Scottish Independence: On A Wing And A Prayer

AYE TALKS LOGO SMALLERI’ve just watched Jim Sillars on the Aye! Talks website giving a speech about the upcoming referendum on Scottish independence.

Jim is always worth listening to and here he’s as articulate and passionate as ever about why he believes Scotland should step away from the union with England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

The best thing about his talk, for me, is that it clarifies the essence of what “Yes” – the movement in favour of an independent Scotland – is all about.

First, he’s asking us to believe that a shared national identity will translate into better democratic decision-making than we currently endure.

Second, he wants us to believe that the decisions that are made in this improved democracy will result in a more egalitarian society.

He offers no evidence that these things will happen. He just asks us to believe.

To be fair to Jim he only had a ten minute slot and was perhaps unable to give us his personal take on how these things might come to pass, but this lack of anything more tangible than desire and belief is prevalent across the whole broad spectrum of the Yes campaign.

Peel back the rhetoric of anyone from the SNP, or the Common Weal, or the Radical Independence movement and there is nothing that tells us how the people who happen to live within the borders of Scotland will create better systems of government, or how our society will become more egalitarian, wealthier, healthier, or all the other things that are being touted as consequences of voting Yes on the 18th of September.

There are lots of good ideas being aired and debated, not least by the Scottish Greens, but no-one is offering a coherent strategy that could plausibly deliver what Jim Sillars asks us to believe will happen if enough of us vote Yes. In fact, no-one, as far as I can see, has even defined what this better democracy and more egalitarian society will look like.

In the absence of evidence we’re left with faith and hope. These might be enough to carry some of the undecided along the same path as the enthusiasts for independence, but they’re feeble levers when it comes to shifting the inertia of the majority of Scots who are apathetic, or cynical, or conservative, or self-serving, or all of the above.

We will not get better democracy or a more egalitarian society until we apply ourselves to defining the requirements for these – describing exactly what they are. And we can’t hope to meet these requirements unless we do the hard graft of developing policies that are capable of doing the job. And the policies that we devise have to be both plausible and attractive to that massive majority of the Scottish electorate that has no faith, no belief in the the political establishment.

The referendum isn’t far away, so it’s probably too late for the Yes campaign to coalesce around a set of defined requirements and plausible policies. Enthusiasts will have to hope that hope and faith will win the day. But if it does, I fear that Jim Sillars will be as disappointed as the rest of us by the mediocrity of what follows.

There will be a lot of arguing and arm-waving as individual politicians and pressure groups campaign for their particular projects. Some good things might emerge from the scrummage that might contribute to the better life that Jim wants us to believe lies on the other side of the referendum. But if they do happen it will be more by accident than design.

The Yes campaign is rich with fine words and true faith. But words and beliefs never built anything and never will. Not now. Not after we vote Yes.

Building things takes diligence, focus, attention to detail, and hard work.

If we’re serious about building a better Scotland we need leadership, design, specifications, money, materials, labour, and strong support from the bulk of the population for what’s being built.

The Yes campaign has largely ignored this list and is hoping to romp home on a wing and a prayer.

Who can tell? Hope might just be enough to squeak a result.

But then what?



7 thoughts on “Scottish Independence: On A Wing And A Prayer

  1. You state: “In fact, no-one, as far as I can see, has even defined what this better democracy and more egalitarian society will look like.”

    It would appear, then, that you can’t see very far, because this is precisely what Jim Sillars has done in his book “In Place of Fear II”.

    You also write: “there is nothing that tells us how the people who happen to live within the borders of Scotland will create better systems of government, or how our society will become more egalitarian, wealthier, healthier, or all the other things that are being touted as consequences of voting Yes on the 18th of September.”

    Yet Sillars provides almost 100 pages of precise detail on “how the people who happen to live in an independent Scotland will create better systems of government, and how our society can become more egalitarian, wealthier, healthier” in his book.

    “In Place of Fear II” is precisely the coherent strategy” you claim “no one is offering”.
    On page 6 Sillars writes: “This programme is coherent. The bits fit together.” Either you have not read it, or you have read it, but are choosing to ignore it.

    Sillars sets out the “exact requirements” for a better democracy and more egalitarian Scotland.
    He lists a comprehensive set of “plausible policies” – “a programme that concentrates on what can be done and what must be done in short order.” (Page 4).

    Trying to dismiss Sillars and, by extension, Yes Scotland, on the basis of one ten-minute speech is a breathtaking feat of selective blindness – a that is prevalent across the whole broad spectrum of the No campaign.

    As to “tangible evidence”. What exactly would you have Sillars do? He doesn’t have a time machine to whisk people off to an independent Scotland in 2024.

    He’s done everything he can do: outlined his policies in enormous detail, argued convincingly for their implementation and called on people to vote for Yes. This is no different to what Better Together does. They can’t provide any more “tangible evidence” than Jim Sillars.

    It’s all very well claiming “no one is offering coherent and realistic policies” – but in the Internet age the truthfulness of such claims can be checked out within minutes – and the person making the claim can be left looking very stupid or very blinkered.

  2. Alex,

    I have never heard of Jim’s book but I have a lot of respect for the man so I will seek out and and see if it answers the questions that I raise. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.

    Over the last ten months I have spent a lot of time exploring the independence issue, reading blogs and books and debating with enthusiasts and skeptics both online and face to face.

    On many occasions I have presented indy enthusiasts with the challenge that I outline above but none of them has referred to Jim Sillars’ book.

    My gripe isn’t that there are good ideas out there it’s that the Yes campaign has failed to gather behind a set of policies that could plausibly deliver the economic and democratic reforms that we so badly need.

    At her Blossom promo evening on Skye I asked Lesley Riddoch if she was hearing anything in the political mainstream that might help to bring these things to fruition post-independence and her reply was depressingly negative.

    If people like Lesley and myself, who are engaged with the subject, aren’t hearing plausible coherent proposals then what hope does the majority have?

    If Jim has the answers why isn’t the mainstream Yes campaign shouting his message loud and clear instead of squabbling about how much oil is under the North Sea and who owns how much of the UK deficit?

    You appear to have mistaken me for a No campaigner. I’m one of the mass in the middle who wants to see a better world but has yet to be convinced that moving a parliament from London to Edinburgh will make that happen.

    Our votes could well make the difference on the 18th of September. It baffles me that indy enthusiasts simply repeat the mantra that all will be well or become aggressive when we start asking questions.


  3. Jim Sillars admits there are some things no one can give specific answers to. See, for example, his article from yesterday’s Herald:
    It simply isn’t possible to offer comprehensive, cast-iron guarantees about every aspect of Scotland’s future. It’s unrealistic to expect it.
    But no one can deny Jim Sillars offers a coherent, practical plan for Scots to take control of their own resources and build a better, fairer country. I found his book inspiring.

    • I’ve just read most of Jim Sillars’ book In Place of Fear II and while there’s a lot of good stuff in it and I agree wholeheartedly with the intent I am disappointed by the lack of rigour, especially when it comes to economics.

      For a start, there is no list of requirements. The book jumps from topic to topic in which policies are assumed without any examination of the underlying purpose and whether the policy has a realistic chance of (or is the most effective way to) fulfill that purpose.

      Everything that Jim wants to happen hinges on money and how we use it, but his grasp of how to make money work for us is weak.

      He ignores completely the problem of the majority of our money being created and destroyed as debt, offering no alternative system for maintaining liquidity, which means we will continue to inflate the private debt bubble to the point that it becomes impossible to service.

      His dismissal of a central bank without offering any alternative method of running a commercial banking system is peculiar to say the least. Especially when he makes the bold claim that “there will be no bank crashes in an independent Scotland”. How will commercial banks settle accounts with each other? Who will be the lender of last resort. Relying on regulation alone is not credible.

      On the one hand he talks of the imperative of paying off government debt (using oil revenues) and on the other he talks about issuing bonds to pay for government work programmes.

      Throughout the book he repeats the old socialist mantra of “full employment” without acknowledging that this excludes nearly half the population of Scotland. The remainder of the population is to continue to rely on personal wealth or welfare benefits for their regular spending money..

      The policies that Jim is proposing will continue to condemn to wage slavery those who are able to find and hold onto a job, while the rest who have no personal wealth are imprisoned in the benefits system.

      The benefits system (indeed most government programmes) will continue to be funded by taxing (i.e. discouraging) the very activities that we need to encourage in order to pay for everything.

      All of the above directly inhibit productive activity, preventing the economy from flourishing.

      Jim is proposing that we use, in an independent Scotland, exactly the same financial/fiscal systems that we currently use. They don’t work in the UK and they won’t work in an indy Scotland, regardless of how socialist the government.

      Not only are the economics of Jim’s plan incoherent the idea that the electorate of Scotland will vote for higher taxes and more government control of everything is not realistic.

      The majority of the Scottish population is comfortable. The widespread deprivation of Nye Bevan’s day has been replaced by an era of plenty for the majority. The belief in socialist ideals has been replaced by cynicism of politicians and government.

      This book does not meet my challenge of a coherent set of policies that will appeal to the majority of the Scottish electorate.

  4. Out of curiosity I had a look at YOUR book last night – the one in which you admit you couldn’t understand economics even after thirty years of trying.
    Please don’t give up on the economics, because you sure as hell ain’t no politician.
    In your article you talked about the difficulty of convincing certain types of people, amongst them “cynics”.
    That’s when the penny really dropped. I realised that’s exactly what you are.
    You pretend to respect other people but you actually don’t.
    If God Himself had an economic plan it wouldn’t be good enough for: “Malcolm: The Only Man in the World Who Really Understands Economics – He’s Even Written A Book To Prove It.”
    Okay. I get it. You worked out “The Answer”. It’s in your little, self-published book.
    Now you go around “challenging” other people to produce their answer, so you can shoot them down in flames and show them how clever you are.
    Pathetic stuff.
    Please take a good look in the mirror.
    And, for God’s sake – grow up!

  5. Alex,

    I have made an attempt at understanding how our financial systems actually work and how they might be reformed so that they work better for the benefit of everyone.

    Far from dreaming this stuff up on my own I’ve been learning about it from other people around the world who see the idiocy of our current system and the inadequacy of traditional socialist economics to get us where we want to be.

    I can’t be certain that my particular slant on it will work better than Ann Pettifor’s, Jean-Claude Schmitz’s, Ben Dyson’s, Steve Keen’s or any of the others whose general direction is the same as my own but it makes sense to me and many others who have taken the time to read my book and think about the ideas it promotes.

    If you are able to set aside your personal dislike of me and engage with any of the points that I raise in my previous reply regarding Jim’s book, and explain where you think I’m mistaken, then I’m happy to listen and learn.

    If you post any more abusive comments like the one I have just deleted our conversation will not continue.


  6. Pingback: Scottish Independence: One Good Reason For Voting “Yes” | Views From The Boatshed

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