Shirley Williams highlights SNP’s failings in government

SCaron and Shirleyhirley Williams has written to the Times (£) to highlight that the SNP has not been as successful in government as it would like people to believe. She highlights failures on student debt, class sizes, the NHS and, importantly for anyone of a liberal mindset, its many failings on civil liberties.Here’s her letter:

The election campaign in the United Kingdom has been seriously impoverished by the absence of any detailed analysis south of the border of the SNP’s record in government.

Today the Scottish NHS is in crisis, with targets for cancer treatments not being met. More than 1,000 beds have been closed in Scottish hospitals since 2012. Last year, expenditure on the NHS in Scotland fell by 1.2 per cent while in England it rose by 4.4 per cent. Expenditure on training nurses and midwives in Scotland has been cut by 11 per cent.

In education, the SNP pledged to limit primary school class sizes to a maximum of 18 — a pledge it made when it first came into government in 2007. In fact, class sizes have risen in every year since 2010.

University students have been saddled with greater debt because they have to start repaying their loans once their incomes reach £16,500, while the figure in England is now £21,000. Worst of all, part-time college places have been cut by 130,000 — a travesty at a time when the UK needs skilled women and men to get the economy back on track. The SNP has not even met its unambitious target to build 6,000 affordable homes, despite the obvious need.

Additionally, the SNP’s troubling record on civil liberties has been further extended by its efforts to build an identity database based on NHS records. Its creation of a single national police force has been to the detriment of local policing and communities they serve; Highlanders have been aghast at the sight of armed police undertaking routine duties on their streets. It is a bigger insult that local communities’ calls to reverse the policy were ignored.

The SNP now seeks to present itself as a party with a strong interest in the future of the UK. Its own record makes that very hard to believe.

Shirley has a huge affection for and knowledge of Scotland. She spent almost two weeks campaigning for a No vote in the referendum. She’s visited Scottish seats several times in the run-up to this campaign. She’s certainly right to question the competence of the nationalists and criticise their ability to make decisions in the interests of the whole UK.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • In a divided world the rhetoric of Scottish nationalism makes me uneasy. Why is it any different to the rhetoric of UKIP? I also think it is unconstitutional for any party that only represents one region of the UK to be able to enter into a national Parliamentary coalition at Westminster. Only parties with representatives in the whole of the UK such as the Green Party should be eligible. (I know there is a separate Green Party in Scotland but presumably it is affiliated to the national party)

  • matt (Bristol) 23rd Apr '15 - 1:04pm

    “I also think it is unconstitutional for any party that only represents one region of the UK to be able to enter into a national Parliamentary coalition at Westminster.”

    Unwise? Yes. Definitely.

    Unconstitutional? No, no, no, no, absolutely not. As I understand it, parties have very little status as entities under many aspects of the constitutions. MPs are what matter. If MPs agree to vote for the government or join the government, the constitution is blind to what other groupings they may or not be part of. Hypothetically, if past events lined up correctly and everyone involved were mutually willing, the single-issue, single-constituency party, Kidderminster Health Concern could have had one MP, that 1 MP be appointed Northern Ireland Secretary, and the consitution wouldn’t give two hoots.

    And don’t try to change it.

  • matt (Bristol) 23rd Apr '15 - 1:08pm

    And whilst I think of it, a dissident elected hereditary Scottish peer (a rarity in themselves) with absolutely no previous connection with Kidderminster could quite easily in theory accept the ‘Kiddermminster Health Concern’ ‘whip’ in the Lords and go ono to participate in a coalition government at the highest level with no explicit rule against it…

    Common sense tends to stop these things happening, of course, but there is such a thing as too many rules.

  • Phil Rimmer 23rd Apr '15 - 1:49pm

    Living in the modern world, we tend to forget the inconvenient truth that the formation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland took place over hundreds of years and by less then democratic means:

    1) Wales at the point of a sword;

    2) Scotland by bribing Members of the Scottish Parliament and at the point of a sword;

    3) Ireland at the point of a sword, with Northern Ireland clung on to at the point of a bayonet.

    It is inevitable and unavoidable that in a modern democracy some people in the constituent parts of the Union will want out. There are even English voters like me who support the break up of the Union within the context of a developing Federal Europe …… and some of you would call the SNP dreamers!

    To argue that only Unionist Parties should take part in Union wide elections is not only anti-democratic but reeks of English or British Nationalism of the very worst kind.

    Liberals need to be very careful in their distinction between racist nationalist and none racist nationalists. Any comparison between the SNP or Plaid Cymru is futile. Whilst UKIP may not be racist it is most certainly xenophobic and, with their staunch support of the EU, the SNP and Plaid most certainly are not.

    Is it just me, or is Lib Dem Voice slowly becoming Scottish Lib Dem voice?

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 23rd Apr '15 - 2:32pm

    Phil, I think I’ve said many times that you can’t compare the SNP and UKIP. The SNP contains many good people I’d happily work with. I can’t think of one UKIP person I wouldn’t cross the street to avoid.

    I think that the people of the countries should determine their future. Most recently, the people of Scotland voted by some margin to stay in, despite Better Together being one of the most incompetent and out of touch campaigns in the history of democracy. We have a recent very clear statement of the will of the Scottish people and looking back to what happened hundreds of years ago is irrelevant.

  • Well said Caron’

  • Phil Rimmer 23rd Apr ’15 – 1:49pm
    “….Is it just me, or is Lib Dem Voice slowly becoming Scottish Lib Dem voice?”

    No it is not just you, Phil. I know plenty of Liberal Democrats who would share your frustration. Unfortunately they do not contribute to LDV.

    You can understand why they would not feel at home here. LDV has become LUV, Liberal Unionists’ Voice.
    This is a shame because it is driving people away from our party.

    The membership of the party in Scotland is I am told less than 3,000.
    Someone can correct me if that figure is wrong.

    We cannot afford to drive people away.
    We are on about 4% support in the Scotland only opinion polls.
    In the EP election last year UKIP elected a resident of London as an MEP for Scotland.
    Scotland’s Liberal Democrats elected nobody as an MEP.
    Even the most optimistic of our people do not expect us to keep half of our seats in Scotland in 2 weeks from now.

    To rebuild a Liberal Democrat Party north of the border we have to face facts.

    Unionism in Scotland has been as popular as Leprosy for a couple of generations.
    Two Holyrood elections and a Referendum where the SNP have regularly registered more than 40% support is it?
    SNP membership in Scotland more than twice Lib Dem membership for the whole of the UK.

    These are the facts.

  • “…Shirley has a huge affection for and knowledge of Scotland. She spent almost two weeks campaigning for a No vote in the referendum. She’s visited Scottish seats several times in the run-up to this campaign. ”

    We all like Shirley Williams but her recent visits to Scotland do not make her an expert.

    If you say she has a huge affection for and knowledge of Scotland, who am I to contradict? However, the plain fact is that Shirley has spent more of her life in the USA than she has in Scotland. I would be interested in her views on the politics of the USA and any letter she might send to The Times about it.

    I know enough people who were born in Scotland and lived all their lives there, so if I want an opinion on the detail of recent policies of the Scottish Government does it not make more sense to go to someone who really is well-informed about Scotland, such as a Scot who lives there?

  • All I can say Phil is thank goodness we haven’t got an English National Party.

  • Jane Ann Liston 24th Apr '15 - 8:43am

    @Colin ‘Sturgeon has been very clear, in my opinion, that independence is off the table’

    I believe her. However it is clear that many of the thousands of new members of the SNP take a very different view, and confidently expect an increase in SNP MPs to lead to another referendum sooner rather than later. How, I wonder, will Ms Sturgeon rein in their expectations?

  • matt (Bristol) 24th Apr '15 - 9:35am

    John Tilley: what is Unionism? I am in favour of the UK continuing, although I would much personally rather it was reconstructed as a Federal Kingdom. I am NOT in favour of Westminster attempts to dictate to the regions and nations of the UK and the continuing centrallisation of powers, and I am NOT in favour of the Tory ‘English votes for English laws’ or the proposals Judy outlines which go further and are much worse and – depending on how they are read – would probably make forming any viable coalition government at least every other eleciton, if multiparty politics continues.

    I am not a Scot, but I do think some English posters and others need to stop misrepresenting our colleagues in the Scottish LibDems – they may be advocating with every tool in their kit right now for home rule within the context of a continuing union, but they are in no terms Cameronite little-Englander Tory Unionists, and we should not give ammo to the SNP who are not the most liberal party on earth.

  • matt (Bristol) 24th Apr '15 - 9:36am

    sorrry – “… would probably make forming any viable coalition government IMPOSSIBLE at least every other eleciton …”

  • @Jane Ann not to mention that Salmond will be in Parliament calling for the same?

  • matt (Bristol) 24th Apr ’15 – 9:35am
    “John Tilley: what is Unionism? ”

    Matt, it is the political belief of The Conservative and Unionist Party, as well as the Ulster Unionist Party, as well as the Democratic Unionist Party.
    Long ago there were also Liberal Unionists.

    Like you, “I am not a Scot, but I do think some English posters and others need to stop misrepresenting our colleagues in the Scottish LibDems”

    Unlike you (I am making an assumption here) I recognise that Liberal Democrats in Scotland do not all say the same thing. Many voted for, and some very well known Liberal Democrats actively campaigned for Independence in the run up to the Referendum.

    Some of the comments in LDV from both sides of the border are actually worse than Cameronite little-Englander Tory Unionists. They seem to be based on a stereo-type of Britain in the 1950s when Her Majesty ruled the waves
    and everyone who mattered had a family estate in Scotland which was jolly good for a spot of Grouse Shooting and a tin of tartan shortbread to take home home to the little woman indoors.

  • Robin Bennett 24th Apr '15 - 10:03am

    Another referendum? What Nicola Sturgeon says is that this is ‘not within my power’ and will depend on the ‘people’. She does not rule out including provision for one in the SNP manifesto for the 2016 election for the next Holyrood parliament. The SNP would have to do incredibly well – again – to command a pro-indyref majority in that parliament.

  • @ Judy Abel – I am sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings but we do and they are horrible, the English Democrats. Please don’t confuse supporting the break up of the Union within the context of the EU with English Nationalism.

  • Robin Bennett 24th Apr ’15 – 10:03am …………Another referendum? What Nicola Sturgeon says is that this is ‘not within my power’ and will depend on the ‘people’. She does not rule out including provision for one in the SNP manifesto for the 2016 election for the next Holyrood parliament. The SNP would have to do incredibly well – again – to command a pro-indyref majority in that parliament……….

    Perhaps she should sign a ‘pledge’…………..The raison d’etre for the SNP is Independence…However, the climate for such is not now…..Oil prices, etc. mean that a ‘wait and see’ policy is best for the SNP. If the ‘Leaders’ Debate has shown anything, it is that Nicola is a smart cookie…

  • @ Caron Lindsey – I can’t argue with any of that. However, the fact remains that British Liberalism has always veered to “Home Rule” rather than Unionism and for most of the referendum campaign the Scottish party came across a Unionist. British nationalists scare me far more than nationalists of the SNP or Plaid Cymru variety.

  • @Phil Rimmer Home Rule is Unionism!

    – domestic policy decided at a local/national level
    – foreign and defence policy at a UK level

  • matt (Bristol) 24th Apr '15 - 11:03am

    I think we need more vocabulary here…

    Pan-British-Unionism – the belief the British common values make possible a Britain-wide politics in which the Union is unquestionably the right option for the UK as a whole, and in which further steps towards regional/national disintegration should be curbed. This shades into…

    Anglo-Unionism – the desire to retain the other nations within the UK but govern the UK in keeping with the instincts and policy preferences of the English majority. (A subset of this is Anti-European-Anglo-Unionism, which involves the UK leaving the EU). The above stances can be contrasted with…

    Devolutionist-Unionism – The desire to keep the UK together but devolve more power (ideally on roughly equal terms) to the composite nations, away from Westminster / Whitehall. This could be termed ‘home rule’, as could…

    Devolutionist-Regionalist-Unionism – as above, but with England broken up into regions which form constituent parts of the UK alongside Scotlad, Wales, etc, rather England than operating as one nation. But then there’s…

    Nationalist-Federalism – advocating for a strong voice and very high degree of devolution of powers for a given nation (eg Scotland or England), possibly including a veto over the direction of some aspects of Britain-wide policy, but retaining within a federation of sorts based on the current UK. Confusingly, this could also be termed ‘home rule’. This culd also involve the formal right for each region / nation to secede if it so decides, which leads us to…

    Nationalist-Separatism – the belief that a given region or nation should separate from the rest of the UK entirely. (A subset is Pro-European-Nationalist-Separatism which involves retaining inside the EU).

    …Sinn Feinn, incidentally, could be described as Nationalist-Reintegrationists as they wish to secede from the UK and reintegrate into the Republic of Ireland.

    Which are you?

  • @matt(Bristol) great post 🙂

    If you go up the chain you’ve got Euro-Federalism and finally the One World Order, presumably?

  • matt (Bristol) 24th Apr '15 - 12:37pm

    TCO – I don’t see what I’ve sketched as necessarily being a spectrum, but a diversity of responses to a single-issue question – ie where do you stand on the theoretical constitutional unity of the ‘united kingdom’ therefore the euopean positions are add-ons to the positions I have sketched out, not further points on a scale (I think I win angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin points for that).

    But the reason I wrote was to counter two points:

    1) your assertion that ‘home rule is unionism’; I’m trying to demonstrate that it can be a form of unionism, but also regarded as a form of naitonalism; LibDems seem to be experiencing a dangerous tension here, as the referendum and the pre-existing fact of a nationalist government at Holyrood puts chisel marks down this fault line. But neither side of that faultline within the party should be overly throwing mud at each other at this dififuclt time, particular not us English.

    2) Phil’s assertion that the SNP ‘want indepedence’ (ie separatism); it’s not consistently true – as I see it, they want national self-determination and national autonomy, they are repared to push devolution as far as they can to get it, but they are quite able (and to an extent reasonably so) to justify and position what they want within the language of ‘home rule’ and are hungry to pull as many people into their big tent as they can.

    I would say that (as a non-Scottish observer who is donating to the LibDems) that:
    – The Tories and UKIP have gobbled up supporters who favour positions1) and 2) pon my list; the Tories rather more than UKIP have dallied with position 3), but not entirely seriously.

    – The LibDems have in the past managed a coalition of 3),4) and 5) which is breaking down.

    – The SNP have, as I said, manouevred a coalition of 5) and 6)

    As I see it, Labour’s crisis of logic and positioning on this issue is worse and harder to make rational sense of , as they are trying to hold together a variety of historic positions and local tendancies that range from 1) to 5) and that isn’t credible when the sepcific issue of the Union is put under the microscope continually. Their attempt to hold to a compromise of 3) and a bit was undermined in the Blair government by the piecemeal way they went about it, and (indirectly) by the failur of the Prescott plan for regional devolution and they lost the initiative under Brown and then under the Coalition.

  • Phil Rimmer 24th Apr '15 - 1:00pm

    @ TCO – I was writing with an historical perspective. You may see Home Rule = Unionism but for well over 100 years many Liberals consistently campaigned for everything except foreign policy and defence to move to the constituent nations within a federal structure. I have no problem with nationalists who want full independence, and I realise that the Scottish Liberal Democrats campaign did not help my case, but I would maintain that there is a huge difference between traditional historic Unionism and federalism.

  • @Phil I think we’re stalking about the same thing, pace matt (Bristol)’s piece.

  • matt (Bristol) 24th Apr ’15 – 11:03am
    “I think we need more vocabulary here…”

    You missed out “Trade Unionism”. 🙂

    I agree with you and recognise the need for a vocabulary which cannot be twisted and /or misrepresented. I think your list goes some way to helping on that.

    Over the last ten years we have had a similar vocabulary problem with “Liberalism” with some people adding prefixes like “Economic” and pretending to believe that Liberalism means the same as different types of Conservatism or rightsing Libertarianism.

    I like the opening that Conrad Russell wrote to ‘An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Liberalism’.
    He says –
    ” ‘Liberalism’, like ‘democracy’, is a hurrah-word. The intention to signify that the thing described is good is always clearer than the identity of the thing described…..
    If there is anything in common between the ‘liberalism’ of Milton Friedman and that of J.K. Galbraith, it is not apparent to me.”

    Liberal Unionism was always an oxymoron. It still is.

  • Alex Sabine 25th Apr '15 - 2:32am

    @ John
    At the risk of being painted as a defender-of-the-indefensible, or some unspeakable fundamentalist libertarian, I shall put in a good word for Milton Friedman and his contribution to liberalism in an area which has nothing to do with economics.

    It was his tireless campaigning (in the pages of Newsweek, in speeches to university students and at conferences throughout America) to end the US military draft, one of the biggest infringements of liberty that governments in democratic countries have imposed in peacetime. It paid off when the Commission on the All-Volunteer Force of which he was a member recommended abolishing the draft and it finally happened post-Vietnam after Friedman sold the idea to then Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird.

    Many years later Friedman remarked, “the draft is almost the only issue on which I have engaged in any extensive personal lobbying with members of the House and Senate”.

    Friedman publicly took to task General William Westmoreland (who had commanded US military operations during the Virtnam War) in typically penetrating fashion. He later recounted: “In the course of General Westmoreland’s testimony, he made the statement that he did not want to command an army of mercenaries. I stopped him and said, ‘General, would you rather command an army of slaves?’ He drew himself up and said, ‘I don’t like to hear our patriotic draftees referred to as slaves.’ I replied, ‘I don’t like to hear our patriotic volunteers referred to as mercenaries.’ But I went on to say, ‘If they are mercenaries, then I, sir, am a mercenary professor, and you, sir, are a mercenary general; we are served by mercenary physicians, we use a mercenary lawyer, and we get our meat from a mercenary butcher.’ That was the last that we heard from the general about mercenaries.”

    Indeed, his rebuttal of the ‘mercenary’ charge was one of his best rhetorical flourishes. On another occasion he said: “Now, when anybody starts talking about this [an all-volunteer force] he immediately shifts language. My army is ‘volunteer,’ your army is ‘professional,’ and the enemy’s army is ‘mercenary’. All these three words mean exactly the same thing. I am a volunteer professor, I am a mercenary professor, and I am a professional professor. And all you people around here are mercenary professional people. And I trust you realise that. It’s always a puzzle to me why people should think that the term ‘mercenary’ somehow has a negative connotation. I remind you of that wonderful quotation of Adam Smith when he said, ‘You do not owe your daily bread to the benevolence of the baker, but to his proper regard for his own interest.’ And this is much more broadly based. In fact, I think mercenary motives are among the least unattractive that we have.”

    I said this issue had nothing to do with economics, and indeed Friedman was clear his belief in ending military conscription was based on the principle of free choice not financial considerations. But being an economist, he was keen to debunk the idea that a volunteer army couldn’t be afforded: “When a young man is forced to serve at $45 a week, including the cost of his keep, of his uniforms, and his dependency allowances, and there are many civilian opportunities available to him at something like $100 a week, he is paying $55 a week in an implicit tax. … And if you were to add to those taxes in kind, the costs imposed on universities and colleges; of seating, housing, and entertaining young men who would otherwise be doing productive work; if you were to add to that the costs imposed on industry by the fact that they can only offer young men who are in danger of being drafted stop-gap jobs, and cannot effectively invest money in training them; if you were to add to that the costs imposed on individuals of a financial kind by their marrying earlier or having children at an earlier stage, and so on; if you were to add all these up, there is no doubt at all in my mind that the cost of a volunteer force, correctly calculated, would be very much smaller than the amount we are now spending in manning our Armed Forces.”

    There are other reasons, both in the economic sphere and outside it (eg drug legalisation and equal marriage), why I think Friedman has a claim to being at least as much of a liberal as Galbraith (albeit clearly shading into libertarianism), but his major role in ending conscription is probably the most compelling. I’m leaving the economics out of it here though as I know that is a red rag to a bull 😉

    PS: Like most liberals I imagine, I admired Conrad Russell and I enjoyed and learned from his ‘An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Liberalism’. But his point about liberalism being a ‘hurrah-word’ also explains why it is a broad church (so to speak) not a sect. Not even the Preamble to the Liberal Democrat constitution is the definitive statement of it, although I have no problem with most of its contents. (It may well be the definitive statement of what it means to be a Lib Dem but that’s not quite the same thing.)

  • Adam Smith: ‘You do not owe your daily bread to the benevolence of the baker, but to his proper regard for his own interest.’

    Here’s the problem with that: as long as the baker is guided by nothing but his own interest, he has every reason to stretch his flour with sawdust and sell you nutritionless garbage. Worse yet: it’s even more in his interest to force the less self-interested baker who wants to sell you proper bread out of the market, by whatever means he can, and make sure that, even if there is competition, it’s all selling you the same bad-quality bread.

    I don’t want bakers guided by their self-interest. I want bakers who see their profession as a craft, something that they take personal pride in; and I want them to consider their job as something that doesn’t merely make them money, but that provides a necessary service to society. I want them to provide high-quality bread not merely because the law tells them to (though it should) but because they would feel personally ashamed to sell a poor product.

    And yet that’s not the kind of contributor to the market we get these days. Instead, we get people who think that their only goal is to make money, and that anything that hinders their making of money is an insult to their freedom. People who think that regulations that keep businesses honest are a drag on the ‘free market.’ People who have been led to think that if they don’t take advantage of others, they are weak losers, in a system that systematically rewards the least ethical and punishes those who value quality and honesty.

  • Alex Sabine 25th Apr '15 - 4:54am

    @ David-1

    Didn’t really want to get drawn into economics here as that wasn’t the point I was making about Friedman and the draft, which was really intended to highlight an interesting cause that he championed that some of his detractors in these parts might not have been aware of.

    But is bizarre to think there is something about craftsmanship or professional pride that is inconsistent with either liberal economics or Adam Smith’s concept of enlightened self-interest. Believe it or not quality, craftsmanship and honesty are important qualities for businesses to possess if they want to attract and retain the loyalty of customers.

    Smith did indeed applaud the role of the profit motive in harnessing to the common good the self-interest that he saw as an inherent part – but only part – of human nature, and added for good measure: “I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public interest.” His insight with the concept of the ‘invisible hand’ was that, in some areas and under certain conditions, market processes channelling self-interest will prove more beneficial than an overt attempt to achieve the public good directly.

    But he explicitly recognised the wider social canvas of human motivations, including altruism, fraternity, professional motivations and a sense of vocation. He also believed that to function properly a market economy needed a frameowrk of laws and customs, and sufficient trust that these laws would serve as a backstop (in other words, most commercial transactions work on the basis that the law will be obeyed and contracts will be honoured).

    Like many of his contemporaries in philosophy and political economy and scientific fields, he was a polymath and a long way from the ‘greed is good’ caricature drawn by his modern critics (and perpetuated by a few of his less enlightened disciples in right-wing circles). His Theory of Moral Sentiments begins: “How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it.”

    Friedman’s point about ‘mercenaries’ v ‘slaves’ (in relation to a volunteer vs conscript army) was that there was an overly negative connotation to the idea of mercenary motivations when much greater evils were committed in the name of great national causes and collective entities. In this he was echoing Bertrand Russell’s point that the greater danger is that people ‘fall below’ self-interest not that they fail to rise above it. He reckoned that “among those occasions on which people fall below self-interest are most of the occasions on which they are convinced that they are acting from idealistic motives. Much that passes as idealism is disguised hatred or disguised love of power”.

    In any case, the reasoning Friedman used to refute General Westmoreland was spot-on. His fundamental argument against the draft was a libertarian one: opposition to coercion. But his point that “I am a volunteer professor, I am a mercenary professor, and I am a professional professor” was precisely that there are various human motivations and the ‘mercenary’ impulse does not contaminate the others such that coercion is needed or justified to stamp out its influence.

  • Alex Sabine 25th Apr ’15 – 2:32am
    “….At the risk of being painted as a defender-of-the-indefensible, or some unspeakable fundamentalist libertarian, I shall put in a good word for Milton Friedman …”

    Alex, some of my best friends speak highly of Milton Friedman. 🙂
    From what you write in comments in LDV, I know you are too bright and well read to be a fundamentalist libertarian.

    Your point about Friedman and the draft is a good one. However, there is a long and noble tradition in the politics of the USA of right-wing conservatives opposed to the the draft and opposed to foreign wars and an ever expanding US military.

    Gore Vidal wrote about this strand of American political thought. Since 1945 there has been an almost permanent state of war that has sustained the US military amd the large corporations that profit from supplying it.
    There have been interventions from Guatamala, and a long list of central and south american states, various Caribean Islands, to North Africa, virtually every country now known as The Middle East, not to mention all the countries in East Asia and Korea. Vidal compares this to an overblown “Imperial” role for the US military..

    The mainly benevolent US military “occupation” of large stretches of Western Europe since 1945 still continues to this day in part with some dozens of bases in the UK which have a questionable status of “sovereign US territory”. They keep this country available for use as ‘Airstrip One’. The bombing of Libya in the 1980s by US jets operating out of the UK being a good example of how the interests of the UK payed second fiddle to the US wish to flex military muscle.

    So against this background a rightwing opposition to the draft is understandable. It would perhaps be unfair to recall that in the 60s and 70s many white, upper middle-class, professional Americans were happy about US troops being drafted into Vietnam until they realised the draft might be taking their sons off for a tour of duty, resulting perhaps in death or permanent disability.

    So leaving economics on one side, I am not sure that Friedman’s opposition to the draft comes from a Liberal outlook. It could be said to be entirely in line with american isolationism and traditional conservatism in the US context. I do not know enough about what Friedman actually wrote and said on the subject and am happy to bow to your greater knowledge if you say that I am wrong.

    In the UK context there were one hundred years ago some excellent Liberal Party voices speaking out against conscription. A corner of party history now mainly forgotten or buried under decades of nonsense about how we won two world wars and one world cup.

  • AC Trussell 25th Apr '15 - 3:27pm

    “University students have been saddled with greater debt because they have to start repaying their loans once their incomes reach £16,500,”
    Please for give my ignorance, but I thought uni was free in Scotland?- that’s part of why the SNP is so good- init?

  • Alex Sabine 26th Apr '15 - 4:55am

    John: Thanks for an interesting and fair reply. I agree with your observations about right-wing isolationism in the US. I spent a fair amount of time there in the early 2000s and was struck by how friendly the American people were, especially towards the Brits. That said, they were very keen on Tony Blair, the Queen and the royal family and on these subjects I was reduced to awkward (and I fear unconvincing) smiles – and as far as the royal family were concerned my relative indifference was rather embarrassing! On the question of foreign policy, I did feel a certain sympathy for the Americans that they were ‘damned if they do, damned if they don’t’ take an interest in affairs beyond their borders.

    You are right to point out that scepticism about foreign military adventures has always been a strain in right-wing thinking in the US. One of the strongest warnings about the need to keep the defence industry on a tight leash came not from a hardline conservative, but from the moderate Republican (nowadays almost an extinct species at the national level) Eisenhower, who famously spoke of the ‘military-industrial complex’ and the need to keep it under constitutional oversight.

    As he put it: “A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction… This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every state house, every office of the federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military–industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

    That warning, I fear, has not been heeded by Eisenhower’s successors.

    On Milton Friedman and the draft, I think there was a genuine liberal/libertarian motivation. He wrote on this subject numerous times in the late 1960s and gave lectures to conferences that expected dry economic sermons. He argued: “There is no justification for not paying whatever price is necessary to attract the required number of men. Present arrangements are inequitable and arbitrary, seriously interfere with the freedom of young men to shape their lives, and probably are even more costly than the market alternative.” And he wrote that a voluntary force “would avoid the arbitrary power that now resides in draft boards to decide how a young man shall spend several of the most important years of his life – let alone whether his life shall be risked in warfare”. He declared that the draft was “inequitable, wasteful, and inconsistent with a free society” and that “fortunately, belief in personal freedom is a monopoly of neither Republican nor Democrats, of neither conservatives nor liberals”.

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