24 September 2015

A roughly familiar beast?

It has been a summer of Yeats. A year of Yeats, I suppose. In the wake of the independence referendum, much seems "changed, changed utterly." I'll commend to your better judgement whether a terrible beauty has been born or not.

For some, it has been a political year vexed to nightmare. For others, the political hour seems to have come around at last. The political machine of Scottish Labour has been reduced to a smouldering slagheap. The SNP, for long the party of what seemed like a crackpot minority - remain in the ascendant as the 2016 Holyrood election begins to peek over the horizon. 

As a Scottish National Party tribalist -- all of this is thoroughly gratifying. But the experience has also been a curious and curiously unsettling one. Scottish Labour's hubristic and ultimately catastrophic sense of entitlement - I now realise - found a precise perverse reflection in my own political imagination. 

During the referendum, I wrote a series of pieces for the Drouth - visiting the hipsters for independence to the over-refreshed unionist Old Soldier. In a long read in the new edition of the arts periodical - themed around the Contemporary - I try to get my head around some of the continuities and discontinuities of politics in Scotland after the general election. Here's a taster:

"Much of what once was solid in Scottish public life has melted into air. Our politics, which for so long seemed dominated by steady and dependable assumptions, has become strangely contemporary.  The old maps and charts give out. Poles have reversed, polls have reversed, and the compass doesn't understand its points."


  1. The Scottish Labour Party has nevr been wholly reconciled to devolution. Whilst it was miserable at the time, the SNP's fundie/gradualist civil was ultimately a good thing. Scottish labour needs to have the fight to work out who they are, where they want to be, and how they are going to get there. It won't be pretty, the schadenfreude will be laid on with a trowel, at least they will have a sense of purpose. The current mix of drift and internal sniping is killing them.

    They also need to give Kezia a pass on 2016, & Kezia needs to be "big enough" to allow a potentially "bloody" debate".

  2. I'm an English socialist and a Labour Party member. Someone put to me once, and it struck me as both funny and true, that the Labour Party contains a lot of socialists in the same way that the Church of England contains a lot of Christians.

    Now, that has clearly changed quite dramatically recently. It is now an explicitly socialist party. Just humour me a second, while I ramble on a bit about what this might mean in Scotland, from my own observations as someone involved in the Corbyn campaign, and from what I've been told by a good friend in Scottish Labour.

    For me, the whole issue of Scottish independence in the last couple of years left me a bit nonplussed. I followed it, however, with some interest, and a rising sense of dread. I didn't approve of the way the pro-union case was put, but neither did I care much for the pro-independence arguments.

    The one thing I couldn't stand as a Labour tribalist was the argument, often made, was that it was not at all about nationalism but about the possibility of a more progressive (or in some versions, even socialist) Scotland, and that the impetus was the Party's abandonment of 'Old Labour' values. This seemed to me at the time nothing but empty rhetoric ... after all, there were many overt signs of nationalism, such as flag-waving marches, and Scotland had after all bought into New Labour every bit as much as England had. Once the SNP had taken dozens of safe Labour seats, and proven an equally effective Tory bogeyman down here, I had a profound dislike of the party.

    So I watched with a particular revulsion Mhairi Black's maiden speech in which she professed to be, essentially, Bennite, and from a traditionally Labour family left behind by the party, which seemed to be either the ultimate betrayal, or (as I saw it) an empty lie, and rubbing salt in the wound either way.

    Meanwhile, the Corbyn campaign was the lift that English socialism badly needed, and as the movement grew and grew, and halls filled up, many of us had to pinch ourselves to be certain the whole thing was real. There was a worry, though, that the party in Scotland was simply dead, and there wouldn't be the same turnout. Certainly, there ironically wasn't much of a left remaining in the Scottish party (which seemingly explains the results of their recent leadership elections). So a pretty modest venue was booked for the Glasgow date.

    But then something remarkable happened. The event sold out instantly, before it had even been advertised! A larger venue was chosen: Glasgow's Old Fruitmarket. It, again, rapidly sold out. I didn't attend (a bit far for me), but I met with my friend a few days later, who told me of an enthusiastic crowd with many Yes voters singing along with the Red Flag, and with songs of Red Clydeside and the Spanish Civil War, and even more surprisingly with Bandiera Rossa (which is in Italian!). Suddenly I began to reconsider that there may after all be an element of truth to the whole "I didn't leave Labour, Labour left me" trope. And that gives me hope.

    Since that, my friend has been much more upbeat about the prospects of Scottish Labour, and tells me that he's recruited dozens of new members and affiliates personally. There are challenges ahead; primarily the Scottish leadership, elected when the party was still a Blairite rump. Hopefully they'll be gone soon, replaced by people like Neil Findlay and Jon Lansman, and Katy Clark. Perhaps after the Holyrood elections?

  3. Any chance you'll post this on the blog later? It's a comically tiresome chore to read online.

    1. I've updated the blog with an online PDF version which should be much more readable.

  4. I query the fittingness of your illustration Andrew: this is not by any stretch Yeats’s ‘pitiless' beast, but Holman Hunt's abandoned scapegoat (poor thing does look a wee bit familiar - 'why the long face, Mr Murphy?)

    Also, you could have paid (even if ironic) tribute to Brian Wilson and Tam Dalyell, the lost prophets who saw exactly what was coming before a ballot was cast in 1999.

    Ms Black’s maiden speech was indeed odd. A great piece of stage rhetoric, but airy and insubstantial. Her Bennite invocation was of course just nonsense - in any case, Benn disliked nationalism in general and Scottish nationalism in particular, and the notion of the SNP being a vehicle for delivering Bennite redistributive policies is ludicrous. As Andy Wightman has pointed out, the SNP has even been outflanked by the Tories on transparency and land reform -


    'Prime Minister David Cameron has announced plans to publish details of offshore corporate ownership in the English and Welsh Land Registry and pressure from NGOs like Transparency International to clamp down on the use of offshore shell companies is proving effective in westminster. The Scottish Government, however, now finds itself being outflanked by the Tories in efforts to crack down on secrecy and tax evasion. The Scottish Parliament has an important role in scrutinising exactly why this has happened.’

    A chap above mentions 'Bandiera Rossa’. I remember my old flat mate Tony Patton singing Bandiera Rossa (and an earnest east German correcting Tony’s Italian) at the Star Club - i remember the two Reids, Jimmy and John, speaking of the inevitable death of capitalism and the coming of socialism.

    The future is always opaque. If I had told John Reid that in 30 years he would be Baron Reid he would have shouted at me. Such are the antic vagaries of history.

    Off to this at 11.30 -

    A 'Glasgow Vigil for Ayotzinapa' takes place at Kelvingrove Park fountain tomorrow, Saturday 26th September from 11.30am-12pm - to send support and solidarity to the parents of the 43+ missing students from Ayotzinapa, Mexico.

    There will be people from many parties and nationalities there. Some things we all have in common.