Sunday 27 May 2018


So, we finally have the report of the SNP Growth Commission.

Supposedly this was to set out the economic argument for Scottish Independence. Its publication has been much delayed and it was eventually virtually sneaked out on the Friday of a long Bank Holiday weekend. Having had a look at it, the reason for reticence is clear. Even honest Nationalists have ultimately to concede that there really isn't an economic case for Scottish Independence.

Nobody is saying it is impossible but then nobody on my side ever said it was impossible. We simply pointed out that it would involve a significant degree of economic hardship with no guarantee at all of ever even getting back, economically, to where we started. And, here, almost four years after we were attempted to be sold the "land of milk and honey" nonsense of the 2014 White Paper, it turns out that is confirmed by a document produced by the SNP themselves.

But others have made that point elsewhere so there is no point in me labouring (sic) it. Rather I want to look at what I think is to be welcomed in the document; the recognition that to date, and by that I mean not just under SNP administrations since 2007 but under the Labour/Lib Dem ones that preceded these, not nearly enough effort has been made under the devolved settlement to promote economic growth.

The Growth Commission rightly points out the asymmetrical nature of the British economy. We regularly deploy Scotland's fiscal deficit as an argument against independence without recognising that every one of the small nations in our Union has a per capita deficit at least as large as Scotland, as indeed has every region of England outwith London and the South East. And that is not as it should be. Indeed, as Andrew Wilson points out, it is not as it is in virtually any other Country in the developed world.

But this is something that Devolution was meant to do something about and yet it hasn't at all. In truth it has hardly tried.

It was not always thus. Scotland, at least urban Scotland, profited as much from the British Empire as did England and Wales, as indeed did we mutually partake in the benefits of the industrial revolution. Certainly, I share the criticism of late Thatcherism/Majorism and then New Labour that they were far too content for growth to be largely generated in the area of finance capital but when that tendency started the one part of the UK outside London that had its own indigenous financial sector was Scotland. Far from riding that wave, since 1999 we have actually seen a relative decline. And that despite technological advance which has effectively removed the geographic advantage of "being in the room".

And while we continued to bewail the lost of heavy industry that is never going to return, what has the Scottish Government done to support diversification? I am all for wind turbines but the capacity to manufacture them in Scotland falls far behind demand, never mind opportunity. And as for much of our food and drink industry, it survives (and prospers) against a barely concealed climate of hostility to its often "red in tooth and claw" (and foreign owned to boot!) capitalist model.

Then we have our new industries, bioscience, computer gaming (which currently astonishingly employs directly more than 20,000 people), distance learned vocational education? What Government help or support do they get? Do they even get asked how the Government might help?

And what could be done in many cases is bleeding obvious. Better links between colleges and industries; better basic education at school level. Infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure. A Scottish Investment Bank, certainly, but one working alongside private capital rather than giving money to hopeless projects already turned down by those with a nose for business.

Andrew Wilson gets this but he is not alone. Richard Leonard arrived in Holyrood only in 2016 but long before he aspired to the leadership he was the driving force behind the publication of Scottish Labour's new Industrial Strategy, sourced largely from experience he had gained working for one of the few Trade Unions with a significant residual private sector membership. Next week, Ruth Davidson will make a long trailed speech setting out her own ideas in this area. And the Growth Commission is an important contribution to this debate as well.

Andrew Wilson is widely regarded as one of the most thoughtful of Scottish nationalists but his wiser colleagues might ponder his hidden message. Independence would be very painful indeed if the UK Fiscal transfer was removed overnight, probably so painful that a majority will never vote for it. But if the need for that transfer was reduced or even eliminated? Well, that would be a very different proposition indeed. And the key to that is not more flags or more marches. It is more growth.

Monday 7 May 2018


There was a demonstration on Saturday. Depending on who you listen to it was attended by somewhere between 10,000 and 90,000 nationalists. On any view a lot of nationalists. Having declined to put a single leadership figure on the platform for the rally which followed, towards the end of the event, the First Minister panicked and, believing the attendance to be nearer the latter than the former figure, sent, as a tweet, a single thumbs up.

And, do you know what, I really wasn't interested.

There is not going to be a second independence referendum any time soon. The constitutional position is clear, It requires the agreement of the UK Government and the UK Government isn't going to agree.

So, any attempt at such a vote will come to grief in the Supreme Court . And any attempt to defy the Supreme Court has a ready example of the former Catalan Education Minister fighting for her liberty in a different country a thousand miles away. Whilst in the meantime Catalan education policy is being run from Madrid. And nobody, even in Catalonia, seems to be that bothered about it.

But anyway, the whole, All behind a Fascist Banner event was just so much yesterday's politics. In reality, the only game in town, for the moment, is Brexit.

And the key players in that are the two brexiteers, Corbyn and Rees-Mogg.

To get a sensible deal, The Prime Minister needs a Commons majority and both are determined to deny her that. The second at least because he genuinely believes in the long term benefit of a year zero approach.

The motivation of the former however is more difficult to work out. Sure, he is no Europhile but I suspect it is also because he is, frankly, not very bright.

He simply hasn't worked out that there are no conceivable circumstances in which failure to get a Brexit deal would bring down the Government. That is because of the terms of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act. There are, from time to time, demands, from one or other of side of the great Tory European schism, for votes on the Brexit legislation to made "confidence votes". But this is the constitutional politics of a different age. If May was to lose a vote on a critical part of this legislation, the Government would not fall. She could toddle along to the Palace the next day and ask the Queen for a dissolution but that would be refused. Because the only circumstance in which a UK General Election would take place before June 2022 is if either the House of Commons passed a vote expressly declaring it had no confidence in the current Government (not incidentally to something else but in these specific terms) or if a two thirds majority voted for an early election. (As happened last year).

Now, are either of these things likely, even conceivable, particularly after the Tory experience last year? Are there really any circumstances in which the Tories would take even the remote risk of Corbyn becoming Prime Minister? Or at best of the Commons arithmetic potentially becoming even more chaotic? The answer to that is no. And that's the calculation of the 60 or so hard core eurosceptics in the Tory ranks. They think they can vote down any attempt by May to reach a compromise in the knowledge that "their" Government would survive and indeed a chaotic, no deal, Brexit be the outcome resulting. Precisely their desired outcome.

And, unless something changes, they are not wrong.

So, something has to change. And the change has to be on our side.

Britain joined the EU by virtue of the European Communities Act 1972. But the then Prime Minister, Ted Heath, did not have a Commons majority within his own Party for that legislation. It passed because 69 Labour MPs, including John Smith, defied an opportunist Labour leadership of a different political stripe to get the Bill through.

On continued membership of the Customs Union, at least, Labour back-benchers should, in the national interest, to be willing to offer the Government support. As should the Lib Dems. The detail would need negotiating but surely one of the pro European Tories could be recruited to that role. And if, in its aftermath, Rees-Mogg and his crew want to go through the division lobbies with John McDonnell and Diane Abbott to bring down their own Government? I'd believe that when I saw it.

Time the tail stopped wagging the dog.

And time we, on our side, stopped thinking politics is a game.