Today’s Herald Letter: Risky Gambles (Beat paywall)

IN the question of the economics of independence, there are those like myself who will vote No, on the evidence presented by the likes of Paul Krugman, the independent IFS and the three political parties who represent nearly 80 per cent of the country’s voters. And voting Yes will be those who prefer the version given voice by Joseph Stiglitz, the association of poujadiste small traders called Business for Scotland, and the SNP, whose support peaked at 22 per cent in 2011.

The binary format of the referendum has made the choice simple for those who “don’t know” or are undecided in the face of the risks involved. They might ask themselves the following:

If you were buying a house, and one surveyor said it had dry rot and the other said it did not, would you bet your savings and your mortgage on one of them being right? Or if you were buying a car and you had one mechanic say it was sound and another that it was a heap of junk, would you take the risk?

Or if you were wagering your life savings and those of your family on a horse, would you bet on one on which the vets could not agree as to its fitness? Likewise, two of the world’s top economists cannot agree as to the benefits or otherwise of independence. The stakes are enormous and the odds are long.

Alex Salmond is a betting man, and is obviously prepared to take these risks. This week, Scottish voters should look at themselves and decide whether they are also that reckless. I trust that they will not be.

Peter A Russell

I am rather pleased with this letter in the Herald. (Beat the paywall)

THE statesman-like intervention of Gordon Brown in leading the movement for extra devolved powers for Scotland will surely be welcomed by all Scots who value pragmatism and commonsense over dogma and risk (“No camp accused of panic as Brown unveils powers plan”, The Herald, September 9).

 Very often in the debate we have heard the refrain “if only devo-max were on the ballot”. And sometimes, “I might give Yes a try.”

The effect of the accord announced at Loanhead by Gordon Brown is that the first is in effect the case – a No vote is a vote for new powers at Holyrood, to be developed in partnership with Scottish civil society.

The unified offer also gives the “give it a try” voters a realistic option. A Yes vote is irrevocable and absolute, but No offers the opportunity to take smaller steps, backed by the security of the scale and diversity of the UK. The consensus on proposals for taxation powers should also finally put a stake through the heart of the Yes campaign’s terrible scaremongering about the NHS.

Scotland still has no clarity from the Yes campaign about currency other than “trust me, I’m a politi­cian” from Alex Salmond, and only the most fanatical of Yes supporters would take such enormous risks to the economy and in turn to public services.

For most people, their referendum decision is not about unrealistic dreams or blind dogma.

Gordon Brown has defined a No vote as a vote for a radically new deal for Scotland within the UK, but – crucially – without the risks of independence.

Devo-max is on the ballot. Give it a try: vote No.

Peter A Russell

New letter in Herald: Scots are too sensible to vote Yes.

(Cut a bit by the Herald – this as published.)

IT is always a treat to see an old friend, such as the story told by Ruth Marr about the Labour Party (Letters, September 5). For all of my 37 years as a member, I have heard the same refrain: that Labour had lost its left-wing roots. Sometimes, the Labour Party itself believed the story, and tried to be a radical party of the ideological left. However, it was no fluke that at such times – most notably in 1983 – Labour was roundly rejected by real voters at the ballot box.

The reason why Labour is successful when it is sensible and pragmatic is because the voters know a fraud when they see it. Moreover, it is informative to contrast what Labour offers with the wilder promises of the pro-independence campaign.

Labour offers to tax the richest more, increase the minimum wage, and freeze energy bills. Labour will also scrap the Bedroom Tax- and indeed on Friday defeated the Tory government in a vote which means that it will not be charged on people with disabilities. In the case of that vote, Scottish voters should by now be very aware that only two SNP MPs bothered to turn up. It is easy to see where the priorities of the rest of the Yes campaign lie – and it is not with social justice or protecting the vulnerable.

In fact, when the claims of Yes are put to the test, they fail miserably to convince anyone. People know that you cannot have Scandinavian services with Irish taxes, and that North Sea oil will not bridge the gap, leaving a black hole of £6 billion in the budget of an independent Scotland.

They also have too much sense to gamble the entire economy on the off-chance that there may be a currency union between an independent Scotland and rUK in the face of most of the political and economic evidence. And having listened to politicians from all parties tell them since 1999 that the NHS is fully devolved, they will correctly not believe scare stories about it being at risk.

Peter A Russell,

Here’s a story….

The afternoon was dragging on as I waited for the doorbell to sound.

I was just about to switch off my laptop when I thought I would quickly remind myself of what the Edinburgh Agreement actually said. But the search engine offered another link that caught my eye: “Salmond stuns SNP – May 2011”. Curiosity got the better of me, so I clicked and entered.

The site was the plain old BBC News site, but a page that I had not seen before. As usual for the news stories around that time, it featured big pictures of a beaming Alex Salmond stepping out of a helicopter, but the following pictures and accompanying story were very unfamiliar indeed.

Salmond was widely trailed to deliver an unashamedly triumphalist speech, but departed abruptly from the script distributed to the assembled press. He said:


“Someone told me rumour – that we got a majority. However, I must acknowledge two things from that fact.

“The first is that such a majority confers on me as First Minister, and on the Scottish Government a great privilege and also a great responsibility. We must therefore govern for all of the people of Scotland.

“We have seen in the past at a UK level how narrow and partisan government divides and damages the country. If anyone doubts this, they should look at our mining communities, which were split in the 1980s, with rifts which still have not healed and may never do so.

“So we will leave one-party rule and winner- takes- all to the likes of the Tories. We will not take risks with our nation such as those taken by Margaret Thatcher. Scotland is not like that.

“The second fact which we must acknowledge – and this is linked to the first – is that although the Scottish National Party has majority in the Chamber at Holyrood, we do not have a majority amongst the voters.

“Only 45% of those voting elected us, and on a 50% turnout. So really, we only have about 22% of the vote to support us.

“Friends, and colleagues, this is not a mandate on which any reasonable government could act to take such a momentous decision as Scottish independence.”

At this, Salmond’s Deputy, Nicola Sturgeon visibly blanched. She began to interrupt, but he pressed on:

“Therefore I am saying today that my Scottish Government will now start a process which will seek to unite a clear and demonstrable majority of the Scottish people behind a single proposal for the better governance of Scotland.

“I am and always will be a Scottish Nationalist” (heckles began from his newly elected backbenchers, as Sturgeon sought to restrain her impatience) “and I will always support the idea that Scotland should be an independent country, nuclear free and outside NATO. We should throw of the millstone of the Pound Sterling and either adopt the Euro or develop a Scottish currency of our own to go with our new economy.

“However, I respect my fellow Scots, and I am therefore inviting the leaders of the other parties represented in our Parliament to join with me in a rational, respectful process.”

That process turned out to be the development of the terms of reference of the Kennedy Commission.

Chaired by Baroness Helena Kennedy, and supported by the new leaders of the Scottish Labour Party (Johann Lamont), Liberal Democrats (Willie Rennie) and Conservatives (Ruth Davidson), the Commission held many open sessions over the following twelve months.

It was covered live on BBC Alba, making that channel relevant and value for money for the non-Gaelic majority, and attracting million-plus audience figures.

Finally, in October 2013, the Kennedy Report was published. Over 300 pages long, it was not a wish list or a manifesto, but a summary of the collected and sometimes conflicting views which the public and the political parties had submitted. Dame Helena described it as “not a roadmap but an atlas of our hearts and heads.”

The major recommendations of the Kennedy Report were twofold.

The first was that there should be a referendum on the future of Scotland’s constitutional position. This had been promised by the SNP in its majority-winning manifesto, and was also essential to reflect demand as expressed to her Commission from many sides.

The second recommendation was that the governments of the United Kingdom and Scotland should remain neutral in the referendum campaign, with their only roles being to finance the exercise, and to publish a range of balanced and factual “Blue Papers” on the various issues.

These would be edited and approved by an academic board comprising Sir Tom Devine, Professor Adam Tomkins and Sir Tom Hunter, responsible to Sir Kenneth Calman. It was also laid out in the Board’s remit (set by Kennedy) that if any issue of fact was so contentious as to be irreconcilable, both sides would be put forward as possible factuals. However , in these cases, a higher level of academic justification would be required.

And so the voters went to the polls on 18th September 2014.


Their ballot papers were as designed by the Kennedy Commission: an Alternative Vote ballot, with four options:

1. A devolved Scotland with its current powers (including the extra 2012 Scotland Act powers)

2. A devolved Scotland with further powers to be negotiated between the two parliaments

3. An independent Scotland.

4. Direct rule from Westminster, with extra regional government.

The referendum campaign was a mercifully brief four-week affair, and the respective governments and the PM and FM had kept to their neutral roles.

For the SNP, Nicola Sturgeon stepped down from her role as Deputy FM to lead for the independence campaign (although she was later to be dismissed). Johann Lamont led for the current settlement, as Labour had always been the party of devolution, and committed itself to the Morrisonian principle of ‘making what we have work better before demanding more.’ LibDems found Option 2 (“devo-max”) closest to their historic commitment to federalism. The Tories held a fractious conference and finally also came out in favour of the devo-max option.


Option 4 found no support from the mainstream Holyrood parties, but a campaign group was set up by veteran Labour anti-devolutionist Tam Dalyell, supported by ex-Strathclyde Leader Sir Charles Gray. Other members included George Galloway and remnants of the far Left, who logically but unfashionably argued for “the unity of the working classes of Britain.”

Votes were cast on the Alternative Vote system, with voters listing their options in order of preference.

The night of the count went smoothly.

First to be eliminated was Option 4, although many were surprised at the number of first preferences it attracted. However, it was no surprise that many of its second preferences went straight to Option 1 – the status quo.

Next to fall was Option 3, which was less of a surprise, as many voters had been alienated by Sturgeon’s hectoring and shrill debating style early in the campaign (which had led to her sacking), and by the hooliganism shown by its supporters during the campaign.

However, commentators later found that the main stumbling block had been the lack of credible proposals for Scotland’s currency. Quite simply, voters knew that to walk away from the UK meant walking away from the Pound: this had been part of Alex Salmond’s honestly-put proposition, and the people rejected it. Most second preferences went to Option 2.

Option 2 – devomax – had started as the least favoured option, as it was the least well defined. However, it had gained traction during the campaign, as two factors became clearer. The first was that there was widespread support from the UK government parties to entertain real change.

The other was the way in which the parties in Scotland began to work together as the debate went on – it became apparent that they respected that each was trying to get the best for Scotland, and then realised just how much they had in common. The turning point had come when the SNP had sacked Sturgeon for putting off so many voters, to be replaced by the mild-mannered John Swinney.

And so the outcome of the vote was that Option 2 won the day, supported by the second preferences of the independence camp. Devomax was also found to be the Second preference of a majority of Option 1 supporters.

The result was the reconvened Constitutional Convention, and the prospect of a unanimous resolution of the Scottish Parliament to support whatever package it comes up with, as pledged by all party leaders at Holyrood, as set out in their historic joint declaration: “The People of Scotland Have Spoken.”

In turn, the Ed Miliband/Vince Cable Labour/Liberal Coalition in Westminster comprises parties both elected on a mandate to carry out the will of the Scottish people as expressed in the referendum. It will also expect little opposition in the Commons from the Tories, whose manifesto contained a similar pledge, despite the rhetorical flourishes of their new leader, Boris Johnson.

The laptop beeped to tell me of an incoming email. It was the glazier’s bill (again).

I had just a few minutes to read the real headlines before shutting down:

“NHS Scotland in firing line as currency crisis bites – Swinney under pressure”

“NATO says Trident must stay on the Clyde for a further 10 years.”

“EU Commission President: ‘No membership for Scotland without central bank’”

“Salmond popularity at all-time low as Scotland’s voters say ‘You lied to us.’”

“New anti-immigration curbs introduced by Osborne-Laws coalition at Westminster”

Then the doorbell rang. It was the removal van, at last.