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Showing posts with label Scotland independence. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Scotland independence. Show all posts

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Sept. 2009: My hopes for 2010 and the General election (The Brown Labour Government was still in office)

Three years on, two heart attacks and a cardiac arrest later, a lot of water has flowed under many bridges – and over them. We have had the destruction of New Labour, the benighted Coalition Government, the wonderful SNP victory in 2011, the referendum confirmed at last, the Arab Spring, and second term for Obama – but also the endless litany of death and destruction in Afghanistan.

“Don’t look back - no good can come of it” HUMPHREY BOGART

Well, maybe sometimes, Bogie – remember your history or be condemned to repeat it …

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

I watched the Brown speech, keeping a sick bag handy just in case. I didn't need it, but it was a close run thing. But I was caught off guard by the introductory sequence before Sarah Brown. Manipulative though it was, the early part reminded me sharply of what Blair, Brown, Mandelson and Campbell destroyed - the old Labour Party and its values, or as Gordon Brown would put it, its 'volues'. Much use was made of the flag of death - the Union Jack - fluttering on the screens on either side, and also visible on the centre screen, in the hope that this would deflect the faithful from remembering just what these carpetbagging Scots had done to the Labour Party and the English nation.
Sarah Brown was as effective as she was at the last conference. A formidable public relations professional, she judged the mood perfectly, and although it was more than a little saccharine for my taste, it pressed the right buttons. As a Scottish Nationalist, I am grateful that she is not the Prime Minister, and I suspect many of the Labour faithful wish fervently that she was.
Her personality, however carefully crafted it is, comes across as natural, warm and sincere. It contrasted sharply with the personality that followed her - a Frankensteinian creation as false as a Hollywood facelift, reminiscent of Peter Boyle's performance with Gene Wilder.
Brown scattered new radical policies like party favours, promising to do all the things New Labour has spectacularly failed to do in its three benighted terms of office. His voice at times shook with emotion, but emotion prompted by the thought that this was most probably his swansong. The conference focused my mind on a question I have been wrestling with for some time - what outcome do I want from the UK General election?
I am driven by a primary emotion to see Labour punished for Iraq, for Afghanistan, for the British banking collapse, for their attacks on civil liberties, for their obsession with war and nuclear destruction and for their betrayal of the traditions and values of the Party.
But I recognise that I must look objectively at the consequences of their electoral destruction - a Tory government that might last for another twelve years. Although this would almost certainly yield a Thatcher Factor advantage to the SNP's electoral prospects, it would be bad for the nations that presently comprise the UK, bad for Europe, and bad for world peace. I am still an internationalist, and must recognise that an independent Scotland can never be indifferent to its huge neighbour nor to the regimes that it elects. So I must hope for something other than the obliteration of New Labour and the Brown Gang, and the humiliation of their Scottish servile cohorts. What would be an ideal outcome?
Firstly, I hope for an significantly increased SNP presence at Westminster.
In my dreams I see Scotland returning only SNP members of the Westminster Parliament, but that is not going to happen. There is also a nagging doubt in my mind that too many Nationalist MPs at Westminster might find that, as a group, they develop an affection for the House of Commons, and succumb to its blandishments and its perquisites. After all, it has happened to men and women with principles and beliefs as deeply rooted as those of the Scottish National Party, as the widespread corruption of Labour values has demonstrated. But I must suppress that doubt, and trust Scotland's Westminster representatives, a representation that will last only until independence is achieved..
Secondly, I hope for a governing party for the UK that has only a narrow majority, perhaps even a minority government.
Whichever it is, the balance of power would lie with the LibDems and the nationalist parties in a Rainbow Coalition, and I believe that such a delicately balanced democracy would be better for the UK, and more realistic about Scottish independence.
My greatest fear of all is that England slides insidiously towards neo-fascism and Powellite parties. English nationalism - the dog that has not barked - clearly runs that risk.
Those who come, as I do, from the liberal, internationalist tradition, like to believe that the native good sense of the people will recognise the threat, and will recoil from the views of the parties that pose the threat.  This is the thinking behind the view that the BBC is right to permit the BNP to appear on a Question Time panel - the great, fair-minded democratic British public will see Nick Griffin and his party for what they are.
Well, I'm not so sure. I have watched that great British public on the media, and have seen what pushes their buttons, and the sight does not inspire confidence. I know from my own range of contacts that beneath the democratic veneer, many otherwise admirable upright citizens have a rather uncertain grasp of the great principles of democracy and freedom, and have the political mindset of the saloon bar Tory at best, and the neo-fascist at worst.
It is not only the deprived sub-culture of the shaven-headed that might be sympathetic to the simplistic, brutal, divisive policies of the extreme right - remember the kind of people that put Mussolini and Hitler in power.
Perhaps the BBC has no choice but to permit a legal party that has made recent significant gains to offer their views on Question Time, but we should be fully aware that, at a time of widespread distrust of our political and financial institutions, in the wake of the banking crisis and the expenses scandal, and during a recession when many people are being deeply hurt by the venality and short-sightedness of their elected representatives, that simple, brutal messages that pin the blame on minorities within our society will resonate dangerously with many voters.

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.