Mark McKergow: Why Scotland should begin shadowing the UK cabinet in preparation for indy

Management consultant Mark McKergow says shadowing UK ministers would be a sensible step for an independent state-in-waiting

FOLLOWING the recent disappointing General Election results, Common Weal director Robin McAlpine wrote on CommonSpace about the benefits of getting away from talking about referendums and onto the meat of developing ideas about how an independent Scotland can work. 

This is surely good sense – people on all sides can be forgiven for being fed up with the current string of votes. If the prize – a well thought out, achievable, sustainable independent Scotland – is clearly visible, then the referendum takes its proper place as a key enabler, rather than being an end in itself. 

One way to develop our thinking is in developing ideas about a shadow Scottish state.

People are much more open to change when they see it as making progress along the road rather than turning our backs on everything we’ve done in the past. 

The concept of 'shadowing' is familiar from standard governmental practice, here and around the world. A party looking to become the government assembles a shadow cabinet, with shadow secretaries of state, ministers and so on. These people then keep track of the situation within their portfolios, gather information and research, propose policies and hold the actual government ministers to account. 

They don’t, of course, have any actual power to implement anything (other than by influencing the government), but they are seen as a legitimate part of the political process.

The Scottish Government has responsibilities for devolved matters, and naturally each opposition party has a shadow cabinet in line with the principles above. But what about areas reserved to Westminster, such as international relations, international trade, defence, home affairs (including immigration, drug policy etc) exchequer, energy policy, social security, broadcasting and so on? 

If the Scottish Government is intent on winning an independence referendum at some point in the future, perhaps it’s time to start thinking about beginning to shadow these areas. After all, not having responsibility (yet) doesn’t mean not being prepared and not having a view.

The key words in this suggestion are "start thinking about beginning to" shadow. Actually appointing a shadow Scottish foreign secretary is not for now. However, there are preparations that could be carried out quietly and cheaply behind the scenes to lay the groundwork. 

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This is more about starting to look at what is there already and then very gently beginning to build on it, with a view to starting to shadow these functions, perhaps initially in a reduced form.

The excellent Common Weal White Paper Project Version 1.0 talks rightly about the need to do things like create a Scottish civil service. This does not, of course, mean starting from scratch.

What do we already have in the way civil servants? What are the steps towards making a Scottish civil service out of the existing British one? And so on.

In my work as a management consultant helping organisations and managers to build progress in tough situations, I find that people are much more open to change when they see it as making progress along the road rather than turning our backs on everything we’ve done in the past. 

They are also more inclined to back things that build on what’s already working (rather than seeking to totally overturn current practice) and then proceed in small steps (rather than huge leaps into the unknown). This way of thinking could well be a route to greater acceptance and support.

We don’t have to tackle every area at once - starting with the easiest, the quickest, the clearest, even the cheapest, would be a start.

One step to get this exercise underway might be to do a survey for each Westminster portfolio along the lines of:

- On a 1-10 scale, where 10 is "fully ready for independence" and 1 is "nothing in place at all", where are we right now?

- How come it’s that high and not lower? What is already in place, even in a reduced or alternative form, that could help? (Make as long a list as possible. It doesn’t matter how extensive the list is, this is about noticing existing resources and building possibilities.)

- What might be signs of progress that we are moving up the scale, even given current legal and other restrictions? This alerts us to potential next steps to build on, and add to, what is already in place.

I suspect that the range of answers gathered to such a survey would surprise and encourage supporters of an independent Scotland. Some of the things already in place – a distinct legal system, banks issuing currency, a well-developed international identity – are obvious. 

It doesn’t need the SNP to be doing it – this could be started with a few people around a table from all sides of the movement.

Other things may well be less obvious, and indeed there could be important connections and synergies to be discovered.

For example, Scotland has significant sources of 'soft power' and influence internationally – how can this be further harnessed to build a diplomatic service? 

We don’t have to tackle every area at once - starting with the easiest, the quickest, the clearest, even the cheapest, would be a start. Surveys like this would do much to raise awareness both of how far Scotland already is down the road to independence, and of how we can carry on down that road in small ways without waiting for either permission from Westminster or for the referendum trumpets to sound. 

It doesn’t need the SNP to be doing it – this could be started with a few people around a table from all sides of the movement. And, more importantly, it would be a move towards Scotland taking seriously our responsibilities as a state-in-waiting.

Picture courtesy of Number 10

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Tue, 06/20/2017 - 16:06

"On a 1-10 scale, where 10 is "fully ready for independence" and 1 is "nothing in place at all", where are we right now?"

We are at zero. Because the essential and basic economic questions are not being dealt with.

Consider, for example, the question of currency. Leaving the UK means leaving sterling. Salmond's pretend solution of forcing the rUK into a currency union against its will is a non-starter. Using the pound or Euro informally is a non-starter (it would destroy the finance industry, which is Scotland's largest private-sector employer). Joining the Euro is a non-starter (it is technically impossible for a country that doesn't have its own currency).

Therefore, independent Scotland would have to have its own currency.

What would that require? Denmark is a good model: they are about the same size and same level of prosperity, and they share a border with a larger currency with which they do they the preponderance of their trade.

Their experience with managing their economy tells them it is prudent to have £55 billion in reserves at present. But yet the amateur economists in the separatist movement want us to believe that indy Scotland (similar size economy) magically only needs £15 billion.

Why? Not because of any differences between the nature of the Scottish and Danish economies and the risks they encounter, but because that is the only sum that might be attainable without a sustained period of higher taxes and reduced services. In other words: convenience.

It is an appalling plan that will be ripped to shreds if it ever encounters anyone from out outside the separatist bubble.

This idea of a "shadow" cabinet is just embarrassing play-acting at a time when there is REAL work that our politicians should be doing.

Peter Dow's picture

Peter Dow

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 19:43

I'm already shadowing the Queen as Shadow Head of State and wanna-be candidate for elected President of the Scottish Republic.

"Scottish republican socialist Peter Dow, author and protester"

All I need now is some troops for a Shadow Trooping the colour at Holyrood Palace. LOL.

Peter Dow's picture

Peter Dow

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 19:53


Denmark pegs its Krone currency to the Euro.
Reserves are only needed because it isn't a mutual peg, the notes aren't exchangeable at a fixed rate by both central banks, the Danish central bank and the European Central Bank.

That's why the UK couldn't defend its £ Sterling peg to the Euro because, the European Central Bank wasn't offering a 2-way peg and the UK ran out of reserves.

However, if a country with its own currency has NO intention to peg its currency to that of another in a one-sided peg - but simply lets the currency FLOAT, or can arrange a mutual peg with a White Knight central bank of another currency then reserves are not needed to defend a one-sided peg.

To cut a long story short, the job of Finance Minister or Chancellor of the Exchequer of an independent Scotland is mine for the taking too.

So many responsibilities, only one life to live ...


Tue, 06/20/2017 - 20:30

@Peter Dow
And for independent Scotland to not peg its currency to sterling would be suicide.

Furthermore, small countries that do not have pegs to defend still have to keep very large reserves on hand, to ward off speculative attacks and to prevent calamity in case of a crisis.

Peter Dow's picture

Peter Dow

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 23:37

A floating Scottish-£ would be no problem at all for the economy. However if you and your personal cult wish to commit suicide because the Scottish £ is no longer exchangeable for the English £ 1-for-1 then I regret that, we'd miss you, but it would be your decision. No-one is making you top yourself.

There are many more constraints and dangers which arise from attempting a one-sided peg, not supported by the Bank of England, especially while running a large deficit which can all end in tears and lost reserves as currency speculators exploit a doomed attempt to defend a one-sided beg and we'd end up with a floating Scottish-£ anyway.

A mutual peg or continued use of the £ Sterling as Scotland's currency, with similar arrangements as now, with E£1-for-S£1 exchange respected by both central banks, the Scottish central bank and the Bank of England both agreeing with the peg and exchanging 1 for 1, would be a seamless currency solution for Scottish independence if such a currency union and fiscal frameworks could be agreed.

You are totally wrong about the relationship between pegs and currency speculative attacks as per "Black Wednesday".
which was an attempted one-sided peg attempted by the UK Treasury and Bank of England and which was not mutually pegged by the European Central Bank.

A mutual peg is a good option, whether to Sterling, the Euro, the US dollar or the Canadian dollar or the Norwegian Krone or to any reasonably hard currency - so not to the Venezuelan Bolívar then.

A single-singed peg is not a good option.


Wed, 06/21/2017 - 14:03

"A floating Scottish-£ would be no problem at all for the economy. "

Madness given the level of cross-border trade, and the fact that 1 million Scots have private contracts for debt denominated in sterling. And if the citizens of indy Scotland thought that a new currency was about to be launched (experts recommend that such things be done by stealth) and it was not going to be pegged and it was only going to be backed by as little as £15 billion there would be an epic capital flight.

Peter Dow's picture

Peter Dow

Wed, 06/21/2017 - 19:52

Scotland has always traded across borders to where a different currency is used. So with a floating Scottish-£ there's no problem if England / rUK is another one such.

£-Sterling debts/credits and other financial contracts would be converted to either Scottish-£ debts/credits/contracts or English-£ debts/credits/contracts according to what suited the parties and in case of disputes it would be a matter for the law and the courts to sort out. No problem.

There is no necessity to "back" a floating currency, with £15, £15 thousand or £15 million never mind "£15 billion". The market determines the exchange rate.

What an independent Scotland decided to do with its currency would be a political matter, decided by the parliament and government that people vote for.

"Stealth" would be dishonest and it would not be an option that I would recommend. An expert in "stealth" is what we honest people call "A LIAR".

As for all policies, the parties should put their currency plans forward in their manifestos, there will be an open and honest debate, you and I will no doubt disagree and then the people will vote. Again no problem.

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