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This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links 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!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

In Praise of Doubt

Expect productivity in Scottish industry and commerce to decline dramatically in the next 10 days as those living and working in the country renew their arguments (in some cases with themselves!) about the precise nature of the “independent country” to which the ballot paper entices them on September 18th. The arguments – after the latest poll – are now for real.
In March I sensed we were drifting apart 
As an ex-pat who has no vote (no residence) but who follows the various discussion threads, I am amazed at the self-confidence of all who take part. Where is the agnosticism and scepticism which such a portentous issue requires…..??Donald Rumsfeld is not normally someone I would quote, but his comment about “unknown unknowns” deserves respect and understanding.  In all the discussion, I have seen no serious attempt to try to set out the different political, fiscal and social scenarios for Scotland - let alone for England. Wales and Northern Ireland - which would follow from a “yes” outcome on 18 September.
It is obvious that a highly- developed country of 5 million people could operate as a nation state – there are about 40 members of the United Nations and a quarter of EU member states with smaller populations.The real questions are more on the following lines -·         How independence would affect the dynamics of trade, currency and investment (public and private) in Scotland - and in the residual (disunited) Kingdom
·         With different scenarios for relations with Europe and the Euro
·         What precise additional benefits will independence give - which the traditional and post 1999 measures of Devolution don’t
·         How these benefits measure against the risks suggested in the first two sets of questions….
·         And the distractions which negotiations (and the subsequent settlements with international organisations) will bring to those in charge of negotiations on the Scottish side  
 Outsiders with no obvious axe to grind have reduced all the academic analysis and political rhetoric to the following -
Where the nationalists are still on very boggy ground is convincingly describing what would happen the morning after Scotland woke up to find itself independent. The two sides have now shelled each other with so many rival claims about oil revenues, currency and borrowing that they have numbed each other and probably the electorate as well.
What should be telling is that the only tax cut that Salmond has promised is one which will be of most benefit to large companies: an independent Scotland would set its corporation tax rate at 3p in the pound less than George Osborne. On his Glasgow walkabout, the SNP leader was stalked by no campaigners baiting him with placards bearing the slogan: "Tax cuts for the rich!"
Whatever he says about job creation, making a priority of handing more money to multinationals sounds like a funny way of laying the foundations of a more egalitarian country. The big hole in the nationalist prospectus is that it promises Scots that they can have Scandinavian standards of public services with American levels of tax. 
The other disingenuous element of their case is about sovereignty itself. An independent Scotland would obviously be free to make more choices about its future: gone would be the Trident nuclear subs. But many of its choices would still be constricted within parameters set by major external forces. Those forces would include London, a city with more people and money than the whole of Scotland put together.
If Scotland did somehow manage to retain the use of the pound, its interest rates would be set by a bank governor and a monetary policy committee appointed by a Westminster chancellor. If it was readmitted into the European Union – which, after some aggro, I expect it would be – an independent Scotland would have to negotiate many of its choices through Brussels.
The value of its oil and gas would be determined by decisions made in Riyadh, Tehran, Moscow and Beijing. The cost of its borrowing would be set by bond traders in New York and Frankfurt
And three weeks ago, one of Scotland’s most disputatious intellectuals (who favours independence) expressed things well with this piece on the power and absence of doubt in the nationalist case
I have never actually very sure about Gerry Hassan. His voice has been an engaging one in Scotland in the past decade and, at one stage, I thought he had something interesting to offer in the fight against neo-liberalism. But then I discovered that he was one of them! But his piece echoes some of my thoughts all of 6 months ago – and also reminds me of Brecht’s great poem – In Praise of Doubt which you can read as it is meant to be read in the link.....(the formatting is too complicated here)
Deafened by commends, examined For his fitness to fight by bearded doctors, inspected by resplendent creatures with golden insignia,admonished by solemn clerics who throw at him a book written by God Himself Instructed by impatient schoolmasters, stands the poor man and is told That the world is the best of worlds and that the hole In the roof of his hovel was planned by God in person Truly he finds it hard To doubt the world
There are the thoughtless who never doubt Their digestion is splendid, their judgement infallible They don’t believe in the facts, they believe only in themselves When it comes to the point The facts must go by the board. Their patience with themselves Is boundless. To arguments They listen with the ear of a police spy.
The thoughtless who never doubt Meet the thoughtful who never act They doubt, not in order to come to a decision but To avoid a decision. Their heads They use only for shaking. With anxious faces They warn the crews of sinking ships that water is dangerous....
You who are a leader of men,
do not forget
That you are that because you doubted other leaders
So allow the led
Their right to doubt

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