13 November 2009

Glasgow NE: Gubbed

Some off-piste thoughts on Glasgow North East may be in order this morning. The BBC coverage had its moments – but why, ever so often, did they seem to press the replay button and all the yammering political types would simply reiterate previously furnished statements. I assume that they were operating under the assumption that they might acquire new audience members mid-way through. Hope springs eternal in the newscaster's breast. Nevertheless, despite its relative tedium, I wanted to highlight a few themes which struck me as being of particular interest.

Firstly, racism in Scotland. Tom Devine suggested that the idea of egalitarian Scotland being a welcoming society was mythological. Racism, the historian continued, could not be imagined as another English illness, without Scots symptoms. Here, the supposed egalitarian gloss and its associated good conscience actually conceals the extent to which Scots are prejudicial – and creates a self-image which will be highly resistant to a recognition of that self as racist. We can find this argument in the work of David McCrone in his sociologies of Scotland – arguing that part of what sustains this idea of an egalitarian Scotland is its amenability to different political projects. Historically, leftists could see themselves as the bearers of an egalitarian tradition which rejects social distinctions of class – emphasising a sort of human capital in the face of laxer, more class-conscious English society. Simultaneously, old Tories can take to their tartan-trooed pins on Burns Night and roar out A Man’s A Man for A’ That, confident that the egalitarianism they are expressing relates to merit, and is thus, inherently stratifying in its ends. Its an intriguing question, and Devine’s doubts are familiar. Does thinking you have an equal and welcoming society tend to conceal the hidden transcripts of your society’s wrongs, its cruelties? I can certainly see the case.

Yet also, while such descriptive accounts of the nation may not reflect underlying human experience – there is also an aspirational element to this which we ought not too hastily to squander. Assume, as we must assume, that Devine’s suggestion can be demonstrated – that Scottishness is no vaccine to racism. Its certainly not obvious to me that the answer to that recognition of fallibility is to reject the political discourse which accounts for Scots authenticity in terms of an openness which may not be a sociological universal. Mythologies can be rejected – they can also be lived up to.

The second theme I wanted to return to was the broad commentary on the approach of Labour’s campaign. Said many, localism was emphasised. Ripping off Glasgow its chorus. Labour in opposition to Edinburgh SNP the cheeky undernote. Margo MacDonald deplored this approach to argument, insisting on the importance of collaboration between Scotland’s city states. I’m not so condemnatory. I can see the storied narrative it furnishes Labour with, whether or not I’d agree with the elements of the indictment. What interests me – and it is a subject I’ve posted on before in the context of the defunct airport rail link – is how this apparently politically expedient argument for a Glasgow by-election resonates in the wider community. Part of Labour’s problem, strategically, across the country, is its clotted constituencies in the West Coast, its Glaswegian voice and its representational limitations. Success, for Labour, seems to rely on getting its vote out - not by making alternative appeals outside of their primal, primate-electing constituencies.

From the result, it seems as if Willie Bain could have stodged his way onto the stage with a victorious clutch of votes without this story, re-emphasising that Labour seems as if it is for Glasgow and nowhere else. Ordinarily, of course, I doubt this would matter. The local arguments which by-election candidates make are soon forgotten, their little heresies from the party line to accommodate local sensitivities subsumed under the wider tales of the party’s national fortunes. Why this case is, I’d submit, a little different, is that Bain’s tack is strongly consonant with Labour’s wider, Scottish themes. He contributes to a swelling account of the party, often implicit discourse about the geographic and social divisions in Scotland’s political commitments and presages a return to the drear of hegemonic political Clydesideism in Scotland. This account is, I’d suggest, problematic in the wider constituencies of this country. Precisely because Bain et al. plucked on this string so insistently, and I suspect gratuitously, its interesting to speculate whether, for the sake of grubbing up an extra vote or two, they may actually have sustained a wider account of Labour politics apt to depress their broader electoral fortunes.

Oh, and I'm fed up of hearing about honeymoons and their inevitable (and apparently multiple) endings. Has media creativity died a death? Is there no other metaphor in the whole of bright existence which they could employ to communicate the same process of increasing attention, marginally upped focus and the accumulation of failures or the failures to succeed? No, I feared not...

1 comment :

  1. A quite brilliant posting and a pleasure to read.

    It seems that the parish pump mentality of the good citizens of Springburn along with the quite spectacular numbers of postal votes and sudden increase in the electorate in recent weeks has carried the day.

    The deciding factor in the successful candidate's CV seemed to be

    1) Labour

    2) Lives in the high flats

    However it was nice to see that the by-election brought folk together.

    Who'd have thought it? The Labour party and the Orange Lodge cosying up. It almost made me sympathetic (almost but not quite) to David Kerr's religious position.

    A by-election that illuminated the worst of Scotland and Scottish society. The BNP must be sick mind you - they cannae even beat the Tories here. Although they'll console themselves with being more popular than Tommy Sheridan (oh! and the other guy from Big Brother).

    Pass the sick bag.