Scottish Libertarianism: Brexit, Censorship, and Independence


Following the United Kingdom’s decision to break away from the European Union in 2016, an immediate call went out in Scotland for a second referendum on Scottish independence. The Scottish National Party (SNP) immediately sent out the call on the grounds that a majority of Scottish voters wished to remain in the EU, thus providing grounds for another independence vote, the second in less than five years. While the vote has gained popularity throughout much of Scotland, the overall result has been slow to materialize.

A national call for independence from the British government, particularly one made by the nation’s leading party, would seem to be every libertarian’s dream scenario. To sever the ties with the crown to pursue one’s own destiny is something our progeny would learn of for decades. But the leader of the Scottish Libertarian Party, Tam Laird, is not convinced that this is the right time or the right reason to leave the UK. Despite the party position of independence for Scotland, the caveat of returning to the EU has given the party pause for concern. “The Scottish National Party poses as an independence movement, but are determined to cede sovereignty to the EU. That is no kind of independence in any man’s dictionary,” says Laird.

With the outcry for an independent Scotland or, at least, a quasi-independent Scotland, coupled with the British government’s insistence on censoring internet browsers and social media, the Scottish Libertarian Party appears to be the only organization making a stand for individual rights on the island. The prospect of rejecting one government while embracing another does not sit well with the party. Nor does the imprisonment of those who speak their minds, even in jest. Without a written Bill of Rights and guaranteed protections from state incursions, Scotland, and the rest of the United Kingdom, are quickly being choked off and the individual is being left only with the prospect of being British or nothing at all.

(This is an interview with Tam Laird, Leader of the Scottish Libertarian Party, conducted via email from 24 June 2018, to 14 August 2018. The content has been lightly edited for flow and grammar. Opinions expressed herein are solely those of the Interviewer and Interviewee.)

Rory: To begin, can you tell us a little about yourself and your involvement with the Scottish Libertarian Party? What brought you to Libertarianism?

Tam: Before joining the Scottish Libertarians around four years ago, I had been politically agnostic for about fifteen years. By that I mean I didn’t even vote anymore. NO ONE represented my point of view. In my youth I had been involved in Scottish Nationalist politics and had been politically active in hard right political groups, including violence. My prime motivator in this was my abject hatred of socialism. However, my focus on the collectivism of the left blinded me to the collectivism of the right. I became disillusioned with all this in my late 20’s and remained agnostic largely, but always maintained an interest in political affairs. 

Through a metal band I was listening to at the time (Stuck Mojo) I visited a webpage by then Radio host Neal Boortz. I was invited to complete a questionnaire about my views which placed me on a political matrix as a “Right Libertarian”. I thought something had gone wrong and so did the test again. The same result, “Right Libertarian”. I had no idea what a libertarian was but I didn’t like the sound of it. Too much like “liberal”, which I associated with the left. But my subsequent research confirmed my worst fears: I WAS a Libertarian. That was the beginning of my Libertarian journey. I was a founding member of the fledgling Scottish Libertarian Party and am now Leader.

Rory: When reading the Scottish Libertarian Party’s official policies, they come across as very similar to what most American Libertarians would endorse. Are there any issues unique to Scotland that Americans may not be aware of or may never have considered?

Tam: The only issues I may consider unique in the sense that some American Libertarians may not have considered them would be:

  1. You have a written constitution and bill of rights which guarantee your freedom of speech. I don’t think enough Americans realize how blessed they are with this. Freedom of speech was taken for granted in this country and is under serious threat with all sorts of illiberal laws that would be struck down in your country as Unconstitutional.
  2. The issue of Scottish National sovereignty. The Scottish Libertarians are the ONLY party that believe in Scottish National Independence. The Scottish National Party poses as an independence movement, but are determined to cede sovereignty to the EU. That is no kind of Independence in any man’s dictionary. Let alone my book.

Rory: Music is certainly an interesting path to Libertarianism as most music and media seem to pull to the left. My experience with Stuck Mojo is limited, but they seem to be an early incarnation of Underground Fight Club (although their existence seemed brief and some songs were simply party songs) and Backwordz, fronted by noted AnCap Eric July. Their music focuses heavily on individualism and Anarcho Capitalism and is very critical of statism, collectivism, and socialism. I’m more intrigued by the fact that they do not conceal or veil their message, but rather bring it to the forefront of their lyrics. I personally grew up listening to a number of punk bands, including Bad Religion, Anti-Flag, Pennywise, NOFX, and Black Flag. I still listen to them today, as it’s great music and they are bands that have been highly critical of government and seem to favor individualism over collectivism. However, they also favor socialism and heavy government incursions. I’ve always struggled to reconcile the two viewpoints, as they cancel each other out. You cannot have both individualism and economic collectivism. Does the Liberty Movement need to break into mainstream media to help bring its message to the next generation in a more palatable and relatable way and is the Scottish Libertarian Party actively seeking those opportunities?

Tam: In terms of our message reaching a wider mainstream youth audience, we are trying to organize some sort of music/arts event that might achieve that as well as utilizing the podcast media of sound-cloud, iTunes and YouTube. Although those forums, especially YouTube, appear to be becoming hostile. I think we need to look at ways to make our message relatable, but certainly NOT palatable. You either believe taxation is theft or you don’t. You believe in state welfare and intervention or you don’t. I don’t think trying to play down or sweeten the message to make it more acceptable is the way forward. That’s the rot setting in. Before you know it, the public don’t see the difference between you and the rest of the suits in power.

Rory: It’s certainly interesting to consider how many persons would truly qualify as Libertarians in the States, as most people seem to be at least be willing to describe themselves as “socially liberal, fiscally conservative”, a more basic description of Libertarian ideology. Do you find that the Liberty Movement is growing in Scotland and the UK? I stay in touch with a number of members of Students for Liberty in the UK and Ireland and the organization seems to be growing to the naked eye. With politics becoming more polarized, the youth seem to be finding themselves either hard to the left or hard to the right, leaving many feeling disenfranchised, as you did yourself. Is this a prime time for the Liberty Movement in Scotland and throughout Europe? Is the Scottish Libertarian Party currently working with any of these youth organizations?

Tam: The SLP have their own student outreach in the form of The Scottish Libertarian Students. Some of our events have been attended by Students for Liberty and vice versa, but they seem to have a more international focus than a national one. I think they somehow see us as a rival org as opposed to fellow travelers.

Rory: It’s interesting that you mentioned SFL as viewing themselves as a rival organization, rather than partners in the same fight. It seems to be a common theme among Libertarians: a constant need for infighting among the movement. The LP here in the states just held their national convention and “contentious” doesn’t seem to do it justice. There seems to be a line in the sand between Libertarians that are described as being “pragmatic” and the more hard line Libertarians. With Libertarianism having its own spectrum, ranging anywhere from Classical Liberalism to Anarcho Capitalism, one of the criticisms of the LP in the States is that there is little consensus within the party for the party to be trusted overall. Do you find there is a similar level of infighting or disagreement within the SLP?

Tam: I think with the SLP there’s an understanding. Any AnCap who joins the party realizes that the party maintains a Minarchist and gradualist position. There would be little point of its existence otherwise. As long as the state exists, it remains a barrier to an AnCap system. Most Minarchists, I think, are grudgingly so. Speaking for my own part, I have very little faith, if any, in the political process. I see our mission as mainly didactic. And the process is merely one platform to assist in getting the message out there that government is a cancer. There will always be the party and the wider movement. Sometimes they overlap and sometimes not. But in any fight, a boxer has two fists and It pays two utilize both. I also take note of the successes of the environmentalists i.e. The Greens here in the UK. They consistently punch above their weight in terms of political influence. When mainstream parties see their votes siphoned away to smaller parties to their detriment at election time, it tends to influence policy. That’s where I’m aiming for. I don’t care who “steals” our policies. As long as they materialize. With all the diverse views within the party; Unionist, Secessionist, Brutalist, Humanist, Anarchist, Minarchist, Deontist, or Consequencialist, none of us claim to know how to centrally plan an economy and none of us think that would be a good idea. I think that keeps us together, unlike the fractured left.

Rory: It is interesting to think about, as we look at the splits within the LP here in the States, that ultimately we’re bound by the same underlying principles, which allows us to function with an air of dysfunction. We don’t always see eye to eye, but the essentials are there. Of course, I’m now imagining a number of AnCaps and Mises fellows screaming at that suggestion, but we ultimately want the same result, which is a stateless society. Libertarians in the States often point to Ron Paul as being a Libertarian leader, despite his Republican tag, and he’s become a strong symbol for Libertarian policies here. Are there any politicians in the UK who, despite not being members of the LP, are followers of the liberty philosophy?

Tam: There are few politicians that I would seriously describe as libertarian. On the Conservatarian side, probably Daniel Hannan MEP, Jacob Rees Mogg MP , Phil Davies MP for Shipley in Yorkshire for his stand against feminism and former UKIP leader Nigel Farage. Not a lot. Those are all UK politicians. Sadly I can think of no one In Scotland.

Rory: With the Libertarian Party being the party of the disenfranchised, it also seems to be the misunderstood party. You had mentioned the hard right, which many in the States mistakenly consider as being Libertarian. Some have associated the Alt-Right with Libertarianism and the Liberty message is harder to get across to a larger audience. Is there a similar misunderstanding between the Scottish public and the Scottish Libertarian Party?

A large number of Americans were enamored with the recent arrest of Scottish comedian Mark Meechan, confused by how a joke, albeit tasteless, could be considered an arrestable offense, let alone a crime at all. You mentioned that many Americans don’t realize how blessed we are to have an established framework of personal liberty and I think you are correct in your assertion. Given the volatile nature of our current political situation, we’re now seeing a large youth movement to silence their opponents through legislation and even force, instead of debate. Even the ACLU, a longtime supporter of the First Amendment, including the vilest speech, seems to be starting to waver on whether the organization is willing to support all speech. Many parts of the Constitution seem to now be up for debate or far looser interpretations.

Tam: It doesn’t take much to be associated with or labelled as “Alt-Right” in the UK. Anyone who doesn’t read The Guardian or fall into line with the culturally Marxist, internationalist, and multi-cultural agenda will be filled in that category. It doesn’t help that The “Con Servative” Party, both in Scotland and in the UK as a whole, are a joke. They do not stand up for free market ideas or individual liberty. The Scottish Conservative party’s shameful abstention from the Named Person legislation vote and their failure to speak up for the comedian Markus Meechan are just two of a whole load of examples. They are cowed.

Rory: We’re certainly seeing a larger enforcement of “Community Standards” on social media here in the States and those policies are becoming global. While I’m inclined to say that they are private companies and may do as they see fit to protect their product, it seems to go against what they were originally intended to be, which is, among many other things, a public forum of ideas. One thing we’re seeing now is an overreaction to what may be considered “hate speech”, when it was simply an expression of ideas. This week, Facebook flagged a post by a newspaper that was made up almost entirely of text from the Declaration of Independence. The newspaper was posting daily excerpts leading up to the Fourth of July as a way of encouraging its readers to read and understand the original text. While it was simply an algorithm that was used to flag a wide array of posts, it seemed telling in that a one-size-fits-all restriction on speech isn’t feasible, as opinion will vary wildly. Many in the States have taken notice of the EU’s proposed “copyright law”, which would give sweeping censorship powers over the internet. It’s since been rejected, but could always make a return. Is the community at large upset with this prospect or is it more within the Liberty Community?

Tam: On your community standards issue. Unfortunately, it would seem that the only real concerns about this and in relation to freedom of expression and free speech, are among libertarians and some Conservatarians. Or as we call them here, “Libertoryans”. The left only have concerns in as much as it curbs THEIR freedom. They are perfectly happy to censure those who they are opposed to. And, of course, mainstream conservatives, including the UK prime minister and the leader of the conservatives, seem only too happy to aid and abet. Perhaps out of fear of vocal and powerful lobby groups like the LGBTQ and Feminist movements.

It is, I believe, however, one of the most important issues of the day and myself and the party are passionate about waking people up about it. It’s a shame people don’t seem to take notice until it affects them personally and by then it is too late. It’s a dangerous time. People can be jailed, lose their livelihood or both over a twitter comment. That is insane.

I think Libertarians worldwide are an intelligent bunch. The geekier elements among us have to find new ways and new forums by which we can get our message out there. We cannot rely on the big players like YouTube and FB much longer,

Rory: It’s one of the repetitious failures of prohibition: a black market. It’s one thing to have a black market for alcohol, drugs, and tobacco, among other things, but the idea that a black market of thought and ideas must exist to maintain different viewpoints is utterly terrifying and inherently dangerous. Do the changing laws worry the SLP or other parties when it comes to the dissemination of information that opposes the state?

Tam: It’s extremely worrying and I’m not at all optimistic about the future in terms of free speech and expression. Unfortunately, even the Conservative party are in the vanguard of these assaults and restrictions on liberty. Theresa May, the PM, has stated she wants to heavily regulate the internet and is pressurizing companies like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter to step up their censorship.

Rory: I’ve written on the lack of a Bill of Rights in Northern Ireland, which remains an unfulfilled promise of the Good Friday Agreement. The attitude seems to be, at least by Unionists, that a Bill of Rights would separate the country even further from the UK, almost distinguishing it to the point of no return for the Union. Is there a similar attitude in Scotland by those who support the Union or is it simply a matter of complacency? Do not enough Scottish support the idea of the people restricting the government or are they just unaware?

Tam: The clash between Unionist and Secessionist in Scotland is complex. There is a sectarian divide between Catholic and Protestant in Scotland that, while not as stark as when I was a kid (60’s and 70’s let’s say), still has an influence. Catholics tend toward Independence, Protestants toward Union. Both sides are inconsistent. UK unionists tend to be anti EU and those who support the SNP pro. Although the lines are blurred. Those who support the SNP and their brand of “Independence” these days tend toward social democracy and state intervention. Their secessionist bent comes more from a resentment of Westminster and a perceived notion of an economic benefit rather than any real belief in autonomy and self-determination or even individual rights and liberties.

Rory: I can only imagine the difficulties in attempting to break through with legislation and policies that favor individual liberty when one is beholden to both British Parliament and the EU. On your website, the official policy is a rejection of both British and European rule. Brexit seems to be the driving force behind a second independence referendum, with the end game being an independent Scotland that is quickly readmitted into the EU; almost a double edged sword; you cannot have one and not the other, at least as of now. Would the Scottish Libertarian Party be willing to support a second referendum and refocus on pulling support away from the SNP to hold its own exit from the EU?

Tam: The complexities abound. Although the SNP maintain a pro EU stance, they had the largest amount of leave voters for any UK party relative to their size. The SNP promised their support that if Scotland voted at odds with England on the EU it would give them grounds to call for a second referendum on Scotland leaving the UK. Many people bought it and voted remain out of a desire for a second vote rather than any real love for the EU.

The SLP would have to give serious thought about whether or not to support a second referendum, even though we are a pro Independence Party. We would have to insist on a second question on the ballot with regard to EU membership. Otherwise the SNP would deceitfully use any Independence majority to try to renegotiate entry to the EU.

Rory: Would it be possible, in your opinion, if given an option of a two question referendum, that voters could view the EU in the same manner as the UK and cut ties with both or have the waters been muddied too much for there to be a clear picture?

Tam: I believe if another referendum is held that a two (2nd on EU) question ballot is an absolute pre requisite to my voting yes to breaking from the UK.

Many will point out that rejoining the EU will not be an option for Scotland. But I will NOT take that chance. It has taken over 300 years to get to the point where we may divest ourselves of one union merely to embrace another. The leadership of the SNP are a greater threat to my liberties and more diabolical traitors to their people and country than those who signed the act of Union in 1707.

Rory: Your current official policy is noted as “[supporting] more devolved powers from Westminster to the Scottish Parliament with a view towards the establishment of a federal system with Scotland as one of many independent states within the British union.” It almost sounds like how we would view a state in the US, essentially independent in all matters, with the exception of those issues that concern the entire nation, such as a national emergency. It’s worth noting that this seems to be slowly changing, with more power transitioning to the Federal Government. Would the end game of devolving more powers to Scotland so that it may act with more autonomy still be independence, similar to the Irish Free State quickly severing ties with the Union and becoming a Republic?

Tam: On the question of a republic, I’m sure opinion will range in the party. Personally, it’s my assessment that that’s not something a majority of Scottish people would desire. I myself have no desire to replace HM the Queen as head of state. If the state has to exist, I prefer a constitutional monarchy to a republic. But that’s a matter for debate.

Rory: Would it be fair to say that the SNP independence movement is more personal than reasonable? As I’ve followed the stories coming out of Scotland and the UK, one of the driving forces seems to be a focus on a Scottish national identity, rather than, as you said, autonomy and individualism. Is the image of Scottish Nationalism being portrayed accurate or is it much tamer than we’re seeing? It feels similar to the messages of Sinn Fein and the SDLP in Northern Ireland, both of whom very much focus on an Irish national identity and could easily be, and have been, described as Nationalists.

Tam: I don’t see the SNP as nationalist in any true sense. They are merely anti-Westminster. Just as Sinn Fein are Republicans (not in the US sense). See the Spanish or Chinese civil wars for the difference. Their definition of Scottishness is simply “Not English”. There is a weird inferiority complex that translates into a sneering superiority. You may be bigger and more successful, but WE are more caring, tolerant, accepting and socially conscious than the nasty capitalistic Tory voting English.

It’s a grotesque caricature of course, but it appeals to the ego of those who see themselves as downtrodden and oppressed.

For years, the SNP were decried as merely anti-English. I thought that was an unfair characterization up until recently. I think the despicable pro EU stance of the SNP proves it. Any boot can stand on our neck or kick us up the ass… as long as it’s not English. It burns my toast black to hear the SNP describe themselves as Nationalist or pro Independence. They are neither. Do you know what people who believe in independence are called within the SNP? “Little Scotlanders.” That’s the contempt the party commissars have for them. It’s why I call them the Notionalists. With due respect to some old school Nationalists that are still in the SNP. Sorry guys, but you are not in the same party you joined. Get out. For the sake of your country’s future and your personal integrity.

Rory: Could you elaborate a little further on your thoughts about remaining as a constitutional monarchy as opposed to a republic? I think for the American readers, they may find that a bit surprising, if only because of our own fight for independence in which we wanted the monarchy removed entirely from our shores. Americans seem to have been indoctrinated to feel a little apprehensive when it comes to monarchies as we learn of our history over the years. It is interesting to note, as I write this week, that there have been two celebrations of independence in North America since Sunday: Independence Day here in the United States and Canada Day for our northern neighbors. Both celebrate their independence, the former as a republic and the latter as a constitutional monarchy.

Tam: I would stress that my view on the Monarchy is my own and not that of my party. But, it seems to me that Americans celebrate the deposing of a seemingly immovable Monarch by replacing him with what has become the dictatorship of the majority. George Washington wasn’t long with those who wouldn’t cough up their taxes, for example. And dealt with them aggressively. The Whiskey Rebellion? Again, does it matter who boots you in the ass? Whoever you vote for, you end up with the government. In the words of Oliver Cromwell “Gentlemen. An immovable parliament is even more obnoxious than an immovable King.” Then, we know where he ended up.

I don’t think anyone can claim that the Monarchy of today is the same as that of yesteryear. But for more on this subject, see Hans Herman Hoppe’s Democracy: The God that Failed.

Rory: The Whiskey Rebellion is often pointed to by US Libertarians as an example of resistance to state incursions, driving home the understanding that it was not meant to be one king that we resisted, but the idea of government entirely. The exchange of one tyrant for what ultimately became five hundred and thirty five, between the House and the Senate. Again, it goes back to the thought of a stateless society. And to your point, ultimately, if we’re left with government in some form, what do we care what form it takes?

Tam: It’s a good point. Government is indeed a cancer. But, as with any disease, until you find a cure you do your best to arrest and contain it. I think, for you in the US, that’s trying to force it back behind the ramparts and back into the cage. The constitution is a wonderful document, but is only as effective as the people who are supposedly bound by it. At least you have it. In the UK we have no such concrete document. So yes, we have to care what government looks like if we have it. Or it’s game over.

Rory: What would be viewed as a win for the SLP, both in the short term and long term? Is it ultimately a seat at the table or a gradual acceptance and understanding that takes the country as a whole? On that note, what are the SLP’s plans for the future?

Tam: I think the ultimate plan for the SLP is where we can gain enough support to influence policy. Pick up some local council seats, make our presence felt in the Scottish national elections. Kick, scream, make some noise, and be didactic. Let people know there IS a workable alternative to big government. You have to be careful how much you become part of the system. Part of the crap game. Remember: dance with the devil… the devil does NOT change. The devil changes you.

Rory: Any final thoughts for us?

Tam: Fight the fight because the fight is right. Not because you think you can win. Who knows, you may surprise yourself.

* Rory Margraf is a writer whose work has been included at Freedom Today Network, Speak Freely, and the Foundation for Economic Education. He spends his free time studying classical liberalism and how to apply those tenets to his home in the United States, Northern Ireland, and abroad.

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