Stirring up the hen hoose

Alasdair Galloway:

A comment of mine left on one of John’s articles (about Emergency Waiting Times

https://talkingupscotlandtwo.com/2022/09/16/emergency-waiting-times-improve-despite-surge-in-demand-and-the-risk-to-life-is-minimal/) seems to have stirred up the hen house a wee bit. So, I would like to take this opportunity to explain myself more fully.

John does an excellent job of calling out the UK media (or in particular the Scottish media) for their failure to report fairly/ accurately/ neutrally on the Scottish Government. That whenever Scottish government performance can be shown somehow, no matter the intellectual gymnastics that were necessary or even the lies that have to be told, or the facts that have to be ignored, to be less good than England (or elsewhere in the UK) the opportunity is taken to do this.

In turn this gives rise to an “illusory truth effect” when we begin to believe false information because we have been exposed to it so often (in much of the Scottish media – not just the Herald or the BBC, though they could easily be said to be primary criminals).

There needs to be rebuttal of such lies and distortions, presented as “facts” and “truth” when, even on a good day, they are at best half-truths and often not that close.

But it’s easy to say there should be rebuttal, but often these just don’t make it through the media – they go unreported. Or there are chewed up and spat out in an unrecognisable form. That there is only one explicitly pro-indie paper (the National) and that the Herald can present itself as “neutral” (based largely on regular articles by such as Lesley Riddoch) says much about the media we have to work with.

Breaking through the Scottish media is thus hard work in every sense. A good example was Alister Jack’s “outrage” at Alan Little’s statement in a BBC report that “The King returned to a Scotland that has been diverging from the rest of the UK politically for 40 years, where support for independence is as high as it’s ever been.” He said the new King’s reign could be defined by the “eventual dissolution of the United Kingdom itself”. Jack’s retort was “The BBC should really not be introducing the independence debate into the Queen’s death. There’s no link.” In other words, we will win the debate by silencing any commentator with whom we disagree. Yet Little is hardly being original here, as this stress on King Charles III has been commented by others. For instance this https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2022/sep/12/scottish-crowds-turn-out-for-the-queen-but-support-for-the-monarchy-less-clear in the Guardian.

There is therefore an unequivocal need for the Unionist narrative to be challenged at every point and at every opportunity. No disagreement.

But – and this is where I start to diverge – once we disagree with that Unionist narrative, what do we do then? What is it we are saying? Are we saying no more than that we are doing better than England (which often we are, though not all the time)? And that if we were independent, we could do even better than them? Both these things might be true, but with regard to the latter, what does it mean? What are we going to do with independence? One of the key slogans of the Yes movement in 2014 was “a better, fairer Scotland”, but that needs a comparator. It’s not even a matter logic, just good grammar. How motivating is it to tell electors that we will be “better and fairer than England”? As I said, “it’s not a high bar”, and indeed with Truss running the circus it could well get lower.

Is it really shocking to suggest that AS WELL AS showing that we are performing better than the media suggest, that as an independent nation that we could do things not just differently, but much better?

For instance, if we examine Gini coefficient data measuring inequality in a range of countries, the UK comes in as 93 out of 162 (higher is worse). The UK score is better than such as Italy (just), Lithuania, Russia and the United States, but worse than even Romania and Bulgaria, and much worse than a range of European countries including France, Germany, Cyprus, Malta, Ireland, Austria, Hungary, Norway and Finland.

So what? Well, how could we use greater equality if we were independent? Recent research on health calls for more sensitive measures of the lived experience of poverty, the role of social support within communities, greater understanding of the impact of historical and cultural influences and the differential impact of local and national politics on health outcomes.

More equality would address at least some of these – most notably by reducing the level of poverty. Yet Scotland lacks the critical powers to address this, as powers over Welfare are limited, as well as over Taxation policy.

However, more importantly it points to a different model of health care. One that is more sensitive to social aspects of poor health. At the very least, the skills of social scientists are required to address these problems, working with healthcare professionals. But, as long as spending is constrained by the block grant, there are limits to what the Scottish Government can do under the devolution settlement. That observation needs to be made forcibly.

But more than that, we need to point to the greater degree of equality that is to be found in many European countries which are not the UK, and that by adopting their policies and practices we could make Scotland not just a place that is better than rUK, but better beyond what is possible under devolution, and as part of the UK.

One last point. The Burke Theorem (named after philosopher Kenneth Burke) says “A way of seeing is also a way of not seeing – a focus upon object A involves a neglect of object B.” The fact is that this is how humans are wired up – attending to A means not attending to B. Focusing on A means no focus on B. Attending to comparisons with England means not attending to wider, and perhaps more productive comparisons with other countries.

For instance, the health paradigm within the UK is firmly within the context of the NHS. There is no doubt that the NHS has been a great boon to the UK over the last 75 years, but has its time passed? Could we do better with a different model? Might a different model be more appropriate in Scotland (eg considering the greater distances that have to be travelled for a significant part of the community to secure more than routine healthcare)? I don’t pretend to know the answer to these questions, but if we are in a newly independent Scotland do we

  1. Start off from a sheet of paper structured by our experience of the UK?
  2. A blank sheet of paper?

Both of these are no more than perspectives that aren’t the same (I don’t think ‘different’ is appropriate), AND are not mutually exclusive (ie its not one or the other). For instance, tearing the whole lot up is probably not only not feasible but not good for anyone. But what this kind of freer paradigm allows is the development of a wider justification for independence which addresses our place in the UK but is not restricted by it.

3 thoughts on “Stirring up the hen hoose

  1. I would have thought that the ambition to create a better and fairer Scotland with Independence has an in-built comparitor which is neither England nor rUK.
    It is that set of social and performance indicators that exist for present-day Scotland whether these indicators are generated by Westminster, Edinburgh or in international tables.
    As for the NHS, it would be as inappropriate to be thinking of maintaining the status quo as it would be to start with a blank sheet of paper.
    Without a doubt change needs to happen but that change should be organic with our much healthier treasury ensuring that beneficial change is both equitable across the regions and done at a pace where improvements are ‘felt’ by the population.
    A narrow focus on the NHS (the A in the piece) would however portray a lack of ambition when there are so many other aspects of Scottish life that need attention; on the B side are Education, Transport infrastructure, housing (including retro-fitting insulation, energy efficiency et al) and energy distribution. The list is virtually open-ended and our politicians will need to have the very best grasp of the issues in order to prioritise sensibly to bring about the fairer and better Scotland we all need to see.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Very good, as usual, Alasdair, but, as you say yourself, it is important to rebut erroneous articles. A key part, perhaps one of the two main parts, of the unionist argument is the “Scotland, is far too wee and no very good” strand. Hence the continual presentation of data showing Scotland in a bad light. The second strand is the “Better Together” line, sometimes euphemistically described by Bodger Broon as “pooling and sharing”, which is that it is only because of the might and efficiency of England and its south east, in particular, that Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and the English ‘provinces’ actually survive, Hence the Johan Lamont claim that “Scots are not genetically programmed to govern themselves.” (note the use of the third person pronoun, distancing herself from Scots).

    These were the main raisons d’etre of this site.

    Of course Alasdair Gray with his “work as if you are in the early days of a better nation” from the start promoted the line Alasdair is taken. Commonweal and Business for Scotland and others have done and continue to do much excellent work in this regard.

    The Scottish Government needs to give more emphasis to these things rather than the ‘don’t frighten the horses’ gradualist approach, which entails managing things well. Now, having been a senior manager for much of my career I think good management is essential, but care must be taken not to slide into ‘managerialism’ and its consequence of greater centralisation of powers. So devolution applies not just to Holyrood, but to the Council areas and, within these to community councils, perhaps even to smaller units.

    To take Alasdair’s example of health, we do actually have local Health Boards (which have some bad flaws, but do attempt to address local matters. And, in some place there are Health and Social Care Partnerships. Historically, Councils provided health care – as someone born before the NHS was established, my mother and others were delighted with the services provided by Glasgow Corporation via clinics and ‘Green Ladies”.

    So aspects of the ‘better nation’ are still there and there are examples from history of local delivery. We must also acknowledge the strides NHS Scotland has made over recent years. My wife and I have no serious complaints about the local service provision.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You have made some great points here Alasdair “Attending to comparisons with England means not attending to wider, and perhaps more productive comparisons with other countries.” and “But more than that, we need to point to the greater degree of equality that is to be found in many European countries which are not the UK, and that by adopting their policies and practices we could make Scotland not just a place that is better than rUK, but better beyond what is possible under devolution, and as part of the UK”

    You also recognise that Scotland does not yet have the full levers of power to address some of the issues, and I think this is maybe the key to the issues John concentrates on. Do we want an independent Scotland to take different decisions from Westminster and what should an independent Scotland look like are both key and interconnected topics. Addressing both in one blog though would require a depth of research that would require much more time and energy than is maybe reasonable to expect of a private and unpaid individual. You could also argue that widening the agenda takes away from the original purpose of this blog – to point out the things our unionist media will never mention and to make clear that the Scottish Government is doing pretty well in comparison to the regime we want to escape from. It’s info to counter the unionist arguments that Scotland’s health, education, police etc are failing rather than a blueprint for what we might achieve

    Luckily John is happy to offer guest blog spots where you and others can broaden out the arguments – I will happily read both

    Liked by 3 people

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