The fallacy of received wisdom

THE three questions we need most to focus on are the economic prospectus, our trading relationship with the rest of the UK post-Brexit and the route to accession to the EU. These are the questions which repeatedly come up on the doorstep, which are repeatedly put to our leaders and spokespersons and which they are not yet sufficiently well-equipped to answer satisfactorily.

Joanna Cherry: Serious work is required to build a fresh case for independence

And never will be! Those “leaders and spokespersons” will never be equipped with satisfactory answers to those questions. Because the kind of answers Joanna Cherry and all too many others in the Yes movement are questing after as the ‘Holy Grail’ of Scotland’s cause do not exist. The notion that there might be ‘satisfactory’ answers to these questions and countless others relating to Scotland’s future as an independent nation is imbecilic – devoid of sense or judgement.

Which is not to accuse Ms Cherry of being an imbecile. That too would be a suggestion devoid of sense or judgement. But she commits the fallacy of received wisdom – of accepting something that has acquired a gloss of truthiness through having been passed around so much for so long. I’m sure that were she to seriously interrogate the idea of a ‘case for independence’ constructed around answers to policy questions which are ‘satisfactory’ to a clear majority of Scotland’s voters then I’m sure she would come to a conclusion not markedly different from the one I arrived at some years ago – it’s nonsense!

When you think about it, the nonsense of the notion becomes clear. Consider, for example, the fact that what Joanna Cherry is talking about is the thing all political parties everywhere have been striving to discover for as long as there have been political parties anywhere. They are all seeking that policy agenda which will win favour with the majority of voters. They are all seeking the set of answers which will be considered ‘satisfactory’ by most people on most doorsteps. To date, none have succeeded. Some have enjoyed partial and transitory success. But the ‘Holy Grail’ of the perfect and timeless policy agenda has always eluded even the best political minds of any age.

This perfect policy agenda must be timeless because it purports to map a journey through that vast unexplored continent we call the future. Political parties need only devise a policy agenda that is ‘satisfactory’ in enough regards and to enough people in a timeframe of a few years. They get to have another stab at it come the next election. The challenge Joanna Cherry and those of like mind set the independence movement is to contrive a policy agenda that is not only perfect (or “satisfactorily” close thereto) for the present and immediate future but which can credibly be sold as capable of maintaining its perfection far into the future. They seek answers which are relevant and ‘right’ today, tomorrow and onwards far beyond the scope of even the most extraordinary foresight.

Elections are for five years. Independence is forever. Policy agendas age rapidly. As Joanna Cherry acknowledges, the answers to those questions which were thought to be ‘satisfactory’ seven years ago are regarded as wholly inadequate today. Or at least, they were felt to be ‘satisfactory’ by some at the time of the first independence referendum. They are now ‘unsatisfactory’ to some. And that’s the point. One person’s ‘satisfactory’ policy is another person’s recipe for disaster. Apply that across the whole range of policy areas – or even a significant part thereof – and the permutations soon reach unmanageable proportions. Throw in the time factor and the often dizzying rate at which circumstances change and the impossibility of finding that permanently perfect policy agenda becomes perfectly obvious.

Making the restoration of Scotland’s independence conditional on finding something that does not and cannot exist strikes me as being a very bad idea. But that is precisely what Joanna Cherry is doing. Reading her column with the eyes of an ‘ordinary’ voter the message is that restored independence can only be considered a viable proposition and I should only vote Yes if I am ‘satisfied’ with a particular detailed prospectus – and persuaded that I will still find that prospectus to my satisfaction years and decades from now. I get the message that I should only vote Yes if the leaders of and spokespersons for Scotland’s cause provide answers to every conceivable question about present and future policy that I judge to be ‘satisfactory’.

A bar set at that height might as well be planted on the dark side of the Moon. At least if it was put on the Moon we’d know where the bar is located. The bar Joanna Cherry proposes is neither so fixed nor so readily accessed.

It is understandable that many should find it difficult to separate the constitutional issue from policy agendas, because in real life these are very much bound up with each other. But we are not talking about real life. We are talking about a very specific issue. The issue of where power lies. Not the issue of how it is used. That is for elections.

It’s quite simple, really. Or at least, it’s simple to state even if not so easy to act on. If you are addressing the constitutional issue plus some matters of policy then you are not addressing the constitutional issue at all. And you may well be addressing those policy issues less effectively than you might. I have previously said that burdening the constitutional issue with matters of policy detracts from the campaign. I have described the policy burden as diverting from the constitutional issue and diluting the effort to restore Scotland’s independence. I now realise that I did not go far enough with this criticism. I would now say that if you are talking about policy in the same context as independence then you are not talking about independence at all. The policy burden cancels and nullifies the constitutional issue.

If you are attempting to link the fight to restore Scotland’s independence with GRA or any other policy issue then you are not engaging in the fight to restore Scotland’s independence. Due to its very nature, the constitutional issue cannot be dealt with other than in isolation from ALL other issues. It has to be abstracted from ‘ordinary’ politics because radical constitutional reform is not part of ‘ordinary’ politics. Restoring Scotland’s independence drastically and fundamentally alters what ‘ordinary’ politics is – what we understand by that term. It cannot be dealt with in the context of the ‘ordinary’ politics that it seeks to change. That’s like trying to repair a puncture whilst still riding the bicycle!

By the same token, we cannot hope to change our ‘ordinary’ politics – the politics of policy rather than the politics of power – unless and until we implement the radical constitutional reform of ending the Union. If we try to do them in the wrong order or simultaneously, we stall. We get stuck. We end up precisely where we are now.

I am about to propose something that is every bit as radical as restoring Scotland’s independence. I suggest the Yes campaign be honest with voters. When they ask the questions they’ve been primed to ask by the British media instead of parroting a rote response from a prepared script, let’s tell them the truth that there cannot be answers to those questions because the whole point of restoring Scotland’s independence is to empower the people of Scotland to find our own answers. To implement our own solutions. There can be no policy agenda for post-independence Scotland because Scotland is not yet in a position to formulate such a policy agenda.

Having given this entirely honest response we are then able to present a range of options and scenarios absent the promise of delivery implied by a formal prospectus. Each voter will select from this the thing that they find most ‘satisfactory’. The only way to be sure everybody gets a ‘satisfactory’ answer is to let them pick the one they like best.

The central point of the campaign message must be that independence is an end in itself. Not the end. There can be others. But underlying and overarching all of those aspirational ends is the aim of removing the stultifying burden of the Union from Scotland’s shoulders.

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10 thoughts on “The fallacy of received wisdom

  1. I agree. There never will be a perfect solution to satisfy everyone. The points mentioned by Joanna C are matters set by the agenda of the UK state and its supporters. Their version of Project Fear has fixed the idea that these matters must have solutions that can be torn apart in debates and used against the yes movement.
    That said, two matters that can be resolved in the short term are currency and borrowing. Scotland has a separate currency. It needs a central bank function. The currency is backed £ for £ by deposits in the BoE, which would cover currency fluctuations.
    Nicola doesn’t want a solution good or bad. Constantly looking for it allows her to keep kicking the date into the long grass.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The case for national Independence does not need to be refreshed or remade.

    It does not need even to be invented in the first place.

    It simply exists.

    It always has existed.

    It’s name is:


    Liked by 2 people

  3. What a great way of putting it. We should not confuse the Politics of Policy with the Politics of Power.
    The case for Independence stands on its own merits. I particularly like Professor Alfie Baird’s take on this issue. Can’t believe Joanna Cherry wants to build a case and I must ask to prove to who exactly? We are a nation like many other small normal Independent Nations who have alas fallen into a trap called the UK. We just need to get out of the trap. That’s all. Scotland needs to “Take Back Control”. The EU didn’t stand in the way of the UK over Brexit. Johnson and his mob should do likewise. It’s time the people had their wishes granted and had the Charlatans at Westminster removed surgically if necessary.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. I could not agree more with this article. It is well beyond the understanding of the current SNP leadership who want to do the complete opposite. Furthermore it will be squeezed into a short time period should they ever bring it on.

    SNP has no vision and no strategy and no singlemindedness in the pursuit of independence. It has become the No party.

    Liked by 1 person

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  6. “It is understandable that many should find it difficult to separate the constitutional issue from policy agendas, ”

    They are separate as you say but what is missing is the means of achieving anything.

    Many independence supporters are keen to claim we could double the state pension if independent without saying how. That’s a policy and, you are right, impossible to say how from today’s point of view.

    The core, fundamental operation of the Scottish economy post independence is not about policy it is about survival. Those are the question that Cherry knows must be answered and that any party leading us into independence must be able to answer.

    The alternative is a campaign full of ‘could, would, should’ promises that would leave the Brexit Leave campaign looking like the epitome of honesty.


    1. Nah! You’re just not getting it. I don’t doubt Scotland’s ability to finance pensions. Not least because we’re already financing pensions. It’s up to those who want to maintain that Scotland wouldn’t be able to maintain pension to prove their case. You have fallen into a British Nationalist trap. It’s a mindset thing.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Well said.

    There is only one question; “Are we capable of making decisions for ourselves and Scotland?”

    As for the economic argument, we can afford to make some huge mistakes once we stop subsidising England. (We won’t make huge mistakes, we’re not stupid.)

    Liked by 1 person

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