what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It generally uses books (old and new) and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours. So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The world holds its breath (?)

As the talking stops, I have no hesitation in awarding my accolade for the most thoughtful blogs to two academic bodies – or rather
·         one body - UK Constitutional Law and
·         one academic - Paul Cairney of the University of Stirling who, a bit like me, has stepped up his posts only in the last few weeks

Cairney’s posts of the past few days have been models of careful analysis – whether sketching out for Canadian inquirers the various aspects of the debate; or exploring the meaning of various  recent surveys
And this explanation of what the latest offers from UK politicians actually mean is as good as it gets - although Cairney also deals with the issue very succinctly.

As I had anticipated, I had another sleep-interrupted night but was delighted to receive at 03.00 a mail from someone who had been my Secretary in Glasgow in the 80s when I was one of the “gang of four” who were the leaders of the Regional government system which was then responsible for most services for half the population of Scotland. Since then she’s been the local aide to the Rt Hon John Reid - who was Tony Blair’s key firefighter in the 2000s – occupying more senior Cabinet posts than anyone else in British political history.
Other people who have sent posts hail from countries such as Portugal, Bulgaria and France – and I’ve noticed indeed that my most regular readers in the past few weeks are from Turkey, France and the Ukraine. Time was when the US topped the ratings….

But other issues have been pressing on me this bright mid-September day in the Carpathian mountains -
·         inspired by my work at the weekend for a “good governance” project funded by EV Structural Funds, I’ve now collated 100 pages from my blogposts dealing with the whole issue of EU funding, performance measurement and training. And, coincidentally, I spotted this review in Public Books of a couple of books about economic indicators. I have to say I am greatly encouraged by the way some good writers (many non-specialists) are now daring (and succeeding) to write very coherently about economic and financial matters.
·         A superb demolition job on property developers was juggled with an attempt to read David Harvey’s short book “Rebel Cities” - but being much more convinced by Benjamin Barber’s nderestimated If Mayors Ruled the World

For a round-up of today’s events in Scotland – follow this live Guardian blog

when Scotland leaves

I did a post last week trying to identify what sort of scenario work had been published assessing the likely impact of Scotland withdrawing from the UK. There wasn’t all that much – but I had missed an interesting bit of work which wikistrat had done in the summer and which led to a short report issued earlier this month with the catchy title - When Scotland Leaves the UK
The lead analyst for this was one Catalina Tully who has a post today which describes how she has turned from a no to a yes. Which is why I find the conclusion rather interesting.

The methodology
In June and July 2014, Wikistrat ran a 15-day crowdsourced simulation to explore pathways for Scotland’s emergence as an independent country, assuming Scotland becomes independent within the next five years. The purpose of the simulation was to portray Scotland’s possible future as an independent state. The simulation, which was conducted over three phases, focused on the opportunities and risks (economic, political and social) that will shape an independent Scotland in 2020.
In Phase I, Wikistrat analysts identified 34 risk factors that threaten the future of an independent Scotland and opportunities available to the new country. In Phase II, analysts developed 25 scenarios based on these risks and opportunities to show different ways in which an independent Scotland may emerge. Finally, in Phase III, analysts developed 15 scenarios that described what an independent Scotland would look like in 2020.
Only four are however (rather briefly) identified in the report whose stark conclusion makes interesting reading -  
Scottish independence offers a modest upside risk and a potentially calamitous downside risk. Scottish independence also rests on several key assumptions that are at best debatable:
• Scotland being able to use the British pound as its currency.
• Scotland being accepted into the EU rapidly and under favourable terms.
• Scotland being able to benefit from NATO protection with a minimal military contribution under an Irish model while maintaining a non-nuclear policy with respect to the British nuclear submarine fleet.
• The costs of running its own government not exceeding the excess tax revenues generated from offshore energy and the contribution it once made to U.K. governance.
The SNP has also inflated the benefits and understated some of the costs of independence. Scotland will probably not realize all the economic benefits of independence when its monetary policy is controlled either in London or Frankfurt, both of which are likely to pursue austere monetary policies that put a drag on Scottish growth.
In addition, the administrative and bureaucratic drag on the economy is probably underestimated. Scotland will assume numerous sovereign rights from Britain, which will take time to sort out and administer. Preeminent among these are border control and immigration. Also, Scotland’s population skews old and its energy revenues are expected to decline. Thus, its prosperity depends on the country’s ability to attract and absorb younger immigrants, which, depending on where the immigrants come from, could profoundly change the country’s character.
 Much of Scotland’s economy depends on protecting its maritime interests, especially its offshore energy extraction and fishing industries. Protecting its Exclusive Economic Zone will be costly and could become more expensive under the terms for joining the NATO alliance. Given worsening ties with Russia, however, EU member states might welcome Scotland as a member on favourable terms, given its oil and gas resources and strategic North Sea location. NATO may view Scotland in the same light.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Last Days of a Country?

My posts have been written for those outside the debate who wanted to get a detached sense of what it was all about. I remain detached – and this is perhaps why I’m not convinced by the arguments from the “Yes” camp.
And, in case some of my Scottish ex-colleagues and friends feel that this puts me into the “traitors’” camp, let me excuse myself by reminding them that my field is government – and my philosophy one of healthy scepticism.

Winning elections requires one set of skills – negotiating separation and governing a nation requires a totally different set of skills.
A question about whether one’s country should be “independent” is a different question from that of whether its leaders have the capacity needed to build a new state and negotiate it into existence….
Of course, separation is nothing new – in recent times countries with which I am very familiar such as Azerbaijan, Czechia, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Slovakia and Uzbekistan have done it – not to mention Estonia, Lithuania and Ukraine. But leaders of these states had none of the sort of attention focused on them which Scottish leaders will have if its voters chooses independence on Thursday……

Those responsible for the subsequent negotiations will have to spend several years of their lives exploring the precise terms of currency, EU and NATO membership – let alone of precise manner of the separation of British institutions of state into separate entities. They are only few – and only individual – they will, let us speak quite frankly, suffer from considerable stress – and be exposed to massive media exposure. Hopefully they will be able to survive it all. 
One nagging question is who will be minding the shop while all of this is going on - I've seen little comment about what this blogger called the "problem of distraction"

A question about whether one’s country should be “independent” is a different question from a question about whether Scotland should break with a corrupt political class or neo-liberalism.    

The polling stations will open the length and breadth of the mainland and islands of Scotland in just 36 hours. Only then will the arguments stop which have gripped the Scots for at least the 2 years plus since the referendum question was agreed. I would like to say this has indeed been a conversation – but this piece by my friend, Tom Gallagher, gives a different sense

It’s fairly obvious that most people made their mind up a long time ago – since when they’ve been talking past one another – concentrating their energies on those who were wavering or still undecided. I saw yesterday an interesting breakdown of voting intentions by Region which was quite fascinating but, unfortunately, I can find it. So this equally fascinating record of how the various polls have gone will have to do instead. It gives an amazing insight into the amount of money, time and energy that has been spent on polling in the past 2 years.

Those wanting to follow the last days of this nation can do no better than follow this blow-by-blow account

Monday, September 15, 2014

Getting to Denmark?

Performance management and measurement was all the rage a few years ago but a series of academic critiques (of which Paradoxes of Modernity – unintended consequences of public policy reform (2012) is one of the latest examples) seemed set to dampen enthusiasms. But the benefits which the mantra of performance (if not "name and shame" regimes) seem to offer to governments desperately looking for quick fixes look irresistible…and the peddlars of performance movement medicines continue to do well.
I spent a long and arduous weekend helping to draft a project submission for EU Structural Funds aimed at helping a SE European country rejig its “governance” system. It had me spitting blood and regretting that no one seems able to critique the nonsenses which seem to be perpetrated on people by these Funds. A few years back I did a long critique of the multi-billion EC Technical Assistance programme. I called it The Long Game – not the LogFrame
In just 5 months (!!), this particular project is expected to –
- Summarise “all research” which has been undertaken on “good governance” (there are thousands)
- Draft a White Paper on the subject
- Draft a methodology for designing a rating system for innovation in state bodies

I readily confess that I have “form” in such issues. In 2002 I drafted a Manual on “good policy analysis” for Slovak civil servants; in 2005 I accepted World Bank and UNDP largesse to write papers on Public Administration Reform (PAR) in Azerbaijan; in 2007/8 I drafted a Road Map for local government in Kyrgyzstan

My bookshelves groan under the weight of books containing rhetoric, descriptions and assessments of the experience of what, in the 80s and 90s, was called “public administration reform” but is now called “good governance”.
Whenever the terms change in this way, we need to ask Why…..what’s going on? Does this hide a guilty secret somewhere?

Perhaps the very confidence with which we now use terms like “transparency” and “accountability” masks our fear that we haven’t a clue – that we know less today about running our public affairs than we (thought we) knew in 1984??
Or perhaps that’s not quite true…. 30 years has presumably given us the opportunity to do what all good scientists are supposed to do – to “disprove”. At least (surely) we now know what doesn’t work….or at least what doesn’t work under certain conditions/in certain contexts?
And (whisper it quietly) South-Eastern contexts are different from North Western ones!!

I did some googling to see what the literature on such topics as “performance” and “good governance” is like these days. Sure enough it no longer seems the “hot” topic it was a decade ago. But it seems that what has happened is that the snake oil which is no longer acceptable in the old member countries is now being peddled in the new markets of central and south-east Europe!

Round Up

A week, a British Prime Minister once famously said, is a long time in politics.
And it’s been an extraordinary five days in British politics as the strong possibility of a Scottish vote for independence this Thursday sank home at last on an rUK public. Political leaders stopped what they were doing and rushed toScotland …….promises were made……rabbits were pulled out of the hat - little of it convincing
The Guardian blog has been giving an excellent running commentary on events for weeks – and this is their latest

Those wanting a more measured “take” on the battle should read the current issue of London Review of Books which has 15 short contributions from eminent UK writers. And also this explanation of what the media mean by the confusing term DevoMax which has resurfaced.

One thing is clear – David Cameron is in the firing line. It was he who rejected what most Scots actually want – greater devolved powers for the Scottish Parliament; it was he who rejected the option of having that as a third question on the ballot paper. If the vote is “No” he will be expected to deliver on the vague promises which have come from his camp in response to the latest polls – and whilst devolved powers to English regions may be of interest to the chattering classes there, it is not, at the moment, a vote winner. 
But resentment is building in England at the idea of concessions to Scotland. In any event, any concessions would be for the wrong reason. It’s not cash the Scots want – its freedom from neo-liberal greed. Unfortunately a “Yes” vote, ironically, would not achieve that. It’s not gone unnoticed that Rupert Murdoch supports both independence (he was tweetering about this copiously from Scottish pubs) and the Scottish leader – and that both support lower taxes for business. 
Nb Update; George Monbiot makes the point that -

For a moment, Rupert Murdoch appeared ready to offer one of his Faustian bargains to the Scottish National party: my papers for your soul. That offer now seems to have been withdrawn, as he has decided that Salmond’s SNP is “not talking about independence, but more welfarism, expensive greenery, etc and passing sovereignty to Brussels” and that it“must change course to prosper if he wins”. It’s not an observation, it’s a warning: if you win independence and pursue this agenda, my newspapers will destroy you.

I’ve tried to keep a neutral tone in the posts I’ve been making in the last month or so. After all I don’t have a vote – and last lived in the country 24 years ago. But I am a Scot – and a passionate one. But never a nationalist – nor, as I’ve tried to explain here, are my countrymen.

Most people consider that those favouring independence have the better arguments – but I have not been convinced by that. I’ve been looking at two (small) books from the left corner supporting the Yes case (which I referred to in my Sept 4 post) - Jim Sillars’ In Place of Fear II – a socialist programme for an independent Scotland and Yes – the radical case for Scottish Independence and find them very inadequate. 
Articles such as this and this are much more persuasive.

And I’m finding an intolerance in the mood which seems to have swung behind the Yes movement which reminds me of some of the reading I did on my Politics course in the early 60s at Glasgow University – particularly Canetti’s Crowds and Power (1960)
As a politician myself from 1968-1990, I was never comfortable with the emotions politics could arouse – and I sense a dangerous element in the present mood in Scotland. Coincidentally I found myself last week reading Sebastian Haffner’s amazing Defying Hitler which is an eye-witness account of a young man’s day-by-day experience of the Nazi takeover in 1933. Apparently written in the late 1930s, it was published only in 2000 after the famous journalist’s death.

Extensive excerpts can be found on this website and I strongly urge people to read them.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Exit, Voice and Loyalty

A couple of more philosophical items caught my feverish eye yesterday morning – the first an elegant article in American Scholar about the “instant gratification which, with “customisation”, has become an even more integral part of our culture than it was when Christopher Lasch first tore it apart in his 1978 The Culture of Narcissism.
I’ve excerpted a significant part of the article later in the post to whet your appetite.

The second item was a contribution by the President of the “European University Institute” to the question of how easily an independent Scotland could negotiate its way back into the European Union 
His piece certainly adds a missing dimension to the discussion -
I watched the televised debates. Most of the sparring was utilitarian: Will we better off, especially economically. More employment, yes or no. Better social network, yes or no et cetera et cetera. So this is what will ultimately decide things.This runs diametrically contrary to the historical ethos of European integration. The commanding moral authority of the Founding Fathers of European integration – Schumann, Adenauer, de Gaspari and Jean Monnet himself – was a result of their rootedness in the Christian ethic of forgiveness coupled with an enlightened political wisdom which understood that it is better to look forward to a future of reconciliation and integration rather than wallow in past historical rights and identity.
There were, of course, utilitarian considerations, but they were not at the normative core.
The European Union is struggling today with a decisional structure which is already overloaded with 28 Member States but more importantly with a socio-political reality which makes it difficult to persuade a Dutch or a Finn or a German, that they have a human and economic stake in the welfare of a Greek or a Portuguese, or a Spaniard. Why would there be an interest to take into the Union a polity such as an independent Scotland predicated on a regressive and outmoded nationalist ethos which apparently cannot stomach the discipline of a multinational nation? The very demand for independence from the UK, an independence from the need to work out political, social, cultural and economic differences within the UK, independence from the need to work through and transcend whatever gripes there might be, disqualifies morally and politically Scotland and the likes as future Member States of the European Union.
 Do we really need yet another Member State whose decisional criterion for Europe’s fateful decisions in the future would be “what’s in it for us”?Europe should not seem as a Nirvana for that form of irredentist Euro-tribalism which contradicts the deep values and needs of the Union. Thus, the assumption of Membership in the Union should be decisively squelched by the countries from whom secession is threatened and if their leaders, for internal political reasons lack the courage so to say, by other Member States of the Union.
 So there! You're tell't!!
The American Scholar article is focusing on bigger fish - in North American culture – but resonated with me as I wrestle with the prospect of my country casting aside its link with the rest of the UK  
In everything from relationships to politics to business, the emerging norms and expectations of our self-centred culture are making it steadily harder to behave in thoughtful, civic, social ways. We struggle to make lasting commitments. We’re uncomfortable with people or ideas that don’t relate directly and immediately to us. Empathy weakens, and with it, our confidence in the idea, essential to a working democracy, that we have anything in common.
Our unease isn’t new, exactly. In the 1970s, social critics such as Daniel Bell, Christopher Lasch, and Tom Wolfe warned that our growing self-absorption was starving the idealism and aspirations of the postwar era. The “logic of individualism,” argued Lasch in his 1978 polemic, The Culture of Narcissism, had transformed everyday life into a brutal social competition for affirmation that was sapping our days of meaning and joy. Yet even these pessimists had no idea how self-centred mainstream culture would become. Nor could they have imagined the degree to which the selfish reflexes of the individual would become the template for an entire society. Under the escalating drive for quick, efficient “returns,” our whole socioeconomic system is adopting an almost childlike impulsiveness, wholly obsessed with short-term gain and narrow self-interest and increasingly oblivious to long-term consequences……….
AO Hirschman, one of my favourite social scientists, wrote, in 1970, a famous book Exit, Voice, and Loyalty which came to my mind as I mused about all this. “Exit” means that individuals abandon a firm, brand, organization, or association when they are no longer satisfied and see no chance for improvement. “Voice,” by contrast, suggests that they seek improvement and want to make their preferences heard and see their choices respected. “Loyalty” characterizes one’s commitment to associations such as the family, the nation, the ethnic group, or religious congregation that are based on formative and deeply held values.
Hardly surprising that this is a book which has cropped up from time to time in the recent Scottish discussions eg Gerry Hassan in December 2012
Voice and power are central to any practice of self-determination. Hirschman argued that the right championed ‘exit’ (market solutions) and the left ‘loyalty’ (solidarity), and both prioritised these above ‘voice’. In this, voice means the collective self-organisation of people, something fundamentally missing from the public life of Scotland, for all the talk of ‘civic Scotland’ and ‘the new politics’.
Voice relates to who has power, its use, expression and dynamics, and the reality that in our society not only is it increasingly concentrated in a few economic, social and political elites, but that any countervailing forces are much weaker and more disparate in their influence. A Scottish self-determination movement would understand the importance of voice and power, and aim to aid a shift in how these are articulated and understood, supporting existing ideas and initiatives which encourage a move away from powerlessness and dependency to autonomy and empowerment at an individual and collective level. 
The ideology of ‘civic Scotland’ (that subset of civil society) believes that Scotland’s supposed social democracy is enough; that our problems and challenges are external – in the British state and market fundamentalism.Not all of them are: our complacencies and silences are just as much a problem.
Our nation and society is bitterly divided, with hundreds of thousands of Scots adults and children living in poverty and hardship. The cosseted life of Scotland’s super-rich and the widespread fawning in public life and media after plutocrats and global tycoons such as Donald Trump and Rupert Murdoch, isn’t a product of external forces, but the ‘free’ choice of our politicians, public bodies and business community.
This won’t be ended by the demise of the union. Instead, Scotland needs a new collective mission and purpose which mobilises our resources to tackle and heal the divided, fragmented society we have become. That is one of the first priorities in creating and acting upon a culture of self-determination.
 That led me, in turn, to three other references which should be included in the final bibliography I’ll add to my Separating – home thoughts from abroad 
 - an article on Who Rules Scotland? by David Miller, a chapter in a 2010 book -
Neoliberal Scotland; Class and Society in a Stateless Nation edited by Davidson, N., McCafferty, P. and Miller D
- A 2005 book Scotland 2020 
- a paper on “Voice in public sector reform” 

But let’s return to the instant gratification culture -
Day by day, there seem to be fewer reasons to follow the rules or think beyond oneself or the present moment. Not so long ago, we told our children that success required sustained effort, a willingness to delay gratification, and the capacity to control impulses.
Children today, however, see their patient, hard-working parents and grandparents tossed aside like old furniture—while investment bankers and reality TV stars seem to easily make huge amounts of money. Little wonder that cheating is now endemic in high school and college. …….Community and family are undermined by our consumer culture of individual gratification.
Worse, our political system, the traditional arbiter between public and private interests, has been colonized by the same bottom-line impulse. Political parties boil their philosophies down into extreme brands designed to provoke target audiences and score quick wins. Voters are encouraged to see politics as another venue for personalized consumption.
We’ve lost the idea that politics is the means to build consensus and an opportunity to participate in something larger than ourselves….. We know the result: a national political culture more divided and dysfunctional than any in living memory. All but gone are centrist statesmen capable of bipartisan compromise.
A democracy once capable of ambitious, historic ventures can barely keep government open and seems powerless to deal with challenges like debt reduction or immigration
The people of Scotland, at one level, seem to have had enough……they have tried “loyalty” (particularly to the Labour Party); and “voice” (since the discovery of oil gave the nationalists their first political breakthrough in the 1960s. Some started to exit from the Labour Party during the New Labour period – then in droves after the 2010 General Election.
But the “exit” from the UK started only months ago……when it seems that thousands of loyal “undecided” cast off that loyalty……..
There is still a lot of residual loyalty left – but the political wankers who descended yesterday on Scotland are not likely to re-ignite the passion….. 

A superb biography on Hirschman was recently published - WorldlyPhilosopher – the odyssey of Albert O Hirschman – and is sitting accusingly on my bookshelves. I’m 100 pages into it but have been distracted, It is a real intellectual biography which supplements other pieces such as this and this

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Checking the Scenarios

I wanted to check out my feeling that even serious contributors to the discussion about Scottish Independence haven’t given us alternative scenarios in their various assessments. 
A quick flick through the indexes of the relevant books in my growing library on the subject gave me nothing. My google search took me into deeper territory than I have ever ventured – after 26 pages of search listings, the relevant links seemed to peter out. 

For the record, this is what they gave -
- a paper on future scenarios for Scotland from the Scotland Future Forum written, unfortunately, in 2012 before the referendum was called and consisting of typical blue-skies stuff with, astonishingly, not a single reference to the possibility of independence!
- a short note from Moody’s dismissing the risks of independence for UK ratings
- a brief article in Huffington Post about a Wikistrat analysis of 4 scenarios if Scotland leaves the UK
- a 2012 doomsday prediction from an historian I’ve never heard of
- A simple twin scenario sketched very briefly a couple of days ago in a radical blog 

My initial hypothesis seems, therefore, to be confirmed.

There was some apparently weightier material - 
- a small book on Scenario Thinking 2020 produced by the St Andrew’s University Press (in 2005) gives some useful references on how to develop scenarios but then goes on to build a set only for this old, famous and very selective University on the East of Scotland
- A very careful (if narrow) 86-page assessment of The potential implications of independence for businesses in Scotland produced by Oxford Economics consultancy for the important Weir Group in Scotland
- The 200-page Fiscal Commission Report (the Scottish Government 2013) which I referred to recently
- a short 2012 paper on Scottish Independence and EU Accession by Business and New Europe

Nothing, however, to give a foretaste of what is likely to happen when the shit really hits the fan at the end of next week. 
A couple of posts today begin to give a sense of this – first from Paul Krugman to whom I don’t normally give the time of day; then from (for me) a new and intriguingly entitled blog - Flip Chart Fairy Tales