We know that there is a tradition of criticising Scotland from afar or in the briefest of visits north bringing your prejudices with you unchallenged.
This used to be the terrain of the centre-right, of Thatcherites such as Nigel Lawson in the 1980s and The Spectator, but now what remains of the British centre-left has begun to join in. Recently Nick Pearce of the IPPR had a whistle wind Scottish tour checking out Scottish Labour’s preparation for returning to power, which led to a thoughtful exchange and debate between the two of us.
Matthew Taylor, head of the RSA sits in a category all of his own even in the age of New Labour and its think tanks: someone who has developed a single-minded promotion of himself and his ideas. He helped write New Labour's 1997 manifesto and 'pledge card', moved over to become the head of the IPPR, was brought back by Blair to head up his policy unit and help draft the 2005 manifesto and then jumped before the good ship Blair went down into the Directorship of the RSA from when he now blogs.
Therefore it should come as little surprise that Taylor missing his plane to Scotland decided to spend the time writing a blog post comparing Japan facing crisis, earthquake and human disaster with Scotland. He reflects that he knows this will be ‘very irritating’, but excuses himself with the thought that ‘in my defence can I say that I am primarily reflecting conversations I have had recently with Scottish friends whose opinion I respect deeply!’.
The post trundles out all the usual commentariat/mainstream media clichés about the state of Scotland and what is wrong with it. Scotland refuses to embrace ‘a diversification of public sector delivery’, while we have due to the absence of New Labour a lack of ‘a modernising centre’ at the heart of government. Then there is our ‘lack of political pluralism’ with a politics of little choice and a political spectrum of ‘roughly between 30-50 degrees on the centre-left’.
This is a politics of superficial cliché which is stuck like a record playing Taylor’s greatest hits revisiting and invoking New Labour. That wasn’t exactly a great success Matthew was it, apart from its three electoral triumphs, in case you didn’t notice.
It is just too easy to caricature Scottish politics as this centre-left nirvana of no choice; a much more subtle analysis would understand that our politics is shaped by a professional interest group capture which has draped itself in centre-left colours but has little to do with progressive politics. This is a theme explored in my and Rosie Ilett's recent collection Radical Scotland: Arguments for Self-Determination, and in Thursday’s Newsnight Scotland discussion between myself, Ben Thomson of Reform Scotland, and John McLaren.
Taylor compares contemporary Scotland rather offensively with Japan after the earthquake. He finds the Japan of Radio Four’s Today Programme an impressive one, addressing questions such as ‘How could the Government and the people have a deeper and more honest conversation about the choices facing the country?’. And finds Scotland wanting in this department.
He concludes stating that, "Japan’s crisis is profound and urgent" whereas "Scotland’s is less obvious and will take longer to unfold". In typical Taylor sweeping style, he passes over the RSA’s role in all of this; spreading its missionary message across the Westminster village and parts of England, but in Scotland being the capture of the Edinburgh comfortable middle class and their narrow, cosy conversations. Maybe Taylor could blog on that, or better still do something about it! RSA north of the border contribute towards our "lack of political pluralism".
Then there are wider issues for Britain to address beyond Scotland’s predicament. Where is the national conversation on the crisis, unsustainability and "social aspiration gap" in Britain? On the bastardisation of the British state? Or on the Fantasy Island of the British Bubble?
All of which Taylor in his serial roles played such a part in – in New Labour, IPPR and now the RSA. Such is the role of the shameless bloviators of the new world order, passing from role to role passing snippets of their wisdom before moving on, never having to deal with boring things like being held to account for your record and comments. Isn’t it time we challenged the generation of the New Labour establishment with the grotesque world they have left us, and ask them to explain themselves.
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