|The Early Days of a Better Nation|
Monday, March 23, 2015
Here, it's rebranded itself as patriotic and pro-market, but with a social conscience and internationalist outlook that sets it apart. For a while, this works. The loss of state subsidies and guaranteed orders has long since devasted heavy industry. The Party can still call on some residual loyalty from industrial, and former industrial, workers. It can't do much for the rustbelt's wreckage, but it knows the right soothing noises and how and where to buy off discontent.
In or out of office, it retains formidable powers of patronage. Its officials reinvent themselves as business advisers. No upheaval or reform can shift its nomenklatura from their swivel chairs in the media and other institutions of 'civil society'. Their unshakeable sense that this is the natural order of things sticks in the craw.
It can't go on. Too much has changed, and too little. Streams of discontent become one river. A multitude of voices and hopes becomes one slogan, one demand. One banner, one logo, one brand, instantly recognisable, is suddenly everywhere on lamp-posts and lapels. Crowds in its colours flood the public squares.
Under that banner are many different and quite incompatible programmes and projects, disputes over which which would normally be the stuff of politics. Not here: somehow they never come into contention with each other. However freely and fervently they're expressed, they're never thrashed out. One speaker can accuse the Party of betraying its socialist roots and abandoning the working class. Another, from the same platform, can blame the Party's socialist roots for strangling the spirit of enterprise and holding the country back. Both are cheered and applauded.
The Party and its hangers-on are hurt and bewildered. Why are our natural supporters turning on us? Aren't we the party of the working class, and the real party of the nation? Weren't we the first to raise your great-grandparents to their feet, in the bad old days? Didn't we rally your grandparents to stand united against the fascist menace? Didn't we bring them the post-war reconstruction, the new industries, the free health and education services that you still enjoy? Mistakes were made -- of course! We've long since owned up to them. But even there -- didn't we take the lead in the great reforms that freed up society and made your generation what it is?
The Party still has support even in the younger adult generation, the last to benefit from its better days. Earnest and sincere, they're on the side of progress. And that's your side, isn't it? Isn't that what you really want? Don't get us wrong, we're not for the status quo! We're as much against it as you are! Only we can bring about the real change the country is crying out for. Faster, better, safer change. No need to throw out the baby with the bathwater.
Get the older hacks in their cups and the talk turns bitter. What's behind it all, eh? Reactionaries! Nationalists! Conspiracy theorists! Trotskyite wreckers! Just look at those people's ancestral heroes! Have you seen their secret police files from the 1940s? Which side were they on in the war, eh? Eh? You tell me that!
Scotland was never socialist, and Labour never ran a one-party state. But -- all proportions guarded, all caveats made -- the cliches to the contrary contain more than a grain of truth. Ask Gerry Hassan for the low-down on 'Labour Scotland' and its pervasive withered tenacious grip. Ivy on masonry can't begin to match it.
It's belatedly struck me that many features of the Yes campaign, and its post-referendum continuation in the SNP surge, come sharply into focus if you see what's going on as a colour revolution against Labour Scotland.
I know, I know. The analogy is intentionally provocative. Its limits are obvious. For one thing, the colour revolutions in Eastern Europe have mostly been driven by those who have benefited (or who expect to benefit) from greater openness to the world market, and been opposed by those who've lost out or been left behind. In Scotland, by and large, it's the other way round. And of course it's all happening without violence and in a liberal democracy.
And yet ...
What's to be done? I don't know. I was completely, utterly, embarrassingly wrong in my expectations for Scotland after No, and I could be just as wrong now. As an undisciplined irregular I have no advice to offer the Labour Party, except to say that it's as well to know what you're up against. If Labour's up against what I think it's up against, then it'll take better minds than mine to solve the problem. But the first step in solving a problem is to recognise it.
Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will, and all that.