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September 08, 2014



Is it optimists and pessimists or pragmatists and idealists?

Conservatives brought pragmatism to balance the idealism of the left. That's what they were for.

Then in the 1980s they went all hippy capitalist and started signing Aquarius. They went idealist and thought free-market economics could save the world.

Just as many Scots voted SNP for conservative reasons, I reckon a lot of people voted Labour in 1997 for conservative reasons - as in 'let's get this lot out before they sell the country from under us'.



Are those two sets of ideas all that distinct?

I suspect there's an overlap between an optimistic and idealist mindset and also with a pessimistic/pragmatist one. (Although I say this without any evidence or expertise!)


It is an important distinction, but it doesn't explain much to me about political affiliation. If Carswell's an optimistic free-marketeer, does he really think he'll find a home in UKIP - which must contain many with a pessimistic, or even reactionary mindset?

Dave Timoney

I think it is widely recognised now that the "more social democrat than yow" meme in Scotland hides a profoundly conservative impulse: hanging onto the welfare state as a better yesterday.

What's perhaps less recognised is that the union of 1707 was an optimistic project (the continuation of the Scottish elite's attempt to engineer an overseas trade empire) rather than just a pessimistic or pragmatic arrangement (paying off the Darien scheme debts). Much of subsequent Whig teleology originates in the Scottish Enlightenment.

Despite SNP rhetoric, what has occured in Scotland since the 80s is the decline of optimism and a search for palliatives (smack, a mythical NHS, a sovereign oil wealth fund). The irony is that this turn to a more Oakeshottian worldview has led to scepticism about the union, rather than a determination to preserve it.

Socialism in One Bedroom

"Scotland hides a profoundly conservative impulse: hanging onto the welfare state as a better yesterday"

This is an example of progressive fundamentalism. I.e. everything in the past is conservative, everything in the present is progressive. So I guess food banks are the cutting edge of progressive and proper public services are archaic. As Marx once said, we should embrace archaic forms!

Dave Timoney

@SiOB, the point is not that new is good and old is bad, but that you need to critically analyse the desire to rewind the clock. Is it the pessimism of Oakeshoot or the pragmatism of Polanyi?

I am a supporter of the welfare state, but I recognise that its current fetishisation on the left (particularly re the NHS) is a form of recuperation - i.e. diverting political anger into a nostalgic commodity.

As Gerry Hassan observed of the social democratic tenor of the yes campaign in Scotland, "The case that the welfare state of the 1940s and 1950s is the pinnacle of human ingenuity and the best we can do is profoundly pessimistic".


The Scots did not vote Conservative in the 50s- they voted for the Unionist Party:


The Tories only became the Conservative Party in 1963/4


I am confused.

What is conservatism? The NHS is a radical idea, so wanting to protect it from an english tory Government is radical. The problem is the practicality of doing so via "independence".

No one knows what this independence will involve as for party reasons both sides have kept the details vague.

Romantic nationalism is optimistic as it puts a mystical concept at the centre of discourse rather than rational arguments about mechanisms. How does exit from the UK fiscal union make it easier to spend money on Scottish health care? How does Nationalism equate with a more Liberal immigration policy? Why keep the Queen? Or join Nato? ( all SNP policy ).

It all seems to be lots of populist sound bites without much else that is deeper.

How does this SNP vision square with Adam Smith? As he would say, the educated man is a citizen of the world.

Is this Nationalism stuff not inconsistent with the Scottish enlightenment, and the European enlightenment too?


Not so worried by the Oakeshottian optimist/pessimist division. But I do detect a strand of authoritarianism and feudalism within the Tories. Mostly hopeless leftovers from a bygone age who yearn for the days of Empire and tweeny maids. As for Scotland, I wonder how a speech from Mrs Windsor can be shoehorned into the debate.

Dave Timoney

@Keith, conservatism means the preservation of existing inequalities and privileges. To this end, conservative parties will often promote apparently radical policies.

For example, the NHS was of great benefit to industrial capitalists during the 2nd half of the 20th century because it "socialised" costs that they would otherwise have been obliged to bear separately and more inefficiently.

This is why the Tories were initially supportive of the NHS (with the addition of privileges for the rich). The change towards privatisation partly reflects the decline of industrial capital relative to financial capital in the Conservative Party.

You can probably spot the irony of the Yes campaign fetishising the NHS in a deindustrialised Scotland. Add in demographics (Scotland is ageing more rapidly than rUK) and persistently low levels of health in many areas, and it is clear that the belief the NHS will be "saved" north of the border is implausible.

Modern Scottish nationalism is not romantic but pragmatic (the SNP buried the blood and soil nonsense with Hugh MacDiarmid), in exactly the same way that union in 1707 was a pragmatic decision by the Scottish elite.

In the 18thC they gained access to a mercantile empire; in the 19thC they gained access to industrial technology and the first modern market economy; and in the 20thC they gained access to the welfare state.

Most recently they were able to leverage the union to create a massive financial sector. The current turn of the dance is based on a calculation that membership of the EU (and the Eurozone) will ultimately be better than continued union.

An Alien Visitor

"This is why the Tories were initially supportive of the NHS"

Even though they voted against it!

"For example, the NHS was of great benefit to industrial capitalists during the 2nd half of the 20th century because it "socialised" costs that they would otherwise have been obliged to bear separately and more inefficiently"

I suspect that left to industrial capitalists the NHS would never have been formed and that a private system would have been established, along the lines of the USA.

You also haven't explained why financial capitalists would be less open to the NHS than industrial ones?

Dave Timoney

@AAV, the Tories voted against Bevan's design for a centralised NHS, not against the principle of socialised care.

They had actually published a white paper advocating a system of universal healthcare funded by the taxpayer in 1944, but envisaged this being managed by local authorities.

They were also sympathetic to criticism by the BMA re restrictions on private practice. Bevan bought the doctors off ("stuffed their mouths with gold"), while the Tories quickly became reconciled to the national system due to its popularity.

Financial capitalists are less interested in the NHS as a means of maintaining or improving labour productivity (because they don't directly employ that labour) and more interested in the opportunities for financial engineering.

The NHS is particularly attractive because of its large asset base (think PFI), the taxpayer guarantee (the cash will keep flowing), and because demography and technology pretty much guarantee rising demand for the next 30+ years and thus sector growth higher than GDP growth.

Igor Belanov

I notice Mr Cameron has referred to the UK as a 'family'. Now THAT is romantic nationalism.

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