This month, a new book that tries to put the case for devolution but ends up showing, unintentionally, how ridiculous the idea is. Plus how the West lost its way in Afghanistan...
A nation again: why independence will be good for Scotland (and England too), edited by Paul Henderson Scott, foreword by Alex Salmond, paperback, 127 pages, ISBN 1-908373-25-3, Luath Press Ltd., Edinburgh, 2012, £7.99.
The Scottish Parliament in Horse Wynd, Edinburgh
This book tries to put the case for breaking up Britain. The six contributors are Paul Henderson Scott, a past Vice-President of the SNP, journalist Harry Reid, Stephen Maxwell, the SNP’s National Press Officer from 1973 to 1978, Tom Nairn, who spent most of his academic life in Australia, Neil Kay, a professor of economics, and businesswoman Betty Davies.
Paul Scott tries to show how the Union has always held Scotland back, yet cites the novelist Walter Scott, who wrote that after Union, Scotland “increased her prosperity in a ratio more than five times greater than that of her more fortunate and richer sister.” Hardly a colony then!
Stephen Maxwell points out that Scotland has none of the institutions it would need to be economically independent: “no Scottish political party, not even the SNP, has shown any interest in rebuilding an independent Scottish banking system.” He continues, “On current policies if political nationalism makes further progress Scotland could be the only European country in the modern age to approach independence without any nationally owned banks.” It also lacks local savings banks, public pension-backed regional banks specialising in infrastructure development, mutual banks and a bond-issuing agency for public infrastructure.
Maxwell cites SNP publicist Gerry Hassan who embraces neo-liberalism. Hassan claims that social democracy is “in tatters and retreat across the Western world” and concludes, “Scotland cannot buck this development.”
Nairn shows the quality of his judgement when he grotesquely likens Nick Clegg to Albert Schweitzer. Nairn used to claim to be a Marxist. Has he forgotten that Marx’s great call was not, “Workers of all countries, divide and split”?
Scott argues that Scotland “needs” to be in the EU. Scott, like Maxwell and Kay, points to Norway as a model, but Norway of course is not in the EU. Kay rightly praises Norway’s use of an oil fund to invest in industry. But with Scotland in the EU, the EU would control the oil and the funds.
The SNP’s policy aim of “independence within the EU” is like calling for progress within capitalism. “Independence within the EU” would be no escape from Thatcherism. Present British government policies follow EU orders (largely drafted by British officials). “Independence” for Scotland would mean Thatcherism from Brussels.
Afghanistan: how the West lost its way, by Tim Bird and Alex Marshall, hardback, 303 pages, ISBN 978-0-300-15457-3, Yale University Press, 2011, £19.99.
Tim Bird, a lecturer in defence studies at King’s College London, and Alex Marshall, a lecturer in history at the University of Glasgow, have produced a thorough, scholarly and fair-minded study of NATO’s disastrous war in Afghanistan.
The initial aim of the war was to disrupt Al-Qaeda – which was achieved by 2001. NATO’s war should have ended then, they conclude. This success did not require building a democratic state or a working economy in Afghanistan – neither of which could be achieved.
NATO’s nation-building was doomed from the start. As the authors note, “political and economic liberalization in practice generated destabilizing side effects in war-shattered states, which then actually perpetuated instability.” Further, “the reconstruction effort during this period was underfunded, corruption-riddled and disorganized ...” In 2006 the education minister in the province of Uruzgan was himself illiterate.
The later war was also bound to fail. This was largely because NATO perceived threats everywhere from “a list that included an individual (bin Laden), a group (Al Qaeda), a tactic (terrorism), hostile governments, neutral governments, and a state of mind.” The British 2005 decision to put troops into Helmand was taken casually, without the army top brass even knowing about it.
Extending the war to Pakistan was also a disaster. 6 million people have been displaced from its Federally Administered Tribal Areas and the North West Frontier Province. 7,354 civilians have been killed. In 2009 alone, 3,300 Pakistani civilians were killed, more than in Afghanistan, 2,412. The Brookings Institution estimates that drone attacks kill ten civilians for every militant killed.
The authors sum up, “NATO’s decade of strategic engagement in the region had, paradoxically, become notable not only for reinforcing Pakistan’s traditional strategic mindset, but also for escalating violence and instability.”
NATO used counter-insurgency, a military approach, when Afghanistan and Pakistan were clearly problems without a military solution, problems that only the Afghan and Pakistani peoples could solve. ■