Even the most assiduous obsessive about Scotland’s constitutional status must have some current difficulty in keeping up. How many more commissions, surveys and conversations can there be? Which side of the SNP/Scottish Government coin is running each of them and what is their point?
This is 'stunt-a-day' politics with a vengeance, though much of the Scottish media seems eager to await the arrival of each newly-engraved tablet of stone, before dutifully imparting its propaganda to an increasingly disinterested audience. No wonder circulations are going through the floor while viewers switch off, in both senses.
The Sturgeon strategy, we are told, is to keep gabbling on about constitutional outrages and options in order to reassure her foot soldiers while looking for an opportune moment to strike with another referendum. Only the opinion polls stand in the way of our nation’s next date with destiny. So let’s have a 'growth commission', a door-to-door intrusion upon privacy and a referendum bill in the meantime.
As the second anniversary of the previous 'once in a generation' exercise approaches, the one commission which might actually enlighten debate and restore confidence is a 'truth commission'. Understandably though, the last subjects the nationalists want to talk about are the gross deceptions that were attempted at that time. Perhaps confession would be good for their souls.
One group who should certainly be asking themselves if they want to be involved in the ongoing charades are the assorted academics who were prepared, last time, to give intellectual cover to the false and misleading prospectus that the nationalists based their case upon. In particular, we heard endlessly from Alex Salmond about his 'Council of Economic Advisers' who had given their blessing to what is now shown, 15 billion times over, to have been an utterly baseless set of contentions which no self-respecting academic should have endorsed.
Step forward, for example, Professor Joseph Stigiltz, venerable economist from Columbia University, and member of more round-the-world councils and commissions than even Sturgeon’s Scotland can spawn. As we were reminded in portentous terms on innumerable occasions, Stigiltz is indeed 'a Nobel Laureate' having shared the economics prize in 2001 for his work on 'laying the foundations of the theory of markets with assymetric information'.
While I am sure this was a terrifically important contribution to economic theory, I was never quite clear why Salmond had to go to Columbia University to find an economist to advise on the Scottish economy while failing to have a single resident Scottish economist on his council. For Stigiltz, it was just another role to collect, among hundreds; he rarely turned up for the very occasional meetings and his actual knowledge of the Scottish economy was at best minimal. But what did any of that matter so long as 'a Nobel Laureate' could be prayed in aid of whatever the nationalists wanted to put in front of the Scottish people?
Last month, the good professor found time to intimate that the nationalists’ decision to base an independent Scotland’s future on retaining sterling had been 'a mistake'. It was, of course, a 'mistake' which the Council of Economic Advisers cheerfully endorsed. Indeed, every attempt during the referendum campaign to point out the glaring weaknesses of the strategy was rebutted by the pro-independence camp through reference to the stamp of approval provided by their 'Nobel Laureates', among whom Professor Joseph Stigiltz was presented (in absentia) as the most awesomely elevated.
For a Nobel Laureate who spends his life flitting from one learned commission to the next in between collecting his 40 honorary degrees, getting it hopelessly wrong about the question of what currency Scotland should or could use was 'a mistake', that did not really matter. For the ordinary men, women and particularly children of Scotland, it was 'a mistake' which – if acted upon – would have cast us into a generation of austerity, far beyond anything we are currently encountering. To airily talk of a 'mistake' before moving onto his next prescription for what might be good for a post-independence Scotland suggests a remarkable degree of academic arrogance and detachment. What is required from Professor Stigiltz is not an admission but an apology to which his fellow economic advisers – most of them fully paid up SNP cheerleaders – should then be asked to subscribe.
Incidentally, I noticed that the ubiquitous professor cropped up (inevitably) with an opinion on Ireland’s options following the EU ruling on Apple’s tax liabilities. The Irish Government’s decision to appeal was 'utter balderdash', he thundered on RTE. 'Let’s not make any pretence about it. You got a few jobs at the cost of stealing revenues from countries around the world. That’s the kind of activity that has to be stopped.' Indeed. But how does this sit alongside the Council of Economic Advisers’ support for a white paper in which the Scottish Government’s big idea for the economy was to follow the Irish model and cut corporation tax to levels lower than those applying in what was left of the UK – thereby prompting an inevitable race to the bottom? Next time Professor Stigiltz favours us with a visit, someone should ask him but probably won’t.
There have been a couple of new recruits to the Council of Economic Advisers including Professor Anton Muscatelli, principal of Glasgow University and a fully paid-up member of the Scottish Government’s patronage circle. He is also to chair yet another grandly-titled front organisation, the 'Standing Council on Europe'. It must be conceded that Muscatelli is a Scottish-based economist, which is a start. But the main box which he ticks is as an advocate of Scottish independence who, during the referendum campaign, proclaimed his strong support for the continued use of sterling which would be 'advantageous to both countries'. Is he ready to join Stigiltz in the confessional? I think we should be told.
There was another potential appointee within Glasgow University. However, Professor Ronald MacDonald, son of Skye and a world-renowned expert on currency, has one irredeemable disqualification – he failed to buy into the 'mistake' during the referendum campaign. In fact, he got it absolutely right and said so in the most precise and reasoned terms, warning that sterling was 'not a viable option' and, if adopted, would 'unravel pretty quickly at great cost to all participants'. MacDonald saw a separate Scottish currency as 'the only tenable option' – which is pretty much what Stilgitz is now saying – but went on to point that the 'negative consequences of such a plan are likely to be generational in their effects'. And who, in Sturgeon’s world of councils, commissions and stooges, wants to hear advice like that?