Friday, 1 June 2018

Growth Commission - would the real author please stand up

From my Daily Record column today

Bad artists copy, great artists steal, said Picasso who knew a thing or two about art.

If so, take a bow Andrew Wilson, the creative mind who produced the SNP’s Growth Commission report last week only to be accused, among other things, of lifting bits of it wholesale from another report.

It appears that when it comes to the writing credits, cheers of “author, author” cannot go entirely to Wilson.

According to investigative reporter Paul Hutcheon over 950 words of the document, hailing New Zealand’s scorched-earth approach to economics as one to emulate, was copied and pasted from a New Zealand Treasury paper written ten years, with no credit given to the original author.

Okay, so the great white hope of nationalism had some uncredited plagiarism in it, an embarrassing error that was all.

Wilson explained how a footnote giving due credit the origins of the analysis was mistakenly removed during the drafting process.

We know the report was cooked, frozen, microwaved, put in a drawer and re-heated over two years to make it as palatable as possible, and everyone makes a mistake.

But far more embarrassing than the omission, I have discovered, would have been to credit the real author of the New Zealand passage.

Lo and behold the section of “copied homework” is that of a respected British economist, Neil Kidd, who did indeed work for the New Zealand government, and has gone back to live there now.

But Kidd also worked for HM Treasury in London in the run up to the 2014 Scottish independence referendum.

He was one of the key Treasury team which wrote the Scotland Analysis Programme, a series of hefty documents produced by the UK government to inform the independence debate.

The documents, carrying the full weight of the Treasury’s best economists, pored over everything from pensions to currency under independence.

They were war hammers in the hands of George Osborne and effectively destroyed Salmond’s dodgy  milk and honey prospectus.

So the Growth Commission report, raising the new case for independence from the rubble of the White Paper, is built on the foundation of an economist who analysed Scottish independence and found it wanting.

Irony doesn’t come near it.

Being found copying the work of a Treasury economist who built the case against independence will merely feed the nationalist backlash against Wilson’s cautious plan.

One former SNP government adviser, Alex Bell, described it as the political suicide note of nationalism, ceding ground to Labour on cuts and the Tories on low taxes.

But Wilson is a politician bouncing along with so much friendly optimism that he makes Tigger, from Winnie the Pooh, look like the glumbucket Mrs May.

His sunny disposition may be unaffected by the slings and arrows.

Part of the reason for making the real case for nationalism now is to draw the toxic response to the price of independence out of the body politic.

Because he is one of the most ecumenical politicians in the land, the good regard Wilson is held in helped the report off the runway without being shot down on take off.

But if going out of your way to please people is a personality strength, it is a political weakness too.

With his natural inclination to please everyone he meets Wilson has produced a hodgepodge of bolted-on, contradictory ideas of Danish welfare spending and New Zealand neo-liberal economics.

With a bit of unacknowledged help from an anti-independence economist, he’s cut and pasted them onto a photocopied map of a future Scotland. Mind you, Picasso did a lot of collage work too.

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