THE millionaire credited with making the SNP acceptable to the business community has become a surprise convert to a big-state, high-tax vision of Scotland after independence.
Former business minister Jim Mather has backed the left-wing Common Weal plan to import progressive economic and social policies from the Nordic countries as an alternative to a "London-centric future" within the Union and its "un-evolved, Stone Age" rat race.
Mather, whose prominent position on the right of the SNP saw him dubbed a neo-con by some of his critics, unveils his new thinking in next week's Scottish Left Review.
The brainchild of the Jimmy Reid Foundation, the Common Weal plan would see Scotland adopt the best aspects of Scandinavia and Germany to create a wealthier, fairer country with a diverse economy and an expanded welfare state. With support for the idea growing among its MSPs, the SNP is to debate the Common Weal at its annual conference in October.
The Church of Scotland has also set up a working group on the concept.
In the early 2000s, Mather and Alex Salmond worked as a double-act to persuade businesses that the SNP was not a threat, and indeed that it would cut their taxes under independence.
A former accountant who made his fortune in IT, Mather's sales patter helped transform the SNP's reputation in the business community. Salmond rewarded him in 2007 by making him minister for enterprise, energy and tourism, a post he held throughout the SNP's first term. He retired from Holyrood in 2011 and is now a visiting professor at Strathclyde University.
In his article, Mather says the crash of 2008 exposed the bankruptcy of the free market, "conflict and competition" model fostered by Margaret Thatcher in the UK and Ronald Reagan in the US in the 1980s. What is needed now, he says, is a realignment of markets "with the real economy and real people" and an overhaul of how companies are run to end the "employer versus employees" attitude of many managers.
He writes: "This experience of recent years augments the Economic Case for Independence that I took to the boardrooms of Scotland in the period 2002-07 – proving that a Union applying the same rates of taxes to all parts of Scotland as were applied to London and the south-east would leave us unable to overcome the tendency for wealth and talent to be drawn into London.
"It was a proposition that held true when those in financial services played with a moderately straight bat – but it became shamelessly true with the widespread abandonment of ethical behaviour.
"I am up for a Common Weal approach as all this proves that 'conflict and competition' is a un-evolved Stone Age solution that is destined to produce many more losers than winners."
Although some Common Weal policies could be applied with greater devolution, Mather adds: "I believe we will also need independence – for otherwise we face the prospect of being locked into a London-centric future that will look very much like the current unacceptable reality of relatively low living standards, low average life expectancy and emigration from a potentially wealthy nation."
The pro-Union Better Together campaign said Mather's shift showed the Yes camp's confusion. A spokesman said: "The SNP are declaring war on the big business figures they have worked so hard to woo."
Former business minister embraces alternative to 'Stone Age rat race' By Tom Gordon