31 July 2010

Intimations of "Redemption"...

Redemption. The title of the latest edition of the Scottish Left Review. Premised on the contention that the last year has been a poor one for those identifying as "socialist, social democrat, progressive or however you choose to style yourself". The introductory comment article explains that the issue:

"... started from the assumption that everyone (at least the Scottish Left Review’s ‘everyone’) would accept that whatever sect, tribe or group you are a part of, none of us did anything to cover ourselves in glory before, during or after the election just gone. So, we thought, let’s ask the question ‘what do we all need to do to redeem ourselves?’. It is with the greatest respect to all our writers that a picture emerges from the totality. And it is a grim picture. Broadly, either people don’t know what we need to do, don’t believe we can do it or don’t even think that we need to do anything at all."

Hence, the edition is dominated by perspective pieces from the "established political groupings" on the Scottish left and discussion, speculation and proposed stratagems for redeeming a flagging Scots leftist politics.  In "Still Waiting", John McAllion of the Scottish Socialist Party and Gordon Morgan of Solidarity debate why:

"... the left, particularly in Britain, is weaker than it was and lacks intellectual cohesion, a coherent strategy and particularly a political structure. How did we get here? What lessons should we learn? How do we move forward?"

Vince Mills' article is entitled "Redemption Song" and argues that the "mainstream section" of the Scottish Labout party

"is in no mood to repent. After all, what have they to be repentant about? They have just given their archenemies the Tories the drubbing of their lives."

For Mills, this want of introspection and reflection presents a problem.While Labour's pre-2011 Holyrood election rhetoric may be mildly bullish, he contends that the pervasive thoughtlessness may profoundly damage the party in the longer term. He is skeptical about the prospects of such a reflective revival.

"It may be that Labour in Scotland can redeem itself by seriously building for a nationwide campaign of resistance against the assault on the public sector, but with a small and divided left and a complacent leadership which itself bridges moderate social democracy to hard line neo-liberalism, the people of Scotland are best advised to fashion their own defences."

Kevin Williamson contends that "Its how you play the cards" that matters, or more precisely, whether the SNP can prove themselves canny cardsharps over the next weeks and months. There are many ways to play a hand, not all of them winning. In particular, Williamson cautions that:

"Many independence supporters are wondering what on earth is holding back the leadership of the SNP? Why the hesitancy at a time when clarity, boldness, and even good old fashioned Scottish radicalism are called for to defend Scottish interests? The independence movement is currently stuck in a frustrating Beckett-esque anti-drama of Waiting For Alex."

The Greens' Peter McColl entitles his reflection "Out of the comfort zone" and is concerned that the Scots Greens may become hedged-in by their weddedness to environmental issues.

"As a radical party the number of voters needed to make a significant breakthrough is relatively small. With just 10 per cent of the vote Greens could be very significant players in Scottish politics. But Greens need to be very careful about the politics of their comfort zone."

Further, McColl contends that the party must broaden its approach, not abandoning their familiar comfort zone of environmentalism, but incorporating the issue in ways that will resonate with more foundational social issues. Environmental issues, he suggests, are:

".... simply not enough to ensure that Greens are able to win enough elections. Green politics goes way beyond the environment. It has a foundational critique of the consumerist, market driven society and economy we live in. It is this that will return more Green members to Councils, the Scottish Parliament and other bodies."

"Nowhere to go?" is Gordon McKay's rhetorical question, in an article arguing that the links between trades unions and the Labour Party must continue:

"The trade union movement has the opportunity to reconnect the Labour Party with those people who want a reason to vote Labour. It must grasp that opportunity so that in the years to come the trade unions do not want or are forced to find somewhere else to go."

Isobel Lindsay runs her sensitive fingers across the "Splits that weaken" Scotland's civic sector, fearing that in the face of public sector cuts, the sector will become divided and as a result, the Con-Dem cutting agenda will rule. In "Continent Drifting", Henry McCubbin eyes the "Greek Crisis" and what it might imply for visions of a progressive European Union. Meanwhile, Carole Ewart asks "Are bills of rights wrong?" and wonders:

"Who stands up for human rights in Scotland? The answer used to be simple but now a surprising mix of people argue that rights are a privilege which, in a period of economic downturn, cannot be afforded or that the threat of terrorism is so great that our civil and political rights must be limited.

Finally, in diametric opposition to the concerns dominating the leftist perspectives outlined above, those of you with an interest in American politics might also enjoy this article by Jonathan Rauch on the "Tea Party Paradox", published in the National Journal Magazine. Examining data on "debranded Republican-leaning" American voters, Rauch explains how "The country has moved right, but it's not clear that this helps Republicans in the long run."


  1. This is a watershed for Scottish politics. It may seem that Labour's current polling has returned them to their normal position in Scotland, but the UK Coalition changes everything. Salmond has accepted that constitutional matters must play second fiddle to the economy right now, and Scottish Liberals are shockingly quiet.

    If the polls don't change very much in the next year, Scottish Labour will be the largest party, but without a majority. Will the Lib Dems form a coalition with them? Perhaps not bearing in mind their Westminster bedfellows. Will they form a minority Government. Maybe, but we have witnessed how difficult that is in less austere times. With then onset of drastic cuts, it may be better to share some of the load.

    Ideologically, and removing constitutional matters, the SNP and Labour are not too far apart. Despite the partisan behaviour and hatred over the last few years, SNP and Labour voters are the ones most likely to flit between these two respective parties. And they will again.

    So, could these two giants of Scottish politics coalesce at Holyrood? Stranger things have happened. Quite recently, actually.

  2. Time for a Chubby Coalition, do you reckon Andrew? Red and yellow mixed to make a Scots Orange Revolution? I for one have expressed my exhaustion and boredom with snarling, fat-headed politics. I'm in favour of disagreement with reasons, not allegation and accusation, with no knee left unjerked in a general political spasm. The circumstance you describe is worth thinking about seriously. I reserve judgement for the moment on whether it is actually likely. To take it as a sort of thought experiment, such a curious unity might represent an interesting opportunity for both sides to learn that the works of the other are not unmitigated evil and moved by malice and bad faith. Some nationalists, I imagine, would say that the Labour party is too degenerate and compromised to reach a compromise with. They must be harried and chased, not pulled to our brotherly (and sisterly) bosoms. As you say, circumstance is circumstance and all of us may find ourselves in a new and difficult position come 2011, calling for improbable, previously even unthinkable solutions.