ScotIndyPod 13 With Robin McAlpine – Transcript

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It is episode 13 with Robin McAlpine.

Here it is…

 

Episode 13 Audio Transcription

 

Welcome to Scottish Independence Podcast number 13, and this time I spoke with Robin McAlpine, who’s the editor of the Scottish Left Review and amongst other things as well, is the director of the advocacy group, The Reid Foundation, that produce many reports that are well worth reading. We had a conversation that I think is definitely going to interest you, so we’ll just go straight to it.

 

Michael: Hello! Today I am with Robin McAlpine who is the director of the Reid Foundation and who also writes for quite a lot of different Scottish publications and so yeah,  hello Robin.

 

Robin: Hi.

 

Michael: Em, so first thing I suppose is you had an article in the Scotsman this week and you were calling for a couple of things in that article – would you like to explain about it?

 

Robin: Well, I mean, the article was really following up from a paper which has been, em, published by the Scottish Independence Convention, which was about the processes and the means for dealing with the constitutional change issue with independence. Now this was something that was published by the Independence Convention – I’d been involved with it – because there was a real frustration that people didn’t understand the processes which independence would actually be achieved, if there was a Yes vote in the referendum. Now this is really important – because, what the No campaign has tried to do, is try to get the Yes campaign to identify in great detail every aspect of a future Scottish state – which is absolutely ridiculous. What we’ve got to do instead is talk in terms of what are the things that will happen, what are the processes that will take place, so that we can understand where the, y’know, what the steps are to becoming an independent nation. And this is really important for pro-independence supporters, because when you see the steps and understand the processes for how you get there it seems normal, ordinary, straightforward – it’s not a difficult process.

 

Michael: Taking it out of fantasy land and putting it into the real world.

 

Robin: Yeah. But even more than that, em, just that at each stage you still have control, as a member of the Scottish Public, you still have control. This is a democratic process and all the big decisions, all the crucial things which people are talking about – these are decisions for a democratic parliament and if you can understand how we get to that parliament it makes it a lot easier to understand what it is that you’re voting for. So one of the things that was in that paper and I think it’s quite important, is the principle that at each stage we should defer to democracy as much as is possible when we are setting up and establishing an independent Scotland.

 

So there’s three rough stages; you’ve got to negotiate independence separation terms with the rest of the UK and that’ll also involve discussions with the EU and a few other multinational organisations, and then after that we have to set some kind of constitution – now this doesn’t have to be complex – em, it’s, we’ve got to deal with things such as who is a citizen, how do we vote, who’s got voting rights how does our parliament work – the basic, em, the basic architecture of a democratic nation state. We’ve got to deal with that. And then we elect a parliament and we make decisions. Now, the question about something like currency, for example, what currency we use, the transitionary arrangements will need to be put in place with negotiations, but this isn’t a matter for either negotiations to settle or for a constitution to settle, these are decisions that are made by a democratically elected parliament. Now, when people understand this, when they get a sense of ‘what currency will we use?’, well, you’ll be able to vote on that, that’s a decision that you’ll be able to make. Em, it helps to put the whole thing into a lot more of a context which makes sense and that’s why I thought it was really important and I thought it was important that Scots and readers got a chance to hear some of this.

 

 

Michael: Just to go back to that a second, so it’s a decision that you’ll be able to make, like, was one of those options, for example, it could be a multi-question referendum. You know, eh, ‘Monarchy or No monarchy’, ‘Pound or Euro’; should that be done in the parliament or as a multi-question referendum?

 

Robin: The – one of the other great joys about opening up this question, is we can start to think about those very questions. I personally, favour as much as possible to be done through straightforward democratic processes; I’m not actually a giant fan of stripping away too many issues and putting them into referendums to deal with…it tends to cause unhelpful focuses, like for example the whole focus on trying to get rid of [Section 28], with, eh the gay teaching prohibition in schools. Once you’ve put it out there, you rather often get unhelpful debates and I think democracy is a better way to go – but, on the other hand, at the Reid Foundation more generally, we’re looking at, em, important issues and things such as participative democracy, how do people get meaningfully involved in these decisions, and I think we’ve got a lot we can learn from the Icelandic process of how they developed their constitution. But. To answer something like, for example, currency: The question with currency seems to me to be fairly straightforward and the way I think the Independence movement should frame this, is just to say, we shall have sterling as a transitionary currency. Once we have a parliament, we should set some straightforward economic tests – just like New Labour did when they were talking about joining the Euro…

 

Michael: Did you – did you almost say ‘Neo-Labour’ there, sorry?!

 

Robin: Ah, it’s a cold, it’s a cold, it’s not Freudian, honestly! New Labour, Westminster…But there are five tests for do we join the Euro, em, we just need to do something similar in Scotland – we say, ‘Here are the options; currency tied to the pound; free-floating Scottish currency; membership of the Euro; or being part of a Sterling zone.’ It is an easy decision to make, eventually, it’s just something that democracy deals with. The issues that have to be dealt with at the constitution stage would include head of state, so, we probably do need to start to think about what we do with the head of state issue at the stage of developing the, em, constitution.

 

But then again, there are wonderful models for this, if anyone doesn’t know what happened in Iceland they should really go and look at it – we’re going to have an article in the next Scottish Left Review, which explains how they developed their constitution. There are some wonderful models for participative ways of making these decisions, but we’ve just got to identify which decision is made at which stage and don’t allow the Yes campaign to bully us or hector us into making decisions that are not ours to make, but are the decisions of the Scottish population to make in a democratic election.

 

Michael: So anyone can go and read that – could you give us the name of the paper that…?

 

Robin: Yeah, if people want to go and have a look at the Scottish Independence Convention’s paper, I think it’s called, ‘Arrangements for achieving constitutional change’ or something like that, em, certainly it’s on the homepage of the Scottish Independence Convention’s website – so you’ll find it there. [ ‘A Model for Guiding Constitutional Change’]

 

 

Michael: OK, thanks. And there’s another paper I looked through recently from the Reid Foundation itself, but we’ll come to the Reid Foundation itself later, but : ‘The silent crisis: Failure and revival in local democracy in Scotland’ I thought that was a very interesting paper, is there any way you can give us a quick run through of the ideas in that? ‘Cause I think that people would like to hear.

 

Robin: Yeah, it’s very straightforward. Em, the ‘Silent crisis’ had a very quick look at democracy in Scotland – at a national level we are a strong democratic country, with a proportional parliament – at a local level, we have the lowest level of democracy of any developed country that we could find. Eh certainly we are not just behind the rest of Europe in terms of levels of local democracy, we are miles behind Europe in levels of local democracy.

 

We set I think it was six major benchmarks that we used as many countries as we possibly could to judge how Scotland was doing and we came bottom of every single measure, apart from one, and that was turnout at local elections and the only people that were worse, was England. So this was every measure, turnout, interest, number of people who stand for elections, number of people contesting a seat, size of local authorities, on everything, Scotland is the least democratic, em, country that we could find.

 

Now this is really important and it links directly to the independence debate. This idea that we should have a process of government which is managed at a suitable distance away from the public is a very Westminster thing. Eh, and actually I think it’s more than that; it’s part of the neo-liberal project. If you have the enormous size of local authorities that we’ve got in Scotland, they are just statistically by land area and by number of people contained in them – they are ginormous by the standards of local democracy in other democracies. What it means is that people can’t really keep a proper eye on what’s going on. It makes it hell of an easy for big local authorities at senior management level to start running our communities in a sort of unspoken partnership with the corporate sector. This is the sort of processes that seem to be happening, the more and more outsourcing that is happening and bluntly, there’s no democratic means for dealing with that. So then this is an important problem for Scotland. But it’s also an important reflection of the problems of the attitudes of the British state – this idea – vote once every five years and go away and don’t bother us in between and it’s this idea of moving towards a society which is run by elites and not really being run with the consent of the wider public.

 

 

Michael: I think people in Scotland also regard local elections – or people in Britain in general – regard local elections as a joke. The way we might see that is because from what you’re saying the power’s already been divvied up between sort of interest groups – so maybe they’re right in thinking…although it’s not necessarily a progressive view, but it might be right that it is a joke because it doesn’t really change much. Hardly anyone votes in a council election.

 

Robin: Yes, a very bad joke and it’s a very bad joke for two reasons: People in some regards are right; there is an international literature on this and in the report the Reid Foundation report ‘Silent crisis’, we do go over this, em, in some detail. There’s a standard and accepted international explanation of this which is, people tend to vote in proportion to how important they see the powers of the institution for which they are voting – and in terms of how much they feel their vote is going to influence the outcome.

 

Now on that basis, the people of Scotland are almost quite right to not bother at local elections. If you live in a small town – I live in a comparatively small town – we’re stuck in the local authority area of South Lanarkshire. That means that there’s forty-five miles from here to the place where the decisions are made about our town take place. The only democratic role we have is to elect one person, one councillor, to drive forty-five miles and sit in a room of politicians from an enormous area. Let’s say we wanted something done in our town. All we can do is lobby like supplicants, there is no democratic means of us saying, ‘here’s what we’d like to do and we’re going to elect somebody who can do that’. All we can do is say, ‘ Here’s what we’d like to do, we elect one person who can go and beg’. Now, for that reason, it is kind of a joke if you’re going to say that any meaningful community can make a decision about itself – it can’t.

 

 

Michael: So have you got an example of how it maybe works better in other countries?

 

Robin: Not other countries – almost every other country. I’m going to take the thing which surprised me most…in France for example, some of the local authority areas can be as small as one hundred and fifty people in it’s lowest level of local democracy. Now that sounds crazy, but these are small rural communities and they actually have local authorities with power. So across France and most of the nordic countries, Germany as well; things like childcare are provided and organised at the very most local level. So you might only be a tiny village of a hundred and fifty people – a hundred and fifty people voting, but you still have the power to arrange the childcare to suit your community.

 

So maybe it is a large provider, or maybe you think the better strategy is to use a number of local individual child minders, or whatever. But these are decisions for a community to make. Now that is almost universal almost right across, em, Europe, almost everybody leaves childcare arrangements to the very most local level what I was quite surprised at is in Norway, the Health Service is run at a very local level – it’s not the very lowest level, but it’s the one above that – so each hospital is managed by ex-community, the community it serves and they do perfectly well with that arrangement. The idea that it in Britain, a community would be allowed to run its own hospital would be scoffed at. The senior managers would look down their pin-striped noses at people who thought the had the ability or the capacity to run their local hospital, because they’ve infantilised their entire British electorate. We’re not treated like we can do these things for ourselves, we’re only suppose to mandate people better than us to go and do this properly on our behalf. But that’s not how it works in other places.

 

And again there is a direct relationship with the independence debate, here: ‘Don’t you worry Scotland we’ll manage things in your own affairs – if you end up having a democratically elected parliament as a nation state with the powers to do whatever – you’re bound to screw this up. You’d better just leave it to an entity, an organisation, staffed with primarily what you would call elite professionals, who are not greatly accountable. So this lack of local democracy, reflects the British state’s lack of interest in democracy generally. It really doesn’t expect the population to interfere with the basic running of the British state, and to be quite honest, the British state has quite often worked to kind of disregard the interests or the views of the general public in all sorts of ways. So, yeah the lack of local democracy is a direct – bears a direct relationship to the independence movement and just the attitudes and approaches of the British state.

 

 

Michael: Yeah I mean, there’s also about, y’know management politics culture in Westminster – is that even more pronounced than in local government? You know what you’re saying, a local group would not be allowed to run a hospital in Britain, not even childcare, like in France, although childcare – I don’t mean to say ‘not even’ because it’s obviously a very important issue…but you know what I mean! The way that they treat people in an infantile way – but management politics – is this part of it? Management of local groups, is…

 

Robin: …one of the most important elements of neoliberal politics has been to remove democracy. If we look at the history of Britain, over the twentieth century, what you see is that there have been only two moments when there has really been much fundamental change in British society – because of the actions of government – in ways which are actually better for the people. So you have the extension of the universal franchise, homes for heroes idea, which is post First World War, em that’s where the universal suffrage really comes in, we’ve suffered in this war and the idea of a national housing policy starts to come in after the First World War and then almost everything else that the British state has done to reform British society happened in a remarkably short period after the second World War – there’s gender issues that took place in the sixties and seventies which were important as well, it’s probably worth pointing out that that did happen – but otherwise you can kind of look at the twentieth century as being a long process of rolling back democratic social reforms that took place in two little bursts.

 

We got to the point in the 80’s where government really started to find ways to get away from democratic control altogether – privatisation is an obvious early point, the closing down of the social housing market but with the right to buy – and importantly not just the right to buy, but the prohibition on local authorities to replace housing stock. So what you do is you take housing out of the public domain, you take national, er, what were nationalised industries, core service industries out of the public domain and then progressively you take more and more away from democratic control.

 

And now, I am almost always amazed at how little people understand how government works in Scotland just now. The biggest and most influential groups on an enormous amount of public policy are the big consultancy firms, who are brought in and give apparently independent advice on almost every aspect of Scottish government policy. Now these are part of the financial service sector – and I mean, I’ve been involved in this, I’ve worked in public policy areas for more than a decade in Scotland for the start of the Scottish parliament – and I can remember very few decisions which were made, which were not run by, or endorsed, or endorsement was sought from one of the big four accountancy firms. And I can’t remember many examples where they didn’t suggest that there should be either outsourcing, privatisation or various other processes through which they commercialise and marketise public policy.

 

 

Michael: So is this more like a kind of British version of a big American right-wing think tank influencing policy then?

 

Robin: Em, it’s much, much worse. The think tanks are lobbyists. The big four accountancy firms are in effect political activists in many regards, with an ideological approach to how to run a country. They don’t have to ask permission – they don’t have to lobby they are paid to give their advice to the public sector. And I say again – people keep asking me, why do we keep re-organising the public sector, why have we just merged all the police boards and someone said – look at the money there’s…I can’t remember the exact number just now, but there was tens of millions of pounds which was there for payroll, for staff details – and they said, how’s that in anyone’s interests? And I said, do you think that money’s going to the staff? It’s not going to the staff, it will probably go to KPMG or one of its offshoots, or one of its competitors who will change 60 million pound to manage the process of pushing people into new contracts. The money’s not going into people’s pockets – re-organisation and merger is a means for basically sucking money out of the public sector and straight into the private sector. And I don’t think people understand this properly. The process of turning the government of Britain into a closed shop of private enterprise…big finance, is very well advanced. We don’t live in a desperately democratic society. And we really don’t live in a society where you could look at it and say, the general public has much of a say in things, because they really don’t.

 

 

Michael: OK, so here’s the big question; how could independence benefit addressing this democratic deficit that we face?

 

Robin: Well I mean it’s one, one important issue which you’ve got to get your head round immediately when you deal with any problems, which is, first of all, ‘what’s the problem’ and second of all ‘why’. What’s causing it? This is not accidental, this is a project, a program. You can trace it probably back to, incidentally, the year of my birth [unclear] – 1972, when a group around Nixon, said the post World War settlement is going to come to an end and we’re going to move into a new phase. A lot of people identify it with Reagan and Thatcher, but it started before that and a lot of the wort stuff, the most important stuff was actually done by Clinton and New Labour. So it’s been it’s been a long process of creating a different means of understanding what government is for. We now we see government primarily it’s first interest is to protect wealth. It doesn’t say it in that way, it talks about ‘enterprise’ and ‘growth’ and the need to ensure that we keep wealth creators and all this rhetoric, but what they’re really saying is our first role as a government is to promote wealth, is to protect wealth.

 

 

Michael: So do you think that the Chicago school of economics has basically completely taken control of the government process?

 

Robin: Ye-es…I’m not gonna get too abstract about that – yes, with tones of Keynsianism still in there – they never really meant that high [unclear] idea of actual laissez-faire – they’ve got a more – people have talked about socialism upwards. The idea that society is there to look after wealth creators, eh, the Chicago school’s idea of free markets isn’t really the truth of what they’ve followed, in actual fact what they want is rigged markets, markets that are rigged for big competitors with the help of government…

 

 

Michael: Such as Halliburton in Iraq, for example?

 

Robin: It’s not only what the British government has done overseas, in Scotland and in Britain, almost nothing happens in the public sector anymore without money immediately leaking out into the legal firms, the accountancy firms, the IT firms, eh, the restructuring firms. There’s an entire network – and of course I’ve completely missed what they’re now calling the service companies – A4E… I’ve just forgotten the name of the one that does the assessment of disability, [ATOS] Serco, these groups. Government is primarily finding ways to get more and more money out of our pockets and into their pockets. It’s not just the big name Iraq reconstruction projects, it’s almost every money – every pound spent – an increasing sum of it seems to make its way into the private sector.

 

 

Michael: So redistribution for the rich and capitalism for the poor?

 

Robin: Britain is a device for transferring wealth from the many to the few. It’s the most simple way to understand what the British state is for now. it is for finding ways to make sure that as much money as possible is taken from as many people as possible and given to a small group at the top. And they don’t really mind how they do it – cheap loans is a great way to get money out of ordinary people. It wasn’t to help us, the whole low interest rates has got very little to do with helping members of the public, not really, it’s just a means of making sure that we can still borrow and raise income in ways in which can be transferred into the private sector.

 

Now, the question was, how can we challenge this with independence – and this is why I say the ‘why is it happening?’. What is very important is that a city state, a mini city state has developed in London and this city state has been incredibly active in setting up structures and means and methods to ensure that it’s very difficult to counteract their agenda. So, for example, UK, they worked heavily to make sure that the Labour party wasn’t radical, they captured the Labour party through the media, through the lobbyists, through the fear that if you cross the CBI you can’t be a credible government. So they tamed Labour and made sure that there wasn’t really a democratic choice at a UK level. You can’t actually choose a different form of social contract in Britain. They have an enormous lobbying power – I mean I laugh all the time when I hear lobbyists say, “Oh we’re only here to provide information”. Really?! Why do you spend such inordinate amounts of money trying to influence public policy if it doesn’t work? Y’know, you’re not dumb people. You don’t waste money generally. You use…

 

 

Michael: …although it doesn’t work all the time. Just as an example, I spoke to Rosie Kane one time and she was telling me that when she got into the parliament, eh, the lobbyists were immediately contacting her – Coca-Cola and people like this and she was saying, “Don’t you realise what party I’m from? D’you want to stop it?” But they didn’t. Y’know?

 

Robin: They never lose in London. Corporate lobbyists almost never lose in London. The important thing is, this is the essence of what we are facing in Scotland at the moment. The problem isn’t Britain. It’s absolutely not the people of Britain. The problem is one small social class which has captured a government in London. The problem doesn’t actually spread that far outside London – or the heart of the problem – it kind of emanates from there. The reason why – now I’ve not really had any doubts about independence, but if I had any doubts, em, the straightforward analytical reason why I don’t think we have any chance if we don’t end up with independence – is you have to believe, either that the British state can be reformed – or that we can set up a state which is less corrupt. And I just don’t believe the British state can be reformed.

 

We had a once one in a generation chance to do that when Tony Blair was elected in ’97. He had the mandate, he had the size, he had the public will to do it and he did the opposite. He entrenched elite power, he didn’t reform it. If that didn’t happen in ’97 – all I’m suggesting is that is all of the world’s centres of power that I know…I can’t think of any apart from Washington, which is more under the control of a military-media-commercial elite, which directs policy. So my suggestion is that almost any parliament in Scotland – almost any state that we have – is going to be less under the control of financial interests than London and partly because they don’t care that much about Scotland. We’re not an international finance trading state. They’re not really throwing their efforts to try and twist our arms. So, of course all the corporate interests will keep hammering at us and the CBI Scotland is not going to disappear – it just cannot be as bad as London.

 

And it’s the block of the British state and the lack of capacity to reform it, which means that all the sorts of social reforms, which bluntly I think nine out of ten people would now like to see. I don’t think anybody – right or left – is happy with the banks. But we know nothing’s going to happen because the banks run London. So all the reforms that people generally want to see, I just don’t genuinely see how they’re ever gonna come from London. I think Scotland can be really, really interesting. I think that we can do the kinds of things that Iceland’s trying to do. But the worst case scenario, I still don’t think that Scotland can’t be as tied-up, as corrupt as in the pocket of big finance as London. It just doesn’t seem possible to me, therefore, the simple act of independence, breaking the stranglehold of the London elite on the decision making and power in Britain. I can’t see a mechanism by which this doesn’t enable Scotland to do more things; defend the universal welfare state, em, try to reform the economy to make it less reliant on speculation and finance, and so on. It seems to me almost impossible that these things wouldn’t happen in Scotland and the problem is the British state, the group, the control, the financial conflicts of interest which lie at the heart of London politics.

 

 

Michael: Great. And if we can just come to the Reid Foundation itself…I’m sure most of the people listening know who Jimmy Reid was, but in case there are some that aren’t…do you want to have a – could you explain a bit about the man himself?

 

Robin: Jimmy Reid in 2000, set up the Scottish Left Review. It was the start of devolution and him and a group of others decided that we needed to put ideas out into the public domain. That we needed to have some forum for discussion about what Scotland could be. Now I became the editor of the Scottish Left Review after the second issue and over ten years we published a lot of strong thinking, good ideas, em, and I should also mention, by the way – my day job, I’m a political strategist, a political lobbyist – that’s what I did. I ran the Scottish Left Review at night with big utopian ideas and during the day I was a political strategist for the University sector, not for the corporate sector, but for them. And I kinda had to admit increasingly over that decade that there was a gap between my day attitude and my night attitude. During the day, if we had a great idea, but it came to nothing – that’s a failure – that’s not a success. And at night we were publishing all this strong, strong analysis and ideas in the Scottish Left Review, but to be honest a lot of it wasn’t getting picked up by Scottish public debate. So for quite a while we had been discussing the need to do what works, to do the things that succeed for others. Now, I’ve always kind of pointed out this; when the right wing wants to get a grip on government it doesn’t create a political party, it doesn’t march or rally – it does a sequence of things which works. It puts ideas out, it puts together proposals, it lobbies, it pressurises, it controls media, it runs campaigns and it tries to bounce, to bully and to encourage government to do the things it wants to do.

 

 

Michael: Do you think this is also with disaster capitalism – Naomi Klein’s theory – do you think that that’s tying into it now as well?

 

Robin: Generally the strength that the left’s got is this drive, this endless drive to control public policy, has been a mixed blessing for the right. Because they’ve got everything they want and it hasn’t worked – it’s actually been a bit of a catastrophe. They keep saying ‘deregulate’ and it keeps failing. So I think in that regard, em, sometimes too much success – well too much success for a dumb idea is not helpful. And that’s more or less what we’re seeing. So what we want to do anyway, the Reid Foundation, is to say, OK, there are things that work, there are processes that work, em, we need to adapt these and use these for the left. And we’ve been working on the…developing the idea of a think tank – and incidentally I don’t really like the phrase ‘think tank’ – I think it’s dishonest, em it’s really an advocacy group, is what it is. An advocacy organisation. We’re not just thinking, we’re trying to achieve things. We’re honest about that, whereas some of the other think tanks pretend it’s a neutral analysis and they’re not following an agenda.

 

So I’m happy to put my hand up – we are a left-wing advocacy group that’s trying to achieve things. But we were thinking of setting that up anyway and of course Jimmy died – and as soon as Jimmy died it was apparent to all of us that naming the foundation after him was the obvious thing to do. So that’s how the Reid Foundation came about.

 

I think it is important to say, the Reid Foundation is taking an inclusive – I put it like that – an inclusive position on the constitutional question. The left is now…I’m guessing the left is about 80 percent/20percent pro-independence, em, but there are still some on the left that don’t feel that way and we want to create an open space to allow all of the left to come together and not be divided by the constitutional question. But one of the things that we’re going to do over 2013, is say right fine, if we’re going to have a proper debate, we need to look at what can be done with independence. If Scotland was independent – what could we do. If we don’t make it concrete in terms of things that we could pursue, then we can’t make a judgement. So the foundation is going to produce a number of papers over 2013, saying, OK here’s independence, what could we do with it – what’s the chances of this actually happening – to try and inform the debate. So it is important to say we are not affiliated to or advocating independence, we’re trying to find ways to see what the role of independence could be, in creating a just, better, more left-wing Scotland.

 

 

Michael: OK, brilliant. And the last question, I think, is for yourself, why did you kind of come towards an independence supporting position? I know you have given some larger, grand-scale reasons about the British state, but was there anything personal for you or was it just based on the evidence, or a bit of both? ‘Cause there’s usually a lot of people who have a kind of emotional attachment to the idea but then there’s other people, like the last interviewee on this – who was Patrick Harvie and he wasn’t emotionally attached to the idea – but he came to it just based on the evidence. He thinks it would be a better deal for the people of Scotland. So I dunno what you’re position on it is…

 

Robin: I should start off by saying I grew up in a family of SNP activists, so I was around the independence debate from very early on. Actually, I had been very strongly pro-independence on a more cultural basis, em, y’know – pride in nation – up until probably my late teenage years, em, and at that point for about a decade, I must admit, I kind of drifted away from it a bit a little bit, partly because it wasn’t on the agenda – we weren’t going to get independence at that time – and partly because there was this process of achieving a Scottish parliament and then shaping a Scottish parliament. And so for a decade thought – for five years let’s make sure we get this parliament and make it as strong as possible and for five years after that, let’s try and make this parliament work as well as we can and then, you come up against the difficulties, the problems.

 

But. This is a really important point because you were asking me questions in terms of the structure of politics and I was answering in terms of the structure of politics – that is by no means the reason – the extent of the reasons why I believe in independence. I’m a generic believer in the benefit of small nations. Of smaller entities. And there’s a number of reasons for this, one of which is; in a globalised world, where we have increasing corporate – I’m gonna call it ‘whitewashing’, across cultural boundaries, y’know it doesn’t matter where you go now, there’s going to be a McDonald’s and it’s going to start feeling like one homogenised world. The only way we can protect local cultures, local identity is if it’s got some sort of expression. If it’s got somewhere to say ‘this place here we are this community of people’. And the nation state is one of the most effective means for creating these kind of ‘protectors of identity’. So for that reason alone, I’m an independence supporter.

 

And likewise, small countries – but not always – small countries don’t have quite the same tendency to, em, start slave trade, or invade other countries. I mean, yeah…the Balkans isn’t the great example for that, but generally they tend to be better countries and I think it was the other day when Clinton was over in Scotland saying, “We don’t want Europe to fragment”, to which I said, “No – you don’t want Europe to fragment.” Small number of giant corporate governments – you can run them for US corporate interests with great ease. The fact that Clinton does not want Europe to fragment, which is to say, Wall St. does not want Europe to fragment, is a damn good reason for Europe to fragment. And I don’t think it’s fragmenting at all, I just think it means creating a larger number of nations, which can work together, collectively, but for the interests of their own people.

 

And there’s one other point which I really want to make here, em, for about twenty years, Scottish politics has been dominated by one unarguable statement that Braveheart politics is a poisonous and dangerous route to go down. Now, that has been unanimously decided by five people that don’t support independence, at a dinner party in an affluent area of the Edinburgh suburbs. It doesn’t reflect the reality, because while I don’t…I wouldn’t put Braveheart on my list of favourite films – ever. It’s not dreadful, it’s not absolutely awful, it’s a perfectly good film…and here’s the simple truth; which the No campaign really does want to kind of try and paint out of this entire campaign; most people I know still cry at the end of Braveheart. We still have national sentiment and much as the anti-indepedence has tried to make us ashamed of national sentiment – I’m not – I’m not ashamed of being proud of Scotland. I’m not ashamed of saying, ‘yeah, I cry at the football…I sing at the rugby…I occasionally shout [argh] at the end of Braveheart’. These are things which we do.

 

This is a strength for the independence movement – you gotta be careful, I mean I’ve got no patience for a case based on culture and nationalism alone. But we’ve got to be careful that we don’t believe this nonsense that the people of Scotland don’t want to have an emotional sense of this being their country and them having an emotional attachment to it. Them having a desire to say: ‘Yes, we are Scotland, yes we are a country and yes we do have our own views, our own attitudes our own approaches’…’We are proud to have invented everything…we are proud that when the tartan army goes abroad it is a friendly footballing nation that reaches out’ – we expect to lose at the football these days, em, and it’s made us a better country for it.

 

And I don’t think there is anything wrong with an emotional attachment to your country. In fact, I’ve looked at this and as far as I can tell in western Europe, the only country where people heavily mock the idea that you might have an emotional attachment to your nation is in Scotland.

 

So we can’t wave the Saltire, but the Queen has a birthday or a jubilee and down there, they are going mental with English/British nationalism. So I think the independence movement has to be very careful. Yeah, we don’t want to get drawn into some of the more kail- yardy, 1970’s SNP rhetoric – parts of the SNP were always very strongly cultural nationalist – by chance I just saw some of the SNP leaflets from the 70’s and a bit too much ‘vote for our braw laddies’…that – I’m not too much of a fan of that cultural nationalism. But on the other hand I refuse to be bullied by the Edinburgh upper-middle class dinner party set to believe that actual Scotland doesn’t feel like this, because I live in actual Scotland – I live in a small town and I drink in the local boozer with a lot of working class, ordinary punters who’re just kicking about – and they’re still making up their mind about independence, but one thing I can tell you – they’re not ashamed to be proud of Scotland. So, no neither am I, I feel very happy to be in this country.

 

There are an awful lot of things that Scotland has done about which I’m proud, some I’m not, but an awful lot f which I’m proud. I believe we protect national cultures and I believe we should be proud of our national culture. I have no difficulty saying – even if it was not political, I would still vote for independence because I just believe it’s better to say ‘here’s my identity and I want to be able to shape my identity, I want to be able to talk about my identity…I want to be able to create a focus for our national culture’ and I just think that independence is a better way to do that. We should be proud of our emotions – it’s a great way to make decisions, despite what everyone says. Emotions are a good way to make decisions; they work, that is why we are programmed to follow our emotions and as a strategist, I’ll warn people: If we walk away from making an emotional case for independence, as well as an intellectual case, we’re missing half the argument.

Michael: OK, thanks very much, that’s been brilliant Robin. I hope we can get you on again, further down the line.

Robin: I’d be happy to come back and talk about the many, many things which are happening in Scottish independence, which bluntly, aren’t even making it into the papers

 

Michael: OK, brilliant.

 

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One comment

  1. Great interview Michael.

    I liked the fact that Robin brought up emotion and pointed out that we should not allow upper class Edinburgh elites to tell us what is and what is not Scottish culture. I too wept at watching the end of Braveheart. I knew the great sacrifice Wallace made to remain true to his Scottish identity, seeing it portrayed in all its graphic gore just brought home to me how much men and women have given to keep the idea of a Scottish nation alive. It is the sullying of these deeds by the likes of money hungry men such as Davidson that drives me to despair. We must remember that those who fought and died for Independence 700 years ago were ordinary Scots who, like us today, were sick and tired of having policies they did not agree with being forced on them from London.

    The fact we will remember them 700 years later next year says something about how special we hold their ideals.

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