There’s something in the Bible about special dispensation for repenting sinners. Some, however, may not be inclined to cut Sir Nicholas Macpherson some slack on the basis of scriptural advice. Some may instead be thinking in terms of leopards and their notoriously stubborn spots. And they would have good cause to adopt such an unforgiving attitude.
During the first independence referendum campaign Macpherson came to represent the arrogant exceptionalism of a British ruling elite which held that any conduct, however reprehensible in any other circumstances, was fully justified in defence of the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state. By publishing his advice to Treasury ministers regarding a currency union with Scotland, Macpherson not only risked the Civil Service’s (already dubious) reputation for impartiality, he also exemplified the old saw about how “Britannia waives the rules” whenever it is expedient so to do. So it would hardly be surprising if his change of heart was treated with some caution.
Macpherson is tainted by his previous behaviour – of that there can be no doubt. British nationalists will doubtless deploy the argument that, having branded him untrustworthy, independence campaigners cannot credibly call in aid his revised opinions on the economic aspects of restoring Scotland’s rightful constitutional status. But I would argue that there is a very significant difference between what he was saying then and what he says now. Macpherson was, by his own choice, part of Project Fear – the British state’s anti-independence propaganda effort. He therefore approached every issue, not as someone seeking a rational assessment of the pros and cons, but as one looking to seize upon whatever perspective was most damaging to the Yes campaign. He was bound to say that currency union was impractical regardless of the realities. His position was defined by his unionist ideology and had to serve that ideology regardless of reason or logic.
By contrast, what Macpherson is saying now is informed by a more dispassionate analysis of the post-Brexit situation. For that reason, if no other, it is a more valid perspective.
But there is one thing he is as wrong about now as he was when he was pandering to the worst of the deplorable anti-independence campaign. If he seriously supposes that Brexit “changes terms of debate” then he massively underestimates the blinkered obduracy of hard-core British nationalists. Visit any online forum where Scotland’s constitutional question is being discussed and you will find the disinformation, distortions and dishonesty of Project Fear still being parroted with a fervour entirely undiminished by the fact that every assertion made by Better Together has been contradicted; every lie told by the No campaign has been exposed; every scare-story promulgated by the British media has been debunked; every promise made by or on behalf of the British state has evaporated.
Macpherson may seek to disavow his contribution to the false prospectus on which a No vote was sold to the people of Scotland. But the British nationalist faithful won’t let it go so easily.Views: 1846
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