It’s Only Words 149


Mike Russell has responded in a tweet that his book is a dialogue between the two authors, implying he did not subscribe to its views on the NHS. Unfortunately, having read the full book, this is demonstrably untrue.

It is certainly true that the Introduction states that not all the ideas are agreed by both the two authors. As the Introduction also notes (p.14), in some places these disagreements are noted in the text. But unfortunately, in the entire section on the NHS, indeed the entire section on privatisation, there is no sign of any disagreement between the authors and certainly there is NO dialogue. No counter-argument is given. In fact the entire text at this juncture is written in the first person plural. The book states:

We would encourage the private sector to compete with established NHS hospitals, clinics and other services. We would encourage NHS management and staff to buy out existing NHS facilities and services under favourable financial terms and join the private sector. We would require NHS facilities that remained in government ownership to be run at a profit.

Here the “We” used at the start of each of those three sentences can only mean the two authors, Dennis MacLeod and Michael Russell. It can mean nothing else in the context of the book. It is not a dialogue. Plainly Mike Russell signed up to these views. If he wishes to say he sincerely recants, I would accept that. But he cannot pretend he did not sign up to it.

I also reject the puerile idea that because the Labour Party criticised him for his views on the NHS, it is wrong for anybody in the SNP to criticise him. As for his outrage at being questioned in this way, this is what democracy looks like. We are in an election. Expect to be scrutinised. Actually, I am just starting.

In the contest for SNP President, you are allowed only 25 words for your electoral statement to voters. Yes, 25 words. Approximately half a tweet. Obviously intellectual debate is not being encouraged. There are no official hustings (though kudos to the SNP trade union group who are trying to organise one).

This is my best shot at 25 words so far:

2014 no gold standard. Biased BBC, the Vow breaking purdah.
Tories will never agree a referendum they know we will win.
We must take Independence.

Grateful for your suggestions.

In the interests of public knowledge I wish to publish, entirely unedited, some of the writings of another candidate for President, Mike Russell. As I showed, when I announced my candidacy I faced a storm of very unpleasant social media criticism from what I might term the Scottish media and political Establishment, which insofar as it was not purely abuse, centred on the “accusation” that I hold non-mainstream opinions. I am proud to affirm that I do indeed.

I therefore thought you ought to know the opinions of Mike Russell, the establishment’s candidate. There is no trick here. The below passage is complete and unedited from his book, Grasping the Thistle (Argyll Publishing 2006), by Dennis MacLeod and Michael Russell. It is jointly authored and the passage I quote is written specifically as “We”, indicating both authors agree (not true of the whole book, as is made clear in it, but plainly applying to this passage of “We” proposals on the NHS).

I am not attacking Michael Russell. I make no comment on his views on NHS Scotland, other than to say mine are very different. I merely publish his views as the large majority of SNP membership have come into politics since 2014 and may be unaware of them. I should say I had no idea Mike Russell held these opinions, and when first told a week ago, I did not believe it until I bought a copy of his book. He is of course perfectly entitled to his view, and an Independent Scotland will include people of all shades of political opinion. Indeed, he may have changed this opinion, perhaps at the first sight of his Scottish Ministerial limousine. While I shall not comment, you may wish to comment below on what you make of his opinion on the NHS. I encourage you to do so.


Take health first of all. We would encourage the private sector to compete with established NHS hospitals, clinics and other services. We would encourage NHS management and staff to buy out existing NHS facilities and services under favourable financial terms and join the private sector. We would require NHS facilities that remained in government ownership to be run at a profit however modest. Those that failed to maintain profitability over a reasonable time frame would be privatised. In each geographic area the government would solicit bids from the area’s medical facilities and GPs for the various services it required for its citizens. Fragmentation of services may well see the redundancy of large general hospitals and their replacement with privately run clinics specialising and competing in particular medical procedures and services, at least in the more populated areas.

One idea that is worth further consideration is the possibility that some provision may be supported by “Payment vouchers” made available free of charge to citizens in order that patients would receive treatment wherever they wished. Citizens who wished to make their own arrangements with medical service suppliers would be free to do so. Armed with their voucher they could shop for the fastest and best service and if they so wished add to the value of the voucher.

Now it is pretty well a certainty that Mike Russell will win the SNP Presidency. The voters at Conference are a very controlled base and these days the payroll vote is a very high percentage of conference votes. There is very little chance I shall get over 20% of the vote. I am standing to give those ordinary members who are free to do so, a chance to express their concern at lack of focus on getting Independence and particularly to protest at the acceptance that Westminster has a veto on Independence via the S30 mechanism. There are also deep concerns at the way the party is being run.

I am standing because this is what democracy looks like, as my friend Clark reminded me.

There is also a third candidate, Corri Wilson, a former MP. I spoke to her and she seems a very decent person.

Dennis MacLeod, Russell’s co-author, was a multi-millionaire Canadian mining magnate and highly respected SNP member and party donor. Mike Russell has a record of decades of impeccable service to the party. They were perfectly entitled to publish their personal opinion on the NHS and indeed they were entitled to argue for a ultra right economic policy, as their book does. These opinions of Russell and MacLeod do not represent SNP policy and are most unlikely ever to represent SNP policy. Just as I have published personal opinions which are not SNP policy nor likely to be.

My point is simply this. As people, including paid SNP staff, have pointed to my opinions and said they make me unfit to be SNP President, I am entitled to point to Mike Russell’s opinions so that people may make a fair comparison before they vote. You can characterise it as you wish, but it is a fairly plain left/right choice.

At the moment we are in the nomination phase which lasts until Friday 13th. Then voting takes place at the virtual conference.

Nomination phase: Any SNP member can nominate me. I need 100 nominations to stand. Go to and login with your membership number. Then go to My Account top right, then next menu Elections, then next menu Nominations. You will find you have to click the nominate button by my name several times until the “remove nomination” button appears. There have been glitches, so if you have already nominated me I would be grateful if you could check the “remove nomination” button still appears. I know people who have rejoined the party in order to nominate, and been able to do so immediately.

For the actual voting you need to be a conference delegate to the virtual conference. I understand almost all branches still have open slots, so contact your branch secretary and say you wish to be a delegate.

This is the first election of any kind I have ever entered where there is no mechanism at all for the candidate to verify nominations or ballots. You are simply given the results of the electronic polling, as passed through the hands of SNP HQ staff – including some of those directly involved trying to fit up Alex Salmond on false charges and send him to jail. I therefore will feel much more confident of avoiding shenanigans if I receive well over the minimum 100 nominations.

UPDATE Mike Russell has responded in the following tweet:


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149 thoughts on “It’s Only Words

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  • N_

    “We would encourage NHS management and staff to buy out existing NHS facilities”.

    What a load of c*ck talk!
    The only interests in a position to buy NHS hospitals etc. are pharmaeceutical firms or financial firms such as banks and insurance companies. Suck on that, Michael Russell, you rentamouth lickspittle creep! You want us to think “you” wrote your own book when you can’t even write a tweet literately.

    • Jeff

      Sadly, described above is exactly the route that NHS England has been taking since the Thatcher/Blair governments, and which the SNP Scottish Government has so far blocked…. I think Mike Russell wrote this before the English NHS disaster began to unfold? (Although why anyone would think that private is better/more efficient than state is beyond me).

      • Piotr+Berman

        Competition unleashes human creativity. For example, competition between McDonalds and Burger King can give us cheaper and healthier foods, or encourage people to overeat using cheapest raw materials possible, combined with clean facilities and prompt service. Unfortunately for taxpayers and patient, this creativity reliably increases profits, and is unreliable in increasing benefits for patients.

  • Giyane

    Its only words. Thatcher and Blair used ‘ spin ‘ to shoe-horn in their deeply unpopular ” radical ” I.e reactionary reforms. But this level of direct communication between government and electorate is extremely hard work for government and stress ful for the electorate whose consent is being asked, before changes in policy are implemented.

    What followed spin was complete obfuscation. Brown and every PM since him adopted a system of non communication with the electorate. We know best , no need for you to worry your little heads about anything..
    Brown, Cameron, May and soon Johnson were catapulted out of office with very little public support
    People don’t like leaders who patronised them.

    Mike Russell sticking his opinion on paper is communication on the Thatcherian model. I like communicators a million times more than the secretive political types who constantly game our emotions.

    I hope I’m not offending Craig by suggesting that
    ‘ It’s only words.” would be a valid criticism of an obfuscating type of politician, but Mike Russell doesn’t seem to that type. He has set out his beliefs in old school fashion. Totally pointless in denying them.
    For that communication I have to respect him.

    What I have no respect for whatsoever is the type of secretive manoeuvring with total insincerity of Nicola Sturgeon. Others may disagree. Personally I find it much easier to deal with a message I don’t like which somebody has had the decency to communicate with me, than a wall of duplicitous silence, cheating me of my humanity.

    I don’t feel as though the title describes Russell, I think it describes Sturgeon. Keep em guessing. Do their heads in. Play dumb.

    • giyane

      Actually, that’s all tripe. Once again, Craig has revealed an astonishing criminal fraternity hiding under the tweedy blanket of Scottish Independence.When I read what Mike Russell actually stands for, it’s like the mist vapourising and the whole valley being bathed in autumn sunshine.

      The corruption is totally unbelievable. It makes sense of Police Scotland trying to fit up Alex Salmond, of the civil service being taken over by bitches and Sturgeon smooching with Alistair Campbell. Cowering under the blanket of right wing Scottish MSM, the same Scottish editors and right wing scum that insulted Craig on Tritter, there is a completely Tory government in Scotland, masquerading as traditional Scottish socialism.

      The fact that all this stinking corruption is being held together by the propaganda of the MSM . reminds me of how the MSM from the BBC to Fox News have treated Donald Trump in the last few days, insulting his sanity and demanding evidence which is impossible to find because it is concealed by their rotten system.
      Anyway the swamp’s revenge on Trump has been terrible. How much more terrible will be the revenge of the Scottish people against the government of Nicola Sturgeon.

  • Josh R

    “this is what democracy looks like……. Expect to be scrutinised.”

    I fear you may be setting the bar too high for your fellow candidates :-))))) how refreshing!
    Guess they’ll just have to resort to smears, denigration & weasely temper tantrums.
    Have at ’em!

  • U Watt

    Clearly your statement must reference healthcare provision.The favourite has callous views on the issue that would certainly cost lives if enacted. It is actually frightening that he has been nominated for this position and is the establishment’s candidate. Is his the Scotland they secretly desire down the road?

  • Stonky

    I was active in encouraging Craig to make this a public issue and I’m glad he has done so. What we need to do now is get it out on a wider public stage, so that the party leadership can be dragged out of their crevices and into the light of day, and forced to justify to the membership and the general public why this man is their preferred choice for SNP President.

  • Craig P

    I feel like you are really standing on two platforms, Craig.

    There is the one that you are saying you are going for:

    ‘Independence ASAP: vote Murray.’

    And there is the one your actions over the last several years say, which I believe is more powerful:

    ‘Vote Murray, oppose corruption. The truth will set us free.’

  • Johny Conspiranoid

    “Independance now. No Westminster veto.
    Alex Salmond is innocent. Free Julian Assange.
    Mike Russell wrote a book advocating NHS privatisation.
    See my blog for details.”

    Hows that for 25 words?

    Maybe its 25 words because your expected to link to your website.

  • M.J.

    “2014 no gold standard. Biased BBC, the Vow breaking purdah.
    Tories will never agree a referendum they know we will win.
    We must take Independence.”

    Excellent, no-one will understand a word of it. 🙂

  • Colin Smith

    It should hardly be controversial, it works very well across Europe.

    If we had multiple alternative suppliers, one of them might have decided it was worth maintaining a service this year, rather than shutting down. Here we have catastrophic failures due to failures by single decision makers.

    • Brian c

      “We would require NHS facilities that remained in government ownership to be run at a profit”
      Michael Russell

      Running all healthcare for profit necessarily means those unable to pay have to do without. The NHS was brought into being to end all that. If Mr Russell agreed with your assessment he would just proudly own his statement above, not deny what is there plainly in black and white.

      • Colin Smith

        No, the payment can come from government and insurance companies. This is normal, and better throughout most of western Europe.

        Single provider gives the ideal breeding ground for corruption, mediocrity, self interest, and common modes of failure.

        Of course moving between the two is also prime for capture by connected privileged interests and consultants, but it is not necessarily inevitable.

        There is probably not a single family in the country that has not got the NHS to thank for instances of superb treatment and wonderful dedicated staff, but also not a family that has not suffered from dreadful delays, appallingly inept, slow and misinterpreted communications, and callous indifference from staff. It is the only industry that still relies on snail-mail letters, typed out by secretaries to get things moving both internally and externally.

        • Kempe

          ” Single provider gives the ideal breeding ground for corruption, mediocrity, self interest, and common modes of failure. “

          Which you never find in any competitive industries.

        • Brian c

          We know well by now the outcomes of UK privatisations. The reality behind the high talk of dynamic private competition. Whichever the sector, it has been a deeply depressing story for consumers and an absolute bonanza for incompetent providers and their shareholders, for whom enough is never enough. There is little reason to believe healthcare privatisation would not conform to the same tried and tested pattern, with even more disastrous outcomes. Mr Russell knows people are alive to the scam by now – they have seen who benefits from these privatisations – which is why he is trying to distance himself from his own ideology as he seeks election.

        • SA

          You make some sweeping statements. For example “a single provider is breeding grounds for corruption, mediocrity and common modes of failure”.
          The NHS is not a single exclusive provider it is an umbrella organization consisting of many different components. It is not monopolistic nor has it an overarching business model. Unlike corporations which have long histories of mergers leading to formation of monopolies, and cartels, running price fixing with considerable scope for profiteering, corruption or sheer increase in proportion of cost not going directly to front line health care. There is also the small matter of the existence of a revolving door where a sizeable part of healthcare is privatised as we well know has happened since the Blair Government took NHS privatization to heart, in terms of both politicians becoming CEOs of healthcare companies, and lobyists given prominence in setting NHS agendas and priorities.
          There is a good analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the NHS in this Kings Fund review

          In it you will also see some figures why the NHS has weaknesses that have been politically determined over the years:

          “Comparative data on capacity in the health system highlight some of the difficulties in making international comparisons between systems– the optimum number of hospital beds and staff vary depending on local context, the model of care delivery in place and the skill mix in clinical teams. The UK, for example, has 2.7 hospital beds per 1000 population compared to an EU average of 5.2 – far lower than Germany (8.2) and France (6.2) but similar to Ireland (2.6) and Sweden (2.5). Although this might be seen as a sign of efficiency (indeed the declining number of hospital beds in the UK has been partly due to medical advances that have shortened length of stay in hospital and a shift in the model of care that means people with learning disabilities, mental illness and the longer-term care of older people occurs in community settings) there are significant concerns about high levels of bed occupancy in hospitals and the problems this causes. International comparisons on numbers of hospital beds also need to be treated with caution as countries can differ over important definitional issues.”

          So to start with the NHS has about half the average number of beds per capita due to repeated calls for efficiency savings by successive governements.

  • affa nae weel

    Hi Craig, my thought,

    The snp have only one mandate from the membership, that is to obtain INDEPENENCE by any means.
    Asking permission is not the way, Craig Murray

    I attempted to vote as a member of the snp, by post the form was addressed to a company in Southampton ? We don’t have a Scottish company capable of counting votes?
    By e-mail, I discovered that my account was still linked to an email I had closed 4 years ago, I phoned multiple times only to get recorded message that someone would get back to me within 5 days…… still waiting. If the party is no longer run by, or answerable to the membership, then the establishment capture is complete.
    Well, not any more, I cancelled my membership and direct debit, and after 41 years of voting for the snp, will still vote for independence, but not the snp. There is no hunger left in the majority of the sleekit politicians, time for a clear out, or a rival party.
    Thankyou for your work.

  • TFS


    Can’t say I agree with your wish to take Scotland out of the UK, but I do wish you well.

    Either way, whether its happens or not, people of Scotland need people like you leading from the top in any Scottish Parliament.

  • Jarek Carnelian

    It is worth noting that the original Russell text was even more extreme, and Salmond severely pruned it before he would allow it to be released if Russell still aspired to be a force in the SNP movement. You can still read Iain Macwhirter’s (October 29th, 2009) review here:

    Scottish Review of Books

    As a few words of Context: “Now, normally, one would not review a publisher’s proof copy, even if, as in this case, the publisher had actually sent it to you to review.” (!)

    “The SNP should, Russell believes, abandon formal independence in favour of a “new Union” with England.

    The first version of ‘Grasping The Thistle’ calls on the party to have a nationalist ‘Clause 4’ moment, effectively giving up on social democracy.

    It should slash the welfare state; cut taxes by up to 30 percent; introduce vouchers for education and hospitals; and dismantle the NHS in favour of an insurance based health service.

    Russell went on to call for a separate currency for Scotland, called the ‘ducat’, in accordance he insists with Scottish history.

    Grasping The Thistle – even the revised version – is a blueprint for an essentially neo-conservative political revolution in Scotland. He wants to privatise the state, abolish inheritance tax, corporation tax, capital gains tax and introduce the highly regressive flat-rate income tax, which has been introduced in some Eastern European countries like Estonia.

    If Russell were in charge, Scotland would be exposed to something like the “shock therapy” that the Friedmanite ideologues imposed on the Soviet Union after the fall of the Berlin Wall. This would imply, not just a rebalancing of public spending, but the wholesale destruction of the welfare state, taking the clock back to Edwardian Britain before Lloyd George’s People’s Budgets.

    I’m not sure the Scottish people are prepared for such a Year Zero.”

    That he was so audacious as to latch onto the phrase “Grasp the Thistle” for his neo-liberalism-on-steroids blueprint does not subtract from the power of the phrase either:

    Vote for FREEDOM!
    Grasp the Thistle!
    Vote Craig Murray!

  • Kathleen

    I did not want to become a member of that party, but I joined yesterday and nominated you today. It only took two clicks to change to ‘remove nomination’. I’ve taken a screen shot as well. I’m surprised (not really) that there’s no email confirmation. I’ll check back now and then to make sure you are still selected. All the best Craig.

  • Photios

    “This is the first election of any kind I have ever entered where there is no mechanism at all for the candidate to verify nominations or ballots.”

    Are you sure this an SNP, not an American, presidential election?
    Do they use Dominion software?

  • someone

    Here’s 24 words:

    “Sick of squabbling over Longshanks’ scraps ? Vote Craig Murray for SNP leader. They may take our lives, but they will never take our FREEEEEEEEEDOM!”

    (Apologies to Mel Gibson / William Wallace)

    I mean, you and your fellow erudite commenters may never have watched Braveheart, but I imagine most Scottish people have, and references to it convey a fairly simple message (Independence for Scotland). Pick a different paraphrase / quote from it if you want.

  • Daisy Walker

    The People of Scotland Are Sovereign.
    Scotland will NOT be taken out of Europe against her will.
    Yes We Can – Now We Must.
    Vote Murray.

  • Iain Stewart

    Scots wha hae wi’ Wallace bled,
    Don’t be vague, just vote for Craig !
    Scots wham Bruce has often led,
    Don’t you worry, here comes Murray !

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