.

The Scots love to dish it out but can’t stand the come back – it’s always been thus. The Scottish government has already issued press releases about the extent of alcohol abuse there – the mortality rate due to alcohol is twice the average for the UK. That’s why the Scottish government wants to introduce a minimum statutory price for alcohol. When I lived in Scotland, you could always tell when some had had a pay day – they fell off the buses, literally.

The serial failings of the Scottish economy are familiar stuff south of the border despite hundreds of millions of taxpayer funded grants. The NE region regularly complains that it can’t compete in attracting mobile investment projects because of the scale of grants the promotional agencies in Scotland can offer.

What would sink Britain is not independence for Scotland but independence for London and the South East.

Richard W – Sorry, missed your contribution there…

You know maybe why none of them can construct a positive argument for the Union is because they can’t think of one.

This might be true to a certain extent although I’m wondering if it’s because they think that fear-mongering is a better electoral strategy. It’s a terrible mistake in my view. Has to be said though that it isn’t just unionists who are guilty of playing this negatively, which brings me to:

@douglas clark It’s hardly surprising that nationalists don’t believe there’s a positive case for the union since Scottish nationalism has at its core the belief that its a malevolent entity. Still, one of your more thoughtful members seems to accept there’s one to be made.

62. douglas clark

Shuggy @ 61,

I am quite willing to listen to an inemotional case for the Union. But your link to Gerry Hassans’ piece doesn’t do it for me. He says, inter alia:

What about the case for the United Kingdom? It is still a relatively harmonious, effective polity; it has a legitimacy in its domestic affairs and internationally, even if it is, a Eurosceptic troublemaker and ardent Atlanticist.

The pro-Britain case has been weakened by Great British Power nationalism, the kind of nauseating flag waving seen by Blair, Brown and Cameron. They have articulated their Britishness in a triumphalist, fundamentalist nationalism which doesn’t understand the history of these isles, Scotland or the patchwork nature of the union.

What is damning is their selective account of what Britain is historically and today and what they think makes it unique. This week’s UK government paper claims on its first page that the UK is ‘the most successful multi-national state the world has ever known’. This is a romantic nationalist account of Britain: similar in many respects to an earlier, sentimental Scottish nationalism.

That is hardly a ringing endorsement now is it? It seems to me that Westminster is the one stuck in Brigadoon territory and that Scots are, at the very least, awakening from all that guff.

I am quite thurled to the notion of civic nationalism and to a set of policies that ought to resonate with any thoughtful left winger, rather than a unionist.

Just saying, please provide a convincing case. I admire a lot of your stuff and you ought to set it out so we can debate it. Because no one else is.

Alex Slamond NOT a neo-liberal? Strange how in April 2007 he was calling on LESS bank regulation – rather than the “gold-plated regulation currently in operation in the UK”.

The only other people saying this at that time were the neo-liberals in the tory party.

I dont know why you would attack salmond over kosovo. nato poured petrol on the fire of a civil war killed thousands of civilians and left depleted uranium and cluster bombs in the area. they claimed this was to stop people being expelled from homes but nato peace keepers did nothing when this was done to serbs following the conflict.

Richard @ 32:

“You know maybe why none of them can construct a positive argument for the Union is because they can’t think of one.”

I can think of a few people who’ve made positive arguments for the Union. Try these, for example:

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/danielhannan/3678801/Dont_abandon_Britishness/

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/peteroborne/100129350/in-today’s-world-a-united-britain-is-more-of-a-necessity-than-ever/

66. Leon Wolfeson

@59 – Well, BoB fears the Jackobites! (spelling intentional)

I agree, otherwise. A federal structure is entirely possible.

67. douglas clark

XXX,

Thanks for the links, frankly that isn’t even a case to answer.

You may find this amusing, or not:

http://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2012/01/15/vote-britain/

68. Frances_coppola

67 douglas clark

Absolutely agree, those links don’t make any sort of sensible case for the union. But a long list of grievances doesn’t make a case against it, either.

69. douglas clark

Frances_Coppola,

Agreed. We have entered the playground with some of the to and fro comments that are being cast by both sides. The link I provided @ 67 was supposed to be light relief.

It reminds me of the famous scene from Trainspotting:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G1tJJO_pVvQ

Frances @ 68:

What exactly would you describe as a “sensible” case, either for or against the Union?

“I agree, otherwise. A federal structure is entirely possible.”

In theory, a federal structure is possible, but there are lots of very technical and political issues which are highly controversial. Some of those issues can be appreciated in the present plight of the European monetary union – a workable monetary union needs to have a parallel fiscal union, as America has and the Eurozone hasn’t.

There are also very real practical issues about the feasibility of a federal structure in a country as densely populated as Britain is. Just to give one topical example – consider the likely extent and direction of smuggling trade if Scotland introduces a statutory minimum price for alcohol while England doesn’t.

72. Frances_coppola

70 XXX

A sensible case for any form of union has to focus on the benefits of that union to all parties. Hearts and flowers about “Britishness”, and nostalgic yearning for past glories, which is all that was in those articles, doesn’t make the case for remaining in union in the future.

In my own post on this I asked whether true independence was really possible in a globalised world, and suggested that the question was not whether Scotland wished to be independent, but with whom it wished to be in union.

“In my own post on this I asked whether true independence was really possible in a globalised world, ”

Incidently this argument has also taken place internally within the SNP – the idea being you can have formal independance but you have still have to face economic reality and operate within the sphere of influence of larger neighbours. Hence the ‘devo-max’ option that essentially is about ensuing English strategic interests remain protected.

You also may be interested in the flotilla effect – written by ex-plaid cymru MP Adam Price and a harvard economist – on this subject. The argument is that whilst globalisation has reduced what having sovereignty actually means, it is small compact independant nations that are best placed to be adaptable in the global economy. They calculated that had Wales achieved indepedence in 1991, and adapated to the global economy it’s GDP would be 1% a year better off, and Wales would now be a third richer. Independence in itself creates economic benefits. It’s the counter argument to the ‘you can never go it alone’ we get from unionists who point to the subsidy we get from the home counties (In Wales, unlike Scotland, there isn’t disagreement over the fact we get subsidied). My argument in Wales is that we can’t afford another 30 years of limping along with english subsidy of our welfare bill whilst economic decisions are made by and for London and the South East.

@72 Francis

“A sensible case for any form of union has to focus on the benefits of that union to all parties. ”

I think that is quite right; sadly I think in the Scottish context, the Unionist parties and those that support them have begun to lose the argument. Part of the explanation for that is systemic and has deep roots; it isn’t as easy to scare the Scottish people with bogey men about Sotland being “too wee, too poor and too stupid” as it used to be. There is much less of a unionist consensus than there was in the 50’s and 60’s. The perceived success of devolution has also served to show that not only is change good, but has served as an appetiser for more.

Another more immediate explanation however revolves around the abject failure of the Scottish Labour party in particular, especially since it’s drubbing last year at the Holyrood election, but also of other unionist and devolutionist groups withing Scotland to formulate a coherent response about devo-max. The issue of course is that they don’t have the power to simply introduce it, as it has to be negotiated with Westminster, and there is zero appetite (or talent?) for anyone to lead the charge.

People will make their minds up for a variety of reasons, including of course economic ones. However emotion does play a part, and if the Scottish people as a whole feel their interests are better served by independence, the Union is probably doomed. Recent polling, and Cameron’s disasterously ill-judged intervention, suggest that the SNP may be closer to attaining their goal than many people think, espacially as they have 2.5 years to prepare.

In some ways it would be a sad outcome, but in other ways it could be good for all concerned. I for one would not be sorry to see it end… and who knows, it could actually be a good thing for England/RUK too.

Frances @ 72:

“A sensible case for any form of union has to focus on the benefits of that union to all parties. Hearts and flowers about “Britishness”, and nostalgic yearning for past glories, which is all that was in those articles, doesn’t make the case for remaining in union in the future.”

I don’t see what’s wrong with appealing to people’s patriotic loyalty. In the long run, after all, countries will only hold together if people feel an emotional attachment to them; otherwise they’ll fall apart as soon as they run into difficulty.

@75 XXX

Not likely to work in Scotland these days I think you’ll find! Perhaps in the days of empire, memories of the War etc… there was some “British” feeling then. Nowadays most Scots see themselves as Scottish first, and British only because it says so on their passport. I think you’ll find that ship has definitely sailed!

Galen10 @ 76:

Maybe you’re right, but I can’t see what would be lost by trying. Public opinion isn’t some natural force which nobody can do anything to change, after all, and senses of national loyalty can and have changed.


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