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Showing posts with label Glasgow politics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Glasgow politics. Show all posts

Monday, 21 May 2012

Thoughts for Scots–the SNP and the Left


A question – to whom am I addressing these thoughts and ideas, and with what objective? The SNP strategists? The independence-supporting Left? The Scottish Parliament? The electorate?

It is at this point that a blogger feels faintly ridiculous. Who gives a damn what I say? If anybody does, are there enough to matter?

A commentator – even a letter writer – in a national newspaper knows that he or she has a potential readership of hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, even though the reality is almost certainly that a minority of readers will actually consume that particular piece. And publication in a newspaper confers a kind of validity – an imprimatur – that a blog doesn’t. Somebody in authority has looked at the piece and decided it was worthy of inclusion. But a blog is a unilateral, highly prejudiced decision to publish – by the author.

In moments like these, I fall back on the old concept of the pamphleteer in the 17th century, and hang on grimly to my positioning of myself as no more – and no less – than a Scottish voter with a voice, and an absolute right to speak – and to be ignored …


These ideas and observations come in the immediate aftermath of the local elections and at the launch of the official referendum campaign by the SNP. They are aimed at Scottish voters, i.e. those eligible to vote in the referendum, whatever their ethnic and national identity. They are targeted principally at supporters of an independent Scotland of whatever party – or no party – and are focused on the SNP, as the party and the Government and therefore the prime mover and main force for independence.

I have framed them as assertions, without resort to complex argument, although I must take some time to at least set out the background to them at length, and they therefore run the risk of being dismissed as mere opinion, with no underpinning of fact, logic and argument. This is done in the hope of keeping the message clear and not burying it a mass of statistics and justifications, because clear messages are urgently required at this critical time.

It represents what one voter thinks – I claim no constituency or silent majority. It is my opinion, because I have no other. I hope it is nonetheless an informed opinion, not arrived at lightly or without long reflection.

I realise that as the referendum campaign detail unfolds, it may be that the party is way ahead of me in all of this, and I will be delighted if they are.


The SNP must always remain acutely aware of the danger of losing its momentum and its core identity as a great movement for Scotland’s independence, appealing to both the heart and the head as it attempts to broaden the appeal of the party to secure a YES vote. In its attempts to reassure the doubters, it is runs the risk of alienating some core supporters and reducing their motivation.

In narrowing the perceived difference between the status quo – the Union – and full independence, it runs the even greater risk of converting a mood of Why not go for independence and radical change? to Why bother, if so little will change?

Key aspects in this are the party’s acceptance of a constitutional monarchy, acceptance of the continuation of sterling as the currency and The Bank of England as the central bank, and possible acceptance of NATO membership. (If Professor William Walker has accurate insider information, some in the party hierarchy are actively considering using delaying the removal of Trident as a bargaining chip in the independence negotiations.)

A less fundamental, but still relevant aspect is the emphasis on common identity and traditions as a part of the social union concept.

The monarchy, for many republican nationalists, is acceptable not  on a basis of conviction but on the basis that it is a price worth paying to secure the independence vote – the ‘hold our noses position’ . Those who take this view are divided into those who will reluctantly accept that such a constitutional arrangement, once agreed, must endure for many years, perhaps for the foreseeable future (my position) and those who would speedily call a referendum after independence with the hope of ending the monarchy., which in my view betrays a cynicism and opportunism that is alien.

There is another group of nationalists that believes that the commitment to a constitutional  monarchy must be repudiated by  party policy vote before independence. They believe that the monarchy is the cement that holds the conspiracy of wealth, power, privilege and militarism together, and that any compromise with it is unacceptable. I understand that view, and am wavering a bit on it myself.

The currency and central bank issues are more of an irritant than of hard opposition – the idea of a Scottish currency – or the euro - and a Scottish Central Bank is reluctantly postponed because of the stark reality of current European economic instability and uncertainty make them both ideals for another day.

NATO membership sharply divides the party, but not evenly – the majority are either indifferent or in favour, but the opposition of a minority is deep rooted and a fundamental matter of principles. (I am one of that minority.) For the latter group, a deep suspicion exists that, intentionally or inadvertently, NATO membership could lead to delaying - or even abandoning - the idea of a non-nuclear Scotland and the removal of Trident from Scotland’s waters. Since the NATO and the nuclear deterrent are synonymous, despite the non-nuclear majority in the alliance, and since nuclear weapons have a symbiotic relationship to nuclear power generation -anyone who claims they are not need only look at NATO’s deep concern and suspicions over Iran’s civil nuclear power programme - membership of NATO would weaken Scotland’s opposition to nuclear power. This would strengthen an already highly vocal and organised lobby for nuclear power.

The shared values and culture position is reassuring and realistic to many, but to some romantic nationalists, it is a blurring of Scottish identity, a loss of the concept of a unique national character – the Here’s tae us, wha’s like us? idea.  Among the group that regards it as realistic, given the long shared traditions and links of family, friendship and shared identity, there are some who nevertheless worry that it can be seen as embracing Britishness, an idea will be ruthlessly exploited by defenders of the Union. (I am of this latter group.)


The non-SNP left in Scottish politics can be divided into the independence-supporting left and the Union-supporting left. Organisationally, that divide is represented by the Greens and the small socialist parties supporting independence and the Labour Party supporting the Union, with the STUC and the trades unions in an increasingly ambivalent position. This is rendered even more complex by the existence of a strong body of support for independence among rank and file Labour Party membership. I have excluded the Tory and LibDem parties from the non-SNP left - the Tories for obvious reasons, and the LibDems because of the lurch to the right in that benighted hybrid party, and because as political parties, both are now almost irrelevant in Scotland.

The SNP Government and the SNP independence campaign strategists rightly see the question of Scotland’s independence as broader than the Scottish National Party – the Government because it must represent all of the people, and the party because of strategic realities – it cannot deliver a YES vote without converting the non-SNP voting electorate to the idea of independence. (In fact there is almost certainly an SNP-voting group not yet committed to independence.) The non-SNP Left are obviously fundamental because, as social democrats in the main, they have the greatest common policy ground with the SNP, and after independence would represent either the main opposition party, perhaps be part of a coalition - or indeed form the government.

The non-SNP Left, whether independence supporting or not, has some heavyweight commentators articulating a vision for Scotland and trenchant criticisms of the SNP. The Scottish Left Review carries much of their work, as does the mainstream press, and they are well represented on television and radio.  The (Jimmy) Reid Foundation after a slow start, is beginning to make its influence felt. Robin McAlpine Many of these commentators, notably Gerry Hassan, have a vision of a social democratic Scotland that differs in fundamental ways from what they see as the economic policy of Alex Salmond and the SNP, and they are not slow to criticise.

The Limits of Modernisation: Blair, Cameron and Salmond, Gerry Hassan’s May 12th article in The Scotsman compares Alex Salmond to Blair and Cameron in what Gerry sees as the SNP’s espousal of the doctrine of ‘modernisation’, and there can be little doubt that, despite the jobs, jobs, jobs rationale - which I support totally - many in and out of the SNP were deeply disturbed by the First Minister’s relationship with Rupert Murdoch – and Donald Trump at an earlier point.

This attitude can all too easily be dismissed as old left academic theorising about the nature of Western capitalism and an instinctive distaste for wealth and power – until one remembers that wealth, global commerce and banking have brought the world to its knees and the edge of the abyss.

The long-forecast crisis of capitalism by the Left has actually arrived, and neither the Left - nor anyone else - foresaw its imminence and the depth of it, nor was anyone prepared for it. It can reasonably argued that old economic and social models have failed, and if there was ever a time for radical new thinking and recasting of old, but never tried ideas, it is now.


What does the local election result in Glasgow and the west tell us? Maybe not a lot – local elections have different dynamics and different implications from the national, just as by-elections are different from general elections, and general elections are different from Holyrood elections. As for voters sending messages to central government and parties by their votes at by-elections and local elections, I tend to the Samuel Goldwyn position – “If you want to send a message, use Western Union …”

But some things can safely be said. Maintaining the movie analogy, The Way the West will be Won must be a vital element in the referendum campaign strategy, and it won’t be the way that let Glasgow Labour back with an overall majority on May 3rd.

I am not usually one to duck saying the unsayable, but there are aspects of West of Scotland politics that one must tread very carefully in articulating too bluntly, among them the religious aspect, religious extremism allied to football extremism, and the nature of certain organisations that exhibit the volatile mix of partisan politics and religion, and have loyalties that in part go beyond Scotland.

There is a polluted well of extreme – and deeply immature - political/religious views in the West that have forgotten nothing and learned nothing, with little concept of the fundamental values of a liberal social democracy. The Tammany Hall politics of the West have drunk from this poisoned fount for well over a century, and some of our most prominent politicians, past and present -not to mention a few Lords of the Realm - sprang from it.

The SNP have an unenviable task in trying to come to grips with this while retaining their fundamental principles and without a cynical abandonment of them to realpolitik. At least one senior member of the the SNP Government has a deep understanding of this complex culture – the Deputy First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon.

Although she was born in Irvine, Ayrshire, Nicola, an honours graduate in law from Glasgow University, has operated at the sharpest end of Glasgow politics, both as a solicitor for the Drumchapel  Law Centre, and politically in Shettleston and Govan, two constituencies that almost epitomise the city. And at the risk of sounding sexist, perhaps only a woman can truly understand the macho male politics of Glasgow, and see them clearly. (I think Johann Lamont also understands them better than her predecessor, Iain Gray. She would certainly never have sought refuge in a sandwich bar …) And there are others in the Parliamentary Party who have similar depth of understanding, e.g. Derek Mackay.


What I have said in blogs or what I have to say must always be seen against the background that I am a relatively new party member – four years or so – and that I come from a long, Labour/Left tradition. I have made a negligible contribution to my branch, in terms of attendance and active campaigning (stuffed a few local leaflets) and compared to the lifelong dedication of the active members of my branch, I have made a negligible contribution to the party and the independence movement.

I won’t offer reasons or excuses for this, except to say that it probably makes me not untypical of the majority of party members. I could draw similar parallels with trade union membership, or membership of a professional association, and I have been members of both over the years, with varying levels of involvement.

Anything I therefore say has to be seen against this background, and I readily accept that others with a higher level of commitment and activism have a least an equal right to speak, and arguably a greater right.