In today’s Scottish Review there is a jaw dropping –an over-used phrase, but in this case true for me at least – article by Ronnie Smith – “Compared to England we are drifting in a policy free limbo” (http://www.scottishreview.net/RonnieSmith18a.html?utm_source=Sign-Up.to&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=8427-352345-The+ruthless+literary+Scots+and+their+skewed+vision).
To fully understand Mr Smith’s argument one has to first locate this in the article
“The SNP’s problem is that they can’t make their privatisation strategy, under TTIP, public. Remember, they are a ‘party of the Left’ and they have an election to win. That is why they are largely silent on these issues and that is why their highly developed sense of party discipline is so important.”
Unfortunately, we only learn this toward the end.
Essentially Smith’s thesis seems to be that the SNP are secret fans of privatisation and TTIP (The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership). Whether this is true or not the fact is that the Scottish Government has no locus in TTIP. The negotiations for this agreement are taking place between the European Union and its Commission and the US Government. The national government of the UK – the member state in the EU – is Westminster, and while Holyrood might expect to be consulted on the final agreement – which has not been struck yet, but never mind – they have no direct influence on the degree to which the UK state (of which Scotland is part, as a region) will participate in TTIP.
If, for instance, Westminster decides that it will not seek to exclude UK public services from TTIP, the fact that the Scottish NHS has minimal privatisation will be of no consequence. The fact that the UK has sought no exclusion will not allow a “region” (for such is what we are) of the UK to exclude itself, no matter what the Scottish electorate might think.
But let’s put even that, fairly significant, objection to Mr Smith’s argument to one side, just what is Smith’s evidence for his claim? Other than the fact that he claims to “have criss-crossed England over a two-day period“, his evidence seems to amount to the following
That England’s motorways seem to be in a tumult of either repairs or development – “Every major trunk road linking English cities north to south and east to west is being significantly upgraded, widened, improved, resurfaced and having impressive new junctions constructed along the way.” In contrast “There are no major delays on the ageing Scottish motorways that I travelled on.” The idea that if “There are no major delays“, while the motorway network might be “aging”, should surely prompt the objection, why would one seek to develop it? It’s also interesting that the instances Smith offers in his article are all A roads, rather than motorways. Perhaps he hasn’t done Glasgow-Edinburgh for some time. Clearly he hasn’t been at Queensferry to witness the new bridge being built (though he is aware of the closure of the existing bridge, for which he holds the SNP responsible, despite the fact that until less than a year ago it was under the control of Forth Estuary Transport Authority which had majority of Labour members on its executive board).
Cited too are such as HS2 and the possibility of new airports. Perhaps its HS2 which gives us insight into what might be going on here, for one of the “advantages” of HS2 (which might arrive one day in Scotland, at a time yet to be determined, though we will as usual pay our share) is that it widens the commuter belt for London. Make it faster and easier to get into London – or to get out – and it becomes possible for people living further out to work there. In turn the increase in people working in London puts strain on the existing considerable infrastructure of the city, and indeed gives justification for it to be developed still further. For instance, Crossrail isn’t even finished and there are demands for Crossrail 2. How about another couple of lanes on the M25 orbital, or the motorways into and out of London? If there is going to be a new airport then where else would we put it, making it all the more necessary to maintain London’s airports as the hub in the UK’s hub and spoke air transport system. In turn as more people use the London hub this adds justification for further development. Indeed, it might be interesting, reverting to our first point, to learn how much of the spending observed by Ronnie Smith is either in/around London, or directed at making London more accessible. As Tom Gordon observed in his report on Margaret Cuthbert’s paper on the UK economy, there is “a vicious circle in which London sucks in people and investment and holds back growth elsewhere, which in turn makes London more attractive, feeding the problem” (http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/13107499.London_calling__the_shots_/).
When we turn to Scotland, however, the situation is rather different. Basically it seems very little is being done. While England is being tarted up for sale under TTIP, “Scotland appears to be drifting in the midst of a policy and statement-free limbo“, so the contention that “The SNP’s problem is that they can’t make their privatisation strategy, under TTIP, public” seems to be based on the view that they are doing at best very little and perhaps nothing at all in order to achieve a policy that they really want to achieve. Which might just be said to be a rather odd way of approaching their aim!
Or is this a new front in #SNPBAD, since Smith’s criticism of the SNP seems to be that they are doing nothing to prepare for the implementation of an agreement which they certainly have no locus? Where is his evidence of their “privatisation strategy”? It seems to be that they haven’t privatised very much at all, certainly compared to England where the NHS has been marketised and extensively privatised already. There are already toll roads in parts of England. In Scotland the NHS is a unified entity with minimal privatisation and there is not a single toll road (or bridge) anywhere in the country. What next? That their preferred choice between policy x and policy y would be x, but to conceal their true preference for x they actually do y! After that it has to be madness and insanity.
Magnus Gardham wrote in the Herald on 26th December last year that “SNP bad isn’t just a way of deflecting questions or criticism, it’s a way of mocking opponents who have the temerity to raise issues of legitimate concern.” (http://www.heraldscotland.com/opinion/columnists/magnus_gardham/14168043._SNP_bad__is_contributing_to_an_infantilized_political_culture/) Issues of legitimate concern are, though, fine. These should be raised and the Scottish Government’s game would, I think, be raised by more critical friends. For instance, faced with their Government’s rather timid proposals on land reform, their own members told them to go away and develop something much more radical.
But as long as there is nonsense like “Compared to England we are drifting in a policy free limbo” which starts from the conclusion that the Scottish Government or the SNP are wrong, and must be wrong because they are the SNP and believe in Scottish independence, and therefore interprets and marshals the facts to prove their pre-established concclusion, then #SNPBAD will be a legitimate response. This is not analysis its political dogma and propaganda masquerading as serious analysis. Most worryingly of all though, Ronnie Smith is so not alone. Step forward David Torrance, Magnus Gardham, David Greig, Euan McColm, Chris Deerin, Jenny Hjul and her other half Alan Cochrane (and others too numerous to mention). Or does Scotland just not deserve a journalism that starts from the facts and comes to conclusions based on those facts, rather than from the conclusion and then picking/interpreting the facts to suit? Is it really too much to ask? Or is it as the aforementioned Cockers wrote in his book on the referendum “”Jenny [Hjul, Cochrane’s wife and fellow columnist] said I should do what Darling asks. He’s in charge after all. It’s not really good journalism but what the hell does journalism matter? This is much more important.”
As Stephen Daisley wrote in his review, “No enraged cybernat, no Hacked Off pontificator could match those sentences in their contempt for journalism.” (http://news.stv.tv/scotland-decides/analysis/303773-stephen-daisley-reviews-the-alan-cochrane-referendum-diaries/). Well perhaps not yet anyway.