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Thursday, 1 March 2012

SNP Should Stop Playing Games

Political analysts like Professor James Mitchell and John Curtice, together with political journalists, several years ago used to say the battle between "gradualists" and "fundamentalists" in the SNP, had ended. The terminology, barely accurate when it was first coined, is hardly ever used now but the arguments which it was supposed to represent look as if they are about to be resurrected. As someone who was dubbed "the Godfather of fundamentalism" by Ian Macwhirter, I have a personal interest in making sure that the terminology, if it is to get a new lease of life, is at least half accurate.

Jim Sillars once said that the most useful tactic used by political activists, is to hang a label round an opponent's neck, then everything that is said can be ignored, or the label attacked, rather than the political arguments addressed. I never referred to myself as a "fundamentalist", I was quite happy being a Nationalist but opponents inside the SNP liked to claim that Nationalists who took my particlar stance in the debates on devolution, which bedevilled the party at the time, stood for "Independence or nothing". That was never the case, but that was much easier to attack than "Independence nothing less", which was a much more accurate description of the political stance we adopted. Then, it was claimed "Fundamentalists" were right wing, particularly if they also opposed the EU and the euro (they were invariably said to be anti-European and narrow Nationalists) as opposed to the "left-wing" (and therefore more righteous and "internationalist") "gradualists" and pro-EU and euro, members of the party. Lazy journalists lapped it up and so the myths were born.

The debates, were catagorised as arguments between those who would accept nothing but independence, which had to be achieved in one step by a unilateral declaration of  independence (fundamentalists) and those who wanted to take a step-by-step or gradualist approach. A devolved parliament or assembly would be set up, followed after a period of time in which Scots would "prove themselves" to be capable of looking after their own affairs, by a stronger parliament with more power until one day, in 100 years perhaps, Scotland would be an independent nation state once again. In fact, the debates were about strategy and tactics, not the final destination, which was agreed as being "independence" by the vast majority of the SNP membership at that time. There were always a few who were prepared to settle for less but they were in the minority, although the impression given now, is that there is a far greater proportion of the party membership, including some of the current leaders, who would be prepared to settle for a great deal less than independence. The difficulty the party has in actually defining what it means by independence, its readiness to call every position "independence", no matter how diluted, suggests the final destination is no longer the "restoration of sovereignty" or the establishment of an independent Scottish nation state.

The so-called fundamentalists argued that a Scottish assembly or parliament with limited powers, would never be set up by Westminster, if that was what was campaigned for. Whatever demands were made by the SNP, would be diluted by Westminster, which would grant only as little as they could get away with. It made more sense for those who were prepared to settle for devolution, or who saw devolution as a first step, to campaign hard for independence because if the pressure on Westminster could be maintained and, more importantly, if the Scottish people looked as if they were prepared to vote for independence, Westminster would offer something less, something the devolutionists would find acceptable, as a first step. The rest is history, as they say. Now, it looks as if the debates about the final destination, are a bit more important than they were the last time and that what is being portrayed as a debate about strategy and tactics, is actualy a debate about rather more; in fact a debate about independence itself.

Elsewhere in this blog, I have argued that using sterling after a "Yes" vote in the referendum on independence, would be a mistake. I have also given the reasons why it would be a mistake, reasons which have been amplified by other economic commentators, some who are sympathetic to the cause of independence. I have criticised the SNP's use of "Fiscal autonomy" as a substitute for independence and fortunately, the crisis in the eurozone has highlighted the problems such a policy would create. Elements inside the SNP are very concerned to emphasise that even if Scotland voted "Yes" in the referendum, we would still be British, because we "would share defence bases and the monarchy". Alex Salmond himself, has gone to great lengths to argue there would still be a United Kingdom, of which an "independent Scotland" would remain a part. In fact, a non-SNP member of the electorate might be forgiven for asking, "Why are we having a referendum if so little is to change and independence means so little?"

As fiscal autonomy began to fall out of favour, Devo-Max became the next favourite, although it had to be defined. Now, Devo-Plus, which has been defined to a greater degree, seems to be the next favourite and is depicted as being less than both fiscal autonomy or Devo-Max, but more than the current range of powers enjoyed by the Scottish Parliament. None of this augurs well for what will finally appear on the referendum ballot paper. Both Jim Sillars and Gordon Wilson have made known their opposition to the inclusion of Devo-Plus on the referendum ballot paper, Sillars arguing that it could kill the prospect for independence completely. It is hard to argue against that point of view and we have come full circle with debates within the SNP about the strategy and tactics to be employed in the pursuit of - well what exactly?

Salmond and the SNP leadership is doing its best to promote the idea that the party is in favour of independence and only independence while, at the same time, it is promoting the inclusion of some kind of second question on the ballot paper, but trying to lay the blame on somebody else. However keen Salmond might be to include a second question on the ballot paper, does it make tactical sense for the SNP to argue for its inclusion? An alleged "source" has told The Scotsman the SNP would settle for Devo-Plus if the people of Scotland voted "No". Party activists have attacked "the Hootsman" as usual but no official denial has emanated from the SNP leadership and until it does, we have to assume the "source" is correct. This kind of selective leaking to and use of, the media, is such a well known tactic of the well oiled SNP press office, I have absolutely no doubt it is true. In fact, I have held the opinion for some years that the current leadership of the SNP would be only too happy to settle for a great deal less than the restoration of sovereignty to the Scottish people and an independent Scottish nation state.

That is a personal point of view but I have provided the reasons for holding it on a number of web sites and in a number of newspaper articles. Unfortunately, the closer we get to the time when the referendum will have to be held, the more convinced I become that my fears are well-founded. Cameron has already promised, for what it is worth, greater powers for the Scottish Parliament if Scots vote "No" in the referendum. Since he has declined to say what the powers will be, we have no idea if they would be greater or less than Devo-Plus, therefore, is there any good reason why Scots should believe him? There is only one way we will ever find out and that is to give Scots the opportunity to vote for independence. If Scots genuinely want independence, they will vote for it. If, on the other hand, they want something less than independence, if they still need the comfort blanket, they will vote "No", on the understanding that Cameron will produce more powers for the Scottish parliament. What possible reason can there be therefore, for including any kind of second question on the ballot paper? Why is Salmond and the leadership of the SNP being so coy about the second question?

It is argued that it would be a denial of democracy to deny Scots a choice of alternatives to independence. To my mind, that argument carries little weight in light of the fact that the SNP was elected on a platform of providing an opportunity to vote in a referendum on independence, NOT 57 different varieties of something, anything, less than independence. The raison d'etre of the SNP is supposed to be the restoration of independence and this referendum gives the party an opportunity, as well as the electorate, to fulfil that aim. Scots do not need to have the agreement or the permission of the rest of the UK, to decide whether or not Scotland should be independent; that is a choice for the Scots and only the Scots. However, if the present Devolution Settlement is to be changed in any substantial way, we cannot have a unilateral declaration of increased powers for the Scottish Parliament, that is the preserve of Westminster.

For Salmond to introduce any kind of second question on the ballot paper, must call into question his sincerity in the pusuit of independence, for the simple reason the tactic is wrong and there is no good reason to have a second question. The Scots need to be asked the straightforward question, however it is worded, "Do you want an independent Scotland?" If the answer is "Yes" we can move on from there, if the answer is "No", we then have to discuss the question of more powers. The discipline in the party in the last few years has been quite extraordinary BUT there is a limit to how far the membership will allow itself to be pushed, particularly on an issue as important as this. Salmond really is playing with fire if he tries to pull a fast one.

36 comments:

  1. Independence doesn't look winnable at the moment, hence Alex Salmond's delay. But if it does look winnable nearer the time of the referendum then any third option can be dumped by then, and Mr Salmond will be able to blame the Unionists, because the chances of them coming up with anything agreed and coherent by then seems remote.

    On the other hand, if independence seems unwinnable then a third option would be a more desirable option for Mr Salmond's legacy than nothing at all, and of course the opinion polls have long demonstrated that more autonomy for Holyrood is a no-brainer with the Scottish electorate.

    And assuming a third option wins out then Mr Salmond has a better legacy than a lost independence-only vote, and even assuming Westminster doesn't play ball on delivering devo-whatever then he can again shift the blame onto the Unionists.

    And in the meantime he's saying that while he wants a third option it's up to the Unionists to define this, so the latter's lack of agreement on this issue plays to his advantage, and deflects attention from the SNP's difficulty in defining independence per se.

    So it's win-win for Mr Salmond, or at least different degrees of winning. If it looks good for independence then he dumps the third option and says the Unionists can't agree, if it doesn't then he goes for the third option regardless, wins it and then blames the Unionists if they can't deliver.

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    1. On what basis does independence not look winnable? The unionists keep telling us it is not winnable, but they would wouldn't they? If it is so unwinnable, why do they keep coming up with offers of improved powers, although we don't know what they are?

      I honestly believe the SNP leadership is underestimating the mood of the Scottish people, just as they did last May.

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  2. Well if I may be so bold as to turn your question round and ask on what basis independence looks winnable?

    Not the opinion polls, not the last Euro Parliament results, not the last Westminster results, with the latter the most obvious poll to demonstrate a desire for independence.

    Granted, the Holyrood poll was a lot better for the SNP, but since the party tried to downplay rather than emphasise the independence issue presumably that confirmed that voters were selecting MSPs because they knew it was more about electing a devolved administration rather than the big constitutional issues? And of course there was also the hopelessness of the opposition parties flattering the SNP's result.

    And by implication Alex Salmond's wait-and-see approach roughly equates to the above.

    As for this contradicting the Unionists offering improved powers, presumably this is because there's a more demonstrable appetite for these from Scottish voters?

    Which indeed from the Nationalist perspective arguably endorses the gradualist approach ;0)

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    1. Sorry for the delay in replying. The last few opinion polls have been all over the place and much dependend on all the usual caveats - the size of the sample, the location, the question asked etc.

      The election results are determined in part by the campaigns run by the SNP. I have lived in Perthshire all my life, was the PC in Perth in 1987, in the constituency (the bulk of it due to boundary changes)which is the only one in Scotland, contested by the SNP at every general election since the end of the War, therefore there are now at least two generations who have always voted SNP. At the last two general elections at least, the Euro and the Holyrood elections, the word independence did not appear once on a single election leaflet or election address. I have had it confirmed that that has been the case in a large number of other consituencies, therefore people have been voting for what they believe the SNP stood for originally and in spite of the party's having removed it from the literature.

      The obvious question is how do I know? At the last Holyrood election, I stood in Perth for Free Scotland and shared platforms with John Swinney, Roseanna, Chris Harvey, Pete Wishart and Annabel Ewing. I also took part in a debate at Holyrood during the campaign. Over the past three or four years, I have debated with Alan Smyth, Neil McCormick, the SNP leader of Renfrew and Alex Orr. I have spoken at the John McLean Memorial march in Edinburgh as well as the St Andrew's Day Rally, therefore there has been ample opportunity to discuss the situation with leading members of the party, some of whom have been friends for many years. During the debates the MSPs et al, did their best to avoid mentioning independence, despite being challenged at every opportunity by me and other contestants. It is the opposition parties who have been trumpeting on about independence and despite that, during all the door knocking, leaflet drops and general discussion with the electorate, the majority still saw the SNP as the "party of independence".

      It was obvious during the counting of the votes, as the results came in, the SNP was as surpised as anyone else at the size of their vote, emphasised by the appearance of one list candidate in the North, in jeans and T-shirt, having gone home to change and never expecting to win. I know that some who were elected were so far down the list (with good reason)it was perfectly obvious they were not expected to win and were there to make up the numbers.

      What does that tell us? To me, it means the party completely underestimated the mood of the country, the desire for change. If proof was needed, how many new members have signed up in recent months? For every one who has signed up, how many others will have changed allegiance or at least will change their vote at the next election? The last time that happened was in the 1970s and the SNP is in a much better position to take advantage of that change of mood than it was then but even then, had there been proportional representation, there would have been an entirely different outcome. Add to that, the McCrone Report and there is no saying how far the party could have gone towards achieving independence.

      I have referred to the current situation as "the perfect storm" because all the conditions are there to push for independence. People are less scared of the word, the threats are laughed at now, something Labour is just beginning to realise, the Tory and Labour leadership in Scotland is as poor as it could be, the Lib/Dems are just themselves and the last Holyrood election is the first their ability to hold seats, fell apart. Sometimes, there are just "atmosphere" or "moods" that say something about what the electorate is feeling and it is present now.

      The party has the best activists and organisation in the country; I just fear they are going to be wasted.

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  3. Thanks for the lengthy response.

    In a nutshell I suppose I think the SNP won overwhelmingly in May despite the independence question, while you think they won because of it.

    I certainly agree that there's a perfect storm as regards the SNP per se, but I don't think that necessarily equates with a perfect storm for independence, and I suspect that's the basic thinking of the SNP leadership and that they're hoping that the storm will develop over the next couple of years due to the economic situation, the Tory Government etc.

    But whether the storm will deepen or dissipate over the next couple of years is the big question, but to the extent that that's currently largely unanswerable then Mr Salmond is hedging his bets with the 'third way' option.

    But clearly we'll have to agree to differ on the current nature of the storm!

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  4. "Party activists have attacked "the Hootsman" as usual but no official denial has emanated from the SNP leadership and until it does, we have to assume the "source" is correct"

    We do? I've never heard such rot. The Scotsman story was a tissue of unattributed, irrational fantasy. Attaching any credence to it whatsoever is frankly mad.

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  5. "An alleged "source" has told The Scotsman the SNP would settle for Devo-Plus if the people of Scotland voted "No". Party activists have attacked "the Hootsman" as usual but no official denial has emanated from the SNP leadership and until it does, we have to assume the "source" is correct."

    If experience is to be our guide then surely the only safe assumption would be that The Scotsman is lying. There is a pattern emerging. A few days before the headline referred to appeared in The Scotsman, The Daily Record stated with equal authority that Cameron was going to amend the Scotland Bill to impose a referendum in 2013. (Independence referendum: David Cameron set to force through earlier vote - The Daily Record)

    And, of course, both these proclamations were preceded - and prompted? - by The Sun's "scoop" on the planned date of the poll.

    Just as the latter was taken as genuine by all too many people, so The Scotsman's claim about "devo-plus" was soon being cited by anti-independence campaigners as if it was an official announcement of SNP policy. (Scottish Tories won't advance until they support more devolution for Scotland)

    How can the Scottish government refute all of these stories? And would it be wise to do so? Does Salmond really want to go on the defensive in that way?

    Where does it all end? If he addresses one of these stories then failure to similarly attend to subsequent and increasingly ludicrous assertions will be portrayed as even more "suspicious". Ignoring them might be the best option.

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    1. I know it would be daft to expect the SNP leadership to respond to every piece of tittle tattle that appears in the Scottish media, any more than it is necessary to respond to every scare story that appears. There are however, some issues which are planted by political parties, put into the public domain to test the water, as much from their own supporters as the opposition. Some party activists have suspected for a long time that the SNP would settle for less than independence. I think it is worth looking at the way in which they are attempting to persuade the Scottish electorate that as little as possible will change with independence. It is also worth noting that it was Alex Salmond who first raised the issue of Devo Max being on the ballot paper (is Jim Sillars just blethering as well?)

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  6. "Some party activists have suspected for a long time that the SNP would settle for less than independence."

    That decision is not for the SNP. It is for the people of Scotland. The SNP has stated that it will campaign only for an independence "yes" vote in the referendum. Is there some rational reason to doubt that they will? To say that the SNP "would settle for less than independence" suggests that the party would stop campaigning for independence if some undefined level of further devolution was achieved. Is that really a credible notion?

    "I think it is worth looking at the way in which they are attempting to persuade the Scottish electorate that as little as possible will change with independence."

    All they are doing is countering the scare-stories. The anti-independence campaign seek to portray independence as some kind of apocalyptic event with the wailing and the gnashing of teeth and the falling of the sky and the cancellation of "Corrie". It is only sensible to respond to this by emphasising continuity and/or easy transition.

    "It is also worth noting that it was Alex Salmond who first raised the issue of Devo Max being on the ballot paper..."

    For very good reason. Salmond's critics tend to forget that he is a superb political tactician. By doing no more than express an openness to the inclusion of a further option Salmond staked a claim to ground that would otherwise have been occupied by unionists. He calculated, correctly, that the anti-independence parties would respond precisely as they did - by rejecting the idea out of hand. But he was also aware that there would be growing public support for "more powers" both as a settlement and as an option on the ballot. he has effectively forced the anti-independence to adopt a narrow and rigid defence of the status quo in a way that runs totally against public opinion.

    And, like any good strategist, he planned for every eventuality. Supposing the anti-independence parties, realising that they'd been bounced into an untenable position, started to backtrack and make noises about more powers. In doing so they are admitting a big chunk of the nationalists' case - that more decisions should be made in Scotland. And they are also left open to demands that they detail whatever it is that they are offering. Which turns their own "unanswered questions" strategy against them.

    No matter how you look at it, Salmond's strategy produces a winning outcome for both the SNP and the independence campaign. A "worst case scenario" might be a FFA option on the ballot which wins. Nobody doubts that this would prove impractical in practice and leave independence as the only way to go in a couple of years.

    Anti-independence arguments cannot move away from total commitment to the union without moving closer to the argument for independence. And as those arguments shift an increasing number of undecideds move into the pro-independence camp.

    "...is Jim Sillars just blethering as well?"

    Is that so unthinkable?

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    1. Some of the points you raise are covered in the latest post above, but there are one or two others that I think you have glossed over. For a start, your faith in Alex Salmond as a master strategist is a bit overplayed.

      Supporters of independence will be represented by the SNP and, unless there is a popular, extra-parliamentary campaign for independence, the SNP will make the running. It is worth remembering that Salmond suggested that referenda (in response to a question about what happens if the answer is "No") are a generational feature in politics. It could be argued he was trying to "scare" Scots into voting "yes" on the grounds they would not get another chance for a generation, but that would be contrary to every approach he has ever taken in the past. The SNP did their best to sell the idea of Fiscal Autonomy, before the euro crisis knocked it on the head, and Salmond actually argued during one interview that if a country controls 95% of their taxes, it is "independent". The party has tried to argue that every position it has advocated is independence, no matter how much control is given away eg. to the EU or to London with the retention of sterling. The SNP has consistently argued that even if sterling is retained and monetary policy is controlled by London, Scotland will be independent. John Swinney has even advocated giving London "assurances" that Scotland's fiscal policy will be "responsible".

      I think you should remember that the euro was the initial aim of the SNP, until the crisis, and even now it is claimed that retaining sterling will be only temporary, until we can join the euro. The scare stories, particularly on the currency, can be countered without agreeing to give up control of the economy.

      Your interpretation of the reasons for the inclusion of Devo Max on the ballot paper, is one interpretation and SNP activists have tried to argue that the currency debacle, the collapse of the SNP's euro policy was all "part of the plan" but I am afraid it just doesn't ring true, particularly when the SNP was elected on a platform of offering a referendum on independence, not a whole variation of alternatives.

      The Unionists have reacted in the way they always react. It was no surprise they opposed independence and now their reponse to offering "more powers" is on the one hand a "Commission" Westminster's favourite response to anything it wants to lose, and on the other, a "promise" that means nothing. Westminster promises invariably mean nothing therefore the Unionists have been "bounced" into - not very much.

      Your response to the Sillars' question is not an answer. Jim has done a complete volte face on the EU, the euro, as he did on the Convention before them, therefore I am familiar with his various political positions over a long number of years. However, you still did not answer his criticisms.

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    2. "For a start, your faith in Alex Salmond as a master strategist is a bit overplayed."

      I use Salmond's name in a metonymic sense, of course. And it would be well-nigh impossible to argue that the SNP's strategists and campaign managers are not supremely effective. I am constantly perplexed by those who, on encountering some SNP statement or action that they don't quite comprehend, immediately assume that it must be down to stupidity. How easily they dismiss the proven record of the SNP "machine".

      "The SNP has consistently argued that even if sterling is retained and monetary policy is controlled by London, Scotland will be independent."

      And it will. Unless you consider having your own central bank a defining attribute of nationhood. In which case you should probably break that news to the sixty-odd countries presently in currency unions.

      Surely the defining attribute of independence is not so much having a central bank as having the choice as to how monetary policy is managed. And surely a transitional sterling currency union is in everyone's interest.

      That the party moved away from the euro and found an alternative policy tells me only that they are pragmatic and free from the constraints of rigid dogma. The world doesn't stand still. Changed circumstances call for new approaches.

      A currency union does not entail giving up control of the economy. Fiscal control is infinitely more important. Especially in an increasingly globalised economy where the trend is towards convergence of monetary policy. It actually doesn't matter that much which bank acts as the central bank as its priorities will tend to be pretty much the same as we would set for ourselves anyway.

      If monetary policy played any part at all in creating the latest failure of capitalism it was way down the list of culprits behind fiscal irresponsibility and inept regulation.

      The SNP is not offering "a whole variation of alternatives". The SNP is as committed to independence as ever it was. The Scottish government, on the other hand, has an obligation to ensure that the referendum satisfies the democratic imperative. If Salmond was actually driven entirely by partisan interests then he wouldn't be bothered about whether the people were denied the opportunity to vote on an option that a large proportion of them seem to favour. As First Minister he has a higher duty. And, no! I do not think that is at all pretentious. He is not there to serve only the party. His job is to serve all the people of Scotland. Some people need to be reminded of that.

      I would be happy to address any criticisms Jim Sillars may have. But he tends to do a lot of criticising, so I'd have to ask you to be more specific.

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    3. I am well aware that Alex has a team, a very effective team, but the aims and objectives or strategy and tactics are decided by him. They won votes, but not for independence, which I thought was the raison d'etre of the party.

      I am sorry, but your take on the part played by a central bank is straight out of the SNP's "Janet & John" approach, which is to oversimplify it to such an extent as to suggest it has no part to play at all. That is done to fit in with their policy of using euro/sterling, rather than a realistic assessment of the reality. If you think that leaving control of the currency with London would do nothing to dilute Scottish independence, you obviously think Fiscal Autonomy would suffice, which again, is straight out of the SNP manual, as I have already pointed out.

      If a country does not have a central bank, how does it determine how monetary policy is managed? Your reference to the 60 odd countries is again straight out of the Janet & John book of SNP economics. Had you not noticed that Mr Salmond had to correct that statement, after he had tried to sell it to the world?

      The SNP's move away from the euro was forced on them and, it arose because they completley misunderstood the nature of a currency union set up like the euro. I warned them before I left the party in 1990, what would happen to the euro, and have told them at regular intervals since, to the great annoyance of the party faithful. Read some of their earlier arguments for using the euro and you will see just how deep their misunderstanding went. Pragmatism had absolutley nothing to do with it.

      If fiscal control has nothing to do with the functioning of a currency union, you obviously think the EU is wrong again, by demanding fiscal centralisation. You also must believe Swinney is wrong to promise to ensure an "independent" Scotland will be fiscally in tune with the B of E's demands. When Eire joined the euro, the interest rates were set far too low, for the economic situation the country faced. To head off the potential (later on, actual) inflationary pressure unleashed by the setting of the interest rates at that level, the Irish would have had to increase its tax rates substantially and cut back on bank lending. It did neither, but surely that is an example of an inappropriate monetary policy determining economic outcomes? Fiscal and monetary policy complement each other, they cannot work independently, which is what you seem to think.

      Your other comments are so far off the mark, it would take another blog to answer them, but I think you should look at other economies before talking about the "failure of capitalism", so as to "fit" the collapse of the SNP's euro policy.

      I don't think many people will swallow your last comment. Salmond claimed to want independence and until Scots have had an opportunity to say whether or not that is what they want, it is too early to speak about alternatives, unless of course, Salmond does not believe he can persuade Scots to vote for independence?

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  7. "Supporters of independence will be represented by the SNP and, unless there is a popular, extra-parliamentary campaign for independence, the SNP will make the running."

    It is probably true that the "YES" campaign will be led by the SNP. Some may regard this as less than ideal. Some quite evidently resent it deeply. Personally, I am only interested in getting the job done. And there just isn't anybody better qualified for the task.

    I'm sure nothing would please the anti-independence campaign more than an outbreak of petty factionalism in the ranks of the independence movement. But I detect the stirrings of just such a corrosive tendency.

    I'm not suggesting unquestioning loyalty to the party. Such a thing is not in my nature anyway. But I would suggest that people get their priorities sorted out. I get the distinct impression that there is a "tendency" out there that would at least swither about which is more important - restoring our nation's independence, or preserving their own notions of non-partisan purity.

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    1. There is no doubt the "Yes" campaign will be led by the SNP, as the largest party. I want independence for Scotland to actually mean independence and not some watered down version that we are all required to call "independence" in order to satisfy the priorities of the leadership of the SNP.

      When people who claim to want independence try to argue, as you have just done, that one of the two main levers of economic management does not count, so that he can then argue that if that lever is controlled by another country (London) or another group of countries through the mechanism of its central bank (ECB), Scotland will still be independent, then I know that sophistry is alive and well in this debate, and that supporters of independence should beware.

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    2. It may be accurate to describe monetary and fiscal policy as the "two main levers of economic management", but this in no way implies that they are of equal importance.

      When people who claim to want independence try to argue that it must be all or nothing then supporters of independence should be aware that there is a very good chance they'll end up with nothing. What we must beware of are the self-appointed keepers of the "true faith" of independence who would reject meaningful, progressive constitutional reform as "heresy".

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    3. But they are of equal importance and if an inappropriate monetary policy is applied to different fiscal policies or even one fiscal policy, the result can be a disaster. The debacle of the eurozone is an example of the first and the setting of interest rates by London, totally unsuited to Scotland's economic requirements over many years, is an example of the second.

      That is a toal misrepresentation of the position taken by myself and others who were branded as "fundamentalists". Our argument was with the tactics of the gradualists who said, "We want independence, but if we can't get independence, we will settle for Devo Max - and if we can't get Devo Max, we'll settle for Devo-Plus or whatever you are prepared to give us." I am obviously paraphrasing, but that is what their tactics amounted to. The terminology has changed a little today, but that is exactly what Salmond and the SNP is doing by asking for Devo Max or Plus to be added to the ballot paper. They have reduced the effectiveness of the independence message before a blow has been struck.

      Now, there is a strong element who see Devo whatever, as the final destination, but will not come out and admit it; instead they argue that Fiscal Autonomy is "really independence" or, as you have done, argue that it does not matter who controls our monetary policy. it will still be "independence". If you trim the sails enough, you are almost certainly going to end up with nothing.

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  8. "But they are of equal importance and if an inappropriate monetary policy is applied to different fiscal policies or even one fiscal policy, the result can be a disaster."

    That is rather too obvious to be worth stating. But we have to ask how likely is it that the monetary policy applied by the Bank of England would clash significantly with the fiscal policy of the Scottish government. As things stand, it is not unreasonable to assume that there would be no great conflict. This is what has to be weighed in the balance against the potential disruption of moving immediately to a separate currency.

    Of course, I would only ever envisage a sterling currency union as an interim measure intended to ease the transition to whatever is the preferred option. Independence means choice or it means nothing. And we should not limit our choices for no better reason than adherence to some political dogma.

    The gradualist position which you caricature so comically has one unassailable argument in its favour. Success! We now stand on the verge of achieving our goal thanks to the gradualist approach having been adopted. A fact so glaringly obvious that one has to wonder that anybody still manages to deny it.

    "Now, there is a strong element who see Devo whatever, as the final destination, but will not come out and admit it..."

    Does such a "strong element" exist? If it has not made its presence known in any objectively observable way then how might we distinguish it from something that has been merely imagined?

    I don't claim to know what is in the minds of those who have not vouchsafed their thoughts to me. But I do know the content of my own mind. For whatever it may be worth, and to whatever extent I may be considered representative of independence supporters in general, I can assure you that there is absolutely no way that I am prepared to consider "Devo whatever" as the "final destination".

    I am, however, open-minded enough to at least consider possible staging posts along the way if this should be what it takes to carry the people of Scotland with me. While I will campaign wholeheartedly for the independence option in the referendum, I will not despair if the people choose a less direct route than I would prefer. And I most certainly would not reject that less direct route at the risk of losing all that has been gained.

    Delay would be a disappointment. But an outright rejection of independence would be a disaster. So I am not going to expend my energies trying to undermine those who strive to make a yes vote less of a daunting prospect to those who may be wavering.

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    1. You are going to have to make up your mind. On the one hand you argue that monetary policy is unimportant, to such an extent that we do not have to have any input to, or control of, it or the bank that dictates it. On the other,it is so important that it is appropriate, it is hardly worth stating. You cannot have it both ways; it is either important and needs to complement fiscal policy or it isn't and doesn't.

      You then state "it is hardly likely" that "the monetary policy of the BofE would clash significantly with the fiscal policy of the Scottish government."

      You have the cart before the horse. London's monetary policy will be determined first and dictated by the economic needs and demands of England and the Scottish government's fiscal policy will have to fit - or Scotland will suffer the consequences. That is the economic history of these islands and having a currency union with England will allow that to continue. That is not a matter of opinion, it is a fact that economic policy in this country is dictated by the economic needs of England.

      You then go on to say, "I would only envisage a sterling currency union as an interim measure" But what would follow? A Scottish currency is not SNP policy, the long term aim is still the euro. But the euro will not remain as it is, the "new treaty" will demand fiscal centralisation, to control the policy of the member states.

      But you claim fiscal policy is the most important policy of which a country should have control. In the euro of the future - and not too distant future - member states will have control of neither fiscal nor monetary policy. Whaur's yer independence then?

      I agree that choice should not be dictated by political dogma, but I never saw independence as a political dogma. To me it is the natural state to which any nation aspires and the first casualty of what you say is choice, would be choice itself, either under the control of the rUK or the EU and the eurozone. If that is what you prefer, that is fine but don't try to pretend it is independence.

      The reason Scotland has a parliament is because George Robertson and other Unionists saw it as a bulwark against independence, not because of the efforts of the gradualists. Robertson thought it would be "killed stone dead" and it is the fear of independence, not devolution, that led to the parliament being set up. Devolution and independence are never going to be different degrees of the same thing. If the only demand that had been made was for devolution, we would not have even the limited parliament we have.

      The "strong element" in the SNP to which I referred is evident by the fact that the one currency position that would ensure Scotland the maximum in terms of control - a Scottish currency - is the one position rejected by the SNP. You think it matters not a toss who controls our monetary policy and the current leadership agrees with you. The ECB or the Bank of England can control our currency, it matters little to the SNP. The only bank that must not be allowed to control our currency is an independent Scottish Central Bank. That says it all.

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    2. I totally agree that independence is the "natural state" and that the onus should be on those who favour our current anomalous consti8tutional status to make the case. But I would dispute whether the "pure" independence that you insist upon is even possible in the 21st century. And I would totally reject the argument that we should reject any constitutional reform which falls short of this "pure" ideal.

      George Robertson was not alone in thinking devolution would kill the independence campaign stone dead. The pro-independence fundamentalist were in total agreement with him on that point. Where George and the "fundies" differ is that I think George may have admitted, at least to himself, that he got it wrong. And I write as someone who had to grit his teeth when voting yes in the devolution referendum because I tended towards the fundamentalist viewpoint. I made the right choice.

      Reluctant as you may be to admit it, the gradualists were spot on. As I now realise, the impetus behind the independence campaign is too deeply ingrained to be "killed stone dead". No amount of devolution will ever be independence. But, equally, no amount of devolution will diminish the drive to independence. Devolution holds no fears for me.

      I am not aware that the SNP has categorically ruled out an independent Scottish Central Bank. It is more a matter of emphasis. The SNP has to counter the negativity of the anti-independence parties. They have to do this by identifying all sorts of options. If the anti-independence propaganda is maintaining that Scotland would be "forced to adopt the euro" then the SNP has to point out a viable alternative so as to disprove that argument.

      They also get the opportunity to fly the odd kite. Whether or not you consider it a serious contender, positing a sterling currency union has been great for the independence campaign as the "anti" parties have been forced into spouting ever more negative nonsense that ends up making them look foolish as their claims are shot down in flames.

      The campaign for Scotland's independence long since moved out of the back rooms of pubs and into the realm of realpolitik. I'm not sure everybody has realised just what this implies in terms of the way the campaign is conducted.

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    3. You will insist in assuming I hold particular positions, as you shift your arguments. What is this "pure" independence I am alleged to want? You seem to be unable to differentiate between strategy, tactics and final destination. You are getting nearer to making the correct assumptions when you say, "no amount of devolution will ever make up for independence." I agree, but that is not the position of many in the current SNP.

      I also thought devolution would go some way to killing independence and for some people it did. But for others, it would never kill it. The SNP hasn't campaigned for independence for almost the whole of the period of Salmond's leadership and hundreds of party members left because of that. Look at the reply I gave to Stuart Winton about the disappearance of the very word from SNP literature. We don't have independence yet and the SNP won, campaigning on the platform of telling the electorate they were only being asked to vote in a referendum. I sat and fumed one night watching Angus Robertson telling a questioner that she was not being asked to vote for independence, only to get Alex Salmond elected as First Minister and a referendum. I also voted to give Scotland an Assembly, knowing that I would campaign like hell to use it to show how inadequate it was in addressing our problems, and why we needed independence. For others, the Assembly was as far as they wanted to go. When I was in the SNP I used to argue that if they held elections for the Scouts and the Girl Guides, I would want the SNP to contest them - then use them as a platform for independence.

      I agree the depth of feeling for independence is too ingrained to be killed completely, but this is where the New SNP has misjudged Scots, that, together with the state of the other parties, has made the conditions as good as they have ever been to fight for independence.

      When I stood for the Scottish Parliament, I challenged the SNP candidates, John Swinney et al on the question of a Scottish central bank. The reply was invariably "the policy is to join the euro". The party has no intention to form a central bank. Your argument about "being forced to join the euro" won't wash. Until the crisis, the SNP were desperate to join the euro. If you read some of the other pieces in this blog, they relate the history of the party's stance on the currency question from the ERM to keeping sterling. I haven't seen any of the Unionist arguments about sterling being shot down in flames, as they are correct in the main. It is the SNP which has been embarrassed, by Salmond's attempt to argue that 67 countries had currency unions "just the same" as the one he was proposing with sterling. That is nonsense and he had to retract a couple of days later. His later attempts to suggest - much as you did - that the monetary policy would be similar or the same as we would adopt anyway, suggests that even if we don't have independence, there will be times when the monetary policy will be suitable, which makes the loss of independence OK.

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    4. "I sat and fumed one night watching Angus Robertson telling a questioner that she was not being asked to vote for independence, only to get Alex Salmond elected as First Minister and a referendum."

      What is so irksome about a politician telling the truth? Because that's what it is. Supposing every single person in Scotland who was eligible to vote had registered and then turned out to vote for the SNP it still wouldn't have been acknowledged as a vote for independence. The SNP had to get elected in order to bring about a referendum In order to get elected they had to persuade people to vote for them. And if somebody was withholding their vote because they wrongly thought it would directly effect independence then it was both proper and sensible that Angus Robertson should put them right.

      I am frequently struck by the similarities between the anti-independence propaganda and the sniping of those who claim to want independence, but not so much that they're prepared to back the only party that will actually deliver it. The line about the SNP having "dropped independence" during the 2011 election campaign is a case in point where the anti-independence and the pro-independence-but-anti-SNP lobbies made common cause.

      My response to both was the same. A lengthy list of SNP references to independence which they had chosen to ignore in their desperation to undermine the SNP. I don't have that list any more. But I well recall there being a lengthy piece in The Scotsman about Alex Salmond avoiding the subject of independence on the same day that The Daily Record went with a front page interview in which he talked of little else.

      I note also your reluctance to use the words "Scottish Parliament" and your desire that it should be a failure. Another attitude you share with those who are fanatically opposed to independence. But once again the strategy adopted by Alex Salmond and his team has worked. Few would deny that a large part of the reason for the party's success last May was the fact that they had proven themselves as a party of government - at least enough for the people to be prepared to give them another chance.

      This is the point that "fundamentalists" just don't seem to be able to come to terms with. In order to make progress towards the ultimate goal of independence the SNP could not be a single-issue party. It had to sell itself as a party of government. And it had to do that first.

      It perplexes me that people are still bleating about a strategy that has been so successful. Does anybody seriously believe that we would be as close or closer to independence if devolution had never happened? Or if the SNP had not formed a minority administration in 2007? Or if they had not sold themselves as, first and foremost, a party of government last year?

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    5. "It is the SNP which has been embarrassed, by Salmond's attempt to argue that 67 countries had currency unions "just the same" as the one he was proposing with sterling."

      That could easily have come straight from one of Alan Cochrane's bilious anti-SNP rants in The Torygraph. It would be typical of Poor Old Cockers to focus obsessively on one marginally inaccurate phrase from Alex Salmond while totally ignoring the skip-loads of pure drivel issuing from the anti-independence parties. The kind of derogatory, demeaning drivel that pushes people towards supporting independence in ever increasing numbers.

      Once again, the SNP gets to put the positive case while the anti-independence campaign is forced into an entirely negative stance. The SNP comes across as reasonable while the anti-independence parties are left looking desperate and dishonest having rushed to press with spurious claims that Scotland would not be permitted to use sterling and/or that it would leave Scotland at the mercy of a hostile RUK government.

      The game is politics. And this SNP lot are bloody good at it. Salmond doesn't have to argue against the "more powers" alternatives to independence. He lured the Tory/Labour/LibDem coalition into doing that for him. And now they are having to suffer the humiliation of frantic back-pedalling.

      And supposing what he actually wanted was an independent Scottish Central Bank? If he'd come right out and suggested it then the full might of the unionist propaganda machine would have been brought to bear on the idea. Better to have your opponents rubbishing the very ideas that they are later going to be arguing for. Because come independence the RUK WILL want a currency union.

      Of course, I don't know for a fact that this is the plan. But having watched the SNP in action over the past few years, I would not be at all surprised.

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    6. The point about Robertson's reply was that the questioner said she was afraid to vote SNP because she was not sure what they stood for but that she was opposed to independence. He could not bring himself to even say the party stood for independence. Some politicians do tell the truth, but unless you agree with what they stand for, would they be worth voting for? There was a time when a vote for the SNP WAS a vote for independence but the current SNP changed that, which is why the caller to Robertson did not know what she would be voting for if she gave it to the SNP. Do you think that is acceptable, for either independence supporters or the electorate at large?

      I used the term Assembly because that is the terminology that was used at the time. Parliament was not used until after it came into being. Showing it up to be inadequate is not the same as wanting it to fail. I thought the SNP was supposed to highlight its inadequacies all the time? No?

      I don't think you have a clue what the so-called fundamentalists stood for and none that I know ever argued the SNP should be a single issue party. You are increasingly arguing yourself into a corner and are now making it up as you go along.

      Alex Salmond has adopted a technique of attempting to dismiss as unimportant, any question where he is unsure of his ground. When asked about the currency, he dismissed it as being no different "from the 67 countries that are in currency unions exactly the same" You tried the to do the same in your first post. It isn't true and every time he does it - and he does it often, his Irish gaffe being another - he gives the unionists more ammunition. They make up enough of their own, they don't need his help. He could have explained the currency situation, if for no other reason than to show he had mastered his brief. He hadn't and it showed. As for it coming out of the Alan Cochrane stable - you really are beginning to stetch. You will find plenty of anti-Unionist material on this blog, if you care to read it, as well as a positive case for independence. Nationalists do not need to act like they do, why do it?

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    7. And why should the SNP not be about both independence AND good governance in the meantime? Obviously the woman in your story knew very well that the SNP stood for independence as that was why she was reluctant to vote for them. Indeed, it is difficult to see how any even moderately informed person could be unaware that the SNP stands for independence. And even more difficult to see why supposedly well-informed people should imagine that it doesn't.

      The SNP's task in the 2011 election campaign was to stay in power. Because that was the only way to get a referendum on independence. If in order to win votes they had to emphasise their role as a party of government rather than a party of independence, so what? There is nothing in the slightest bit dishonest about this. For the simple reason that both are true. The party is, as it must be, both an independence party AND a party of government. The two aspects are in now sense in conflict and emphasis of one as opposed to the other is entirely a matter of context.

      In the context of the 2011 Scottish Parliamentary elections the SNP primary role was as a (candidate) party of government. You seem to think they should have been going around saying, "Don't vote for us, even if you think we might govern well, unless you are totally committed to independence!". Need I explain how silly that is?

      You seem to be angry with Angus Robertson because he sought to give the woman an honest account of what a vote for the SNP would mean rather than what you wanted it to mean. His crime was not dishonesty, but his refusal to lie about what the party was standing for IN THAT ELECTION so as to pander to a fundamentalist agenda.
      Yet again you seem to deeply resent, not only that the SNP didn't do things your way, but that they had the audacity to succeed while (one would hope)politely declining the precious gift of your wisdom. The proof of the political pudding is in the outcome. We now get a referendum, with a straight yes/no question on independence, and on terms that are (almost entirely) determined by the SNP and the Scottish Parliament rather than the unionist parties and Westminster.

      For most independence campaigners this is more than we felt we could tempt fate by wishing for!

      But the fundamentalist would, it seems, have preferred that the SNP lose the election by failing to fight it as a party of government and instead focusing entirely on the constitutional issue. And don't for one moment kid yourself that it would have been otherwise. If they had taken your advice we would now have reverted to a pretendy wee "Executive" under the proxy control of Westminster through the British Labour & Unionist Party. The cause of independence would have been set back a decade or more. You would have had your "honourable defeat".

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    8. "I thought the SNP was supposed to highlight its inadequacies all the time? No?"

      Wrong! Wrong in a way that reveals a dangerously simplistic perspective. The task of the SNP was/is to highlight the inadequacies of DEVOLUTION, not the Scottish Parliament. A task made more complicated by the fact that they must simultaneously maintain and build respect for the Scotland's democratic institutions and persuade the people of Scotland that a Scottish government best serves their interests. It is because the SNP succeeded so well in this last endeavour that we now have a majority nationalist government able to guarantee the referendum on independence that, supposedly, we all want.

      Why would you wish it otherwise? That is what I am struggling to understand. As an independence campaigner of many years standing I see everything coming together in a way that only in moments of alcohol-fuelled optimistic elation would I have thought possible in my lifetime. Why would anyone who genuinely wants our country's independence be as dissatisfied with this situation as you evidently are? Why would they try to undermine the progress that is being made by petty sniping at the people who are the proximate architects of the remarkable progress we have made in the last few years? I genuinely don't get it!

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    9. I think I have given you a fair enough crack at defending the SNP. You are now determined to not only decide what I think and want (all nonsense) you now claim to know what Robertson's caller was really all about. Time will tell and we will see how things pan out.

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  9. It is not that monetary policy is unimportant. Only that direct and total control over monetary policy is not necessarily crucial. Certainly not in the way that control of fiscal policy is. If the policy being pursued by the Bank of England - or any other independent central bank - is broadly the same as would be pursued by a national government then it can't make much difference. It doesn't matter who is nominally in charge of monetary policy. Only that it is appropriate.

    All I am saying is that there is a calculation to be made. If the proposal for a sterling currency union makes voting for independence more palatable for more people, and if that currency union brings a monetary policy that is not seriously inappropriate to Scotland's needs, then it is at least worth considering. Especially, and so long as, we have the option to leave that currency union. It is that option which is the important element of independence.

    Suppose we had an independent central bank in Scotland. Would it be doing anything significantly different? The truth is that, as part of a British Isles trading bloc; the European single market; and an increasingly globalised economy, we would always be subject to informal monetary policy constraints anyway. We might dispute the precise extent to which monetary policy is ever proactive rather than reactive, but I suspect an honest appraisal would tend towards the former.

    What the longer-term arrangements might be is not as important as having a range of options. SNP policy changes as circumstances change. Which is as it should be. And whatever SNP policy is now may not be relevant as the party will not necessarily be in government after independence. The fact of the matter is that we don't know where we'll be in ten, twenty, fifty years time. Which is one of the things that makes the unionists demands for "details" so ridiculous. There is no more economic uncertainty for an independent Scotland than there is for Scotland in the union. Economic arguments for or against independence are pretty pointless.

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    1. Control of monetary policy IS crucial, if you want to run the Scottish economy in the way that addresses our particular problems. Back to the argument above. If the policy is OK some of the time, that is fine. What about the damage it can do when it is not OK, as it hasn't been for the majority of the post war period?

      Your arguments are getting weaker by the minute. Don't ask Scots to change too much, pretend that a currency union with sterling will "see them OK" until it is wrong for the time period and our economy? What then?

      Independence is for life, not just Christmas and the short-termism of your arguments could store up enormous problems for us. Just as with the euro, how do you get out of the union when things go wrong? Why not just ask the Scottish people to face the hard choices, instead of kidding them that everythung will be easy. Independence can, and most likely will be, much easier than we think, after all it works for other countries. But trying to con Scots is not the way to win hearts and minds. The party is giving the Unionists ammunition, every time it tries another attempt to get independence without changing anything. You will get no argument from me about the uselessness of the economic argument. Independence has nothing to do with economics. Try dignity, self-respect and pride.

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    2. "Independence can, and most likely will be, much easier than we think, after all it works for other countries."

      Precisely the argument I have been making for years. But the political battles still have to be won. In 2014 we will have referendum. I am convinced that this will result in a solid yes vote for independence and that secession from the union will follow shortly thereafter.

      And I have not the slightest doubt that on Scotland's Independence Day you will blogging about how Alex Salmond and the SNP did it all wrong.

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    3. That last comment really does not deserve the digntiy of a reply.

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  10. Peter, you make it sound like you think good politics is more about artifice than principle, and to the extent that you think that's why the SNP is so good at politics then I and many others view your party largely with cynicism, and thus won't be voting 'yes' in 2014 (assuming the SNP gets the 'yes' question and indeed that a referendum takes place at all!!).

    For example, on the currency question you effectively parrot Alex Salmond quoting Keynes, who said that when the facts change I change my mind (or whatever).

    But the material facts didn't change. At around the euro's inception Alex Salmond was saying that B of E monetary policy was primarily targetted at London and the SE of England, and thus inappropriate for Scotland. A fortiori monetary policy decided in Frankfurt for the numerous and even more disparate economies of the euro was never going to work, and if it wasn't working for an economic union of 300 years standing then it was never going to work for a nascent one.

    But the SNP adopted euro membership anyway, and the rest is history. Now they're saying that the eurozone economies are 'wildly' divergent and thus that's why it's all went a bit pear-shaped, and now it's back to B of E interest rates and a 'fiscal stability pact' for a 'sterlingzone' comprising rUK and an independent (sic!) Scotland.

    Thus it wasn't the facts that changed rather than that those who supported the euro made a misjudgement, and those (like Jim) who warned of the dangers of the one-size-fits-all approach of the single currency were proved right. And I say that as someone who was initially beguiled by the idealism and communitarian ethos of the euro, even with my rudimentary knowledge of economics!

    Thus the SNP got it wrong, but as your own analysis demonstrates they won't acknowledge that, and instead in the classic style of contemporary politics attempt to spin the facts out of existence and indeed make a virtue of it all.

    Likewise, as your own analysis also demonstrates, SNP strategy depends on getting enough voters to believe that the facts did change rather than that Mr Salmond made a misjudgement.

    People see through the uber-political operators like Blair and Obama eventually, and I suspect that'll happen one day with Alex Salmond as well.

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  11. "Peter, you make it sound like you think good politics is more about artifice than principle..."

    Good politics is about winning so that you are in a position to give effect to principle. You make it sound like you prefer the nobility of the lost cause to the admittedly quite daunting prospect of winning and having to do something more than pompous pontificating.

    What sort of commitment to the cause of independence is it when you abandon the only agency with a realistic chance of attaining that objective not only when they have brought it within reach but BECAUSE they have done so?

    You value honourable failure over actual success.

    And, it seems, you value rigid dogma over pragmatic flexibility. Keynes is supposed to have sad. "When the facts change, I change my mind!". Which is what any sane person does. That was his point. Doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome has been offered as a definition of insanity. How much more insane is it to do the same thing when circumstances have changed.

    You need to grow up. Independence is not going to come because you click your heels three times and wish for it really, really hard, It has to be won on the battlefield of politics. You and your little faction would hamstring Salmond and the SNP in such a way as to make success impossible. Independence would be lost. But you'd get to feel good about yourselves.

    If there is anything worse than political naivety, it is righteous political naivety.

    Even supposing it's true that "the SNP got it wrong", how dumb is it to insist that they should expend their energies in a show of public contrition? Especially when we're talking about economics - which everybody gets wrong most of the time. I expect the opponents of independence to dwell obsessively on the instances when the SNP gets it wrong. When those who are supposed pro-independence start doing so I have to wonder what their agenda is. And when they start demand that the SNP should effectively campaign against itself then I have to wonder about their mental well-being.

    And, really! Are these complaints against Salmond and the SNP so earth-shakingly serious? Has the party committed some unforgivable sin? Or are the fundamentalists undermining the independence campaign for the sake of what are really no more than petty quibbles? Are you genuinely saying to somebody who has plead the independence case for half a century and now sees it within touching distance that they should give up on it because the SNP might be no less wobbly on economic policy than any other political party?

    Or is their unforgivable sin their political success? Are you arguing that they can't be "real nationalists" because "real nationalists" don't do political success? Are you asserting that the hallmark of the "real nationalist" is proud failure?

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    1. I think you're misconstruing my personal politics, but I doubt if explaining them will make you any less ill-disposed towards me, so I won't bother.

      But your point about pragmatism over dogma in relation to the euro is essentially a euphemism for saying that Alex Salmond got it wrong in principle, as he did with banking regulation (say).

      And you can't just dismiss this in the manner you do - effectively the end justifies the means - and to that extent ignore the wider political ramifications. If the SNP get it wrong then that undermines their broader case, and if they try to cover this up - as you clearly do - then eventually voters will come to view the SNP as merely a tartanised version of the likes of Blairism, his big tent etc. Indeed that's arguably the case already - of the 22% of Scots voters who endorsed the SNP last May I suspect a significant proportion voted on a 'best of a bad lot' basis.

      As for telling people to grow up and alluding to their mental health, that's definitely encroaching onto cybernat territory, which again I'm quite sure appeals to no one but a tiny minority and indeed will merely alienate the vast majority.

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  12. Firstly, get any notions of personal antipathy out of your head. If I come across as irritated it is solely because I am genuinely trying to understand why purported nationalists would seek to undermine the campaign for independence. The exercise is frustrating because I keep expecting to be presented with some overwhelming reason for this seemingly pointless and self-defeating attitude, but none is forthcoming.

    Your principle complaint seems to be that Alex Salmond is not blessed with some kind of god-like infallibility. You seem to want to pretend that I am trying to deny or cover up the shift in SNP policy regarding the euro. Quite how you manage to convince yourself of this is a bit of a mystery given that I have acknowledged the change on numerous occasions here. The difference is that I accept such policy shifts as simply a normal part of politics while you appear to consider it as a major personal failure for Salmond that disqualifies him and the SNP from ever being worthy of anybody's vote.

    I am not so eager to find a stick with which to beat Alex Salmond that I hastily reach for whatever simplistic explanation fits my need. You represent SNP policy on the euro as a huge, game-changing error. But is it? Up until fairly recently, adopting the euro was a perfectly valid option. As is ever the case with such things, there were pros and cons. And people arguing both sides. But other than in the minds of the more rabid Europhobes, there was nothing at all outlandish about suggesting that an independent Scotland might join the Eurozone. On the contrary, it was a fairly mundane policy.

    As we all know, circumstances changed and, although the euro was not in any sense the cause of the global economic turmoil that started (or became manifest) around four years ago, it was involved. As was just about every other currency, of course. But the set-up in the Eurozone meant that was very poorly equipped to deal with the problems. These were not currency problems, of course. They were problems of fiscal incompetence and ineptitude on a massive scale. But it suits some to make out that the euro was the entire problem.

    Anyway! All of this had the effect of making a policy of joining the euro untenable. So the SNP moved away from that policy and started to present an alternative. Circumstances changed. Policy changed. This simply is not the big deal that you make it out to be.

    It would have been a big deal if the party had simply ignored what was going on in the world. But they didn't. They adapted to the new conditions. What can possibly be wrong about that? The public certainly don't object. On the contrary, it is generally accepted that one of the reasons so many people voted SNP in May last year was the fact that they liked the party's pragmatic approach to policy-making.

    So I'm left still wondering what it is that drives the evident need to contrive excuses for attacking Alex Salmond and the SNP even at the cost of putting recent progress towards independence at risk. If there is no rational reason, what are we left with?

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  13. Peter, I assume your response at 12.49 AM is aimed at myself?

    The reason I ask is your reference to 'purported nationalists'; I don't purport to be anything in terms of ideology or party politics.

    And my point about the euro is not that it was the main or proximate cause of the financial crisis, but simply that it's a major macroeconomic question that Alex Salmond demonstrably got wrong and to that extent undermines his and the SNP's economic credentials.

    And that's the case however much you try to spin the SNP's change in direction as pragmatism on policy.

    It's not as if there weren't any people warning about the eurozone's inherent shortcomings at the time; all that the financial crisis has done is vindicated them and exposed the fact that the euro was based more on the idealism of European political and economic union rather than a pragmatic approach to economic policy making.

    Which comes back to my earlier point - if the SNP thought a 300-years-old economic and currency union called the United Kingdom was inappropriate for Scotland then what price a nascent single currency consisting of many more and significantly more disparate national economies?

    To the extent that the SNP were wrong about the inappropriatness of sterling and UK monetary policy back then, then as regards the euro it was always going to be a case of out of the UK frying pan and into the EU fire.

    That's why the SNP got it wrong, and no amount of spin about pragmatism and changing facts can disguise that.

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