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Wings Over Scotland

The Straight Debates #2

Posted on May 19, 2012 by

It’s been a while since our first Straight Debate and we’d hoped to have had more by now, but it’s surprising how many Unionists (nearly all of them) aren’t prepared to have a simple and open discussion. Duncan Hothersall, though, is one of the most prominent and hardcore online Labour activists in Scotland. We’d been badgering him to take up the cudgels for ages, and last week he finally agreed. This is how it went.


DH: I’m a devolutionist. I see great value in the devolved legislatures of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Devolution has been embraced most firmly in Scotland, not least because of our already established separate legal and social structures which were always painfully administered from the old Scottish Office and are far more effectively led from our parliament. The 1998 Scotland Act’s system of reservations rather than devolutions means the vast majority of Scotland’s every day leadership comes from Holyrood. And the 2012 Scotland Act has reduced those reservations still further. The present Scottish Government has an absolute majority who are incredibly loyal to its leadership. It has a legislative free-rein and a budget of £30 billion a year. And it claims to be determined to act in the interests of Scots.

So my question is this: is it not utterly transparent, and grotesquely hypocritical, for that government to be effectively sitting on its hands for the last year and the next two, to continue to blame Westminster and paint a picture of a nation held back, to ignore – and even allow to wither – the economic levers at its fingertips, and to instead gamble the welfare of Scots on the prize of independence (which a majority of Scots have consistently said they do not want) rather than to work as hard as possible to improve the lot of Scots right now, with the extensive powers it already has?

WoS: No. It’s a bit disappointing that you’ve opened with a “Have you stopped beating your wife?” question, because clearly I absolutely disagree that the Scottish Government is doing any such thing at all. What are these levers it’s allowing to wither? There are currently no tax-varying powers available to the Parliament, for example, and there won’t be for several years. The budget is decreasing in real terms, and costs are rising. If you know where a few billion extra pounds can be located, I’m sure the Scottish Government will be extremely keen to hear from you.

It seems to be the consensus of opinion that the SNP was re-elected so comprehensively in 2011 not as a result of a surge in support for independence but because it had done a good job of running the economy in the preceding four years, in difficult circumstances. Your assertion, then, wouldn’t seem to be supported by the electorate thus far, and your claims about what’s going to happen in the next two years are obviously pure speculation with no basis in fact, so I’m not sure how useful they are to a constructive debate.

The fact is, independence would put billions directly back into the Scottish economy BEFORE you start talking about oil or renewables or other such variable income sources. The likely savings on defence alone would be in the region of £5bn-plus in a single Parliamentary term – enough to pay for GARL, EARL, the new Forth crossing and the dualling of the A9, with probably enough left over to finish off the Great Tram Folly that Labour insisted on foisting on Edinburgh, spitefully setting fire to almost a billion pounds purely to give the SNP a bloody nose.

(On top of the hundreds of millions the Lab-Lib administrations of 1999-2007 handed back to London because, astonishingly, they couldn’t think of anything to spend it on. What a shame they didn’t invest it in, say, building social housing that would have alleviated some of the pressure currently being piled onto the poor. How many houses was it in Labour’s last term of office? Six, wasn’t it?)

As for whether “the majority of Scots don’t want independence”, we’ll find out whether that’s true or not pretty soon – the SNP, after all, aren’t the ones who’ve desperately fought tooth and nail to avoid having it put to the test all this time. But I have no intention of taking their answer for granted.

DH: It was more of a “why are you still beating your wife?” question, since the beating is going on in full public view. The Scottish Government’s inaction and picking of fights has been clearly observable, and it’s a pity you’re in denial about it. But you are certainly singing from the same hymn sheet as Scottish Ministers, constantly regurgitating different versions of the argument that Scotland’s devolved government is powerless and independence would solve all.

“There are currently no tax-varying powers available to the Parliament” you say. This must come as some surprise to the Scottish people, who voted in the referendum to grant Parliament tax varying powers. And indeed a quick check of the Scotland Act 1998 confirms that those powers remain in place, despite the SNP’s efforts to denude Parliament of its right to change tax rates by refusing to fund the administrative upkeep of that power. You want to pretend that the only economic levers the Scottish Government has are coming under the new Scotland Act in 2015. You want to pretend that the Scottish Government cannot act. These things are simply untrue.

It’s a choice. The Scottish Government’s overriding aim, confirmed time and again, is to secure a yes vote in 2014. It has made it abundantly clear that it prefers to blame and pick fights to bolster its chances in 2014 rather than knuckle down and work at solving problems with the powers it has. It prefers to highlight differences and separations rather than find common ground and improve the lives of Scots.

Economic development in Scotland is entirely under the control of the Scottish Government. SE and HIE are having their budgets cut while failing to deliver the entrepreneurship growth which the Scottish economy desperately needs. Their biggest output is not new companies or new markets, but a band of mostly publicly funded experts in grant applications, who have cultivated the personal contacts and bureaucratic gymnastics to win grants, creating a self-supporting circle of established companies living off the state and the EU. The Scottish Government could and should take action here, but they aren’t doing so.

The Scottish Government’s budget can also be used, as was shown in the cynical bribe just before the local elections, to fund employment support schemes. But instead of a strategy across Scotland, we have a media campaign, re-badging monies already committed and giving the appearance of action while taking no responsibility for outcomes. The Scottish Government could decide to take this seriously across the country, but they are choosing not to.

There are hundreds of other examples of areas where risks could be taken and success sought. The plain truth is that the Scottish Government’s avowed policy for this term is to do nothing to prejudice their chances of a yes in the independence referendum. That selfish single focus is a betrayal of those who voted for them to lead the devolved government of Scotland. It is in my view utterly transparent and grotesquely hypocritical.

WoS: Holyrood’s tax-varying powers are of course NOT in practice available at present, whoever you blame for the fact. And you know as well as I do that any party which stood on a platform of raising tax to pay for services would get slaughtered at the polls – presumably you recall the SNP’s “Penny For Scotland” campaign that was such a resounding success in 1999. So what you appear to be suggesting is that a party should stand on a dishonest manifesto of not raising income tax, then sneakily whack it up the minute it gets into Bute House. Hmm, honourable.

I also don’t think it helps the debate if you just tell flat-out lies like “The SNP’s avowed policy is to do nothing to damage the Yes vote.” Firstly, I’d love to see you quote the SNP leadership actually “avowing” that anywhere. And secondly, the first 12 months of the majority government have seen the passing of two hugely controversial and divisive bills – minimum pricing and the anti-sectarianism act – with another one hot on their heels in the form of the gay marriage consultation.

Every one of those threatens to cost the SNP substantial amounts of support, or already has done – my personal view is that the anti-sectarianism bill contributed significantly to the worse-than-expected result in the Glasgow council elections, for example. And gay marriage will beyond much doubt be the most contentious bill EVER brought before the Scottish Parliament. So accusing them of doing nothing to frighten the horses before 2014 is a quite staggeringly dishonest reversal of the plainly-visible facts.

To be honest, though, it’s hard to see any material arguments to constructively respond to in amongst the above – it’s just vague, empty rhetoric of the sort Labour specialises in while it’s trying to come up with a solid definable policy position on anything. Or perhaps more truthfully, to avoid coming up with any – it’s hard to have your policies subjected to scrutiny and criticism if nobody knows what they are. Tuition fees? Dunno. Replacement for the Council Tax? Dunno, spent five years talking about it and then gave up. Council Tax up, down or frozen in the meantime? Dunno. Trident replacement? Dunno. Which additional powers should come to the Scottish Parliament? Dunno.

Scottish Labour’s rallying call is “We don’t know what we’d do, but it wouldn’t be whatever the SNP are doing.” Blanket kneejerk negativity might, in a very limited sense, be a useful opposition strategy, but it doesn’t make much of a debating position, let alone an inspiring manifesto for government. And even after the 2011 result, that’s a lesson Labour still don’t seem to want to learn.


WoS: The thing I really don’t understand about Scottish Labour is why you’re so determined to have the South-East of England choose Scotland’s government. All the most important decisions concerning Scotland – taxation, excise duty, welfare, defence, etc – are still made in London by a government that by definition is overwhelmingly elected by English voters (outnumbering everyone else put together by 5 to 1). Those voters are much more inclined to vote for the Conservatives than Scottish ones are, which means that Scotland spends years suffering needlessly under Tory governments it overwhelmingly rejected at the polls.

An independent Scottish Government would – and this is of course an assertion, but it’s beyond any sensible argument – be a centre-left social-democratic one for at least the foreseeable future.

(I’m going to slightly generously grant that Scottish Labour, unlike the UK party, are still just about on the left, and also to assume, perhaps optimistically, that you’re not going to be so blatantly disingenuous or at odds with reality as to claim that the UK as a whole is no more likely to vote Tory than Scotland is.)

Even you can’t realistically believe it’d be possible for Labour to win every Westminster election, so why are you so absolutely insistent on inflicting Tory governments on Scotland? Is it a triumph of blind ideology over practical reality (“We CAN win every election!”), or do you just think Scottish Labour are so abysmally inept that they couldn’t be trusted to run a convivial evening in a brewery, let alone a nation you lived in?

That’s a little leading, of course, so let me ask it in a fairer way: To you as a Scottish Labour activist, is the (rationally indisputable) increased risk of having a Tory government make all the most important decisions about Scotland really a price worth paying to keep Scotland in the Union?

DH: No. And if your hypothesis bore any relationship to reality that might be a fair criticism of “unionism” in its broadest and least existent sense. But it doesn’t, so it isn’t.

Firstly, you associate geography and nationality with political belief. This is frankly ludicrous. The political beliefs of individuals are constantly changing – as current UK-wide polling shows – and are affected by a whole range of factors, including prejudices, life experience, study, local, national and international events, and so on. The idea that we can carve up chunks of land and call some of them left wing and some of them right wing is one of the fundamental untruths at the heart of the independence message. People move, areas change, events happen. And parties also change and remould themselves to follow the people.

One needs only to note the recent surges in SNP support and plunges in Lib Dem votes to see that describing any geographical area as being inclined one way politically is pure folly. This is as true for a nation as it is for a suburb. Politics does not change at Berwick. Presume political allegiance at your peril.

Second, you ignore the distorting effect on the traditional left/right split exerted by the existence of a party focused on the separate axis of nationalism and independence. The SNP may have adopted the mantle of a centre-left party in order to take on Labour and the Lib Dems at the domestic polls, but it is in reality a rainbow alliance of left and right, united by that single shared aim of independence. So it has a skewing effect on any assessment of how right- or left-wing Scots in general are. To put it simply, there are plenty of Tories in Scotland; not all of them currently vote Tory.

(And in case you protest that the SNP is truly left-wing and social democratic to its core, let’s not forget that it has a relentlessly centralising agenda against local government, and that its leadership is on record calling for lower corporation tax and the laughable absurdity of Laffer curve economics.)

I believe passionately in Labour ideals. I’ll fight to make Labour relevant and effective, and I’ll work hard to take that message to voters across the UK in UK elections, across Scotland in Scottish elections, and across Edinburgh in local elections. What I will not do is give up on the UK in order to make it easier to win in Scotland. Because everyone counts.

The argument that says we should vote for independence to avoid Tory rule is an utterly broken one. We should not be trying to win political arguments by drawing new lines on the map excluding places where the people we don’t like tend to live! We should be trying to win political arguments by addressing the issues at their heart. Unless we’re going to do that, then it’s time you guys were honest and drew your Tory exclusion line north of Dumfriesshire.

WoS: Yes, I do “associate geography and nationality with political belief”, because that’s the way it is. For my entire life (and yours), Scotland has consistently rejected the Tories – the best they’ve ever done since I was born was 22 MPs out of 72 in 1979 – while England has regularly elected them. That’s not nationalist propaganda, it’s not some wild assertion plucked out of the air, it’s a plain and simple measurable fact.

To clarify: I’m NOT saying there’s something inherent or genetic about being born or living in Scotland that makes you left-wing – I’m merely saying that’s how it’s been for all of your life and all of my life, it’s how it is now, and it’s how it’s going to be for the foreseeable future, so we might as well deal with the reality rather than railing against it.

Weirdly, it seems to actually upset you that Scotland so consistently votes for left-wing parties, because it blows apart your ideological myth of internationalism. Sure, it’d be lovely if everyone lived together in one giant global brother/sisterhood and there were no borders – but we don’t, and there ARE borders, so we might as well take advantage of them when the opportunity arises.

Nobody, contrary to your somewhat bizarre claim, is proposing drawing any “new” lines on a map – as far as I’m aware independence would start on the current line from the Solway to the Tweed that’s been there for hundreds of years – but I don’t see why someone in Arbroath should have to endure the misery of a Tory government just because someone in Halifax has to, or why you would condemn five million of your own people to needless suffering just to make a point.

I do agree, though, that “we should be trying to win political arguments by addressing the issues at their heart”, which is why – as someone currently living in England – I’m desperate to see an independent social-democratic Scotland set an example that would demonstrate how socialist values CAN work, and thereby inspire the left down here to abandon the neo-Tory “consensus” it’s so cravenly adopted in its desperate pursuit of power and offer a genuine alternative to the current three flavours of Conservatism that are dragging the UK into the abyss.

You, on the other hand, appear instead to have some masochistic attachment to being tied to a vastly bigger country that’s been stubbornly resistant to Labour values for a third of a century and shows no sign of changing any time soon.

(The lack of self-awareness, incidentally, in your protestations that the SNP encompasses relative left and right factions is mindboggling. Of course it does – ALL parties have a spectrum of internal views – but there isn’t a single SNP MP or MSP anywhere near as far to the right as Tony Blair, James Purnell and David Blunkett were, and the likes of Tom Harris still are. If you’re deluding yourself to the contrary, you may be beyond help.)

And just by the by: Are you embarrassed that Ed Miliband – leader of a party whose emblem is a red rose, whose banners are red and which still closes its conferences with a rousing rendition of “The Red Flag” – is so ashamed and horrified by the notion that anyone might call him “Red Ed”?

DH: Hmm. We seem to have lost the high-minded ideal of debate here, with you reduced to traducing individuals in lieu of actually having an argument. I can immediately think of several SNP MSPs far more right wing on economic and social issues than any of those you mentioned, and I’m entirely confident in my view that the SNP has a far broader spread to the right than Labour does. The notion that the SNP is a centre-left party is a convenience. The SNP is, and always has been, a single-issue pressure group, and it will do anything to achieve its sole aim. Including doing harm to Scots by picking fights instead of solving problems if it thinks it can get away with it.

The central point here is that, protest as you may, Scotland has never voted with one voice for anything. Scotland does not have a single political affiliation, or even a predominant one. We are a plural society with a wide range of views represented, just as the whole of the UK is. We have a history of more social conservatism than the rest of the UK. And it is utterly foolhardy for anyone to predict that an independent Scotland would be left aligned.

People will vote for the leaders and policies they think are best and this assessment will change over time. It is monumentally more likely that, like the UK and almost every other modern democracy, an independent Scotland would enter a swing cycle between left and right, alternating between Labour and Tory governments once the SNP had served its purpose and dissolved to a rump.

I find it incomprehensible for anyone who claims to be left wing to want to create another island of self-interest in the world – another market, another reason to justify limiting workers’ rights in the name of remaining competitive, another government giving bungs to multinationals to pinch jobs off its neighbours – an island of self-interest with no influence at all on a global scale.

You originally asked if I thought allowing the possibility of Tory rule was a price worth paying. The truth is that wherever you draw your borders, democracy means you cannot prevent the Tories being a threat. The way we will defeat the Tories isn’t by retreating into a corner; it is by fighting for our values in union.


DH: The Scottish Government’s consultation into the referendum has just closed. While the public were allegedly being asked about the timing of the vote, the Scottish Government leaked the date it would be held, so it’s fairly clear that decisions on the referendum will be made exclusively in the interests of attempting to achieve a success for the SNP, rather than on the basis of the opinions given by the public.

With that in mind, and with Labour riding high in the UK polls, the 2-question option which was seemingly dismissed by senior SNP figures including Nicola Sturgeon some months ago rears its head again. The thinking is, apparently, that the “keep the Tories out” argument which we were just discussing will have far less potency in 2014 if it looks like Labour will win the UK election in 2015.

So my question is a simple one. Do you agree with me that the referendum question should be a simple choice between a clearly defined independence and the status quo, with no “devo max” or similar to muddy the waters?

WoS: Yes. And so, I promise you, do the SNP leadership (who I’ve never met or spoken to). I’ve explained why on Wings Over Scotland many times, and it baffles me beyond words that anyone who’s thought about it for more than 30 seconds could ever genuinely imagine otherwise.

Again, though, I wish you’d stop saying things that are flat-out untrue. The Scottish Government did NOT “leak the date”. The Sun took a guess, the SNP didn’t – and indeed, couldn’t, because the consultation was still going on – either confirm or deny it. We can argue the toss, but I’ll happily bet you 50 quid here and now that the referendum WON’T be on the day the Sun claimed, for any number of reasons. Deal?

DH: The date printed by the Sun was leaked by someone in the SNP. It may or may not turn out to be the actual date of the referendum, so I’ll decline your deal thanks, but I’d happily take your 50 quid on it landing within a month either side of that date. The idea that on launch day of a paper born out of the shame of the lies and criminality of the News of the World, during the Leveson inquiry, the Sun would make up something so deniable, is laughable. And indeed the lack of a denial from the SNP that the source was theirs speaks volumes.

In any event, I’m glad to have established common ground on the need for a simple choice between a clearly defined independence and the status quo. I look forward to the clear definition of independence emerging as a firm proposal well in advance of the date. Too many flags have been flown and u-turns made in recent months for Scots to have any certainty as to what independence would really look like. And it’s vital that we can judge on the facts, not on some hand-waving definition of a land of milk and honey.

So what do you think will happen if, as I predict, come 2014 Labour’s UK poll strength continues to be high, and referendum polling continues to suggest that Scots favour being part of the UK? Do you agree with me that Alex Salmond, ever the shrewd operator, will far prefer to find a reason why the vote cannot go ahead, than lose and have nowhere else to go? Do you think a reason will be found to tie up the referendum in the courts and delay it beyond 2015, and if so, what do you think it might be?

WoS: No, I don’t. (In what’s rapidly becoming a Scottish Labour trademark, I’ve repeatedly offered a wager to that effect to your compatriot Ian Smart, who keeps loudly insisting that the referendum isn’t going happen. He won’t put his money where his mouth is either…) And as for the poll being within a month either side of the Sun’s date, well, duh – of course it will. There’s only about a two-month window it could POSSIBLY happen in.

Salmond said it would be “well into the second half” of the Parliament, which takes us to early summer 2014 at the minimum, and it can’t go into 2015 because that would run uncomfortably close to the General Election. (Plus you don’t want to be holding a referendum in the Scottish winter, when there’s a good chance of people getting snowed out of polling stations.)

Allowing for all the stuff that’s going to be happening in spring/summer (World Cup, Ryder Cup, Commonwealth Games, school holidays, plus the desire to avoid having it around the Bannockburn anniversary because even Brian Taylor recognises that the SNP aren’t that stupid), mid-September to mid-November 2014 is pretty much the only period that fits the required criteria. 

(In fact it’s hard to see it being as late as November, again because of the danger of bad weather, but the first half is just about feasible. I originally guessed at St Andrew’s Day, but on reflection that’s just too late in the year and too close to Christmas.)

The Sun are just as capable of working all that out as I am, without needing anything to be “leaked” by anyone, and amazingly enough they plumped for a date bang in the middle of that range so they’d be as close as possible whatever happened.  But you made an allegation based on a groundless assertion about a specific date so that you could smear the SNP, rather than reaching the obvious, logical and altogether less sinister conclusion. I don’t know if it’s cheap and cynical opportunism or if Scottish Labour are just genuinely so paranoid that they see evil wee Salmond-faced demons everywhere they look – both would be entirely in character for the party – but either way it’s predictable and boring.


WoS: I’m intrigued by your comment back in Question 2 about “fighting for our values in union”. The independence debate isn’t really a fight between “nationalists” and “Unionists”, but one between Scottish nationalists and British nationalists. You’ve described yourself as an internationalist, and as far as I know you subscribe to the much-repeated Labour line that there’s no difference between a low-paid worker in Barnsley and one in Banff, yet you exclude ones in Bruges or Boston from your “union” – I’ve never seen Labour or any other so-called “Unionists” advocating a World Government, or a single European super-state, or a 1984-style Oceania uniting the English-speaking world.

The inescapable conclusion is therefore that “Unionists” DO still accept the concept of individual nations, it’s just that they’ve decided Britain rather than Scotland is their own one. That being the case, can you tell us how you arrived at this seemingly-arbitrary choice? Are there specific criteria (eg nothing below, say, a 30m population counts as a legitimate nation), is it just a gut feeling, did you toss a coin, or is there something else?

DH: My view is that the fewer islands of self-interest we create in the world the better. Since Scottish independence would create a new island of self-interest, I’m against it. Uniting helps ordinary people and shares effort; dividing pits ordinary people against each other and wastes effort. It’s a simple as that as far as I’m concerned.

You’re flat out wrong to claim that everyone is a nationalist. I’m not one, and indeed I’d estimate a substantial proportion of folk on both sides of the independence debate aren’t nationalists either. The fact that I have a nationality does not make me a nationalist, just as the fact that I have a race does not make me a racist.

As far as world governments go, I’d like to see the workers own the means of production everywhere on earth; we could then see where that might lead. I’m comfortable with the idea of a federal Europe in time. I believe that the richest countries can and should unite with the poorest and share the world’s resources. None of these things are as ludicrous as the scorn in your opening paragraph seeks to pretend.

The fundamental point is simple: co-operation is good for people, bad for profits; competition is bad for people, good for profits. I’m on the side of the people. The union is on the side of the people. The last thing we need is more islands of self-interest in the world.

WoS: I was with you all the way up to “the Union is on the side of the people”. Where in the name of Wee Archie Gemmill do you get an idea as wildly at odds with reality as that when you live in Britain, one of the most unequal countries in the civilised world, and which is getting more unequal by the day because all three of its main political parties are business-friendly, profit-worshipping neoliberals?

You do know that inequality ROSE under 13 years of a UK Labour government, and is heading into the stratosphere under the Tories, yes? At some point aren’t you going to have to come to terms with the fact that the idealised 1960s-style Labour Party in your head bears almost no resemblance whatever to the one that actually contests elections?

(Then again, if you honestly believe that the richest countries are going to “unite with the poorest and share the world’s resources” any time between now and the end of eternity, perhaps not – are you interested in purchasing some magic beans, by any chance? I’m aware that this debate is becoming more of an argument, but I really don’t know if it’s possible to hold a sensible discussion with anybody who could say that with a straight face. As pressure on resources starts to really mount in the next 50 years and the world population goes through the roof, most rational people are predicting a dramatic upsurge in wars, not the sudden outbreak of a new Summer Of Love. The world is completely incapable of getting along even when there’s plenty of food and water and oil for everyone – you really think those things becoming scarcer will make the people who have them MORE inclined to give them away?)

DH: What an incredibly disappointing response. Not only have you ignored almost all the points I raised including my direct answer to your question, but you’ve resorted to the sort of sneering self-satisfaction which typifies so much of SNP and nationalist politics. At best, your argument can be summarised as “there’s no point in trying to make the world better, let’s pull up the drawbridge on our little patch and sod the rest”.

I would point out that while the gap between rich and poor rose under the last Labour government, which is an important measure, the more significant fact is that over a million families with children were lifted out of poverty thanks to the redistributive policies of Labour during the ten years following 1997. That’s not profit-worshipping neoliberalism, that’s the biggest redistribution of wealth this country has seen in more than 60 years. And every time achievements like the minimum wage and tax credits are ignored by someone like you trying to tar all parties with the same brush, I know I’m talking to a point-scorer not a debater.

In my time debating with pro-independence folk I have come across a lot of people who can at least justify on principle why they think independence for Scotland is a good idea. I have disagreed, on principle, but I can respect their views. I was wary of entering into this discussion with you because from past interactions I suspected that you would not be one of those people. How right I was. We’re done.

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24 to “The Straight Debates #2”

  1. Rev. Stuart Campbell

    So that, slightly disappointingly, went pretty much as I expected. Dunc started off with a false question and set a tone that rarely rose above the level of shouting match on either side, partly because he consistently dodged questions. (Bizarrely, he insisted off-air that Ed Miliband WASN’T ashamed of being called “red”, when I challenged him over breaking the rules by not answering that question.)

    Dunc has perhaps the highest capacity for outright doublethink-style denial of anyone I’ve encountered since starting this blog. It’s absolutely extraordinary to me, for example, that anyone would continue to actually contest the assertion that Scotland is more left-wing than the UK as a whole, when the incontrovertible arithmetical electoral facts prove it beyond the tiniest sliver of dispute. The Tories have NEVER done better in Scotland than in the UK in a single general election, all the way back to the beginning of the modern electoral system after World War 2.

    (And even I was taken by surprise by his professed belief that in the incredibly difficult battle for resources that is the future of the planet, nations will come together in a touchy-feely mass hug of sharing rather than fighting bitterly and savagely for their own interests. I have to wonder if Dunc ever watches the news.)

    But for all that, DH showed more guts than anyone else from Labour (or indeed the entire Union side) has in taking part in the debate at all, so kudos and respect is due.

  2. Theuniondivvie

    The fact that I have a nationality does not make me a nationalist, just as the fact that I have a race does not make me a racist.’

    Yup, if he’s capable of such a peurile and frankly crap rhetorical folderol, he certainly deserves kudos for displaying his meretriciousness to all and sundry.  

  3. Andrew Haddow

    My view is that the fewer islands of self-interest we create in the world the better. Since Scottish independence would create a new island of self-interest, I’m against it. Uniting helps ordinary people and shares effort; dividing pits ordinary people against each other and wastes effort. It’s a simple as that as far as I’m concerned.”

    A quick look round the smaller counties of Europe would suggest this is rubbish. 

  4. Ron Wilson

    What, pray, is this ‘island of self interest’ tosh? It is the business of all governments in liberal democracies to champion the self interest of their own peoples. Why should the nation of Scotland be any different?
    In the 1970’s it was the self interest of the Labour Westminster government that led to burying of the McCrone Report which clearly pointed out the massive advantages independence would confer upon the Scottish people, advantages that would see Scotland as a rock in the financial storm currently engulfing the Euro.
    A self interest that Scottish Labour happily went along with, no matter the Scottish national interest and the consequences in terms of economic opportunity, poverty and fragmented families as Scots were forced to leave the country to see work elsewhere.
    We now have the opportunity in 2014 to put this country on a new footing, a country with a grown up politics, a grown up parliament and a people empowered to make the big decisions on the economy, internationalism and the kind of country we want to be. A country, Duncan, that can be a beacon for the good folk of England.

  5. Dál Riata

    I actually voted for Labour back in the day, when it seemed like they actually had some kind of ‘soul’. These days are now long gone. As has been quoted before, I didn’t leave them, they left me. They became something I didn’t want to be associated with. I now abhor them and what they represent, which, to be honest, I don’t think they really know themselves any more.

    Having grinded my teeth reading through Mr. Hothersall’s views has only re-enforced my opinions on the (Scottish) Labour Party. They now would rather Scotland stagnated in perpetuity, as a price worth paying to continue having their snouts in the ‘dis’union trough to their benefit (not the people’s), than let Scotland and its citizens enjoy the advantages of independence and any prosperity it may bring. Just despicable and beyond contempt. 

  6. Morag

    I’ve come across this mantra of “we need one world government, not more borders” from other people too, and I’m interested in how widespread the position is.  The guy I was debating it with last week is right-wing, so it’s not just the Marxists.  I think it’s batsqueak insane, and my instinct is to drop the debate because there are few ordinary voters who think like that, but am I mistaken?
    In practical terms, nobody has any clue how a one-world government would be achieved.  “I believe that the richest countries can and should unite with the poorest and share the world’s resources,” has to be the most out-of-touch-with-reality position I have heard since Ally’s Tartan Army.
    My right-wing friend opined gloomily it might happen after a global catastrophe.  That’s the least likely way such a thing might happen.  After a global catastrophe it’s a dead cert there would be more smaller units than there are today.  Maybe very many more.  I suggested he was actually talking about global conquest and tyranny, with a superpower expanding by military and economic force to take over the world.  And that most people would be horrified at such a prospect.  I didn’t get a coherent response.
    I suggested that conversely we might see a coming-together of small nation-states, where nobody was large enough to pose a military or economic threat to anyone else, and this might be more what he had in mind.  However, to you need smaller units, to eliminate the threatening big boys.  All he did was sneer at countries so small that their governments were the size of a parish council.
    He insists he’s for small government, but sidestepped the question when I pointed out that what he was actually advocating was very big government.  Either the world government controls everything – one big department of roads looking after my road and the ones in the mountains of Ecuador and the ones being covered by sand in the Sahara – or it was very hands-off locally, which was a recipe for rule by local robber barons.  He conceded some local administration was probably needed.
    My position was that I saw three layers as practical.  The county council, Holyrood, and the EU.  I don’t see a need for a layer of actual government above the EU, more co-operation and planning, and I don’t see a need for anything between Holyrood and the EU.  He wanted to retain Westminster, and add a “world government” on top, right?  So how was this “small government”?
    He retreated into his original mantra of “anyone can see that nationalism at any level is unable to address global problems” without at any point answering any of my objections.  He’s not going to vote yes in 2014, no way.
    Well he’s only one guy.  My question is, how many of him are out there?  It seems a completely brain-dead position to me.  The practicalities are simply ridiculous, it’s something that seriously isn’t going to happen and if it did it’s very probable we wouldn’t like it one little bit.  And yet this misguided pipe-nightmare is why we should vote against making Scotland a nation like Norway or Denmark or Switzerland or Slovenia.  I just don’t get it.

  7. Juteman

    The ‘Labour’ party like to forget that Jimmy Reid became a SNP member.
    To become an Internationalist, you have to have become a Nationialst first.

    I mentioned it on another thread, but what did ‘that’ photo of Mandelson, Osbourne and Rothschild on the boat in the Med say about International (New Labour) Socialism?

    For what it’s worth, this person was a member of the WRP in his mis-spent youth, and now votes SNP at every election.

  8. Clawd Baws

    So what Duncan’s saying is: we all must suffer together with no hope of any relief anytime soon even where we actually do have a choice? Taking his argument to a personal level, if my neighbour chooses to live in a bin at the bottom of his garden and won’t be persuaded that there is a better way to live, should I do the same to show solidarity? What about the rest of the neighbourhood? The choices that the UK is making even (especially?) when Labour is in power is to prefer the funding of Trident and foreign wars over pension provision and care of the sick, needy and elderly. 

    Labour wants to win elections, not to secure an end to world poverty.  While I accept every party has to have that close to its heart, the hope is that it’s not the be all and end all. 

    That is the harsh reality that labourites have not got to grips with.  Everything changed with Blair and all socialist bets are now off. Given Labour’s record, the idea that the SNP are the ones sitting on their hands is frankly bizarre.

    While a fairer world that redistributed its wealth so that no one went hungry is certainly a laudable ideal, the fact is it’s not going to happen anytime soon.  You have get your own house in order before taking on anyone else’s and, rather excitingly, Scotland has exactly that chance just a ballot box tick away. 

  9. Juteman

    Good post, Knackerd Goolies. 🙂

  10. Clawd Baws

    They are a tad tender, it’s true…

  11. Erchie

    Thereis no debating with Duncan Hothersall

    He is not an honest debater

    He claims to earn internationalist, but as spotted, only within the confines of the United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland

    He claims to be a left-winger, but supported the right-wing Tom Harris and was sub-admin on Harris’s website. Harris who does not think the Labour Party is there to help the disadvantaged

    He claims to want to help the poor, but wants to raise taxes that disproportionately affect the poor

    Never mind being in the “All Nats are racists & fascist” camp of the unlovely Harris

    You could have found someone better than him surely?


  12. Rev. Stuart Campbell

    You’d think, but as I said – whatever else you or I might say about Dunc, he participated, albeit maybe not entirely in the best faith. I’ve asked numerous others, but no-one else has had the bottle to stand up and make a case for what they claim to believe. If you know anyone in the No camp who does, please send them this way.

  13. Ron Wilson

    RevStu, the supporters of the Union with England know full well that their case is founded upon sand, hence the nonsense about disaster, pestilence, parochialism, pseudo-internationalism and anything else they think will spike the guns of the pro Scottish sovereignty movement. Which is why the best they can come up with is a putulant sulk and attempt to grab the ball to take home as the big boys ain’t being fair.
    Independence is the natural state of affairs for nations. Dependence – the Unionist position – is an abberation & leads to the negative inward looking mince exemplified by the London parties – & Duncan – to date.

  14. HenBroon

    DH is the gatekeeper of the Willie Bain school of Scottish politics. If the SNP are for it I am against it. And if that means telling lies and spreading propaganda that is what will be done. He implies that we are part of the world so there fore how dare we want to govern our own country, when we can be governed by another who takes our resources and throws us scraps. The fact that Scotland being governed from within Scotland is more likely to be a vibrant successful country able to extend the hand of peace and friendship to others, and not drop bombs on them has been tippexed from new Labour thinking. Blairs Iraq legacy has given the lie to DH and his parallel universe.

  15. douglas clark

    Rev Stu,
    I am no fan of Duncan Horthersall. I think he is a worthless unionist.
    However I hope you let him know about you post debate comments and his right of reply.
    Because he ought to be encouraged to defend himself, right here.

  16. James Morton

    His replies were pure sophistry. He knows full well that the SNP stated the referendum would be held in last couple years of the current parliament. This man, who represents a party that pulled out all the stops to halt a referendum in its tracks, now wants the referendum held immediately. Alex Massie recently stated that Labours opportunity to dictate terms to the SNP on the question of a referendum was in 2007 & that the moment had passed,  I would agree – If history shows us anything is that losers do not get to dictate terms to the victors.

    Labour stopped being Labour a long time ago. Instead of shoring up and repairing the damage that Thatcher and Major had inflicted on the Union, they decided to take up the Tory cause and keep on smashing the pillars of support that was holding the Union together.

    The reason no one on the Unionist side of the camp is able to utter anything positive about the Union; without it talking about Empire, WW2 and playing on a global stage, is that the real foundations of Union are largely gone from British life and culture. What replaced it is the right wings precious “market”. Trouble is…its very difficult to get misty eyed about the free market. Your heart is not going to swell with pride because our bankers are the very best the UK has [well..according to the Tories and labour, who couldn’t bring themselves to jail any of them]. Very hard to take pride in a Union were the current government wants to make education a domain of the rich, healthcare a domain of the rich, that wants label anyone who lost an arm or leg as being able bodied, who is within a gnats hair of forcing the police to go on strike. It sickens me to the core. It makes me sick with anger that these “Tories” are in charge again. So to hear Labour talk about defending Scotland within the Union, because the Union is on the side of the people, while this attack on the very fundamentals that underpin the civic institutions of the Union while celebrating the biscuit tin image of Union, and labour standing by saying nothing whatsoever, because Ed is scared of being labelled “leftist” makes me feel so utterly helpless and powerless.

    I find Labour to be utterly contemptible and so bereft of any virtues that would make them worthy of having power, that I simply cannot and will not vote for them. I consider the Lib Dems to be utterly damned, wretched and deserving nothing but scorn. This was the party that boasted it was the guarantors of change – idiocy doesn’t even begin to describe them.

    Of the conservatives – They as ever the side trapped on the wrong side of the fence and what’s more – happy to be there. As Brian Taylor said of them once: “the Tories are always rushing into the fight waving the wrong flag”. You have to admire the tenacity, but pity the fools for constantly digging up the fly blown corpse of Thatcherism and expecting Scotland to embrace it. They keep harping on about the one time they were popular in Scotland (1955) But it was a different country then and a different Conservative party. There is a warning for Labour in this dilemma of the conservatives, had they the wit to see it. 

  17. Rev. Stuart Campbell

    “However I hope you let him know about you post debate comments and his right of reply.”

    Dunc knows the piece has been posted here (he retweeted it), and he already has an approved posting account here. I’ve commented on the posting of the debate on his blog, and he can post here freely if he chooses to.

  18. Christian Wright

    DH wrote: “The idea that we can carve up chunks of land and call some of them left wing and some of them right wing is one of the fundamental untruths at the heart of the independence message.”

    This is flim flam and directly contradicts observable fact. The man is either disingenuous or he is delusional.

    This sort of carnival-barking nonsense is irritating.

    You simply cannot engage in reasoned argument with some one who refuses or is incapable of being reasonable.

  19. Christian Wright

    DH: “The fundamental point is simple: co-operation is good for people, bad for profits; competition is bad for people, good for profits. ”

    In my less than humble opinion, anyone capable of stating the above is politically naive, economically illiterate, and no student of history. 

    What concerns me most is that the author “is one of the most prominent . .  online Labour activists in Scotland”.

    That would indicate that somewhere there is a cohort who actually read his crayoned theses  and believe them. 

    The troubling aspect is that one day, somewhere, these certifiable loons may be handed the levers of power.

    They are clearly a danger to themselves and others and should be discouraged from breeding. 

  20. Rev. Stuart Campbell

    In fairness, there isn’t much danger of Dunc breeding.

  21. NorthBrit

    I read the first two sections before I got fed up with the sophistry and playground aggression.  

    I don’t think I’ve seen anyone who uses superlatives more incontinently. It’s utterly grotesque. Not very British.

    Perhaps a nice cup of tea and some breathing exercises would help?

  22. Suth

    It was very hard to read Duncan’s writing because of his clear hostility and repeated weasel ways. I found it distasteful really as he’s fooling no one. You might just get away with that in a one-to-one conversation in person by bamboozling them, intimidating them or talking them in circles with constant sophistry and so on, but it’s an awful read in black and white and only makes Duncan look bad as a result. I wonder if he’s got enough decency in him to read this and realise just how wrong he was?
    You’d think he’d at least finally realise that if he had to resort constantly to such sophistry instead of more honest debate and clear factual points then his “side” or beliefs are clearly in the wrong. Or maybe he’s so steeped in the petty and two-faced ways of current mainstream politics (Labour obviously being one of the culprits) he thinks this sort of behaviour is okay and somehow justified?
    Poor show.

  23. pa_broon


    I’ve come quite late to this, I think though on balance, whether or not you agree or find any synergy with what Duncan was trying to say, we can all agree that he performed a topnotch flounce at the end.

    Bravo, if I had a red rose and knew where you were, I’d fling it at you. 

  24. Craig P

    The heart of this ‘internationalist not nationalist’ argument seems to come down to your definition of what is nationalist. To me it is someone who wants to see the best for their country. To the Duncans of this world it is someone who hates other countries (especially near neighbours). To call such folk british nationalists is to rouse indignation. Yet this is what they are – the problem comes down to the different interpretation of the word nationalist. 

    I’ve had similar conversations in the past, and wonder what the best approach is to help making the light go on as to the meaning of the phrase – just saying ‘you’re a British nationalist’ makes the drawbridge goes up. I’m not interested in scoring points, I want to talk to friends and give them food for thought. 

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