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Carol Craig is the Centre's Chief Executive. She is author of The Scots' Crisis of Confidence, Creating Confidence: A Handbook for Professionals Working with Young People, The Tears that Made the Clyde: Well-being in Glasgow and The Great Takeover: How materialism, the media and markets now dominate our lives. She is Commissioning editor for the Postcards from Scotland series. Carol blogs on confidence, well-being, inequality, every day life and some of the great challenges of our time. The views she expresses are her own unless she specifically states that they reflect the Centre's thinking.

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Posted 23/05/2005

In the course of my life I’ve been described in various odd, or derogatory terms, but I’ve never been likened before to a ‘brain-destroying fungus’. Ok, I admit I wasn’t actually mentioned by name but anyone who knows anything about my work, or the Centre, would immediately realise that I was the fungus in question. The colourful phrase was used by Bill Jamieson in his column in the Scotsman on Friday. He was reviewing a book on the Scottish economy (New Wealth for Old Nations: Scotland’s Economic Prospects) which has been edited by Wendy Alexander and others. Jamieson congratulates the authors for not descending “into the fashionable happy-clappy psychobabble (‘growth doesn’t matter so long as we act confident and feel good’) that has now infected large sections of the Left like a brain-devouring fungus. The latest to show symptoms of this default into mince was the Scottish Enterprise chief executive, Jack Perry, in a recent speech in Glasgow.”

What I find staggering about these sentences, let alone the rest of the piece, is how inaccurate it is. For a start there is no way that Jack Perry, as chief executive of Scottish Enterprise was actually knocking the growth agenda in his speech. He was pointing out, with good reason, the negativity of the Scottish press. (See blog for 27th April.)

Mr Jamieson is opposed to high rates of public spending. He believes that unless Scotland abolishes business tax or adopts flat taxes then ‘the alternative is a long slow, relentless decline into economic oblivion’. Of course, he is entitled to his views but just as he dismisses my agenda as ‘psychobabble’ I would charge him with ‘econobabble’ as he is such an economic reductionist. He argues that greater public spending has failed “so signally to improve health, education and welfare outcomes. … in health outcomes, measured by heart disease, obesity, and drug and alcohol addiction, the figures are getting worse, not better.” His answer? - reduce taxes for business “as a means of galvanising private-sector investment and growth’. I take it Mr Jamieson has never noticed how in the land of the galvanised private sector – the USA – many of its citizens are obese. In short, there is no economic panacea to the types of problems he outlines.

Ironically I agree with some aspects of Bill Jamieson’s analysis – I think that much more change is needed in the public sector in Scotland. That we need a radical rethink. But I also believe that rigid black and white thinking, fear of mistakes, aversion to risks, pessimism and lack of confidence are a huge part of the inertia and fear of change in Scotland. Bill Jamieson can dismiss this analysis as ‘mince’ and ‘psychobabble’ but it is much more likely to bring about change than his call for tax cuts in a country which is unlikely to embrace them and whose benefits are not accepted by all economists.

Bill Jamieson in his column displays a number of the character traits which are part of the problem in Scotland. The piece is relentlessly pessimistic. Indeed he even ends his column with the warning: “make no mistake” economic oblivion “is where we are headed.” Maybe he should try to get infected by the ‘brain devouring fungus’. What has he got to lose other than his over-the-top negativity?

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