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We must stop a corporate coup in Scottish politics

The power of the business lobby appears to be growing and growing in the fertile environment the media and the No campaign are offering it. We need to make sure right-wing ideology is not the biggest winner from the independence referendum.

According to Bill Jamieson in today’s Scotsman there are four kinds of business reactions to independence:

  1. Broad neutrality or support for independence (a minority)
  2. Reluctance to offend consumers
  3. Fear of “independence attack dogs”
  4. Apprehension over the lack of information on the arrangements for, and consequences of, independence

Wow! In all of Scotland there is not a single committed right-wing activist among the business community. None has ever funded the Tory Party or provided funding to any other right-wing cause. Ever. Not at all; a minority are political and independence-supporting, the rest are neutral, rational people interested only in discovering ‘higher truths’ about the world.

It is getting hard to write about Scottish politics without getting drawn into constitutional issues. It is particularly hard to write about Scottish politics from a left perspective without getting drawn into the constitutional debate because almost the entire right-wing of Scottish politics has started to organise around one of two issues; unionism and the assault on universalism. These are not my choices; I would have liked a broad constitutional debate with left and right on both sides and I really, really wish Scottish Labour hadn’t chosen to flirt with the anti-universalism rhetoric. But we have what we have, a debate polarised on one side by a (mainly) left/right split on the constitution and on the other by a tribal SNP/Labour split.

So in writing about the dangers of the constitutional debate allowing the business lobby to recapture Scotland after a period of comparative weakness in the aftermath of the financial crisis and the sequence of corporate scandals (especially the tax-avoiding one) I am sure there will be more unpleasant comments to be received from unionists. But I shall anyway, because this is of the utmost importance.

What has happened is that in curating a case against independence many unionists conclude that since the business lobby has a strong right-wing, pro-unionist slant, granting it ‘omniscient’ status as the most important neutral observers on independence is handing a phenomenal amount of control to these right-wingers in informing the public what is good and not good for ‘it’. On one condition – it must never be spoken that these businessmen might be right-wing activists. Like Rupert Soames who is one of those descendents of Winston Churchill who are born donating money to the Conservative and Unionist Party. I think I only saw one newspaper report this past track-record of political activism in reporting his ‘non-political’ comments on how hard it is for poor business leaders who face horrible, horrible things being said if they voice an opinion.

Seriously, you’d think the business lobby was lacking a voice, cowed and timid. In so much as it has been that is because it is still struggling to regain public credibility in the face of price-rigging, suicidal-gambling, tax-dodging, official-bribing practices. Still, granting business leaders a status above mere politics as arbiters of economic truth isn’t new, so what’s getting up my nose today?

Put simply, the extent to which this practice has expanded exponentially throughout this fledgeling referendum campaign. Any business leader – for or against – is immediately quoted directly and uncritically as a source of news. The same is simply not true for any other member of society. If Scotland’s leading experts on poverty or health or child welfare make statements during the course of this debate, will they all be reported prominently and non-critically? I rather doubt it. I suspect that the Scottish public will be force-fed the opinions of the rich all the way from now through to the end of the campaign.

So best just to breathe in and suck it up for 22 months? I suggest not – and this is a warning mostly for those elements of the Better Together campaign who do not believe themselves to be the parties of Big Business. In the closeness of relationship being developed with the right-wing business lobby, is it absolutely clear who is going to end up having used who? If the partners in Better Together hold to this strategy of promoting the reactionary views of business leaders without criticism, what happens after the referendum? Will they suddenly say ‘actually, we didn’t really believe half of what was being said but it suited our interests so we kept quiet’? Will they have internalised this agenda so completely they just follow it through? Or do they believe they are going to forge some ‘third way’ synthesis of hard-right economics and decent social provision?

None of these potential outcomes convinces me. There is no third way, as we have seen. There is no future in ‘we were lying to you about quite a lot of stuff’. The risk of internalising the mantras does seem quite likely but would be enormously damaging to all involved (apart from the business leaders of course). And if the Scottish media does the same, comes to believe that anything a business leader says is ‘true therefore news’ and anything anyone else says is ‘opinion and so not necessarily news’, a Scotland post-No vote is starting to look like an unpleasant place to be.

Bill Jamieson is very honest in his political leanings; I have no issue with the way he expresses his opinions. I do have an issue about the extent to which Scotland is being colonised by the business lobby. The independence debate was supposed to be about the Scottish people, not one more opportunity for the elite of society to take control of the country for its own ends. Everyone – not least the Scottish Labour Party – has a duty to make sure that is not the outcome.

Robin McAlpine