A pointless currency plan

moneyRather than “Common Weal campaigners say start new currency on day one of independence“, the headline should read “Common Weal wants to postpone independence until 2025!“. Because that is the real story here. Scratch the surface of Common Weal’s ‘radical’ currency proposal and you find a stolidly conservative reluctance to rock the constitutional boat.

The significant part of Common Weal’s plan has nothing to do with currency. Although an ‘independent’ Scottish currency pegged at parity to sterling is more of a variation on what has been proposed by the Sustainable Growth Commission (SGC) than a massive departure from it. And that remains the case even if the comparison is with the rather dubious representation of the SGC report’s recommendations offered in the article rather than with what that report actually said.

The claim that “the Growth Commission’s plans would likely result in Scotland being without its own currency for 15 years” is based on a highly prejudiced reading of the document combined with Common Weal’s own very questionable timetable for achieving independence. The SGC report doesn’t actually stipulate a period of ten years for the transition from sterling to a Scottish pound. Sensibly, it leaves that transition period undefined. Such a transition cannot possibly follow a predetermined time-scale. It is circumstances which will influence the pace. Management of Scotland’s currency arrangements must be a matter for government of the day.

That is what independence means. A government yoked to a ‘plan’ devised prior to independence by some group or organisation with no mandate can hardly be described as independent.

So, let’s set aside the currency aspect of the Common Weal ‘plan’ and look instead at what really matters. Namely the proposal to postpone a new referendum until 2021 and then delay the actual break from the UK for at least another three years on top of that.

The prospect of being thirled to the British state for another seven years has to be horrifying for anyone who is aware of what that implies for Scotland. But what is truly shocking is that Common Weal appears to have taken no account whatever of what is happening in the real world outside the economic models that they love to play with. They abstract issues such as currency from the complexity of real-world politics and deal with it in isolation; in the process, forgetting that this abstracted portion must, at some point, be related to the whole again.

Common Weal’s ‘plan’ for postponing action on the constitutional issue takes absolutely no account of what the British government is, and will be, doing while they work out the currency arrangements to their own satisfaction. Nor does it take any cognisance of the attitudes and priorities and preferences of the electorate. It is quite blind to the Yes movement and oblivious to its activities. Currency is their focus. Realpolitik must not be allowed to impinge.

All of which is largely, if not entirely, explained by the left’s near-pathological aversion to effective political power. To say that groups such as Common Weal have no interests in political power such as actually gets things done would be a gross understatement. They actively shun any contact with or consideration of it. The result is analysis which is, at best, inadequate. If the idea works in their nice clean abstract model, that is sufficient. Implementing it in the messy arena of politics is not a concern.

The question of where the British political elite will take Scotland in the next seven or eight years is never asked. The matter of what the independence campaign will do in response is not addressed. Delay is presented as a consequence-free option. Like so much of the ‘intellectual’ left in Scotland, Common Weal only thinks about being independent. The fairly important matter of becoming independent doesn’t enter into their calculations at all.

Common Weal’s currency plan is nonsense. Not because it wouldn’t work. It is almost certainly no less feasible than most of the other currency proposals that are floating around. In fact, it’s neither particularly radical nor very novel. We’ve heard it all before from others who imagine independence to be and economic rather than a constitutional issue. Their currency plan is nonsense because it takes no account of where Scotland will be in 2025 if we fail to act on the constitutional issue as a matter of urgency.

Common Weal’s plan is nonsense because, even if the currency bit of it was a work of pure genius, the vacuous naivety of the rest of it means that there will be no opportunity to implement the currency bit. By 2021 we may not even have a Scottish Parliament. Absent urgent action to prevent it, Holyrood will, at the minimum, be stripped of powers that would be required to hold a free, fair and winnable referendum. Where is the sense in a plan which critically depends on a referendum which is made massively unlikely by the same plan?

What is the point of a plan which might deliver a shiny new independent currency, but which all but certainly precludes actual independence?


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The only test

moneyWhile not taking a position either for or against immediate implementation of an independent currency, I am obliged to note a rather obvious flaw in Richard Murphy’s criticism of ‘sterlingisation’ as a transitional option. His analysis appears to assume that the rUK government will invariably follow a path on monetary policy which is detrimental to Scotland’s economy. At the very least, he seems to anticipate that the rUK government will tend to act against, or in reckless disregard of, Scotland’s economic interests. How realistic is this?

Until such time as the economies of Scotland and rUK diverge significantly, it is likely that the same monetary policy will accommodate considerable difference in fiscal policy. One might wonder what is the point of rushing to set up an independent currency and all the accompanying institutions and apparatus if the monetary policy choices, being constrained by broadly the same internal and external circumstances, turn out to be identical.

One might well ask what monetary policy choices the rUK government might make which would be detrimental to Scotland but not to rUK. What scope might there be for decisions on interest rates, for example, which would harm Scotland’s economy but have no negative impact on the economy of rUK?

It is easy to see how this might come to be the case in the longer term. But there is no way of knowing in advance to what extent and at what pace the economies might diverge. That would depend very much on the fiscal and social policies followed in each and how these affect the economy as a whole. Initially, and in the short term, monetary policy is likely to be of little importance. And the governments of both nations will know well in advance that the point is approaching when differences in the shape and performance of their economies render a common monetary policy untenable.

That is why what actually matters is, not what currency arrangements Scotland has immediately upon independence being restored, but that the democratically elected government has the power to alter those arrangement as it sees fit, acting in Scotland’s interests.

So-called ‘sterlingisation’, or even full currency union, are both viable options. As, of course, is an independent currency. There is no single currency arrangement which is absolutely guaranteed to be the best arrangement in all circumstances and for all time. All options have pros and cons; political as well as economic; now and, potentially, in the future. What is absolutely crucial is that the government of independent Scotland should have the capacity to manage the nation’s currency arrangements according to the circumstances which prevail and the best information available about how those circumstances are going to change.

Even more crucial, perhaps, is that the people of Scotland have full confidence in our ability to manage our currency arrangements and every other aspect of our nation’s affairs. For, if we lack that confidence, how can we even contemplate independence?

It is essential, also, to realise that we are under no obligation to satisfy the British state that we have the ‘correct’ currency arrangements worked out in advance in order to ‘qualify’ for independence. If that were the case, than independence would never happen. If we afford the British state the authority to set tests that we must pass, they will never allow that Scotland has qualified.

Only one test matters. Only one test is relevant. Only one test is legitimate. And that is a test of the will of the sovereign people of Scotland.


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What will we wear?

empty_wardrobeWhat will we wear? That’s the big question facing Scotland’s separatist movement. People need to know what clothes they will have after independence.

SNP insiders admit that uncertainty about apparel was a significant factor in the humiliating defeat suffered by separatists in 2014. Critics say that failure to address the question of dress was a major blunder by the campaign to break up the UK.

John Curtice, Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University, points to research indicating that voter uncertainty about what they would wear after independence had a measurable impact on the outcome. He said,

“My research indicates that uncertainty about what they would wear after independence had a measurable effect on the result of the 2014 referendum.”

Adam Tomkins MSP, Tory constitution spokesman, was scathing.

“It seems the Nats expected the people of Scotland to go around naked after separation. People I spoke to on the doorsteps were terrified that, if they voted Yes, natty Union Jack suits would be banned by Alex Salmond.”

Scottish Labour leader, Richard Leonard said,

“What the people of Scotland want is a real change of clothes. Instead of ripping apart the fabric of the UK we should be pooling and sharing our wardrobe. Labour is the party for the Primark many, not the Gucci few. We have the slogans. We have the soundbites. We are ready for government.”

The fashion issue was also a big worry for voters, according to Willie Rennie. The Scottish Liberal Democrat leader said,

“!t’s totally ridiculous! Instead of supporting our campaign for another referendum, Nicola Sturgeon is obsessed with having another referendum. But she still can’t tell us what will be fashionable in Scotland if it splits from the UK. Will we still be allowed to wear the same kind of clothes as our friends and relatives in England? Or will Scotland’s fashions be dictated by the SNP government? The people have a right to know.”

The controversy over what people in an independent Scotland will wear is set to be fueled by a forthcoming TV documentary which will include shocking revelations about cotton and silk production in Scotland. Figures obtained by the BBC indicate that Scotland cannot be self-sufficient in clothing and would have to rely on imports from countries where clothes are manufactured.

Interviewed for the programme, expert historian Jill Stephenson said,

“Expert historians know that, historically, clothes were unknown in Scotland prior to 1707. Experts have examined contemporary drawings of naked people which have been expertly interpreted by experts as proving that people of the time were unclothed. It seems obvious that, if Scotland ceases to be part of England it will inevitably revert to a pre-clothing age.”

Former briefly almost SNP leader Jim Sillars accused party bosses of getting it badly wrong.

“The SNP leadership has got it badly wrong”, he declared.

“Nicola Sturgeon has dropped a stitch on the clothing question”, he continued. “She really needs to roll up her sleeves and put her thinking cap on. And something about Emperor’s new clothes!”

An SNP spokeswoman heaved a sigh of weary resignation and wept tears of quiet despair.


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Open goal missed

The question over what currency an independent Scotland would use dominated the campaign in the run-up to the 2014 referendum. – The National

pexels-photo-358643And that was the problem. It was the wrong question. It was the British state’s question. It was posed in order to create a particular narrative. A narrative which followed the pattern of grinding negativity which characterised Project Fear. A narrative of doubt. And arguably the greatest mistake made by the Yes campaign was allowing the narrative to be controlled by the British state and its propaganda machine. The so-called ‘currency issue’ exemplifies this failure to seize the agenda perhaps more depressingly well than any other aspect of the first independence referendum campaign.

What currency? The very act of responding to this question validated it. By accepting that it was a pertinent question, the Yes movement gave the British media an opening to foster the notion that there was a risk of independent Scotland being bereft of a functioning currency. The idea is ridiculous, of course. Simply stating explicitly the proposition that a modern Western European democracy with a healthy mixed economy would have no functioning currency reveals just how preposterous the idea is. But that is what is implied by the question. An implication then reinforced by media lies about nobody on the Yes side being able to answer the question.

And, of course, a large part of the Yes movement opted to run with the British Nationalist narrative. Instead of pointing out that it was the wrong question, they embraced the fallacious notion behind it – that there was some serious uncertainty regarding Scotland’s currency affairs post-independence. At any given time, as much as a third of the Yes movement, mainly on the left, was to be found attacking the SNP and the Scottish Government and the white paper (Scotland’s Future) rather than challenging the British Nationalist propaganda. Often, the rhetoric deployed in these attacks was indistinguishable from the language used by the British media.

One of the most sickening sights I’ve ever seen was in the early hours of Friday 19 September when I was at the referendum count in Perth. As the No results came in, I watch representatives of the British Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties hug and ‘high-five’ and kiss one another in a stomach-churning orgy of triumphalism; metaphorically popping the champagne as they celebrated Scotland’s humbling at the hands of their precious, precious British state. It was a revolting spectacle. I wish No voters could have seen it. Although I not wish on my worst enemy the soul-rending, spirit-crushing guilt this sight would surely have occasioned in any No voter with a shred of conscience.

Almost as repugnant was witnessing people I knew to be both intelligent individuals and genuine independence supporters as they allowed themselves to be manipulated into undermining the very cause they were supposed to be fighting for. Smart, politically aware people behaving like puppets. It was disturbing to watch. And distressing to recognise the opportunity that was being missed.

The No campaign was, arguably, nowhere weaker than on the ‘currency issue’. The declaration that, should Scotland vote Yes, the rUK would unilaterally abolish the currency union was not an act of economic calculation, it was an act of political desperation. It was the empty threat of a bully facing humiliation. It was the abusive partner in a failed relationship threatening mutually destructive retaliation should their spouse leave. Their house would be burned down. Their children would be harmed. They would suffer appalling physical violence. Should they refuse to submit, they would be destroyed.

Bullies tend to resort to such extreme threats when they are at their most vulnerable. George Osborne’s ‘Sermon on the Pound’ signalled weakness disguised as strength. It was bluster made to look like boldness. It was exasperation dressed up as decisiveness.

And the Yes movement failed to exploit this moment of great weakness. Worse! Much of the Yes movement gave impetus to the British propaganda by unthinkingly parroting whatever line was being peddled by the BBC and the Unionist press. Those on the left – the righteous radicals and the ‘Byres Road cappuccino commies’ and the fractious fractions of fractured factions – were more concerned with flaunting their non-SNP credentials than with fighting an effective campaign. Others simply thought attacking their own side lent them an air of sophisticated even-handedness.

I say all this, not in a spirit of angry recrimination (OK! Maybe just a bit!) but in the sadly diminishing hope that lessons might be learned. Many of those who got it so tragically wrong are, I am regretfully aware, far too self-regarding to ever admit that Alex Salmond was right. They will never allow that the Scottish Government’s position on currency was the correct one at the time. They will never acknowledge that they passed-up an opportunity to tear a huge hole in the anti-independence propaganda edifice. They will never recognise that they, not only missed an open goal, but scored a possibly decisive own-goal.

But some might have the strength of character to take responsibility for an unfortunate error. And that may better arm them for the ongoing fight to save Scotland from the onslaught of ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism.

You’ll easily be able to identify those who have learned from past mistakes. They’re the ones who are now responding to the ‘what currency?’ question with the only sensible answer there ever was – it doesn’t matter! It is of little or no consequence what the currency is called or whose picture is on it or what colour it is… well.. OK! the colour matters. But the rest doesn’t. It never did. What matters is how a nation’s currency affairs are managed.

Is Scotland capable of managing its own currency affairs?

That is the only pertinent and important question. That is the meaningful question. That is the question the British political elite didn’t want asked. Because that is the awkward question. The kind of awkward question the Yes movement should have been asking when, instead, it was berating and hectoring and harassing Alex Salmond on behalf of Project Fear and at the behest of the British media.

Is Scotland capable of managing its own currency affairs?

The British political elite didn’t want this question asked for the simple and glaringly obvious reason that they cannot answer it without undermining their own propaganda. If they say Scotland is capable of managing its own currency, that undermines the effort to portray Scotland as utterly dependent on the beneficent and paternalistic British state. If the say Scotland isn’t capable of managing its own currency, they face immediate angry demands to explain this slight.

Is Scotland capable of managing its own currency affairs?

If you weren’t asking that question of Unionists during the first independence referendum campaign then you were missing a perfect opportunity to turn the tables on Project Fear.

That’s not the only question that should have been asked of the British state on its threat to unilaterally abolish the currency union. (I’m not listing them again here. Think of them for yourself.) That position was so vulnerable it would have disintegrated under even mild scrutiny. It was never going to be subjected to that scrutiny by the British media. It was up to the Yes movement to do that. And we failed! Yes, ‘we’! Because there is only one Yes movement and I am part of that movement as surely as I am part of the human species. We failed abysmally!

Some maintain that this failure to properly address the British state’s threat to end the currency union was the single biggest factor in the outcome of the 2014 referendum. What is certain is that it is representative of the failings which rendered the Yes movement less effective than it might have been. We need to do better next time. As I’ve said elsewhere, we need to approach the coming referendum campaign with a totally new mindset. We need a change of attitude within the Yes movement.

We need to ensure that we never again allow our Yes movement to be manipulated and divided by British propaganda. We must not allow the British media to control the agenda.

We must rid ourselves of the idea that it is our aspiration which must be justified and recognise that it is the denial of that aspiration which has to be vindicated.

We must reject absolutely the notion that ‘British’ is the standard by which everything must be judged.

We must stop explaining and start demanding explanations.

We must stop searching for better answers to the wrong question and start asking the awkward questions.

We need to know that power is not given. Power is taken.


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Here we go again!

moneyThe very first thing that George Kerevan and others must learn is to distinguish between the movement and the campaign. The things that work for a political movement are not necessarily the things that work for a political campaign. They are very different things.

Diversity can be a very good thing for a political movement. But, in a political campaign, diversity can all too readily become division. In a political campaign, solidarity is more important than diversity.

A movement may benefit greatly from openness to all manner of ideas. A campaign must be totally focused on its objective.

The absence of constraints may enable a political movement to grow and develop. A campaign requires discipline.

The movement is the marching. The campaign is the battle.

That is the starting point. Without a firm grasp of the essential difference between the movement and the campaign as a foundation, any thinking on the nature, structure and function of either – but particularly the latter – is almost certainly going to be fatally flawed. Evidence of that flawed thinking abounds here.

Apparently, “activists are angry they are not getting a political lead”. Really? Maybe activists are getting a political lead but simply don’t recognise it as such because it’s subtle and nuanced and nobody is explaining it to them because their thinking has run aground on the reef of glib phrases such as “activists are angry they are not getting a political lead”. Maybe the political lead that activists are getting from Nicola Sturgeon is that they are the ones who must take the political lead at this time.

If you haven’t already made up your mind that there is no political lead being given, perhaps you won’t be deaf to the political lead that is being given. Maybe you’ll hear the subtext in pretty much everything the First Minister has been saying on the subject of a new independence referendum over the past couple of years. A subtext which is asking for substantial and evident public demand for that new referendum. Sometimes, the people must lead. Sometimes, the people must be the ones to drive events.

Nicola Sturgeon has a mandate for a referendum. The British establishment refuses to recognise that mandate. The British parties squatting in the Scottish Parliament will not even accept the authority of the assembly to which they have been elected. What Nicola Sturgeon wants is for us to strengthen her hand. That is the political lead she is providing. If only activists were more prepared to listen and less eager to criticise. If only prominent figures in the party were better able to convey to activists what is being asked of them.

We are constantly being told that we must learn the lessons of the first independence referendum campaign. Almost daily, we are solemnly advised that we should not repeat the same mistakes. As if anybody actually thought that would be a good idea. That’s right up there with sage counsel about not holding the referendum at the wrong time. Just in case the movement to have the referendum at the wrong time should gain any momentum.

This sort of inanity tends to come from the same people who berate the SNP and the whole independence movement for failing to scrutinise the reasons the Yes campaign didn’t win in 2014. I don’t know where these people have been for the past three and a half years, but I’ve attended countless meetings in that time. At pretty much every one of those meetings – particularly in the early months – the matter of the first referendum campaign was one of the main subjects under discussion. Anybody who suggests there has been no post-mortem on the 2014 referendum doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

Of course, you can’t learn from past mistakes unless and until you understand them. Far too much of the analysis that has been done focused on what the Yes campaign did wrong. Because that’s what was being looked for, that is what was found. Asking different questions provides a fresh perspective and new insights. If you really want to learn from a past campaign, there’s only so much you can glean from looking at the losers. Additional and, perhaps, more useful lessons can be learned by looking at the winners.

By asking different questions and re-framing our inquiry we can free ourselves from facile, but fixed, assumptions.

The assumption that “the indy case bombed on the currency question” perfectly exemplifies the product of shallow analysis. Not that the “currency question” wasn’t a failing of the Yes campaign. Just that it wasn’t the failing that so many assume. They fail to fully understand the issue because they approach it as something the Yes campaign did wrong without considering the possibility that it was something that the No campaign did right.

It is painfully easy to imagine the smug, self-satisfied, sneering grin on Blair McDougall’s face as he watched the Yes movement tear itself to shreds over the ‘currency issue’. It sickens me to think of his drooling, orgasmic glee at a success made all the more pleasurable by the surprising ease with which so many Yes activists were manipulated. Better Together/Project Fear hardly had to bother attacking the Scottish Government’s position on currency. At any given time, about a third of the Yes movement was doing the work for them.

The British establishment didn’t have to concern itself with distracting attention from the weakness of its position, because the Yes campaign seemed oblivious to that weakness. The threat to unilaterally abolish the currency union was an act of political desperation. It wasn’t calculated. It wasn’t thought through. It was so massively flawed that it would have collapsed completely if the Yes movement had so much as glanced at it. But by far the most vocal part of the Yes movement was far too busy attacking Alex Salmond. Instead of asking awkward questions about George Osborne’s ‘plan’, they were preoccupied with parroting the British media’s demands for a ‘plan B’.

The Yes campaign’s mistake in 2014 wasn’t a failure to properly answer questions about currency. It was a failure to ask the right questions. All the effort went into echoing the No campaign’s complaints that the currency position hadn’t been adequately explained, and almost no effort went into explaining it.

The truth is that there was absolutely nothing wrong with the Scottish Government’s position on currency. It was precisely what it purported to be – the best solution, on balance, for both Scotland and the rest of the UK.

More importantly, there was nothing in the Scottish Government’s position on currency – and the rest of the ‘White Paper’ – which couldn’t be supported by the entire Yes movement without any cost to their diverse political agendas.

Inducing the Yes movement to undermine its own ‘manifesto’ was surely one of the big wins chalked up by Project Fear. If the ‘currency issue’ contributed to the outcome of the 2014 referendum, it was because a significant part of the Yes campaign opted to run with the narrative generated by the British state’s propaganda machine.

People often ask what the No campaign in the new referendum will look like. They wonder what arguments Project Fear 2 might deploy now that it has been comprehensively and conclusively established that the No vote in 2014 was won on a prospectus of lies, smears, false promises and empty threats. It’s a good question. The answer may be that they don’t really need to make much effort. If George Kerevan’s article is any indication, the anti-independence campaign can simply rely on the Yes movement making the same mistakes as before.


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