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  By David Torrance

I suppose I run the risk of provoking the Mandy Rice-Davies defence ('well he would say that, wouldn't he?') in saying I found the Scottish Government's white paper underwhelming, but it's nevertheless true.  Sure, it's difficult to make any government document truly exciting – even the 1997 Scottish Office white paper ('There shall be a Scottish Parliament') was rather dry and technical.

But then Donald Dewar hadn't predicted it would 'resonate down through the ages', as the First Minister said of Scotland's Future: Your Guide to an Independent Scotland. 

Typical Salmond hyperbole, perhaps, but in raising expectations so high he unwittingly handed his opponents some ammunition.  His claim that it was 'the most comprehensive blueprint for an independent country ever published' was also mocked, but to my mind it's perfectly reasonable.  I for one can't think of a credible precedent. 

Even the Parti Quebecoi, which was responsible for two sovereignty referendums in the Canadian province in 1980 and 1995, produced nothing of comparable length and depth.  And it's certainly very detailed.  The section setting out 650 questions and answers (taking up nearly half the document) is reasonably effective (though some are unintentionally comical) and an obvious attempt to cover absolutely every base, even down to participation in the Eurovision Song Contest. 

But however thorough, in truth Scotland's Future isn't a white paper at all, for white papers are generally statements of legislative intent, and while future legislation is touched upon in its 670 pages, it isn't the document's main concern.  Rather it's more of a prospectus – a description Alex Salmond has also used – a statement of intent.  There are lots of policy commitments within its pages, mainly old ones with a little more detail, and some new arguments.

But there isn't anything that amounts to a compelling new argument for independence.  On Tuesday's launch and in the Scottish Parliament yesterday afternoon, improving childcare was almost presented as that fresh new argument, but while undeniably important it jarred for two reasons: first, the Scottish Government can already do much (if not all) of what it proposed (Salmond argues the cost could only be met under independence, but that is easily contested); secondly, it's a policy commitment rather than a visionary case for sovereignty, and an obvious pitch for the female vote.

Perhaps it will help shift votes in the direction of 'yes', but it didn't feel like a game-changer.  Indeed, the policy content of the white paper is sometimes so heavy that it resembles a rough draft of the 2016 SNP manifesto.  On one level, this is an incredible blurring of the lines between what an impartial civil service ought to produce and a political party, and on another it probably isn't a bad strategy.  If, as some pro-independence supporters privately acknowledge, a 'yes' vote is unlikely next year, then it makes sense to focus on 2016 when the present Scottish Government will be seeking a third term in devolved government. 

That election remains eminently winnable for the SNP, for the party is still consistently popular (as is Alex Salmond), which is remarkable considering the length of time it's been in office.  But as all the opinion polls demonstrate, independence is considerably less popular than the main party proposing it, a gap that averages around 15 points.  And if you include pro-independence supporters in the Labour Party (difficult to quantify, but at least a sizeable minority), Greens and the rather small and fragmented Scottish Left, then that means (and this isn't an exact science) only between half and two thirds of SNP voters actually support independence.

This is only a problem if one is convinced that victory is possible next September.  If not – and sometimes I wonder if the SNP isn't playing a longer game – then it makes perfect sense to maximize the chances of victory in 2016 (and let's face it, the Scottish Labour Party is still in no position to offer serious opposition) and also make full use of the new powers coming northwards, not to mention whatever the Unionist parties come up with early next year. 

But even that highlights another tension present in the white paper, and that's an economic one.  Even setting aside the currency union proposal (Unionists generally over-egg the pudding on this one, although it remains a weakness in the pro-independence case), the general belief permeating its 670 pages is that an independent Scotland (governed by the SNP) would somehow make work an economic model which, at the very least, has been called into doubt since the crisis of 2007/08. 

In other words, the belief that tax cuts (chiefly corporation tax) will always produce growth, that the only problem with tax evasion is in the collection (rather than nods and winks from politicians), and that the economy will carry on growing for ever and that only the 'Westminster system' produces volatility.  In other words, independent Scottish neoliberalism good, Westminster neoliberalism bad. 

That doesn't really stack up, and indeed it's an ever-present irony that the SNP's economic vision for independence chiefly amounts to a better-managed version of the Coalition's economic vision.  Think of it as neoliberalism in one country.  And indeed all the criticisms above apply equally to UK governments over the past 30+ years, which makes attacking the 'Westminster system' on the one hand, while essentially aping it on the other, well, a bit odd. 

It was Keynes who observed that 'practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist'.  Alex Salmond is undoubtedly a practical man, but the white paper, which bears the indelible stamp of the Salmondism that has dominated the SNP for almost a quarter of a century, is also the slave of an economic orthodoxy which, if not defunct, is certainly wearing a little thin.


David Torrance is a writer, journalist and broadcaster.
He is also author of 'Salmond - Against The Odds' a biography of Scotland's First Minister

[Newsnet Scotland has great pleasure in announcing our first ever public discussion on independence.
 
The event on Monday December 2nd will be held in the European Parliament Office, The Tun, 4 Jackson's Entry EH8 8PJ Edinburgh, and will start at 6 pm and end at 8 pm.

Hosted by Dr Mark McNaught, the discussion - which will be filmed - follows on from the publication of the Scottish Government's Independence White Paper.

The event venue seats forty five people and audience participation is actively encouraged.  Tickets are free and can be booked by clicking the link below.]

CLICK HERE TO BOOK YOUR PLACE

Comments  

 
# pinkrose 2013-11-27 22:26
This sounds to me like a Unionist trying his very best to find fault with something which actually is immense and impressive by anybody's standards. It wouldn't matter what had been produced, bettertogether would have found something, anything, to criticise it with. Scotland is on the move and the YES vote is a big step closer.
 
 
# McDuff 2013-11-27 23:31
Yes a strange article, not particularly pro independence.


[Admin - Mr Torrance is pro-Union.]
 
 
# george davie 2013-11-28 08:34
On BBC Radio Scotland he was described as an "undecided".
 
 
# call me dave 2013-11-27 23:45
However there would be a huge irony if (god forbid) a NO vote won and the SNP went on to form the SG in 2016 and suffered the cuts from Westminster. They would of course against the odds do their best to make the whole corrupt situation work for the good of the Scottish population.

Mr Salmond & Co do not deserve that but it is a possibility so for goodness sake all that read this and are wavering it's all or nothing!

PS on a much lighter note:

This is what passes for talent and was elected to represent us in the parliament.
Personally, it's a disgrace and something must be done! My grandchildren deserve better than this.

wingsoverscotland.com/.../
 
 
# chicmac 2013-11-28 00:29
'well he would say that, wouldn't he?'

Must feel so much better out of that closet.
 
 
# deepthroat 2013-11-28 00:48
Somehow David Torrance misses the point of the whole tenor of the White Paper. There may be a degree of economic orthodoxy embodied in the document but it is poles apart from Westminster neoliberalism as currently practiced. The white paper sets out a range of initiatives to grow the economy and create jobs with the consequential tax income paying for the cost of the investment in the future wellbeing of the Scottish people.

This is the question the Labour Party and Lamont studiously avoid. If we do not have full access to the fruits of public spending investment by gaining the tax returns from the Scottish Governments spending initiatives we can not work towards producing a balanced budget.

Of course to look through the lens in this direction leads to the inevitable conclusion that Scotland's Future potential can only be achieved through independence.
 
 
# Cruachan 2013-11-28 01:06
I agree, Deepthroat, but while Mr Torrance misses the true intent of the document, the document does indeed miss a point... and it's the most pressing point... the one and only real reason for voting Yes...

Proper democratic representation for the Scottish people.

If the White Paper was published with only that phrase as its contents, there'd be nothing to criticise!
 
 
# oldnat 2013-11-28 01:35
A document almost as important has been released by the All-Party Parliamentary Taxation Group at Westminster
www.appgtaxation.org/.../

It's a fascinating insight into how Westminster Parliamentarian s view the political and fiscal imperatives that will determine the UK response to the referendum result.

Above all, if the Yes vote is less than 40%, we'll see a £4bn cut in Scottish funding.
 
 
# cynicalHighlander 2013-11-28 10:06
Welcome to the All-Party Parliamentary Taxation Group: www.appgtaxation.org

Shows Michael Moore (LD) as being a member yet the actual report in your link has changed him to Nigel Mills MP (Con).
 
 
# Onwards 2013-11-28 05:56
This seems like a rather strange article.

I don't know anyone in the SNP who is thinking of the 2016 devolved parliament, rather than the far bigger prize on offer.

Including policy proposals such as free childcare highlights the fact that independence gives Scotland far more practical ability to reflect voters priorities.

Not so easy to do that now when the costs and cuts elsewhere would be unacceptable.

Being able to remove nuclear bombs, save millions on defense, and spend it on kids and jobs instead actually seems like a pretty BIG DEAL.

On the economy, it's about being able to compete and reap the benefits - instead of just boosting the general Westminster pot, and getting 8 or 9% back.

It all comes down to whether Scotland is more likely to prosper long term as a nation or as a region..
 
 
# Early Ball 2013-11-28 06:50
"Typical Salmond hyperbole, perhaps, but in raising expectations so high he unwittingly handed his opponents some ammunition."

Not a word you see associated with the First Minister very often for good reason. He very much has his wits about him.
 
 
# ds12 2013-11-28 06:52
It wouldn't matter what was in the paper unionists like Mr Torrance would find fault in it. The paper is not for him,its designed to bypass the media and take the information direct to the voters.
So what is your alternative Mr Torrance what will Scotland be like in 10 or 20 years if we vote no,will we be in the EU,what will interest rates be,what will unemployment be like and will the Tories still be in power.
The Scottish Government could never win with the media. If they went overboard on the vision they would be criticised,it wasn't going to matter what was in it ,the Daily Record,the Scotsman the Daily Mail etc etc had already made their minds up.
Stifle debate and keep the union.
 
 
# Macart 2013-11-28 07:16
Mr Torrance it wouldn't matter what was in the white paper, even if everything in it had a cast iron guarantee and it had been penned by the bard himself. The plain fact of the matter is that the massed media of the UK is anti independence and it will NOT receive a fair hearing from anyone in that arena. They have set out their stall to influence, not inform.

Happily the white paper is for the electorate and not the media or indeed the political classes who have their minds made up already. Its for the electorate to grasp. Also happily there are summarised versions for those who don't wish to wade through six hundred odd pages of detail. But be aware, the media are not trusted anymore.
 
 
# EphemeralDeception 2013-11-28 08:19
" chiefly amounts to a better-managed version of the Coalition's economic vision."

Even if that was all it was. It is still better than Westminster and we would also get who we vote for and full accountability in Scotland. UK governs Scotland only as a minor UK region.

In the long term Scotland could have good governance or bad. The UK imo is badly governed, undemocratic, highest law is HOL, and has no vision and no constitution.

Its also not just vision. Scotland will from the beginning have important changes for me:
No Crown Estate commission for one.
No ofgem favouring production in SE.
No subsidising of UK/Englands Huge gas imports from Norway and cost of worlds largest undersea gas pipeline. etc.
North sea oil and gas industry will be controlled in Scotland.

However, SNP pretends removal of Nuclear weapons can take time for 'safe' removal . They move all the time in North Atlantic and in all sea conditions :)
 
 
# Jo Bloggs 2013-11-28 09:28
I've always assumed the time needed for safe removal referred to missiles stored at Faslane, not the subs. But, who knows...?
 
 
# Mad Jock McMad 2013-11-28 08:44
Mr Torrance damns his Unionism with faint praise - where is the vision of a UK fit for ordinary people Mr Torrance?

A promise of endless austerity from Ed Balls? Rising homelessness? A Labour Party too busy fighting itself to be bothered to come up with any real policies for Scotland? A vision of a bitter land divided between the haves and have nots?

What have the Labour think tanks come up with? I remember; 'we have to appeal to the home counties and the SE to get elected' was Compass' line. So that will be even more failed neo-liberal dogma. The same failed politics and economics which have got us to this point in the first place. Unionist 'jam tomorrow' will not cut it this time around.
 
 
# Leader of the Pack 2013-11-28 08:56
The above article is a bit of a mixed bag. I believe Torrance is correct in his that there are parts of the white paper that look like a political manifesto and that the document is a presentation of intent.
On the other hand I agree with the posters who say that Torrance missed the whole point of the publication. He was certainly disingenuous regarding the child care issue when he said

"first, the Scottish Government can already do much (if not all) of what it proposed (Salmond argues the cost could only be met under independence, but that is easily contested)"

No it isn't. Nicola Sturgeon rightly pointed out that the revenue raised with this proposal would all go to Westminster and could not be used to self sustain the costs of the project.

I don't know if Torrance is deliberately ignoring the severe limitations of devolution or truly doesn't fully understand them.
 
 
# flying haggis 2013-11-28 09:08
I get the impression that the White Paper could have been sevral thousand pages long, over many vloumes, and Alistair Darling would still cry "Theres jist no enough detail".
 
 
# mealer 2013-11-28 09:36
I'm working my way through the white paper.It is,indeed,a bit manifesto and a bit prospectus.It tells us,in as much detail as is currently possible,what will happen if we vote YES.We haven't heard anything definitive from the London government on what a NO vote will mean,but we are starting to get a picture emerging.And its going to involve huge financial cuts for Scotland in order to prop up Londons need to be seen as a "Big Player".Anyway,it all comes down to confidence.Lots of countries similair to Scotland make a good job of running their affairs.We Scots could too.The white paper will help me raise confidence among the people I talk to.
 
 
# Abulhaq 2013-11-28 09:44
This is a thought provoking article in the manner of Devil's Advocate. Newsnet Scotland is to be commended for publishing it. I believe there is a more "radical" Scotland in the offing but the SNP, working within the system, has chosen to use the tools of that system to make its case. Imagine the reaction of the Unionists had it engaged in flights of nationalist rhetoric. As one who believes our case for independence requires no justification, just look around you, I would only wish for more fire and passion.
 
 
# Fungus 2013-11-28 09:49
Quote:
make full use of the new powers coming northwards, not to mention whatever the Unionist parties come up with early next year.


Do you seriously think that if Scotland votes no there will be anything on offer from the UK government other than a claw back of power and repression? It has happened before and will happen again if they get the chance.
 
 
# taimoshan 2013-11-28 10:04
Mr Torrance's article reminded me vividly of his biography of Alex Salmond. I got the impression very quickly in the book that his mind is closed and would only allow a wee bit of praise if he could follow it with a snide (sorry but that's the way it appeared to me)comment to reduce or eliminate the praise. This article is very much the same in my opinion. Maybe Mr Torrance should write of praise for the Union and treat it the same way. Mr Torrance must have felt the conflict in his soul as he wrote this - very odd!
 
 
# Indy_Scot 2013-11-28 10:55
Correct me if I am wrong, but I am sure I read somewhere that David Torrance is a Conservative.
 
 
# rabkae 2013-11-28 10:57
Well done indeed NNS for publishing this. We 'Yes' types tend to resort to navel gazing from time to time on this site, being one of only a few places where we are surrounded by like-minded souls, therefore an off (Yes) message article can be quite refreshing.

We shouldn't let ourselves resort to sticking our heads in the sand when surrounded by hostile comments from the MSM and elsewhere, especially when bombarded with headlines which were lined up for publication weeks ago, well before the white paper had even come off the presses.

This is only going to get worse as we get closer towards September. Don't lose sight of the long game and be prepared to engage at very opportunity.
 
 
# Leader of the Pack 2013-11-28 11:03
"In other words, independent Scottish neoliberalism good, Westminster neoliberalism bad."

Again disingenuous. This isn't the message at all the message is that Westminster neoliberalism is good for Westminster and the SE of England at the expense of the rest of the UK in particular Scotland. Scottish neoliberalism can only be directed at Scotland for Scotland in Scotland by people who care enough to live and work in Scotland.
I thought the Scottish Government had at least made that point as clear as day.
I don't believe Torrance actually missed this point I believe he just chose to deliberately ignore it.
If as he claims he is undecided then he should now be asking questions from the No campaign in order to get himself better informed. He now has all the information that's available from the yes perspective so lets see him scrutinise the No campaign in as much detail as he likes to use on the yes campaign.
 
 
# Clydebuilt 2013-11-28 11:45
Once again we are being told that the SNP are planning for the 2016 election because we can't win the referendum.
 
 
# Justin Kenrick 2013-11-28 11:46
Thanks OldNat,

Also (www.appgtaxation.org/.../) even this strongly Unionist House of Commons group says that if Scotland votes 'Yes':

7.2.2. "APPTG thus believes that it would be relatively unproblematic for Scotland to keep the UK£ . . ."

7.2.7: "While in theory it is likely that Scotland would have to formally negotiate its own opt-out from the euro, as the UK and Denmark have done, the APPTG does not consider it likely in practice that the EU would exert much pressure on Scotland to join the euro, given the parlous state of the eurozone"
 
 
# Jamieson 2013-11-28 11:56
Quote:
But there isn't anything that amounts to a compelling new argument for independence.


We don't need a compelling NEW argument, the old one, ie, Scots making ALL decisions for Scots in Scotland is good enough.

Quote:
The section setting out 650 questions and answers is reasonably effective (though some are unintentionally comical)


But not anything like as comical as the 5,000 questions posed by BT.
 
 
# DonaldMhor 2013-11-28 16:19
"Typical Salmond hyperbole, perhaps, but in raising expectations so high he unwittingly handed his opponents some ammunition."


Someone mislaid the ammuntion pouches last night when the much heralded "bruiser" Carmichael was held up to the fire of Sturgeons red hot furnace of Scottish Independence on STV. She spit roasted him.
His whimpering to the chair that this wee lassie was asking him questions, his aggresive and nasty pen jabbing, his telling Nicola to be quiet, his semi hysterical laughing, his constant water drinking, his failure to answer even one question, has left the No camp with nothing. Why? Because they have nothing. Carmichaels duplicity on Portsmouth v The Clyde was exposed as was his acceptance of soaring Scottish child poverty, due to Westminster austerity, that has just begun.
 

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