Michael Russell, Neo-Liberal 265

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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265 thoughts on “Michael Russell, Neo-Liberal

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  • 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.

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