Michael Russell, Neo-Liberal 266

Mike Russell is claiming I have in some way misinterpreted or mis-attributed his detailed advocacy of privatisation of the NHS. I therefore bring you the following published critiques, every one of which has evidently “misunderstood” Mike Russell too. First from Iain MacWhirter in the Scottish Review of Books:

I have to say that Russell’s own ideological adventure rather confirms the need for political parties. 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. Imagine the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh having to close because it failed to make a profit. What would happen to the patients? Scotland is a relatively egalitarian country with much less income inequality than England. Under the Russell/MacLeod revolution it would become a playground for the super-rich, a plutocratic caste with no interest or connection with the ordinary people. Jock Tamson need not apply.

Grasping The Thistle may be independent thinking, but I’m not entirely sure it is rational thinking. Certainly, these ideas are so far removed from the manifesto of the Scottish National Party that it becomes difficult to know how Russell can remain a member of it. It seems to me that he disagrees with just about everything his own movement stands for: social democracy, Europe, independence, parliamentary democracy, progressive taxation, public services free at the point of need, an oil fund – the list goes on and on.

Here is Rob Brown in Bella Caledonia, who obviously also entirely misunderstood Mike Russell:

After years of deifying social democracy, monkish Mike Russell suddenly saw the light and realised that right-wing heresy had to become the new orthodoxy within the national movement.

He devoted all his spare hours – when not praying for a swift return to that most holy of shrines, Holyrood – to reading the ancient runes with a businessman called Dennis MacLeod. Together this Druidic duo co-authored a tome dissing almost everything the SNP had stood for in its modern incarnation. Even that most sacred and patriotic of mediaeval parchments the Declaration of Arbroath got debunked in the first few pages.

The SNP, Russell and MacLeod jointly pontificated, should banish devilish notions of national independence and instead seek to negotiate a “New Union” with England. Once Westminster conferred its blessing on full fiscal autonomy for Bute House, in return for abolition of the Barnett formula, auld Scotia could then be administered all the shock therapy she so desperately required to be jolted out of her zombie state.

Our semi-independent government could then go on the lion rampage against the undeserving poor, the idle and the feckless. Scotland’s welfare state and taxes would be slashed, with vouchers introduced to marketize provision of schools and hospitals – none of which would be supplied through the NHS, since this would be dismantled in favour of an insurance-based health service.

Here is David Gow also misunderstanding Mike Russell:

Already then, however, other, overtly pro-capitalist strands of thinking were developing, often taking on anti-statist blindly pro-market tones (as in Mike Russell’s Grasping the Thistle).

Michael Keating of the University of Aberdeen even failed to grasp the subtleties of Russells “dialogue” on a neo-liberal approach in an academic paper:

There have been advocates of the liberal market strategy in Scotland. While
out of parliament, Mike Russell (later SNP Cabinet Secretary for Education) and
Dennis MacLeod wrote a book promising exactly that, with a drastic reduction in the
role and size of the state and of public spending and taxes (MacLeod and Russell,
2006). This was widely seen as an effort to out-Thatcher Margaret Thatcher and
seems to have riled the SNP leadership sufficiently for them to have had the text
toned down between proof and publication (Macwhirter, 2006).

Gerry Hassan has rushed to Russell’s aid online now, but strangely enough also had failed to understand Russell did not really mean it:

Pre-2007, there was the well-intentioned work of Kenny MacAskill (2004) alongside Mike Russell’s advocacy of a host of predictable right-wing and neo-liberal platitudes (MacLeod and Russell 2006).

While if Mike Russell is not a neo-liberal, it is unfortunate to find him quoted in another academic book called Neo-Liberalism in Scotland:

In his biography of Thatcher, Hugo Young quotes his subject as
saying, “the Scots invented Thatcherism, long before I was thought of”,
dryly adding that this “was believed to be a reference to Adam Smith, the
economist, and possibly the philosopher David Hume”.12 In her
autobiography Thatcher noted with bemusement the failure of her
“revolution” to win hearts and minds in Scotland, “home of the very same
Scottish Enlightenment which produced Adam Smith, the greatest
exponent of free enterprise economics till Hayek and Friedman”.13 The
more openly pro-market figures in the SNP, like Michael Russell, have a
similar view:
“Adam Smith was the father of modern capitalism and it is high time that
his own people rediscovered his genius, particularly as, in his own land,
that genius is currently tarnished by the half-baked economic models
espoused by most of our political parties.14”

Finally, just to remind you how very bad what Russell and MacLeod wrote about the NHS was:

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.


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266 thoughts on “Michael Russell, Neo-Liberal

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  • Eric McCoo

    The post 2011, Murdoch era SNP are a motley crew of careerist wide boys who have no coherent plan for independence. Now that Murdoch no longer supports them, expect the SNP to slowly dismantle.

    Sturgeon is a fawning globalist implementing unpopular identity politics policies until someone finally nails her for her ‘criminal’ behaviour during the Salmond debacle.

    • Father O'Blivion

      Leslie Evans is due to squirm in front of the Committee (for the third time!) starting 10:15 (no idea when it will actually convene). The demonstrable lies spun by this cabal will unravel resulting in eventual downfall. First Evans then Lloyd and finally Sturgeon.

  • Xavi

    It is very telling that such a notoriously hard right figure has made it to the top of the SNP and is now the preferred choice for president. It strongly suggests he is far from alone among the leadership in yearning for a bracing libertarian Scotland, in the Dominic Raab, Priti Patel Britannia Unchained mould. Members have an.opportunity to stop him being made president, but what can they do to remove him and his neoliberal sponsors from leading the party?

    • DaveyTee

      I have a very high regard for Alec Salmond. A year after Mike Russell became an MSP, Salmond gave him a ministerial post, then another, and then a cabinet position. Frankly, if Alec Salmond believes that Mike Russell is an appropriate person to hold high positions in the party and government, I’m not going to disagree with him. Are you?


      • Xavi

        Yes, I 100% disagree with him in that regard, “DT”. Just as I disagreed with him Fred Goodwin is an appropriate person to be honoured with a knighthood. Perhaps try a little harder in convincing yourself Russell’s views are nothing to be concerned about . Certainly try a lot harder in convincing others. Consider for a moment the impact if healthcare provision were left entirely in the hands of parasites like Fred Goodwin. That is the world Michael Russell would like to see and you should be a little less blase that he is someone Salmond and Sturgeon see as a kindred spirit.

        • DaveyTee

          If 14 years ago Russell was of the view that health care should be privatised, I don’t believe he does now. Other than his book there is, as far as I’m aware, no evidence whatever to suggest that that is currently his view (or indeed that it has been since 2006) and he has specifically denied that it is. I certainly don’t see the SNP ever pursuing such a course.

          In any event, Russell may well have no say in it. The SNP is a broad church with a membership that encompasses many views, the only thing in common being that they want an Independent Scotland. That is the party’s primary aim – the other is to govern a devolved Scotland as best they can until independence. The better a job they do of that, of course, the more likely it is that waverers will be convinced to vote for independence. Once independence is achieved, then everything is up for grabs and I don’t think that the SNP will have much of a role to play after the first few years – rather, the political situation in Scotland will, like most other countries, be fought over by specifically left of centre, centre and right wing parties. The SNP, with its broad membership, is likely to splinter among these.

          Otherwise, I don’t know anything about you, Xavi, but I do know a bit about Alec Salmond and, with every respect, I’d prefer as things stand to rely on his judgement on Mike Russell.


          • Xavi

            He is a neoliberal as extreme as anything south of the border. Both Salmond and Sturgeon were strongly attracted to that. I sense you are too.

          • Cubby


            I refer to your comment that after independence you don’t think the SNP will have much of a role to play after the first few years. Perhaps that type of comment may disincentivise some people to actually go for independence. Perhaps of course some people in the SNP/ Scotgov have already been thinking about that.

          • Johny Conspiranoid

            ” no evidence whatever to suggest that that is currently his view (or indeed that it has been since 2006) and he has specifically denied that it is”

            When did he do that?
            What are his views now?

          • Johny Conspiranoid

            ” no evidence whatever to suggest that that is currently his view (or indeed that it has been since 2006) and he has specifically denied that it is”

            But where is the burden of proof here? Should we assume that a person’s opinions have changed if there is no evidence that they haven’t or should we assume their opinions have stayed the same if there is no evidence they have changed?

  • Goose

    Don’t understand the upset over Johnson’s honest remarks regarding his views on devolution. He’s only stating views many here will know are secretly shared by most Tories – even leading Scottish Tories who opposed devolution at the time and in all likelihood quietly still do. As for it being ‘Blair’s biggest mistake’. Blair didn’t have much choice in the matter as it was legacy baggage; Scottish devolution was often referred to as John Smith’s ‘unfinished business’ and powerful Scottish voices in Labour weren’t going to let go.

    Interesting take away for any future referendum, looking at the results from back then. As in 2014 the pre-referendum press polling consistently underestimated support which in this case was roughly 10-15% higher than polling suggested: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1997_Scottish_devolution_referendum

    • laguerre

      “Don’t understand the upset over Johnson’s honest remarks”

      He should have kept his mouth shut. He will have put fear into the minds of many Scots who may think Johnson is going to undo devolution – he makes it clear that is what he would like – and that has been the thrust of the denials this morning. Going further it may tip many hesitating (in Scottish government, for example) into full support for independence.

      • Marmite

        Since when has any of that manure that exits Johnson’s trap ever got him into trouble? He seems to be among those few who have the privilege to be as openly racist, idiotic and provocative, and get rewarded rather than scolded for it. We can always hope you are right though, and that maybe the Scottish have less of that subservient gene, which seems so innate to the English.

        • SA

          Johnson has the majority and the recklessness to change the law. He doesn’t even need to discuss things now, he can only claim that devolution is hampering the national efforts to fight Covid and dissolve the devolved administrations.

          • Merkin Scot

            Exactly! I seem to have been blocked on WoS for even questioning whether there would ever be an election again.

        • laguerre

          “Since when has any of that manure that exits Johnson’s trap ever got him into trouble?”

          ‘Greased piglet’, and ‘failing upwards’, and all that. He did get sacked from several jobs. What he says does get him into trouble. ‘Failing upwards’ will be into a lazy early retirement, as his ambition has run out. Unless he’s planning to succeed Her Maj, and push Charlie aside, which is possible as his childhood ambition was to be ‘King of the World’.

          I am not much of an expert on Scottish affairs, so my view is not well-informed. But I would say the major effect would be on the Scottish governmental establishment. They’ve just had a reminder that they could be out of their positions, or severely curtailed. An explicit statement, of Trumpian style, that any independence moves will be powerfully opposed, and any move such as IndyRef2 refused. What do Sturgeon et al think about that? It all rather goes along with Craig’s thinking, and a powerful boost to that point of view.

    • Ken Kenn

      Like Trump out of the mouth of babies Johnson is only revealing the true nature of the Unionist party ( Conservative – England).

      Remember that after the Scottish Indy Ref Cameron mouthed off about an English parliament.

      The fact is that the UK is essentially Greater England – mainly London and the South in general but that is how it is think.

      Thatcher nicked your oil to pay for emoluments and tax cuts down south as a bribe to Tory voters and I distinctly remember Woodrow Wyatt ( a Tory of rightward note ) arguing in his Sunday Express column as to where the oil fields lay using Mercatorial curve of the earth theories in order to lay claim to them for the UK ( ostensibly for England ).

      Britoil ( a state owned company )was handed over yo BP once Thatcher was enthroned and that was the last the Scottish saw of their greatest asset.

      See Tony Benn for details.

      I can only say to the Scots that the English fleeced you once to some tune – don’t let it happen again.

      p.s. I’ve just read an interesting piece by Zoe Williams in the Guardian.

      Basically Williams asks how does the labour Party get out of its vote/abstain for a deal bind if a Deal with the EU is done?

      Perhaps ( and it’s only an opinion ) is it possible to Revoke the whole thing – i.e. go back to where we were as if the whole thing never happened?

      The reason why this might work is that Farage on many occasions has said that a bad deal is worse than a no deal.

      Ergo: The ERG and Farage et al would rather not bother and stay as we were if Johnson and his mates sign a crap ( as in crap for Farage and his Financial friends – sod the real economy ) type of deal weighted in favour of the EU deal.

      With the view to have another crack at Brexit later in the future.

      I honestly belive that there will be an extension anyway – not for political purpose but real and harsh logistical purposes.

      Revoke is something that Labour – the SNP – Lib Dems and possibly the ERG Tories could back if Johnson’s deal is garbage.

      Only opinion though.

  • Cubby

    When Nicola Sturgeon has more time on her hands will she write a book called Grasping the Referendum.

    A story of wasted mandates and wild goose chases.

  • laguerre

    Johnson’s problem is that he has allowed himself to be faced with three simultaneous imminent crises, let alone what he has just said about the Scots. No-Deal Brexit on 31/12, COVID, and his destruction of his governmental system by sacking the people he really depended on for governing, and thus a need to create a new system. One crisis he can cope with, but three? Somewhat like what they say about air crashes, you can get round one thing going wrong, but it’s when multiple things go wrong, that the crash occurs.

    • Giyane


      Not only that, but Starmer has done the same thing.
      Perhaps the same people from the same intelligence services are advising them both, weakening them both and ruling them.

      • laguerre

        Really? Starmer, not being PM, is not faced with crises His problem is his pro-Zionism, for family reasons. Labour are not particularly pro-Zionist.

        • Bramble

          Many Labour MPs are, either for personal or career-centric motives. This morning it is hard not to regard them, and the media, as nothing more than agents of the Israeli extreme right. The Toady Programmes’ headlines included an item on some Labour MPs’ demand that Starmer withhold the whip from Mr Corbyn. (Sqwawkbox insists he has already had it restored.) Apparently there are threats of resignations. At the very least they will thcream and thcream until we are all thwick.

  • BrianFujisan

    And then there’s George Galloway…On RT Defending BJ…- It was them SNP what caused it..Ect Ect.. He’s the Biggest Hypocrite on this Earth.

    I used wait for his Sunday night RT show airing… Then his Despicable Vile about the SNP Ripping up the Union.. He forgets that the SNP were Elected Fair and Square by the people of Scotland… Unlike Galloways British Nationalist Hero’s.
    The Independence movement Know SNP has Faults.. One of which is Not Complaining to Ofcom about RT allowing Galloway his Hateful Bias Rants against Scots.

    • Giyane


      Hi Brian. To be honest, not much difference in taste between very expensive very dry sherry and glycol. Just one is expensive and posh while the other is almost paint-stripper. Galloway is the only man I know who has spoken truth to power to its face about colonial violence and theft. Caustic flyting is an honourable Scottish poetic tradition. Like it or not, I can enjoy it as I am not in its firing line.

      • BrianFujisan


        I loved George’s taking down of the Senate..

        We are on an honourable man’s Blog here… Then there is Julian… Being Tortured.

        George is telling Lies now… SNP and The independence movement should Ask Why RT allow GG’s Lies

        There is Only One Media Outlet up against BBC Bias…and the rest of them..Just One.

  • Dominic Berry

    As Independence was a response to austerity spending in the wake of Leamanshock, (instead of the logical nationalization of the banks).

    So Yes was never about angry, anti English nationalism, but a natural desire for democratic socialism. Any other part of the UK with the option of Independence would give it serious thought. But it was Independence from neoliberalism which drove the whole thing.

    As coronavirus economics and the impending Brexit costs take their toll, popularity for Independence is only going to rise. Installing a neoliberal influence within the SNP and insulating the Party HQ from grassroots influence seems like a viable alternative.

    As soon as Independence is achieved, rather than make some collective Norway type sharing of resources, a neoliberal SNP would use a superficial gestures of nationalist independence, while their political elite transfer ownership of collective national resources into the private ownership of global investors.

    We would need a whole new movement to get independent of that.

    Game over.

    • U Watt

      Opposition to Tory austerity and neo-liberal economics is undoubtedly what fired broad parts of the Yes coalition. But the SNP grassroots is a very different animal. The leadership knows that well, which is why they are so confidently promoting this arch neo-liberal for president. Russell’s endorsement by the membership will only steel their determination to push on in the direction you outline.

  • Contrary


    I watched you chatting on the Twa Auld Heids – it was a good chat, you are always so positive in person, and even if you don’t believe you will get the presidency, there appears to be a better chance of it than none I think


    That link, bizarrely, is to the The Scottish Currency Group Facebook page, but it’s an open group so anyone can access and it’s only a few posts down to find it. It’s also worth a look at the group and Tim Rideout’s excellent work on promoting what *actually is* current SNP policy on the new currency on independence. There was a poll that says about 59% of Scottish people now support having a new currency – so we are making progress. Not that the SNP hierarchy listen to popular opinion, but the more people that learn about how economics works right now, know that it’s the only way to go. Then to get a change of leadership of the SNP, and we’re sorted.

    Back to your chat with the twa auld heids, it’s quite strange the number of court cases that could assist us reaching independence have been put back to January next year – yours for presenting evidence there was and is a conspiracy (it’s driving me mad trying to trawl through the evidence in the public domain so I am really looking forward to you announcing all the evidence we need, it’ll be a relief to have it over and done with) – and the section 30 case with Martin Keatings to prove we don’t need Westminster permission (or otherwise, in law), Mark Hirst’s case is in Jan too I believe? Very very busy in the courts on January eh? I wonder what could be different in January next compared to this year,,, hmmm.

  • William James Heflin

    Craig – I am an old lawyer in British Columbia, seeing one of the last battles for press freedom being fought in Scotland. I am disappointed in that but one must admit that self-serving politicians are not confined to the US or Canada. I pray that Scottish law will triumph and you will be vindicated. I pray that a venal government, with nothing but narrow political goals will be defeated in their irrational prosecution of a contrarian voice. God knows that those voices are essentially extinguished in North America. God Bless you and keep you.

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