Friday, July 16, 2010

One man's 'reform'...

It was rather satisfying watching Newsnight Scotland tonight, with Lorraine Davidson and Michael Fry (both of whom I'd disagree with on many issues) doing a grand job of exposing the utterly bogus arguments that underlie this whole 'Devolution Distraction' wheeze. Tom Miers repeatedly assured us that his report was not a right-wing Trojan Horse, but was merely about making the case for 'reform', 'progress', and 'radicalism' in place of the 'conservatism' that has held sway in Scotland since devolution. But when Davidson presented him with a whole list of Holyrood's most radical innovations over the last eleven years - the smoking ban, free care for the elderly, abolition of tuition fees - all he had to offer was a blank look. The game was well and truly given away - for Miers, only right-wing radicalism counts as the real thing, and as Davidson pointed out, the value of self-government lies every bit as much in protecting ourselves from the 'reforms' we don't want as in implementing the ones we do.

One thing that has particularly irritated me about Miers' blitz of publicity in recent days is the way in which he's used smoke-and-mirror tactics to try to paint the reforms he's most interested in pursuing as non-ideological. He points out, for instance, that many of them originate in "social democratic countries". But what does that actually mean? I'm not aware of any country in western Europe that enshrines 'social democracy' in its constitution - except perhaps Portugal, but even there it's a meaningless token. Miers, I imagine, is to a large extent thinking of examples like the Swedish free schools model, which Michael Gove is now so zealously promoting in England. And, yes, Sweden does indeed have a reputation as being generally a social democratic country. Just one snag, though - free schools were in fact introduced during one of the rare periods of right-wing rule, and the leader of the Social Democrats Mona Sahlin has warned us in strong terms about the dangers of establishing them in this country.

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