Gerry Hassan cached version 08/02/2019 20:01:34 en Salmond, Sturgeon and the end of the SNP's imperial era <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Just when Scotland's voice is needed in the Brexit mess, the SNP's famous internal discipline seems to be disintegrating into factionalism.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="// salmond.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="// salmond.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="344" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Image: Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond of the SNP during the 2015 General Election campaign. Credit: Andrew Milligan/PA Images, all rights reserved</span></span></span></p><p>The Tories continue their thirty-year civil war on Europe, while Corbyn’s Labour continue to uphold constructive ambiguity informed by their leader’s long held Euroscepticism. The Lib Dems struggle for any relevance after the Cameron coalition. This present impasse has shown the limitations of British democracy and a deep-seated malaise about the meaning of Britain, with Brexit debates reduced to Westminster parlour games shaped by the most obsessional opinions, and a Tory Party in the grip of a reactionary, insular, backward looking English nationalism, which has the potential not only to destroy the Tories but take all of us over the cliff into the abyss.</p> <p>The historic moment is, however, somewhat anticlimactic, as Fintan O’Toole has suggested. Much of the script has been written by a fantasy version of history. Brexit, he writes, is “full, not just of nostalgia, but of pseudo-history. It is an old curiosity shop of fake antiques.”</p> <p>This point even more underlines the challenge to Scotland and the need for a Scottish voice and influence to be brought to these debates. Yet, at this critical point, the SNP has become embroiled in a huge, high powered divide between its two main figures, Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon, which threatens to have lasting and damaging consequences.</p> <p>A recap. Last August the Daily Record revealed that the <a href="">Scottish Government were investigating the Alex Salmond</a> after two staff members complained of inappropriate behaviour during his time as First Minister. Salmond disputed the claims and took the Scottish Government – which he had headed for seven years – to court claiming their process was tainted. </p> <p>Last week <a href="">Salmond won his case</a> at the Court of Session with the Scottish Government caving in at the first hurdle, admitting its investigation process had been “unlawful, procedurally unfair and tainted with apparent bias”. It has also emerged that Salmond and Sturgeon had a series of private meetings and exchanges last summer. Salmond requested the first of these meetings - held in Sturgeon’s house on April 2nd - as key individuals became aware of the investigations. <a href="">Sturgeon subsequently only notified the Permanent Secretary </a>&nbsp;about the first meeting after two months. All of this has left many loose threads and <a href="">several inquiries</a>. There is an internal inquiry into the failures of its own investigation, an investigation (to which Sturgeon referred herself) of whether she breached the ministerial code, an Information Commissioners inquiry into the handling of the original investigation, as well as an ongoing police inquiry into the substance of the original complaints against Salmond which he robustly rejects.</p> <p>This comes on the back of a series of slow simmering resentments which have been building between the once dream team of Salmond and Sturgeon since the indyref, and more acutely, post-Brexit. Salmond – who sees the indyref victory as rightfully his, but stolen by forces ranging from the BBC to ‘The Vow’ – gives the impression that he finds it difficult to leave the stage or to find a constructive role: hosting a tacky Edinburgh Fringe show and then embarking on a broadcasting career with RT (formerly <em>Russia Today).</em></p> <p>Sturgeon, in the eyes of Salmond and his supporters (as well as others), has soft-pedalled, and even back-pedalled, on the cause of independence and on calling a referendum. It has been put off, pushed back and relegated in importance it is claimed, while more general criticism is made of Sturgeon’s leadership style and the record of her administration. </p> <p>Hyperbolic claims – for example from the BBC’s Sarah Smith – of “outright civil war” in the SNP, lack nuance and can be easily dismissed by Nationalists. But nor can the situation be dismissed as a unionist conspiracy. There’s something serious going on. </p> <h2>The end of the Imperial SNP</h2> <p>This is the end of a certain period of the SNP: of its once impressive and self-imposed discipline. This is the end of the imperial period of SNP dominance. They may well for the foreseeable future continue to be Scotland’s leading party, but that will be more open to possible challenge. That isn’t that surprising after twelve years in office. What is surprising is how this has come about.</p> <p>If not a “civil war”, this is certainly already a proxy conflict for all sorts of other divisions, and could clearly escalate further. There are bruised feelings, mutual suspicions, competing stories and allegations, and clearly defined rival camps. </p> <p>The emergence of Salmond and Sturgeon camps with elements in each briefing against each other recalls the recent history of New Labour. Once upon a time Blair and Brown were the closest of allies, but as divisions emerged, slowly at first from the Granita ‘Deal’ to more seriously in office, the ‘TBGB’ problems began. </p> <p>These were fuelled by incessant briefings between the Blair and Brown camps over a host of things from Brown’s virtual autonomy in the Treasury to the date of Blair’s departure from No. 10. The two camps soon passed a point of no return where the years of harmony and discipline could not be recreated. Once you have two rival camps each doing the bidding and counter-bidding of their respective leaders, those leaders lose control of their acolytes. This is what is beginning to happen in the SNP, and if as is likely it continues, there is literally no way back from such self-destructive politics.</p> <h2>The bigger political divides on Independence – and the absence of a strategy or plan</h2> <p>Many in the SNP are hoping this all goes away and that normal politics can be resumed. But it can’t. This has become about more than the original allegations and the failures of government process.</p> <p>First, underlying the Salmond-Sturgeon divide are differences over independence. Salmond has consistently said that independence’s victory was snatched from his grasp in 2014. He clearly has never really come to terms with losing. Sturgeon has never ever uttered a similar bad loser’s perspective.</p> <p>This translates into how each now views independence. Salmond has post-Brexit pushed at every opportunity for calling an indyref. Sturgeon has not shown such an attitude, and when she moved in March 2017, many interpreted it as a result of private pressure from Salmond. Sturgeon was burned by this experience and Theresa May’s stonewalling of her call, and has subsequently backed off calling for an immediate indyref. </p> <p>A deep sore has been caused here and one factor has been amidst all the noise the vacuum and silence on what independence is post-2014. No post-mortem on defeat. No re-evaluation of the limits of the 2014 offer. No open fessing up from Sturgeon of the challenges and difficult choices of independence – beyond the sidelined Growth Commission. And while she was damaged by the March 2017 indyref call, she has since not been explicit about timescales and endgames, attempting to play for time – and hence in the process annoying a whole host of independence true believers. </p> <p>Secondly, this illustrates the different leaderships and political styles of Salmond and Sturgeon. But as important is when in the political cycle each has been called to leadership. Salmond’s second coming in 2004 came when the SNP was in the doldrums and had a mere 8,000 members. He took the SNP from that low point on a rising tide which encompassed the 2007 and 2011 victories and a 45% independence vote. </p> <p>Sturgeon inherited a party heading towards 120,000 members and on the brink of winning 56 out of Scotland’s 59 seats. In short, Salmond took the SNP to the top of the mountain (or very near the summit in the case of independence), and for Sturgeon, the only realistic prospect in terms of party support is a slow descent from that peak. The only real question is the nature of that descent: whether it can be managed and slow or a bumpy ride.</p> <p>The SNP’s current position is to prioritise a second Brexit referendum – the logic being to minimise the damage of Brexit, exert maximum leverage in Westminster, and speak up for the 62% pro-EU majority in Scotland. But this has also caused disquiet in the ranks with many people seeing it as distracting from independence.</p> <p>Sturgeon stated on Wednesday that she will come back in the “coming weeks” to outline her planned timetable on pushing for a second indyref. This in the context of the above events just doesn’t make any sense beyond the base and true believers, and underlines the damage caused by the lack of any strategy, plan or new offer. How could Scotland realistically consider another indyref when no independence package is on offer or being prepared? And what does that say about democracy and the critical need to speak to, honour, and win over No Voters? If anyone thinks the answer is to win a referendum on the principle with minimal detail (‘Britain is bust, let’s get out’), have a look at the mess that has got politics into on Brexit.</p> <h2>The limits of court politics and SNP modernity</h2> <p>No one could have predicted how all of the above would explode onto the political scene. But a wider set of trends could have been guessed at. The nature of the imperial era of the SNP was always unsustainable. The party has developed post-2014 into a safety first, cautious manageralism mixed with control freakery and presidentialism that has not sat well with the party’s professed values.</p> <p>There is also a longer story in recent times of the SNP under Salmond and Sturgeon, and the descent of the party into what can only be called court politics: a politics of personality and insiderness. This is after all how traditionally much of Scotland has done politics and how Labour behaved itself and ran Scotland for years. We as a nation actually have a pretty poor reservoir to draw from on how we do active, engaged democratic politics, particularly in office.</p> <p>There are numerous paradoxes. The SNP is more than Salmond and Sturgeon and their camps. It has 120,000 members, resources and ideas, and one factor stopping this from being Sarah Smith’s “outright civil war” is that so far this has been an elite and leadership faction fight. The mass membership have not yet taken sides. But what is also true is that since 2014 the SNP leadership have consciously tried to manage and exclude the party’s own membership from having much of say in the party or the big debates. A salutary fact is that since 2014 there has been not one substantive debate about independence at SNP conference.</p> <p>Wider tensions are at play. The SNP claim to be a movement when they are a party. The cause of independence is interwoven with the appeal of the SNP, and while they are different, the former is impossible without the latter. But the SNP at senior level have become at senior level the party of insider Scotland - and even, of the status quo. Some of the most ardent Nationalists inadvertently illustrate this when they defend every part of present-day Scotland from criticism – from education to hospital to even train times. </p> <p>Twelve years of dominance as a party in office is a long time in modern politics and the SNP have changed Scotland and themselves in the process. This has shown many of the strengths of the party but also its limitations: the thinness of its social democracy, the conceits of even the most civic nationalism, and its lack of feel and interest in democracy and dispersing power. They are failings that are not just owned by the SNP but by wider Scotland.</p> <p>One era of Scottish politics is drawing to a close, though not in a manner any of us imagined. There was always a conflict even in the 2014 indyref between the emerging Scotland that was more diverse and disputatious towards authority and power, and the bright shiny promise of SNP modernity. Those fault lines have come to the fore post-2014, and run through independence opinion, just as they run through radicals and progressives the world over. Just as the UK enters storm filled waters, the SNP itself is heading for crisis and division, out of which will come a different party, leadership and politics, and from that a different vision of Scotland and independence. </p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> UK </div> <div class="field-item even"> Scotland </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk Scotland UK Brexit Gerry Hassan Fri, 18 Jan 2019 12:15:11 +0000 Gerry Hassan 121343 at The Brexit disaster is an existential crisis in the ‘Idea’ of Britain <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Brexit – driven by unenlightened, defiantly anti-modern nationalism – could be the most serious constitutional crisis since Great Britain’s inception in 1707.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="// brexit.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="// brexit.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Image: Scotland and union flags being waved at anti-Brexit demo outside Westminster, November 2018. Rights: Alberto Pezzali/Nur Photo/SIPA USA, all rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Last week I attended an event at Dundee University on the ideas and impact of the Scottish thinker Tom Nairn. Many of his books were discussed, including his critique of the monarchy, and the insularity of the British left, but his most important work - ‘The Break-Up of Britain’ - published 41 years ago, seems more relevant than ever as we live through Brexit.</p> <p>‘The Break-Up of Britain’ explores the archaic, ossified relic that is the British state; undemocratic, anti-modern and that sees itself as ‘the mother of Parliaments’. It is also a book in which the state of England is central to this mindset - its gathering unease at events in Europe and the European project, and in which a reactionary English nationalism is emerging, initially around Enoch Powell (who was obsessed with ‘sovereignty’), but then taken up by Thatcher, and now by Brexiteers.</p> <p>Brexit has caused many surprises, but it should not have come as a surprise. The UK Government has shown a scale of incompetence unprecedented in recent times. Leavers have had a cavalier disregard with coming up with a feasible plan for leaving, while the Labour Party has been too often posted missing in action without a Brexit policy worthy of the name. And to cap it all, Theresa May and her Tory Government have managed to lose three Brexit parliamentary votes in a single day – including for the first time having a UK Government held in contempt of Parliament. </p> <p>We should not be completely shocked at the direction the UK is travelling, only the incompetence of our supposed drivers. The UK not only never became a fully fledged signed-up member of the European project, in many places it never even embraced the ‘idea’ of Europe, choosing to see itself as apart, while the UK never really fully embraced the modern age (i.e. the 20th century) with elements of its elites still living in the age of feudalism.</p> <p>Brexit did not just occur because of Nigel Farage, Arron Banks and Boris Johnson. Or because they based their campaign on a mixture of calculated lies - the £350m for the NHS, and whipping up xenophobia with Farage’s ‘Breaking Point’ poster and the lie that Turkey was about to join the EU allowing its 75 million citizens the right to come and live in the UK. </p> <h2>English discontents</h2> <p>The reasons for Brexit lie much deeper in part of the English psyche. A significant part of England, along with Wales, and smaller elements in Scotland and Northern Ireland, never warmed to the idea of Europe. And as society has changed in recent times with economic dislocation, social flux, the wave of immigration post-2004, the decline of traditional authority from churches to unions, many people have felt lost and asked who is looking out for them. It certainly wasn’t Blair and New Labour, or Cameron and his smooth Conservatism modelled on the Blair project.</p> <p>The last two and a half years have revealed unattractive things about the English political imagination. First, there has been the ridiculous language of Tory Brexiteers like Jacob Rees-Mogg, Steve Baker, Nadine Dorries and Boris Johnson. They have talked of the UK as a ‘vassal state’ and a ‘colony’ permanently stuck in ‘servitude’, while comparing the EU to Napoleon, the Soviet Union, and of course, Nazi Germany. Then there is the petulant dismissal of any idea of compromise – based on the narrow 52:48 Leave victory, with the priest Giles Fraser telling Polly Toynbee, ‘You lost. Get over it’. </p> <p>Second, irresponsible sentiment and bad history are also found on the Remain side. The People’s Vote campaign for a second referendum has made real headway, but hasn’t been helped by the support of Blair and his ex-spin doctor, Alastair Campbell. The latter seems to have no insight into his role in tarnishing public standards through his media manipulation which came a cropper over Iraq. How else can one explain Campbell going on about ‘lying’ in public life? In the last week, Matthew d’Ancona in ‘The Guardian’ said Brexit was driven by ‘an extremely unpleasant nativism’ and ‘Britons who just don’t much like people of foreign extraction’, while Andrew Marr stated to Blair: ‘The English in particular have never been ruled by anyone else.’ </p> <h2>Tory and Labour troubles</h2> <p>None of the UK political parties has come out well. Theresa May has earned a grudging respect, with even opponents talking of her resilience and determination against all odds. But that does not get away from her lack of political leadership. She boxed herself into her current predicament by her Lancaster House speech over Brexit of January 2017 and her ‘red lines’ – which precluded a Brexit based on the customs union and single market. And subsequently she has failed to come clean on the need for a Brexit compromise – including the way she has presented her Withdrawal Agreement.</p> <p>The approach of Jeremy Corbyn and Labour has not been better. Corbyn was posted missing in action in the 2016 campaign, and he or the people running his office did all they could to undermine the Remain side. Since then Corbyn has doggedly aided Brexit – seeing an upside in a UK removed from EU restrictions, saying Brexit ‘can’t be stopped’ and keeping the party’s position vague. Maybe Labour will come out next week for a second referendum, but Corbyn, the arch supporter of party democracy, has consistently ignored the will of party members: pro-EU, pro-single market and customs union, and for a second vote: 86% on the last. </p> <p>There is the bitter aftertaste of the actual EU referendum. Even more damning than Leave playing fast and loose with the truth, facts and experts, was the issue of its finances. Arron Banks is the biggest political donor in British history with his £8m donations to Leave. But despite numerous fines on Leave and legal rulings that they broke the law (both for the official Vote Leave and Banks funded Leave.EU), Banks refuses to give a straight answer to the simple question - <a href="">where did his money come from</a>?</p> <p>Isabel Oakeshott, who ghosted Arron Banks’ Brexit memoir (‘The Bad Boys of Brexit’), claims that she never once asked him the killer question. Meanwhile she continues to ridicule and dismiss ‘Observer’ journalist Carole Cadwalladr who, <a href="">along with ‘OpenDemocracy’</a>, has done much to break this story. Worthy of note is the role of Andrew Neil, a man of many hats, one as a BBC anchor, who has been <a href="">personally abusive and sexist to Cadwalladr</a>, and even more significantly, continually dished the story of where the Leave money came from and the role of Banks. Strange behaviour for a journalist. </p> <p>If Brexit had really been about ‘Taking Back Control’ then the 2016 vote would have resulted in a flurry of proposals for greater democratisation in the UK: to reform Parliament, to more effectively hold the Executive to account, in how laws were made, and about decentralising one of the most centralised countries in the developed world. They could even have begun thinking about England – the state of which fed Brexit.</p> <p>Not only has this supposed great historic moment of ‘Taking Back Control’ brought forth no plethora of ideas to renew democracy, the reverse has happened. There has been the use of Henry VIII powers to push legislation through Parliament, while the UK Government tried to prevent the Attorney General’s full legal advice being published and found itself in contempt of the UK Parliament. And it is just possible that the 11 December vote won’t happen if the Government knows they face massive defeat.</p> <h2>Scotland is not totally detached from this mess whatever happens</h2> <p>Scotland sometimes seems to think it is immune from this malaise. Brexit has posed big questions for Scottish politicians and the SNP; in the event of a hard Brexit it makes independence more messy with a potential hard border between Scotland and England. The campaign for a second Brexit referendum has also posed problems for the SNP with senior figures such as Alex Neil and Kenny Gibson concerned that such a campaign could undermine the cause of independence and winning a second Scottish vote. They worry that it could create a politics where those that lose do not accept the result and call for a rerun, and could be used in the aftermath of a pro-independence victory.</p> <p>In the last few days some SNP people have floated the idea of Scotland becoming independent without an indyref. This was slapped down by Nicola Sturgeon, but revealed frustration - and a lack of political nous in independence opinion. The argument asked what would happen if Westminster refuses to grant a Section 30 for a legally binding vote all sides agree to. Thus one option floated was a Westminster or Holyrood mandate for independence. This did not face up to the prospect Westminster-wise of an independence mandate on say 35% and one million voters being used to over-ride 55% and two million voters. That would never work but says something about its advocates. </p> <p>Some SNP figures even worry about a Brexit last minute compromise such as extending Article 50 – as this could they imagine further delay the prospect of a future indyref. This ignores that any Scottish vote before 2021 and the next Scottish elections is extremely unlikely, and that Nicola Sturgeon is in no rush to call such a poll, knowing there is a good chance in present circumstances, independence could lose.</p> <p>There is though a chance in the foreseeable future that May and the Tory Government could fall and a Corbyn administration take office – which in even the most optimistic election scenarios would be a minority - and needing parliamentary allies. This would give the SNP huge leverage – much more than the current DUP – and while many in the party see this as all about indyref2 it is clear Sturgeon would play a cannier game. There is no chance in a hung Parliament of the SNP even passively allowing the Tories to govern if they have the numbers to block them: to let the Tories in would be kamikaze politics. But that does not mean the SNP would not have major influence. Not all roads directly lead back to independence and a referendum, at least in the medium term. </p> <h2>Breaking up is hard to do – Tom Nairn and the crisis of the ‘idea’ of Britain</h2> <p>This then is our future. Constitutional wrangling over Brexit for decades. Over the terms of a divorce settlement (and a UK election or second referendum don’t end all this and we go back to ‘normal’). In Scotland there is no easy escape clause because all we can do is work out if we want our own special terms of divorce. For some people this is the defining issue: whether it is ‘our’ divorce, but it offers up the prospect, either way, of years of acrimony. </p> <p>There is little prospect of this ending well for the UK, or resulting in the utopia/dystopia of a right-wing ‘Global Britain’ or a reindustrialised, egalitarian, Corbynista UK. What we can see is the damage that can be inflicted by an unenlightened, defiantly anti-modern nationalism obsessed by a Britain and England that never really ever existed. The dogmatists of the Tory Eurosceptic right have conducted a long, guerilla campaign since the days of Powell, and finally made the Tory Party in their image: a party of different shades of Brexit which finds political compromise with our European neighbours problematic.</p> <p>This is a geo-political and territorial set of crises of the UK: one which raises questions about where Britain sees itself in the world, who it allies with, and how it understands its own nature and character. This is as many have argued much more serious than Suez and 1956. Indeed, given 1938-40 – from appeasement to Churchill’s ‘finest hour’ – was not a constitutional crisis, we’re now in potentially the most serious constitutional crisis since the inception of Great Britain in 1707.</p> <p>Underlying this is the fact that the ‘idea’ of Britain is exhausted, and in particular, the historic Conservative and Labour visions of Britain: one traditional and bringing the working classes into the system on the elite’s terms, and the other bringing the people into the system to change it. </p> <p>This brings us back to Tom Nairn and ‘The Break-Up of Britain’. This understood that the UK would face a series of existential challenges driven by capitalism, globalisation and Europe that would increasingly fragment the union, taking Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in a different direction from England. Forty years on we are still waiting for English left-wingers to speak about an English politics. We have paid a high price for their unwillingness to talk about this: an abdication which has aided the likes of Farage and Johnson to stoke an English rage.</p> <p>The UK voted for Brexit without much debate or understanding of what the EU is and the UK will – as things stand - leave the EU with many still defiantly ignorant of Europe and the UK’s relationship with it. And such willful ignorance has only strengthened a politics of little Englanderism and reaction – to the cost of all of us.</p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> UK </div> <div class="field-item even"> Scotland </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk UK Scotland Brexit Gerry Hassan Fri, 07 Dec 2018 17:39:46 +0000 Gerry Hassan 120908 at Corbyn isn’t seizing the moment – because his Labour Party simply isn’t radical enough <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>From economic and climate policy, to Brexit and constitutional reform, Corbyn’s Labour doesn’t yet have the depth of ideas to capitalise on the government’s disarray.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="// and team.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="// and team.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Image: Jeremy Corbyn responding to Theresa May's Brexit statement, November 2018. Credit: PA Images, all rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>This should be the moment for Corbyn’s Labour. They face a divided, incompetent Tory Government. A party that has lost nine Cabinet ministers in the last year, which has no domestic agenda to speak of, and is not even bothering with the pretence of a Queen’s Speech.</p> <p>The Government has no direction or purpose, no credo beyond continuing limpet-like in existence, clinging onto office and pursuing the project of Brexit. And yet at this moment of decision, when Labour should be harrying this government and holding them to account on Brexit and more, despite everything it is the Tories who consistently lead Labour in the opinion polls, rather than the other way round.</p> <p>As profoundly, the intellectual climate has turned against mainstream Conservatism, as well as moderate social democracy, opening up the terrain for Corbyn’s Labour.</p> <p>The zeitgeist of the age has finally turned against the assumptions that have dominated British politics for so long. The assertions that markets should be left unfettered, that deregulation is a good thing, that government and the state should just get out of the way of private initiative and believe in the super-rich, that making things doesn’t matter, and that ownership is ultimately just an irrelevance, have all been shown to be bogus.</p> <p>Such dogmas were taken to breaking point, with no area of British public life left unchallenged by it. It resulted in such ridiculous ideas becoming government policy as the belief that it does not matter who owns the key strategic assets of your country - whether nuclear power, nuclear weapon research establishments (Aldermaston), the electricity grid, water in England and Wales, and much more.</p> <p>It took a long while for such a grotesque set of ideas to finally fall apart. It did so on results. After decades of pursuing this dogma modern Britain has been made in its image: the fawning of the super-rich, huge inequalities socially and regionally, average living standards stalling over the last decade, and the trashing of public sector values and ethos. To give an example on the last point the expansion of the university sector on the back of student tuition fees in England, Wales and Northern Ireland has dramatically changed higher education. It has made life good for a new class of super-remunerated Vice-Chancellors, but in England less than half the extra monies have been reinvested in student resources, while UK university borrowing has risen to £12 billion since the financial crash, not withstanding the £105 billion student debt which the state will end up writing off.</p> <p>The evolving Corbyn project has captured some of the anger, rage and discontent which has flowed from this. The party is the largest in Western Europe in membership; it has energy, dynamism and sense of possibility in its younger activists.</p> <p>The party has also disrupted the complacent cosy elite order which emerged post-Thatcherism: the Blair, Brown, Cameron (BBC) consensus which explicitly said this is the way things have to be: that little people outside of the elites have no choice but to knuckle down and show deference at the altar of the market and finance capitalism. It has numerous advocates and proselytisers in the public eye and media, and an emerging infrastructure of initiatives and platforms within and outwith Labour, from Momentum to Novara Media, the Canary, and in old-style media, the re-emergence of the left-wing paper, ‘Tribune’. </p> <p>Yet for all the advantages that Labour has going for it: Tory troubles, the political climate of ideas changing, the bankruptcy of the economic orthodoxies of recent decades, and a mass membership party, something critical is clearly missing in Labour.</p> <p>With the wind blowing in Labour’s sails, what is the nascent Corbyn programme for revitalising Britain – economically, socially and democratically? On the economy, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell talks a radical talk, and occasionally the odd revolutionary soundbite, dreaming of overthrowing capitalism. Reality is somewhat different. McDonnell has supported Tory tax cuts and welfare cuts for the poor. And there is at the core of this – Labour’s economic prospectus – there sits a vacuum.</p> <p>This contrasts unfavourably with the previous period of left dominance in the party: the Bennite insurrection of the 1970s and early 1980s. This saw a mass of policy detail and on the economic front, whether one agreed with it or not, a comprehensive Alternative Economic Strategy (AES) with fleshed out policies and academic and intellectual buy-in from prominent figures. No such detail or comparable coalition building is evident today.</p> <p>The same is true on social policy with instead Corbyn’s Labour offering reassurance and monies to the middle classes and redistributing up the income scale and further away from the poorest. The party has at least made bold statements on environmental policy and climate change, but too much of the Corbyn Labour stance on the wider economy still has a hankering after traditional left economics that believes in growth as the solution.</p> <p>A similar picture can be found in constitutional affairs and the state of democracy in Britain. The UK political system is creeking and falling apart, and yet where is the Corbyn agenda to take that on, knock it down, and build something better? A key issue in the future of democracy is what happens to England - the only nation in the UK which lacks a democratic voice and institution. When I asked in the summer a senior member of Corbyn’s leadership what they were thinking about England, they replied bluntly: ‘We are not doing any thinking on England.’ </p> <p>There is a strange air of conservatism running through Corbynista Labour that undercuts its self-belief in its radicalism and unprecedented scale of its ambition and mission. A more nuanced assessment of Corbyn’s Labour would gauge that its supposed radicalism is not anywhere near as great as its chief advocates like to think. Indeed the Corbyn project in many respects sits within the tradition of Labour insularity and smugness, believing it is the only radical political force of any worth in the UK – hence its patronising attitude towards the SNP, Plaid, Greens and others.</p> <p>The Corbyn project has had little to say about the multiple crises of government, state and public agencies that make up the unhappy state of Britain, and which is also a crisis of the actually existing capitalism, economic and business assumptions, and even, society. The party has it seems no convincing remedy for the hyper-fragmentation of the UK in its nations and regions – or a recognition that the age of the all-powerful, enlightened centralist state are long over. </p> <p>Then there has been the party’s abdication of responsibility leading up to the Brexit referendum and subsequently. Corbyn and McDonnell have managed a policy of constructive ambiguity on Brexit – which seems to amount to saying and standing for as little as possible – building a bridge between Labour’s pro-European sentiments and Corbyn and McDonnell’s Euroscepticism which has ended up offering sustenance to Theresa May and the Tories. This despite Labour members, voters and parliamentarians, all being emphatically pro-EU, pro-single market and customs union, and open to a People’s Vote.</p> <p>On top of this there is a Corbynista complacency and even in places, worse an arrogance. The belief that the party can somehow repeat 2017 is used to excuse Labour’s current poor poll ratings. This states that once the party gets into a future election campaign it can repeat its performance and achievement of the 2017 election, and win significant new support. There is no guarantee of such an outcome and it is unlikely Labour will ever again face a campaign as inept as Theresa May’s last year.</p> <p>Then there are the sweeping assumptions of some of the new Corbynista adherents. Aaron Bastani of Novara Media recently savaged the British Legion and in the run-up to Remembrance Day called the Poppy ‘racist’ and ‘white supremacist’, which is to put it mildly, over the top and counter-productive, and at best, just plain attention-seeking. Owen Jones, ‘Guardian’ columnist, in the last week has railed against what he called the ‘rigged’ electoral system. His basis for this was that on current predictions if Labour won the share of vote it did in 1997 it would win an overall majority of 32, rather than 179. In this he forgot that present day Labour has ‘lost’ Scotland, and taking that into account could produce an overall majority of 102; plus there is the effect of what is a distortive electoral system and how it works in favour of the big parties.</p> <p>There is a wider problem of believing your own hype and soundbites. Too many Corbynistas believe it as self-evident that the existing order is rotten and will just collapse like a house of cards if pushed. One small example in many was provided on the BBC ‘This Week’ last Thursday where the former IPPR economist Grace Blakeley talked of the broken British economic order. She was surprised when challenged by anchor Andrew Neil who asked her to provide details and costings for her policies, and who only offered as a guide the example of the Chinese Communist Party post-crash recovery programme. This is part of a bigger picture: of believing that saying socialism is possible will bring it about: an example of a sort of reverse neo-liberalism of the individual. </p> <p>Add to this the deliberate tribalism which now exists in Labour and on the left. Thus, John McDonnell can say: ‘I could not be friends with a Conservative’. There is a moral superiority in this, creating barriers between a left and those who are not on the left (which is after all most of humanity), and deliberately caricaturing your enemies: the Tories. </p> <p>The Corbynisation of Labour looks more than a transient phenomenon. It looks like a permanent revolution in Labour; a fundamental and irreversible shift in power and influence in the party. There are many positives to this change. It has acted as a disrupter of the way that Britain has been governed and who it is governed for, and our broken economic and political system.</p> <p>We are now over three years into the Corbyn project, and in a comparison Corbynistas would dislike, at this point the Blair New Labour project had won an election, were entering office and about to govern for over a decade. Despite this the Corbyn revolution is a curiously incomplete entity with little fully developed policies, a lot of attitude and self-belief, while being heavy on the rhetoric.</p> <p>On the major issues of the day: the economic and social malaise facing millions in Britain and the reality that the social compact between citizens, government and businesses is bust, Corbyn’s Labour has not much substance to offer. On Brexit, the greatest challenge to British statecraft since the 1930s, the Corbyn leadership has no strategy at all. The Corbyn project is a very English-centric project which is paradoxically silent and saying little on the state of England: that isn’t a feasible proposition for reforming 21st century Britain.</p> <p>No one said radical change in a country like Britain was going to be easy. It isn’t just an establishment stitch-up that there has never been a radical Labour Government: the 1945 Attlee one going with the grain of the Wartime coalition and public opinion. Corbynistas had better wake up to what the Blairites eventually did: that winning the party is one thing, but changing the country is something entirely different.</p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> UK </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item even"> Economics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk Can Europe make it? uk UK Democracy and government Economics climate change Brexit Jeremy Corbyn Labour Party environment Gerry Hassan Fri, 30 Nov 2018 16:53:35 +0000 Gerry Hassan 120786 at Amidst Brexit chaos, Scotland has had enough of ‘grace and favour devolution’ <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Scotland’s soft, determined pro-Europeanism, just like that of Northern Ireland, is seen by Brexit England as just another reason to hold entire nations in contempt.<strong>&nbsp;</strong></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="// walk out.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="// walk out.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="242" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span><em>Image: SNP MPs walk out of Prime Ministers' Questions last week. Credit: PA Images.</em></p> <p>Brexit isn’t going well. Two years after the referendum vote for the UK to leave the EU there is still no agreed plan on what kind of Brexit the UK Government wants. Theresa May’s administration staggers from day to day - too weak to dare to define what it stands for - facing regular crises, critical parliamentary votes and defeats.</p> <p>Last week, after Scottish affairs was reduced to 15 minutes in the House of Commons, the SNP walked out during Prime Minister’s Questions, resulting in much media comment and headlines. But as the immediate shockwaves die down - does any of this have any longer term impact?</p> <p>A short summary of events so far might be helpful. The UK Government’s Brexit plans have consequences for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, with the government meant to consult the three territories on what powers come back to the nations as a result of Brexit. Northern Ireland hasn’t had a devolved government since January 2017; Wales has, after much disquiet, given its agreement, but the Scottish Government and Parliament has not agreed with the latter withholding its consent from Brexit. All parties in the Parliament – SNP, Labour, Lib Dem and Scottish Green – agreed that the Tory form of Brexit is not acceptable – with only Ruth Davidson’s Tories siding with Westminster.</p> <p>The most recent events brought forth in a politics deeply divided about Brexit, let alone different views on Scottish independence, very differing accounts. One school of thought used the above events to opine on how the UK really works. Step forth Tim Shipman, Political Editor of the ‘Sunday Times’, who stated: ‘I’m not clear why Scotland should be regarded as any more important than, say, Manchester?’ Somehow Shipman wasn’t really looking for a crash course in the basic make-up of the UK and its multiple historic unions.</p> <p>Some wanted to use the stramash to tell the Scots to shut up or to poke fun at a ridiculous want to be different. That is a view which ran through much right-wing commentary, and which underlines the threadbare nature of the unionism which proclaims its love of the union but at the same time has got into the habit of disrespecting one of the key members. For example, ‘SNP Stunt Backfires’ said the ‘Scottish Daily Mail’, ‘’Stop Waging War!’ – SNP told to ‘move on’ from Brexit antic after business backlash’ said the ‘Scottish Daily Express’.</p> <p>Another interesting take was to evoke the ‘privileged’ status of Scotland in the union and invite Scots to acknowledge how lucky they have been. Hence, Lloyd Evans in ‘The Spectator’ brought up who has consented and not consented to the present constitutional arrangements. ‘Nobody in England has ever voted for the present system’ wrote Evans, whereas ‘In Scotland, everybody has. Twice.’ </p> <p>Others drag out of the cobwebs vague references to the idea of federalism, which really only amount to mood music and diversionary tactics. The idea of federalism - when it has been serially raised since 2014 and is never accompanied by a plan - is a bit rich. And in the week the author of ‘the Vow’, Murray Foote, ex-editor of the ‘Daily Record’, came out for independence, less and less plausible.</p> <p>Then there is the pro-independence take. Iain Macwhirter in the ‘Sunday Herald’ talked of Theresa May’s Tory Government disrespect of Scotland producing ‘a new unitary state Britain’, a phrase Macwhirter has used before and clearly thinks describes the new constitutional realities being created by Brexit. But last weekend he went much further, describing the Westminster attitude towards devolution as one which represented ‘a kind of colonial authority over the Scottish Parliament’ - which is a bit hyperbolic.</p> <p>More intemperate voices called for quicker progress to another independence referendum. Such views put passion and partisanship above analysis. They also put individual self-interest above wider recognition of the needs of Scotland. Thus, even before last week’s events, one elderly SNP delegate at the party’s conference told Radio Four that he wanted a vote before 2021 - even if it was lost - because ‘I just want to see it decided in my lifetime.’ </p> <p>We are dealing with big issues, and therefore must try and reflect the seriousness of them and the consequences that then emerge. For one there is the issue of Sewel motions - named after Labour Lord Sewel (before the tabloid scandal involving the coke and hookers) - whose proper name is Legislative Consent Motions. These are a typical British fudge: dreamt up as a convention with no legal standing which allows the Scottish Parliament to vote to give permission to Westminster to legislate in devolved areas.</p> <p>The Scottish Parliament has, in its near twenty years of existence, only voted on two occasions to deny Westminster consent – one of which has been over Brexit. Thus the argument that the SNP have been continually looking to fight constitutional battles and aid a culture of grievance isn’t borne out by their actions. The Welsh Assembly has over the course actually been more assertive and withheld consent on more occasions. </p> <p>Secondly, comparisons between the SNP and Irish Nationalists are not helpful. This says a lot about those who are not committed to the Westminster order are seen by the establishment. Pro-union voices who heap praise on Charles Parnell, leader of the Irish Nationalists, and compare him favourably to Ian Blackford, SNP Westminster leader or any other senior Nationalist, have to be taken with a pinch of salt. There is a long tradition of praising yesterday’s rebels and doing so to denigrate and dismiss today’s rebels.</p> <p>Thirdly, the above set of events aren’t quite the simple end of devolution some portray. It is much more complex and unpredictable. Scotland has clearly outgrown the devolution settlement, while England never really understood it or showed that much interest in the finer details. ‘Grace and favour devolution’ - as ‘Political Betting’ writer Alastair Meeks described it this weekend - will not be very acceptable for very long for most of Scotland. </p> <p>Fourthly, some have stated that all this means that Scottish independence is ‘inevitable’. That seems a very big word which should be rarely written about politics. But in the course of the last week the fragmentation and decoupling of the United Kingdom has continued apace. This isn’t a set of events which began with a SNP walkout or even with Brexit. It didn’t even begin when the SNP won office in 2007 or the Scottish Parliament was established in 1999. </p> <p>To give one example, the thinker Tom Nairn penned his classic, ‘The Break-Up of Britain’ in 1977 about the dissolution of a British-wide politics, the rise of ‘four nation’ nationalism, and the impact of the critical European dimension.</p> <p>Nairn understood that one of the driving dimensions in this, as well as Scottish self-government, was the strange case of England: a land which still had a hangover about Empire and reservations about Europe. So it has proven with Brexit. There is a long tail to how we got to this sorry pass which predates Brexit and even devolution, New Labour and Thatcherism. We are dealing with deep-rooted powerful forces here, such as the long-term neglect of the North - and how the City of London and finance capital have ‘crowded out’ other more socially useful productive parts of the economy. </p> <p>There is in Brexit-supporting circles incomprehension at the pro-European state of Scottish politics, public opinion, and even independence. Lloyd Evans characterises the latter as Scotland handing itself over ‘to a continental super-state run by two unelected gravy-guzzlers from Luxembourg and Poland.’ Such sentiments tell us more about the worldview of those saying them than anything about Scotland. But critically, Scotland’s soft, determined pro-Europeanism, just like that of Northern Ireland, is seen as another reason by Brexit England to hold entire nations in contempt.</p> <p>Westminster’s near total indifference to all matters Scottish plays a part in this. Some of the worst advocates for the continuation of the union turn out to be the most committed unionists. David Mundell, Scottish Secretary of State, got in a mess with his semantic unionism explanation of the UK last week saying ‘Scotland is not a partner of the UK, it is part of the UK.’</p> <p>Even more seriously, Westminster just has a tonal deafness with regard to Scotland. No one senior in the government thought that two years into Brexit and a taught European Union (Withdrawal) Bill a fifteen-minute non-debate might be a tad insensitive. This underlines the case that one of the original arguments for devolution was how badly Westminster did accountability and Scottish affairs. Twenty years on this state of affairs has denigrated to farce and being indefensible. </p> <p>It is commonplace to see Brexit as an English phenomenon, but in truth it is only a very partial version of England: a perspective of right-wing populists mixing idealists, ideologues and chancers, who have hitched on a constituency of forgotten England and promised them that the existing way of things would be shaken to the ground. </p> <p>We have to start talking about English nationalism, and maybe most urgently, the English left and Labour need to start talking about those things. When I tweeted polling from Michael Ashcroft which showed that Leave voters prioritised Brexit (63%) ahead of maintaining the union (27%) as proof of English nationalism sentiment behind Brexit, former Labour MP John Denham replied: ‘Blaming ‘English nationalism’ is a way to demonising the English rather than engaging with the English and Englishness.’ I then invited him to agree it was an expression of a certain version of English nationalism and he replied that ‘English nationalism’ was a ‘misleading idea’, without answering why England would be the one country in the world without a nationalism. </p> <p>This is part of an English exceptionalism in the extreme which has contributed to this mess. For those who still want to reverse Brexit, such as a small band of Labour MPs, they need to take into account the wider currents which produced this revolt and understand that however unpleasant they find it things cannot go back to how they were pre-June 2016.</p> <p>The same is true for us living in Scotland. There is no return to the quiet reassuring times before the twin peaks of our two referendum votes. More than that, we face the challenge of living on an island with a dominant version of Britain that the majority of Scots find repugnant and that does not appear to contain any humanity or enlightenment. Add to that mix Brexit, and the insensitivities towards Scotland that it brings, and it follows that this union looks weaker and more in doubt than it ever has been. But we should in this not pretend that Brexit is the cause of our discontent for it is merely the latest symptom of a longer and profound story. </p> <p>We may not yet be on a ‘motorway without exit’ to use Labour rebel Tam Dalyell’s memorable phrase, but the exit points to avoid the final destination of independence are fast being exhausted. And some of the main facilitators of this in the here and now, building on that long decline, are not north of the border, but to be found in continual Westminster indifference and insensitivity and in the narrow Brexit dogma from such English nationalists as Jacob Rees-Mogg, Ian Liddell-Grainger and Nadine Dorries.</p><div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk Gerry Hassan Thu, 21 Jun 2018 14:43:30 +0000 Gerry Hassan 118538 at As Ireland embraces the future, Scottish Nationalists merely embrace the (flawed) present <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p class="noname">On the day Ireland cast its historic vote on abortion, the SNP launched an economic policy that maintains fiscal conservatism – vacating a space which could be inhabited by a more honest, bold and radical independence movement.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="noname"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="// yes.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="// yes.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span><em>Image: Yes Campaigners celebrate the Irish abortion referendum result. Rights: Niall Carson/PA Images. All rights reserved.</em></p><p class="noname">Ireland made international headlines last weekend as the country voted to permit the legalisation of a woman’s right to choose, overturning decades of religious and moral dogma. Meanwhile in less dramatic terms Scotland’s debate on independence and its future has been shaped by the publication of the governing SNP’s Sustainable Growth Commission. The two have similarities in ways neither is aware of.</p> <h2>Ireland’s trust in its own people</h2> <p class="noname">Ireland’s debate was ostensibly about a woman’s right to choose and repealing the Eighth Amendment to the Irish constitution outlawing abortion. But really it was about much more. It was about the legacy of religious intolerance and authoritarianism, choice, respect, citizenship and the prospect of Ireland as a modern country embracing openness and optimism.</p> <p class="noname">Ireland has been through an awful lot in the last decade. ‘The Celtic Tiger’ gave Ireland a swagger and confidence, followed by a decade of retrenchment and national re-examination. This, whilst difficult, has illustrated some of the strengths of Irish society in its adaptability and flexibility, but also its shortcomings as it has put the same flawed economic model back on the road. </p> <p class="noname">With the caveat that in absolute terms more people aged over 65 years voted for repeal than those aged under 25, it is also true in relative terms that younger voters were more pro-choice (under 25s being 87.6% Yes; over 65s 58.7%). The emphatic vote (66.4% Yes; 33.6% No) articulated the hopes of the Generation of 2008 - young people whose lives have been defined and blighted by the global crash, and saddled with massive debts, restricted employment and housing choices. The campaign and its result showed the optimism and belief of this generation in the possibility that Ireland can be remade in a way that respects and understands their needs. That is what is possible when there is a deep-seated degree of trust in the democratic process: the referendum being part of a longer deliberative process, alongside a campaign where the dirty tricks of the manipulators did not prevail.</p> <p class="noname">Fintan O’Toole, one of the most astute observers on Ireland as well as on the UK post-Brexit, wrote in the Irish Times the immediate aftermath of the vote: </p> <p class="noname"><em>This referendum was a collective act of letting go, the end of a very long goodbye. Three years ago, when the results of the same sex marriage referendum came in, it felt like a big Irish wedding. This time, it feels more like a wake - albeit one of those wakes where most people do not bother to hide their disdain for the deceased. For something has undoubtedly died.</em></p> <p class="noname">This death was ‘the end of Irish exceptionalism’ – and is part of the final parts of a jigsaw that are transforming Ireland into a normal country. This may sound boring and humdrum to some. But in comparison to where Ireland has come from historically - brutal British repression, a war of independence followed by civil war, and then decades of religious authoritarianism, it is cause for celebration.</p> <h2>Scotland’s Growth Commission and its aftermath</h2> <p class="noname">Life is a little less dramatic in Scotland, but we still face big choices. On the same day as Ireland’s momentous vote the SNP’s Growth Commission, chaired by former SNP MSP and economist Andrew Wilson, was published.</p> <p class="noname">Set up by Nicola Sturgeon in September 2016 in light of the Brexit vote the Commission was tasked with coming up with an economic case for independence which was robust and that answered the weaknesses of 2014. In so doing, it has taken North Sea Oil out of the equation, come up with a position on the currency which is different from four years ago and made a pro-immigration case. More fundamentally, the entire report across its 354 pages is honest in admitting that the early years of independence will be tough, involving difficult choices and fiscal challenges. Such an admission was missing four years ago.</p> <p class="noname">The report has certainly sparked an intense debate about independence. Thus, a host of high profile opinion formers have applauded its clarity. Harry Burns, former Chief Medical Officer, commented that ‘the implications of the report are elegant, middle of the road and inclusive’. Historian Tom Devine hailed the commission as ‘convincing intellectually’ on the economy, while writer and commentator Will Hutton observed that the ‘work of the commission would have strengthened the Yes campaign in 2014.’ </p> <p class="noname">The left-wing case for independence felt betrayed and angry. Commentator Iain Macwhirter led the denouncements, arguing that the plan ‘made Nicola Sturgeon sound as if she is an advocate of austerity.’ Economist Katherine Trebeck noted that the report had a narrow perspective of growth, embracing the idea that ‘no stone will not be unturned in the pursuit of growth’, while ‘the way the environment is talked about … the business environment, the financial environment .... wasn’t even talking about nature and the planet.’ Author and rapper Darren McGarvey (aka Loki) concluded that the report forced him to reappraise his politics: ‘But if social justice is the objective, as well as a rejection of austerity as an ideology, then this report, which largely accepts the precepts that gives rise to it, forces me to consider my priorities as a citizen – not just as a member of a political movement.’</p> <p class="noname">The honesty within parts of the Growth Commission has to be welcomed. The economic illiteracy and belief that everything would just turn Scotland’s way aided by chutzpah and North Sea Oil found in the Salmond White Paper of 2013 is now thankfully nowhere to be found.</p> <p class="noname">The report takes aim at the illusions in certain circles, which were nurtured in the indyref, that somehow Scotland could financially and politically challenge the entire global capitalist system, finance capital and the forces of neo-liberalism. It also drives a horse and carriage through the belief that austerity can be opposed just by assertion and resisting Westminster Tory or Labour policies.</p> <p class="noname">It isn’t then surprising that the left populist case for independence – from the likes of the Radical Independence Campaign and Common Weal - are disillusioned by this SNP prospectus for independence. But this report isn’t aimed at convincing them. In fact it is aimed at them only in as much as it is happy to challenge their delusions and invite their opposition, in part offering differentiation to the independence cause.</p> <p class="noname">Instead, Wilson’s plan is focused on floating voters, as well as business and institutional opinion. It recognises that the sovereigntists, leftists and those who want a complete break with the British state, do not produce a pathway to a majority. It is aimed at ‘middle Scotland’ – those in the middle and working classes with secure employment, incomes and prospects who have yet to be convinced by independence.</p> <p class="noname">There are questions which the commission hasn’t managed to answer convincingly. The idea that an independent Scotland would retain sterling as its currency for at least a decade brings with it a downside. It means that an independent Scotland would abdicate having its own monetary policy and would instead give it over to the Bank of England and Treasury. Thus, Scotland couldn’t set its own interest rates and would be constrained in its fiscal autonomy by the decisions of another country. Andrew Wilson has made great play of the fact that the UK is the most unequal country regionally in the OECD – but a significant part of the reason for this has been the economic orthodoxies of the Treasury and Bank of England, which the commission wishes to retain.</p> <p class="noname">The commission may be an improvement on the 2013 White Paper on currency, but only marginally. Paradoxically, then and now the SNP version of independence proposes to forego real independence for the foreseeable future in the pursuit of stability and reassurance. One day in the years ahead the SNP will eventually come round to a version of economic and monetary independence - while others such as the Scottish Greens and Common Weal have already arrived. There is also nothing on redistribution, no ideas from the labour and trade union movement, and no addressing of EU membership and Brexit. There isn’t even any connection to areas where the Scottish Government is trying to be innovative such as a National Investment Bank.</p> <p class="noname">There is another related issue. Many independence supporters want a referendum as soon as possible even if that risks losing it: an argument put by the likes of Kevin McKenna and Pat Kane. The SNP leadership has not openly communicated its intentions, or dared to stand down such impatient, counter-productive politics.</p> <p class="noname">Nicola Sturgeon is promising to ‘restate’ the independence argument over the coming months and in the autumn come back with thoughts on another indyref as the Brexit endgame becomes clearer. The weakness with this is that Sturgeon knows that the UK Government will not allow an official, legal vote now, and she will not sanction an unofficial Scottish vote after the previous Westminster approved one, noting that there is no independence majority at the moment. </p> <p class="noname">Therefore, there is an argument that leading the independence troops up the hill to march them down again is bluff. Sturgeon is talking about another indyref, knowing one will not happen and not fully believing in it herself. The only motivations in such manoeuvres are to keep the base happy and to try, when Westminster blocks any move, to make the argument about democracy and Scotland’s right to choose, laying the groundwork for the 2021 elections. This does not exactly seem like straightforward politics or leadership.</p> <p class="noname">Yet despite its limitations the Growth Commission feels like a significant report. Scotland isn’t exactly awash with internationally referenced economic analysis and this has supplied it in spades. It has embraced conventional economics to make the case for independence, shown the unrealistic nature of many left-wing arguments for independence, and by its fiscal conservatism and maintenance of the pound, vacated a political space which could be inhabited by a more honest, bold and radical independence, which could come from the likes of the Scottish Greens and others. The report just does not feel like it is about Scotland’s future; whereas Ireland’s democratic spirit feels like it is very much of the future.</p> <h2>Becoming a normal country and living in colour</h2> <p class="noname">What the Growth Commission has in common with Ireland’s historic vote is the desire of many independence supporters for Scotland to be a normal country - self-governing, modern, democratic and outward looking. Ireland has managed to progress to this by a circuitous route and Scotland may get there soon. However, while this may appear a revolutionary politics in contrast to the self-harm and faith-based delusion of Brexit, on its own Scotland becoming a normal country doesn’t quite seem enough or seal the deal. Unlike Ireland, Scotland doesn’t come from the shadows of oppression or experience of inhumane colonialism, and so while there has been a maturing by the commission publication, we still need to ask: independence for what? What kind of Scotland do we want to be? Here the commission’s acceptance of the world as it currently is, is a problem.</p> <p class="noname">Ireland’s debate and vote ended decades of having to be careful what you said and what you wished for in public. The Irish broke with decades of silence and acknowledged those silences and hurt. Scotland doesn’t have any issue as totemic and defining as abortion and the weight of religious authority, but there are some commonalities. Fintan O’Toole concluded his essay the day after the vote stating:</p> <p class="noname"><em>We have decided not to think in black and white anymore. Now we have to decide whether to subside into greyness or to replace that old monochrome with new colours of justice, decency and inclusion.</em></p> <p class="noname">That is a big change. It is walking into a different future and nation. And that, in less dramatic terms, is what Scotland also has to do. We have to learn not to be defined by our differences, and what tribe we belong to, and to work out what beyond independence we agree on - even when we disagree on the constitutional way to it. We too have to decide whether we want to live in colour. </p><div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk Gerry Hassan Fri, 01 Jun 2018 15:02:57 +0000 Gerry Hassan 118203 at Enoch Powell’s ghost and bigotry still haunt modern Britain <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>We are better than Enoch Powell – but, as recent events show, not by as much as we think.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="// (2).jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="// (2).jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="304" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span><em>Image: Enoch Powell, <a href="">Allan Warren/Wikimedia</a>, Creative Commons.</em></p><p>To mark its 50th anniversary, on Saturday the BBC controversially broadcast&nbsp;Enoch Powell’s infamous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech in full for the first time, recreated by actor Ian McDiarmid.</p> <p>Powell, then Tory MP for Wolverhampton South West and Shadow Secretary of Defence, argued the case that immigration from the Commonwealth was irreversibly changing Britain for the worse. His speech took place only days after Martin Luther King had been assassinated.</p> <p>So what of the BBC programme, Archive on Four, itself? It included numerous critical voices. But it opened with presenter (and BBC Media Editor) Amol Rajan describing Powell as a ‘titan’ - and one of the great post-war politicians in Britain, alongside Clement Attlee, Roy Jenkins and Margaret Thatcher. Powell’s official biographer Simon Heffer then called him ‘a great national statesman.’ </p> <p>Labour MP David Lammy, referring to Powell’s incendiary prediction that “the black man will have the whip hand”, said the language was that of “slavery reversed”. Former Tory MP Matthew Parris thought that the speech was “intemperate” and filled with “evident racism”. Former Labour MP Peter Hain observed that the continual use of ‘classical language’ (the speech notoriously ended with Powell invoking Virgil, ‘Aeneid’ and the destruction of Rome with the river Tiber “foaming with much blood”) gave “a cloak of legitimacy” to racism. Simon Heffer did try to make the pro-Powell argument that he was “not making a racist speech”, but all the evidence wise suggested this is exactly what it was – a racist speech, filled with hate and a lack of the most basic humanity for the people he was describing as the problem.</p> <p>Much that was important was left unsaid. One such area was the extent to which Powell’s othering of fellow British citizens and racial paranoia had a distinctively English dimension. This seemed one of the great questions left untouched in the programme. Was Powell tapping into and articulating a very English story and one which had deep roots in the English imagination, a yearning not only for the return of the nation, but for Empire and imperialism. After all, Powell was questioning US intentions, as well as European ones.</p> <p>This terrain and Powell’s pursuit of dogmatic logic led him into blind corners – in 1970 he argued that West Indians and Asians could not be English, saying “The West Indian or Asian does not, by being born in England, become an Englishman.” This is even more of a race barrier than Norman Tebbit’s cricket text of Englishness. It’s explicitly about whiteness and undoubtedly a racist argument.</p> <p>One defence of Powell at the time was that the views he expressed had popular resonance, with 1,000 dockers marching on Parliament and 20,000 letters received within days. Reality pointed to a more complex situation. A ‘Panorama’ survey in 1968 of ‘white voters’ found 82% wanted further controls on immigration; 74% agreed with voluntary repatriation but only 35% thought repatriation should be compulsory; and 55% thought that Powell has worsened race relations. </p> <p>50 years on, Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ future has not materialized in Britain, and his deep racial and cultural pessimism has been shown to be wrong. For all the divisions and injustices of contemporary Britain, we are much more at ease with race, ethnicity and multi-culturalism than his apocalyptic vision foretold. A contemporary survey for British Future found 91% of people felt comfortable if their work colleagues were of a different race, and 81% felt comfortable if a boyfriend/girlfriend of one of their children was of a different race and 19% uncomfortable. The highest ‘Powellite’ figure was the 21% uncomfortable with the idea of a UK Prime Minister of a different race, with 79% comfortable.</p> <p>Where Powell was a political pioneer was in what became known as Thatcherism. Margaret Thatcher often acknowledged the debt and influence she owed to Powell as an intellectual, and his role in creating some of the wider climate which allowed her ideas to take root and revolution to succeed. Thatcherism in many respects was Powellism minus the incendiary language and obsession with race. </p> <p>Then there’s his most notable legacy: Brexit. Powell’s worldview was of an United Kingdom self-governing, expressing the maximum possible national sovereignty, and divorced from the EU. In this Powell was the father of the Eurosceptic tradition that has produced Michael Gove, Boris Johnson, Daniel Hannan, Nigel Farage and others, who have articulated a fraudulent, mythical and unachievable interpretation of sovereignty. What the likes of Farage have done, more effectively than Powell, is to effectively marry together the two parts of the message: sovereignty and paranoid anxieties about immigration, as exemplified by the slogan ‘Taking Back Control’ and the ‘Breaking Point’ poster. Brexit supporters have sadly succeeded in their championing of a simplistic binary identity - either/or, British or European - with long lasting detrimental consequences. </p> <p>It says much about contemporary Britain’s tensions and pressure points that the broadcast of the Powell speech caused such a furore. Andrew Adonis, Labour peer, even went as far as to state that Ofcom should intervene and instruct the BBC not to broadcast the speech on the grounds that it is ‘incendiary and racist’. Even if the programme were to be as Adonis described, would anyone really want to live in a country where the BBC could be told what to and what not to broadcast by a regulator?</p> <p>The weeks leading up to the anniversary of the Powell speech have also illustrated the strength of reactionary, exclusionary Britain. A national scandal has exploded about Home Office intentions to deport people who have lived decades in this country. These are people who have lived two to three generations in the UK, and whose only ‘failing’ is that they are the Windrush immigrants who came to the UK from Caribbean from 1948 onward and were subsequently given an automatic permanent right to remain. Now the Home Office has decided that people who have contributed all their adult working lives to the UK are not ‘British’.</p> <p>This has brought outrage from many people including twelve Caribbean Commonwealth High Commissioners who signed a joint statement of protest, asked for a meeting with Downing Street, and who were publically refused until it was politically too costly to resist. Who would have thought modern Britain and its government could stoop so low? Would Powell have objected to this amorality or embraced it as the logical consequence of his racial obsessions and lack of humanity? I think anyone being honest can work out where Powell’s argument would take him.</p> <p>Some of the rage against the BBC over its decision to profile this speech was misplaced, but there is a strange thinking in giving such airtime to one infamous speech which turned out to be so wrong and to give it a special status which other more influential speeches haven’t been awarded. Political speeches such as Nye Bevan on Labour setting up the NHS in 1948, Harold Wilson and ‘the white heat of the scientific revolution’ and ‘the new Britain’ of 1963, or Margaret Thatcher and her ‘the lady’s not for turning’ speech of 1981, are all if not more noteworthy, certainly more influential and succeeded in remaking the political mood. </p> <p>The Britain portrayed by Powell in his ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech never came about or even near, but the debate about its anniversary and the ‘Archive on 4’ programme, tells us that something is amiss which should concern us all. We have lost the ability to argue, debate and define the limits of permissible debate, with different sides trying to delegitimise political opponents: take the example of the heat both the BBC and Channel 4 News (and presenter Cathy Newman) faced over giving a platform to Canadian controversialist Jordan Peterson (as well as the sexist abuse Newman faced for daring to challenge Peterson). </p> <p>While we like to think we have matured and are more attuned to sensitive language than the Britain of 1968, we still live in a culture which tolerates and excuses racism. In Powell’s infamous speech he shamefully described black children in Wolverhampton as “wide-grinning piccaninnies”. But the current UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has also spoken of “flag-waving piccaninnies with watermelon smiles” – yet he is still defended by his supporters. On BBC Question Time last Thursday, UK Government minister Jo Johnson (brother to Boris), in response to being challenged by The Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland about these remarks of Boris’s, said that his brother “does not have a racist bone in his body”. Such is the way we all to this day are diminished by apologies for racism.</p> <p>Powell’s speech still touches difficult issues. We have changed - but not as much as some like to imagine. We still live in the shadow of Powell’s racism and lack of humanity and still have to grow up and learn how to deal with difference and race. This feels like an uncomfortable and pessimistic truth. We are better than Enoch Powell, but not by as much as we think.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/sara-el-harrak/windrush-generation-and-long-history-of-not-being-quite-british-enough">The Windrush generation and the long history of not being quite ‘British’ enough</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ournhs/erin-dexter/making-nhs-hostile-environment-for-migrants-demeans-our-country">Making the NHS a “hostile environment” for migrants demeans our country</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/theresa-may-s-hostile-immigration-regime-destroys-another-british-family">Theresa May’s hostile immigration regime destroys another family</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ourkingdom/radhika-natarajan/ties-of-blood-how-thatcher-altered-british">Ties of blood: how Thatcher altered &#039;British&#039;</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/austerity-media/liz-fekete/flying-nativist-flag">Flying the nativist flag</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/shinealight/usman-sheikh/theresa-mays-dangerous-record-on-immigration">Theresa May&#039;s dangerous record on immigration</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/uk-government-must-stop-detaining-lgbtqi-people-fleeing-persecution">The UK government must stop detaining LGBTQI+ people fleeing persecution</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk Gerry Hassan Thu, 19 Apr 2018 08:20:15 +0000 Gerry Hassan 117385 at As Brexit Britain heads for the rocks what does Corbyn’s Labour stand for? <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>At the most perilous time for the UK geopolitically since the 1930s, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are flying blindfold into the approaching storm.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="// scotland 2.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="// scotland 2.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="230" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span><em>Image: The Peak of Strife (Sgurr na Stri), <a href="">John McSporran/Flickr</a>, Creative Commons.</em></p><p>The diminished global status of Britain and our future post-Brexit has been on display in the last few days. The attempted murder of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia and the possible role of Russian authorities; the visit of the Saudi Arabian Crown Prince, and the continued saga of Donald Trump’s unpredictable, erratic Presidency from trade wars to his state visit, all illustrate the challenges a diminished UK will face in the aftermath of Brexit.</p> <p>Twenty-one months on from the Brexit vote we have no clear plan or detail from the UK Government. Indeed, the kind of Brexit and Britain which the UK Government represents is nothing more than a sketch and vague principles, much to the increasing consternation of the EU and the remaining 27 nation-states.</p> <p>Brexit is full of contradictions, tensions and paradoxes. Can the fabled Tory Party with its reputation for statecraft really be reduced to its current incompetence and divisions? Decades of Tory appeasement of Euroscepticism culminated in David Cameron’s pledge in 2013 to hold an in/out referendum – a pledge he thought he would never have to deliver. His subsequent failed attempts to secure renegotiated terms of EU membership – echoes of Harold Wilson in 1975 – were followed by the subsequent referendum campaign and Brexit triumph. </p> <p>Mirroring Tory predicaments on Brexit have been the evasions of the Labour leadership – who in Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell have historically been associated with Euroscepticism and anti-EU attitudes. They were went missing in the EU referendum with a position which can only be described as destructive ambiguity – whereby via conscious evasion they contributed to the undermining and defeat of the pro-EU campaign.</p> <p>Corbyn’s Brexit evasions have seen Labour at points indistinguishable from the Tories – painfully so, at points when the Tories have been on the rocks and Labour has refused to supply the knockout blow. Labour did not advocate membership of the customs union and single market in the 2017 UK election (instead talking of ‘the benefits’ of both, not membership). It aligned itself with the Tory version of Brexit which has emerged since the 2016 referendum. </p> <p>This position has caused much soul searching in Labour – from Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Stammer to members and voters. <a href="">71% of Labour voters currently believe that Brexit is wrong</a> and a mere 21% think it right. Research by Queen Mary University showed that <a href="">87% of Labour members support the UK continuing to be a member of the single market</a> - and 85% of the customs union. </p> <p>A couple of weeks ago Corbyn made a much-trailed speech shifting Labour policy &nbsp;to <a href="">support for post-Brexit continued membership of a customs union</a>: a position which gave Labour greater flexibility and the potential for more differentiation from the Tories. Yet, recent polling by YouGov put support for Theresa May’s Brexit position on 35% (41% opposed), while a mere 24`% supported Corbyn’s new stance, compared to 43% opposed. </p> <p>Corbyn reiterated his Brexit viewpoint at last weekend’s Scottish Labour conference in Dundee – as did the party’s new leader Richard Leonard (its ninth since the establishment of the Scottish Parliament in 1999). What caused even more controversy was the party’s attempts to <a href="">rule out a debate and vote on the single market</a>, despite several resolutions being submitted. Rather a Scottish Labour Executive motion was presented which restated existing policy and which was overwhelmingly passed.</p> <p>Labour speakers including former Scottish leader Kezia Dugdale and Scottish Labour MP Ian Murray expressed their opposition, and their concerns about Corbyn’s language on restricting immigration after Brexit. Dugdale said of Labour’s failure to be pro-immigration, <a href="">“Every day we fail to do that is a day in which Nigel Farage and his kin get up smiling.”</a></p> <p><strong>Corbyn, Labour and Brexit Now</strong></p> <p>Labour’s current Brexit position only makes sense in the context of Corbyn and McDonnell’s long held Euroscepticism. It ignores the position of party voters and members, and where the most damage to the Tories could be inflicted. Kirsty Hughes, Director of the Scottish Centre on European Relations, remarks that Corbyn’s “current position is either a genuine ‘cake and eat it’ one where he anticipates getting a range of opt-outs from issues ranging from state aids to free movement.”</p> <p>The Corbyn leadership has shown in its two and a half years a degree of tactical adroitness and flexibility which has surprised many, supporters and opponents alike. Some left-wing Eurosceptics regard the EU as so compromised by neo-liberalism, free marketism and finance capitalism, that they regard the Corbyn leadership as insufficiently questioning of the entire European project. But the majority of the party stand for a pro-EU stance: one which has gone unheard thanks to the current leadership.</p> <p>This has consequences for all sorts of progressive politics, the economy and society, says Hughes: “Being in a customs union on its own will help but not fully solve the Irish border problem. It will do nothing to protect the UK’s services sector – only the single market can do that.”</p> <p>The supposed logic of Corbyn’s Brexit position beyond the tactical is that being free of the EU and its shackles will allow for widespread nationalisation, state subsidies and planning of the economy. Yet, apart from the charge that all of these left aspirations remain generalities without detailed left plans, it is mere conjecture that left transformative policies remain incompatible with membership of the EU. </p> <p>Corbyn’s left politics are shaped by the 1970s and this is as true of the EU and how he sees the United Kingdom. Anthony Barnett, author of ‘The Lure of Greatness’, takes the view of Corbyn and his left-wing Bennite views that: ‘Corbyn’s Bennism means he can see the democratic potential of Brexit in a way few can. But today even Tony Benn would recognise that this can only be realised within the EU, by unleashing the constitutional revolution Benn was among the first to spell out - such is the UK's economic interweaving with the continent.’</p> <p><strong>The Lingering Influence of Left Labourism</strong></p> <p>Pivotal to this is the traditional Labour left position of believing in the British state as an agent of change and the politics of grabbing control of the levers of government and using them to drive through centralising, uniform change. This is because Corbyn and the Labour left for all their posturing are actually supporters of labourism: the idea of a monopoly Labour Party with a minority popular base ramming through change. </p> <p>This attitude can be seen in how Labour sees other progressive forces to this day. <em>The Guardian</em> columnist and Corbyn advocate Owen Jones <a href="">made the case for the Green Party becoming an affiliate of the Labour Party</a> in the way the Co-operative Party is. He magnified his mistake of thinking all roads lead to Labour by not recognising that there is no British Green Party and that he was talking about the Green Party of England and Wales. He stated that ‘it would unite the British left under one banner’ within Labour – ignoring the SNP, Plaid Cymru and Scottish Greens; he subsequently noted part of his error changing ‘British’ to ‘English and Welsh’ in the online version. </p> <p>As Barnett states, while the UK, world economy, capitalism, politics and power have dramatically changed, the Corbyn leadership way of thinking about these things hasn’t: “Some of those around Corbyn, are enamoured of a pre-Bennite top-down ‘British socialism’. This draws directly from the mythology of Labour, labourism and the party’s left-wing version of this: stressing the folklore of 1945, the importance of one party Labour Government, British exceptionalism, and the misapprehension that Labour is a unique, radical party compared to its continental allies.</p> <p>Underneath this there are even more deep-rooted challenges. Just as Theresa May’s Brexit problems stem from the crisis of ‘the conservative nation’ of Tory Britain, so Corbyn’s manoeuvrings illuminate the tensions and fault lines within was Labour Britain.</p> <p>The current conundrums facing Theresa May and British Conservatism are amplified by their failure to understand modern Britain and articulate a Tory unionism which grasps the multi-national, multi-cultural dynamic nature of the UK. The Tory lack of sensitivity and political intelligence displayed towards Scotland and Wales over Brexit, as well as their ineptitude in relation to Northern Ireland power-sharing, combines with their unholy alliance with the Democratic Unionists. It portrays a Tory version of the union which isn’t in good shape. This also underlines the extent to which Brexit is about English discontents about the modern world, and a very narrow, intolerant English idea of Britain. </p> <p>Labour’s predicaments are as profound. While Blair and Brown’s New Labour identified with the global Britain of ‘winners’, and then attempted to take the party’s historic constituencies with it in the North of England, Scotland and Wales, Corbyn’s Labour have gone back to an unreflective version of Britain and Britishness. What age, past, present or future Britain, is Corbyn representing? The lack of clarity, mix of nostalgia and rejection of the recent past means none of this is clear. </p> <p>These are high-wire political times. The Brexit stakes could not be more dramatic, yet both Conservatives and Labour for differing reasons have chosen to fudge the big strategic choices which face the country. The British political elite comfort themselves that the story of the UK - despite Thatcherism, power imbalances, the banking crash and Brexit - is one of stability and sensibility. <a href="">Hugo Rifkind writing in <em>The Times</em></a><em> </em>this week thinks the UK will prove immune from the Trump-Steve Bannon revolution: “Britain doesn’t warm to political upheaval. Historically speaking, we like things to run a little more smoothly. We behead kings and then think better of it …” This after all has been the ruling class take of Britain down through the ages, and it has served them well, but now in the midst of populist revolts, political discontent and disruption, it looks complacent.</p> <p>Other forms of denial can be easily identified. For some in the centrist consensual wings of both major parties and the Lib Dems, there is a yearning that we can turn the clock back after Brexit and normal service will be resumed. But that mistakes the underlying reasons which contributed to making Brexit possible which go way beyond the actual issue.</p> <p>There is no prospect, daunting though this may be, to return to calmer, more predictable times. Brexit was an unleashing of an anger and resentment against the political order and establishment, and so far the Corbyn leadership haven’t shown the courage and conviction to showcase the radical politics they claim to represent. But that is true of the entire British political class and establishment. At the most perilous time for the UK geopolitically since the 1930s the country is flying blindfold into the impending blizzard. Who knows what shape our politics, society and nations of the UK will come out, but it won’t look anything like the past or present.</p><div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk Gerry Hassan Fri, 16 Mar 2018 12:14:51 +0000 Gerry Hassan 116690 at From charity scandals to university strikes - what does it take to be a good organisation? <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The cultures of markets, missionaries and Millbank-era spin are tainting previously trusted organisations. But there are alternatives.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="308" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span><em>Image: Edinburgh University, <a href="">Flickr/StephenGG</a>, Creative Commons license.</em></p><p>The last few weeks have seen huge controversies surround the charity organisations Oxfam and Save the Children. In both, senior men have been accused of acting inappropriately; in the case of Oxfam, involving the grotesque spectacle of Haitian disaster survivors being sexually exploited.</p> <p>Whilst the <a href="">right-wingers predictably tried to capitalise on the controversy to undermine the aid budget</a>, the response from the aid sector (particularly Oxfam) has been <a href="">slow, bewildered, and insufficiently contrite</a>. The issue has highlighted how aid agencies have become mini empires, sometimes shaped by paternalism and the idea that they know best. These modern day missionary attitudes have been exacerbated by the cult of leadership and managerialism in many big charities, and by the adoption of modern business practice. </p> <p>At Save the Children, both former CEO Justin Forsyth and his former number two Brendan Cox (husband of the murdered Labour MP Jo Cox) were products of the New Labour era of spin doctors and advisers. This was an age of arrogant, abrasive men in “The Thick of It” style operations, who had (in the culture of New Labour) few limits on their behaviour. This was a culture after all which produced Alastair Campbell and Damian McBride. </p> <p>The skills gained in the black arts of New Labour seemed transferrable. People have been parachuted into senior positions running complex national and international organisations, bringing with them an apparent sense of entitlement and limitless possibilities.</p> <p>An even bigger conundrum raised by these controversies is – what exactly constitutes a good organisation in the modern age?</p> <p>Once upon a time many of us were sure we know the answer to this. Good organisations included most public services - from the council to education, health, law and order and the BBC. Now <a href="">we aren’t so sure even of the public sector</a>, although the NHS still has - in Scotland at least - high records of trust and satisfaction.</p> <p>Big voluntary organisations have become in many cases <a href="">extensions of the state and reliant on competing for government contracts</a>, but still command confidence: a recent Scottish survey gave them <a href="">73% trust rating, down from 83% the previous year</a>. But <a href="">trust in business has seen a far steeper decline</a>, following the banking crash and the insensitivity and self-interest of too many of those at the top of business. The huge salaries – such as the £3.48 million earned by its Chief Executive Ross McEwan, sit ill alongside the past errors and <a href="">deceptions</a>, which he’s been slow to apologise for. &nbsp;</p> <p>This sort of thinking has poisoned large numbers of public institutions that the public used to respect, too. One example much in the headlines has been that of universities and the pay of Vice-Chancellors. The new Vice-Chancellor of Edinburgh University, <a href="///C:/Users/Caroline/Downloads/Peter%20Mathieson%20salary:%20http:/">Peter Mathieson, identified as the most highly paid in Scotland</a>, in his first year pockets an impressive £342,000 plus £42,000 in pension contributions and £26,000 in relocation costs. Previously that honour was held by <a href="">Jim McDonald, Vice-Chancellor of Strathclyde</a> who earned £360,000, alongside such goodies as the use of a £1.18 million townhouse with a £300,000 refurbishment. </p> <p>Even this only touches the surface of what is going wrong. <a href="">Glasgow Caledonian University for example have spent £11.5 million</a> of public monies on their white elephant New York operation which has taken years to get US certification and has only a handful of students. Typical of the age we live in is the attitude of that once respected and loved organisation, the <a href="">Open University, with its head, Peter Horrocks, suggesting that he deserved his £360,000 salary because he had to sack so many colleagues</a>. Such is the context of the current <a href="">dispute between universities and their lecturers over savage cuts</a> to pension rights. Analysis by the Labour Party has shown that while <a href="">Vice-Chancellor remuneration packages have increased since 2010 by 227%</a>, university basic salaries have risen by 19%.</p> <p>Such insensitive attitudes raise public ire. The backlash means it cannot go on indefinitely, partly because in the cases of university heads their salaries are taxpayer funded. But even in the case of private enterprise such as banking (leaving aside RBS being part state owned), these organisations are ultimately accountable to us, and if they lose respect, people will eventually take their custom elsewhere.</p> <p>What exactly are the characteristics which make a good organisation in this present climate? I think we know such bodies when we come across them, and they are often grassroots initiatives with a strong sense of place and locale, and of mission and founding leadership. Examples that spring to mind include the inspirational Galgael in Govan, Glasgow, aiding long-term unemployed to learn craft, carpentry and ancient shipbuilding skills; and Govanhill Baths on the city’s southside, who took back the building from the council and have turned it into a thriving, vibrant community centre.</p> <p>There is the example of the Sistema project with the Big Noise Orchestra who began in the Raploch estate, Stirling, and now work in Govanhill, Glasgow, Torry, Aberdeen and Douglas, Dundee. And there is the much-lauded work of the Violence Reduction Unit, beginning in Glasgow, but now national, tackling first gang and knife crime, and then spreading out to mentoring and support.</p> <p>What unites these examples (and there are many more) is how human, adaptable and difficult to pigeonhole each are. Each began as a reactive response to a set of local circumstances, and emerged because there was a problem, a need, or a vacuum. The leadership that emerged in each wasn’t traditional, nor was it shaped by the cultures that have taken over too many charities and voluntary organisations. It was less status driven and formal, but instead mobilising and often with a charismatic and ad hoc element. Maybe in several of the above, they will morph into something different as they grow older and more established.</p> <p>The rolling out of business-speak and practice across organisations – from the ubiquitous MBAs, to the discombobulated language and the arms race of salaries and perks at the top, hasn’t enhanced the performance of customer facing side of such bodies, whether private, public or voluntary. While this can all be seen as manifestations of the economic spirit of zombie capitalism there is also the problem of how to challenge, speak out and break the silence, particularly when the organisations are seen to represent a greater good. </p> <p>Both Oxfam and Save the Children attempted to keep these controversies out of the public eye, to defend their reputation and good work. This comes close to believing in your own virtue and the dangerous quicksand of moral bargaining. And it shows that being an organisation doing good is never on its own enough, and that the notion of good has to be lived, stated and restated every day, holding your actions up to accountability and public scrutiny. It was ever thus, but such basics seem to be increasingly beyond people at the top of too many of our biggest organisations.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/phil-vernon/what-s-it-all-about-oxfam">What’s it all about, Oxfam?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/what-s-to-be-done-with-oxfam">What’s to be done with Oxfam?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/christine-berry/uss-is-tip-of-iceberg-our-pensions-system-is-hot-mess">USS is the tip of the iceberg. Our pensions system is a hot mess</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk Gerry Hassan Mon, 05 Mar 2018 12:22:07 +0000 Gerry Hassan 116467 at Scottish nationalists must stop telling themselves comforting stories as Brexit unfolds <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>It's time to stop the politics of passivity and ask some difficult questions about the SNP and independence.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="// scotland uig.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="// scotland uig.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span><em>Image: Pro-independence sign in Uig. <a href=""></a>, Creative Commons.</em></p><p>‘<a href="">What Do You Do When A Society Lies to Itself</a>?’ asked writer Umair Haque this week in the context of the constitutional standoff in Trump’s America. But it is true of most nations most of the time; certainly it is true of today’s UK - and of modern Scotland.</p> <p>Scottish politics are currently in a phoney war - a becalmed period of inertia and inactivity in-between the storms that buffet politics. Everyone is waiting to see how Brexit pans out. This is central to how the SNP and Scottish Government see things. They are sitting, anticipating the debris that flows from Brexit and the implications for independence. Unfortunately, this is a politics of passivity, and even of acceptance, that others (the UK Government, EU negotiators) will determine the political environment.</p> <p>Added to this, since the indyref, a problematic mix of complacency, and even self-deception, has befallen too many independence supporters. For example, the SNP leadership has failed to grasp the political momentum post-2014. Nicola Sturgeon has not made one strategic gambit since the indyref and her election as SNP leader and First Minister - beyond her March 2017 attempt to advance a second indy referendum, in which she was out-manoeuvred by Theresa May and the UK Government.</p> <p>Scotland’s referendum was a great moment in our politics - a democratic explosion, an expression of the democratic intellect, and a mass exercise in political education the like of which our country has never previously seen. It is unfortunate then that some SNP and indy supporters seem to regard this as a one-off, as if this political mobilisation and education was the zenith - rather than a continuous exercise that never ends, questioning and challenging all orthodoxies.</p> <p>Too much time since 2014 has been spent telling comforting stories. These include that the 45% of the indyref is only a base camp of support and that the only way is up in any future campaign. But there is no iron law of electoral support for any cause – independence included. </p> <p>Then there are the glaring omissions: the absence in public and private of any proper post-mortem on why Yes lost, and the failure to put together a new improved independence prospectus. And with all these missing elements the SNP Growth Commission, headed up by Andrew Wilson, has come to be seen as the answer to some of the main strategic concerns – namely, currency, growth and economic concerns. However it cannot address the bigger questions about independence, because that wasn’t in its remit – while the politics of everything remain beyond it.</p> <p><strong>If independence is the answer, what is the question?</strong></p> <p>All of this has conspicuously avoided the big strategic question - what is independence the answer to? For some, this question has an obvious answer: independence is an end in itself to be a sovereign nation. But that is the response of Nationalist Scotland (whether in or out of the SNP) and does not address how the majority of Scots who don’t see the world in these terms are motivated to sign up to the cause.</p> <p>The answer from non-Nationalist Scotland for independence has increasingly shown itself as threadbare. Thus, Pat Kane recently invoked - as many have - the vision of a ‘Nordic social democracy’ as within reach through independence: deliberately ignoring that Scotland cannot be fully Nordic (the inconvenience of geography, history and tradition to name but the most obvious), and that everywhere in the world social democracy has been in retreat for decades - hollowed out, compromised and discredited. </p> <p>Underneath this, one version of an indy Scotland of the future is changing to resist change. In a reply to an Andrew Tickell piece in ‘The National’ last week one person stated that ‘The case for independence is not a case for radical change but a case for preservation of what we have, a social democracy. Radical change comes from Westminster and is almost always unwelcome.’ Independence as preserving what we have, the politics of the status quo, isn’t exactly highly imaginative or even real social democracy. Instead, it is the politics of kidding ourselves, linked into the time-honoured Scottish tradition of pretending to be radical to describe what is ultimately a conservative, conserving state of affairs. We have been here many times before in our history and politics. </p> <p>Independence must be for something bigger and bolder, with a clear vision, if it is to cut through, to tell an engaging story, and to speak beyond true believers. The 2014 offer managed to have a populist edge, while speaking to a social democratic sentiment which sat with an acceptance of neo-liberal assumptions. Such a mixture isn’t permanently on offer to the independence cause: there is Corbyn, Carillion, and the collapse of the neo-liberal model, while incumbents cannot continually present themselves as populists. </p> <p><strong>A different kind of Scottish state</strong></p> <p>One of the most hopeful aspects of the 2014 indy offer was that it seemed to offer the chance of not just a separate Scottish state, but a different kind of state: one more attuned to the modern age, democratic, pooling sovereignty and sharing it domestically and internationally, with a sense it was the servant not the master of the people.</p> <p>However, since that historic vote, the landmark of ten years of SNP Government has passed, and such a length of time allows us to review their track record, policies and actions. While the SNP Government has done many decent things, with a track record of competence, there has also been a conspicuous absence of any real radicalism or innovation in policy. </p> <p>Nowhere has there been any substantive progress on fleshing out and making real the politics, structures and ethos of a different kind of Scottish state, and the statecraft that would flow from that. Instead, the politics of imagining a different kind of state – and indeed a different kind of society and future – have been (however imperfectly) captured by the advent of the Corbyn Labour Party. That whole project may well end in tears, particularly if a Corbynised party were to find itself in UK office, but that’s a whole other argument.</p> <p>Ten years in office tells us many things. It points to the SNP leadership being informed by a technocratic managerialism – the outlook that informed the list of achievements in the recent SNP party political broadcast. But what it also points to is caution and conservatism, and that this is a party without any clear sense of transforming Scotland beyond the issue of independence. Again, that is all that matters to some - the party and a large section of the indy base - but it doesn’t create a winning majority, tell a compelling story, or paint the politics of the future.</p> <p>There are also tensions between the appeal of party and that of movement – a universal set of faultlines. The SNP is a party, not a movement. Yet it claims to speak for and represent a movement. The period 2011-14 saw the creation of a genuine independent pro-indy movement but that has now dissipated – in part incorporated into the SNP, or one that has just disengaged and disappeared into the ether.</p> <p>This poses problems for any future politics and independence offer. How do people seriously imagine another indyref will come about and be won? The answer at the moment centres on the appeal and decisions of the SNP and its leadership, and the electoral prospects of the party. That is of course unavoidable from where we currently are, but it is not a healthy place to be because all parties go up and down, and the notion that the SNP could in perpetuity defy the laws of political gravity was always misplaced. </p> <p>It isn’t an accident that the SNP have been proprietorial about the indy cause. They are a political party. But in the ten years of office they have shown a mixture of suspicion and dislike to many political initiatives which aren’t from the party or party controlled. Thus, such independent initiatives as RISE and Common Weal are viewed by senior SNP personnel as proving the ill-advised nature of projects which don’t come from the party and thus prove their self-perpetuating dictum that the party always knows best. Unfortunately this leaves the SNP and its current stance increasing isolated and vulnerable.</p> <p>A politics solely based on party carries problems. It has limitations in its appeal, its rationale and resources. It is (for obvious reasons) partisan, more short-term than strategic, and less interested in ideas. The problem is these areas of weakness are all key to making the case for independence and building an infrastructure, community and argument around it.</p> <p>All over Scotland there is a listlessness, inertia and anxiety. People feel they are treading water with a sense that decisions and power sit elsewhere. This sense of powerlessness has been aided by the missteps of the SNP since 2014, and the current stance of the party, which has failed to seize the political initiative since the energies of the indyref.</p> <p>The SNP leadership thought post-2014 that they had somehow caught and were the beneficiaries of a historic wave of change: the tartan tsunami of 2015 being one expression of it. They didn’t quite know what this wave was, what had produced it and where it was ultimately going, but they thought they could ride it and shape our collective future. Inevitably, that period of our politics has now firmly ended and we are in a very different political environment.</p> <p>The current approach of the SNP will not deliver the change some still hope for. It will not create in the immediate future a political sentiment and public opinion where an indy referendum is winnable in the next year or two. Nor will a politics of caution, command and control and centralisation suddenly change how it operates, morph into something else and rejuvenate into a politics of pluralism and co-operation.</p> <p>It is understandable that Nicola Sturgeon hasn’t taken a future indy referendum officially off the table. Not only does it work as a discipline on SNP and indy supporters; critically it acts as a hypothetical big stick towards the UK Government in relation to Brexit. Yet, what the SNP leadership has failed to point out is that there is next to no chance of an indy referendum in 2019 or indeed before 2021 (and before the next Scottish elections). That is in part a product of political decisions made since 2014, the consequences of the SNP losing their Scottish Parliament majority in 2016, and the ill-fated moves by Sturgeon in 2017 towards a second referendum. A lot of political capital and authority has been burned through in these decisions that cannot be ignored.</p> <p>None of us have all the answers to Scotland’s politics, the state of independence, and the future challenges. But fundamentally we should not put our heads in the sands and believe that everything is alright, or will turn out alright, unless there is a discussion of where we are - and that things need to change. That such observations should even be seen as heretical or the sort of things which shouldn’t be admitted or said in public, only confirms the scale and depth of the crisis. Things need to change urgently, otherwise – as is already happening – that mantle of change will be seized and adopted by others.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/brexitinc/william-walker/eu-brexit-and-scotlands-plight-in-unstable-unpredictable-britain">The EU, Brexit and Scotland&#039;s plight, in an unstable, unpredictable Britain</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/uk/gerry-hassan/day-britain-died-brexit-trump-and-scottish-independence">The day Britain died: Brexit, Trump and Scottish independence</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourkingdom/adam-ramsay-peter-mccoll/14-lessons-from-scottish-referendum">14 lessons from the Scottish referendum</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk Gerry Hassan Mon, 29 Jan 2018 11:41:57 +0000 Gerry Hassan 115874 at Darkest Hour - what does a rash of Winston Churchill portrayals tell us about Brexit Britain? <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Are our finest hours all behind us? What of the untold Churchill stories? And who can speak for Britain, today?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="// hour.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="// hour.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="260" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span><em>Image: Darkest Hour promotional poster, Working Title. Reproduced under Fair Use.</em></p><p>Winston Churchill is everywhere at the moment. It is as if there are only two narratives about Britain’s past: the Second World War and dramas about people of privilege, class and money.</p> <p>The Churchill industry can cover both strands, and for some his is the last uncontested great story of Britain. To others he is the last statesman who unreservedly represented the moral case for Britain; whereas for many on the left he has long been a problem figure. And whilst this is about our past and the dark days of 1940, is also about the storm clouds gathering today - from Brexit to the widespread cynicism in politicians and institutions.</p> <p>In the last year Churchill has been portrayed in the film of the same name by Brian Cox, the peacetime Churchill featured in Netflix’s ‘The Crown’, and most recently, played by Gary Oldman in ‘Darkest Hour’. Oldman’s portrayal concentrates on that watershed period in the Second World War in May 1940 where the Chamberlain Government totters and then collapses, Churchill becomes Prime Minister, and the War Cabinet debates whether to continue the war effort or to seek out peace terms.</p> <p>This critical period has been covered in-depth by John Lukacs’ ‘Five Days in London, May 1940’ and more recently by Nicholas Shakespeare’s ‘Six Minutes in May: How Churchill unexpectedly became Prime Minister.’ ‘Darkest Hour’ opens with Labour leader Clement Attlee concluding the parliamentary debate that brought down Chamberlain as Prime Minister. It’s a brave opening for the film – the debate was known as the Norway debate, and its subject, the disastrous British campaign fought in Norway for which Churchill as First Lord of the Admiralty was largely responsible.</p> <p>This parliamentary occasion, lasting over two days in May 1940, was one of the great House of Commons moments. Speeches had consequences. Tory rebel Leo Amery – who in 1939 had famously criticised Chamberlain’s patriotism by asking Labour’s deputy leader Arthur Greenwood to “Speak for England” - concluded his intervention by urging Chamberlain (and invoking Cromwell), “In the name of god, go”. </p> <p>Chamberlain won the vote 281 to 200, but underneath the headline victory forty odd Tories had voted with Labour in the midst of war, and a greater number abstained. Despite all of this, Chamberlain attempted to stay in office and bring Labour into formal coalition (the period from September 1939 to this point having only a ‘National’ Tory-dominated administration). </p> <p>‘Darkest Hour’ is good on the parliamentary machinations when Britain was under greatest threat. Cinematically the film showcases a kind of dark, claustrophic ‘House of Cards’. It illuminates the fundamental differences and personal tensions between Churchill, Chamberlain, and then Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax (widely seen and favoured as Chamberlain’s natural successor). </p> <p>Churchill became Prime Minister on 10 May 1940: the day Hitler invaded the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and France. In resulting discussions, Chamberlain and Halifax pushed hard for Britain to consider finding out what terms Hitler would consider as a basis for peace talks. Halifax is well portrayed in the film presenting what to many seemed sensible, saying Churchill’s florid rhetoric – “Words and words and only more words” - was all that he could offer. All three were acting from a desire to preserve Britain’s Empire and its global role. </p> <p>But where ‘Darkest Hour’ falls short, despite opening with Clement Attlee, is in failing to give proper space to the critical role of the Labour leadership and wider Labour Party over the course of May 1940. Clement Attlee opened the Norway debate for the opposition; it was Labour post-debate who forced a vote of no confidence which altered the course of British history.</p> <p>When Chamberlain faced the realities of his diminished stature following the parliamentary vote, he didn’t resign immediately. It was Labour’s attitude - that no coalition government was possible unless Chamberlain resigned - which forced him to go. It was Labour – specifically its Labour conference and its National Executive Committee (in a good story for Corbynistas) meeting in Bournemouth - which made the ultimate decision not to go into coalition with Chamberlain, but to support coalition under a new PM. Thus Labour played a pivotal role in not only bringing Chamberlain down, but aiding Churchill into Downing Street.</p> <p>Another area that ‘Darkest Hour’ badly fails is in its limited portrayal of the War Cabinet discussions on continuing the war. These were discussions in which the Labour members – Attlee and Greenwood – were central. In nine War Cabinet discussions over three days Chamberlain and Halifax made the case for finding out what Hitler’s peace terms might be, while Attlee and Greenwood stood with Churchill. Fascinatingly, at a time when Clement Attlee’s stock has never been higher, and when his patriotism has been celebrated in John Bew’s recent biography, this watershed moment for Britain, and Labour’s role in it, is often passed over. ‘Darkest Hour’ tells part of this story, but in a partisan way, only telling it from a Tory perspective. </p> <p><strong>Many untold Churchill stories</strong></p> <p>There are many untold Churchill stories, just as there are many finest hours. Amongst the untold Churchills there is that of the anti-Labour politician who ended up working closely in coalition with the Labour Party. Paul Mason observed that Churchill was a “flawed elitist” whose “genius in 1940 was not just that he understood the military situation, but dynamics of the British class system and what kept working class radicalism in check”.</p> <p>There is the Churchill of the ruling class: a man of privilege and Empire who presided over the decline of the former and demise of the latter. Anthony Barnett wrote in ‘Iron Britannia’: “Churchill fought tooth and nail to defend the Empire, but in the end – to save British sovereignty itself – he formed, and was a prisoner of, a politics which accepted the liquidation of the Empire …”</p> <p>Always present, if often unstated, is the Churchill of England as Britain, reflected in Harold Macmillan’s eulogy upon hearing of Churchill’s death in 1965: ‘England without Winston! It seems impossible. Not even the oldest of us can remember England without him as a considerable figure.’</p> <p>And then there is Churchill - the Dundee years, when he represented the city as Liberal MP from 1908-22 at a time when parliamentarians didn’t need to visit their constituency, let alone live there. His defeat in 1922 at the hands of Prohibitionist Edwin ‘Neddy’ Scrymgeour was one of the great radical stories of the city (one my parents told me with pride). T.E. Lawrence said of Churchill’s defeat, ‘What bloody shits the Dundeans must be’; Churchill himself felt that given the life ‘the Dundee folk have to live’, they had ‘many excuses.’ Personally, I would like to see this Churchill set to film although it probably never will.</p> <p>Churchill may be the most invoked Tory in history, but he represented much more than Toryism in 1940. Anthony Barnett coined the term ‘Churchillism’ to describe the national spirit which emerged in 1940,s distinct from the man. Churchillism was a national compact which brought together Tories, Liberals, Labour and other elites in a project which incorporated organised labour in return for economic and social rights such as the welfare state. But also evident was the passing of global leadership to the USA, the invention of the so-called ‘special relationship’ (a term coined by Churchill) and UK subservience to the national interests of the US. </p> <p>If it hadn’t been for 1940 and Hitler, history would not have been kind to Churchill. It would have regarded him as a reckless military adventurer (Gallipoli long staining his reputation), and an unreconstructed British imperialist out of touch in the 1930s even with most Tories, one who was intransigent on Gandhi and Indian home rule. </p> <p>Then there is his record on trade union and labour issues such as Tonypandy in 1910-11 and the General Strike of 1926. Yet, George Orwell, as he often did, got it right when he wrote after the war about Churchill that he was a “tough and humorous old man” who the British people “would not accept as a peacetime leader but whom in the moment of disaster they felt to be representative of themselves.”</p> <p><strong>Are our best days behind us?</strong></p> <p>As Britain’s attempts at renewal and modernisation have proven elusive, from the post-war settlement to Thatcherism and Blairism, popular folklore has returned again and again to the summer of 1940 and the appeal of Churchill. Similarly, it isn’t surprising that as Labour have experienced a chequered record in office since 1945, so the legend of Clement Attlee has grown steadily.</p> <p>The past as costume drama or fighting the ultimate forces of darkness which the Nazis provide, says something telling about Britain today. It points to a chronic failure of progress and absence of hope that the current state of abyss can be collectively changed. It says that the best days of Britain, days when there was purpose and clarity, are behind it, and that there are no current good stories. This obsession with the past is a diminishing one which damages the body politic now.</p> <p>The veneration of Churchill illuminates how far Britain has declined and the hold that its ruling classes have lost. Churchillism, the perspective which sprang from May 1940 was born like Gaullism in that same month of desperation and anxieties over national humiliation. But in the post-war era, Churchillism showed a pragmatism which allowed it to engage in imperial retreat and the making of the welfare state, the scale of adaption and change of which is beyond those now notionally in charge of Britain. </p> <p>That’s the frightening underlying message of these films relevant today. Who is there in our political classes who can talk about principles, show vision, and invoke an emotive rhetoric, which speaks beyond party and narrow calculation? At this time of crisis and doubt in Britain, there is no prominent leader who can – to paraphrase Leo Amery - speak for Britain. That is much more difficult in the fraught Brexit Britain of 2018 than the summer of 1940, and therein lies the contemporary problem and the yearning for an age where everything seemed much more certain.&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/email/what-will-obama-do-with-churchills-bust">What will Obama do with Churchill&#039;s bust?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/uk/gerry-hassan/brexit-dunkirk-and-britain-where-past-shapes-future">Brexit, Dunkirk and a Britain where the past shapes the future</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk Gerry Hassan Thu, 18 Jan 2018 06:00:00 +0000 Gerry Hassan 115698 at The Scotland of 2018 isn’t about 1968, 1917, or 2014… <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>An obsession with anniversaryism conceals a lack of creative and inclusive thinking in Scottish – and English – political thought.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="274" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span><em>Image: Posters reading "The start of a prolonged struggle" and "Return to normal", from the Paris uprising which sees its 50th anniversary this year.</em></p><p>So Trump isn’t coming to visit the UK after all. But 2018 will be the year of Trump and Brexit nonetheless. Both are mutually reinforcing echo chambers. Trump may be an outlier as a person, but sadly Trumpism – meaning right-wing populist raging against everything – existed before him and will continue long after him.</p> <p><strong>“By England, we mean the whole of the United Kingdom”</strong></p> <p>I returned from a reflective Christmas break in an insular, inward-looking US, to the familiar Brexit cacophony on these shores. It’s clear that in 2018 Brexit will continue to be shaped by contested versions of what country we are talking about. </p><p>One version first is England as Britain – which blithely ignores that only England was a real driver for Brexit (with Wales a reluctant hanger-on), and Scotland and Northern Ireland pro-EU. This is the <em>Daily Mail</em> version, as in last year’s front cover ‘Who will speak for England?’ which included in the text this explanation: ‘By England … we mean the whole of the United Kingdom.’ The second version recognises that distinctive English reaction to Brexit as different from the rest of the UK. </p> <p>This England as Britain versus England alone versions of Brexit cause faultlines even on the left: Owen Jones and Anthony Barnett representing these different accounts. Barnett’s ‘<a href="">The Lure of Greatness</a>’ is one of the most powerful polemics exploring the populist English uprising appropriated to Brexit. Barnett’s analysis was cited at length last week in a<em> <a href="">Guardian editorial</a></em>. But the Guardian ultimately reduced it to the usual liberal prospectus of addressing English malcontents by such showstoppers as House of Lords reform and federalism. </p> <p><strong>A view that unites Blair and Corbyn</strong></p> <p>The next day <a href="">Owen Jones in the same paper</a> addressed why it was delusional to believe that (as Tony Blair had again suggested) it was possible to reverse Brexit. Good so far, but then (as so often on the English left) came the dog that doesn’t bark - and some seem to want to keep muzzled - England. Not one mention of England, or the pro-EU sentiments of Scotland and Northern Ireland. Ignoring England is a dominant strand amongst the English left – one that unites both Blair and Corbyn.</p> <p>Scotland can often appear as a sideshow in all this. Our own fire and fury post-2014 has become something of a stuck record. Returning to these shores, I once again heard voices continuing to bash any view that doesn’t fit their own view of Scotland. This propensity isn’t exclusive to any side or opinion, but hurts independence more because it is meant to be about change and vibrancy.</p> <p><strong>The SNP “death spiral”</strong></p> <p>Take Derek Bateman, BBC anchor for 30 years plus, railing against how effective non-SNP parties were with their press releases over the break and alleging conspiracy. When challenged, Bateman got personal - calling the <em>Sunday Herald’s</em> Paul Hutcheon ‘a wee man’. SNPer Gordon Guthrie observed that such an outlook made the Nationalists ‘the ‘whining the press is against us party’’ which if pursued is ‘a death spiral’.</p> <p>Or take <em>Herald</em> columnist Kevin McKenna declaring that for the Scottish establishment, independence is ‘produced.’ This is the sort of exaggerated stuff which people write when they get lost in their own comfort blanket. Never mind historical challenges to the British state and establishment such as Irish independence. </p> <p>A final example can be provided by the permanently offensive Wings over Scotland site who decided to yet again show his <a href="">insensitivity on trans issues</a>. </p> <p><strong>The case for a better pro-independence politics</strong></p> <p>In such a climate it was refreshing to read Carolyn Leckie in <em>The National</em> make <a href="">the case for a better pro-independence politics</a> – recommended by Nicola Sturgeon as ‘some words of wisdom’. Leckie identified four points for a different politics. These included making it more local, holding on to ‘the delicate balance of unity and diversity’ of 2014, and that ‘the independence movement do a little less talking and a lot more listening’. She also observed that, ‘People don’t like being preached at. They don’t like being told they are wrong. They don’t generally warm to know-alls …’ </p> <p>It is a decent list but what it doesn’t say is equally important. It talks about attitude, but says nothing of content. A politics of mutual respect is a good thing but without putting ideas centre amounts to little more than Kumbaya Scotland. The elephants in the room are several: the lack of any new independence package or work on a plan; the SNP’s incumbency and safety-first control politics; and the lack of a politics of ideas in wider Scotland which hampers both independence and unionism, but hurts the former more as the politics of change. Then there is Brexit which lays a whole pile of grenades under everything.</p> <p>Leckie’s menu must be combined with content and a politics which adapts to the times. The referendum was the biggest exercise in political education Scotland has ever seen in its history. And yet some, in the aftermath, seem not to want to not build on this or to challenge their own assumptions. Thus, for some Yes evangelists all that matters is repeating the incantations of 2014 as if this was a divine moment of wisdom in our nation and all they have to do is wake the people from their slumber. </p> <p>There is a desperate need to be honest, brave and challenge power – whether the Tories and British state or the SNP. Take the <a href="">architectural critic Gavin Stamp</a> who died in December. He was a coruscating scourge of the architecture and conservation mafia and from a place of expertise and principle, an informed cultural troublemaker. But where and who are the cultural troublemakers of our present, and indeed troublemakers in any subject? </p> <p><strong>Obsession with anniversaryism</strong></p> <p>In place of such risky enterprise here like elsewhere in the Western world we have the obsession with anniversaryism: the listless pursuit of remembering and being defined by past glories and moments. This will be to the fore this year: the 50th anniversary of 1968: the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, along with the Prague Spring and Paris Uprising. </p> <p>Even 1968 is invoked in parts of Scotland’s left and independence currents to mark the supposed need for boldness, but more often to invoke the workerist romancing of a past set of supposed certainties. Scotland will have its own rather more mundane anniversaries this year: 30 years since the publication of ‘A Claim of Right for Scotland’ which made the case for popular sovereignty and 20 years since the Scottish international football team last appeared at the World Cup or any other tournament (along with 40 years since Ally’s Tartan Army met its sad fate in Argentina). </p> <p>We currently have a Scotland of doldrums, inertia and a phoney war while all around there is the crashes of institutions and traditions. Some older warriors who became blooded in previous conflicts continue to fight the last war. Similarly, too many see the world through trench warfare and the idea that one side with its fixed positions can overcome the other lot and achieve total victory.</p> <p>The Scotland of the future isn’t about 2014, 1979, 1968 or 1917. There is no Year Zero. It is being made in the here and now in all its imperfections. We live in a world of constant change, uncertainty and disruption. The march of AI and automation will wipe out millions of jobs: 44% of all UK jobs being at risk according to an IPPR report. </p> <p>This is used to validate the limited prospectus of linear optimism: the idea of tomorrow as a better version of today with just more stuff: more smart products, marketing and connectivity. It is a false optimism posing that we can’t dream of better tomorrows. The riposte to this cannot be to still cling to old certainties and pose a better yesterday: of a little Britain of Scotland as our future.</p> <p><strong>Prisoners of an imagined past</strong></p> <p>Instead, we must embrace uncertainty, ambiguity and doubt, and use these to find the vision, voices and vessels of the future: our community of the realm for the 21st century. While we can invoke the imagination and idealism of New Lanark, George Square in 1919 and UCS, it will not look anything like them. The future is that exciting and daunting, but meanwhile from Trump to Brexit to Scotland too many voices want to seek out the answers in romanticising the past. </p> <p>This is understandable in conservative and reactionary circles, but in those who call themselves left, socialists and social democrats, and who aim to liberate and emancipate there must be a higher ambition. Namely, of not being mesmerised and prisoners of an imagined past which never existed in the first place. There is a future world to be made and not ceded to reactionaries or techno utopians.</p><div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk Gerry Hassan Fri, 12 Jan 2018 10:39:16 +0000 Gerry Hassan 115622 at Brexit Britain is displaying its old, dangerous delusions about Ireland <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The British establishment’s understanding of Ireland has long been delusional and dysfunctional – now combined with Brexit and Theresa May's dependence on the DUP to cling to power, it’s creating a powder keg.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="274" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><em>A mock customs point set up in County Louth to protest Brexit concerns. Niall Carson/PA, all rights reserved.</em></p><p>Brexit has become a constitutional and political clusterf*ck - a rolling embarrassment for Britain in a show set to run officially at least until 11pm on 29 March 2019, and probably for years after.</p> <p>It is a crash between a right-wing <a href="">Fantasyland version of Britain</a> (witness Boris Johnson, Liam Fox and Jacob Rees-Mogg) and at the margins, a left-wing British exceptionalist story led by Corbyn which hopes, by keeping quiet, to pick up the pieces. And it’s all based on ignorance of history and the hard realities of politics and diplomacy.</p> <p>Nowhere is the Brexit debacle clearer than in relation to Northern Ireland and Ireland, and the boundary between them that emerges after the UK leaves the EU. This has huge consequences, as the three areas the EU prioritised for initial agreement with the UK are the border, the rights of EU citizens and the monies the UK will pay to leave. This will all come to a head at the EU summit on 14-15 December, with the UK Government’s pursuit of a hard Brexit - leaving the single market and customs union - meaning that the current porous border is under threat. A hard Brexit could lead to a hard border.</p> <p>UK ignorance of Northern Ireland is embedded in British politics and culture. This is despite the profile and pains of Northern Ireland’s thirty-year civil war, known as ‘the troubles’, which spilled over onto the mainland; and the long and difficult attempts by UK Governments to barter a settlement between unionists and nationalists in Northern Ireland. </p> <p>The Good Friday Agreement came into force after referendums in Northern Ireland and Ireland in 1998. Both the UK and Irish governments accepted the right of Northern Ireland citizens to declare themselves as either British or Irish and the right of people to hold dual citizenship;</p> <p>it allowed the North’s status to be guaranteed by the UK and Ireland and via the ‘consent principle’ (by which no change could happen to the North’s constitutional status without majority support); it reassured both unionists and nationalists and created a series of North-South institutions which shared and pooled sovereignty in the North between the UK and Irish Governments. This was flexible, imaginative and far-sighted politics on behalf of London and Dublin. It has stood the test of time, brought untold benefits to the North (as well as to the UK and Ireland), and is being put at risk by Brexit.</p> <p>If that were not enough, UK ignorance of Northern Ireland is combined with witlessness and condescension about Ireland. Irish history is barely known in the UK, even in senior British political circles. The facts of British brutal rule, colonialism and repression that did so much to create the Irish movement for independence, are barely known or acknowledged. </p> <p>Take the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 - the delay of which caused the Irish potato famine, starvation and thousands of deaths, as well as mass migration. None of this is really remembered, even when there is a parallel with Brexit - the debate then being about free trade versus protectionism, bitterly dividing the Tories, and throwing them out of office for thirty years.</p> <p>Fast forward to now – and Ireland, which has bounced back from the crash more effectively, and with more energy than the UK has, is constantly subjected to ignorant comments. Jeremy Warner, associate editor of the <em>Daily Telegraph</em> said on Monday: ‘The point is that the Irish border is about so much more than economics and trade. It’s hundreds years of history; Ireland has poisoned UK politics and brought down governments for centuries, and many well do so again.’</p> <p>And Kate Hoey - Labour MP for Vauxhall, leading Brexiteer, born in Northern Ireland - said on the <em>Today</em> programme on Monday about a hard border: ‘If this ends with a no deal we won’t be putting up the border, they’ll [the Irish Government] have to pay for it because it doesn’t need to happen.’ Shame about the Trump Mexican wall overtones.</p> <p>Gerard Batten, UKIP Brexit spokesperson, commented: ‘UK threatened by Ireland. A tiny country that relies on UK for its existence’, continuing that Ireland is ‘the weakest kid in the playground sucking up to the EU bullies’ and ‘a subservient client state to the EU.’ </p> <p>The current British political class seem to have next to no understanding that, in the period since both the UK and Ireland joined the then EEC on 1st January 1973, Ireland has been the UK’s closest ally, advocate and interpreter in EU corridors of power. The last twenty years of UK-Irish relations, of which the Good Friday Agreement is but one part, have also been the most harmonious between the two states since Irish independence in 1922. The backdrop of both countries being in the EU has been a part of this. All of these benefits are now under threat and cannot just blithely be assumed to continue unharmed into the future as the most nonchalant Brexiteers claim.</p> <p>UK politicians and media feel free to comment on Irish politics and politicians, such as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, in ways unhelpful and lacking subtlety. There seems to no awareness that such comments are read in Irish circles and factored into their responses. <em>The Spectator’s</em> Political Editor James Forsyth wrote at the end of last week, without a hint of irony, that: ‘If British politicians talked about a majority of the Irish electorate the way Varadkar does about Brexiteers, they would rightly be chastised.’ It does make you wonder where a Westminster watcher like Forsyth has been since the Brexit vote.</p> <p>What drives this delusion and derision towards all things Irish? One major factor is the powerful myopia at the heart of the UK. The British political establishment barely understands the complexities, composition and character of the UK. This lack of understanding has a long history but it’s now becoming a chasm that is vitally important to how Brexit pans out.</p> <p>The British story that has come to the fore since leave won the EU referendum is a Ladybird version of British history. It sees the UK as the historical good guys (which doesn’t exactly square with empire) - with Brexit offering a liberation from the shackles and constraints of Brussels and a return to a modern form of buccaneering, all-conquering capitalism dominating the waves through free trade, charm and soft power. </p> <p>This is a country with a fuzzy sense of its own history, identities and borders. It is a country that never fully became European, aided by an island mentality and the experience of two World Wars. No wonder, as Fintan O’Toole has written, the view from Whitehall is that ‘Ireland is an eccentric little offshoot of Britain that must shut its gob and stop asking awkward questions.’</p> <p>This set of combustible factors is combined with problem contemporary politics. It is a bit rich for British politicians to rail against the current Irish and German governments, calling them weak and divided, saying that recent election results have weakened them and their room for negotiation, and that new elections may be imminent. Are they really talking about the Irish and Germans or, are they unwittingly referring to the current wounded, limp and lifeless UK Tory administration as it staggers on?</p> <p>The Democratic Unionists can cold shoulder power-sharing with Sinn Fein because they are power-sharing with Theresa May’s Conservatives, and doing rather well out of it. The <a href="">recent DUP conference saw</a> Tory chief whip Julian Smith address the gathering, while Deputy Prime Minister Damian Green spoke at a related DUP fundraiser. It wasn’t surprising that Green was also party to attempts in the summer, once the Tory-DUP deal was signed, to get the DUP a special adviser (<a href="">first paid for by the taxpayer, then from Tory funds</a>) with such plans being blocked by civil servants. </p> <p>The British Government approach to Brexit has so far been to overplay their own hand and misunderstand the EU, EU 27 and Ireland. The Irish Government’s stance on the border reflects public opinion, but more critically, a collective Irish sense of history and identity. They didn’t bring about this situation. It isn’t their mess to clean up. That means they don’t have to bend themselves into contortions and trash their principles to come up with a solution. </p> <p>There doesn’t need to be an Irish veto on 14-15 December or a future EU summit, because the entire EU 27 stand united and in solidarity, saying no to a hard border. It is up to the UK Government to bring forward solutions. So far it has produced one flimsy paper touting such things as electronic tracking. </p> <p>Only a tiny minority of UK public opinion wants a hard Brexit - 11% on the <a href="">latest Kantar poll</a>. 55% think the UK Government is making a hash of Brexit; 21% think it is doing a good job. 64% don’t think the UK Government has a coherent position - and they are right. </p> <p>Despite this, British public unease isn’t properly expressed because of the ambiguity of Labour’s position on Brexit. </p> <p>Brexit is the single biggest constitutional and political crisis the UK Government has faced since the end of the Second World War, and it is entirely an act of self-immolation. It is also the greatest crisis the Irish Government has faced since the 1920s, but one where the Irish have through the EU not just the moral high ground, but political leverage and power. We have to hope they get it right, and are better at this than the Brexit vandals running the UK Government. On this the Irish speak not just with the backing of the rest of the EU, but millions of British citizens who cannot believe the car crash unfolding. We deserve better than this from our politicians of all persuasions, and we have to make sure that we do not let them away with this.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/paul-gillespie/ireland-brexit-border-reunification"> Ireland, Brexit and our Disunited Kingdom</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/uk/mary-fitzgerald/who-bankrolled-brexit">Who bankrolled Brexit?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk Can Europe make it? uk Brexit Gerry Hassan Thu, 30 Nov 2017 12:19:03 +0000 Gerry Hassan 114991 at Gordon Brown: the ghost in the machine <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Who is Brown really trying to convince in this account of his life in politics? Perhaps ultimately, himself.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span><em>Image: Gordon Brown at Davos, 2009. WikiCommons.</em></p><p>Gordon Brown, like him or loath him, was a titan of a figure in British politics for close on two decades.</p> <p>Brown’s call for understanding and redemption in his autobiography - ‘<a href="">My Life, Our Times</a>’- comes with much baggage. Including, it seems, for the author himself, who makes great show of suggesting he had be reluctantly dragged into writing it: ‘For me, being conspicuously demonstrative is uncomfortable – to the point where it has taken me years, despite the urging of friends, to turn to writing this book.’</p> <p>Gordon Brown’s life story could be gripping and compelling. It contains all the hallmarks of good drama. Here is a man gifted with rare talents and drive, who knew he wanted to serve. At an early age comes tragedy when he is deprived of eyesight in one eye. This does not stop the young Brown but only makes him more determined and resolute. </p> <p>His inexorable rise to the top is captivating. A bright star in Scottish and British Labour from an early age, Brown makes a mark from the moment he is elected an MP in 1983, forms a partnership with Tony Blair, is central in the creation and success of New Labour. And then at the height of his power and persuasion, he allows it all to go horribly wrong. Despite everything, he eventually attains what he has long yearned for - to be Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and in so doing saves the world from calamity in the banking crash. And yet all the while a hunger, yearning and emptiness gnaw away at him. </p> <p>Brown is a fascinating tour guide of all things related to Brown – although not an entirely convincing and reliable one. He is, on first reading, a clear writer who appears to know how to present the key facts and analysis of complex, seemingly intractable problems. He is a voracious reader and writer of numerous books over more than forty years. </p> <p>In the Brown account of his rise to the top however, there is no crisis or opportunity for which the solution isn’t more Brown. Sometimes this just entails the act of writing a book: whether it be on preparing his public image to be Prime Minister, on the death of John Smith, or in the heat of the indyref or Brexit campaign. </p> <p>There is a political intelligence and insight in this work. If you came to it not knowing anything about the events in question or Gordon Brown, you would note how persuasive he can be, how seemingly reasonable and calm. Here is a voice who can neatly get to the core of an issue and make the case for pragmatic, progressive, humane solutions to some central concerns of our age.</p> <p>Yet there is a hole at the heart of this book. In every major crisis Brown is convinced of the merits of his own analysis – the only issue being whether he can convince others of the merits of his case. And given Brown believes he can analyse, summarise and get to the core of any issue, all that matters for him to successfully clinch each deal is presentation, access and pressures of time. </p> <p>This is true throughout the book from his ten-year tenure as Chancellor, trying to control and bend Blair to his will, and most spectacularly, in the global banking crash (where he undoubtedly was a force for good). Yet the sum total of this is deflating. It reduces politics in Brown’s world to one-way communication and monologue: absent are those important qualities to life, let alone politics, of listening, hearing and genuine exchange.</p> <p>Running through the book Brown shows his continued lack of self-reflection and self-awareness that limited him as a politician and ultimately stymied his ability to be a successful Prime Minister.</p> <p>As serious is the missing self-reflection on his own political odyssey and record. Towards the end of the book, Brown continually cites the problems of globalisation, technological change and economic and social dislocation. He worries rightly about the rise of populists, xenophobes and the new reactionaries, and concedes that much is wrong with the present state of the world. But nowhere in any of this is there any detailed self-analysis of Brown’s role in bringing about the state of politics he now openly thinks such a problem. Globalisation as an elemental, economic and social determinist entity carrying all before it and to which all resistance was futile, was a central canard of New Labour and the Blair-Brown years. But you won’t read anything about that here.</p> <p>At crucial moments, Brown’s lack of self-awareness gives way to something deeper - a strand of self-deception. </p> <p>Thus, the Blair-Brown ‘Granita’ pact of 1994 – whereby Brown agreed not to stand for the Labour leadership after the death of John Smith and let Blair have a free run – did not set in stone the agreement Brown thought it did. Brown took from the meeting that in return for Blair standing as ‘the moderniser’s candidate’ with Brown’s support, Blair would, in turn, stand down to let Brown take up the leadership in a second term. There is at best a profound naivety in Brown taking such an undertaking on face value. In many respects the Granita deal decided nothing. By then Blair was already the future of Labour, and Brown must have known that, and worried that he had missed his chance by not standing for the leadership against John Smith in 1992.</p> <p>There is a similar selectivity in how Brown presents the case of the attempted coup against Tony Blair in 2006. While not exactly successful at the time, Blair was forced to make clear his plans, and pre-announce his intention to resign the following year. According to Brown, these moves were led by his loyal lieutenants Ed Balls and Tom Watson – and undertaken without his knowledge and permission. That’s just stretching things a little too far.</p> <p>And when he gets the opportunity to become Prime Minister he makes no mention of how he goes out of his way to make sure it is a court succession, a transfer of power without any proper leadership contest. Thus, two potential candidates, John McDonnell and Michael Meacher, are squeezed out of getting the required nominations. Such is Brown’s fear and dislike of a contest. All of this comes back to haunt him as he hits problems - a Prime Minister elected by coronation has less legitimacy.</p> <p>Of course the biggest deception in the book is the Iraq war. Brown dares to present himself as a victim, like the rest of us, of Blair’s unholy alliance with George W. Bush and the neo-cons. Brown claims he was taken in by the Blair-Alastair Campbell selective presentation of intelligence. That if he knew then what he knows now, he would take a different view. Robin Cook, reading the same documents before the Iraq War, knew that he and the British Parliament and public were being played. </p> <p>Brown writes: ‘When I consider the rush to war in March&nbsp;2003 – especially in light of what we now know about the absence of weapons of mass destruction – I ask myself over and over whether I could have made more of a difference before that fateful decision was taken.’ Who is Brown really trying to convince with such a self-evidently implausible, preposterous account? Perhaps the answer is ultimately himself.</p> <p>Brown’s role in the indyref was significant (his barnstorming speeches, ‘the Vow’), and had lasting impact on the Brexit campaign. In the indyref Brown showed his dislike of the Better Together campaign and Labour’s alliance with the Tories, and set up the United with Labour campaign. He believed that: ‘the only way a referendum could be won convincingly was if Labour ran its own strong campaign … reaching its own supporters with a Labour case for staying in Britain.’ </p> <p>Brown – like many others in the party - believed that Labour had been tainted by the Tory brand in the indyref, and that this made necessary a separate Labour campaign in the EU referendum. But this played into the view of the Eurosceptic Corbyn Labour leadership. </p> <p>There was rich irony in all this. Labour had come full circle, returning to the Labour separatism and chauvinism which had been evident in Helen Liddell’s memo (when Scottish Labour General Secretary) for the 1979 devolution referendum, forbidding Labour cross-party co-operation with the SNP. That hurt Labour and devolution in 1979, and the Brexit Labour stand-off had even more fatal and damaging consequences, contributing to Leave’s triumph. </p> <p>Brown’s character is mostly missing from much of his account. There are no tales of his legendary tempers and rages, which made him almost impossible to work for and many of his colleagues fearful of him (and for him). There are no stories of his excessive, obsessional, almost Mafioso tribalism, whereby his most trusted followers had to pledge complete and undying fidelity to the great one. Yet, if they disappointed or contradicted him sometimes on the smallest detail, they could be out, sent to the Brown equivalent of outer Siberia.</p> <p>Brown, in large parts of this book, is the ghost in the machine: someone ever-present and omnipresent, but not quite there, particularly in regard to understanding himself as a person, player and influence in any given situation. Brown himself only understands his limitations in the most obvious and restricted way: in communication and in the art of social media. He just does not comprehend his wider failure. </p> <p>The Brown story as told by ‘My Life, Our Times’ is a fascinating one - of tragedy, hubris, denial and self-deception. There is the account of what happened to British politics, British Labour and the social democratic tradition over two decades. How it tried to achieve a greater common good by pragmatism and realism under New Labour, but came adrift of its moorings: scared to champion progressive values, sucking up to the super-rich and City, promoting an unbalanced, unsustainable vision of the economy, and getting in to bed with a bunch of fanatical right-wing Washington warmongers. </p> <p>That tale is Tony Blair’s and Gordon Brown’s, and we live with the consequences of it to this day. Just don’t expect to find a fulsome understanding of it here (nor in Blair’s even more selective and self-deceiving memoir). And that is tragedy - and missed opportunity on top of a tragedy. But we, more than Brown (and Blair), have to live with and overcome the damage it has created on a human, democratic and ethical level both here and globally. This is a book selling a version of the past which ultimately has little constructive to say about the present and future.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourkingdom/gerry-hassan/goodbye-to-gordon-brown-and-all-that">Goodbye to Gordon Brown and All That</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk Gerry Hassan Thu, 16 Nov 2017 11:47:29 +0000 Gerry Hassan 114696 at The Fantasyland version of Britain is alive and kicking – and driving Brexit <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>For years even the left bought the idea that British democracy was the envy of the world. Overcoming the elite myth-making and cronyism is still the biggest challenge we face.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span><em>Image:&nbsp; Sleeping Beauty Castle, Disneyland (Disneyland Britain is due to open in 2020). Wikipedia.</em></p><p>British democracy used to be presented as the envy of the world. We had the Whig version of history, the rule of law – and, above all, a sense of continuity which supposedly differentiated the UK from its European neighbours.</p> <p>Such a view permeated British elites, institutions and public life - but also informed many left-wing radicals and dissenters. American writer Edward Shils, visiting the UK in 1953, was stunned to hear ‘an eminent man of the left, say, in utter seriousness … that the British constitution was “as nearly perfect as any human institution could be.”’ And Shils was even more surprised to find that ‘No one even thought it amusing.’</p> <p>Sixty years on, after so much change, surely few if any sensible people hold such self-congratulatory views? </p> <p>Yet these misplaced assumptions persist at the heart of the British political establishment – though they are usually a little more circumspect about saying it. A recent exception was Tory MP Charles Walker, Chair of the Commons Procedure Committee, reacting to criticism of Britain’s democratic arrangements from the Women’s Equality Party leader Sophie Walker on the BBC’s ‘Daily Politics.’ </p> <p>Walker raged ‘I always come on this programme and you have people who completely trash Parliament and our democracy’. He then launched into a glowing tribute of all things British constitutional.</p> <p>“We have an outstanding Parliament, an outstanding democracy, high levels of accountability. Politicians travel from across the world to come to our House of Commons to understand how we do Parliament. They are amazed … that when a constituent writes to me I can pass that letter on to a Secretary of State and get a response. The constituent may not like the response, but they get a response from a minister in relation to their concern. That is an extraordinary level of accountability.” (BBC Daily Politics, October 17th 2017)</p> <p>This is the unguarded perspective of part of the British establishment, and of a huge segment of the Tory parliamentary party. Occasionally examples of this belief in the good of all things British emerge elsewhere. Andrew Marr, concluding his upbeat ‘A History of Modern Britain’, published just before the banking crash, observed that ‘in the years since 1945 … we British have no reason to despair, or emigrate’, which isn’t how some remember the 1970s or 1980s, or indeed subsequently, Brexit Britain.</p> <p>Others still defend the royal puff and pageantry as aiding the national spirit. On the birth of another royal baby a few years ago, Kirstie Allsopp asked: ‘What is wrong with Britain being a Disneyland?’ The obvious answer being that the UK isn’t a fantasy playground, and the Royal Family infantilises all of us.</p> <p>The last 40 years in the UK has seen more wealth and income transferred to the already uber-rich and privileged. Public assets have been sold off, corrupted and outsourced - a UK ‘economic miracle’ proclaimed as the gospel by Thatcher believers both in the 1980s and again today.</p> <p>This transformation has done nothing to address the fundamental weaknesses of the economy pre-Thatcher - the historic devaluing of manufacturing; the anti-business ethos at the heart of the Tory Party and the City of London; their greater interest in pseudo-enterprise and rentier capitalism. Research and development and long-term investment has never been at the core of British capitalism. </p> <p>In the pre-EU 1970s the UK was seen as ‘the sick man of Europe’, and our membership of the Common Market was meant to address these woes. Yet, forty years in the EU combined with Thatcherism and Blairism haven’t addressed these problems. Britain’s productivity gap has become news again, but it is deep-seated and structural in its causes. Britain’s research and development rates are abysmal, coming in 159th out of 173 countries as a percentage of GDP, the&nbsp;<em>Economist</em> <a href="">reported </a>in 2013. Only fourteen nation-states were worse than Britain, seven of which were in sub-Saharan Africa.</p> <p>The City has supposedly kept the UK afloat for decades - but last week it was revealed that UK is now £490 billion poorer than at the time of Brexit: going from a net surplus of £469 billion in overseas assets to a net deficit of £22 billion. The country does not have ‘any reserve of net foreign assets’ – a staggering statement compared to regular the hyperbole about British overseas investments (<em>Daily Telegraph Business</em>, October 18th 2017).</p> <p>It isn’t an accident that more thoughtful British establishment voices such as Peter Hennessy believe that the best days of Britain are firmly in the past – located in his childhood circa 1953 with the Coronation and conquest of Everest, the same year as Edward Shils made his observations. Hennessy wrote a revealing vignette, ‘The Kingdom to Come’ in 2015, about the loss of the Britain of hope, optimism and openings for people from all walks of life, which centred on how Scotland’s referendum shook the whole house that is the union of the UK to its foundations.</p> <p>He concluded that the certainties that once made the UK what it was, mostly no longer exist. As a consequence, by the time of our referendum and its aftermath, there was no agreed and popular map in the minds of citizens about what Britain was. This, Hennessy reflected, was bad news for its future.</p> <p>Numerous left-wing accounts critique the direction of Britain over the last 40 years, and tend to see this leading inexorably to the twilight years of Britain as a nation-state. But as Cat Boyd wrote in ‘The National’ recently, the problem isn’t so much Britain, but British capitalism and neo-liberalism. This means that in the age of Corbyn, insurgency and populism, for many the answer to all this in Scotland isn’t automatically independence.</p> <p>However, what Boyd’s take does not address is the problem within the corridors of power in British government and public life. The British state and the institutions which sit around it have been cheerleaders for a corrupt, crony, debased capitalism. How this is taken on, defeated and superseded is one of the great challenges of our age.</p> <p>The British elite continue to believe in a mirage – that this nation is the one which has taught the world democracy, the rule of law and parliamentary accountability, and which was benign and enlightened in all it did globally including empire. It might be said less frequently now in the cold light of Brexit, but it is there and it is used to advance the Boris Johnson-Jacob Rees-Mogg vision of a new buccaneering Britain ruling the waves at least in trade and commerce.</p> <p>A couple of years ago at a G20 summit the Russian Government called the UK ‘just a small island’. David Cameron replied ‘Britain is an island that helped to abolish slavery, that has invented most of the things worth inventing … We are proud of everything we do as a small island – a small island that has the sixth largest economy, the fourth best funded military, some of the most effective diplomats, the proudest history …’</p> <p>He signed off what was called a ‘Hugh Grant moment’ with the words: ‘I’m thinking of setting this to music.’ Some may think there is no harm in the above romantic delusion - that all countries need their myths and even poetry in their statecraft.</p> <p>But this fantasy Ladybird history version of Britain – waxing lyrically and selectively about the past – is used to justify the existing rotten order. It is used to maintain a state and politics which isn’t about the welfare of its people, which doesn’t actually care about the poorest and most vulnerable, and which actively wants to do financial and psychological harm to those who need help from the state most: witness the bedroom tax, rape clause, implementation of universal credit, and a host of other welfare ‘reforms’. </p> <p>If the UK is to ever become a country which is at its centre to be about caring for its own citizens, the complacent spin of the Charles Walkers and David Camerons has to be superseded by a more humble and humane Britain. What chance any of this has given the folly of Brexit, hangs in the balance. But the future and continuation of the UK in any form, along with Scotland’s debate, depend on it being defeated.&nbsp;</p><div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk Gerry Hassan Wed, 01 Nov 2017 09:48:42 +0000 Gerry Hassan 114386 at Are we all Catalans now? Why Scotland is very different <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> As the stakes rise in Catalonia, what does their crisis teach us about the complexities of the struggle for self-determination - and about the British state? </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="258" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span><em>Image: Catalonian nationalists in Edinburgh on the day of the Scottish referendum. Photo:&nbsp;<a href="">Byronv2/Flickr</a>, <a href="">Creative Commons</a>.</em></p><p>There are many reasons to be thankful for living in Scotland. This was brought home powerfully in a week which has seen the Catalan referendum, the experience of the Iraqi Kurds voting on independence, and even the tragic events in the US when Las Vegas witnessed yet another mass killing and carnage.</p> <p>Scotland is a prosperous and peaceful country. Unlike Catalonia we could have an independence referendum which everyone agreed to, participated in, and accepted who won and who lost. </p> <p>Central to this was the role of the British Government. For all the pro-independence ‘othering’ of Britain and the British state – for all its pursuit of inequality, its war on the poor and the welfare state, and its many military adventures abroad, it acted (in the Scottish example) with an element of insight, intelligence and even wisdom. And we were all the better for it.</p> <p>The British state has numerous problems and inadequacies, but also has an adaptability and flexibility. This can cause problems: the reach of the elective dictatorship, the lack of checks and balances, and the unwritten nature of the British constitution. But it also provides advantages. It allowed it to agree, with the minimum fuss, to holding the Scottish independence vote. It allowed the setting up of a Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly with speed and ease post-1997, as well as brokering the Northern Irish peace process.</p> <p>Compare this to the experience of Catalonia. The Spanish Government did all it could to stop people voting. They seized ballot papers, arrested officials, disconnected technology and shut down apps, and when that failed used police brutality and repression - the latter in full display of a shocked world who could not believe what they were seeing in 21st century Western Europe. In one day - October 1st 2017 - the Spanish Government lost any right to the high ground and made the Catalan case for independence even more powerful.</p> <p>The contrast between Spain and the UK could not be more stark. The Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy claimed Spain’s actions demonstrated ‘firmness and serenity’. Almost Trump-like, he denied that a referendum had actually taken place. He hid behind a defence of the 1978 Spanish constitution and “the indissoluble unity” of the Spanish nation and people. He claimed – as only a few uber-unionists had done in the UK - that any vote on independence for any part of Spain had to involve agreement and a pan-Spanish vote. </p> <p>In Scotland, for all the rows about the rights and wrongs of a second independence referendum, the terrain we stand in and any future constitutional paths are much clearer than in Spain. Any indyref2 will only happen here with the express permission of the Scottish and UK Governments. There will be no UDI and no unofficial referendum.</p> <p>Spain is in a very different place. The idea and ideals of Spain have been dealt a powerful, perhaps even mortal blow. It’s hard to see how the Spanish and Catalan authorities can agree any way forward. The stakes are high – this is a crisis about democracy, self-determination and the right of a people to be only governed by consent. The Catalan authorities will clearly not back down, but what mechanisms for independence can be identified which Spain will respect? How can the Spanish government climb down from using repressive force? And if Spain in the short-term further ratchets up the temperature by suspending the Catalan authorities (via Article 155 of the Spanish constitution) what kind of end game have they in mind?</p> <p>The Spanish-Catalan experience has raised difficult questions about the attitude of the EU and other European governments. Many issued bland statements saying that it was a matter for the Spanish authorities and Spanish people. Not one condemned the state violence that was recorded by the world’s media. It was all a bit redolent of the embarrassing silences of the West before the collapse of the Soviet Union as the Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania tried to negotiate their independence. </p> <p>The Catalan vote and the recent Kurdish referendum throw up the thorny issue of who and what constitute a nation state? The realpolitik answer is that the shape and nature of the world and even the boundaries of most nation states is entirely haphazard and one which in many cases defies logic and any sense of natural justice. Instead, the existence of many nationless peoples, from the Kurds to Palestinians and the case of Tibet, are a product of when and how empires retreated and dissolved, and who emerged at the right time to seize the claim of statehood. The writer Fred Halliday called this ‘post-colonial sequestration’ to explain this state of affairs, by which some nations emerged as empires fell, and others (the Kurds, Palestinians, Tibet) missed the opportunity and then have had to struggle to claim their statehood. </p> <p>Scotland and Catalonia are different, as are the reactions of the UK and Spanish governments. It defies complexities, past histories and current realities to see one simply in the colours of the other. Pro-independence supporters in Scotland declare: ‘We are all Catalans now’. But equally problematic is the blind allegiance to big state nationalism, one letter writer in Tuesday’s ‘Guardian’ laying into ‘Catalan, Scottish and other micro-nationalisms’ led by ‘demagogic politicians’ trying to break-up ‘successful countries for personal glory and self-advancement’.</p> <p>Self-determination in one territory doesn’t simply translate into self-determination in another country. Indeed, it can even be seen as undermining its very principles by raising it into an over-arching truism, ignoring settings and histories. Thus, it doesn’t make sense to trundle out a new European Domino Theory as the ‘Times’ did on Monday, producing a map of the ‘main European separatist movements’ in a sort of at ‘risk’ register with Scotland and the Flanders at the top. </p> <p>Come back to our Scottish experience. We are privileged to live in a place which for all its many faults can agree to common rules on one of the biggest questions it is possible to ask: do you wish to be independent? Margaret Thatcher conceded that the Scots had the right to decide their own fate. Malcolm Rifkind, Tory Secretary of State in the 1980s, said half-joking that whatever happened he would guarantee that he would never send in tanks to put the Scottish people down. That is a world apart from the repression of the Spanish authorities with the shadow of the Franco dictatorship hanging over events.</p> <p>Even the Spanish monarchy – which has traditionally post-Franco been seen as the upholder of democracy - has entered into the fray. King Felipe said in a rare TV address that the Catalan authorities were engaged in ‘an unacceptable attempt’ to take over Catalonia with the aim of breaking ‘the unity of Spain’, and by doing so had put themselves outside the rule of law. Contrast that with the nuanced and coded words of Queen Elizabeth II outside Crathie Kirk the Sunday before Scotland’s referendum where she commented that people should ‘think very carefully about the future’ before they voted.</p> <p>Taking a very different tone from this the independent left-wing Mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, condemned state violence while making the case for dialogue and caution, tweeting: ‘Neither a unilateral declaration of independence nor 155.’ They went on: ‘We need dialogue and bridges more than ever. Mediation and a jointly agreed referendum.’ </p> <p>All of this also reflects on the nature of the United Kingdom. The caricatured, reactionary image of the UK is one many of us tell and retell on many occasions. This is a country which has presided over war and military action in every year since 1945, which sponsors privatisation and corporate greed the world over, and has long lineages of racism and xenophobia. But there is also another British story: which includes the defeat of foreign and domestic fascism, and the victories and triumphs of generations of working people and the labour movement which have stood for democracy and human rights and against the powers of privilege and reaction.</p> <p>The good British story has rightly taken a bit of a battering these last few decades. But the events in Catalonia, just like the events in Iraqi Kurdistan, and Las Vegas, remind us that not every aspect of British life should make us gloomy. There are reasons to be cheerful in Scotland and even a few reasons to be cheerful living in the UK. And they remind us that the world is a messy, complex place which cannot be understood by recourse to one interpretation or set of principles.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/patrice-de-beer/catalonia-now-what">Catalonia: now what?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/daniel-coyne/catalonia-scotland-and-fluid-concept-of-democracy">Catalonia, Scotland and the fluid concept of democracy</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/patrice-de-beer/catalonia-vs-spain-clash-of-two-nationalisms">Catalonia vs Spain, a clash of two nationalisms</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/nick-rider/catalonia-spain-referendum-there-is-more-than-one-nationalism-in-iberian-peninsula">There is more than one nationalism in the Iberian peninsula</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk Can Europe make it? uk Gerry Hassan Thu, 05 Oct 2017 14:39:31 +0000 Gerry Hassan 113832 at Is Labour ‘ready to govern’ – or are there more eggs to break? <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p dir="ltr">From Brexit to the current battle for the Scottish leadership, Labour can’t duck the hard questions. A new book from a key Scottish Corbyn ally recalls the battles of the past, but leaves the future uncertain.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="268" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span><em>Image: Jim Murphy of Scottish Labour during Scottish referendum campaign. PA Images, all rights reserved.</em></p><p>Today, Jeremy Corbyn will tell the Labour Party Conference gathered in Brighton that Labour is “ready to govern”. Spirits are high – perhaps a little too high. Despite the highest membership of any party in Europe, the biggest increase in its vote in a UK general election since 1945, and the most inept campaign in living memory by the Conservative Party, despite the self-congratulatory back-slapping and the now semi-mandatory chants of “Oh Jeremy Corbyn” that opened conference, Corbyn is not Prime Minister. Labour has earned the right to be taken seriously again – but it needs an additional 64 seats if its to form the next UK Government. And it cannot forever duck and dive on Brexit, hoping to concentrate on Tory divisions. This isn’t sustainable or serious politics at such a time of crisis.</p> <p>Leadership cults and worship are never advisable. Imagine the Scottish Nats chanting the leaders name under Salmond or Sturgeon at her peak, or the Tories under the imperial reign of Thatcher? </p> <p>Meanwhile Scottish Labour faces another leadership contest. Whoever wins the battle between Richard Leonard and Anas Sarwar will be the sixth leader since the SNP won in 2007. None of the previous contests have shown that the party has much insight into what went wrong in recent years and where to put it right. But at least the party is starting to get into the habit of having debates – something it didn’t do in its years in power. </p> <p>Neither Leonard or Sarwar are fully paid up Corbynistas although both claim allegiance to the UK party leadership. That is more problematic for Sarwar, who last year signed a motion of no confidence in Corbyn. The son of former Glasgow MP and businessman Mohammed Sarwar, who succeeded his father to the Glasgow Central seat in 2010, Anas has been hit by controversies about his business interests. He had a 23% share in a family business United Wholesale (Scotland) (motto: ‘We Lead, Others Follow’) which he has now divested. It is a company without union representation and which doesn’t pay the living wage. </p> <p>But Leonard, while the favourite, has only been a MSP since 2016 and is a ponderous, slow public speaker who hasn’t yet mastered the arts of political debating and the soundbite.&nbsp; </p> <p>One of Scotland’s most staunch Corbyn supporters, Neil Findlay, MSP for the Lothians since 2011, has just published ‘Socialism and Hope: A Journey through Turbulent Times’. This concentrates in diary form on the period January-September 2014 when the indyref debate reached a crescendo and the aftermath where Jim Murphy defeated Findlay to become Scottish Labour leader, before going on to lead the party to near-destruction in the 2015 UK election. But it also offers insights into Scottish Labour, trade union and working-class culture, left politics generally, and the emergence of Jeremy Corbyn as UK party leader.</p> <p>Findlay’s account foregrounds the importance of place, the past, working class struggle, and the act of collective remembering in the culture of the party and wider movement. Findlay is from the West Lothian former mining town of Fauldhouse and his affinity and identification with the small town shines through large parts of this book.</p> <p>He champions Fauldhouse Miners Welfare Club, its annual Gala Day, the local junior football team (Fauldhouse United), even the cricket club (the second oldest in the country) and the golf club. An acute sense of the importance of the past is evident from the annual memorial to commemorate the Auchingeich pit disaster of 1959 in which 47 miners died. From the long fight for an amnesty for those striking miners who were they believe wrongly convicted and blacklisted as a result of the 1980s strike.</p> <p>Findlay gives candid assessments of political enemies (Boris Johnson is a ‘ham actor’, Michael Gove a ‘little squirt’, UKIP MEP David Colburn a ‘bampot’) – but he is equally unsparing closer to political home.</p> <p>He is furious at the Better Together campaign (a ‘fiasco’) and Labour’s effort in the indyref, worrying they were in danger of throwing away victory. His greatest invective is directed towards Jim Murphy who in the indyref, according to Findlay, was ‘trailing around Scotland standing on an Irn Bru crate shouting at passers-by and conning the madder elements of the Yes campaign into abusing him.’ Even when Murphy is hit by an egg in Dundee, you sense that Findlay’s sympathies lie less with Murphy and more the egg thrower. </p> <p>Scottish Labour Party grandee Margaret Curran gets similar treatment. She is lambasted for undermining her lifelong friend Johann Lamont during the latter’s stint as leader. Findlay reflects that Curran ‘can’t even look at me now, which is good.’ Thomas Doherty, Labour MP for Dunfermline and West Fife from 2010-15 gets special attention with Findlay imagining him being told off by the whip: ‘all yer colleagues think you’re a c**t and I have investigated these allegations and found out that you are a c**t, so start behaving yerself.’</p> <p>Findlay prefers the old-fashioned socialist firebrands and orators including Jim Sillars and George Galloway. When a Labour figure crosses over to Yes in the indyref, Findlay sees it as careerism, saying ‘I have more respect for the likes of Jim Sillars and Alex Neil, who left the Labour Party thirty years ago, before or in the middle of their careers on a point of principle.’ Galloway he describes as ‘brilliant’ and ‘his searing analysis of the case for independence’ as ‘fantastic’. He does however also have warm words for (the now late) Labour moderate Tam Dalyell who acted as a mentor to Findlay over thirty years: ‘the dogged campaigner who gets an issue and runs with it until he gets a result.’</p> <p>In the final months of the indyref, Findlay debates with left-wing supporters of independence and finds them wanting, Sillars included. He summarises Sillars’ case as ‘Scotland is a left-wing country (is it?) and all we have to do is vote for independence and socialism will follow. Oh, and I’ve written a book and it contains the manifesto for that socialist Scotland’ and asks ‘What planet is he living on?’</p> <p>He has even less time for Robin McAlpine of Common Weal viewing him as ‘one of these guys who wants to be seen as a bit whacky, but also a deep-thinking intellectual’, but who ‘talks utter bollocks’. Tommy Sheridan is an ‘attention-seeker extraordinaire’ and the Radical Independence Campaign is accused of being devoid of class politics. Findlay asks of independence: ‘what is the plan to bring about socialism with a divided working class and trade union movement?’</p> <p>Sometimes Findlay’s judgement is acute. Martin Sime, long time head of SCVO is ‘Salmond’s mate from university and does whatever the Scottish Government ask’. Sometimes he is unguarded, calling pro-independence blogger Wings over Scotland ‘the vile blogger’ and ‘a cretin’. At other points he shows his blind spots asking the Scottish Green Patrick Harvie to ‘name anything the Greens have done in their history’, stating ‘they have achieved little or nothing.’ And the Stalinist ‘Morning Star’, friend of left-wing dictatorships the world over, it is ‘great for getting an alternative view of the world.’</p> <p>Findlay consistently opposes both Salmond’s low-tax, low regulation version of independence, and Labour’s own shortcomings. But he also misses the limitations in the left and Corbyn’s political agenda. Only at one point does he ever come close to understanding what has happened to the Scottish party, when he compares its downfall under Murphy to Rangers FC:</p> <p><em>The analogy with Rangers FC is obvious. A successful team, media-friendly owner and manager, well-known stars, but built on sand and when pressure is applied, everything falls apart. That is the reality of New Labour. No matter how energetic Murphy and Co. are, no one believes what he says. This project also has foundations of sand.</em></p> <p>Of the current Scottish Labour candidates his view of Anas Sarwar is lukewarm: ‘well-mannered, ambitious and extremely well-connected’. Richard Leonard is ‘a really clever and articulate man’. Findlay has subsequently nominated Leonard.</p> <p>But there is little analysis which shows any sense of why Scottish Labour has fallen so low, or what a left-wing politics of the future would look like.</p> <p>Instead, there is a lot of displacement and bewilderment about Scotland and a political culture which has moved away from Findlay and his kind of left-wing politics. This is combined with a mix of bravado, machismo and settling scores, but also a degree of personal honesty and self-reflection rare amongst politicians.</p> <p>Yet, with Corbyn as leader of British Labour, the party’s left are ascendant in a way they never have been before. That means the attitudes and pronouncements, silences and omissions, from the ‘Morning Star’s’ view of the world to Brexit, matter more than ever. After the events of the last few months, and the wider backstory since the financial crash, Prime Minister Corbyn looks more likely than it ever has been. But that would be merely the beginning of more uncertainty, rather than a new dawn.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/anthony-barnett/age-of-corbyn-i-most-powerful-person-in-land">The Age of Corbyn I: He is now the most powerful person in the land</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/uk/mark-perryman/rising-from-abyss-corbyn-effect">Rising from the abyss - the Corbyn effect</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/gerry-hassan/day-britain-died-brexit-trump-and-scottish-independence">The day Britain died: Brexit, Trump and Scottish independence</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk Gerry Hassan Wed, 27 Sep 2017 08:30:23 +0000 Gerry Hassan 113658 at The High Road and the Low Road of Scottish debate and politics <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Three years ago Scotland woke to the sense they could make those in power tremble. But as the geo-political stakes have risen ever higher, has the tone of the more recent debate slid into the swamp?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>&nbsp;</p><p class="MsoNormal"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="lead " title="" width="443" height="334" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span><em>Image: Neal Ascherson, appearing on After Dark in 1987, Wikimedia.</em></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>These are serious and dangerous times across the globe. There is the instability and gangland nature of the Trump administration, its ‘America First’ isolationism, disparaging of traditional allies, and open admiration for autocrats such as Putin and Erdo</span><span>ğ</span><span>an. </span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>There is the threat of North Korea and its kleptocratic notionally Communist regime and its nuclear and aggressive ambitions which have so far found the international community wanting. And on a less dramatic scale, but no less important for the UK and Europe, there are the perils of Brexit, as Britain sleepwalks its way out of the EU without an agreed plan or national consensus. </span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>Yet the Scottish debate seems for many to swing along in isolation or even blithe ignorance of bigger issues at play across the planet. All that matters for some is winning the Scottish debate and defeating or diminishing their opponents on the constitutional question. This is an unhealthy state of affairs for Scotland, all the more sad and misguided considering the scale of challenges facing us internationally.</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>We are in danger of losing the positive big picture of how Scotland has changed in recent years. Take the writer Neal Ascherson. At the age of 84 Ascherson has just reflected on a life filled with experience and epic historical moments. He witnessed firsthand the horrors of the Belgian Congo, the Polish Spring which contributed to the collapse of Eastern European Communism, and many other occasions.<span>&nbsp; </span></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>With such a rich tapestry of memories, Ascherson thinks the most moving experience he has ever had has been the Scottish indyref. <a href="">Writing in The Observer two weekends ago he said:</a></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>“<span>People were so unused to being asked. To see people suddenly be so full of hope and excited and wanting to participate in their future – it was probably the most moving thing I’ve ever seen.”</span></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>A week before the indyref I debated the subject in London with Vernon Bogdanor, David Cameron’s tutor at Oxford. He dismissed support for Scottish independence as being similar in composition to ‘UKIP’s left behind vote’. But when I told him this wasn’t the case and that instead there was a cross-class alliance of different parts of the country, he listened and took note.</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>I told Bogdanor that the moment Yes had gone ahead in the polls something profound had shifted in the culture and psyche of Scotland beyond how people would vote. The British political establishment had shaken with panic. And people had noticed this. </span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>They noted that they had a collective power within themselves which could cause power and privilege to tremble. This isn’t a collective sensation that people have felt very often in Scotland or the UK in recent decades. And beyond Yes and No they liked that feeling. Something was shifting beyond the vote and result.</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>We are living in the aftermath of that shift. These are nervous days for establishments – who are in many places either in retreat, confused or bemused that people are increasingly questioning the conventional ways of doing things.</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right 0'><a href="// bum.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title="Image: PA. All rights reserved."><img src="// bum.jpg" alt="lead lead lead " title="Image: PA. All rights reserved." width="460" height="265" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Image: PA. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>Such a deep-seated movement – of people feeling they have collective power and voice – doesn’t arise easily and nor smoothly go back in the box. We are still living in the long tail and eruption of that debate. And while for some of us it felt like an opening and a festival of democracy, for others it was the exact opposite and deeply unpleasant. We have to allow for a multiplicity of stories, particularly in something so deeply profound.</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>Yet for all this big picture of a Scotland which has changed fundamentally as put by Ascherson and in my exchange with Bogdanor, there is another more depressing aspect. Part of Scotland has insisted on reducing the terms of debate to the most petty, partisan and acrimonious terms possible, set on nothing but winning and beating (and sometimes to the point of humiliating) the other side.</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>Taking a lead position in this is the pro-independence blogger Wings over Scotland, aka the Bath-based Stuart Campbell, currently involved in the latest of many controversies. One has mixed feelings about writing or giving any further publicity to Campbell but he clearly matters, has a band of committed followers, can raise significant amounts of money in the blogosphere, and tells us something about at least a part of Scotland.</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>In March this year <a href="">Campbell insulted Tory Secretary of State David Mundell</a> and his son Tory MSP Oliver Mundell by saying: “Oliver Mundell is the sort of public speaker that makes you wish his dad had embraced his homosexuality sooner.” Leaving aside the obvious fact that lots of gay men and lesbians have children, his remark attracted both opprobrium and staunch defence, with some insisting it wasn’t necessarily homophobic. </span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>Scottish Labour leader (and out lesbian) <a href="">Kezia Dugdale told the Scottish Parliament she had “called out” Campbell for his “homophobic comments” </a><span>&nbsp;</span>resulting in Campbell launching a crowdfunder to take her to court for defamation. He has form – he previously took The Scotsman to court for defamation, which they settled out of court for more than £6,000 damages and costs. </span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>This is a very modern debate, one which takes place all across the Western world, about the rights, responsibilities and limits to free speech. Witness the controversy over the remarks of Kevin Myers in the Irish edition of the Sunday Times which saw him sacked. </span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>A lot of comment about whether Wings’ remark was homophobic or not has come from people claiming to have an absolute understanding of what is and isn’t homophobic. This is in many respects a diversion from the main issue (although not any resulting court case). The comments were offensive, meant to hurt, demean and dehumanise.</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>Another frequently made defence of the remarks is that both Labour and Tories deserve everything they get. In this view Kezia Dugdale is a censorious politician for challenging Wings, even attempting to silence his right to free speech when it is he who is taking the legal action. And as for David and Oliver Mundell: well, as Tories, some say all is fair in love and war.</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>In fact we aren’t talking about a one-off not very appropriate tweet, but a whole backstory – much of which will be relevant in any court case - from comments on Chelsea Manning’s gender identity to the Hillsborough tragedy. <a href="">Pro-independence commentator Angela Haggerty said</a> in the Sunday Herald that Campbell is ‘a controversial character within the Yes movement … who regularly indulges in what critics see as character assassinations of political opponents on his website.’</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>Importantly none of this can be understood without referencing Scotland’s own dark past in relation to LGBT issues and rights. It is less than twenty years since we experienced a virtual culture war on the abolition of Section 28/Clause 2a which banned the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality in schools. And as the UK liberal media and broadcasters celebrate ‘<a href="">Gay Britannia</a>’ and the partial decriminalisation of male homosexuality in England and Wales in 1967, Scotland along with Northern Ireland was exempt. Thanks to Willie Ross, Scottish Labour and the Kirk, Scotland had to wait until 1980 for reform – for Northern Ireland it was 1982.</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>No senior SNP politician has yet challenged the specific onslaughts which have emanated from Campbell. Nicola Sturgeon has issued only a general condemnation of abuse. A few principled more junior SNP politicians such as Glasgow South MP Stewart McDonald have specifically called out Campbell. But for the most part the silence and evasion has been deafening. </span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>Imagine the outrage from pro-independence opinion if a pro-union blogger or commentator had made similar utterances about Sturgeon or Salmond. All hell would break loose. Are we to accept that literally any comment, no matter how abusive, ugly and hate filled, is tolerable, if you think the source of it is on your (ie, the right) side? This is an indefensible state of affairs. The right side can never ever be one where anything goes, and prejudice and hate are permissible, because your cause is so just and your enemies so contemptible.</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>Back to the bigger picture. There is something wrong in our public debate that such basics are even questionned. A major factor in this has been the absence of proper discussion in Scottish politics since the indyref – now coming up for three years ago next month.</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>We have lived in a kind of perma-campaigning vacuum since 2014. There has been no SNP or independence post-mortem on why they lost the referendum. Similarly, there has been no concerted attempt to bring forth a new independence offer which tackled the fundamental weaknesses in the 2014 offer on the currency, Treasury and Bank of England role, and general economic illiteracy. </span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>There has been a profound absence of national leadership from Nicola Sturgeon. At her peak popularity she could have twin-tracked - speaking to the country as a national leader beyond party, while telling the independence movement some home truths about difficult choices and how an independent Scotland will not be all be milk and honey in the early years. But Sturgeon did not do either when she had the popularity, and now is paying the price.</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>In the strange, supercharged vacuum of the last three years, instead of detail and policy, we get ultra-partisans (both pro-and anti-independence) who don’t take any prisoners. They seem to believe they are charged to conduct quasi-military style debate which celebrates scorching the earth of modern Scotland. <br /> We are a long way from Neal Ascherson’s noble vision of a people galvanised and empowered. Reality is always messy. While part of Scotland’s experience has been about becoming more mature and taking more responsibility, for others the opposite is true. They embrace immaturity and irresponsibility. We need to call out the latter and the apologists who are happy to promote and acquiesce in a culture of abuse and hatred. <span>&nbsp;</span></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>We are in danger of losing sight of what matters. Scotland shook the British political establishment to their core three years ago. There can be and won’t be any return to business as usual in relation to how Britain is run, Scotland’s part in it, or the wider world. </span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>Look at the state of the planet. These are times of disruption, anxiety, and seismic shifts in societies, economies and politics. They call for us in our own small patch of the world that is Scotland to raise our heads. To raise our standards from the mudslinging and abuse at the margins, and at the mainstream, from the arid, policy-free and ideas-free politics which dominates what passes for political debate. </span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>Serious times and a cause as fundamental and far-reaching as Scottish self-government demand that we do better than we have done. The challenge is whether our politics and politicians have any interest or desire to rise to the occasion and harsh times we live in. We have to challenge them to do so and the siren voices to leave the stage. We are better than this, aren’t we? </span></p> <p>&nbsp;</p><div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk Gerry Hassan Tue, 08 Aug 2017 14:27:20 +0000 Gerry Hassan 112749 at Brexit, Dunkirk and a Britain where the past shapes the future <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Nostalgia for ‘Dunkirk’ exposes the threadbare nature of our national stories, as do both Tory and Labour responses to Brexit.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="// poster.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="// poster.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span>The past is always around us in what passes for modern Britain. </p><p>In recent years, particularly in the aftermath of the Brexit vote, it seems more omnipotent and increasingly problematic. From politics to culture and most aspects of public life we are confronted with a selective, sepia-tinged fantasyland version of the collective past. And it reduces the prospect of us believing that we can make a better collective future than the nasty, mean-spirited reality which is - for too many - contemporary Britain.</p> <p>This predicament comes into full view in the summer of 2017 and in Christopher Nolan’s just released film ‘Dunkirk’. The film has attracted plaudits for its grand scale, alongside its depiction of chaos and confusion. But it has also attracted critical comment for its lack of characters, central story, and context (one of which is the absence of any Germans or overall strategy from either side).</p> <p>Nolan’s film does portray powerfully the gathering foreboding and claustrophobia on the Dunkirk beachhead as the Germans closed in on the trapped British and French forces. This was after all the worst British military disaster and reverse ever in the country’s history. A greater defeat - in military terms - than the geo-political defeats of the American Wars of Independence and Irish independence, or the humiliations of the loses of Tobruk, Singapore and Hong Kong in 1942. This is epic history on every level: a bigger encirclement of men than even at Stalingrad, and the biggest amphibious military rescue ever undertaken. </p> <p>But ‘Dunkirk’ the film is a very British and respectable version of what carnage and chaos looks like. The chaos is only tentatively hinted at in the film in the closing scenes as British soldiers arrive in the UK and are transported through the countryside. Perhaps Nolan didn’t want to bust our last collective national myths, send the ‘Daily Mail’ into a predictable fury, and risk losing a mainstream audience.</p> <p>Harold Evans, once editor of the pre-Murdoch ‘Sunday Times’ wrote in his <a href=";btkr=1">memoir</a> of the disjuncture between the official account of Dunkirk and the human reality – both in the immediate aftermath and in the decades after the war. It was this chasm of difference - with the ‘Daily Mirror’ proclaiming ‘Bloody Marvellous’ after the evacuation of British and French troops - which made Evans want to be a journalist and bust future mythologies.</p> <p>Dunkirk was a human story and a class one. Harold Evans’ father, Freddie, went and spoke to some of the soldiers who returned. “They said they had nothing to fight with’ and were ‘bewildered [and] bitter that the Maginot Line had proven useless because the Germans bypassed it by coming through Belgium.”</p> <p>Individual testimony reinforces this argument: of anger at poor equipment, lack of resources, organisation and leadership, and the sheer gentlemanly amateurism of British generals and officers - the last point <a href="">touched upon by Ben McIntyre in The Times last week</a>. One reader wrote in response to argue that Dunkirk wasn’t due to ‘the incompetence of British generals’ and that ‘the strategic situation cannot be attributed to the British generals involved’. If not, then what is the point of having any generals at all?</p> <p>The German General Staff - led by the likes of Rundstedt and, operationally, Rommel - were fighting a different and new war compared to Lord Gort. Gort, who headed up the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in 1940, had served in 1914-18, leading the fight in the immobile trench warfare of the Somme and Passchendaele. </p> <p>Dunkirk is as a myth and memory everywhere. From the immediate post-war generation onwards, it is continually evoked by elites to urge the common folk to work harder and face greater hardships in the face of Johnny Foreigner showing his and her ability to adapt and be more competitive.</p> <p>For a while ‘the Dunkirk spirit’ being directly referenced seemed to wane in the 1970s as a wartime set of experiences died off, the post-war consensus weakened, and Thatcherism began to emerge. There was a cultural counteroffensive seen in the likes of John Cleese’s ‘Don’t mention the war’ - a call to overthrow the suffocating constant referencing of World War Two. </p> <p>Yet it never fully went away, drawing on and giving succour to British exceptionalism. It found voice in the Thatcherite pre-Trumpian ‘We put the Great Back into Britain’ along with the related ‘we kept the lights on in Europe’ (about the period 1940-41 before the Soviet Union and US entered the war).</p> <p>And then there is Europe.</p> <p><strong>Britain, Europe and the Psychologies of Shame and Guilt</strong></p> <p>Britain joined the then EEC late, and never fully joined in terms of signing up convincingly to the European project. It is now leaving, divided and in a huff. There is something deep at work in the British national psyche, assuming we can still talk about such a thing. To the extent such a psyche exists, it isn’t homogeneous, but confused and bitterly fractured – full of loss and a sense of anger and betrayal at the state of the country. </p> <p>Psychology and psychoanalysis is important here. As Rafael Behr in The Guardian points out, the <a href="">UK joined the EEC when Britain was seen, including by large parts of British informed opinion, as “the sick man of Europe”</a>. </p> <p>The European project was the future - progress, and liberation from old-fashioned British ways, from incompetent management (the same class who had proven their uselessness at Dunkirk), from sectional trade union leaders and shop stewards. Europe would save us from ourselves.</p> <p>Behr says that this national mood produced a certain pathology: a ‘demoralised entry… tangled up with subconscious feelings of shame.’ Brexit isn’t a calm, reflective, cost-benefit vote for change and self-government, but ‘self-harm, born of a neurotic urge to expiate on imaginary guilt; the sin of having been obliged to join the enterprise in the first place.’ </p> <p>This seems without getting too Freudian in our metaphors an acute reading, and with all this hurt, suppressed emotions and open wounds about, it certainly makes it much less likely Brexit will work out well, and much more likely it will be an almighty and painful mess.</p> <p>The present-day situation isn’t then just about Brexit, but an existential crisis of the very idea of Britain. It has exposed the threadbare nature of what pass for our collective national stories. What are we left with but Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain and Churchill’s stirring call to ‘fight them on the beaches’ and ‘our finest hour’? It is little surprising that a recent YouGov poll found that 59% of respondents thought the British Empire was something to be proud of.</p> <p>This is the wider stream within which Labour and the left have had to swim. What alternative national stories has the left had to challenge exceptionalism and bittersweet nostalgia? What tales of the powerful, humanising force that is ‘the common people’ have become part of the mainstream and proven impossible for the forces of reaction to dismiss? Apart from the popular regard and occasional celebration of the NHS (think Danny Boyle’s 2012 London Olympic opening), there is an embarrassingly empty cupboard.</p> <p><strong>The Problem with Tory and Labour Britain Today</strong></p> <p>This presents a problem to the British political classes, their two possible parties of government, Conservative and Labour, and their versions of the country. It isn’t an accident that both parties parrot simplistic scripts on Brexit, while trying to avoid, details, complexities and realities. They are both playing high wire, dangerous games: the Tories with their divisions between domestic and international capital, ‘real’ and ‘invisible’ business, and Labour with its faultlines between insular British chauvinism and an international co-operation and solidarity. </p> <p>These are old, deep, even familiar divides – with the fetishisation of British traditions and parliamentary sovereignty running from the radicals of the Tory right such as Enoch Powell to those of the Labour left like Michael Foot and Tony Benn. Today’s Tory hard Brexiteers such as Liam Fox and Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell are the modern, diminished inheritors of these traditions: of Britain the exceptional, and its narrow, ossified undemocracy.</p> <p>This week is the anniversary of the greatest ever Labour electoral victory and moment in its history: Clement Attlee’s 1945 triumph which produced the first ever majority Labour Government – when it won 393 seats and gained an overall majority of 146 seats (the vote took place on 5 July but the count was held on 26 July to allow for the overseas military vote). </p> <p>Attlee’s government produced many of the institutions and achievements that have has been Britain at its best, and whose undermining under Thatcher and Blair has seen Britain at its worst.</p> <p>The road to 1945 runs through Munich, Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain: a people’s story which remembers collective endeavour, the betrayal and sheer incompetence of Britain’s ruling classes, and which linked its appeasement of fascism with the mass unemployment of the 1920s and 1930s. It brought us closer than we have ever been before or since to a popular left British patriotism based on solidarity, redistribution, making education and health public goods, and full employment. But the mood was not one which lasted, nor that Labour and the left built upon.</p> <p>Labour’s failure to be bold and radical when it was at its peak meant that ‘the Conservative nation’ of Andrew Gamble’s analysis - the world of privilege, power and elite rule - was there intact to stage its comeback and revenge when it could sum up the confidence and political capital, aided by Labour weakness and divisions.</p> <p>Labour supporters from the Corbyn leadership to centre-right ‘moderates’ have been left invoking the folklore of 1945 as an alternative Dunkirk of the left: one where the good guys triumph, rather than just escaping the clutch of the bad guys at the last moment. </p> <p>But invoking 1945 uncritically, as in Ken Loach’s film ‘The Spirit of ‘45’, merely validates the worst aspects of Labour: conservatism, self-congratulation, and a simplistic version of history where all that stops the people’s advance is betrayal by successive leaders. In Loach’s film, we are transposed from 1945 and a golden age to 1979 and Thatcher, as if some kind of quasi-military coup has overthrown all that was good, rather than seen it unravel through multiple mistakes and events.</p> <p>Britain clearly needs more national stories than Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain and Churchill. That is the conservative story with a small and capital c. The Labour version claims these as well and isn’t much better. The current Labour leadership represent an even more pronounced conservative leftist nostalgia: one which is insular, chauvinistic, and wanting to use the unreformed institutions and instincts of the British state to impose top-down change.</p> <p>This sad state of affairs has helped enable Brexit. The truncated debate and limiting of possibilities and imaginations that is contemporary Britain, is a product of the power of the past and collective failure to sustain alternative accounts of what Britain is. </p> <p>Maybe Britain can for the near-future muddle through all this and endure the mess and disappointment, but it isn’t a mobilising, enabling future. Mainstream politics are defined by two versions of the future shaped by the past: a Toryism which sees Britain floating off into the deregulated Anglosphere freed from European sclerosis and a Labour Britain harking back to centralism and class certainties. Each speaks for a narrow Britain – one which huge swathes of England including London, along with Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, have huge anxieties about and don’t want to be part of. A Britain where the past is the future is increasingly a Britain which for many of us will cease to be viable.</p><div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk Gerry Hassan Fri, 28 Jul 2017 10:40:10 +0000 Gerry Hassan 112582 at Build it and they will come: Scotland and independence after the election <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>To survive, the SNP needs to focus on the politics of the long-term and develop a truly ambitious strategy, which so far it has neglected to do.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="298" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Nicola Sturgeon by Ninian Reid. Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>The 2017 election marks the end of an era of Scottish politics.</p><p>The immediate shadow of the 2014 indyref dominating everything is over. As is the age of the big tent, omnipotent SNP carrying all before it. The re-emergence of the Scottish Tories and the stalling of the retreat of Scottish Labour has confounded many nationalists.</p> <p>Not only is the post-2014 indyref environment over, so too is politics defined by the constant invoking of Thatcher and Blair. No matter the depths Blair fell to, firstly, the two aren’t completely comparable, and second, Blair was once massively popular in Scotland – the 1997-99 period being one such example. Plus the Blair Government’s for all their faults did do a host of positive things: such as legislate for a Scottish Parliament (not that he really believed in it, but that’s another story).</p> <p>The SNP ‘won’ this election in that they got the most seats and votes – the criteria for judging success. But the party lost 476,867 votes, 13.1% of their vote, and 21 seats out of 56 – which cannot be called by any standards much of a success. The SNP imperial age is over and in some places there is denial and refusal to accept reality, and even anger and wanting to kick out at the usual culprits (BBC, MSM, etc, everybody basically but the SNP).</p> <h2><strong>The context of 2017</strong></h2> <p>The SNP ran an awful campaign. It lacked any clear message, spine or purpose. It seemed to fall back in the last few days on the ridiculous line: ‘If you agree with Jeremy Corbyn vote SNP’.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">This is a bad tactic and bad strategy.&nbsp;</p> <p>This is a bad tactic and bad strategy. The tactics were terrible. Derek Mackay has now run several inept campaigns running the 2012 and 2017 local elections and doesn’t inspire with his political touch and intelligence. But much more is wrong than how to run an effective campaign ergo the steadfast belief in the brilliance of the SNP ‘machine’ – a myth which isn’t based on any facts.</p> <p>The chimera of the SNP assuming it occupies the centre-left and social democratic ground of Scotland while disparaging its main opponents with disdain is over.</p> <p>In reality the SNP isn’t that much of a centre-left, social democratic party. Instead, it has at best been a defensive progressive party, holding off the worst aspects of the tearing apart of the social contract we have witnessed down south.</p> <p>But often that hasn’t actually been that progressive here. For example, defending the entitlements of health, education and law professions, and never daring to invoke ‘public sector reform’, isn’t that radical. It is actually quite conservative and going with the grain of the vested interests who have historically defined civil society.</p> <p>Instead, the mantra has been that for ten years the SNP has tried to be all things to all men, women and citizens of Scotland. A nod to social democracy here, a wink at the landed interests there, and at all times keep the business community on board. This has been a mélange of social democratic sentiment and neo-liberalism – rather like New Labour before the scandals and wars – but with much less detail in the former. The deception was that we weren’t meant to notice, mind and criticise this until last Thursday.</p> <p>Salmond was explicitly this mixture. Sturgeon was meant to talk left, be more about detail and more straight dealing. All we have got has been the practice of the latter, and little else.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The myths of the SNP have to be held up for the threadbare stories many of them are.</p> <p>The myths of the SNP have to be held up for the threadbare stories many of them are. Thus, we have the line punted by some SNP media sympathisers that the Corbyn manifesto was a tribute to the SNP in its plagiarism and copying of universal benefits.</p> <p>But this isn’t the case. Corbyn’s manifesto – which wasn’t perfect and articulated a Labour radical nostalgia – put back on the political agenda a host of popular left-wing policies. Some of these such as nationalisation and standing up to corporate capitalism, are policies the SNP has never ever gone remotely near.</p> <p>The SNP in their decade in office have been silent on the macro-issues of crony capitalism – apart from Salmond’s eulogies to Fred Goodwin and RBS pre-crash – which were as embarrassing and wrong-headed as Gordon Brown’s. Indeed, there is one kind of nationalism the SNP have barely ever touched in the last decade and that is economic nationalism: talking about ownership, control and takeovers. The only exception over the last decade was Salmond’s populist campaigning on Diageo’s decision to close their Kilmarnock plant.</p> <p>The myopia of centrist ministers like Humza Yousaf calling the recent SNP manifesto ‘left-wing’ indicates a political class which has no real understanding of what the term left-wing means, and who don’t do substantive policies – instead being content to be managers and administrators of the embryonic Scottish state – nothing more and nothing less.</p> <p>It is this big picture which matters most. Tellingly, Nicola Sturgeon seems to have burned through much of the goodwill and energy of the two and a half year indyref campaign; and in two and a half years as First Minister, has little tangible achievements. That is a tragedy because Sturgeon has many qualities as a campaigner and communicator, but so far she has shown herself as missing critical elements of leadership, and lacking a sense of strategic direction.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">There is the issue of the SNP’s swollen membership of 120,000. This was meant to provide the party with a huge advantage over its opponents. It hasn’t so far delivered.&nbsp;</p> <p>There is the issue of the SNP’s swollen membership of 120,000. This was meant to provide the party with a huge advantage over its opponents. It hasn’t so far delivered. It has proven across large swathes of the country in the recent campaign to be an elusive and almost invisible army. There were across numerous Glasgow and West of Scotland constituencies, little obvious door-to-door canvassing and campaigning. This pattern has been developing for a while. It was evident in the recent local elections. And in last year’s SNP depute leadership contest which had a derisory 34% turnout.</p> <p>It is this which provides a backdrop to public concerns about the style of Sturgeon’s leadership. This isn’t a sudden issue which has just emerged, but has been building for a long time. For example, late last year, myself and James Mitchell’s book, ‘SNP Leaders’ contained Mike Russell’s concerns about the culture of groupthink at the top of the party, as well as Mandy Rhodes’ portrait of Sturgeon which painted a picture of an isolated leadership – with major decisions often made only by herself with her husband, Peter Murrell, Chief Executive of the SNP.</p> <p>Sturgeon’s leadership is a mix of command and control and uber-caution. The first element has seen the slow atrophying of the political intelligence of the party that first got it into a dominant position. The party leadership have swallowed the stories of their own wisdom and hype which is always a bad sign. This has been combined with a caution and even inaction in government which hasn’t helped matters. This has slowly allowed the SNP to lose the initiative it had, and find itself in the unusual place of being defined by its opponents, and in particular, Ruth Davidson’s abrasive and energetic campaigning – which has been the sort of robust challenge the SNP haven’t been used to and Scottish Labour have not given them for many a year.</p> <p>All of this has to be seen in the light of a party which has willfully refused to engage in a major appraisal of the reasons why the 2014 indyref was lost. Or indeed spent any time putting together a new vision. Instead, the SNP leadership and official line became that the combination of the power and reach of the 56, Brexit, the footsoldiers of the swollen membership, and the power of the abstract idea of independence would be enough. These factors would take independence over the winning line – by a mixture of charm, cajoling, hectoring and impatience. It wasn’t a great strategy. Indeed, it was a win ugly approach and it has now been discredited. It was never a good approach or good politics.</p> <h2><strong>The limits of the SNP victory on 37%</strong></h2> <p>For those who say stay calm as the SNP won, a little closer examination of the results is needed. The SNP won 37% of the vote. This was the biggest share by far, but in two years across two Westminster elections, Scotland has shifted from a dominant one party system to multi-party politics. It is also telling that some SNP and indy supporters are complaining about the three pro-union parties engaging in tactical voting to defeat the SNP. That’s what happens under FPTP; is something Scotland has seen many times such as against the Tories in the 1980s and 1990s; and is what occurs to incumbent parties.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Beneath the SNP’s 37% of the vote and 35 seats there is fragility.</p> <p>Beneath the SNP’s 37% of the vote and 35 seats there is fragility. Nine of the SNP’s 35 seats have majorities under 1,000: four with majorities under 100 - Fife North East (2), Perth and North Perthshire (21), Glasgow South West (60), Glasgow East (75). A total of eighteen – more than half the party’s seats have majorities under 2,500. Not one of the six SNP Glasgow seats looks impregnable. The only formidable SNP majorities look like Dundee West and East, Kilmarnock and Loudoun and Ross, Skye and Lochaber - the only seats with majorities over 5,000. In not one of the SNP’s 35 seats did the party win over half the vote, making the party very vulnerable to continued tactical voting.</p> <p>The party support has shifted westward. It has lost huge swathes of support in the North East and Perthshire – areas where it has long been dug in but which have now returned to their traditional Tory allegiance. This was always the implication of the shift from the Salmond to Sturgeon leadership – but the party hasn’t gained any radical edge as a result, and doesn’t look that secure in large parts of the west. Another worry must be that the much vaunted democratic spirit and engagement of the indyref seems already to have exhausted itself: with turnout of 66.4% down 4.7% on two years ago and below the UK figure. Turnout in many Glasgow and West of Scotland constituencies was back to the shocking levels of pre-indyref.</p> <p>Where does this leave us? The politics of just blindly following everything the SNP does and says because they believe in independence was always a bad option. Effectively it just gave the SNP leadership a free pass and has produced poor government and politics.</p> <p>Secondly, the SNP and independence aren’t synonymous. To treat as such – as some true believers and fanatical unionists do – has not been very helpful to either cause. Thirdly, there is a problem in the SNP with leadership. It has engaged in micro-control without being prepared post-indyref to openly talk about hard decisions on independence, the choices explicit in government, or act in a mature, long term way talking to the nation. Instead, everything has been tactical and about positioning.</p> <p>Fourth, the rise of the SNP in recent years and all its related excitement has distracted from the narrow range of politicians who have come to the fore. Despite the SNP 56 and large Holyrood group there isn’t a surfeit of talent at the top. There is an absence of campaigning politicians prepared to graft and do the hard work on an issue – Alison Thewliss on the rape clause being a rare exception. The party needs a culture of encouraging politicians to nurture and champion issues and causes, and have less of the TV pundit Nationalists of the likes of the now departed John Nicolson and Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh.</p> <p>Fifth, there is the wider culture and psychology of independence supporters. There are many shades and gradations of opinions, but one which has done the SNP and independence no good has been the over the top partisanship, blinkeredness and intolerance of its most fanatical supporters. The worst examples of this have done lasting damage to the SNP and independence – allowing them to be painted in the most derogatory styles. They have to be stood up to and told to stand down and find some other vent for their misanthropic sentiments.</p> <p>Sixth, show more interest in policy and after ten years in office encourage and aid some alternative centres of power. The SNP and independence desperately needs at least one and preferably more than one independent, self-government supporting think tank which can compliment the work of the likes of Common Weal and others.</p> <p>Finally, this was the fifth Westminster post-devolution election. The mainstream media didn’t have a good election in informing voters. The two BBC and STV leader debates, for example, were both dominated by devolved issues and the record of the SNP at Holyrood, to the exclusion of Westminster issues. Is it beyond broadcasters to structure discussions with explicit sections on devolved and reserved issues? This wasn’t a conspiracy as this is how they covered elections under Labour too, but it probably hurts the SNP more who already suffer in such elections from a Westminster squeeze. One SNP voter said to me during the campaign: ‘This is a contest just between Labour and Tories isn’t it? Am I allowed to vote SNP?’.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The SNP have only been in office for ten years. The Labour Party dominated Scottish politics for fifty years.&nbsp;</p> <p>Critically, there is the question of whether the SNP can change in office, or need to lose power at Holyrood to change. Funnily enough this is an argument Scottish Labour used to have with itself when it was in office – with senior ministers believing they could renew while being in office in perpetuity.</p> <p>The SNP have only been in office for ten years. The Labour Party dominated Scottish politics for fifty years. It hasn’t taken long for the sheen to go off the SNP. How it responds will tell whether this becomes a major crisis and retreat, or one which it can manage and bounce back from.</p> <p>Underlying all of the above is the missing ingredient in the SNP’s politics and independence offer. There is no coherent national project about Scotland’s future. The party has invited us to just trust them and believe everything will be alright the other side of independence. It was never good enough. This is transparent now.</p> <p>An independence referendum looks extremely unlikely for the next few years. That gives the SNP and Scottish politics a breathing space to develop a different course. It should be one which is based on the principle of ‘Build it and they will come’. Mark out the territory, policies and detail of a self-governing and independent Scotland and start out in its direction of travel. But that requires a different SNP and leadership which has until now shown no interest in a politics of the long-term or of developing a truly ambitious strategy.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourkingdom/2007/08/14/snp-set-out-referendum-plan">SNP set out referendum plan</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ourkingdom/david-rickard/scottish-independence-would-open-way-for-constitutional-reform">Scottish independence would open the way for constitutional reform</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourkingdom/gerry-hassan/scotland-and-britain-have-changed-%E2%80%98big-bang%E2%80%99-of-indy-ref-and-after">Scotland and Britain have changed: the ‘big bang’ of the indy ref and after</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk Gerry Hassan Thu, 22 Jun 2017 16:14:48 +0000 Gerry Hassan 111823 at The Tories have just brought the endgame of the union a little closer <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Is this goodbye to British politics and goodbye to Britain?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title="Jane Barlow/PA Wire/PA Images. All rights reserved."><img src="//" alt="lead " title="Jane Barlow/PA Wire/PA Images. All rights reserved." width="460" height="241" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Jane Barlow/PA Wire/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>The age of perma-campaigning and elections continues in Scotland. Theresa May’s snap election, <a href="">supposedly to give her a mandate for Brexit</a> which she already had, will be Scotland’s seventh visit to the polls in the last three years.</p> <p>For some of us, a select few, this is nirvana. For many more it is an unwanted intrusion. But while mainstream media vox pops <a href="">show us the now legendary Brenda from Bristol</a>, who says how disgusted she is at having to vote again, a <a href="">YouGov poll</a> showed that 49% thought May was right to go the country and only 17% disagreed.</p> <p>The battlelines of the contest, both clear and unclear, are being drawn. This is an election which will be about more than Brexit and independence, but the multiple crises and uncertainties of the UK. It isn’t an accident that there have been a pile-up of elections and referendums in the UK recently, because this is one indication of the fading power and legitimacy of the political classes.</p> <p>Theresa May wants the election to be about Brexit – the number one issue with voters (51%) according to <a href="">Ipsos MORI</a>. Jeremy Corbyn and Labour are clear that they want it to be about practically anything rather than Brexit; the issue that they most have a divided message on. The Lib Dems are clear that they gain from an election about Brexit, where they can position themselves as the one UK political party with a pro-European message. Finally, the SNP are determined to make it an election not explicitly about independence, while knowing that they are playing a longer game towards that end.</p> <p>What then will this election be about north and south of the border, in Scotland and the rest of the UK? For a start this will not be, no matter how effective May’s control freakery politics are, a UK election solely about Brexit. No election is ever a single-issue event. Numerous people have already cited Ted Heath’s February 1974 “who governs Britain?” campaign, when the voters answered: not Ted Heath and his Conservatives.</p> <p>Voters also have a tradition of turning on politicians who inflict unnecessary elections on them. Examples of this include Harold Wilson in 1970 when he had a massive majority of 97 and lost it, and Clement Attlee in 1951 going to the country in the October after winning an overall majority in February of the previous year.</p> <p>In Scotland, many mainstream sources are saying this will be an election about independence. Sarah Smith, BBC Scotland editor, has been repeating the line <em>ad nauseam</em> that this election will be “a referendum on a referendum.” But this isn’t straightforward, simple, or necessarily true.</p> <p>The ‘referendum on a referendum’ line is the direct Tory line of Ruth Davidson for whom it is a good campaigning trope. For the Tories this is a good attack point, playing to their troops, speaking for a significant part of Scotland, laying claim to the 55%, and a good gibe at the SNP. It works for them to an extent.</p> <p>However, taken to its logical conclusion this would mean that the Tory campaign was really saying that this was an election about Brexit and Scottish independence: a rather narrow constitutional menu for a UK election. It also exposes inconsistencies in the Tory view, with an election needed to offer clarity and a mandate (but not supposed division), but a second indyref refused because we need stability and to avoid division.</p> <p>The 2015 Scottish election was a watershed; the sort of contest which only comes along once in every couple of generations. Clearly, there will be no huge change from such a seismic change, which many observers equated to the impact of an electoral tsunami.</p> <h2><strong>The opportunities and challenges to the SNP</strong></h2> <p>The SNP enters this contest with many pluses. There is the strength of the SNP vote and its operation. The party will also more than any other party speak for the 62% majority of Scots who voted to remain in the EU, while the threat of an unwanted Brexit imposed on Scotland aids the Nationalists. Similarly, the rise of the Scottish Tories suits SNP strategists, positioning the party as the leader of anti-Tory Scotland. Related to this, the distinct likelihood of a Tory UK landslide with an overall majority of 140–150 seats. This heralds the return of ‘the Doomsday scenario’ big time – Scotland votes anti-Tory, but gets a Tory Government based on English votes.</p> <p>The SNP’s success though brings with it increased expectations and challenges. The party will be defending 56 out of 59 Scottish seats. Its chances of advancing from this are very slender, as are its chances of increasing its vote from the spectacular 49.97% it won in 2015. Any slippage, no matter how small, will be seized upon by opponents.</p> <p>There is the cross-class, national ‘Big Tent’ coalition that is the 2015 SNP vote. There were already signs in 2016 in parts of rural Scotland, that some of this was fraying at the edges. There are also the new faultlines and divides which emerged out of the EU referendum, with 36% of SNP voters supporting leave, making any SNP pro-EU message have to have a degree of flexibility about EEA/EFTA membership. And as if this weren’t enough, the party will next month have been ten years in office, has a record to defend, and also faces unease in places about any future indyref.</p> <p>Ten years of SNP success, winning elections and office, and having a sense of momentum behind them, has defined much. It has in some respects, slowly, but perceptibly, weakened the political antenna and sensitivities of the SNP and its supporters. Some of them now expect automatically political victory along the lines of ‘now we have 56 seats out of 59, what is to stop us winning the last Labour and Lib Dem, seats’, for example.</p> <p>The SNP have become the political establishment, while still in places having an outsider ethos. The party’s senior leadership more and more look, feel and act, no matter how good their intentions, like an insider class. This is what happens from ten years of incumbency. And in a few weeks the SNP will poll well in the local elections (as will the Tories), and will sweep Labour from most of their last remaining West of Scotland strongholds. All of this will produce increased expectations in supporters, and new attack lines for opponents.</p> <h2><strong>The mini-Tartan Tory revival</strong></h2> <p>The Tory mini-revival that has been going on is discounted by many in the SNP and independence supporters, but it is real. In 2015 the SNP won 49.97% and the Tories 14.9%: their worst showing at a Westminster election since 1865. In the 2016 Scottish elections, the SNP won 46.5% and the Tories 22.1% of the constituency vote: which was a 3.5% swing from the SNP to Tories from the 2011 Scottish elections, and 5.2% swing from the previous year.</p> <p>The most recent poll on Westminster voting intentions from Panelbase has the SNP on 47% (-3), Tories 28% (+13), Labour 14% (-10), Lib Dems 4 (-4): changes from the 2015 contest, and representing a 8% swing from SNP to Tories. If the Tory vote rises to anything like this level of support then this is a significant reverse from the bottoming out, consistently under 20% at every Westminster election since 1997. It takes the Tories back to the support they won in 1983, 1987 and 1992, when Thatcher and Major won UK elections based on English votes. But importantly, with the exception of a tiny Tory rise in 1992, then the tide was running away from the Tories. Now they would be experiencing a significant, but small surge towards them. This shouldn’t be underestimated or overestimated, but after years of losing votes, the Tories feel the tide has turned, at least a bit.</p> <p>The SNP 56 are vulnerable at the margins. The eleven most marginal seats the SNP won have six gains from the Lib Dems and five from Labour. Thus, the party is vulnerable to any Lib Dem recovery where the party still has a presence. For example, the SNP might be under threat in Edinburgh West where Michelle Thomson was suspended shortly after being elected and the party is defending a 3,210 majority over the Lib Dems (5.9% of votes). Similarly, any Tory revival could see the party win in places such as Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk where the SNP are a mere 328 (0.6% of votes) ahead of the Tories. If the Tories revived substantially in parts of rural Scotland, a whole host of other seats could come into play. </p><p>The bigger dynamic is that in 2015 the SNP at its peak came near to winning a popular majority. Any slip now in the party’s vote will be presented by the Tories – along with any seat gains – as some kind of vindication, even part of their national mandate. Thus, if the Tories, Labour and Lib Dems finish with more votes than the SNP, and even more a popular majority, the Tories will try to present this as some kind of virtual Better Together coalition. But that won’t wash very long and also risks drawing attention to the inconvenient fact that no matter how big Theresa May’s parliamentary vote is, she will have a mandate based on a minority of voters.</p> <p>How to mobilise, enthuse and reach out to voters will be a key factor in this election. There are already signs of voter fatigue. Will Theresa May’s call for a Brexit mandate reach out to parts of the 52%, former UKIP voters and disgruntled Labour voters? One former Labour voter thinking of voting Tory, Eric Wood from Barrow-in-Furness, said on the BBC that “Tories are the ones with brains…they are a pack of bastards…I don’t think people see the left as being smart”. This was the modern day voice of a very old tradition – working class, deferential Tories who think that the party of privilege has the class and traditions to govern better.</p> <p>Scotland’s indyref dividend is slowly weakening. In 2015 Scotland’s turnout of 71.0% was 4.8% ahead of the UK turnout of 66.2%. In the 2016 Scottish elections the 55.8% and 55.9% constituency and regional vote turnouts was a mere 5.3% and 5.5% up from 2011. And in last year’s EU referendum, Scottish turnout was 67.2% which was 5.0% below the UK 72.2% turnout.</p> <p>More important than these aggregate figures is who is turning out and who the voters are. The nature of this contest should play towards the SNP and the Tories in Scotland, and work to disadvantage an already disorientated Labour party. But the UK national contest will matter, if you look at differential turnout, and also generational divisions. UK Labour, for example, are faced with the huge problem not just of overall dire ratings, but the party having derisory support in the over-65s who come out to vote more.</p> <h2><strong>The twilight days of Britain</strong></h2> <p>This is going to be a strange British and Scottish election. For one, British politics exists in name only and in the Palace of Westminster. There is obviously a British government, but there will be no pan-UK political contest. Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales are in different political orbits from the rest of the UK, and there are several Englands.</p> <p>Theresa May has illustrated part of the weakness of Tory Britain and England, deciding to go the country as a partisan Conservative and in so doing, revealing the weaknesses and poor condition of unionism. Scotland and even more so Northern Ireland barely got a moment in her electoral calculations, such is the high regard held for the great union that is the United Kingdom.</p> <p>Instead, she has let obvious short term, tactical advantage override everything else. It seems unavoidable that she will win her own mandate and trounce the Labour Party, but at what wider cost? She has just handed Scotland and the SNP another opportunity to show that we are different and motivated by a different political dynamic. And while this election isn’t formally about independence in the way the SNP’s opponents say it is, everything political in Scotland is for now ultimately about independence. It is as much about democracy and mandates, but these all lead back to the independence question.</p> <p>No matter how certain Theresa May and Ruth Davidson may sound in their campaign speeches and on the stump, the Tories have just brought the endgame of the union as we know it and Scottish independence a little closer. No other outcome is really possible from this election.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/anthony-barnet/why-is-she-frit">Why is she frit?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk Gerry Hassan Fri, 21 Apr 2017 16:54:49 +0000 Gerry Hassan 110299 at Nationalism – Scottish or British – is never enough. It always says: ‘We are the Good Guys’ <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>We need to interrogate Scottish nationalism, too.</p> </div> </div> </div> <iframe width="460" height="259" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe> <p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Nationalism is one of the defining features of Scotland and modern Scotland. Last week UK prime minister Theresa May came north to the Scottish Tory conference in Glasgow, asking the Scots to think again, lambasting the SNP and their ‘constitutional obsessions’ and ‘tunnel vision nationalism’.</p><p dir="ltr">Apart from the ridiculousness of the first point, considering the UK government’s obsession with Brexit, the second was in the tradition known the world over of majority nationalisms (British) lecturing minority nationalisms (Scottish) about the evils of nationalism. British nationalism, being the ideology of the state, doesn’t see itself or define itself as a nationalism – a story true the world over of state nationalisms: think America, Canada, Israel, literally anywhere.</p><p dir="ltr">The above should not be contentious. But it is to many. Some unionists blow a gasket at the thought that their ‘ism’ is a nationalism – British state nationalism, but such sentiments go with the territory. The blowback from London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s intervention on the similarities between Scottish nationalism and racism illustrated this.</p><p dir="ltr">It brought forth charge and countercharge, and as happens a lot in contemporary Scotland the loudest voices were talking in their bunkers, reinforcing their prejudices, and not engaging with opposing views beyond caricature. In this the British nationalism of the ‘Daily Mail’ and Scottish nationalism of parts of the blogosphere have much in common.</p><p dir="ltr">The main defence of Scottish nationalism by its supporters is that it is benign, progressive, moderate, outgoing, and above all, civic, and not ethnic in its character. Now this is broadly true about modern Scottish nationalism and the nationalism of the SNP, the two not being completely synonymous (while it is also true that not all supporters of independence are nationalists). But what the above list chooses to ignore is the obvious: that Scottish nationalism is a nationalism and what flows from that. Namely, that all nationalisms the world over and throughout history have limits, omissions, blindspots and profoundly, a good sense of conceit about themselves. </p><p dir="ltr">In the post-Khan debate, ‘Wee Ginger Dug’ (aka Paul Kavanagh) wrote in ‘The National’:</p><blockquote><p dir="ltr">Mainstream Scottish nationalism doesn’t make the claim that the Scottish ethnicity is morally superior or better than anyone else. It doesn’t even concern itself with defining Scottishness in ethnic terms. Scottish nationalism is a civic nationalism which defines Scottishness in terms of the future, not the past. Ethnic nationalism is about the past.</p></blockquote><p dir="ltr">‘The National’ liked this so much it quoted the above in a tweet. Many pro-independence supporters will read and approve of it. They will feel attraction, attachment and a sense of the familiar – that this is who we are as a people, nation and nationalism. And therein lies part of the problem.</p><p dir="ltr">The narrative of Scotland’s civic nationalism has become an official story: the preferred explanation of the SNP, independence supporters and progressives which supposedly tells who we are, why we are different, and which invokes a sense of exceptionalism (which again all nationalisms the world over do). </p><p dir="ltr">The story of our civic nationalism is one so familiar now it seldom gets investigated. While it captures something historic about Scotland and its nationalism, the actual language of its ‘civic’ characteristics only began to emerge in the early 1990s as the self-government movement found its voice again after the impasse of 1979.</p><p dir="ltr">The distinction between civic and ethnic nationalism – in this terminology was given priority and early usage by Michael Ignatieff in his 1993 ‘Blood and Belonging: Journeys into the New Nationalisms’. He wrote that ‘Civic nationalism, maintains that the nation should be composed of all those – regardless of race, colour, creed, gender, language or ethnicity’ and that it was rightly called ‘civic’ because it envisages the nation as a community of equal, rights-bearing citizens …’ Previous to this academics of nationalism such as James Kellas spoke of ‘social nationalism’ and Yeal Tamir of ‘liberal nationalism’.</p><p dir="ltr">Nationalisms all over the world choose to create an imagined people, a political and historical community, and to emphasise the ties and bonds between past, present and future. This usually involves telling the story of ‘a good people’ and ‘a good society’ and within that some distinction between a ‘them’ and ‘us’, insiders and outsiders, which inform who is in the nation and who isn’t. </p><p dir="ltr">This isn’t some arcane debate. It matters in terms of pluralism, racism and identities. Several writers wrote post-Khan about the prevalence (or not) of racism, the legacy of slavery and Empire, and the degree to which Scotland has come to terms with its past, not just academically, but in popular and political attitudes.</p><p dir="ltr">Claire Heuchan, a Stirling University PhD student (and relevant here, a black woman) wrote a challenging ‘Guardian’ piece for which she received disgraceful abuse, which took exception with the notion of ‘fairer Scotland’ and ‘Scottish exceptionalism’. She wrote:</p><blockquote><p dir="ltr">Scottish exceptionalism – the idea of Scotland as a land of tolerance – is a fairytale. It is what allows Scotland to hold England accountable for all the wrongs of imperial expansion while denying this country’s own colonial legacy.</p></blockquote><p dir="ltr">The CommonSpace writer Robert Somynne replied (also relevant here, a black man, and receiving of abuse), acknowledging that Heuchan was ‘correct that a nationalist feature is to define against as much as for an ideal or people.’ He went on to say: ‘I disagree profoundly with the article that she wrote’ without really specifying why, beyond a generalist observation that it posed ‘a critique of Scottish nationalism as simply being an oppositional defining force [that] misses the context of that defining.’ Frankly, that’s a bit evasive.</p><p dir="ltr">Heuchan’s argument should not be dismissed just because some find it uncomfortable. However, it is also true that Scottish nationalism should not just be pulled up on its evasions with the colonial legacy. All Scotland’s political traditions have some explaining to do, and have problematic foundation stories which matter to this day.</p><p dir="ltr">Where is, then, argument about Scottish Labour and imperialism? About how the party became a party of Empire, war and the British state, and turned away from its internationalist and anti-imperialist traditions? Or what about the Scottish Tories and Empire? This is rather germane to the present, with many Brexit debates invoking the re-emergence of the Anglosphere – which draws upon a predominantly white person’s set of histories and sense of communities. Maybe we could start to ask mainstream Scotland, whether Labour, Tory, Lib Dems, for their mea culpas.</p><p dir="ltr">Numerous ‘us’ and ‘thems’ need airing. The writer Henry Bell said last week that anti-Englishness wasn’t racism – a respectable and understandable position, but did so as if there could be no debating of the matter, stating: ‘The English in Scotland – holding a culturally dominant, non-racialised identity – do not experience racism’. This was because in his view ‘racism is not just discrimination but power dynamic.’ That’s one interpretation, but the racism wiki entry opens with the observation: ‘Racism is discrimination and prejudice based on their race or ethnicity. Today, the use of the term ‘racism’ does not easily fall under a single definition.’ Which at the minimum means there should be a debate about what constitutes racism.</p><p dir="ltr">Then there was the pro-independence blogger ‘Wings over Scotland’ (aka Stuart Campbell) and his comments during the Tory conference when Oliver Mundell, son of Scottish Secretary of State David Mundell, spoke. ‘Wings’ tweeted: ‘Oliver Mundell is the sort of public speaker that makes you wish his dad had embraced his homosexuality sooner.’</p><p dir="ltr">No doubt ‘Wings’ thought he was being smart, funny and snide all at the same time, but it is a revolting comment. This is the world of ‘them’ and ‘us’, where any comment is fair game about opponents, and Tories in particular, and one laced with connotations of homophobia. Revealingly, ‘Wings’ defended it saying it was more ‘Toryphobic’ which underlines its ‘them and ‘us’ nature. Not one single senior SNP politician, many of who follow or retweet ‘Wings’, condemned it or pulled him up, though a number of party members did. In a country which has only in recent years come to terms with homosexuality and gay rights, when previously it was a forbidden subject and which produced a major cultural war with homophobes less than a generation ago, this isn’t good enough.</p><p dir="ltr">To be clear, modern Scottish nationalism has been a positive force for this country, as has the SNP. But all isms – and nationalisms in particular – contain problems, omissions and are never enough of an anchor, compass or guide – on the actual future decisions of an independent nation. That’s because in the Irish writer Fintan O’Toole’s words, nationalism is a ‘rocket fuel that can get you out of an old order’ or state, but ‘burns up quickly’.</p><p dir="ltr">If we (the various peoples who live in Scotland) are confident enough about ourselves, we cannot just insist that Scottish nationalism is about the good guys, and a virtuous story of our nation. Instead, there has to be an awareness of the sociology of nationalisms which involves more than citing Benedict Anderson’s point that all nations and peoples are ‘imagined communities’ or continually referencing how ‘civic’ our nationalism is and how tolerant we are. We should inhabit this terrain, live it, while recognising that there are other nationalisms and Scotlands out there.</p><p dir="ltr"><br class="kix-line-break" />Some pro-independence voices will read and dismiss the above, comfortable in their belief in our civic nationalism. Well here is a warning from these isles. British nationalism historically has been a civic nationalism – one which has articulated a multi-cultural, multi-national union of four nations. And look what it has descended into in recent years: regressive, reactionary, xenophobic and profoundly insular and nasty: something that is beginning to look like in places an ethnic nationalism.</p><p dir="ltr">Nationalism is never enough. This matters because the next indyref – the Second Independence Referendum – will be framed by many, including its main participants, as the SNP versus the Tories. That will entail two competing versions and claims of nationalism knocking lumps out of each other. It isn’t enough, and it will be pretty ugly in places.</p><p dir="ltr">The politics of ‘my nationalism is more virtuous than your nationalism’ versus ‘our nationalism isn’t a nationalism’ isn’t a very attractive one. Or one that offers much guide to the future choices of Scotland – independent or not independent.</p><p dir="ltr">Fundamentally, apart from looking at ourselves in the mirror honestly, we have to have a willingness to start examining and then defining what actually are our collective values, philosophies and traditions. Whether independent or not, we have to start acting as if we are independent i.e. taking collective responsibilities for our society, not pretending everything is rosy, and beginning to sketch out a post-nationalist future. As one observer said to me when I was writing ‘Scotland the Bold’: ‘How about a country that does not use the word ‘nationalist’ in its rhetoric?’ Maybe that only comes with independence, but we have to start preparing that mentality now. </p><p dir="ltr">Many nations before us have faced similar dilemmas – indeed, nearly every single nation which has become independent or had an independence debate. O’Toole reflected on the relevance of Ireland’s experience days before Scotland’s first independence referendum, and offered us the following advice:</p><blockquote><p dir="ltr">What has to be broken free of us is not just the big bad Them. It is also the warm, fuzzy Us of the nationalist imagination – the Us that is nicer, holier, more caring. What a free country quickly discovers is that the better Us of its imagination is not already there, fully formed, just waiting to blossom in the sun of liberation. It has to be created and in order to create it you have to genuinely decide that you want it.</p></blockquote><p>If we really want a Scotland of possibilities, enlightenment and advancement, which does good things, makes decent choices, and stands for values we are proud to call our own in the wider world, then we really need some signposts other than just nationalism – Scottish or British – and a mindset which dares to think beyond Them and Us.</p><div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk Gerry Hassan Fri, 10 Mar 2017 12:37:14 +0000 Gerry Hassan 109367 at The day Britain died: Brexit, Trump and Scottish independence <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The Article 50 vote meant the end of Britain as we know it. Everyone needs to come to terms with what that means.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr">&nbsp;<span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="// Shot 2017-02-01 at 22.40.57_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="// Shot 2017-02-01 at 22.40.57_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="258" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">Last week a Rubicon was crossed as the House of Commons voted 494 to 122 – a government majority of 372 – to give a third reading to triggering Article 50.</p><p dir="ltr">Just as seriously on the same day – Wednesday February 8th 2017 – the UK government reneged on its promise to take 3,000 child refugees (what was called the Dubs amendment) and slashed the number to 350. If that wasn’t enough the Commons at the same time voted to refuse to offer any guarantees to EU citizens living in the UK: content to use them as pawns in a high power poker game.</p><p dir="ltr">It is going to be difficult for many in Scotland, and for many ‘openDemocracy’ readers, but Britain is over. There is no way back. Last week the very idea of Britain as outgoing, welcoming, doing the right thing, looking after the most vulnerable and being driven by a sense of humanity, was not only trashed but finally and fatally died.</p><p dir="ltr">All of this requires that we get real about the debate here and recognise that we need to be tolerant, serious and embrace detail and facts, not faith and assertion. Unless the UK does an about turn on Brexit and Scotland, indyref2 is inevitable. The only issue will be timing and context. </p><p dir="ltr">Any hopes of federalising Britain – as Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale keeps floating and did again this week – is completely and utterly a non-starter. Not only is there no English public interest or political demand, rather tellingly, Dugdale cannot even convince the British Labour leadership of such plans. Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell have no interest in such ideas, but nor have any current senior Labour politicians. Only Gordon Brown is with Dugdale on this one. </p><p dir="ltr">Brexit Britain carries a warning. Look what happens with a narrow 52:48 referendum victory on a false prospectus. The result is bitterness, acrimony, accusation and counter-accusation, and an inability to move on. We are stuck in a perpetual Groundhog Day about the single market, trade, soft and hard Brexit: arguing about the issues which should have been decided in the referendum.</p><p dir="ltr">Imagine Scotland after a second referendum and a 52:48 vote for independence. For some this would be their promised land, freedom and moment in the sun. But for others, it would be the opposite: they would feel cheated, disrespected, and as if a part of their very identities had been removed. </p><p dir="ltr">There would also be similar emotions to Brexit Britain today. There would be anger, fury, incandescence, along with an awful lot of mutual incomprehension and intolerance. In fact, it could be even worse than Brexit blues because of the fundamental either/or of independence – something much deeper and more elemental than staying or leaving the EU.</p><p dir="ltr">We cannot let that happen. That is our choice and it is within our power to change in the here and now. We hold that within our own hands. It will require us to shift how we act, see things and relate to others. All of us – whatever our persuasions. Neil Mackay, editor of the ‘Sunday Herald’ wrote last week: ‘Fellow Yessers: beware the brittle angry voices who claim to be on our side. They'll win no-one over. Polite reasoned debate is the only way.’ Angela Haggerty, editor of CommonSpace said in reply: ‘My 2017 strategy: ignore every single one of them. Arguing with them only elevates their status.’</p><p dir="ltr">These are points I have repeatedly made since September 2014. Anger, impatience and over-zealousness are understandable human emotions. But they are a poor guide to political strategy. And they are also bad politics. Conveying the 45% as some kind of morally superior tribe just isn’t the most sensitive or successful way to appeal to those you want to win over. The siren voices of independence and the union need to be challenged and marginalised. </p><p dir="ltr">Those of us who are pro-independence have to accept and confront some of the hard choices it would embody. Fiscal constraints, pressures on public spending, how the structural deficit we are not meant to talk about would be funded. The currency and the terms on which we aspire to EU membership. <br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />The previous independence offer of 2014 was not independence in many of the most important respects. We wouldn’t have had our own currency, Treasury, Central Bank, or ability to set our own interest rates. In many ways we would have still been governed by London (minus the Scottish MPs) in what amounted to a kind of devo max independence. We cannot have such a half-baked set of proposals next time.</p><p dir="ltr">The union has some explaining to do. There is really no way back. The Britain that made many of us at times in our life proud is no more. The Britain that abolished slavery, stood as a sanctuary for those fleeing persecution and death from Hitler’s evil, and which stood up against Nazism and fascism, has gone. The good stories of Britain have become diminished and tarnished by present day realities. Best to remember them and honour them, but realise they are in the past.</p><p dir="ltr">Independence has to be about more than the SNP and nationalism, but will a party ten years into office understand that truism? We all recognise the limits of ‘independence from the top’, but equally, as Robin McAlpine stated, there are profound flaws in a ‘save us from the ground up' approach. How we get out of that conundrum is a critical question beyond one article, but it is one of the big questions on the future of our nation we need to face. </p><p dir="ltr">It is a time for Scottish radicals, realists, social democrats, socialists, liberals, greens, iconoclasts, nationalists and non-nationalists and importantly those who resist labels to come together and realise the game is up for Britain. That means independence supporters not uncritically believing their own hype.</p><p dir="ltr">Alex Salmond at the weekend trotted out the reassuring and familiar line that the last campaign saw Yes increase support from 30% to 45% and that it wouldn’t be difficult from where Yes are now to win. It isn’t really true. </p><p dir="ltr">For a start, Nicola Sturgeon is unlikely to call indyref2 until she moves into a winning position. As critical, the shift from where independence is now to a convincing winning position entails more heavy lifting than previously. Getting independence to a 60% consistent poll rating requires winning over parts of the country previously immune. And there is even the unhelpful myth of assuming independence starts at 45%, is safely banked and that the only way is up. Politics just isn’t like that: made up of tidy blocks considering the age of impermanence we live in, and what is there to stop the 55% thinking the same? </p><p dir="ltr">Secondly, there is the dilemma between detail and broadbrush. Brexit and Trump have shown the latter can win and this led Iain Macwhirter to write in the ‘Sunday Herald’ that independence should do the same. He suggested that ‘not very much’ more work should be done on independence, and instead ‘the Scottish Government should produce a short statement, more like the American Declaration of Independence’. That is an understandable statement in the age of populism and rage against elites, but it is poor advice.</p><p dir="ltr">Brexit and Trump won on lies, deceit and disinformation. They offered near blank canvasses and a few pithy slogans - ‘Take Back Control’ and ‘Make America Great Again’. Phrases which caught the prevailing wind and channelled anger and frustration. From their fraudulent offers has flowed divisiveness and rage. That’s not a prospectus for a new nation.</p><p dir="ltr">Not everyone will agree with this analysis. Some will still want to cling to the wreckage of Brexit Britain with its brutal lack of compassion and humanity. Many of us have tried and hoped at times in the past it could be different. But we really have no choice. </p><p>Do you want to accept this barbarism or can we dare to do something not just better, but more honest and noble? Yes, if we do, many times we will come short against our highest ambitions, but we can set our own bars and reflect how far we have come and matured from the Scotland and Britain of 2017. Let us honour and remember our shared pasts, but not be bound by them. And let’s together navigate our way out of the carnage and mess that is emerging. It will still be a difficult and fraught road for many and that’s understandable. The times and the stakes have changed in the last few weeks. Let’s recognise that together.</p><div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk Gerry Hassan Fri, 17 Feb 2017 14:56:27 +0000 Gerry Hassan 108884 at Scottish independence has to move with the times <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The movement for independence finds itself in a very different context to 2014.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="328" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Yes campaign office on Skye, 2016: By John Allan, CC BY-SA 2.0.</span></span></span></p> <p>Scotland has in recent times liked to see itself as progressive, democratic and European.</p> <p>What’s so special about that you might think? A bit like apple pie and being kind to animals. But these undoubtedly mainstream values were rightly seen as increasingly at odds with the direction of the UK in the last few decades. The UK wasn’t any of these things and this has become even more pronounced and obvious since the Brexit vote.</p> <p>The Scottish case for these three qualities in 2014 was about something more than their individual characteristics. Instead, they weaved together into a story about Scotland as a modern nation – unlike the seemingly backward, reactionary UK – and presented a picture of a normal country which aspired to be part of the European mainstream. All of this suggested that independence was the natural state of affairs, the direction of travel and the future – whereas the UK was the problem and the past.</p> <p>However, it was even clear in the midst of the 2014 campaign that there was a problem with these aspirations. Scotland had come to them late in the day of their development. Thus, we aspired to be ‘progressive’ and social democratic, when this tradition has been in retreat and crisis for decades, including within the Nordics. </p> <p>We saw ourselves as more democratic than the limited form available in the UK (a half-elected parliament), but didn’t have practical proposals, while all across the developed world democracy’s decisions and processes are under intense scrutiny: hence the rise in referendums as people increasingly distrust politicians. Moreover, the intuitive idea of seeing Europe as a good thing has become much more questioned, and both the notion of the continent and EU has fallen far since the heyday of 1989, the collapse of the Berlin Wall and what was meant to be in ‘the end of history’ the triumph of liberal capitalism.</p> <p>All of this was evident in 2014 but was generally kept out of the public’s way in the independence case. The supposition then was that by becoming independent Scotland could more fully become the modern nation the UK never was, and in so doing be progressive, democratic and European. However, this case was based in these three areas on a world that was increasingly in retreat: as the centre-left compromised and corrupted itself at the altar of crony capitalism, democracy was increasingly seen as not delivering the results, but being rigged in favour of the plutocrats and 1%, and Europe went from crisis to crisis. In short, the ordered, managed world of independent nation states in the European continent and union working collaboratively for the better of themselves and all, was fraying, not just at the edges, but central core.</p> <p>Brexit has brought all of this even more into the open. We now have a political landscape defined by two competing mandates: Scotland voting to stay in the UK and the EU. The majority of Scots hold this sentiment – wishing to remain in both political unions – but are now told by the UK government that they cannot have both. </p><p>This has produced difficulties for pro-union sentiment north of the border. The arguments put forward have to emphasise one democratic vote, but ignore Scottish sentiment in the EU referendum, instead stressing that it was a UK vote and mandate. </p> <p>It has also posed a set of problems to Scottish independence opinion. For a start, the UK leaving the EU means that Scotland is faced with an impossible set of choices: being out of the EU in the UK, or being in the EU and out of the UK. The latter brings up all sorts of scary stories about where Scottish exports go (4 to 1 to the rUK over the EU) and nature of the Scottish/English border.</p> <p>Then there is the tricky question of how to build an independence majority when 36% of SNP voters supported Brexit. Those are critical votes which cannot be lost to independence, if it is too have any chance in the near-future.&nbsp; </p><p>Since the June 2016 vote the SNP have been trying to find a halfway house which allows them some breathing space – keeping Scotland in the single market and customs union. Now both options have been ruled out by Theresa May for the UK and Scotland.</p> <p>Post-Brexit, despite the UK government having a weak hand on Scotland, so far it has to be concluded, May has outmanoeuvred Sturgeon and her administration. This has left Sturgeon this week fulminating about the prospect of an indyref called sooner rather than later, a threat mostly for effect, considering she had earlier ruled out a vote anytime this year.</p> <p>Sources within the SNP have indicated that the party is considering revisiting its policy of independence in the EU and to consider independence outside the EU. Even though former leader Alex Salmond repeated the traditional party position this week on ‘Good Morning Scotland’, this doesn’t preclude the party considering all options and fallback positions.</p> <p>This would most likely entail Scotland being in the single market, paying for access to it and abiding by a whole host of EU regulations. This is the Norwegian option and it is the SNP’s preferred option in the UK presented to the British government – but as an independent country.</p> <p>If this is correct, an independent Scotland would have a more likely chance of having a soft border with the rest of the UK and England. Importantly, this is how it would be more widely presented and understood in any future indyref. Independence would in these circumstances face all sorts of hurdles,&nbsp; but the above shows as Hamish Macdonell wrote that ‘the SNP is thinking ahead… miles ahead of its opponents.’</p> <p>The SNP are faced post-Brexit with a UK that doesn’t work in the spirit of devolution. Nor does the UK seem to respect the popular will of the Scottish people on the EU as evidenced by the Supreme Court Article 50 decision which said the UK government had to put the triggering of the process to a parliamentary vote, but also said the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland had no veto or right to consultation.</p> <p>This attitude can be seen through British institutions. The Joint Ministerial Committee which brings together the UK and devolved administrations has never really worked. Now this matters. Theresa May promised post-Brexit to develop a ‘combined UK’ approach, but hasn’t made any moves in this direction. All the discussions in the committee have been lacking any substance and undertaken for presentation alone. </p> <p>This British state of affairs is matched by an unhealthy situation in Europe. The EU is not the benign force of progress and economic advancement that it was seen as in the 1980s and 1990s. Instead, expansion combined with the euro has produced Euro-sclerosis. Monetary union without fiscal union has led to economic and social disaster: a Europe which works for the German economy, but which has left devastation across the Med from Greece to Italy, Portugal and Spain. </p><p>SNP thinking on independence eventually has to move on and catch up with the times. The spirit and hopes of 1988 and independence in Europe: the EU of Jacques Delors and a ‘social Europe’ is no more. Similarly, the plans and aspirations of 2014 and the Salmondnomics vision of independence are equally dead in the water.</p> <p>That doesn’t necessarily mean independence is dead. Any serious politics has to move on. Britain and the EU are regressing. Large parts of the world are entering dark times. The European continent finds itself increasingly squashed between the authoritarianism of Trump and Putin. Scotland and independence has to reflect current and future realities, and not hark back to or get stuck in the past.</p> <p>Independence has to be on the move but the full details of any new package cannot as in 2014 just emerge from a magician’s hat, but have to be as much as is humanly possible, discussed and owned by a large part of Scotland. That will be a big challenge to the SNP machine, which ten years into office, is growing rather comfortable with the view and thinking it knows best. That is a sentiment which has to be resisted, in the full knowledge that it is never a good way of doing politics, or a story which has a happy ending. </p><p>The SNP and independence cause (which aren’t completely the same thing) have to now be fleet of foot, flexible and avoid being boxed in by May and the UK government, while keeping the foot soldiers happy and reaching out to floating No voters. That is quite an ask in fast changing times, and nothing is yet inevitable about how this pans out for Scotland or the UK. <em>. </em></p><div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk Gerry Hassan Sat, 04 Feb 2017 00:10:30 +0000 Gerry Hassan 108585 at Maybe it is time to tell new stories of Scotland <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>On the new Scotland and its emerging political culture.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Scottish cultural commentator Joyce McMillan - YouTube, fair use</span></span></span></p> <p>It has been an unprecedented political year, and 2017 will also be full of high drama – globally, across Europe, in the UK, and nearer to home in Scotland. </p><p>Politics isn’t everything. Just as important is culture – a word used and over-used, seemingly about everything and everywhere, but difficult, and sometimes impossible to pin down and define.</p> <p>Culture when we forensically examine it can mean so many things. It can describe individual growth and enrichment. It can be about a group or community’s way of life. It expresses the activities of consuming culture. And finally, it is also used to define the way groups and organisations act and the codes and practices which shape them.</p> <p>The many facets of culture and the propensity not to define them can be seen in our nation. We have a politics which is meant to be all-encompassing, but often evades detail and substance. Reinforcing this is a widespread characteristic of not wanting to define Scottish culture – for fear of ghettoising and marginalising.</p> <p>This is part of a universal trait about identity and culture – one which can be seen in debates on women’s writing and studies, or regarding lesbian and gay culture – and indeed any aspect of human life which challenges or isn’t part of the mainstream. </p> <p>When writing ‘Scotland the Bold’ I asked a number of prominent writers and thinkers what Scottish culture meant to them. Many refused – some for the reasons above. The cultural critic and commentator Joyce McMillan offered the following insights:</p> <blockquote><p><em>I think all living cultures are in a constant state of dynamic change, and can – should – never be ‘defined’, although they can be sketched at any given moment. There is nothing unusual about Scotland in that respect. We simply have to fend off the danger of metropolitan perceptions which would prefer Scottishness to be a non-threatening dead culture, a quaint piece of exotica pickled in nostalgia. Fortunately, Scotland’s artists are having none of that.</em></p></blockquote> <p>It is a great quote, filled with light and insight. Yet, in its clarion call against pathologising or sentimentalising Scotland, McMillan states that ‘there is nothing unusual about Scotland’ and its culture. Yet, unusualness and uniqueness are central to the Scottish condition. We have been for three centuries that strange entity: a stateless nation. We gave away our political sovereignty in the age of absolutism to preserve our nationhood. And we committed ourselves with enthusiasm and energy to the British Empire and imperial project, and now feel semi-detached from the sad remains that are left. That seems quite a unique experience.</p> <p>In this experience much is being re-examined about our past, but much, too much, is still left unsaid. This includes casting a critical eye on the different strands of culture in our nation. This scrutiny has been missing too much from how we have understood past eras, institutions and politics, let alone given due prominence to the disparate voices and traditions which have made up this nation. </p><p>There are notable exceptions to this. David McCrone’s outstanding ‘Understanding Scotland: The Sociology of a Stateless Nation’ published twenty-five years ago was an important breakthrough. There was the cultural studies work post-1979 of the ‘Scotch Myths’ school of, amongst others, Cairns Craig and Colin McArthur. And from non-academia, there has been Carol Craig’s provocation ‘The Scots’ Crisis of Confidence’.</p> <p>Scotland remained a nation and political entity post-1707 because of the deal that was done in the Acts of Union. They preserved the institutional autonomy of the nation, and in particular, that of the Kirk, law and education – ‘the holy trinity’ which underpinned and contributed to preserving Scottish identity – but one which was elite based and controlling, and with limited democracy, accountability and scrutiny.</p> <p>The rhetoric of these dominant bodies was often inclusive – the democratic intellect, the Kirk General Assembly as the surrogate parliament of the nation – but the practices were often oppressive, claustrophobic, and about the maintenance of a rigid system of social control throughout most of the 18th and 19th centuries. This overhang continued long into the 20th century. One example amongst many is that when nationalist campaigner Wendy Wood addressed the Church of Scotland General Assembly in 1961 she was the first woman to do so since Lady Liverpool in 1931. </p> <p>I have called this public culture ‘undemocracy’ and the practices it has given rise to ‘unspace’ – the dominance in so many parts of the country of institutional authority, opinion and voices. This may be, and indeed is probably true of nations the world over, but there is, a unique Scottish experience post-1707 of all-pervasive authority. There was pre-1707 as well, but its practice becomes more explicit and increasingly problematic, the nearer we get to modern times.</p> <p>The unspace of old – of ‘the holy trinity’ – was often punitive and could invoke fear, foreboding and even retribution. It had legitimacy and reach in what was at the height of the Kirk a moral order which mobilised large swathes of the nation, and which reached into men and women’s souls, and produced a kind of internal inferiorism, altering how they saw and acted in the world.</p> <p>Its slow demise is one of the main stories of post-war Scotland – a land increasingly secular, less deferential to traditional authority, and which has changed dramatically as an economy and society. This is one of the long tails which produced the independence referendum, for with these changes, the liberal unionist establishment which controlled many of our elites has seen its power wane and the charactertistics of remaining institutions shift to being less attached to the maintenance of the union. </p> <p>Yet, if the indyref was a product of a new opening, it also looks, as we mark the SNP being in government for coming up for ten years, that this set of changes has marked an important transition, the scale of which is only coming into view. </p> <p>It looks as if as we leave the world and contours of the old unspace that we may be entering into a new kind of unspace. For as we have shed the clothes of the old Labour dominance and nomenclature, it looks like we may be entering a new age of orthodoxies and groupthink. </p> <p>Thus we have a parliament and political classes who see politics as about them and accruing power, who engage in centralisation, standardisation, and scooping up institutions and responsibilities. ‘Social justice’ is the mantra of everything, but no goodies are taken away from the middle classes and affluent. Meanwhile, dull Boardism defines much of public life: of safety first placemen and women sitting on the deep state of networks of patronage. In short, much of this looks like the old Labour Scotland but with new ownership and titles on the front shop. Scotland has gone through some kind of peaceful revolution, but basically many of the same tenets, conceits and even personnel are still running things in exactly the same way.</p> <p>Britain’s politics and public culture have eroded and corroded to the point of travesty and tragedy. There are the deceptions and lies which now form the mainstay of British government. There is the cumulative effect of the disinformation of the Murdoch Empire that is now set upon even more enrichment and reward with the full acquisition of Sky. And there is the frightening aspect of where the UK positions itself geo-politically: divorcing itself from the European Union, still fanatically committed to Atlanticism come what may and the advent of Trump, and without any real diplomatic strategy or strategic allies across the world.</p> <p>Such times and high stakes necessitate that we talk openly and truthfully about Scotland: the place and limits of politics and politicians, and about the trajectory and make-up of our many cultures. Some of this will entail embracing inconvenient truths to the ruling party and the dominant values of our time. </p> <p>A Scotland earmarking on greater self-government and the prospect of independence cannot be a land where we are expected to keep our mouths shut, and just pray it will all be alright on the night. Some pro-indy cheerleaders argue, indeed expect, that loyalty and silence in the cause of the greater cause is the right approach to get us over the winning line. But this is entirely the wrong way of thinking of politics and culture, for the Scotland of the future, in its hopes, fears and contradictions is being made now. A diverse Scotland which turns its back on unspace doesn’t start the day after independence. It either starts in the here and now, or it never does.</p> <p>There is still a lack of confidence about large parts of Scottish culture. There is a feeling of fear and incorporation, alongside an anxiety about its fragilities and sustainability. Writing after the announcement of the threatened closure of the ‘Bella Caledonia’ website (now reprieved), the playwright David Greig said on twitter that Scotland could be reduced to ‘a regional culture’ and that ‘we make hardly any films or TV’ as an example. Joyce McMillan then asked why so many Scots ‘defer so instinctively to London government?’ </p> <p>There are many weaknesses about our culture, but Scotland isn’t going to be reduced to a region. More critical are the pressures of living in the same media and public space as the London media, and the propensity of some to worry that Scotland could somehow be wiped out or erased as a nation doesn’t help anyone. It isn’t going to happen, but we do need to talk about a lot of difficult and more tangible things: a lack of alternative spaces, the death of the old media, an absence of new media models, and a lack of pluralism in much of public life.</p> <p>This brings me back to cultural accounts of Scotland. The studies I mentioned were part of a cultural reawakening and flowering – and became along with many other political and intellectual interventions – part of the official story of Scotland of recent times: that we were a distinct, autonomous, different society.</p> <p>We need a new set of political and cultural interpretations for the present and the future: ones which are as daring and challenging in their way as the McCrones and ‘Scotch Myths’ were in their day. McCrone has his successor volume out later this year: a huge tome entitled ‘The New Sociology of Scotland’ which is perhaps aspiring to be the final word on the subject. Yet, the stories of a nation never stop and never reach a destination. They are part of what French philosopher Ernest Renan called ‘the daily plebiscite’ which contribute making a nation what it is. </p> <p>What would these new stories address? For a start they would recognise that there is no single story or endpoint in Scotland’s journey; they would disrupt the political and cultural orthodoxies which have emerged post-1979, and welcome and encourage new dissent, note our missing voices and perspectives, and not believe that somehow everything in our garden is progressive and rosy. There have already been some important first steps: Scott Hames questioning of the conventional wisdom that artists reimagined the nation post-1979; Eleanor Yule’s work on the spectre of cultural miserablism in film and fiction, and the counter-critique of Neil Davidson on everything from bourgeois nationalism to the limits of ‘the Edinburgh school’ of academia. </p> <p>And so it should be. The radical voices of yesteryear become the new class of today. The heretics become incorporated, and their counterblasts muffled. Maybe we can eventually accept that in the multiple voices and accounts of our country, there can never ever be a ‘settled will’. The story goes on and we should champion this, not resist it.</p><div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk Gerry Hassan Mon, 16 Jan 2017 20:14:58 +0000 Gerry Hassan 108137 at Scotland the bold or Scotland the timid? <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The SNP talk a good game on social justice. But after nine years in government, it's time for radical action.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="366" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Nicola Sturgeon, first minister of Scotland. By Kenneth Halley.</span></span></span></p><p>Is Scotland really special? Are we a land that has bucked the retreat of the centre-left and social democracy, and proven itself immune to the right-wing populism sweeping the West from Brexit to Trump?</p> <p>Significant parts of Scottish opinion are always looking for any reason to jump on a <em>wha’s like us</em> exceptionalism: one which invokes our morality, values and commitment to social justice, alongside our collective opposition to all things evil from Thatcherism and Blairism to neo-liberalism.</p> <p>Truth of course is rather different. Scotland is both different and not that different, in comparison to the rest of the UK. Our social democracy isn’t immune from the dynamics that have weakened it elsewhere, and should not be confused with the electoral strength of the SNP – just as before it shouldn’t be equated with the once-dominance of the Scottish Labour Party. </p> <p>This month, BBC Scotland ran a series called ‘Unequal Scotland’. In places it was good and more substantive and serious than most of BBC Scotland’s recent output. It itemised the scandalous state of much of the country in terms of education, health, income, wealth and land. It pictured a country where little real progress has been made on reducing inequalities or widening opportunities since the advent of the Scottish Parliament – coming up for nearly two decades ago.</p> <p>Many of these dynamics – the 24 year health gap between rich and poor, the educational apartheid, that the 10% wealthiest households have 44% of the nation’s wealth while the poorest 10% of households have a mere 9%, the grotesque patterns of private land ownership – have built up over decades (and in the latter over centuries) and take time to change. But they cannot all be blamed on Westminster, while the Scottish Government is allowed to take no responsibility.</p> <p>At the end of last week Angela Constance, Scottish Communities minister, was interviewed on ‘Good Morning Scotland’ and ‘Reporting Scotland’ in response to the series. She spoke the language of good intentions, eager to show how she wanted to do things. But overall what came over was the caution and timidity, and sadly, the hollowness of much of what she said. SNP proposals were thus presented as ‘bold and radical’ – such as the ‘Fairer Scotland Action Plan’ and minor changes to the council tax. </p> <p>This jarred with reality so much on ‘Reporting Scotland’ that even the usually mild mannered Sally Magnusson challenged her, observing that continuing to blame Westminster was ‘the old game’, before making the point that ‘What is required of the Scottish government now, according to our experts, is bold, imaginative moves of the sort that the cautious, incremental steps that the Scottish government takes is not meeting in any way at all.’</p> <p>Two days later on the ‘Sunday Politics Scotland’ BBC programme Scottish Transport Minister Humza Yousaf had to explain the shambles of the ScotRail franchise award to Abellio. Yousaf, once seen as an SNP high-flyer and potential future leader, struggled to find a coherent line under scrutiny or suggest any substantive plan. Indeed, he even refused to indicate his support for nationalising the railways; something Corbyn’s Labour are now committed to. </p> <p>Two examples. What they indicate is the SNP are beginning to struggle to find a language to explain the Scotland they govern and are responsible for. It has taken nine and a half years for this situation to slowly emerge, and I predict that we will see more of this, and that this is the future face of Scottish politics.</p> <p>Over the course of this near-decade, the SNP have been given a blank cheque by a large part of society. This is with the qualification that part of the country’s press – the ‘Daily Mail’, ‘Daily Telegraph’ and ‘Daily Express’ – have waged constant war on the Nats. This however has been part of the overall dynamic, because it has allowed SNP loyalists to say that we cannot engage in any proper debate or criticism, because our enemies are at the gates.</p> <p>One area where the SNP has been most trusted has been social justice. The appeal of Yes and the left have been seen as synonymous by the likes of Tommy Sheppard and Jeane Freeman. Yet, this is a mixture of aspiration and default: the latter assuming that the Yes argument trumps the No one in the indyref and since, given the conspicuous problems of the UK and absence of social justice.</p> <p>Writing and researching my new book ‘Scotland the Bold’ I asked more than 80 people from all walks of life for policy suggestions for a more equal, fairer country. From a variety of informed and passionate suggestions I developed a top list of 64 to include in the book. What was very striking was the tone of the contributions, for running through many of them was a mild but discernable disappointment with the SNP in office.&nbsp; </p><p>This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone: a sense of disappointment after nine and a half years in office. This period has been marked by three distinct periods. First, the SNP won its first national election and minority government, followed by majority government and the high drama of the indyref, and finally, the wide appeal and reach (beyond just SNP supporters) of Nicola Sturgeon. All of these periods have kept the momentum going, combined with major ineptness from opposition parties. But the laws of political gravity are never anywhere suspended forever.</p> <p>The SNP has changed the face of Scotland and Scottish politics. But somehow the party, which by its efforts and opposition incompetence has got itself into a period of dominance and superiority, has to learn a different kind of politics – one less imperial and condescending and much more interested in detail and results.</p> <p>The limits of the SNP in office are now becoming more clear. Apart from Nicola Sturgeon and John Swinney the talent in government isn’t that deep or impressive. A generation of ministers such as Angela Constance, Humza Yousaf and Derek Mackay have only known the SNP on the rise as elected politicians, and are likely to struggle to adapt to a world of more scrutiny and turbulence.&nbsp; </p><p>There is even a wider, longer story about the shortcomings of the Scottish Parliament and experience of devolution. By next year Holyrood will have been in existence for eighteen years: eight years of Labour (with the Lib Dems) and ten years of the SNP in office. That’s a respectable enough period to be able to make an assessment.</p> <p>Over that period, no real substantive change has taken place on social justice which has addressed poverty and inequality and improved the lives of those most disadvantaged in our country. Neither Labour or the SNP in substantial periods in office have done anything much to redistribute income or wealth. Instead, both have been informed by the conceit that they embody ‘social justice’: an attitude which built up problems for Labour, and will again for the SNP.</p> <p>Whatever their differences on the constitution, Scottish Labour and SNP have always been more similar than they like to pretend. They have both represented and given voice to an insider, managerial, technocratic vision of Scotland, while wrapping it with a social democratic sentiment. Neither has shown any desire to shake up this state of affairs and to give voice to outsiders or those who don’t fit into professional, institutional Scotland.</p> <p>The assumptions of insider Scotland are that their good intentions, eagerness to launch initiatives, alongside their opposition to Westminster imposed neo-liberalism and austerity, is enough. And that somehow all this adds up, almost as an article of faith, to making progress towards a fairer, more equal, and better Scotland, even if its final destination is a little hazy and light on detail.</p> <p>Nearly all of Scotland’s political parties, professions and interest groups buy into this. For many in mainstream Scotland – such as the political commentator Iain Macwhirter writing in this weekend’s ‘Sunday Herald’ – the fact, he observed, that ‘the political parties in Scotland are all pretty much on the same political page’ is cause for celebration.</p> <p>He goes on to say that ‘Labour, SNP, Lib Dems, Greens and even many Tories are broadly internationalist, support EU membership and … are committed to an active, interventionist state, social housing, economic equality, comprehensive education, a state provided national health service, as well as a host of things which are rarely discussed because there is no dispute …’</p> <p>Much of the above is to be applauded. Scotland has chosen not to go down the route of the Brexit vandals and market determinists who have caused such mayhem turning large parts of English society upside down. But while we can rejoice at this, does this state really mean we close our eyes to our own inadequacies and pretend that everything is fine? </p><p>Are we really content to portray our timid, defensive social democracy as being up to the challenges of our age? Do we really want to tell ourselves selective and comforting stories that are clearly at variance with the truth? When, for example, was the last time, any serious Scottish politician showed the slightest interest or support for economic equality? Maybe around about 1975 and Gordon Brown’s ‘The Red Paper’ would be an answer.&nbsp; </p><p>There are many things to be proud of in Scotland in recent decades, but it doesn’t help us to invoke a dreamland and land of care, compassion and equality, which clearly does not exist. Who, we have to ask, gains from this? The true believers of the SNP and independence for one, but also the numerous elites and vested interest groups, from the corporates, to land owners, and public sector, who only see rhetoric and micro-initiatives, but little proposed substantive change. </p> <p>This status quo Scotland has been the way that things have been done for years in this land. But change is coming, aided by public spending pressures, demographics, and the decline of deference. Yes, we should pride ourselves on the smaller appeal of Brexit Euroscepticism, xenophobia or Trump like populism, but the mild mannered, unadventurous spirit of first, Labour, and now the SNP, doesn’t capture the spirit of our times. Overlaid on top of this is what Andrew Tickell has rightly called in ‘The Times’ a sort of ‘zombie politics’ of the kind present in the indyref and still in existence – particularly in SNP-Tory competition – which is all about positioning and partisanship and little else.</p> <p>The SNP are caught continually trying to prove their respectability and not frighten the horses, in order, they say to create the conditions to win a second indyref. But in actual fact, this timorous social democracy is their true character, as it was of Labour. It is time to stop talking about a politics of ‘the left’ or any genuine, radical social democracy. Instead, this is a centrist politics of at best, the near-left, with more in common with Hillary Clinton and Francois Hollande than we would like to imagine, minus the scandals and scale.</p> <p>Politicians such as Clinton and Hollande have bent and compromised to the winds of globalisation and today’s world, and ended up standing for very little other than the dominant order. We are kidding ourselves if we think our politicians are really that different and removed from such concerns. We are it seems different, but not that different, and we need to ask ourselves if this is who we are happy to be. Being honest about this state of affairs would be a start. Do we really want to be Scotland the Bold or are we content to kid ourselves and continue to be Scotland the Timid?</p><div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk Gerry Hassan Mon, 28 Nov 2016 19:37:55 +0000 Gerry Hassan 107195 at What does the US presidential election mean? <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Twelve thoughts on politics in the US.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="// rally.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="// rally.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Trump Rally. Image, Gerry Hassan.</span></span></span></p> <p>This has been a fascinating election; a true rollercoaster of emotions - of hope and fear, the spectre of bigotry and violence, and the flames of intolerance, and even insurrection, raised in some right-wing circles.</p> <p>Here are some thoughts and observations based on travels, conversations and attending various political events in the United States over the last few weeks.</p> <p>1. In the past fortnight I attended a Hillary Clinton-Elizabeth Warren rally, followed by a Donald Trump event, and an eve of poll Barack Obama rally. There is a scale to such things beyond most UK politics, with sizeable events put on in an ad-hoc, last minute way as campaigns adapt to changing electoral fortunes and maps. That’s impressive, although the Trump event showed the stretch points of his ramshackle organisation. Basic things were badly done, with pre-Trump speakers coping with the PA continually cutting out and there being no overall MC for the event.&nbsp; </p><p>2. Comparing the Clinton and Obama rallies – they had very different feels. There was a sense of seriousness at the Clinton one, of politics as business, whereas at the Obama gathering there was an air of celebration, even of a kind of family affair, with excitement and anticipation. Both of these were on university campuses – but whereas the Clinton event was filled with baby boomers, Obama attracted thousands of students, and this points to one of Hillary Clinton’s big electoral weaknesses – will younger people (along with non-white voters) turn out for her?</p> <p>3. Supporting casts at these shows and in the election campaign matter. Trump had Kate Quigley, sister of Glen Doherty, who lost his life in the Benghazi tragedy of September 2012. Obama had Gabby Giffords, the Arizona Congresswoman who was nearly killed by a right-wing extremist in 2011. But overall, the Democrats have a class act in depth at rallies and in the election campaign, whereas Trump has a slim and unconvincing supporting cast – often padded out by members of his family. It does say something about the two candidates and their negatives that with this advantage Clinton has made such uphill work of defeating Trump.</p> <p>4. Gender is critical in all this. The Democrats have impressive, confident women in bucket loads in elected positions all over the country. The Republicans have a women problem, but they also have a men problem. At the Trump event, apart from Kate Quigley, everyone else who spoke was an elderly man whose values and mindset are hardly in tune with contemporary America.</p> <p>The wider Republican male attitude to women was illustrated by John H. Sununu, former Governor of New Hampshire, who thought it appropriate to say to a crowd: ‘When Bill said ‘I did not have sex with that woman’ he was talking about Hillary’: a remark that even in a Republican gathering was met with some laughter, but mostly, embarrassed silence. Many Republican men not only have a problem with women, but they barely understand modern life.</p> <p>5. Oratory can only get you so far. Barack Obama has done all he can in the last days of his premiership to spread his stardust and charismatic appeal to help Hillary Clinton over the winning line. Yet, while oratory helped Obama win in 2008, it didn’t help him be a more successful president. Oratory does have its limits and governing requires other less obvious public skills. Maybe, just maybe, that could point to Hillary Clinton being a better president than she has been a campaigner.</p> <p>6. Anger and discontent have their limits too. The Trump campaign has been all negatives and incendiary comments, but it didn’t create the anxiety, unease and fury which was already there. David Brooks, a conservative commentator noted that three seismic factors have reshaped the US these last 25-30 years: globalisation, immigration and feminism: and he believes all three have been good for the country. But in so doing a whole spectrum of people have lost out – most notably in the white male working class – and Democrats and the prevailing mainstream consensus have consistently failed them. </p> <p>7. Numbers matter in terms of registration and who turns out. By the middle of October, 200,081,377 voters had registered – up from 146.3 million in 2008; a rise of 37% over the course of the Obama presidency. Turnout in numbers of voters was a record 131.4 million in 2008, falling slightly to 129.2 million in 2012. The higher the overall turnout, generally the better it will be for the Democrats, but differential turnout in different groups will have a big impact. Overall, Trump voters have been more motivated than Clinton voters, but that has eroded as the campaign closed. ABC News/Washington Post tracking polls gave Trump a 48:36 lead on enthusiasm in mid-September, but by their eve of poll survey Clinton had eliminated this, leading 52:51. If those findings are right that’s very bad news for any possible Trump surprise.</p> <p>8. Winning margins matter. Obama won by nearly five million votes in 2012 (4,982,291) and by nearly ten million votes in 2008 (9,550,193). The narrowest presidential victories in post-war times have been:</p> <ul><li>- Al Gore won the popular vote over George W. Bush in 2000 by 543,895: 48.4% to 47.9% &nbsp;(but famously lost the Electoral College due to Florida);</li><li>- Richard Nixon defeated Hubert Humphrey in 1968 by 511,944: 43.4% to 42.7%;</li><li>- John F. Kennedy defeated Nixon in 1960 by 112,827: 49.72% to 49.55% but won the Electoral College by a decisive margin. </li></ul> <p>9. What happens to the Republicans after the Trump phenomenon? Trump isn’t a complete accident. He was made possible by years of toxic populist opposition – from shutting down the US government to the whole Birther conspiracy about Obama not being American. If Trump by some horrendous combination of factors won the presidency, the tensions in the Republicans and conservative community would not go away. But if he, as is likely, loses, they explode to the surface. </p> <p>For a start, senior Republicans have been playing with fire for decades, fanning anti-intellectualism and base idiocies about Democrats, government and the world. The Republican appeasers who got on the ‘Trump train’ (‘Vichy Republicans’ to some) – getting on, off and on again – have to go down in history as apologists with bigotry, hatred and stupidity. Step up Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz and many others. How does this end? Well, modern parties do die and the Republican white rage has associated itself with a declining demographic in a country becoming more educated and diverse. The party has to change and adapt if it is to win a future presidential election.</p> <p>10. Then there is what happens to the Democrats after the Clinton era – which if Hillary wins the presidency could last to 2024. It has seen the Democrats successfully win presidential elections, but become a party which has abandoned its old progressive credentials (the FDR New Deal coalition), which it had to do, but without finding a new credo. A Clinton presidency seems unlikely to break new ground in this, but the party has to find a more convincing politics than the incremental, cautious politics which the party exhibits up and down the ticket in 2016.</p> <p>11. Americans are proudly patriotic and have an idealism about the values and principles of the US. But they are growing increasingly fed up and impatient at the style and content of politics on offer from both parties. All across the country there is cynicism and suspicion about politics and politicians that doesn’t auger well for the future. The Clinton era which may be just about to have a second series hasn’t helped in all this. And that could mean in the future there are opportunities for even more ugly, nasty, nativist populists. </p> <p>12. Win or lose, Trump shows the extent the mainstream is in crisis. And it is highly unlikely that conventional Democrats or Republicans will be able to solve the deep malaise at the heart of America. Globally – given the state of politics across the West – Trump just could in a nightmare vision prove an inspirational figure to plutocrats and charismatic multimillionaires who fancy their hand at national political office. We have already had Berlusconi in Italy and Arron Banks funding of Farage’s Brexit campaign. In an age of a stratospheric wealth, where such people believe in their own unique importance and insights, could Trump, win or lose, provide a harbinger of the future to come? </p><p>Final Thoughts:</p> <p>First, a superficial, but important dimension: the Trump campaign, awful as it was had more memorable (although outrageous) slogans – both official, ‘Make America Great Again’ and ‘Drain the Swamp’; semi-official ‘Lock Her Up’; and unofficial ‘Kill Hillary’. Hate and fearmongering are often easier to peddle, compared to the compromises of government. But they point to the ambiguous messages at the heart of the Clinton campaign – which is steady as she goes, status quoism with lots of policy wonk stuff. </p> <p>Commentators talk of ‘the wall of empathy’ disfiguring US politics, whereby Democrats and Republicans willfully refuse to understand each other. A swathe of Trump supporters I spoke to at his rally confessed that they didn’t know a single person voting for Clinton. One Trump woman said that because she had lots of female friends she knew some Clinton supporters. The same is true of Democrats. This is one of the dynamics which aids uber-partisanship, and then is reinforced on the right by the murky world of the alt-media community. Large parts of Republican opinion now have a tenuous link with reality.</p> <p>Everything today points to an unconvincing Hillary victory, but both parties unwilling and unable to face their own weaknesses. Democrats now have a natural advantage at presidential elections, but pre-Obama, in the post-war period, four of their victories came with minority votes (Truman, JFK, Clinton 92 and 96) and only two with majorities: LBJ in 64 and Carter in 76, both after national meltdowns – the assassination of JFK and Watergate. This was transformed by Obama’s two emphatic – but not landslide – victories with over half the vote in 2008 and 2012.</p> <p>If Hillary, as is probable, does not get over half the popular vote, that matters for Democrats and her presidency. It limits her mandate. And shores up future problems. If the Republicans manage to hold onto the Senate, as well as the House, then the grotesque blocking games and Clinton paranoia of the campaign will continue and hinder her administration. Democrats look likely in future to have a strong hold on the presidency, but will be unable to turn that into House and Senate permanent majorities, and are thus condemned to fight a continual war of attrition with Republicans. That’s an unattractive picture, and not adequate for the big challenges the US faces economically, socially and in terms of imperial over-reach. </p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/anthony-barnett/trump-or-clinton-choice-between-two-forms-of-violence">Trump or Clinton: a choice between two forms of violence</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/uk/adam-ramsay/eight-things-i-learned-from-two-days-talking-to-people-in-palestine-about-usa-election">Eight things I learned from two days talking to people in Palestine about the US election</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk Gerry Hassan Tue, 08 Nov 2016 15:57:31 +0000 Gerry Hassan 106585 at Thoughts from a Trump rally in New Hampshire <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Attending a Donald Trump rally reveals the breadth of his appeal, and a politics that's going nowhere.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="// Shot 2016-11-05 at 10.24.13.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="// Shot 2016-11-05 at 10.24.13.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="301" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Donald Trump, by Gage Skidmore.</span></span></span></p> <p>Could Donald Trump actually pull off the biggest election shock in post-war US politics? One week ago the US presidential election was meant to be over. </p><p>Now the weekend before the election things look very different. For the past week the Clinton campaign has hit stormy waters, aided by FBI Director James Comey, while Trump has in the last stages found a momentum and even belatedly embraced a degree of message discipline.&nbsp; </p><p>On Friday I went to a Trump rally in the palatial surroundings of Atkinson Country Club, New Hampshire – one of the key states if Trump is to have any chance of reaching 270 Electoral College votes and winning. One Republican source in the state said that the ‘Republicans are coming home’ and that Trump had a real chance of winning it – and with it the presidency.</p> <p>The atmosphere was very different compared to the previous week when I attended the Hillary Clinton-Elizabeth Warren – ‘nasty women’ – rally. Trumpland is a very different place. For a start, this was a much more intimate event – one which felt more like a gathering of friends and family. It didn’t quite match the expectations and stereoptypes I had of Trump supporters. It was a much more mixed crowd than followed Clinton, with many more working class people and individuals who you could tell have experienced challenging economic times. There were more young people, and families, having a day out at the Trump rally than there were for the Democratic candidate.</p> <p>The emotions of the rally were more complex than I imagined. There was more energy and enthusiasm than with Clinton, but it was subdued and sedate – with hatred, rage and anger mostly kept under wraps. There were notable exceptions – the crowd burst into regular chants of ‘Lock Her Up’ with both the warm-up speakers and Trump, showing their disdain for the Washington political establishment. </p><p>At this event at least there was an element of restraint and self-policing. Over the top, offensive comments such as ‘Kill Hillary’ were seldom chanted and when they did they were challenged. One comment to ‘Execute Hillary’ from the floor was met with a direct challenge from John H. Sununu, ex-Republican Governor of New Hampshire, who said ‘You can’t say that. There are limits’. </p> <p>The speeches building up to Trump were formulaic and forgetful, with the constant refrain of inviting Republicans with doubts to ‘get over it’ and that ‘Never Trump [voters] need to move over to never Hillary.’ The one exception to the Trump machine was Kate Quigley, sister of Glen Doherty who died in the tragedy of Benghazi, and spoke with a quiet dignity about the events of that night and Hillary Clinton’s subsequent actions as Secretary of State. They were the most genuine comments of the entire event, and didn’t enter into the dark Republican fantasies about what did and didn’t happen in Libya.</p> <p>Trump in person, on message, isn’t the potent force one might imagine – but he has clear conviction that he is right, and has undoubtedly founded a movement; admittedly one in his own self-image that validates his obvious self-love and narcissism. Standing near to the front, one could sense a negative charisma, presence and projection. </p> <p>He made all the usual rhetorical pit stops – the Great Wall of Trump, reducing Washington gridlock and corruption to the refrain ‘Drain the Swamp’ and laying into anyone who gets in his way, such as ‘the dreadful, bad people’ in the mainstream media. </p> <p>Much time was spent criticising Hillary Clinton, her character, bad judgement and financial impropriety. It might seem strange for someone like Trump to tackle an opponent on such dangerous ground, but all through his career he has bullied and demeaned competition, and it has paid off. Electing Clinton, he claimed, would produce ‘a constitutional crisis’ and reduce the country’s standing in the world to ‘a laughing stock’: the latter inviting the retort of what a Trump Presidency would do.</p> <p>Revealingly, Trump spoke regularly of a ‘Trump administration’ and what it would do in its first hundred days – how it would cancel Obamacare, slash taxes and save America from being ‘the highest taxed country in the world.’ He has clearly begun to believe in his own hype and appears to be thinking himself into his possible new role. Detail, there was none – with his tax plan of slashing business taxes and regulation a sort of second rate Reaganism on steroids.</p> <p>The crowd lapped all this up, but didn’t go crazy for it, except when Bill and Hillary Clinton were invoked, or the supposed disaster of the Obama presidency. In Trump’s words Obama and Hillary have dared to not see ‘America as exceptional’ and instead ‘view it as just another country amongst countries’, as if that was somehow sacrilege. Sununu portrayed the Obama years as ‘America sliding towards socialism’ – a point not met with disbelief, but cheers. &nbsp;</p> <p>So many factors have got us to this point where the US presidential election result is in serious doubt and it is conceivable that Trump could win. He has somehow managed to position himself as an outsider, raging at the elites and establishment, and even the crony capitalism of which he has been an advocate and beneficiary. He railed against the ‘theft of American jobs and prosperity’ and proposed simplistic, unworkable actions – despite his own track record of exploitative employment practices and shipping jobs overseas. </p><p>Trump has taken on the role of a challenger and outsider to the status quo which a sizeable part of America finds plausible. It is true that, as E.J. Dionne Jr. observed in the ‘Washington Post’, he is a ‘phony outsider’, putting on the mask of anger and outrage at a status quo he has aided and gained from, but it does reveal something telling. </p> <p>We do have to try and understand why nearly half of America’s voters have bought into the Trump agenda? Some of it is understandable – the failure of the Democrats and Republicans to widen prosperity; the decline in well-paid working class jobs, and bitter divisions of race, ethnicity, identity and status. There is an absence of mainstream solutions to much that torments America, so it is much more reassuring to buy into simple, populist, sloganeering.</p> <p>The Democrats and the Clinton era are as much to blame for a lot of this as the Republicans. Nowhere in this election have either of the two main presidential candidates talked of the 28 million Americans who don’t have health care, despite the increased coverage of Obamacare, or the millions of Americans who don’t have access to clean water and sanitation, or that so many essential public goods don’t work for so many people, such as reliable electricity supply. </p> <p>A big element of this is that millions of Americans have lost their place, status and economic security, and don’t know where to turn, or who to blame. Organised labour and activism is now a rump minority part of the economy and even of the Democratic coalition, so talking a traditional labour message no longer resonates with most of the population.</p> <p>Another is how the changing economy and society has rebalanced class, gender and race. It isn’t an accident that Trump’s biggest constituency is non-college educated white men – who have lost out in recent decades in the labour market. Nor is it happenchance that the Democrats have become shaped by gender and race, seen in the Obama presidency and candidature of Hillary Clinton.</p> <p>Trump’s candidature has tapped into and been made possible by a furious male rage across the nation. His sexist, misogynist, predatory comments and behaviour have to be seen in this context. Rebecca Traister, author of ‘All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation’, observed that the revelation of Trump’s ‘groping’ comments was ‘not universal, but not unique’ and ‘representative of a certain class of Republican men.’&nbsp; </p><p>The Trump coalition is a complex phenomenon. It does not make sense to dismiss all of it as being hateful, xenophobic or racist. One New York liberal observer the week previous dismissed Trump’s appeal to me with the words that ’40% of Americans are racist.’ That is as unhelpful in its politics as it is wrong.</p> <p>A nationwide poll this week showed that 7% of Obama’s 2012 vote is now voting for Trump and the reasons for such a shift cannot all be reduced to caricature. One voter, Gary Kerns, 42, from Gettysburg, called himself a ‘bandwagon voter’ and explained his shift from Obama to Trump thus: ‘Obama was blazing hot. There was momentum with him, and I got caught up with it. I loved it.’ And concluded his conversion with the words: ‘Let’s roll with the hot hand.’&nbsp; </p><p>Another ex-Obama voter, William Hansen, a former marine who served with the National Guard in two tours in Iraq said in the ‘New York Times’ ‘When we jump into wars without having a real plan, things like Vietnam, things like Iraq and Afghanistan happen’, observing: ‘This is sixteen years. This is longer than Vietnam.’ Dismay, anxiety and foreboding at America’s imperial over-reach is everywhere, and Trump is mining this, calling out the US Middle East wars as ‘Obama and Hillary’s wars’ and the ‘$6 trillion spending’ as Democrat conflicts, when these were begun by Bush I and II.</p> <p>There is an understandable wish in the UK and elsewhere, along with huge parts of the US, to pray that this nightmare just goes away. That Hillary Clinton is elected (even though she is not perfect) but gets on with the act of governing and being president, and Trump and the forces he has given voice to just disappear. But this isn’t going to happen.</p> <p>The emergence of a Trump nation says something is deeply rotten at the heart of politics, society and the economy. His agenda, concerns, insults and complaints did not emerge from nowhere. The breakdown of agreement about the normative rules and processes of the US political system didn’t just happen under Trump; instead, they have been crumbling for decades.&nbsp; </p><p>Trump has, whether he narrowly wins or loses, in many respects already won this election, framing the arguments, tone and demeanour of the national debate. In this he has similarities with his admirer, former UKIP leader Nigel Farage, with Trump delighted to make the overt comparison by calling himself ‘Mr. Brexit’ – and placing his revolt in the same milieu of a people’s uprising against the liberal and PC classes.</p> <p>It has been a long decline to this sad state of affairs. One where such transparently chameleon-like and opportunist populism from someone such as Donald Trump should find such an enthusiastic and sizeable constituency. The reasons in the US, UK and across Europe for such political and popular dislocation go way beyond the Clintons, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, and Gerhard Schröder. Instead, as Cas Mudde said in ‘Foreign Affairs’ we are witnessing an ‘illiberal democratic response to decades of undemocratic liberal policies’. </p><p>None of the factors that produced the Trump candidacy will disappear whatever the result. A Clinton presidency with the narrowest of mandates could be an ugly, messy interlude for what comes after. A denied Trump would be a nasty, unpredictable force, while the possibility of a Trump presidency would be playing with powerful fire and high stakes. </p> <p>This then is what loss, rage, confusion and anger at a politics and at an economy that has failed many people looks like. This is a society and empire which doesn’t want to confront difficult truths and have a serious debate about what has gone wrong and how to put it right. It is a frightening picture, but we have to face it calmly to even begin to understand how to counteract it. Trump is not a one-off, or an outsider, or even a unique American phenomenon. The politics of the strongman who alone has the answers can seemingly happen nearly anywhere. It is that serious and alarming.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/gerry-hassan/empire-in-decline-hillary-clinton-trump-nasty-women-and-kabuki-polit">An empire in decline: Hillary Clinton, Trump, ‘nasty women’ and Kabuki politics</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk Gerry Hassan Sat, 05 Nov 2016 08:26:17 +0000 Gerry Hassan 106497 at An empire in decline: Hillary Clinton, Trump, ‘nasty women’ and Kabuki politics <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Attend a Hillary Clinton rally, and see how limited the reach of the American establishment has become.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Hillary Clinton, by Gage Skidmore. Creative Commons.</span></span></span></p> <p>The US presidential election is everywhere you turn in the States. That much is familiar and reassuring, but so much else this year – and in the longer-term –points in the exact opposite direction: a country not at ease with itself, a failing economy and imperial over-reach.</p> <p>On Monday this week I went to an election campaign rally in the beautiful grounds of St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire and heard Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren speak. The latter touched the crowd’s emotions much more than Clinton with fighting talk and calling out Trump on behalf of ‘nasty women’ (which Trump had called Clinton the previous week in the last debate) saying ‘nasty women vote’ and ‘nasty women have really had it with guys like you.’&nbsp; </p><p>The atmosphere at this rally was warm and welcoming, but hardly ecstatic for Clinton. The biggest cheers were for Warren’s more partisan, fiery oratory, or for the points various speakers, Clinton included, made against Trump. There wasn’t any sense of electricity or expectation of far-reaching change. Not surprising, perhaps, when the crowd was overwhelmingly white, with the solitary black person, predominantly female overall, middle aged to elderly, and professional. Missing were the old faces and voices of the Democrat coalition such as trade unions and marginalised, poorer America: a fair representation of today’s Democratic Party.</p> <p>How can we understand the mood of America? How can outsiders understand it when large parts of America, including experts and elites, have so misunderstood the sign of the times? Trump we were repeatedly told wasn’t meant to happen, and would just go away – a joke candidature for an overblown ego. Instead, two weeks out while he looks certain to lose, he is still in the game, still competitive, and more importantly, this is Trump’s election, to win or lose. </p><p>Trump has, unlike constant compromiser Hillary Clinton, shaped the political waves of America 2016. Of course he is a born opportunist who has spotted a gap in the market, and then framed a political offer of anger, fury and rage at the very elites in which he is a major player. The audacity of anti-hope took the voices of authority by surprise, but they misread the mood of the country in places and the failure of political elites over the last fifty years.</p> <p>How did people not see Trump coming given recent decades? How did they not manage to factor that Trump, or someone like him, would manage to position himself as a truth teller for the people who feel so let down? In the UK that rage has expressed itself through UKIP led by ex-City trader Nigel Farage. Trump’s language, like Farage, is of a nationalism at war with cosmopolitanism and modern times. Trump has asserted that ‘Americanism, not globalism, will be our credo’: just the sort of thing Farage would say in the UK.</p> <p>The old two party coalitions – Democrats for the have nots and the New Deal alliance and the Republicans for the haves, business execs and country club set – no longer holds. It has been fraying since the political shockwave of 1968 when the corrupt party system which did represent a ‘rigged’ system broke down: the Democrat leadership that year imposing Hubert Humphrey as their Presidential candidate without him winning a single primary, thus, aiding, schisms and infighting, and the victory of Nixon’s not so ‘silent majority’.</p> <p>This was the beginning of the morphing of the parties into their current predicaments. The Reagan revolution shaped the tide of anti-government populism which has spawned Trump. But equally culpable has been the post-New Deal Democrats of the Clinton and Obama Presidencies, who have occupied centre-right ground, not remade the case for active government, and waged a never-ending assault on some of the traditional Democrat constituencies such as welfare for the poor and black people.</p> <p>To outside perspectives, all that may seem to matter in the US 2016 presidential elections are gender and race. After its defeat in 2012 the Republican Party post-election analysis admitted that the party’s problems with women and non-white voters had to be tackled if the party was ever to win again. The main leadership all made noises to this effect, and yet such is the toxic populism which runs through the party, instead they have ended up with Trump. The surprise in all this is that to anyone Trump came as a surprise, given the politics of hatred, which has been fermenting for years.&nbsp; </p><p>However, America’s divisions are about more than gender and race. They are also about class, status, insiders and outsiders, who has economic and social capital, how they see the future for themselves and their families, and critical cultural issues about identity and diversity.&nbsp; </p><p>The two party reconfiguration which has been emerging since 1968 now sees the Democrats as proudly and unashamedly the party of cosmopolitan elites and diversity, while the Republicans have become that of moral conservatives, free market dogmatists and the white working class. Many of the winners of the ‘new economy’ in hi tech companies and elsewhere are Democrats with a poll of Silicon Glen CEOs finding 88% of them planning to vote Clinton and 0% for Trump. Such an alignment isn’t a simple politics of left v right, or have nots v haves, and leaves a huge swathe of America unrepresented and without voice. </p> <p>Thomas Frank, one of the most consistent liberal critics of this state of affairs, puts it succinctly when he says: ‘The GOP is a business elite; the Democrats are a status elite, the professional class’: a politics in which majority America is on the outside looking in.&nbsp; </p><p>It also leaves class problematic. Once upon a time, ‘working class’ was a term of pride, organisation and hope. No longer. The term has become even in Bruce Springsteen songs, a lament and loss for people who are voiceless and literally have no institution behind or beside them for support. Even worse, ‘white working class’ has become a phrase for many of caricature – but what it does do is pose class through the prism of race – rather than talking about who has won and lost the class wars of recent decades. That’s a discussion that mainstream Democrats and Republicans don’t want to have. </p> <p>To some in Europe the ascendancy of a Hillary Clinton presidency will mark a return to a politics familiar and one that they think they know – of moderate, responsible, evidence based government and politics. But that is to misread the times we live in. The Clintons are part of the insider class and elite who have enriched themselves in recent decades – neither old Democrats or making a convincing case for a new kind of Democrat politics while governing from the centre-right, slashing budgets, welfare and not making any convincing case for government. Of course, as human beings and individual politicians, the redeeming case can be for Bill and Hillary Clinton, but as part of a class the charge sheet against them is legion. They have both travelled far from their bright new left hopes as part of George McGovern’s ill-fated idealistic campaign against Nixon in 1972 which went down to huge defeat.</p> <p>Clinton will win and then the gridlock, stand-offs and impasse will continue, of two elite tribes fighting over ownership and control of some of the key institutions of US public life. Meanwhile, the deeper problems of US society: of punishing poverty, failing public services and infrastructure, mass incarceration of the black male population, an economy that no longer delivers good jobs and incomes, and an empire at permanent war, but in serious decline, goes on unchallenged and undebated in the corridors of power.</p> <p>The Clinton campaign has touched none of these issues, instead relying on pious, tired Democrat slogans such as ‘Stronger Together’ and only hitting home runs when it takes on the misogyny and racism of Trump. Hillary’s campaign has literally nothing to say about the economy, beyond a series of policy wonk initiatives and empty gestures to pretend to challenge her friends and funders in Wall Street. It lacks the messianic faith in globalisation of the first Clinton presidency, shared by Blair, Brown and New Labour. Without it, it isn’t clear what her politics or that of the Democrats really is. Maybe my self-identified libertarian taxi driver taking me to the Elvis Costello gig in Boston on Tuesday was right when he said that the two parties represented a ‘kabuki theatre’ politics – ‘pretending to disagree with each other, while behind the scenes agreeing on so much.’</p> <p>The vacuity of the Democrat leadership is self-evident in Hillary Clinton and her empty promise of a presidential campaign which doesn’t herald well for the future. Similarly, the imminent implosion of the Republicans post-Trump’s defeat shows that the party is ambivalent about whether it should embrace modern America, or declare war on it in the latest version of the culture wars.</p> <p>This is still by far the richest country in the world and the only superpower on our planet and yet its politics are dysfunctional, broken, captured by elites, and atrophying at every level. It isn’t an accident that 2012’s Presidential election turnout was just above 54.9% – a trend which has been evident at every US election since 1980 – bar 2008 (reaching a nadir of 49.0% in 1996 and having to go back to 1968 to get a turnout over 60%: 60.7%). And those figures are of registered voters. US democracy for all its hype of ‘Camelot on the Hill’ is a rigged system: just not in the way Trump means it.</p> <p>Of course a Clinton presidency is preferable to Trump. Yet, it is Trump who has set the tone and direction of the future. He has shown that America’s two great parties and all the processes around them are close to being shams. And that it is possible to walk into one, turn it upside down and disorientate the whole of US politics. The Trump train may prove to be a train wreck, but it is one which has taken a lot of its passengers on a journey they are barely aware of the consequences of yet.</p> <p>What comes after the interregnum of the Clinton presidency and Trump wreckage is a troubling question, but more than likely US politics is going to get a lot worse, before it has any prospect of getting better and answering the fundamentals: of an economy which doesn’t work, decline in trust in government and authority and an imperial empire in disarray and decline. </p> <p>&nbsp;</p><div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk Gerry Hassan Wed, 26 Oct 2016 13:29:54 +0000 Gerry Hassan 106276 at High-wire politics, the SNP after conference and the next independence campaign <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The SNP membership see the vast challenges in front of them.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="// Shot 2016-10-17 at 17.42.54.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="// Shot 2016-10-17 at 17.42.54.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="342" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Nicola Sturgeon addressing SNP conference - Peter Murrell.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">The SNP’s rise to become Britain’s third party – in parliamentary seats and mass membership – has corresponded with its annual conference adopting the importance, scale and feel of one of the two UK big parties.</p><p dir="ltr">This is of course fitting and appropriate, but still something of a transition given the SNP are obviously a Scottish-only party, and in places maintain the feel and ethos of a party which for decades has defined itself as a family and community.</p><p dir="ltr">The mood of a party of 120,000 plus members and such a large conference gathering is difficult to tell – but what can be gauged is that it is a complex one. Many, if not most, members have a whole host of different emotions – a sense of pride at the SNP’s successes and achievements, a qualified upbeatness about some of the challenges ahead, and awareness of the huge storms gathering post-Brexit.</p><p dir="ltr">It is self-evident that Nicola Sturgeon as leader, and the leadership of the party in general, are trusted by the party’s grassroots to make the right calls and judgements navigating the wreckage of Brexit and deciding the timing of indyref2. </p><p dir="ltr">It goes without saying that Nicola Sturgeon is enormously popular with party members, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t shades of doubt. Beyond public pronouncements and debates at conference, party members talked openly about the difficult choices on independence post-Brexit, framing and winning indyref2, and at the same time, governing and attempting to protect public services while having a coherent legislative programme.</p><p dir="ltr">Nicola Sturgeon has been careful and considered in her statements – on Brexit and indyref2 – doing so to such an extent that some can misconstrue her seriousness and steel. One example being Jason Cowley, editor of the ‘New Statesman’, mistaking Sturgeon’s tone on the BBC ‘Marr’ Show for meaning that ‘she clearly doesn’t want indyref2’. Less than one hour later on ITV’s ‘Peston’, Sturgeon confirmed that it was ‘highly likely’ that indyref2 would take place before 2020.</p><p dir="ltr">But there are tensions in the party which isn’t surprising given the stakes. Newly elected depute leader Angus Robertson ruffled some feathers when he said to CommonSpace that ‘ideology’ should have no part in the winning of independence. That did seem to be taking John Swinney’s ‘centre ground’ strategy to ridiculous levels and begged many questions.</p><p dir="ltr">Sturgeon’s keynote speech on Saturday was a daring one for her – and any Scottish or British party leader. It was, while light on policy, powerful written in its outlook, and contained passages it would have been unimaginable for Alex Salmond to have uttered.</p><p dir="ltr">Large sections of her speech were shaped by an emotional literacy about policies, politics and society, which was audacious. To talk of the importance of love in terms of the oft-mistitled ‘care industry’ was moving to those in the hall, and clearly Sturgeon herself, but carried a wider message about the higher purpose of what politics and government is meant to be about, of which the symbolism of the Baby Boxes was but one part.</p><p dir="ltr">The most important passages came when she said that there is much more which ‘unites us as a country than will ever divide us’ and explicitly challenged the political divisions of recent years and referendums. In particular, there was a daring quality to admitting that not only do No voters have feelings and emotions, but their sense of being threatened by independence had to be recognised.</p><p dir="ltr">Here Sturgeon drew on her experience of Brexit to say she awoke in the Scotland of June 24th to find that ‘I felt as if part of my identity was being taken away’ and then connected this to the experience of the indyref, where many No voters felt the same, stating ‘it gave me a new insight into how those who voted No might have felt if 2014 had gone the other way.’</p><p dir="ltr">This may seem obvious to those of the non-independence persuasion, but it was all the more powerful for it, if a bit belated coming over two years after the indyref. I have consistently argued that independence doesn’t win by its most partisan zealots berating, hectoring and questioning the motives of No voters in 2014. Such an approach is even evident in the ‘Are You Yes Yet?’ as if No voters are expected to recant for their sins and responsibly for every supposed crime committed by those evil Tories.</p><p dir="ltr">It is still not clear how the SNP will reframe and recalibrate the politics of independence, but this is an important first step. It has to in tone and content be consistently held to and inform a different kind of strategy and offer. This will be one which is empathising of No voters in the past and now, and has an honesty, humbleness and humanity, rather than populist, challenging and sometimes cantankerous qualities of 2014.</p><p dir="ltr">SNP members and activists are aware that lots of work needs to be done. They are aware that with success and dominance comes the problems of expectation, discipline and proper opposition and scrutiny. They recognise that nine years into the SNP in office they have often escaped from much rigorous opposition or proper scrutiny, and eventually, that this comes back and hurts the SNP.</p><p dir="ltr">There are even in places soft anxieties about the cumulative effect of too much centralisation and scooping up powers into the hands of Scottish government ministers. And there is a growing awareness that the relationship between the party and wider movement, often alluded and referred to by the leadership, has to become more than just tokenistic, where the latter are only trawled out for a tokenistic reference point.</p><p dir="ltr">Instead, as we come up for a decade of Nationalist Scotland, there is a widespread feeling that both independence and wider policies need a richer hinterland than just ministers and special advisers, with once or twice yearly party debates the only other input. The question of pro-independence independent resources, whether it is the absence of a conventional think tank and other research institutes, has become more widely talked about. That is at least some sort of progress, but action is urgently needed, particularly if any indyref2 is merely a couple of years away.</p><p dir="ltr">The Scotland of 2016 is a very different country from that of only two or three years ago. But nothing lasts forever and no political mood or party dominance goes on into the future. Scotland has gone through huge waves of change: politically, economically, socially and culturally in recent decades and that isn’t going to stop. One SNP member reflected at a fringe that: ‘Labour’s 1979 referendum shafted the SNP, whereas the SNP’s 2014 referendum shafted Labour’, touching on some of what has happened has been unexpected and unpredicted, and that this might be the same for the future.<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />There was an awareness of that around SNP conference and an understanding that the party leadership has a window of opportunity to flesh out a strategy an approach to independence and the future politics of Scotland. In all likelihood, some of this will disappoint some of the more left-wing elements in the SNP and beyond. Already the talk of ‘Red Nicola’ (which was always ridiculous) has gone away, but others have shown disillusionment that independence will be presented as ‘a new normal’, as Theresa May and her Brexiteer government burn down the house in pursuit of a xenophobic, insular nationalism. This latter phenomenon is both an opportunity and threat to the SNP and cause of independence.</p><p dir="ltr">A second indyref is even more of a high wire risk for the SNP than first time, because until the very end of the first campaign, few expected Yes to win. Next time, assuming there is a next time, independence will be the favourite to win, and that changes everything: the nature of the offer, scrutiny and debate of it, and how the British state and No voters respond and react.</p><p dir="ltr">No doubt some of this future will involve the same or even more noise and hysteria than 2014, but in places, it requires a politics of mutual respect, of the kind articulated by Sturgeon on Saturday. For if Scotland has a more than even chance of becoming independent in the next few years, it has to happen by not insulting half the voters as our equivalent of ‘deplorables’. Instead, we have to win by acting now with the decency, humility and honesty, as if we were already independent today.</p><p dir="ltr">There are numerous convulsions ahead. There is the role the Scottish Parliament has in any Brexit negotiations – which might not constitute a ‘veto’ but involves the prospect of a legislative consent or Sewel motion. Is it really possible that Brexit’s clarion call of ‘Taking Back Control’ is really going to end up with the empty theatre of the Great Repeal Bill, lots of UK executive diktat, and the Scottish and other devolved parliaments and assemblies being marginalised? Maybe such is the reality of British parliamentary sovereignty.</p><p dir="ltr">What happens if the UK negotiates a soft Brexit that respects Scotland’s interests? Angus Robertson says it would mean ‘we would not go ahead with a referendum’. Then there is what happens to the powers coming back from the EU to the UK which will mean enhanced powers for the Scottish Parliament on agriculture, fisheries and the environment: devo max Brexit or devoexit.</p><p dir="ltr">Perhaps most critically, if a hard Brexit emerges there is the question of what the nature of the UK/rUK will be across these isles – which extends far beyond the media and political elite obsession with the single market. From this stems the huge democratic question, of whether Theresa May, if push comes to shove, would grant the Section 30 order of the Scotland Act 1998 (as David Cameron did in 2012) to allow a binding second referendum. </p><p dir="ltr">At the moment, we have no signs either way on May’s intent, but to refuse Scotland’s claim would be an act of constitutional vandalism and one which in effect ripped up the ‘equal partnership’ of the UK. That would give the cause of Scottish independence (as in Catalonia) the democratic mantle, and provide a bumpy, but surely inevitable road to eventual independence. These are dramatic and historic times, and Nicola Sturgeon’s step-by-step diplomacy is sensible, but the SNP are going to need to find new allies and aid a deeper culture of pluralism and debate if they are to convincingly win indyref2: and that will require multi-tasking of the highest order. The SNP have travelled far and taken Scotland far, but some of the biggest challenges yet await it.</p><div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk Gerry Hassan Mon, 17 Oct 2016 16:47:13 +0000 Gerry Hassan 106021 at Theresa May, the end of Empire State Britain and the death of Unionism <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The old British state is crumbling.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="// Shot 2016-10-07 at 11.00.24.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="// Shot 2016-10-07 at 11.00.24.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="391" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>By James Gillray, 1793 - Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">The Tory conference tried to sail on as if the sea wasn’t turbulent and choppy, with the ship heading for the rocks.</p><p dir="ltr">Tory statecraft, élan, even class confidence, have all contributed to this – along with the vindication of the long held faith and religious zeal of those of a Brexit disposition. Many have come late to the latter, while Theresa May has embraced this dogma with the passion of the new found convert.</p><p dir="ltr">You don’t have to look very far from the Tory bubble to find a very different mood and Britain. The pound at a 31 year old low, economic and financial jitters, Renault-Nissan warning about future investment in North East England, and wider business decisions being mothballed. </p><p dir="ltr">Tory chutzpah won’t be enough this time for the Theresa May land grab on UKIP and Labour territory. There is a new populism in town, alert to the concerns which produced the Brexit vote, but one which attempts to promise certainty, stability and security in a world of uncertainty – part of which was created by the Brexit vote. </p><p dir="ltr">Traditional Tory unionism – as articulated by Disraeli, Churchill and Macmillan – had an innate understanding of the patchwork nature of the United Kingdom. It had its blind spots (Ireland obviously) along with its elitism, patrician qualities, and limited democracy, but it told a story of working class incorporation into citizenship and institutions that had a popular resonance. </p><p dir="ltr">That Tory story of Britain was a nationalism – a quiet, self-confident, self-assured nationalism of an elite which knew its place, power and importance – that has withered now to a faint echo. Its age is really that of a Britain of the past – pre-Heath, pre-Thatcher – irrespective of the continual, but empty, referencing of it by every Tory leader before and since. </p><p dir="ltr">Theresa May is trying to invoke this tradition but it is threadbare, lacking a popular touch, and ill-equipped for modern Britain. Unionism is a form of British state nationalism, and a nationalism without the sure touch of a union vision is even more obviously nationalist. The discovery that Tories are British nationalists, unambiguous in rhetoric like ‘British jobs for British workers’, came as a shock to The Spectator’s Alex Massie, who <a href="">finally woke up</a> and realised that he was living under an apologetic ‘new nationalist government’. He always has been. </p><p dir="ltr">Something profound has shifted in this nationalism. It has become an expression of a defiant, out and proud ‘little Britain’ which can now be seen in every walk of life – from politics, to media, and public life. This is explicitly no longer in most respects a British nationalism, but an English nationalism. And the future of British politics will turn out to be determined by the different expressions, forces and dynamics within that nationalism.</p><p dir="ltr">There is a forgetful English nationalism – which has a collective amnesia about the nations and regions of the UK and which is driven by the insider class and elites. The other is a populist, vengeful English nationalism which utilizes feelings of hurt, loss, anger and betrayal – and which could turn into something much more poisonous and nasty than we have seen so far. </p><p dir="ltr">The first sits at ease within the mainstream of the Tory coalition and establishment, and taps into the absent mindedness and forgetfulness which always characterises power and elites in Britain. This has showcased its ad-hoc nature and pragmatism, and was evident in how the UK gained and then lost an Empire. But the second is inarguably the much more potent, powerful force – evident in the Brexit vote, UKIP’s near four million votes in 2015, and the Corbyn revolution. And in a different context, such dismay and discontent gave force to the powerful coalition which nearly won the 2014 Scottish indyref.</p><p dir="ltr">In an age of disruption and anger, Scotland’s ascendant SNP might seem an anomaly. So far they have managed to ride the twin horses of incumbents and insurgents, first, under the populist Alex Salmond, and now under the popular Nicola Sturgeon. The SNP government are playing a canny, waiting game waiting for the UK government to play its cards on Brexit before it decides to act and make a decision at some point on the possibilities for indyref2.</p><p dir="ltr">Yet, pressures and constraints are evident in the SNP – in office for what will be coming up for ten years in 2017 – a political timescale that normally exhausts sitting governments – and by which point Thatcher and Blair were heading out their respective doors. The SNP is not immune to the laws of political dynamics and is fast becoming a new class and establishment vehicle, while Sturgeon’s many qualities may play well on Brexit, but now seem less well-suited for a substantive domestic policy agenda. That may seem too harsh, but as she comes up for two years as Scotland’s first minister her domestic legislative and policy record and programme seems thin. And at some point in the future that lack of substance will eventually matter. Politics is always about more than symbols.</p><p dir="ltr">In bygone days, at least in the mythological version of British constitutionalism, the multiple crises of government and what passes for democracy would be met by a whirlwind of establishment initiatives, many, if not all of which, would be holding operations or mere window dressing. This would then be presented as enlightened elite rule and as good old-fashioned British compromise. Now the crises are so deep, and the rot in the system so profound, that such time honoured ways no longer suffice.</p><p dir="ltr">It is also that the mythology is just that: the mumbo-jumbo and superstitions that have been invented and forged to keep the British state show going. Thus, prime exhibit number one here has been the fetishizing of parliamentary sovereignty – something invented to give the whole project meaning and coherence, and yet without any real legal meaning, and shorn of any even passing semblance of relevance since the UK entered the then EEC in 1973 (and subsequently limited further by Labour’s half-complete constitutional reforms from devolution to the Supreme Court). </p><p dir="ltr">Absolute sovereignty as a mantra has played a significant part in two of the most brutal humiliations of Britain’s establishment in its history – the loss of the American colonies and Ireland. The debacle of Brexit and the near-loss of Scotland – the last of which has now been put back into play – can be seen as equally historic and disastrous to the prestige and power of the UK and for similar reasons; hoist on the wreckage of the shibboleth of sovereignty.</p><p dir="ltr">Several powerful forces are heading for an almighty collusion. A Tory Brexit is emboldening a Tory party which thinks it can win absolute power with 24% of the electorate and then jettison large parts of the Cameron-Osborne agenda and head off in the opposite direction. The May moment is truly making a drama out of a crisis and ruthlessly using it to fashion a new politics claimed as ‘the centre ground’ – but which is equal parts Thatcherite, Blairite, Farage and Daily Mail with a dash of Ed Miliband’s concerns about predatory capitalism for good measure. That’s a remarkably Big Tent in aspiration and rhetoric, but it disguises how thin and narrow Tory England really is.</p><p dir="ltr">Faultlines abound. British politics for one no longer exist as a national entity, campaign and set of debates. This was evident in the 2015 UK election, but it carries huge consequences when Westminster still claims its supreme place and power in national life, and the Tories swagger, walk and talk and claim their unrepresentative tribe as the one true national party and voice. Scotland has already left the building that is Britain, and Northern Ireland has placed itself in some kind of limbo. </p><p dir="ltr">Unionism as we used to know it is dead. It was of its age: benign, supposedly wise, but deeply problematic, championed by anti-democratic forces who we were meant to trust and respect and leave to get on with the big decisions. A naked British or English nationalism, or indeed, more benign Scottish, Welsh or Irish minority nationalisms, do not provide any kind of adequate road maps for Britain or their respective countries. For all the plaudits the leader of the Scottish Tories Ruth Davidson gets there is very little behind her and very little strategy, and it is even beyond her to single-handedly reinvent a political tradition in terminal decline; providing a tactical, populist opposition to the SNP may prove to be a different thing.</p><p dir="ltr">Equally, the Tory and Labour tribal accounts of Britain, whether in their traditional garbs or more recent modernisation versions, or the Corbyn revival show, have shown themselves to be inadequate for the times and crises we live in. What then comes after Thatcherism, New Labour and the battering of social democracy? What set of common values and over-arching political values and philosophies can we find to reassert some humanity, decency and public good across these isles after three decades of vandalism and asset-stripping?</p><p dir="ltr">Even to ask the question is to illustrate the scale of the task, but the multiple crises we face: economic, social, cultural, democratic and geo-political, to name the most obvious, mean that the establishment order of Britain, old and new, has been revealed transparently as rotten, deformed and inadequate. All of Britain’s political elites have been tainted and tarnished by it, and somehow, Brexit and the reconfiguration of the relations of the peoples’ and nations of these isles, has to involve finding new collective voices and vessels. </p><p dir="ltr">The Empire State Britain – which ran this country for so long and gave us the welfare state, Thatcherism and New Labour via its lack of democracy and ‘we know bestism’ – while clinging on to the illusions of Great British Powerism, is slowly but brutally coming to an end. Politics from now on will be much more bumpy, unpredictable and messy, and while there will be many difficulties to come, there is a profound opening and opportunity for ultimately, a much better politics and society. The road ahead will undoubtedly be filled with hazards, but at least there will be no false illusion that the British state can be reformed or used to bring about enlightened progress. </p><p>The end of Empire State Britain isn’t just the end of that version of Britain, but the UK as we have known it, and potentially the UK as a state. Huge questions face us about whether an emasculated, discredited political class can navigate its way out of this mess of their own making to a new constitutional and political settlement – which in all likelihood will be a post-British one.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/anthony-barnett/it-s-england-s-brexit">It’s England’s Brexit</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ourkingdom/adam-ramsay/forever-blowing-bubbles-why-corbyn-won-labour-and-how-he-can-change-britain">Forever blowing bubbles: why Corbyn won Labour and how he can change Britain</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> UK </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk UK Democracy and government nationalism Conservative Party Theresa May reset Gerry Hassan Fri, 07 Oct 2016 10:06:01 +0000 Gerry Hassan 105819 at From 'Tory values' to Soviet throwbacks: Who can claim victory over the UK's Olympic success? <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The UK's Olympic triumph can be measured in more than bronze, silver and gold.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title="Mo Farah celebrates his two Olympic golds. Photo: Jae C. Hong / AP/Press Association Images. All rights reserved. "><img src="//" alt="Mo Farah celebrates his two Olympic golds. Photo: Jae C. Hong / AP/Press Association Images. All rights reserved. " title="Mo Farah celebrates his two Olympic golds. Photo: Jae C. Hong / AP/Press Association Images. All rights reserved. " width="460" height="285" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Mo Farah celebrates his two Olympic gold medals. Photo: Jae C. Hong / AP/Press Association Images. All rights reserved. </span></span></span>Rio 2016 has made the headlines, and not always for the right reasons. Before the games, there was the backstory of Brazil's lack of preparation, corruption and wasting of billions in a country without basic sanitation and health facilities for millions of its population. As the games got underway, one of the big stories became that of British success – as medal after medal was won, with Team GB achieved second place in the medals table ahead of the Chinese. Its final tally exceeded the number of medals won four years previously in London 2012 (65 then; 67 now).</p> <p>The tales of success - Jason Kenny and Laura Trott at cycling, Andy Murray at tennis, medals in dressage and swimming - have captivated a nation and even provide a hint of nostalgia by being screened on the BBC without adverts. Whilst in 2012 £264 million of funding worked out at £4,061,538 million a medal, in Rio £355 million of funding produced £5,298,507.46 per medal. Such achievements come at a price: envy, backbiting, and even sour grapes. German track cyclist Kristina Vogel said of British cycle success: "They were cannon fodder when you look at the last few years. Now they come along with a high level." French coach Laurent Gané said: "The recipe should be asked for from our neighbours because I don’t understand."</p> <p>None of this happened by accident. Ever since the embarrassment of the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 when Britain won its lowest ever tally of medals for years (a solitary gold) there's been a consistent upward trend in the UK's medal tally. This was bolstered by monies from National Lottery under the direction of UK Sport, who had responsibility for administering the £355 million fund for Rio. The most over the top criticism came from curmudgeon Simon Jenkins in The Guardian, comparing British celebrations of success to the Soviet era writing "Soviet bloc nations used sport as a proxy for economic success', when nowadays all nations do. The games represented "the nationalisation of sport" and British success "the hamfisted draping in the Union Jack." Where has he been these last 20 years in the Olympics or World Cup? Clearly not watching very closely.</p> <p class="mag-quote-center">Even more wrong-footed was Tory supporter and free-schooler Toby Young claiming the games as a triumph of ‘Tory values’</p><p>Even more wrong-footed was Tory supporter and free-schooler Toby Young claiming the games as a triumph of ‘Tory values’. These apparent Tory values are "hard work and dedication will lead to success", "the power of patriotism", "the importance of family" and a ruthless, "no compromise approach" from UK Sport in picking winners. In what kind of bizarre world are these universal principles ‘Tory values’? Presumably that of the Daily Mail. Young even claims that the success of Adam Peaty, Britain’s first swimming gold medal winner in 28 years, is down just to those immediately around him, writing "it was a strong family support network – that helped create a champion, not a nannying, state machine."</p> <p>In truth, it was a mix of individual commitment, family and friends, and a state with money able to pick winners, in the way the UK has refused for years to do in industry and investment. And Young should know the importance of central government funding in honing individual talent; as former CEO of the West London Free School, he was directly the beneficiary of Department of Education largesse.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">[a] recent history of the modern Olympics shows that there never was a golden era.</p> <p>There are lots of problems with the modern Olympics. The patronage of the International Olympic Committee, as with FIFA in football, grants them the power and resources of virtual private states. The contracts they force on host countries and cities involve tax avoidance by them, lack of accountability and transparency. The author David Goldblatt’s recent history of the modern Olympics shows that there never was a golden era. From the outset, these were less about sport, than national superiority and the triumph of rich nations over the poor, all still evident to this day. The continents of Africa and South America are nearly entirely missing from the Rio medal table.</p> <p>Rio 2016 shows that international sport isn’t left just to sportsmen and women, but about money, commercialisation, and the pressure to succeed and thrive on stress. After London’s Olympics, some tried to draw wider lessons about social change from the games success. Harry Burns, then Chief Medical Officer for Scotland, commented that success at cycling showed how to change a society: "Small changes in a lot of areas deliver a big change." But winning at cycling isn’t similar to social change. Clearly, massive public investment can bring about national success. The Olympic medal haul confronts us with the question of how we measure that success; as the triumph of 'Tory values', or as testament to the potential of public investment in private prowess. In answering this, we must also ask ourselves just how much we can jubilate when this success is hosted by an organisation as deeply dubious as the International Olympic Committee. These are questions not just about how we want to organise our sport, but about how we want to organise our society.</p> <p>Lets enjoy Britain’s success, but not get too carried away – either as killjoys like Simon Jenkins or crazed optimistic patriots such as Toby Young. The games do show some things. That the world is not particularly equal, and those with advantage, support, networks and skills, can be and already are winners. They also show what £355 million can buy you, namely, a lot of medals, attention and a bit of national prestige. However, this doesn't amount to a British wide renaissance. And it is more than likely, as we all bask in this summer of British success, that these will be either the last, or second last ever, Team GB games.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p><div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk Gerry Hassan Mon, 22 Aug 2016 11:26:49 +0000 Gerry Hassan 104903 at Unruly Britannia: Why we can no longer call our kingdom 'united' <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>We think of Britain as a bastion of stability, security, and unity. This vision was always partly a myth, and it is now more distant than ever from political reality.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="// Shot 2016-08-15 at 16.39.11.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title="&#039;Britannia Pacificatrix&#039; mural in the UK Foreign &amp; Commonwealth office. Image: Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain"><img src="// Shot 2016-08-15 at 16.39.11.png" alt="" title="&#039;Britannia Pacificatrix&#039; mural in the UK Foreign &amp; Commonwealth office. Image: Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain" width="460" height="308" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Sigismund Goetze's 'Britannia Pacificatrix' mural in the UK Foreign & Commonwealth office. Image: Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain</span></span></span>Throughout its history, Britain has had a reputation for stability and security. This after all was one of the main clarion calls in Scotland’s indyref and, more recently, the Brexit vote. But it has always been a bit of a myth - and is now increasingly fictitious. Firstly, discussions supposedly about ‘Britain’ often collapse into discussions purely about England, and the south of England at that. In the European referendum and its aftermath, much of the discussion that occurred repeatedly - supposedly about the country, its challenges and future - wasn’t actually about the UK, but instead about England. This has become the way the country is presented by its elites. One glaring example of this was the previous week’s BBC post-vote analysis, ‘Brexit: The Battle for Britain’ which had lots to commend it. Politicians were candid, telling stories about decisions - and about each other.</p><p dir="ltr">There were however two big problems with this. Firstly, it presented politics as the pastime of an insider class sitting in swish London offices and presiding over us, reducing the affairs of the state to nothing more than a spectator sport. In this light, the referendum seem less like a democratic affront to elitism and more like another spectacular act of political theatre. Secondly, and as seriously, was the problem of the missing Britain. In a one-hour programme, there was not one single, even tokenistic, reference to Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. Instead there was lots of discussion about London and its critical importance for the Remain vote. Apart from that, the only other geographic reference was to somewhere vague called ‘the North’. This apparently isn’t a very happy place, is filled with lots of disquiet and frustration, sense of loss, and inability to accept change. People stubbornly cling to their Northerliness and refuse to embrace Southernness. ‘The North’ was represented by three disgruntled and elderly working class men in a pub – who felt that all politicians lied and didn’t listen to people like them. And there was one woman - the Leave-voting Sam Adamson from Sunderland who stated that: ‘For the working-class people, it was like, ‘Yeah, you heard us – now do something about it’.” We will see how that works out.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">This is what shrunken dreams look like.</p><p dir="ltr">This is what shrunken dreams look like. This Britain post-Brexit contained not one reference to Scottish independence and the prospect of any future referendum. Worse, there wasn’t one mention of the threat to the Northern Irish peace process, which has been dealt a severe blow by the hauling out of Europe of the UK. Many people, particularly in London elites, will say that these divisions have always existed as they currently do. But that’s not true; they are in fact getting worse. Two conceptions of ‘Britain’ characterise and feed into this spiral of deepening divisions. One is the vision held by ‘winner Britain’: the view of those who have made it, think they can make it, or hang on to the coat tails of this class.&nbsp;<span>They tell themselves they are a cosmopolitan, outward focused group – but only with time for similar minded people. This was one of the defining features of the Brexit debate – that the Remain side and the large parts of the London media couldn’t understand anything beyond this class. Any opposition, from places such as ‘the North’ was about handing on to the past, or worse, about being losers.&nbsp;</span><span>The second factor is the emergence of an English nationalism – which in large part presents itself in opposition to the above. It claims that in recent decades we have ‘lost’ control of our country – to immigrants, the PC brigade, and Europe – and now is the time to ‘take it back’.</span></p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The very idea of Britain as a coherent political entity [...] is now in terminal decline</p><p dir="ltr">Yet, the very idea of Britain as a coherent political entity (to which both of these visions lay claim) &nbsp;is now in terminal decline. Once upon a time, this idea was one which united experts, elites and large parts of the general public. It seems hard to believe now, but Britain was once powerfully associated with forces of good and enlightenment: lifting up millions in this country post-1945 out of poverty, and providing a whole generation of working class people opportunities denied their parents and grandparents. The last forty years have seen the institutions which make up the British establishment and state embark on a political revolution which has turned the country and our lives upside down. This has produced not just a constitutional crisis, but also an economic, social and democratic one. These institutions underwrote Britain’s stability; and as they have crumbled, so has the legitimacy of this united and uniting vision of the country.</p><p dir="ltr">These liberal democratic institutions are the bedrock of the politics we have helped give to the world, exporting them to the quarter of the planet over which Britain once ruled. Many have argued that it has produced its positives at great cost to these countries. Whatever the truths of these critiques, one thing has become clear: that in the western countries for whom these positives were supposedly acquired, it has been an utter disaster. In the UK, US and elsewhere, wages and living standards have stagnated, while a microscopic elite, who represent at most 0.1% of respective populations, have enriched themselves at our expense. In previous eras, the villains of a capitalism gone wrong were smallscale, almost comic - Peter Rachman, Tiny Rowland (who inspired ‘the phrase “the unacceptable face of capitalism”), and Gerald Ratner (who said his products were ‘total crap’). But now the individual villains are everywhere - Philip Green, Dominic Chappell, Mike Ashley - while the real crooks remain private.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">This narrow-band version of Britain has grown increasingly strong in recent decades</p><p><span>This narrow-band version of Britain has grown increasingly strong in recent decades, and crowded out progressive and more inclusive versions. The country that was regularly celebrated in the indyref as ‘the greatest union in human history’, and in the Brexit debate, as ‘a partnership of equal nations’, has been revealed as nothing of the kind. Any idea of partnership isn’t equal or consensual and democratic; certainly not for Scotland and Northern Ireland in the recent referendum, or economically and socially, for most of the UK.</span></p><p dir="ltr">Bizarrely, despite all this, most elements of the centre-left, including the Labour Party, don’t understand the above or want to talk about and challenge it – still seeing the main task of UK politics as the politics of the centre – not grasping that is a huge part of the problems facing us: the global Britain of winners and a narrow class perspective presented as a world view. T<span>his has been reinforced by the fossilised elements of the British state, territorial politics, and a reactionary British nationalism. Why the mainstream centre-left still don’t position themselves in opposition to this, even under Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour, shows the ingrained conservatism and commitment to the norms of British traditions in even radical circles.</span></p><p>There can be no going back to the old Britain of security and stability. But this is also true for Scotland. This is the age of disruption and shaking things up, not patching them together, and the only way to address the problems of Britain isn’t by yearning for the way things used to be, but by embracing radicalism and challenging the new elites. And that requires a much more ambitious and detailed radicalism – economic, social and democratic - than what we have seen so far from disrupters such as the SNP and Jeremy Corbyn, and even dare I say it, from UKIP.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/benjamin-ramm/long-shadow-of-empire-has-cast-pall-over-eu-referendum">The long shadow of Empire has cast a pall over the EU referendum</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/uk/piers-purdy/after-cameron-how-can-you-mend-broken-country">After Cameron: How can you mend a broken country?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk Can Europe make it? uk Gerry Hassan Mon, 15 Aug 2016 15:48:06 +0000 Gerry Hassan 104773 at Have we passed peak SNP? <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>With the SNP losing their majority, has the party reached its zenith? And what's happened to Tom Nairn's three dreams of Scottish Nationalism?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//,_May_2011.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//,_May_2011.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Scottish Cabinet, May 2011, the Scottish Government</span></span></span></p><p><span>Nearly fifty years ago Scotland embarked on a new political journey – one defined by the politics of Scottish nationalism, the electoral challenge of the SNP, and the debate on self-government and how to best express Scotland’s collective interests.</span></p> <p><span>It has been a bumpy ride, involving controversies, incidents, moments of elation and disappointment, but while history is never tidy and linear, Scotland post-Winnie Ewing winning Hamilton in November 1967 was never the same. That much is uncontroversial. There have been subsequently three distinctive waves of SNP support: 1967-74, 1988-92, and then, post-devolution, and in particular since 2007. Each phase has been deeper and more transformative; first, challenging and then supplanting the Tories as the main opposition to Labour, then marginalising Labour, and becoming the leading party of the country.</span></p> <p>At the onset of this the writer Tom Nairn wrote an essay, ‘Three Dreams of Scottish Nationalism’ which has often been cited, but seldom seriously analysed. Nairn foresaw three distinct dreams of Scotland historically: Reformation, romanticism, and bourgeois nationalism, each of which in its dream offered the prospect of being damned or saved, redemption or failure, wholeness and salvation or fragmentation and failure.</p> <p>It is classic early Nairn from which came the famous quotes ‘Scotland will be reborn the day the last minister is strangled with the last copy of the Sunday Post’ and ‘there is no Stalinist like a Scottish Stalinist’ – both of which contain poetry and over-statement. Beyond this, allowing for early Nairn’s doubts about the potential of Scottish independence, much of his critique has remained constant and stands the test of time.</p> <p>In the aftermath of Hamilton, Nairn was scathing of the bourgeois, respectable nationalism of the SNP, addressed the deep conservatism in society, the archaic nature of the British state, the ‘slow sleep’ of Englishness to use Orwell’s words, and the central role of the Labour party in maintaining the post-imperial show with all its puffery and magical hocus pocus, and its ultimate downfall. That’s an impressive hitlist, which only really missed the role of Europe in reshaping British politics, how it challenged the insular left, and its impact on Scottish nationalism – addressed by Nairn in ‘The Left against Europe’ published in 1972.<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <h2>The only way is up</h2> <p><span>Fast forward to more recent times – the SNP’s victories in 2007 and 2011 in Scottish Parliament elections – were watersheds for the party and country. In a sense they provided a foundational set of stories of Nationalist history and its journey through the years, from tiny group, to first, breakthrough, and then, triumph and ascendancy.</span></p> <p>It is nearly as impossible to overstate the sense of change that occurred in 2007 and 2011 – of Hamilton proportions and more – in that little was the same again. In 2007 a sizeable part of Scotland beyond the SNP willed the party to win and to end the miserable tale of mini-Labour rule with all its frustrations and fears. In 2011 a seemingly insurmountable Labour lead crumbled as election day approached and was replaced by an SNP landslide which took most of the country by surprise, but which felt like a release from the return of an unreformed Labour, a historic moment, and even, if a bit over the top, a sort of ‘Scottish spring’.</p> <p><span>On the way up in recent years – from say 2004 to 2011 – the party was shaped by a generousness, authenticity, outgoing character and desire to win people over as members and voters, and palpable hope. There was a tangible belief that momentum and history were behind the SNP’s sails, and that Labour, Tories and Lib Dems, and with it the appeal of the union in terminal decline. Such historical determinism with its Hegel for dummies is always dangerous, when people think the future is inherently theirs – leading to all sorts of over-reach and contempt for others.</span></p> <p>The SNP reacted humbly when first elected in 2007 – governing as a minority government, listening to others, yet acting like a national government in a way Labour had found impossible. There was, though, a degree of change when elected as a majority in 2011, but still much that many outside the party found to admire such as the competence of the SNP in office.<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p>Slowly if imperceptibly at first, majority government and the prospect of an indyref began to change the character of the SNP. It reinforced an iron discipline, top-down nature of the party, limited policy prospectus, and growing centralisation over public life. Some of these characteristics are understandable in the context of campaigning in an indyref, but while the democratic debate transformed the size of the SNP membership post-vote, this has not opened up or further democratised how the SNP does its politics. Sadly, the exact opposite has been the case.</p> <h2><strong>The three points of peak Nat</strong></h2> <p>Take the triptych of Peak Nat – the indyref, 2015 UK election, and 2016 Scottish election – each of which represented a new level of SNP and pro-independence mobilisation. In each case in the aftermath, significant elements of the SNP reacted with a lack of generosity, absence of recognising the importance of pluralism and need to reach out to those who hadn’t been won over, and even an inability to accept the voters’ verdict. This last point is underlined by the fact that for all the SNP’s undoubted popularity, Nationalist Scotland has even at Peak SNP been a minority of the vote, while non-SNP Scotland has remained a majority.</p> <p><span>Briefly a few examples. The aftermath of the indyref saw both Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon fail to speak to the nation, and understand the motivations of the 55% majority. Both in the immediate days after the indyref, continually spoke to and congratulated the 45% who lost – thus appearing as party leaders, not national leaders. To this day, no proper post-indyref post-mortem has occurred, analysing why No won, two million voters proved immune to the Yes case, and addressing how the contradictions and limitations of the 2014 indy offer can be transcended.</span></p> <p><span>Instead, what has been the dominant response has been a feeling of ‘we wiz robbed’, most consistently expressed by Alex Salmond, laying into the perfidy of the BBC, the Vow and Gordon Brown’s late interventions and promises. One doesn’t need to defend any of these factors, the BBC having by nearly every account a poor referendum, to recognise that this is displacement activity of not looking to your own shortcomings, and perpetuating a politics of grievance and grudge, which the SNP in the recent past of upward fortunes has done much to disassociate itself from (funnily enough, Alex Salmond being one of the leading believers pre-indyref in positive psychology and changing his ‘mindset’).</span></p> <p>Take the 2015 Westminster election and the SNP’s tartan tsunami where it won 56 out of 59 Scottish seats. This is Peak SNP when the party won 49.97% of the vote and 1,454,436 actual votes – both historic records for the party. This was a point where the SNP became in representation the national party of Scotland in a way none of its opponents ever had previously: Liberal, Tory or Labour. And that bore with it a responsibility to speak and act in a way which saw that the SNP wasn’t Scotland and Scotland not the SNP.</p> <p>Rather than this the tone was of Nationalist triumphalism, of talking of ‘the 56’ as speaking for Scotland, and of continually ridiculing the state of the other parties. There was the attempt to get the sole Lib Dem MP Alastair Carmichael thrown out of office, which had an understandable basis in his lying about leaking a Scotland Office document, but seemed to celebrate that one of Scotland’s three opposition representatives could be eliminated. At the same time, two newly elected SNP MPs, Michelle Thomson and Natalie McGarry, were accused of inappropriate behaviour, and suspended from the party. While the leadership acted quickly in both cases, the wider SNP and independence community, reacted by defending the pair and questioning anyone who dared to use the word ‘scandal’ about them.</p> <p>This takes us to the May 2016 Scottish election which saw the re-election of a third term SNP administration. Unlike 2011 this had already been pre-costed into expectations, with the SNP and wider Scotland all assuming that another SNP majority government was the most likely outcome. It was after all what all the polls were indicating – even though the room for margin was narrow, the electoral system isn’t meant to produce majorities, and this is the age of surprises from Trump to Bernie Sanders to Brexit not being dead in the water.<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p>"The SNP did well nine years into office, but fell victim to their own failure to manage expectations. Winning 46.5% of the constituency vote was a rise of 1.1% compared to 2011, but the party’s regional vote fell 2.3% to 41.7%, contributing to the party winning a mere four additional member MSPs (as opposed to 59 out of 73 FPTP seats), and overall falling from 69 to 63 MSPs, short of a majority by two seats. This is in many respects how the electoral system is meant to work, but came as a surprise to some of the more optimistic Nationalists.<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p>Worse Alex Salmond actually blamed the electoral system stating ‘I won a majority on 45% of the vote five years ago and Nicola did not win a majority on 47% of the vote, which is quite astonishing – remarkable’ (LBC, May 11th 2016). In fact, as former Deputy Leader of the SNP, Jim Sillars pointed out the 2011 majority was the freak result, producing a majority, whereas 2016 was the electoral system working as it had done previously and was consciously designed to do – producing a parliament of minorities. </p> <p><span>Then there was the dismissal of others and in particular the re-emergence of Tory Scotland under Ruth Davidson which saw them replace Labour as the main opposition to the SNP and poll 22.9% of the vote. All sorts of SNP senior figures such as Angus Robertson and Tommy Sheppard belittled the Tory revival – with many retweeting an image stating ‘So Ruth Davidson is less popular than Thatcher’. This missed that Thatcher’s three UK victories saw, for all her growing Scottish unpopularity, that in each the Tories were by a wide margin much more popular than the SNP. Add to this that the Tory vote was the highest in Scotland at any level since John Major won a surprise UK majority in 1992 and won 25.6% of the Scottish vote. That’s a generational shift and the beginning of the 1980s and the folklore of Thatcherism becoming part of history as it has to eventually, as opposed to the lived backdrop of everyday politics.</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p>This is in many respects what happens in most politics. A party on the way up is eager to win new friends and appear considerate. A party that has climbed to the peak of the mountain wants to retain its supremacy, regards large acres of the world as potential threats, and doesn’t take small or unexpected setbacks very well. This is the story of most politics the world over.<strong>&nbsp;</strong></p> <h2><strong>The limits of Caledonian dreaming</strong><span>&nbsp;</span></h2> <p>This takes us back to Nairn’s ‘Three Dreams’. What are the motivating dreams of modern nationalism beside independence? There are three identifiable pillars: the destruction of ‘London Labour’, anti-Tory Scotland, and seeing the SNP as the embodiment of progressive, social democratic values. All of this makes independence appear contingent and a means to an end, but it isn’t that simple or clear-cut.</p> <p><span>One of the most unexplored elements of Nairn’s thesis was that of the role of ‘dreaming’ and Scotland as a ‘dream nation’ – a metaphor which regularly repeats in cultural setting but passes without much examination. A similar experience occurred in 2014 when I published ‘Caledonian Dreaming’. The title was meant to act as an invitation and provocation: of the Scottish propensity to the abstract and utopian imagination, and the oft found chasm between action and rhetoric, and how there was a causal relationship between the two: the pull of the sweeping, gesture politics of principle, while ignoring detail and incremental change, and the appeal of grandiose language and tribunes. None of this was noted in any of the reviews or comment on the book, apart from one English based academic.</span></p> <p><span>Moreover, this dynamic has contributed to Scotland’s radical tradition for most of the 20</span>th<span> century remaining on the margins with isolated exception (UCS, poll tax non-payment), and played a major role in the triumph of a politics of administration and managerialism, irrespective of the party in power. That this has passed without scrutiny does seem surprising.</span></p> <p>Dreaming in Nairn’s Scotland had several dimensions: visualisation, mobilisation, argument, collective possibilities, identifying positive and negative dreams, and contested Scotlands. Yet, there is a binary quality to Nairn’s dreamland: of good and bad dreaming, as well as an absence of any comment on its connection to disjunctures in public life: itself a recurring theme throughout Nairn’s life project of work on Scotland.</p> <p>Where are we today in comparison to Nairn’s 1968 perspective? In many respects, the landscape is completely different, but in many others, starkly familiar. Nairn wrote then of the absence of ‘the great dreams of May 1968’ and the hopes of the Sorbonne, Prague, Warsaw and Berkeley and the prospect of Dundee, Linwood and even St. Andrews being sites of revolutionary hopes. But while much of the new left flattered to deceive, our politics cannot be reduced to bank managerial safety-first nationalism versus a similar version of unionism.</p> <p>The limits of dreaming should be obvious. A different approach would look at some more practical and concrete steps such as how we keep a check on power; preventing concentrations of influence and wealth; preventing an insider class from becoming too omnipotent, and creating a public sphere which allows for proper policy discussions and intellectual exchange. Much of this is within the framework of the critique Nairn built up in the years after ‘Three Dreams’, particularly his classic ‘The Break-up of Britain’, first published in 1977 – a suitably subversive counterblast to the Queen’s Silver Jubilee.</p> <p>A Scotland of wholeness, of the allure of redemption and being saved, is unrealisable and unattractive – a place which stigmatises the past and present too much, in favour of an abstract, unattainable future. It entails us being too hard on part of ourselves – as if we need to purge our inner thoughts and desires to be cleansed and liberated – in the sort of re-education process a younger Nairn would have called Scottish PolPotism.</p> <p>Scotland has a bigger, more confident bourgeois nationalism today than fifty years previous. The SNP are the new in-crowd and no longer new kids on the block. They have contributed immensely to the politics and public life of our country in that period. But they are, perhaps even more than any other Scottish party, a product and reflection of the characteristics of our society, warts, flaws and positives, and how could it be otherwise.</p> <p>The SNP have taken us far. We always knew that nationalism – whether Scottish or British wasn’t going to be enough. Social democracy, that oft cited description of our politics, is on its knees across Europe, and we haven’t solved the modern dilemmas which impale others. The new left of the 1968 generation never lived up to its hype, while neo-liberalism, despite never being openly advocated in Scotland, has influenced all the mainstream parties, but is now widely discredited and associated with zombie capitalism.</p> <p>This leaves radical democrats, egalitarians and those from the left tradition, knowing that we have to invent a new political tradition. That isn’t something the SNP or Scotland can do on its own, but we can play a small part in, if we recognise the failings of the political traditions which have defined us. Scotland’s future will look very different from today and that is something we should welcome and embrace. This isn’t a clarion call to ‘work as if you live in the early days of a better nation’ which always sounded very Scottish, purposeful, and possibly orchestrated with an element of coercion. Instead, let’s ‘act as if’ we already are independent – which necessitates seriousness, radicalism, play, irreverence and standing up to groupthink and orthodoxies – wherever they come from – the SNP included.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/adam-ramsay/12-takeaways-from-scotlands-election">From the shared futures of the UK &amp; Scottish Labour to the RISE flop, 12 lessons from Scotland&#039;s plodding election</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk Gerry Hassan Tue, 24 May 2016 12:08:06 +0000 Gerry Hassan 102388 at Should I stay or should I go? The multiple crises of Europe and Britain <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Neither campaign offers a compelling option.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="279" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Image, NASA</span></span></span></p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>I am a European. I believe in Europe as an idea. And for all of my life I have felt an affinity and connection with the notion of greater European integration. </p><p>Now I am not so sure. When I was a child my parents voted in the 1975 referendum against the then EEC. I wasn’t convinced of their argument. The BBC were showing then John Terraine’s ‘The Mighty Continent’ – a history of Europe in the 20th century – narrated by Peter Ustinov. </p> <p>This hooked me. It told Britain’s island story as part of the continent: of two world wars, the depression and post-war boom, art and literature, and introduced me to the tragedies of the Hungarian uprising and Prague spring, both of which were snuffed out by Soviet tanks.</p> <p>Britain was the sick man of Europe in the sixties and seventies. The German and, even to a lesser extent, French and Italian economies were both revered and feared – with faster economic growth, greater prosperity, and better labour relations between workers and management than the UK.</p> <p>The UK joined the EEC in 1973 and decisively voted to stay in two years later in the 1975 referendum. Fear was the main driver in all of this – fear of being left behind and overtaken, of British ungovernability, of having to face our own demons. Today so much has changed – including the demons. </p><p>Ever since I have been pro-Europe, seeing myself as European and thinking most of the time the best of the European project. I am a natural stay-in voter in the coming referendum, but I find myself in the strange, perplexing position that I currently don’t know which way I will vote.</p> <p>The stay in arguments are stability, certainty, continuity, reducing risk and the judgement that it is best to reform the EU from within. The leave case is that the EU is in a mess, becoming increasingly anti-democratic and burdensome, and that the UK – as we are endlessly being told as ‘the fifth richest economy in the world’ – can clearly make it on its own and govern itself.</p> <p>There is a Project Fear argument about the perils of leaving – namely, do we want to be left with our demons again, confronting our own ‘little Englanderism’, and that the UK leaving would be a devastating, if not quite fatal blow, to EU prestige.&nbsp; </p><p>Even more than the indyref I don’t feel the binary choice offered by the two arguments really represents my feelings or reality. The two actually agree on much. They believe that Europe isn’t working, while neither love the European Union, and are united in Euroscepticism, only disagreeing in the extent. Both think Britain is ‘special’ – and that it is semi-detached from the continent, and that our relationship with the EU should only be transactional. The pro-European case is mostly left unheard.</p> <p>Referendums across the world usually confirm existing consensuses. Most independence referendums that take place are won massively and decisively by the forces of self-government and statehood. Examples of these are numerous and cover every possible type of nation – from Norway in 1905 to Iceland in 1944 and South Sudan in 2011. That of course wasn’t the experience of Scotland in 2014. But it is in a way with the European referendum for, whatever the result, the terms of this debate are confirming that the UK (or to be accurate, England) is a Eurosceptic country. </p> <p>This debate poses a number of thorny issues for the Conservative and Labour parties. Cameron chose to have this referendum – deciding in January 2013 that the best way to ‘stop banging on about Europe’ was to continue banging on about Europe. He has ended up a prisoner of the logic of his own strategy. He has fed the beast of Tory Euroscepticism in offering them a Euro vote, and may end up being devoured by the creature he has given succour to. But the problem is even more acute than that. </p> <p>Cameron knows that to win this vote he has to advocate and make the case for Europe, but in so doing will undermine his own authority as Tory leader and prime minister. He is weakening his own legitimacy and bringing nearer the day he has to resign. Wilson in 1975 led a Eurosceptic party, while advocating a vote to remain, and at the same time managed to position himself above his party, and in so doing was able to unite it afterwards and then choose the timing of his leaving office in March 1976 – taking party and country by surprise.</p> <p>Of course if Cameron loses the Euro vote he will be gone shortly – resigning either in days or weeks. A relevant fact brought up by the ‘Spectator’s’ James Forsyth is that no Conservative leader has chosen the time of their departure since Stanley Baldwin in 1937. The Tories don’t like failing leaders (Heath, IDS), but also don’t tolerate leaders who have authority draining away from them (Eden, Macmillan, Thatcher, and now Cameron). That doesn’t auger well for Cameron whatever the vote.</p> <p>Labour is meant to be united on Europe, but that belies the fact that the party isn’t really united on anything. The party may be formally pro-European, but Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell despite committing to staying in, have with their history of Euroscepticism, shown no real enthusiasm for making the case. Corbyn went through the motions last week, but people who want or expect more forget that even in a binary choice referendum, one viable option is to not actively embrace either camp, but to stand aside. The SNP and Lib Dems have uncomplicated pro-EU stances (Jim Sillars apart in the former), but don’t seem to have anything distinctive to say about reform or democratising the union.</p> <p>There is the Scottish question in this and what happens to the United Kingdom as an entity. The referendum could aid the case and lay the ground for Scottish independence – if the UK votes to come out and Scotland (as all polls indicate) decisively votes to stay in. </p> <p>Many other permutations are possible. One is that a Scottish stay-in vote of 58% could just override the narrowest of English votes for exit. But another more likely scenario – and which hasn’t had much consideration in Scotland – is that a narrow UK vote to stay or leave could, just could, offer a last chance for the UK.</p> <p>A narrow stay vote would allow a small window for the British state to reconsider the nature of power at Westminster, the political system, and relations with the Scottish Parliament and Welsh and Northern Irish Assemblies. There is even the prospect that a slender exit vote – bringing as it would power repatriated to Westminster from Europe – and with it the possibility of the further devolution of powers to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, could give the opportunity for a reconfigurated union state UK. However, considering the shock value to the British political establishment of an exit vote, and the likelihood that all three devolved nations would vote to stay in, the chances of reform in this case building a formidable head of steam are slight to say the least.</p> <p>A close vote in the European referendum has always been the most plausible outcome. This is just like the indyref, and just like the indyref there is the prospect that such a narrow vote does not ultimately decide anything, and only postpones any final conclusion to a later date. </p> <p>Take the two opposite scenarios. A narrow vote to remain isn’t the end of the debate, because the EU has huge dilemmas to face, particularly around the future of the Euro zone and further integration, which will leave the EU and Euro zone nearly synonymous (the UK and Denmark aside). A slim vote to exit similarly could produce a whole host of different outcomes, with the UK not necessarily immediately invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to begin the process of withdrawal. Instead, some kind of compromise and new deal might be arrived at, with the option of a second referendum to endorse any agreement. The difference between these two British futures (in a manner just like Scotland’s choices in the indyref) isn’t that wide or substantial: both are about a UK standing apart from the main body of the EU. But neither official camp wants to admit to this basic truth.</p> <p>This of course isn’t how things are meant to be in the world according to the Westminster political class. But they no longer control events. The 1975 referendum was the first UK wide such vote (following the 1973 Northern Ireland ‘border’ plebiscite), and as such was meant to be a one-off. Referendums were foreign like, alien affairs, held by dodgy regimes and dictatorships such as Hitler and Mussolini. They were ‘unBritish’ in the world of parliamentary sovereignty. But now we no longer live in such a world despite all the protestations from our politicians. This is obviously an age of popular sovereignty, one act of which is the referendum. Harold Wilson after the 1975 contest, reassured a Tory backbencher that this had all been an isolated occasion, setting no precedent and was the end of this debate. How wrong did that prove?</p> <p>In a vote between flawed versions of Britain and Europe, I really don’t know what way I will decide to vote. All of my instinct and inclination tells me that I should be voting for Europe, for the UK and Scotland to be part of the European Union, but current realities in Europe and the EU prevent me from believing in this.&nbsp; </p><p>We can be certain that fear will be a big part of the next two months until June 23rd. There will be two competing Project Fears: one of the stay in and one of the leave campaign. Many will bemoan this and note the absence of a positive case for Europe on one side and a vision of the kind of Britain that would sit outside the EU on the other. </p> <p>However, fear has always been part and parcel of politics and political debate, and is a legitimate tool and weapon. In 1975 the UK and, in particular, its elites were driven by fear of the UK being left behind by its European neighbours and a crisis of confidence in the belief that the UK could face up to and overcome its problems. Today, the UK fear is of the scale of change we have to come to terms with in Europe and the world, and which path is the one of least resistance and softest change. In 1975 that pointed to the continuation of the status quo; the same is true today, even if the real prospect of maintaining any status quo is more an allure than real.</p> <p>The British political classes were not straightforward with the public in 1973-75 pretending that we were joining what was only an economic union and Common Market, and one with no political or democratic consequences. Now they are being equally selective about the direction and challenges Europe faces and the different futures the UK faces. Some fundamental hard truths about such issues would be welcome in the next two months, and help many voters, myself included, weigh up how to vote. </p><p> Democracy and democratisation have always been problem terms when it comes to both the UK and Europe, and while for many of us in Scotland in the indyref, it seemed too late to imagine some tidy, federal solution for the UK, so the same is true for the European project. The main argument in both campaigns has been about how to do democracy, reform, holding economic and social power to account, and the role of the nation state. Is it still possible to believe in a grand project at the European level, and for it to be one not of the elites, but the people? Increasingly I have my doubts.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/anthony-barnett/blimey-it-could-be-brexit">Blimey, it could be Brexit! Introduction</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk Brexit Gerry Hassan Fri, 22 Apr 2016 15:06:59 +0000 Gerry Hassan 101561 at The problem of sovereignty in the EU referendum <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm;">Politicians have a habit of throwing the concept of sovereignty around when it suits them...</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="// english constitution.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="// english constitution.jpg" alt="" title="" width="325" height="499" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p><p>After years of second guesses and a rising tide of Europhobia and scare stories, finally the UK faces the certainty of a vote on June 23rd on whether or not it remains a member of the European Union. This will be a debate about so much – about how people see Britain and its future, the English question, and the distinctiveness and autonomy of Scotland – all illustrating the absence of any uniform national British politics.</p><p>The referendum will be dominated by concerns about the economy, immigration, security, and the UK’s role and influence in the world. It will also be about competing understandings of ‘sovereignty’ – with several different Tory perspectives, along with Labour, Lib Dems, UKIP, Scottish Nationalist and Green views. There will be similarities in language and tone to the indyref. Some of the same clichés will be invoked to breaking point, ‘Project Fear’ has been dusted down, and the trading and counter-trading of alleged pseudo-facts begun. </p><p>Most people most of the time do not go round thinking of how ‘sovereignty’ impacts on themselves and their family. Instead, it is an abstract, something remote and ill-defined, and a concept open to many different interpretations – whose practical application is unclear.</p> <p>The referendum will see the regular invoking of ‘parliamentary sovereignty’. David Cameron has already promised a parliamentary act supposedly making clear that the British parliament and laws are superior to European law. Cameron last week talked in the Commons of ‘the illusion of sovereignty’ if the UK left the European Union – meaning that it would have the appearance of more sovereignty, but in reality have less. This drew the ire of Tory Eurosceptic Bill Cash, who demanded that the Prime Minister clarify these remarks. </p> <p>Tory Boris Johnson, when backing EU withdrawal, acknowledged the ‘excellent’ bill the government was bringing forward to ‘assert the sovereignty of parliament’, but contended that it was not enough and ‘cannot stop the machine’ and ‘rachet’ of greater European integration (<em>Daily Telegraph</em>, February 22nd 2016). Michael Gove’s 1,500 word document supporting exit stated, ‘I believe that the decisions which govern all our lives, the laws we must all obey and the taxes we must all pay should be decided by people we choose and who we can throw out if we want change’ (<em>New Statesman</em>, February 20th 2016).</p> <p>The competing idea of popular sovereignty has deep roots in the Scottish political tradition, and has most found expression in the American and French revolutions. Popular sovereignty has come to denote that the idea of political authority in Scotland emanates from a different source to that of the English idea of parliamentary sovereignty, but after that it all becomes much more hazy. </p> <p>It is not an accident that Bagehot’s much cited book is called ‘The English Constitution’ and A.V. Dicey consistently talked about England – which was not an accident considering he examined the perils of Irish home rule and nuances of Scotland’s place in the union. This is a subject as old as the union – namely when the English and Scottish parliaments subsumed themselves in the British parliament of 1707 – why it is assumed by the Bagehot’s and Dicey’s that the Scottish parliament and its traditions was abolished, but the English parliament, and ‘parliamentary sovereignty’ retained? </p> <p>‘Parliamentary sovereignty’ is a myth and folklore today – one which has become increasingly obsolete in an age of interdependence and globalisation, but also, as Eurosceptics never cease to remind us, in the world of the European Union. It isn’t just right-wing Bill Cash types who object to this, but historically, a deep strand of the British left, made up of the likes of Michael Foot and Tony Benn, who have bought into the idea of the mandate and ‘socialism in one country’. This is a view which Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, and John McDonnell, sympathise with, but know they cannot explicitly state in the campaign.</p> <p>‘Popular sovereignty’ is an even more vague concept with little clarity regarding any practical manifestations. Neither the American or French constitutions that sprang from their respective revolutions, despite all the enlightening language, actually created any practice of popular sovereignty. Neither has Scotland – for all the romantic symbolism of the MacCormick v. Cooper verdict of 1953 and ‘A Claim of Right for Scotland’ in the 1980s. </p> <p>Seldom explored is that sovereignty is an inherently problematic concept. This began as an absolute, all or nothing concept, whereby power and authority of rulers emanated from God, and was expressed in the divine right of kings. This then evolved to being held by political leaders who became accountable through parliaments and the views of the public.</p> <p>Yet sovereignty still has a sense of omnipotence in it, from the notion of the all-powerful parliament and mandate, to the idea of it as absolute and undiluted at the level of the nation-state. Many Eurosceptics believe that it is indivisible, and that you either have it in a pure sense or don’t – similar to being pregnant or not pregnant. Nowhere in this is the notion of pooled, shared, messy, fluid and multinational sovereignty allowed for; that is the reality of much of modern life, the 700 international treaties the UK is signatory to, or the dozens of supranational bodies it is a member of. Indeed, the ‘idea’ of the UK itself, a union state and state of four nations and not itself a nation, is one of ‘pooled’ sovereignty but one that many British parliamentarians seem to forget about as the rail against Brussels rule.</p> <p>This can be taken to a ridiculous extent by the likes of Dicey when he said that parliamentary sovereignty meant that it was possible to undo any act or law, including that which had created dominion status of the likes of Ireland and other former colonies. He made the case that the British parliament had the power to repeal such a bill and cancel the process of greater self-government and independence from the UK which it had agreed to. This was an argument of ‘Stop the World I want the British Empire to remain at its peak’.</p> <p>The next four months will see a lot of guff pronounced like that. Already former Tory Chancellor Nigel Lawson has broached Dicey territory by commenting that Brexit might lead to Ireland considering it had ‘made a mistake’ and seeking to enter back into union with the UK (<em></em>, February 25th 2016). Jeremy Cliffe, who writes the ‘Bagehot’ column for ‘The Economist’ engaged in a kind of ‘Dad’s Army’ nostalgia for a Britain leading Europe when he wrote, ‘The EU is Britain’s to run’, clearly not paying sufficient attention to the UK’s awkward partner role of the last forty years (<em>The Economist</em>, February 21st 2016).</p> <p>The hyperbole of Britain as the ‘fifth richest economy in the world’, its global role and influence, soft power, and military prowess, will be to the fore, as will the memory and lore of Empire. Boris Johnson, celebrating British self-government and ingenuity, invoked this past to show that we could stand on our own two feet: ‘We used to run the biggest Empire the world has ever seen, and with a much smaller domestic population and a relatively tiny civil service’ (<em>Daily Telegraph</em>, February 22nd 2016).</p> <p>British exceptionalism will be celebrated: the idea that the UK is this blessed, unique creation whose ‘golden thread’ of liberty dates back to Magna Carta. The problem with such language is two-fold: first, yet again it invokes an English political tradition as British, and second, Magna Carta is as toothless and irrelevant as the terms of the Treaties of Union of 1707 in stopping restrictions of civil liberties and the intrusiveness of the state – witnessed this week by the UK Government’s unveiling of their latest version of the snooper’s charter.</p> <p>There is political duplicity at every level. When the UK joined the then European Economic Community in 1973, the country’s political leaders assured the public that this was merely an ‘economic union’ and that nothing else would change. They assured voters that the UK would go on being an independent self-governing nation, and this was merely a change to our trading relationships. None of this was true.</p> <p>Equally deceptive was the idea that the use of the referendum would not change British politics and democracy. First used by the Heath government in 1973 for a Northern Ireland ‘border’ poll, it was embraced by Harold Wilson’s Labour government to mask the bitter divisions in his party, after being suggested by Tony Benn.</p> <p>The 1975 referendum on Europe was a milestone for the UK. Then like today the ruling party was seriously divided. The Prime Minister of the time suspended collective cabinet responsibility and allowed ministers to disagree with each other. Then as now the weight of the British political establishment, business elites and the City of London, were all uniformedly for the UK maintaining membership. </p> <p>Harold Wilson weaved his way through the referendum in a way which today David Cameron could only dream of. However, rereading some of the debates of forty-one years ago, one repeated characteristic is the constant need of the political classes to pretend that nothing was being changed. </p> <p>In the first parliamentary sitting after the 1975 vote, Wilson was asked by Tory backbencher John Eden, ‘Will the Prime Minister keep to his determination not to repeat the constitutional experiment of the referendum?’ Wilson replied, ‘I can certainly give the Right Honourable member the assurance he seeks’ (<em>Hansard</em>, June 9th 1975). </p> <p>The Britain of Bagehot and Dicey was slowly being weakened by the historic entry of the UK into the European club in 1973 and then by the use of a referendum two years later. All the protestations were about denying this to themselves and the people, and maintaining the artifice of a Westminster Alice in Wonderland bubble. </p> <p>Today we haven’t moved that far forward in our assumptions, with the British political classes clinging to the wreckage that Europe hasn’t really changed anything and we can have ‘consultative’ referendums whenever we like without changing anything, while invoking the arcane idea of parliamentary sovereignty. </p> <p>This is an out of date dance and deception: part of the diminishing mysticism and supposed magic inherent in the ‘invisible’ parts of the English/British constitution.&nbsp; </p><p>There is no desire to reflect that the regular use of referendums weaken parliamentary sovereignty, and indicate a shift towards at the least, a nebulous notion of the sovereignty of the people. Instead, most of the noise we will hear about ‘British sovereignty’ is actually a default for the pains of a confused ‘English sovereignty’ – and one which is increasingly problematic and intolerant – expressed in such parliamentary manoeuvrings as ‘English Votes for English Laws’ and reducing the status of Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs in the UK Parliament. </p> <p>This isn’t Scotland’s chosen debate, but it profoundly touches on how public opinion and the nation see itself. Nicola Sturgeon and the Nationalists regard this as an unprecedented opportunity to place themselves ‘standing up for Scotland’s interests’, positioning themselves on the right side of majority and elite opinion, and posing their opponents as wicked Westminster and the deranged cannons of UKIP in Scotland.</p> <p>All straight stuff. However, the Euro referendum poses some stark dilemmas. Sturgeon said in London this week, in what was billed as a major address on Europe: ‘I want the UK as a whole to stay in the EU because I think that option will be better for the rest of the UK, I think it will be better for the EU, and should Scotland become independent in the future – something I believe will happen – I think it will be better for us too.’</p> <p>She went on to say, ‘If Scotland were to vote in favour of EU membership and the rest of the UK were to vote to leave – if Scotland in other words was to be outvoted – then there is a real chance that that could lead to a second referendum on Scottish independence’ (<em>The Times</em>, March 1st 2016). </p> <p>That is a scenario that might suit some of the more black and white Nationalists, but would be a recipe for confusion, argument and delay, and not one conducive to independence being a smooth, velvet divorce. There is also a contradiction in SNP approaches to independence and notions of sovereignty, on the one hand being comfortable invoking shared and pooled sovereignty in the European Union, but when it comes to Scotland, being essentialist and romanticist, and using formula like Michael Gove’s at the beginning of this essay, and ‘the people who live in Scotland are best placed to make the decisions about Scotland’, irrespective of political realities (currency union, continued role of Treasury and Bank of England).&nbsp; </p><p>The EU debate is already showing signs of threat and counter-threat exceeding the indyref. There is the spectre invoked by the UK government of the Calais Jungle having to be relocated to England, of the end of cheap travel, and of EU withdrawal lasting up to ten years and producing mayhem – when the process as laid out in Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty of 2007 is meant to be concluded within two years or less. Relevant to this last point is that it took less than a year for the UK to join the then EEC – signing the Accession Treaty on January 22nd 1972 and becoming a member of the union on January 1st 1973.</p> <p>The next four months will witness an awful amount of fire and rain, and invocations of ‘sovereignty’, but not much clarity. The British elites have lost control of the processes and have to pretend the exact opposite – that they can offer certainty, stability, security and prosperity if only we follow them on this and other issues. At the same time, they tell us that the world is a dark, untrustworthy place, filled with nasty rulers and terrorists, and we should trust no one, except the political class of our country. </p> <p>One constant in all this is the power of fear in uncertain times. In 1973 the UK joined Europe through fear and anxiety of being left behind as ‘the sick man of Europe’. Today that perception is no longer true with Europe stuck in economic paralysis, and fear will play a major part in whether the UK stays or exits – with the stay option having the advantage.</p> <p>It is a confused message, only matched by the even more contradictory different messages of the multiple Leave campaigns. Expect over the next few months to hear the word sovereignty thousands of times as politicians on both sides try to pretend that they can offer neat, tidy solutions and that the future will be simple and painless, if only we agree and vote with them. It won’t, and wouldn’t it be great if, after all the falsehoods and scaremongering, some prominent politicians acknowledged that much of this debate was about the perennial issue of ‘who speaks and stands for England?’ and what that means. If only the political class could admit that, in the face of unprecedented and multiple challenges, there was much that they didn’t know – and that in such a world, uncertainty, doubt and unpredictability are the only things we can really be certain of, that would be a moment worthy of all the rhetoric and hype.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/brexitdivisions/ece-zlem-atikcan/puzzle-of-eu-referendums">The puzzle of EU referendums</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk Brexit Brexit Chasms Gerry Hassan Mon, 07 Mar 2016 10:42:25 +0000 Gerry Hassan 100364 at