How the SNP have failed at basic statecraft (originally in LabourList 19th February – with thanks)

It is hard to credit that the SNP has been preparing for independence for 80 years, or even for the seven years that they have been in power. This is shown by the intellectual poverty and the ineptitude of their approach to the essential issues of statecraft. Both have been laid bare by the debacle surrounding its policy on currency.

When the White Paper “Scotland’s Future” was published as a would-be game changer by the Scottish Government, many of us were comprehensively underwhelmed, for two reasons. The first was the lack of costings for the entire project of inventing a new state. The other was the lack of any consideration of the possibility that any aspect might be mistaken and might require an alternative approach.

Scotland’s future and its eponymous blueprint had no prices attached, and had no Plan B.

It is therefore no wonder that the use of the Pound was seized upon by all of the UK parties. Moreover, as the Chancellor of Exchequer has ultimate responsibility for the integrity of the currency, it would have been an act of abject negligence for Osborne, Balls and Alexander not to have acted on the advice of the Permanent Secretary at the Treasury.

It was in the interest of all users of the Pound to reassure the markets that it would not be compromised by even considering a single currency zone. This was especially the case when this would be founded on the determination of Scotland to pursue an uncosted economic destiny markedly divergent from that of the (much larger) UK. To declare that if Scotland walks away for the UK, it walks away from the Pound was a plain declaration in the best interests of the Pound and therefore of the UK.

It was also made clear by the Treasury that although doing so will incur costs to the UK economy, these would be the lesser evil than entering into a common currency union. In other words, there are no conceivable circumstances under which such a union can be considered.

It could not be further from “bluff, bluster and bullying” as Alex Salmond declared. And this is where the lack of basic statecraft comes in: amazingly, it seems that Salmond, Sturgeon, Swinney et all have never read Palmerston’s observation that “nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests.”

In this case, the UK is protecting its interests, which are not the same as those of the Scottish secessionist movement. So the SNP needs a Plan B on currency. That it has none is wholly due its own arrogance in the belief that the interests of the world are identical to its own.

And as the currency issue threatens to overwhelm Salmond, Sturgeon and Swinney, the next storm surge has started to gather: EU membership.

Jose Manuel Borroso has told us that it would be “extremely difficult, if not impossible” for Scotland to join the EU. In this case, the SNP has not taken into account the damage which its position would threaten to the interests of Spain (regarding Catalonia) and Belgium (regarding its existence as a single state).

In response, a rather forlorn John Swinney tells the President of the EU Commission that the latter’s position is “preposterous.” Again, these are cases where the interests of a putative independent Scotland are already in conflict with the interests of other states: and in each case, those states hold the whip hand and the SNP has no Plan B.

It is possible to see that others will emerge soon: for instance NATO, where displacement of Trident from the Clyde is unlikely to be straightforward. If it happens at all in Trident’s lifetime, it may need to be paid for by an independent Scotland in ways which suit the interests of the rest of the alliance, for example, in a commitment to troop deployments in future conflicts.

As in the case of the currency question, the outcome will be some kind of enforced Plan B, whether the Scottish Government likes it or not. Almost certainly this will be an outcome neither foreseen nor expected by those who voted Yes in the referendum.

It is clear that the SNP is willing to take such risks. However, the people of Scotland need not be so foolhardy – they can simply vote No.

Letter to the Guardian published 25th February. is what was published.

What I wrote was:

Ruth Wishart (letters 21st February) must know different people to me in the Scottish Labour Party if she believes that the Yes Campaign has considerable Labour support.

My own CLP –one of the biggest and most active in Glasgow – has received zero resolutions proposing support for independence and it is extremely doubtful that there will be any move in that direction at the Scottish Labour conference in March. This is strikingly different to the positions taken up – sometimes in open revolt against the leadership – in the devolution debates of the 1980s. It will be interesting to hear if things are different in Argyll and Bute CLP, but no doubt Ruth can put us right if that is the case.

Instead, what we have seen is a very small handful of Labour figures from 1990s coming out for Yes, and the brief emergence of Labour for Independence, which has vanished since it was quickly exposed as a tiny clique of nobodies who swelled their numbers at events with SNP activists. In contrast, every serving Labour MP and MSP in Scotland has backed the Better Together campaign and likewise no Labour councillor in country has indicated anything other their support for the UK.

It is of course inevitable that there will be some leakage of Labour supporters to the Yes side of the argument, just as up to 30% of SNP voters will be voting No. However, it should not be reported or believed that Scottish Labour is anything other than four-square alongside the majority in Scotland which believes the best way to secure their country’s future is through continuing in the UK. (Nor, incidentally, will we be alongside the Dilettantes-for-Indy represented elsewhere in your columns by the ludicrous Pat Kane.)


Peter A. Russell

Labour and the Referendum.

On 6th February 2014, The Herald published an Agenda feature by Professor Bob Holman suggesting why a Yes vote in the independence referendum would be good for Scotland and for Labour . (Why A Yes Vote Is The Best Thing)

I offered the following in response: however, the Herald replied that it was too long, but offered instead to publish a 500 word letter instead. This is to be found here: Remember The Good Labour Has Done At Westminster with my thanks to the Herald for publishing it.

But here is my full text.


I have never met Bob Holman, either at Labour Party meeting or elsewhere; however, I am told that he is nice man with the best of intentions. However, having worked since 1985 for two Leaders of the Council and two Lord Provosts, and in economic development and social policy for the Council, I do know something about Glasgow and its social and economic problems.

I also know about the Labour Party, having joined in 1977, and been continuously in membership since then, in five different constituencies in England as well as in Glasgow.

It is armed with this experience that I would strongly contest his assertion that a Yes vote would be good for Scotland and for Labour. I will also add that the height of my political ambition has so far been to contest an unwinnable council bye-election in the London Borough of Southwark in 1983. The closing date for self-nomination for candidacy in the Scottish Parliament elections for my home seat is 10th February, and I have resisted temptation once more. (So I am not writing in any official capacity and nor with any goal of currying favour – yes, I actually believe this stuff.)

What I believe is required, as a social democrat in the Labour Party, was perhaps best put by the Polish philosopher Lesjek Kolakowski …“ an obstinate will to erode by inches the conditions which produce avoidable suffering, oppression, hunger, wars, racial and national hatred, insatiable greed and vindictive envy.”

At the same time he warns

“…The trouble with the social democratic idea is that it does not stock and does not sell any of the exciting ideological commodities which various totalitarian movements – Communists, Fascist, or Leftist – offer dream-hungry youth. It has no prescription for the total salvation of mankind … Democratic Socialism requires, in addition to commitment to a number of basic values, hard knowledge and rational calculation …”

Which is where the argument against a Yes vote and the siren voice of independence comes in: it is indeed an “exciting ideological commodity” with not one but many prescriptions for the total salvation of the Scots and Scotland.  Readers of this paper and especially of its letters page will see evidence of this day and daily: likewise we have the White Paper of the Scottish Government by which Professor Holman himself sets such great store.

However, let us take a bit of Kolakowski’s “hard knowledge”, and apply it to Holman’s home patch in Easterhouse.

  • In my time in Glasgow, its public housing has been transformed from some of the worst in Europe to some of the best. How did it come about? By the UK Treasury writing off £300 million historic debt on those houses.
  • Pensioners in Easterhouse are now entitled to a minimum income of £145.50 per week for single people (£222.05 for couples). How did that come about? By the introduction of Pensioner credit.
  • Working people in Easterhouse – for example those working at Glasgow Fort – are entitled by law to a pay rate of £6.31 an hour. How did that come about? By the introduction of the National Minimum Wage.
  • Families in Easterhouse are entitled to tax credits of up to £2,720 for each child. How did this come about? By the introduction of Working Families Tax Credits.

It would be wrong to take these examples as having solved all of the problems of Easterhouse, but no-one can deny that all of these have improved the lives of the people concerned, sometimes to a massive degree.  And all were the direct result of Labour Party policies, brought in at Westminster.

To this we can add: the winter fuel allowance increased from a mere £10 under the Tories to £250; protection introduced against unfair dismissal after 12 months in a job instead of after two years, and increased the compensation from £12,000 to £63,000; equal rights given to part-timers workers for the first time (equal pay, pro-rata pensions, pro-rata sick pay etc); paid maternity leave increased from 14 weeks to 39 weeks, and paid adoption leave and paid paternity leave introduced, plus emergency time off for parents and carers.

The total effect has been to make Scotland not “one of the most unequal countries” possible as the SNP White Paper falsely tells us, but according to research at Stirling University, somewhere in the middle rank – about 14th, about as equal as France or Switzerland, and better than Canada and Australia.

So the reality is that like Easterhouse, Labour made Scotland better, but with plenty still to do.  It is with this in mind that we turn to Kolakowski’s “rational calculation,” and apply the acid test for practical progressives, which is to examine what politicians have done in power.

Readers might guess that I am more a Denis Healey man than a Tony Benn fan: one brought UK colonialism to an end  East of Suez and tamed inflation caused by the Tory Barber boom; and the other one’s outstanding achievement was to waste our money on Concorde. And unlike, Bob Holman, I think achievement is more important than background: who cares if Attlee went to Haileybury or Bevin left school at 11? Or that Tony Blair went to Fettes and Oxford, when his government was responsible for all of the above?

So we should compare Labour’s outcomes with what the SNP has done in power.  For example, in comparison to Labour’s policies, it will be instructive to calculate the effects of the SNP’s prized flagship policies:

  • how many people in Easterhouse are enjoying free university fees (at the cost of places at the excellent local John Wheatley College)?
  • How many people in Easterhouse are benefiting from the Council Tax freeze which disproportionately rewards the rich?
  • How many people in Easterhouse will benefit from the protection of how much inherited unearned wealth which is the effect of “free” elderly care?

The message is must clearly be that in office, Labour at Westminster has done far more for the people of Easterhouse than the SNP at Holyrood.  What is more is that Labour’s achievements did not stop at the border: they were made at a UK scale.

So benefits to the people of Easterhouse were replicated not just in other Scottish towns and cities, but in every corner of the UK. 

As a result, the Child Poverty Action Group described Labour’s  achievement of taking not just 100,000 in Scotland out of poverty, but 900,000 in the whole of the UK as “a remarkable achievement, certainly without historical precedent in the UK, and impressive compared with other countries.” Similarly, Labour built 149 new hospitals and drove waiting times down to just 2 weeks – the lowest since the 1970′s. In all Labour upgraded more than 1 million council houses, saving billions on fuel bills.

These achievements, together with Scottish and Welsh devolution, come on top of the great historic advances made by Westminster – old age pensions, full adult suffrage, the NHS, the Welfare State, abortion rights for women, and equal rights for ethnic and sexual minorities.

Most of these were the result of Labour being in power. As a social democrat, I am proud that Labour has served so many and so widely, and can continue to do so. We will not give up our cause lightly.

Finally, I can recall an earlier enthusiasm of Professor Holman: his welcome for Iain Duncan-Smith.  My jaw literally dropped to see a not very bright Tory, notorious above all for his opposition to a social Europe, being taken seriously as a friend to the poor in Easterhouse.

Duncan-Smith should have been judged by his record then, as those advocating Yes should be judged on their record now. It is either thin or non-existent. In comparison, Labour’s record, for Easterhouse, Glasgow, Scotland and the UK is one of which we can all be proud, and proof that Westminster is more effective in delivering benefits (in every sense ) on a wider scale to the poor and disadvantaged than Holyrood  can dream of.

Peter A. Russell is a member of Anniesland CLP and Chair of the Glasgow Fabians. He writes in a personal capacity.

Scots Myths (4) – Defence.

This myth covers both defence categories:  conventional and nuclear.

Conventional defence has taken an especially interesting turn, as the Scottish Government’s Minister for External Affairs and International Development, Humza Yousef, has told us that its foreign policy (and therefore its defence commitments) will be based on the Hippocratic principle of ‘Do no harm’[1].

This shows a complete confusion, above all in not being able to distinguish between the job of a diplomat or soldier and that of a doctor or nurse.

The biggest difference is that in the former case, the usual position in any dispute will be that of a zero-sum game: for example, in a territorial dispute, for example, over Rockall, the UK now or a future independent Scotland would need to defend its interests at the expense of those of Iceland (or whoever), be it at the UN or on the North Atlantic with warships, or both.  To do no harm to Iceland would mean to capitulate.

It is more important still to extend this realisation to the commitments of an independent Scotland to collective security through NATO.  Most noticeably in recent years, this has been seen in the war in Afghanistan. Following 9/11, NATO invoked its charter principle that an attack on one is an attack on all, and set about the overthrow of the Taliban and the destruction of Al-Qaida’s military infrastructure in Afghanistan. Since 2003, the NATO mission has been to provide security while training local Afghan forces to assume that responsibility after 2014.[2]

In this case, the good being done to the majority of the Afghan people includes not only self-determination and the means to protect it from religious headcases but also such fundamental human rights as education and medical services for women and girls. But these cannot be secured without attacking and inflicting deadly violence (i.e., harming) the Taliban.

The SNP should be asked who they want to win the war in Afghanistan, and how this can be achieved without harming the Taliban?

A further myth is that if Scotland independent, its soldiers, sailors and airforce would not need to serve in “illegal wars.” (Also known as “English wars”), and therefore no Scots service personnel would be deployed to theatres such as Iraq.  I have made my views on Iraq known elsewhere (especially here: but to dwell on the specific is to avoid the main issue. This is that as in the cases of some Commonwealth citizens (and Irish citizens), Scots would still be enrolling in the British forces in considerable numbers, and therefore be deployed in combat zones.

Therefore, it is not the case that Scots will cease to fight and no longer be put in harm’s way, even if an independent Scotland adopted the pacifist policy of “Do No Harm.” But what will happen is that Scots will lose all influence over their deployment, organisation and resources; for example, it will not possible for Scots MPs to serve as Defence Secretary (as John Reid did); there will also be no Scottish Secretary in Cabinet to represent Scotland’s interest in times of crisis.

For many people, however, the big defence issue in the Scottish independence debate is that of nuclear deterrence and the future of Trident.

My own view is that I do not really see the point of Trident, and that it could decommissioned if it would be cheaper to use a different platform for nuclear weapons.

I would also be pleased to see those weapons scrapped. However, at the same time, it needs to be remembered that no government has ever been elected with a mandate to carry out unilateral nuclear disarmament.

At the 2010 General Election the Tories and Labour took 75% of UK votes, and in Scotland the presence of the SNP added to the anti-Trident vote, but the Tories and Labour between them still polled 59%. The Liberal Democrats were committed to using Trident as a bargaining chip in multilateral negotiations, which is laudable, but no guarantee of nuclear disarmament. In the UK they took 23% and in Scotland 19%.

In any event, it is clear from the voting record of the UK and of Scotland that there is no mandate for the UK government to remove Trident, either form the British people or the Scots.  (As defence is a reserved power, Holyrood votes have no significance in this case.)

Nuclear disarmers will always wish to contest this conclusion, on the grounds that a single issue cannot be extracted from manifestos. However, it is instructive to reverse their argument, and to imagine that a party or parties are elected with 60% of the vote with  a specific mandate for unilateral nuclear disarmament, which it then fails to fulfil. Their reaction would not be likely to be so dismissive.

Two other issues should be kept in mind on the nuclear issue, as well as there being no democratic  mandate for the unilateral removal of Trident.

The first is that to remove Trident from the Clyde would make no contribution to nuclear disarmament, as the weapons system would be moved to another part of the British Isles.  It is a commonplace misapprehension amongst poorly informed nationalists that the UK would not put nuclear weapons in the English Home Counties. In fact, the most prominent nuclear installations in the UK are in Berkshire (Aldermaston) as was the scene of most famous anti-nuclear campaign of all, at Greenham Common. There can  be no doubt that Trident would be redeployed elsewhere, regardless of the population nearby.

The second issue is that Trident as a weapons system has gratefully  not been used,  so has inflicted zero casualties, unlike, for example, the millions of deaths  caused by the AK-47 Kalashnikov rifle, or even the bow and arrow.

In conclusion, there is clearly no case for independence in issues of defence. It would not of itself save the lives of Scots in foreign wars, and could lead to less consideration of their safety in times of crisis. Moreover, independence would also fail to remove nuclear weapons from the British Isles, or to contribute to multilateral disarmament.

There is therefore no strong case for independence based on defence considerations; this possibly the reason that such surveys as the Scottish Social Attitudes[3] survey show a high level of Scots (66%) rejecting the idea that Holyrood should have responsibility for foreign and defence policy.