There’s plenty of comment already on social media about the SNP’s ‘Growth Commission’ announced yesterday, most of it focussing on the links of some of the 14 members with the party: I suspect there’ll be more comment in the Sunday press.
In some ways the links of the individual members to the SNP shouldn’t be a surprise. It’s the party’s commission, not the government’s (where of course the SNP are also prone to committees, commissions and panels of experts) so why shouldn’t they have who they want on it? But as so often with the SNP the devil is in the detail.
First, those members.
Seven of the fourteen are current or former SNP politicians.
The chair, ex-MSP Andrew Wilson, could be said to be one of their big hitters, an economist with a solid business background, although some of that does seem to include a central involvement in the disastrous Royal Bank of Scotland takeover of Dutch bank ABN Amro. He runs a strategic communications (i.e. PR) consultancy now. He also has his own web site on which he used to blog occasionally, most recently in June 2015, when he wrote:
The Scottish deficit only tells you about the state of the economy and public finances as they are now under the status quo. Who do you want to fix it? John Swinney responsible to the Scottish Parliament or George Osborne to Westminster? Either way, it is getting fixed. Question is how and on whose terms?
That’s it, the whole blog entry. So at least you know where he stands on one of the most fundamental challenges facing the SNP now and their white paper on Scotland’s Future in 2014 – ‘it is getting fixed.’ If that view is his starting point for the commission’s work, it’s not going anywhere.
Five of the commission’s members are current elected SNP politicians – one MP, three MSPs, and a councillor. Four of them do at least have some non-political/work/business experience. One, Derek Mackay, the current Holyrood finance secretary, seems to be an example of a modern phenomenon in all political parties – the politician who’s never been anything else, rising seamlessly through the ranks with no other life experience, in his case leaving university aged 21 without a degree to become first a councillor then an MSP then a junior minister, now cabinet secretary. One assumes that any contribution he makes to this party political exercise will be without the benefit of support from his publically-funded civil servants.
The final SNP figure on the commission is long-time SNP member and ex-MSP Jim Mather. His Wikipedia page says:
He is credited with making and presenting the economic case for Scottish Independence, having taken the argument to the media, boardrooms and committee rooms across Scotland between 2001 and 2007.
Hmm, that worked well, didn’t it? He was also a founding director of Business for Scotland, the lobby group that argues a (flawed) business case for separation from the UK and not much else.
The remaining seven members of the commission can be divided into academics (three) and business people (four).
It’s difficult to know precisely where the academics, all professors, stand on the SNP specifically and independence generally.
One, Andrew Hughes Hallett, is at least willing to support the SNP government through his membership of their council of economic advisers, since 2007, and was part of a smaller group from 2012-14 tasked with designing the economic policy framework and institutions for an autonomous or independent Scotland. To repeat an earlier sentence in this article, that worked well, didn’t it? You can also hear his judgements in a BBC Q&A on independence from 2013, giving his opinion that
there’s nothing which the Bank of England or the British government could do to stop Scotland using the pound if she so wished
and there’s also a YouTube clip (again, origin BBC) from 2010 entitled ‘Scotland subsidising rest of UK.’
Finally, a few weeks ago he wrote a letter to the FInancial Times in which he managed to confuse profits and revenue from North Sea oil (letter and comment on it here).
Another, Iain Docherty of Glasgow University, was happy to be interviewed by pro-independence Derek Bateman before the 2014 referendum on ‘good government and a Yes vote,’ where he clearly takes a pro-independence standpoint.
The third, economic historian Catherine Schenk, seems more circumspect in expressing a public view on separation. Her Glasgow University YouTube video on ‘Currency in an independent Scotland’ seems fairly balanced. I hope she doesn’t feel an opposition party of one on the commission.
The remaining four members of the commission are business people. All have expressed support one way or another for separation and/or the SNP.
Here’s a photo of Marie Macklin of the Klin Group and Macklin Enterprise Partnership from her Facebook page:
And as recently as 2 September she retweeted the SNP urging people to fill in their spurious ‘National Survey‘:
Dan Macdonald of Macdonald Estates was a Yes Scotland board member and donated £50,000 to them. He also founded the N56 pro-independence ‘think tank,’ some of whose reports during the 2014 referendum campaign were forensically analysed (for which read demolished) by Neil Lovatt.
Mark Shaw of Hazeldene Group also donated £50,000 to the Yes campaign and was their operations director. In February 2014 he wrote an article for the Huffington Post website claiming that ‘sensible talks on currency will begin after a Yes vote.’ Well, he’s not an economic forecaster by trade.
The final member of the commission is Petra Witzel, German founder and managing director of Glasgow’s WEST Brewery (excellent beer I will concede), who is arguably the only one of its fourteen members who actually manufactures anything. Like Catherine Shenk she seems to have been fairly circumspect in expressing political views. She was, however, interviewed by German magazine Der Spiegel in 2014 and said (my translation with the help of Google):
Emotionally, I’m in favour of independence. One hundred percent Yes … If I had to vote today, I would vote Yes …
Here’s a curiosity about the four business people in the group – three of them are property developers. I’m reminded, I’m sure unfairly, of the words of SNP-supporting lawyer Harvey Aberdein. In June 2014 he said:
setting up of the mechanisms of a new state will provide a huge boost to the corporate and commercial property sector.
Even more curious is the fact that with the arguable exception of an artisan brewer/restaurateur there is not one manufacturer or industrialist on the commission – no distiller, no-one from the oil and gas industry, ICT, life sciences, renewables, agriculture … Perhaps leaders of these vital sectors of the economy were unwilling to be associated with what is obviously an SNP in-house job.
I guess that also explains in substantial part why there is no-one in the group either indifferent or antipathetic to separation on economic grounds. But unless it seriously considers the judgement of people like that, so effectively argued during the 2014 referendum, it stands not a snowball’s chance in hell of achieving what it’s supposed to.
Not for the first time recently, something the SNP are up to feels part of a relentless barrage of actions and initiatives designed to give the faithful a sense of forward motion while in fact being little more than a sort of displacement activity. A far more effective approach would have been to just get on with the work quietly, challenging themselves with all the awkward questions difficult to ask in public. To that extent, the commission is not much more than a ‘National Survey Mk. II.’