Scotland is being asset-stripped

by | 1 Feb 2022

Economic policy in Scotland is now firmly Thatcherite in nature - but there is no-one with the will or the power to stop the damage

Please, please, wake up and pay attention to what is happening to Scotland (if you haven’t already). Ask yourself how it is happening. Ask yourself what consent there is for any of it. Ask yourself who could save us.

There is a petrifying rightward lurch taking place in economic policy – and that was from a rightwing starting point (remember, most of the Scottish Government’s economic policy from 2016 to 2021 was passed in a loose coalition with the Scottish Tories against the opposition of every other political party).

Just look at a few days of headlines, the main problem being to know where to start. So let’s start with free ports, an appalling Thatcherite wet-dream of a policy. Enclaves of mainland Scotland which will be free from the tax and regulatory burdens placed on the rest of the nation. This stuff came from the hard right of the Tory party.

The Scottish Government position was led by Ivan McKee, one of a fairly select number of genuinely capable Government Ministers. He said these had to be more than a right-wing ruse and set hard red lines on social and environmental responsibility to make them ‘green ports’. I still thought them ill judged but this was the least-worst version.

He’s just been removed from negotiations, to be replaced by Kate Forbes whose role is now mostly to take dictation from Scotland’s powerful players. The red lines are to be dropped and these Thatcherite playgrounds to be embraced.

Or what about the proposed break-up of Scotland’s national ferry operator? Do you really believe that these are going to end up in the hands of community-based operators? This Government has already handed over NorthLink ferries to Serco. The rest will follow.

Elsewhere, KPMG is going to pull out of bidding for government contracts for a little while during which it will review its own track record of corruption and give itself a light slap on the wrist. So the contracts will go to one of the rest of the Big Four (EY, Deloitte, PWC).

Of course that didn’t stop the Scottish Government from giving the contract to design the National Care Service to… KPMG. Which almost certainly has business relationships with private care home operators or the private equity firms who own them. And who were already under enormous scrutiny over damning evidence that they appeared to have acted fraudulently during the collapse of Carrillion.

There is a petrifying rightward lurch taking place in economic policy – and that was from a rightwing starting point

And of course, there is no way that both the civil servants involved in the contract (the ‘Operating Model Lead’ and the ‘Finance Lead’) recently joint the Scottish Government from KPMG, right? And the other three of the Big Four who continue to suck up the right to make policy in Scotland couldn’t possibly be involved in a total of five current major inquiries into corrupt and fraudulent activity?

The Big Accountants have virtually privatised the civil service such is their reach and the way they have utterly fluid movement of staff back and forward between them and the civil service and its agencies.

Meanwhile the bottle return scheme which has been disgracefully delayed by the Scottish Greens in government because the supermarkets didn’t like it is not only delayed but will no longer be designed by the civil service at all but by another private company.

At least the NHS is safe in Scotland? Except no. The SNP has started floating the idea that the first port of call for the NHS won’t be a GP’s surgery but a plethora of private sector alternatives like chemists (or as we now seem to call them ‘pharmacies’) and physiotherapy practices. The former are already mostly corporate chains and just wait to see what happens when private equity realises the scope for corporate physiotherapy funded from the NHS budget.

And these are only a weekend or so’s worth of news, coming hard on the back of the wholesale betrayal of Scotland’s interests which is encapsulated in the ScotWind privatisation. I could have written something similar a couple of weeks ago and a couple of weeks before that…

So what’s going on? I will delve into this in much more detail soon but this is my basic thesis. In 2007 Scotland’s establishment was drunk on power. It swaggered around behind the behemoths of RBS and Bank of Scotland, feeding off the scraps. The collapse and then departure of both sent shockwaves across Edinburgh. And then the radical nature of 2014’s independence referendum scared them silly.

Suddenly they weren’t medium-sized fish in a big pond – the pond shrunk and so did they. They became medium-sized fish in a small pond. They wanted the radical spirit of 2014 extinguished and they needed to feed voraciously to grow again.

Those who are calling for a rebellion to break out because Boris Johnstone is an idiot need to get real – it is Scotland that needs a rebellion

The conditions were made perfect for this by the current SNP administration. It is without ideology or vision, obsessed only with its own image. It cares not where the pats on the head come from, so long as they come. It tickled the belly of the Scottish liberal commentator class by saying ‘progressive things’. What it didn’t do was actually do many real, progressive things (unless you count setting a target you have no intention of meeting).

It fed the beast that is the Public Sector Empire in Scotland. This is the endless network of civil servants, quangos, agencies, working groups, reviews and ‘delivery partners’ (from Serco to the dependent big-NGO sector). They operate like one entity, shuffling money between themselves, taking big salaries and putting out press releases – and nothing ever changes.

And it simply folded completely to the corporate sector. The Growth Commission is the defining document, a prospectus for independence which could have been written by George Osborne so in debt is it to ‘fiscal rectitude’ (i.e. austerity).

None of this could pass an electoral test in Scotland because it’s all way, way to the right of the views of the population. It is only possible because the cause of independence has been used ruthlessly as a shield to protect this awful administration from the rightful opprobrium it ought to be facing. The cynicism in this is startling.

The fact that the administration constantly briefs that the SNP is a ‘broad church’ to defend this hypocrisy is utter nonsense. The party votes in enormous majorities for the opposite of all of this again and again – and is utterly ignored.

It is impossible to imagine this situation enduring. Another leader could not get away with this unchallenged, another party willing to do it couldn’t get elected. I have been increasingly wondering if the pace is accelerating because the vested interests know that we are moving towards the last days of the Sturgeon era and they won’t get away with it afterwards.

Perhaps, perhaps not. But what is not in doubt is that the finance-consultancy-outsourcing sector is now aggressively asset-stripping Scotland because it can’t get rich from the merger frenzies of the 2000s, and the Scottish Government is handing Scotland to them on a plate.

That people are getting worked up over a silly party and a broken swing is emblematic of the problem. We look at a cartoon villain and tell ourselves that, whatever is happening here, we’re not that bad.

Except we are that bad. We are a broken political system being exploited by powerful financial interests who are being aggressively enabled by a vacuous, narcissistic government.

Those who are calling for a rebellion to break out because Boris Johnstone is an idiot need to get real. It is Scotland that needs a rebellion – and soon, while there’s anything left.

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