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Shifting the centre

Posted on July 30, 2012 by

Yesterday we ran a short piece about a report published by what the Scotsman referred to as a new “centre-left” think-tank called the Scotland Institute. We’d been unable to find out much about this new outfit before going off to watch another one squeeze past Brechin City, but while we messed around taking silly pictures of football the dedicated readers of Wings Over Scotland set to work doing our research for us.

In doing so, they uncovered some very interesting information about the Scotland Institute and its driving force. We think it’s reasonably safe to say that on the basis of what we’ve seen so far, the term “centre-left” is stretching the bounds of credibility far beyond any reasonable assessment.

In the interests of fairness, we ought to point out that the term “centre-left” is not one used by the Scotland Institute to describe itself, but a label attached to it by the Scotsman, a fairly conservative newspaper existing very much towards the right of the Scottish political spectrum. The Institute prefers to use the term “non-political” to describe its position – but as we’ll see, that’s if anything a more misleading claim, because the agenda of its founder is anything but.

The Institute is the brainchild of “Scottish academic and philanthropist” Dr Azeem Ibrahim, who is also providing the financing for the venture. Its mission statement is “to generate cutting edge research into Scotland and its people as well as drive innovative policies and ideas, especially aimed at this country’s disadvantaged”, but an examination of the good doctor’s previous work doesn’t necessarily suggest that the redistribution of wealth to the poor is his biggest priority.

Dr Ibrahim is a Fellow of the “Institute for Social Policy and Understanding”, and his entry on its website lists a wide “Area of Expertise” encompassing “Foreign Policy, South Asian Politics, Pakistan, American Muslims, Economy, Counter-terrorism, and International Relations”, conspicuously failing to mention either social justice or, notably, Scotland. Of 100 articles by him for the ISPU, the only one concerned with Scotland is the brief “Why we need an Islamic Tartan”.

The most substantial mention of Scotland we can find in the doctor’s writings appeared on right-wing US site The Huffington Post at the beginning of 2012, in a piece entitled “Scottish Independence And Unanswered Questions” in which Dr Ibrahim expressed the apparent belief that Scotland had already held an independence referendum, over a decade ago. Seemingly, the outcome was that “In 2001, only 27% of the Scottish electorate wanted independence with the majority wanting to retain the present parliament but with extended powers”.

If any readers can recall this referendum, we’d very much appreciate if you’d write in and tell us about it. It escapes our memory entirely, and if Dr Ibrahim is referring to a mere opinion poll rather than a full-scale plebiscite we’re not sure why he’d pick one from 11 years ago. (And even if the Post has inserted a clumsy typo and he means 2011, we haven’t been able to find a poll from that year which matches his 27% figure.)

He has, as far as we’ve been able to determine so far, shown little to no other published interest in Scotland. He lives on the shores of Lake Michigan, near the US-Canadian border, and in a 2008 interview about his strikingly successful and illustrious life (his self-made personal fortune is stated in the feature as £60m, in addition to the management of a hedge fund valued at £100m and with a goal of £1bn), he was described as a man for whom “His Britishness is a source of great pride”.

He’s written extensively for the Conservative Home website, including pieces on why the UK must retain Trident and how the long-term unemployed “just couldn’t be bothered” to find work. Other articles for the same site see Dr Ibrahim expressing his views that “defence funding is more important than other departmental spending” and must be protected above all other budgetary concerns, that austerity is the only way of dealing with the national debt and deficit and that only the private sector can offer a solution, and that the crime of treason should be brought back for terrorists.

Were you to list this set of beliefs to an impartial observer, we very much doubt they would reach the conclusion that Dr Ibrahim’s political persuasions lay on the “centre-left”. That the Scotsman describes his think-tank in such a way reveals, we suspect, more about the paper’s own inclinations than Dr Ibrahim’s.

Should you hear more in the Scottish media over the next two years about the findings of reports commissioned by the Scotland Institute – such as the fact that it entirely coincidentally thinks Scotland’s poor would be better off under a Westminster government committed to spending tens of billions of pounds on a new Trident than an independent Scottish Government with a policy of removing it, for example – you might wish to adjust your calibration of those findings accordingly.

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19 to “Shifting the centre”

  1. G. Campbell says:

    “Mr Ibrahim is an academic at the University of Chicago, where he now lives with his wife, a paediatrician (PEADIATRICIAN*).”

    * translation provided for Rangers fans by Bigotfish

  2. Mark says:

    The Huffington Post isn’t right wing. In America, it’s considered part of the ‘liberal media’.

  3. Erchie says:

    In Scottish terms, possibly even Uk terms, they are Right-Wing
    they even like to get their copy for free and not pay for it, sort of a Workfare for Writers

  4. Scott Minto (Aka Sneekyboy) says:

    @RevStu – You also forgot to mention that as he is calling himself non-political he should really explain why he was recently appointed director and member of the policy board of the UK National Defence Association, a group that highlights the concerns of the British Armed Forces.

    “The people involved in the project are all former UK defence chiefs including leader of the Liberal Democrats Menzies Campbell and Lord David Owen. I am half the age of all of them and the only Muslim on the board as well. The state of the UK armed forces being under funded is an issue that I feel very passionate about. It’s something I am happy to be associated with,”  Dr Azeem Ibrahim

  5. Bill C says:

    As the independence debate gathers momentum, it is becoming increasingly clear that there are are many things that Scotland does not need. Rangers,  bigotry, sectarianism, nuclear weapons, nuclear power, illegal wars, poverty, unemployment, a third recession, to name but a few; I would suggest that Mr. Ibrahim is just another one!

  6. Appleby says:

    Wouldn’t it be nice to think that we can cast all those millstones adrift at the same time we secure our independence, Bill C? It feels within our grasp for the first time in so long.

  7. YesYesYes says:

    While it’s important not to overstate the significance of these right-wing think tanks we mustn’t underestimate them either. It was right-wing think tanks like the Scotland Institute, after all, that developed in England in the decades before Mrs Thatcher came to power, that were responsible for ‘popularising’ much of the neo-liberal agenda in England – The Adam Smith Institute, the Institute of Economic Affairs, the Centre for Policy Studies and several others.
    Mrs Thatcher was just the public mouthpiece for their ideas about the minimal state, cutting personal taxation and public spending, marketisation, curbing trade union ‘power’, privatisation and so on. They created a convincing narrative, in England in particular, about the ‘overloaded’ state and the need to liberate market forces, well captured by Andrew Gamble in his book, The Free Economy and the Strong State, when he said of Thatcherism that, “The idea of a free economy and a strong state involves a paradox, the state is to be simultaneously rolled back and rolled forward”.
    I suspect that the Scotland Institute will perform similar functions in Scotland that these other right-wing think tanks performed in England but with one important difference. It will utilise the vocabulary of ‘globalisation’ (i.e. global-de-gook and globaloney) to legitimate its right wing analyses and conclusions. Unfortunately, many members of the public still naively believe that academics, like journalists, are ‘objective’ and provide the ‘facts’ and the unionists are clearly hoping that most people will not scrutinise these ideas and their proponents beyond these shallow impressions.
    Incidentally, eagle-eyed Wings readers will notice that on Ibrahim’s homepage, under ‘Videos’, there is a recording of his acceptance speech on winning the ‘Business Award’ at the Jinnah Awards UK 2010. The camera picks out a very interested spectator lurking at the back of the hall, and looking a little suspicious, although he always has this disposition. He is none other than our old friend, Anas Sarwar. Say no more.    

  8. James Morton says:

    I suspect that Anas has decided to ride this gentleman’s coat tails – rather than the other way around

  9. YesYesYes says:

    Quite. When I said “suspicious” I meant in a kind of Alistair Campbell sort of way. Not wishing to inflate Sarwar’s importance but it seems to me that, in this video, he looks like someone who has more than a polite interest in Ibrahim’s speech.
    2012 is the 65th anniversary of Pakistan’s independence from Britain, Pakistan being one of almost 60 countries that have won their independence from Britain since 1945 – btw I really like this take on the Queen’s verdict on the Olympics opening ceremony:

    How fitting it would be if, in 2014, Scotland joined the proud people of Pakistan, among many others, in celebrating Scotland’s independence from Britain. But what will our equivalent of the Jinnah Awards be after 2014? The Salmond Awards?

  10. MajorBloodnok says:

    Slightly O/T – Right wing ideology in action in Scotland already:

    What could possibly go wrong?

    And if you have the current copy of Private Eye there is satirical article in there supposedly quoting the MOD saying that with the money they’ve saved from cutting back on the armed forces they can then use this to employ G4S to undertake the military’s current functions…. evidently reality has already overtaken satire.

  11. Bill C says:

    Yes Appleby that is one of my main reasons for  supporting independence for over 40 years. Until we control our destiny we cannot hope to rid our society of the many evils which stalk our land. Hopefully the Scottish people will recognise that fact and VOTE YES in 2014.

  12. douglas clark says:

    I, kind of, agree with what Scott Minto had to say on the previous thread:

    If this guy really is setting this up to block the independence movement then they have trouble coming as we can see from his writing that he walks the line between plausible and pure ideology – that may sucker some in. He is not as overt in his neo-liberal overtones and seems to have a great deal of experience in setting up think tanks such as this. Not to mention his reputation is impeccable.
    In other words, one to watch out for.” 

    He –  Dr Azeem Ibrahim – appears to me  – to be an interesting guy.  Who could, inter alia, pay for the whole ‘Bitter Together’ campaign without, apparently, breaking sweat. I think there are legitimate questions to be asked of him.

    He appears to take some aspects of ‘Scottishness’ seriously, unfortunately it is yet another tartan. He seems to take other concerns, like Trident, somewhat more lightly. I will not criticize his position on imams.

    I see a guy that grew out of Maryhill and became a world citizen. And good luck to him. But somewhere, during that process, he decided that big is beautiful.

    Power is where it’s at.

    That is kinda sad, really.

    I hope Dr Ibrahim will not deploy his money to try to subvert our democratic choice.

    If we are to debate with him, so be it.
    On a level playing field, I’d be fascinated by what he had to say. But that is unlikely to be the ‘terms of engagement’ is it?.
    Does anyone think that that will be possible on his shiny new web site?
    Perhaps, because his name has been mentioned so much here that Dr Ibrahim would have seen this thread and be prepared to comment?
    Probably not.

  13. Arbroath 1320 says:

    Don’t worry Major, this is only the next step along the road towards the Nukes being sold on E-Bay. 😆
    Mind you the sale on E-Bay will only take place after we have sold a few Nukes to North Korea as a measure of appeasement to them after the gawd almighty cock up created by LOCOG at Hampden last Wednesday! 😀

  14. Mac C says:

    Some of the comments above seem unfair. The report seems quite politically neutral and Ibraheem did have SNP Minister Jim Mather MSP speak at the launch as well:
    It seems to me he has tried to keep the whole project politically independent and neutral as best as he could.  
    If you examine his extensive media profile he has received numerous awards for his work in promoting Scotland including the St Andrews Society Award, an Honourary Doctorate from Caledonian for community word not to mention the half dozen charities he set up in Scotland.
    If he is genuinely politically neutral (not sure if he really is) then we need to work to win people like him over, and using terms like super-rich Tory, posh boy, scum-bag, cup-cake is not the way to do it.   

  15. Angus McLellan says:

    @Mac C: If the report were intended to start from a neutral position it would have started with an analysis of Scotland’s needs in the defence (or rather, security, because it includes spies too) field. I can’t see that. Perhaps it got lost in a cut & paste glitch? These things happen.
    Instead, what we get is a report that starts with the – easily disproven – assumption that everything is just peachy now in the security field and couldn’t be improved (unless perhaps by increasing spending, but that’s just more of the same). Add the conviction that nobody but the UK (and perhaps the USA, but they don’t have the best armed forces in the world) is properly defended and the conclusions write themselves.
    But you could just as easily start with the observation that Ireland’s armed forces have kept the country safe from enemies foreign and domestic for the last ninety years or so. Therefore Ireland is clearly the right model. Or there’s Iceland, nearly seventy years and counting. Cherry-picking works wonders.

  16. William W says:

    I see that odious little runt has brought out a new report. Scaremongering of the worst kind.

    He is just using his money to manipulate research.

  17. Talia Archie says:

    James, how can he afford to finance scotland institute himself? Something is fishy. I suspect it is front for some big Tory donors. Wings should investigate this fella. He’s just an academic.

  18. James Morton says:

    Azeem Ibraheem is a dangerous, devious tool employed by the NO campaign to do their bidding. The poor Dr probably doesn’t even realise he is being manipulated. His pet project, Scotland Institute “think tank” is being funded by himself to the tune of 100,000s pounds. Don’t be surprised if he gets a big shiny gong at the end of this.

  19. James Morton says:

    He is not just an academic. He was a banker hedge fund guy who sold up and is now using his money all over the world to manipulate governments. Create the mess then advise how to clean it up.

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