Wednesday 21 July 2021

The Great Indy and Ref Swindle


If I go around knocking on doors collecting for a local cancer charity, but it turns out the money is going to me, I am liable to be convicted of fraud and might expect to spend some time in jail. If Nicola Sturgeon asks independence supporters to provide money for an independence campaign, but indyref2 doesn’t happen, yet the money raised is gone some might wonder if for her next project she might produce an album called the Great Indy and Ref Swindle. Pete Wishart could change his surname to Rotten, while her own husband might reasonably adopt the surname Vicious to describe his text messages about Mr Salmond.

The moral dilemmas about raising revenue however are intricate. When in my office someone had the idea of paying for a goat instead of everyone giving each other Christmas cards, I pointed out that there wasn’t a goat. The twenty pounds that we paid to the charity might equally well go to pay the wages of a secretary. Indeed, we might have to buy several thousand goats in order to pay the salary of the chief executive. Were we being swindled when we were encouraged to buy a goat which our money might not be used for?

My local cancer charity would also have administrative costs. So long as most of the money raised went to helping cancer victims and only some went on paying the cost of printing the leaflets, then there would be no question of dishonesty. But what of the £600,000 the SNP raised to fight indyref2? It wasn’t that some of the money bought metaphorical goats, while some was used to pay the chief executive. Rather no goats were bought at all, because there was no indyref2 and therefore no campaign.

When we pay National Insurance, most of us know that there is in fact no insurance. The money that we pay does not go into a separate fund that is used by a future government to pay our pensions and benefits. Rather National Insurance is just a way of splitting the tax bill so that it doesn’t seem quite so big. They money raised goes into the general pot, is spent and it will be up to a future government to pay my pension out of revenue raised then. Is the SNP’s raising the £600,000 the equivalent of us each paying National insurance?

It is reasonable to assume that when I am old enough, I will receive a pension. Every one prior to me has received one. So, what I am paying for when I pay National Insurance I do indeed get, even if the specific pounds I pay in National Insurance might go on something else. But the SNP were raising money for something that might never happen. There is no way of predicting if there will ever be an indyref2 campaign, because it depends on the political fortunes of the SNP and the decision of the British Government.

When the SNP decided to raise money for an independence campaign, it looked as if political momentum was with them, but shortly afterwards at the 2017 General Election the SNP lost 21 seats and it’s share of the voted declined 13.1% to 36.9%. That sort of percentage is hardly going to win a referendum, so no wonder plans for indyref2 were shelved.

In 2020 support for independence increased and once more there was a lot of talk about independence and indyref2. Nicola Sturgeon would demand a second referendum just as soon as the pandemic was over. But what about the money that had been raised for the campaign prior to its being called off in 2017? Well, we don’t know exactly what happened to it, but it is reasonable to suppose that the SNP used it for its campaigning. It could reasonably argue that the only way to get to an indyef2 campaign would be if the SNP won lots of seats at Holyrood and Westminster.

The SNP could point out that just like National Insurance, there would be no problem so long as the £600,000 was spent in the future, even if it had been used for other things in the past. But the SNP as a political party unlike a government has to raise money through donations. It cannot or at least ought not to tax the Scottish people to raise money for its political campaigns.

But here we have a problem. Let’s say in two years’ time, support for independence is once more high and the SNP is demanding Indyref2 and it appeals to its supporters to give it a campaign fund. Let’s say these supporters raise £600,000. Problem solved say the SNP. We now have the £600,000 to spend. But what if I had previously contributed to the campaign fund? I would reasonably expect there now to be £1,200,000. Unless the SNP has another source of revenue it cannot make up £600,000 by appealing again for the same thing. It could appeal for more SNP members, or it could increase the membership fee, but it can hardly appeal for a new indyref2 campaign fund after spending the previous fund, that would be to treat its supporters as fools.

Independence has become like socialism. It is something that Labour traditionally promised but was never quite able to deliver. Nicola Sturgeon has promised indyref2 so often that she has become the little girl who cried indyref2. The Great Indy & Ref Swindle is unlikely to see anyone prosecuted. This is Scotland. The lesson we learned from the Alex Salmond scandal was that no one was prosecuted and moreover it had no consequences whatsoever at the ballot box. If you vote for scandal, don’t be surprised when you get more.

Two huge scandals in the same year. No problem say the Murrells. If they can survive Salmond, they can certainly survive this. But the deep pockets of Scottish nationalists, which can fund bloggers, a newspaper, and a near continual independence campaign because independence is just around the corner, may become rather less deep when they realise that it isn’t.

Before the Scottish Parliament election there was endless talk of forcing indyref2, holding an unofficial poll or even doing something illegal. This feverishness raises party revenue and wins SNP seats, but it looks less than honest now when we pocket the seats and the power but put off indyref2 until another day. This pattern has been going on since 2014.

As All under one Banner begins marching again, I wonder if they realise that they are being marched to the top of the hill and then down again. The Grand Old Duchess of Dreghorn once more plays the Great Indy and Ref Swindle on the turntable.