18 September 2009

Clydesideism & the Glasgow Airport Rail Link (RIP) ...

One of the largely unsung stories of the 2007 Holyrood Election is the idea that on one level, it represented a national revolt against the hegemonic West Coast, shipyard-nationalism represented by the Scottish Labour Party. We’ve discussed before the ways in which the installation of Salmond and Shoal has transformed and variegated the sound of government. Its accents trill across the Scottish spectrum, gallivanting from highlands to low. The point is not that the previous administrations eloquted in one voice – that is demonstrably false. However, my point is that now it would be difficult to thumb the Scottish Government for a limited, dominating association with any one accented locale. Not so, I humbly submit, before 2007.

Interested academics, primarily working in the representative science of Scottish literature, have described this historically dominant phenomenon as “Clydesideism”. Writing in the late 1990s, Christopher White argued that
“in the last three decades, and especially since 1970, there has been what one might call a ‘hegemonic shift’, so much so that the city of Glasgow, and the West of Scotland more generally, are accused of exerting an unfair dominance, where representations of “Scottishness” and Scotland are concerned.”

In the 1980s, another scholar of Scottish literature, Professor Cairns Craig, expressed concerns that that,
“what is worrying in the contemporary situation is the way that the death throes of industrial West-Central Scotland have become the touchstone of authenticity for our culture”.

This is part of the pity that the de-Clydesideing theme – or at least the result – of the 2007 election has not been more closely explored. While among pundits, it was styled an end to unmitigated Labour dominance in Scotland, unfortunately this insight was not followed, with hot feet, by the recognition that it also represented an ousting and diversification of constituency, voice and character of the national government. While arguably, the Labour-Liberal executives largely remained a bastion of the monological Clydeside nationalism narrated in the 1980s and 1990s, the tide has turned. Labour’s dis-empowerment, in part, correlates to a diminution in the representative and substantive powers of their respective constituencies. Government, the SNP prove, need not be the preserve of ex-Glasgow city councillors, awaiting the award of their constituency Galero, to be awarded on basis of the hallowed principle of Buggins’ Turn. This shift naturally has its opportunities and its challenges, both for the rejected party, and for the incomers of the present and the challengers of the future. Indeed, although this would be very difficult to decisively prove, I’d hazard a guess that the (unpredicted, implicit and unconscious) 2007 change in Scotland’s governmental voice at least contributes to the SNP’s subsequently swelling popularity. Due to the diversity in tone, the ambivalences the “periphery” might have felt in the past towards the Clydeside “centre” need not obtain.

Meanwhile, in opposition, despite Iain Gray’s bruxistic East Coast exhalations, Labour begins to look and sound more and more like an embittered rump, summoning up wistful remembrances of things past. It is partly this which made the Glasgow East election such a shock to commentating media – since in representational terms Glaswegians unfailingly, always elect their monkeys in red rosettes. Glasgow = Labour. End of story. Past exceptions and factual challenges are quietly ignored. The dominant representation festers and persists.

I don’t propose to discuss in much detail the politics of John Swinney’s jettisoning railway flotsam, and denying travellers to Glasgow airport the pleasure to stepping into another metal coffin, having just evacuated themselves from another. Rather, I merely wanted to suggest that the reaction and vocabulary of political opposition must be coloured by the themes I meandered through above. Swinney Denies Anti-Glasgow BiasOutrage as Swinney Swings his Budget Axe on GlasgowQuoth Steven Purcell, it represented a “dagger in the heart of the city” a “clear anti-Glasgow agenda”. While this may resonate with constituents with a particular interest, I’d be terrifically surprised if most of the population found the figure of a hard-done-by Glasgow terribly charismatic. Contrawise, I imagine it looms large in the Labour imagination – indeed, potentially too large, serving only to emphasise the party as a peddler of a particular brand of politics and Scottishness. While I don’t begrudge Purcell a good complain about it – if Labour are determined to make the question a strong central plank of their argument against the budget – that may be far more perilous if revitalising their electoral performance is based on any “50 State” style Scottish strategy. That will depend on how seriously one takes the thesis that Scotland at large, by electing the SNP, conducted a revolution against remorseless Clydesideism - in short, whether one regards the limits of Labour's geographic appeal as a problem which the party's dominant representation contributes to.

Alternatively, of course, they may wish simply to pander to their base, becoming more concentrated and sour, dislodged waifs who still have still, still learnt nothing and forgiven nothing.

1 comment :

  1. Lallands

    Excellent piece.

    For twenty-five years I voted Labour, or at least tactically against the Tories to help toward a Labour victory. I felt the devolution referendum was a Labour triumph, in that the party fought hard for greater power for Scotland. However, in the last ten years, Labour have become stagnant, pre-occupied with the status quo, with direction from the UK party, and with eternal power itself.

    This has been a big turn off for me and I'm sure for many people throughout Scotland. As the people of Scotland have changed, some as a result of devolution, some as a result of disenfranchisement with Westminster, Labour have stayed the same.

    There is a perception that Scottish Labour have changed. But the truth is that the very thing they were foremost in creating - a devolved parliament - was an end point for them, not a starting point. And not only that, as the party stagnated, so the talent quite naturally dried up.

    The Clydeside element was at the heart of this stagnation. There was no need for Glasgow MPs to perform at the top of their game, unless of course they were career politicians.

    This was a predictable reaction from them to the axing of GARL. Part manufactured, but part in denial. I mean, how could a party other than Labour get the most votes in Scotland, and worse still, Glasgow investment curtailed? How dare they!

    They may come to regret that reaction, because it has laid bare the huge gap in spending per head of population.