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The SNP have been exposed as lying about Scotland's renewable potential. Is our democracy too broken for them to pay a price? Only if we believe that.
Can democracy work when politicians feel no shame? That is the question posed by Brian Wilson this week in the Herald:
“For accountability to work, there has to be a process which leads to sanctions. There need to be rules and conventions which are respected. Occasionally, resignations are required from those responsible for particularly egregious failings.”
Front of mind for Brian in asking this question is the ongoing ferries fiasco/farce/f**k up. In the last few days in that story we’ve seen:
John Swinney admitting that vital safety equipment for the ferries wasn’t ordered and so the ferries won’t be able to run on the fuel they are meant to use;
Nicola Sturgeon appearing before parliament to say there was “nothing untoward” in the whole affair despite un-minuted meetings, payments for launching a ship with painted-on windows, and allegations of a corrupted procurement process;
It is often bemoaned that nobody has ever resigned over these failings. For me far worse is that nobody has ever acknowledged wrongdoing: everything has gone wrong but nobody did anything wrong. Nobody appears in the least bit ashamed.
It is hard not to conclude that the tribalism of nationalism has lowered our collective expectations of our politicians. Our leaders are judged not on their conduct but on their constitutional preference. How many times now have we seen a blind eye turned for ‘the good of the cause’?
The high stakes of the decision on whether to leave the UK make it more important that we are able to trust the information that our leaders give us. This was an important overlooked factor in why the No campaign won in 2014. The undecided voters felt a heavy burden in the ballot they had to cast. They knew that this was likely an irreversible decision and that, unlike in an election, they could not change their minds in a few years. This was their responsibility, not a decision contracted out to a politician, and so they had to be sure. When the SNP were unable to give straight answers on currency and other issues it undermined the confidence they needed to follow them off a cliff.
Throwing Caution to The Wind
An investigation published today by These Islands gets to the heart of this issue: can we trust what nationalists are telling us about Scexit? Is the confidence they have that leaving the UK would make us better off really based on anything?
The SNP have been telling us for a decade that we should ignore the costs of erecting a border with England, giving up our share of UK funds, and changing currency. Don’t worry, they said, we have a quarter of Europe’s offshore wind potential.
This has been a central claim to support their economic case. Almost every SNP politician has repeated it. It has featured in SNP party election broadcasts. It was sent through the door of every voter in Scotland on multiple occasions. It has been put on the parliamentary record countless times.
And it is a lie.
The number is based on cherrypicking from decades-old studies which actually suggest the figure is five times less than the SNP’s claim. It compares apples from one report with oranges from another to come up with an inflated Scottish share of wind potential - even though one of the reports already puts a far smaller figure on that number. The figures also assume Europe is just 11 countries and doesn’t include in that list countries with huge coastlines like Norway.
Perhaps the most disturbing thing about the lie is that for years civil servants and ministers have known the figure is a lie, but they have continued to use it. Freedom of Information requests show internal emails where officials casually talk about how the figure hasn’t been properly sourced.
Despite this, up until yesterday Ministers were still using the figure. They knew they were lying. They just didn’t care. They feel no shame.
This isn’t a one-off (although I’m not sure how a decade of every leading nationalist lying could be described as a one-off). Nicola Sturgeon has been forced to correct the Scottish Parliament’s record for another false claim that our energy is provided by renewables in Scotland. Even her correction may have to be corrected after the statistics watchdog suggested she is still inflating that figure.
In Scotland we’re blessed with renewable potential, so why exaggerate it? For nationalists the economic debate is not a test of facts and figures, it is a test of national pride. Figures are exaggerated because they want us to have an over-inflated sense of national pride. They want to foster a mindset that sees any evidence that Scotland might be better off working with our neighbours as an affront to that identity. This framing is so ingrained in our debate that it is important to remember that this is not a story about our faith in Scotland, but rather is about our trust in the SNP.
But not only the SNP…we also learned today that the Scottish Greens commissioned and then buried a report by a leading economist into the currency of a separate Scottish state.
If leaving the UK was unquestionably a good idea, these Ministers wouldn’t need to lie about it, they wouldn’t need to hide uncomfortable truths, and they wouldn’t need to reframe economic debates as emotional ones - but they do because it isn’t a good idea.
We have become so used to a lack of accountability on issues like this or the ferries scandal. Or the scandal around Alex Salmond, or Patrick Grady. Or the care homes scandal, or the scandalous reductions in poor kids’ exam results, or the cuts to education, or the failings of Police Scotland, or the crises in mental health, A and E, drugs deaths, falling school standards…
We are so used to a lack of accountability that opponents of the SNP have a tendency to be nihilistic, to dismiss Scottish democracy as fatally broken. Such an attitude only strengthens the SNP’s hegemony in Scotland. If the SNP are not facing consequences for their incompetence it is only because we, collectively, let them away with it.
The starting point in response to stories like these has to be finding in ourselves a higher expectation of politicians. They should base their arguments on facts, not fictions. They should want to be right, not just want to win at any cost. They should feel shame when they know they are in the wrong, not just when they know they have been caught in wrongdoing.
When their own internal moral code doesn’t move them to behave that way, their lack of integrity should erode trust in everything they do. Renewable energy replaced oil as the economic case for leaving the UK. It could not be more important as an issue for nationalism. Yet they lied about this so casually for a decade. How can we trust them to tell us the truth about anything?
Culture Corner: The Dark and Poisoning Superstition
I’m working in four countries this month which means I’m doing without my wife Mary’s normal proof reading so apologies for any typos in the above.
I am also spending too much time on aircraft. On a plane to Sarajevo, I was flying through one of those bright cold autumn days where the sky is clear of clouds and spent most of the journey looking down on the land moving below me. Whenever I look out from an aeroplane window I think of this passage from RFK’s speech to South African students:
“In a few hours, the plane that brought me to this country crossed over oceans and countries which have been a crucible of human history. In minutes we traced migrations of men over thousands of years; seconds, the briefest glimpse, and we passed battlefields on which millions of men once struggled and died. We could see no national boundaries, no vast gulfs or high walls dividing people from people; only nature and the works of man - homes and factories and farms – everywhere reflecting man's common effort to enrich his life. Everywhere new technology and communications bring men and nations closer together, the concerns of one inevitably become the concerns of all. And our new closeness is stripping away the false masks, the illusion of differences which is at the root of injustice and hate and war. Only earthbound man still clings to the dark and poisoning superstition that his world is bounded by the nearest hill, his universe ends at river's shore, his common humanity is enclosed in the tight circle of those who share his town or his views and the color of his skin.”
Not sure if this counts as culture but it reads like poetry to me.