The Smart Guys Theory Of History
Today, an incident occurred which has forced me to cease writing my book immediately.
It’s become clear that its theme has become too urgent, too immediate to wait for submission, rejection and eventual publication; accordingly, its main points are very heavily condensed into this post.
It may give some serious pause for thought to those who think that Alex Salmond would make a fit and proper leader for an independent Scotland.
It is the product of having read 41 books on European, French and Russian history and economics since January 2007; and if nothing else, it may puncture the belief that holding a professorship in history at Harvard does not by and of itself confer great historical insight.
Last week, the Sunday Herald published this letter of mine in its entirety; they only changed a couple of spellings –
“As a Unionist who stubbornly refuses to refer to our constitutional Scottish Executive by its new and funky, but unconstitutional, name of 'The Scottish Government', the First Minister's behaviour since his victory in a botched election has been appalling.
His claim that he and his clique are the only group with the right and title to call themselves the government of Scotland is a disgrace; little short of lese-majeste. His consistent interference in undevolved areas such as defence reeks of the elitism, grandeeism and contempt for the rule of law for which the pre-Union Scottish Parliament was notorious, characterised by Erskine of Grange's comment in 1735 that prior to the Union, 'liberty was a stranger here'.
Salmond's contempt for the law is so bald, so blatant that it is clear than an independent Scotland founded on the back of his 'Shortbread Revolution' ideology would soon fall back into its old, corrupt, lawless rut. His contempt finds allies in so-called 'Unionist' politicians too timid to call him out and cut him down to size.
It's not as if the so-called 'Nationalists' have much imagination. We keep hearing about how much like Ireland and Estonia we'd be; what about aiming to be like Switzerland instead?
Wha's like us?"
Today, it runs a reply from one ‘Malcolm Cordell’ of Broughty Ferry – possibly the same Malcolm Cordell who, on 30 June 2006, won a tenner on the Dundee United FC lottery. In this letter he admits my letter referred to “characters and events unfamiliar to (him)”, which one would have thought was his problem, not mine, but he still felt able to conclude his correspondence with the following sentence –
“Incidentally, why did I feel that Kelly’s wish for Alex Salmond to be ‘cut down to size’ was meant literally? Beheaded, maybe?”
There’s no fool like a smug, self-satisfied Scotch fool; and anyone who thinks that for one person to use a perfectly normal figure of speech such as ‘to cut down to size’, in its correct context of reining in an upstart, is for them to wish violence to be done against another is a fool. However, they are an enlightening fool nonetheless.
It’s now obvious that some Scottish nationalist circles consider the expression of doubts over Alex Salmond’s bona fides and sincerity to be crimethink.
Jenny Hjul has published a commentary in today’s Sunday Times (which as far as I can see is not online) entitled “Salmond’s winter festival leaves me cold”. Referring to some sort of Scotia Festa running from 30th November to 25th January, she writes– “Information packs, complete with the flags, have been dispatched to nurseries and universities, and leaflets advising (of) suitable ways of having fun are being sent out to schools."
On 17th November, I referred to the disquieting sight of seeing childrens’ schooling being disrupted by a football match involving the ‘national’ team.
Upon reflection, the scenes of hundreds of children jumping up and down for joy upon the news that Glasgow had been awarded the 2014 Commonwealth Games looked eerily like something one might expect from North Korea; more Pyongyang than Partick.
Although I am childless, I am very gravely concerned that Scotland’s children are being subjected to a massive campaign of indoctrination into Scottish nationalist ideology on the taxpayers’ time. If this is the case, then Salmond is as guilty of crimes against the young, the vulnerable and the impressionable as were Stalin and Hitler.
I’m sure he’s not aiming to establish a ‘Fuhrerprinzip’; a ‘Tartanprinzip’ would do nicely.
Yet none dare ask the question – could he cut it?
I’m afraid I believe the answer to be no; and not only because the weight of the nation cannot be borne by a man with a bad back. When faced with the achievements of the guys who've actually done what he says he wants to do, he can't get off the starting blocks.
THE ‘SMART GUYS’ THEORY OF HISTORY
(Abridged from my book; and wherein is explained the meaning of the phrase ‘The Shortbread Revolution’)
Scotland, one of the very few nations whose people yearn for ‘freedom’ while they holiday in Dubai, has a habit of producing ‘pretenders’.
Salmond’s conduct since the botched Scottish Parliamentary elections of 3rd May 2007 has shown him worthy of the title ‘The Great Pretender’, for his behaviour has had as much in common with that usually expected from a constitutional government’s leader as a very average Elvis Presley impersonator has in common with Presley himself.
Perhaps his mischief can be dismissed as the immaturity of an intellectually immature nationalist ideologue, aching to blast white noise into The Saxonist Entity’s lug and to outrage ‘Outraged of Tunbridge Wells’. If so, it casts a sad, and telling, insight into the nature of Salmond’s character. Few successful nations have had a pater patriae who behaves like a glue-buzzing, Burberry baseball-capped Buckfast swiller spoiling for a fight with the cops in Coatbridge – yet in terms of the constitutional settlement that he must work within, that is precisely how the First Minister of Scotland behaves towards Her Majesty’s Government of The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Perhaps he aspires to go down in history with Vaclav Havel, the scion of one of Prague’s wealthiest families, whose ‘Velvet Revolution’ overturned Communist rule in Czechoslovakia. If so, then Salmond’s efforts since gaining office deserve to be labelled ‘The Shortbread Revolution’ – twee, sickly, instantly forgotten but undeniably Scottish in character.
Yet if The Great Pretender and his Shortbread Revolutionaries are actually serious about making Scotland an independent state (the nature of Scottish nationhood being an entirely different can of neeps), then history does provide very clear markers for them on how to go about it.
The question, however, is whether or not he really is willing to do it; whether he will be able to retain his fire for ‘freedom’ while in office, or whether it will mellow him into a comfortable rut of pay, perks, pensions and privilege; whether or not a lifetime’s habit of fixing all policy around the polestar of ‘independence’ has rotted his critical abilities; whether he possesses the courage of his convictions; whether he has the guts to make unpopular decisions.
In order to achieve this goal, he would have to learn lessons from some pretty smart people – people who’ve actually done what he says he wants to do and built enduring, successful states from the ground up. Or he could follow what might seem like the easier path; in which case Scotland and all her people would be crippled for years.
The Great Pretender’s posturing goes down well with his core vote, some of whom might think the expression ‘total strategy’ refers to a Dutch soccer system– but they need to learn that there’s a great deal more to building a state than just sticking one over on the English; and that if you start badly, then you’ll continue badly. We can only hope the nation wouldn’t end badly.
European states stand or fall by how they deal with the epochal changes they must sometimes face; the establishment of a particular form of government (France), the consolidation of small states into one (Germany and Italy), the change from one form of government to another (Russia) and, in some cases, even independence (The Republic of Ireland). If they get it right, they can power ahead to stability and prosperity in remarkably short periods of time; if they get it wrong, then the problems can take decades, even centuries, to fix.
The success or failure of each nation is, more often than not, entirely dependent on the vision of the people at the top at the time these changes are taking place. Though separated by time and distance, history’s most successful nation-builders have shared a number of the same economic beliefs, and broadly the same beliefs on the nature of the relationship of national culture to the nation-state; for them, love of home and homeland on their own was not enough.
In this regard, history has been quite kind to the United Kingdom. Our last great seismic, nation-changing event was probably the Union of 1707; a gourmet banquet to which Scotland brought a meat pie and a can of Superlager. In many respects we are lucky to have largely trundled through history – since the Reformation, the British have never had a revolution that didn’t fix itself in the end; usually with a cup of tea, a Protestant monarch and the maintenance of the class system.
Although the United Kingdom’s constituent parts have enthusiastically invaded each other from time to time, that we have not suffered an invasion from overseas for a millennium has given our affairs a measure of stability that other states have sadly lacked. One inevitable consequence of the Union’s dissolution would be that an independent Scotland would require to bend its mind to the question of its own defence; and hoping than an invading army would be repelled by the massed ranks of Scotland’s parliamentarians standing on the ramparts of Edinburgh Castle singing metric psalms and Doric folk songs may not be enough.
It is to the experience of those states that have undergone changes as profound as those that The Shortbread Revolutionaries would inflict on Scotland that Scotland herself must turn to for guidance.
The experiences of conquered nations, like Germany and Japan in 1945, are of no help to us. Their development since those dates has not been indigenous, but imposed by a conquering power’s vision. We have not been conquered - officially, anyway - so we must make our own way through the traps that history will lay at our feet.
The seventeenth and nineteenth centuries each produced an outstanding nation-builder, in the persons of Armand-Jean du Plessis, Cardinal Richelieu and Otto von Bismarck. It is in the footsteps of these giants, The Really Smart Guys of History, that Salmond must walk if he would lead Scotland to ‘freedom’.
The nineteenth and twentieth centuries provide excellent examples of nation-builders of the second rank, in the shape of the Conte di Cavour and Eamon de Valera. At this stage, it should be noted that, rather depressingly, the nature of the challenges an independent Scotland would face bear greater similarity to those faced by Italy and Ireland in their day than those faced by France and Germany. Unfortunately, as with Italy and Ireland, these challenges would be likely to be entirely of our own making.
In Boris Yeltsin, a man who equated ‘change management’ with ‘bankruptcy’, the twentieth century provided the definitive example of what a potential nation-builder must not do, must not be like. It is of some comfort that as a nation-builder, Salmond would not be as bad as Yeltsin – nobody else could ever be as bad. A second Yeltsin would be a statistical impossibility.
What made Richelieu and Bismarck so smart? They did three things.
Firstly, they pursued their countries’ interests with almost monomaniacal intensity.Richelieu, the author of devot Catholic literature who communicated regularly and said Mass whenever he was able, pursued alliances with Protestant monarchs in favour of Catholic monarchs because he believed it to be in France’s interests to do so, thus moulding the mindset within which France has conducted all its diplomacy down to the present day.
Bismarck quite deliberately pursued a policy of imperialism, because, surrounded as Germany was by other imperial powers, he believed it to be in the best interests of Germany. It wasn’t very nice; it wasn’t very politically correct; but it was vital to the interests of the state. It is also highly doubtful that Bismarck would have approved of the later excesses of German imperialism, such as the massacre of the Hereros; there was little advantage for Germany in it.
Secondly, recognising as they did that a wealthy nation is much more likely to survive than a poor one, they encouraged local industry by the use of the same blunt instrument – they imposed tariff barriers. They did not wallow in the shallow orthodoxies of so-called ‘free trade’ (pace Milton Friedman, if lunch can never be free then there is no way trade can ever be free either), nor did they listen to those whom we now call ‘economists’. It’s just as well they didn’t – because Boris Yeltsin did, and look where that got him. Mirabile dictu, and contrary to everything the high priests of the secular religion called ‘economics’ consider holy, the skies did not fall on their heads; in the case of France, they didn’t fall on the heads of Mazarin and Colbert, Richelieu’s successors, either. There’s a moral concerning the conduct of economic policy in there somewhere; don’t let economists anywhere near it.
Thirdly, they were unashamed cultural nationalists. Richelieu’s baby, the Academie Francaise, lives to this day as the ultimate gatekeeper and guardian of French culture. Bismarck’s policy of ‘Germanification’, while less liberal than the cultural policies of Richelieu, was essential to the survival of his unified German state; if they were going to be Germans and not Prussians, they would need to think and act like Germans.
The second rank equalled some of the achievements of the first, but not all.
In some ways it’s unfair to include Cavour on this list, for he really cannot be faulted for dying a month after Italy was unified. He was primarily a Piedmontese nationalist, and Piedmont was to Cavour what Prussia was to Bismarck – the place of primary loyalty. So much for the toxic words Professor Niall Ferguson spat at his own homeland on 1st January 2006 that, “(Scotland’s) over. Over the way countries are sometimes just over. Over the way Prussia is over. Over the way Piedmont is over”.
Professor Ferguson either doesn’t know or hasn’t grasped that Piedmont and Prussia are most certainly not over – we now call them Italy and Germany instead.
Although Cavour dragged Piedmont into the nineteenth century through his massive expansion of its railways, it is doubtful whether wider Italian economic policy would have benefited from having his hand at the controls; he was a committed free-trader, and would have shrunk from the step most vital to ensuring the success of a new state – protecting and encouraging its industries.
The real curse of Cavour, however, is one that would be visited on Scotland in short order. Here is an excerpt from the Wikipedia entry of Benedetto Cairoli, one of Cavour’s successors – “Cairoli was one of the most conspicuous representatives of that type of Italian public men who, having conspired and fought for a generation in the cause of national unity, were despite their valour little fitted for the responsible parliamentary and official positions they subsequently attained; and who by their ignorance of foreign affairs and of internal administration unwittingly impeded the political development of their country.”
Yup, that’s the Scottish nationalists to a tee. One too many wee drams, one too many folk songs, and not enough time spent on learning how to build nations – a problem already encountered this century in Ireland, at the hands of Eamon de Valera.
This may seem like a strange thing to say, but Dev was the nearest thing to John Knox that Ireland’s ever produced. Not in the religious sense, of course; but by so successfully battering their national cultures into the shape they wanted them to be, they were most certainly two of a kind. De Valera started governing an Anglocentric country and stopped governing a foreign one. Precisely the same thing would happen to Scotland, under Alex Salmond.
Dev, while no economist, gets a bad press for attempting to Smoot-Hawley Ireland from the effects of the Great Depression by the use of tariffs. If he had tariffed Ireland in 1922, the effects might not have been so severe as they ended up being after 1932 – the great lesson of that period being, of course, that the worst mistake to make when thinking of tariffs is to think of lowering them in the first place.
And so to Yeltsin, Russia’s first post-Communist president.
The greatest service that Boris Yeltsin performed for Russia during his presidency was the peaceful manner in which he laid his office down. Russia was on the slide from the day and hour he placed blind, unquestioning trust in the ‘shock treatment’ dogmas chanted by Yegor Gaidar. It went from being a country where people had money and there were no goods to buy with it to one where there were goods to buy but nobody had any money to buy them with. This was not a success for the free market.
There are those who may say I’m being unfair to Scottish nationalists as a whole, and point to the vision for Scotland contained in Dennis Macleod’s and Mike Russell’s ‘Grasping the Thistle’.
Credit must be given where it’s due. ‘Grasping the Thistle’, although not an official SNP document, is an undoubtedly sincere attempt to address the critical question of what an independent Scotand should do to maintain its independence. Its authors’ backgrounds are in mining and the arts, so it’s not surprising that the book’s strongest parts are its discussions of, ahem, minerals and the arts. Indeed, their praise of Charles Haughey’s patronage of the arts in Ireland makes him sound like a Medici prince; an unfortunate edification, for sure, for if ever there was an Irishman who thought he was a Medici prince, it was Charlie Haughey.
However, while reading it I couldn’t help but think I was hearing calypso music in the background.
Calypso music was famous for being both pleasing to the ear and without much challenging content. ‘Grasping the Thistle’ is two Scottish nationalists’ calypso to the so-called ‘business community’, ‘Tally Me Ma Haggis’ if you like, lilting that when Scotland’s independent it will still be a great place to do business. Although it’s liberally peppered with quotations from ‘The Wealth of Nations’, one wonders how long it’s been since its authors read anything that challenges their worldview; like Correlli Barnett’s assertion that Smith’s views on trade in food were blown out of the water by the advent of refrigeration, or John Kenneth Galbraith’s footnote that in using diamonds as an example of things that have value but no purpose, Smith failed to foresee the advent of industrial diamonds.
And the book’s greatest flaw is its authors’ blind acceptance of the current global economic order. They have the same faith in ‘The Washington Consensus’ as Yeltsin had in Gaidar; yet with that same consensus possibly falling down on its backside, they might find the Wigtownshire Consensus rather less accepting of the order they so greatly admire.
Salmond does not possess the vision of a Richelieu or Bismarck. He would immediately swap one Union for another. He would have us become a neo-liberal subsidy junkie like 1980's Ireland, instead of having the vision to turn us into the Switzerland of the North Atlantic. He falls at the very first hurdle - ensuring the nation is independent and can maintain its independence.
Instead, the best we can hope for is for him to sort of turn out to be sort of another Cavour or De Valera, possibly to the poverty and certainly to the cultural backwardness of us all.
Over the next few days, I will be posting what I think an independent Scotland would have to in order to survive. It will not make pleasant reading.