Yesterday we ran a short piece about a report published by what the Scotsman referred to as a new “centre-left” think-tank called the Scotland Institute. We’d been unable to find out much about this new outfit before going off to watch another one squeeze past Brechin City, but while we messed around taking silly pictures of football the dedicated readers of Wings Over Scotland set to work doing our research for us.
In doing so, they uncovered some very interesting information about the Scotland Institute and its driving force. We think it’s reasonably safe to say that on the basis of what we’ve seen so far, the term “centre-left” is stretching the bounds of credibility far beyond any reasonable assessment.
In the interests of fairness, we ought to point out that the term “centre-left” is not one used by the Scotland Institute to describe itself, but a label attached to it by the Scotsman, a fairly conservative newspaper existing very much towards the right of the Scottish political spectrum. The Institute prefers to use the term “non-political” to describe its position – but as we’ll see, that’s if anything a more misleading claim, because the agenda of its founder is anything but.
The Institute is the brainchild of “Scottish academic and philanthropist” Dr Azeem Ibrahim, who is also providing the financing for the venture. Its mission statement is “to generate cutting edge research into Scotland and its people as well as drive innovative policies and ideas, especially aimed at this country’s disadvantaged”, but an examination of the good doctor’s previous work doesn’t necessarily suggest that the redistribution of wealth to the poor is his biggest priority.
Dr Ibrahim is a Fellow of the “Institute for Social Policy and Understanding”, and his entry on its website lists a wide “Area of Expertise” encompassing “Foreign Policy, South Asian Politics, Pakistan, American Muslims, Economy, Counter-terrorism, and International Relations”, conspicuously failing to mention either social justice or, notably, Scotland. Of 100 articles by him for the ISPU, the only one concerned with Scotland is the brief “Why we need an Islamic Tartan”.
The most substantial mention of Scotland we can find in the doctor’s writings appeared on right-wing US site The Huffington Post at the beginning of 2012, in a piece entitled “Scottish Independence And Unanswered Questions” in which Dr Ibrahim expressed the apparent belief that Scotland had already held an independence referendum, over a decade ago. Seemingly, the outcome was that “In 2001, only 27% of the Scottish electorate wanted independence with the majority wanting to retain the present parliament but with extended powers”.
If any readers can recall this referendum, we’d very much appreciate if you’d write in and tell us about it. It escapes our memory entirely, and if Dr Ibrahim is referring to a mere opinion poll rather than a full-scale plebiscite we’re not sure why he’d pick one from 11 years ago. (And even if the Post has inserted a clumsy typo and he means 2011, we haven’t been able to find a poll from that year which matches his 27% figure.)
He has, as far as we’ve been able to determine so far, shown little to no other published interest in Scotland. He lives on the shores of Lake Michigan, near the US-Canadian border, and in a 2008 interview about his strikingly successful and illustrious life (his self-made personal fortune is stated in the feature as £60m, in addition to the management of a hedge fund valued at £100m and with a goal of £1bn), he was described as a man for whom “His Britishness is a source of great pride”.
He’s written extensively for the Conservative Home website, including pieces on why the UK must retain Trident and how the long-term unemployed “just couldn’t be bothered” to find work. Other articles for the same site see Dr Ibrahim expressing his views that “defence funding is more important than other departmental spending” and must be protected above all other budgetary concerns, that austerity is the only way of dealing with the national debt and deficit and that only the private sector can offer a solution, and that the crime of treason should be brought back for terrorists.
Were you to list this set of beliefs to an impartial observer, we very much doubt they would reach the conclusion that Dr Ibrahim’s political persuasions lay on the “centre-left”. That the Scotsman describes his think-tank in such a way reveals, we suspect, more about the paper’s own inclinations than Dr Ibrahim’s.
Should you hear more in the Scottish media over the next two years about the findings of reports commissioned by the Scotland Institute – such as the fact that it entirely coincidentally thinks Scotland’s poor would be better off under a Westminster government committed to spending tens of billions of pounds on a new Trident than an independent Scottish Government with a policy of removing it, for example – you might wish to adjust your calibration of those findings accordingly.