A self-confessed member of the ‘reality-based community’ writes

The SNP’s dishonesty on welfare benefits puts at risk the most vulnerable, says IAN SMART


I don’t usually refer back but on this occasion I want to make one pretty fundamental point about my immediately previous posting here.

In it I point out that YES Scotland advance a proposition on their website about Scotland’s continued membership of the European Community with reference to a link (which they assume will not be read) which, in fact, says the exact opposite of the proposition they advance in the main article. The true position, as reflected on the source materials to be found on the YES Scotland website itself (!) is that the status of an Independent Scotland in the EU is far from clear. And, assuming they have, at least now, read the link on their own website, they know that.

Nonetheless, the original article has remained on their website.

Now, I’m prompted to this telling observation because it is not an isolated example. Last night on Newsnight Scotland, Derek McKay stated, yet again, that the reason the referendum was to be in the second half of this parliament was because the SNP had stated this in their manifesto. That is untrue and he knows it to be untrue, just as John Swinney knew it to be untrue when he said the same on Newsnight ten days or so before. The reason the referendum (if it ever happens at all) is to be in the second half of the parliament is because that is the choice of the SNP Government. No more, no less.

The key point that arises from this is that the truth doesn’t matter to these people. Just as it didn’t matter when Iain Duncan Smith made the fairly obvious point, earlier this week, that “independence” would mean either higher taxes or benefit cuts. For, as more than one of my nationalist Twitter correspondents observed, “independence” is the prize; who cares what we have to say to get there? Presumably they assume that, like Nick Clegg, it will be enough, after the event, for Eck to pop upon the telly and apologise for making promises he knew he couldn’t keep. Or more likely, deny these promises were ever made.

The truth is that for many nationalists it wouldn’t matter if, after “independence”,  we were all back living in caves with no running water or electricity. At least we would be “free”. A few, at least, are honest enough to admit that.

Anyway, that very current disassociation from concern about the truth makes the SNP as difficult opponents for us as George W. Bush proved to be successively for Gore and Kerry. After all, as Karl Rove, Bush’s chief strategist famously observed, Kerry was hampered by belonging to the “reality-based community”.

But there’s a wider issue here. A lot of people, vulnerable people, are in danger of being very seriously misled. We saw last week the evidence given to the Welfare Reform Committee of the Scottish Parliament. Pretty desperate stuff. Not one nationalist MSP, however, had even the common decency to warn any of them that the Tories cuts were nothing compared to what would follow if Scotland to make a particular  choice about its constitutional future. That despite the fact that all of the nationalist MSPs present, or at least the sentient ones, knew that perfectly well that to be the case.

Here are the Scottish Government Figures.

And John Swinney’s own analysis? That accepting the GERS figures (his own figures) at face value and allowing for a geographic share of North Sea oil revenues on the most favourable terms suggested by the SNP, an “independent” Scotland would have a slightly smaller current account deficit per capita than the rest of the UK. That sounds fine then. Except that it is the position of the SNP themselves that North Sea revenues, or at least the vast bulk of them, can’t be spent on the current account as they’ll have to be invested in a Sovereign Wealth Fund so that we are not reduced to absolute penury when the oil runs out.

And if that were the approach taken? Then on any view a higher still current account deficit would arise which would have to be addressed by either raising taxes or cutting benefits. And that’s not even QED; for the SNP’s position is that corporate taxation should be cut; ie, that corporate capitalists in an “independent” Scotland should pay less tax than they currently pay under George Osborne or… er… Iain Duncan Smith. So it’s not even going to be higher taxes or lower benefits. It’s just going to be lower benefits.

Now it is cruel to worry the already vulnerable but crueller still to mislead them. The job of  Michael McMahon at the Welfare Reform Committee last week was surely, gently but firmly, to point out that the complaints being made were as nothing as to what would lie ahead if Scotland chose the wrong constitutional option.  I appreciate however that Michael was hampered by being in the chair. Never mind, there will be plenty of time for others to do that, even if we do so while still hampered by belonging to the “reality-based community”.

Ian Smart is a lawyer and founder member of Scottish Labour Action. He is also a Past President of the Law Society of  Scotland. Follow Ian on Twitter at @IanSSmart.

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14 thoughts on “A self-confessed member of the ‘reality-based community’ writes

  1. Ian. Your analysis is spot on but last weeks evidence session at the Welfare Reform Committee was about getting the picture of what is happening with the DWP/ATOS regime painted as vividly as possible. I think that was mission accomplished. Now it is our job to ask the SNP what they are going to do to mitigate these circumstances and how they have shaped their budget to do so. Watch to see if the SNP MSPs on the committee let us do that.

  2. Great post, Ian.

    The SNP seem to have fully embraced the concept of post-truth politics.

    I’ve got to say that the media in Scotland and in particular the broadcast media have been hopeless in highlighting this.

  3. The SNP have always been hypocritical, though. Even last week we saw this when they refused to release the legal advice on the position of an independent Scotland and membership of the EU.

    On their website there is a press release where Alex Salmond demands Tony Blair release his legal advice on the Iraq war. The “legal advice is never released” argument didnt seem to wash with him then, yet he uses it now.

  4. Fact: Scotland contributes 9.6% of UK taxation but receives back 9.3% of UK public expenditure.

    Being a next contributor to the UK, Scotland will not be in a worse fiscal position post independence.

  5. Taxes and welfare being any government’s sole streams of revenue and expenditure, respectively. You’ve built a smaller box inside the box and you’re doing your thinking inside that.

  6. “The truth is that for many nationalists it wouldn’t matter if, after “independence”, we were all back living in caves with no running water or electricity. At least we would be “free”. ……………..” Quote from ‘A self-confessed member of the ‘reality-based community’ and founder member of Scottish Labour Action. He is also a Past President of the Law Society of Scotland.
    Is it any wonder the nationalist are sounding quietly confident?

  7. Ok. Lets take this one ‘assumption’ of Ian’s as an example. He states,
    “The key point that arises from this is that the truth doesn’t matter to these people. Just as it didn’t matter when Iain Duncan Smith made the fairly obvious point, earlier this week, that “independence” would mean either higher taxes or benefit cuts.”
    Wrong. Independence does not mean that we will have to choose between raising taxes or cutting benefits. Why? because of all the savings that will accrue from making the proper choices for a small north western European nation. The Scottish contribution to a new Trident system is estimated at £3 billion/year alone. Thats 10% of the Scottish budget. Ian Smart knows this. And the list of savings is extensive. Expeditionary wars dont come cheap.
    Those on the independence side of the debate are not claiming everything will be settled the day after the referendum. Should the Yes vote be a majority it will take years to agree the details of a settlement with the RUK, and for example, Scotland’s contribution/relationship with the EU.
    The point I want to stress is, an independent Scotland is achieveable. The arguments regarding for example, currency, or our relationship with the EU are distractions to the main issue. The constitutional debate is above all that.

  8. Davy, I cant agree. Labour hame has to be respected for enabling both sides of the debate to be aired. Long may it continue.

  9. I find the two extremes of this debate frustrating. It is correct that the referendum was not in the manifesto. However I doubt that anyone was unaware of the stated intention to have one before polling day.

    Once again individuals like me who favour further devolution of powers – to a parliament introduced by Labour. Who believe in Scotland having more control over our finances to ensure a fairer society are excluded from the debate.

    Why do we not make a firm stance and announce devolved powers that Labour will introduce on a straight basis that this is the end of the debate. The final devolved set up will be fixed and fair – not a slow bleed to seperation.

    The fear and rejection of putting in place a strong devolved parliament which 60/70% of the voters want is hurting us badly.

  10. One other point:

    Lawyer you might be , but economist your not. Lowering corporate tax is to increase further inward investment in scotland thus creating more jobs which therefore increases the overall TAX income for whichever government is in power in whatever nation. No government anywhere in the world reduces any form of tax to reduce government funding.

    I will say this, it is not a guaranteed method of job creation and it has to be finely balanced with what the government can afford, however since both the conservative and labour governments at westminster backed the tranfer of corporate tax powers to NI recently then It must be said using these economic tools to help create growth in an economy cannot be considered completely irresponsible.

    or do you disagree ?

  11. The DWP Social fund is to be abolished and from April the SNP who were given responsibility for Scotland’s poor and those in crisis immediately washed their hands.

    Like David Cameron, the SNP want central goverment to control policing – as the budget and the power to go along with it is phenomenal – but the poor – they can just go away.

    Why should the rich and powerful in the Scottish Parliament have to deal with poor people – why did David Cameron dump this on poor old Alex Salmond

    He had to find a way to separate the poor Scots from Holyrood’s doors and what better way than to swap control of policing to responsibilty for the poor

    Yep Holyrood likes the idea of policing us better than caring for us.

    David Cameron has given councils the money from the DWP social fund (unring-fenced and recommends councils send us all for food parcels – and Alex Salmond has done the same – let the councils and the Trussell Trust (controlled by a Tory Mayor) make the poorest queue up

    Please sir, can I get to eat and if you say yes – what will you give me to eat

    Oh some cheap biscuits, powdered milk, powdered powdered potatoes – no fresh meat,no fresh bread, no fresh milk, no fresh vegetables, no fresh cheese or yoghurts –

    But sir – how will I get the food parcel home – I live 5 miles away and I spent the last of my wages just to get here?

    And sir how will I cook the tinned food – because now I no longer get a crisis loan I cannot put funds in my electric metre and my gas metre – so your food parcel is really of no use to me when I have no gas or electricity?

    Now Alex Salmond could keep crisis loans – which workers and those on benefits rely on and could have introduced a law to ensure crisis loans are still paid out in Scotland at every DWP office.

    But instead Alex Salmond – like David Cameron has decided Scotland’s hard working families cannot get a crisis loan and you must go cap in hand to your local council – who can send you for a food parcel instead

    Have you got the Tory Party Trussell Trust set up a food bank to replace crisis loans yet?

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