The Early Days of a Better Nation

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Scotland after socialism

In 1979, the French radical intellectual Régis Debray tossed a tear-gas cannister into the complacent, cross-class nostalgia for May 1968. He saw the significance of les événements not as a failed overthrow of French capitalism, but a convulsive convergence with the wider West, saying (if memory serves) that 'We had to imagine ourselves as Chinese, in order to become Californians.'

I can't match his gloomy verve, but I'll make a similar suggestion about the lesser upheaval of 2015 in Scotland. This is a country that never took to New Labour, but has suffered and enjoyed all the changes in class composition and identity to which New Labour was a reaction. And yet we've cherished our self-image as keepers of the flame. Our refrain has been: 'We didn't leave Labour, Labour left us.'

Now, in the name of Old Labour values, we've overwhelmingly elected a party that stands on almost all issues to the right of even the present Labour Party, let alone that of Donald Dewar and John Smith. The SNP is a party with a fresh, charismatic leader who appeals to all classes and who proclaims a business-friendly programme in social-democratic language. In doing this she has enabled us to at last catch up with the post-socialist world, without losing face or backing down. We had to imagine ourselves as Venezuelans, in order to become Blairites.


New Labour Started with a bang (devolution, house of Lords) - then kind of wimped out

But it was not as obvious then as it is now that the Regan/Thatcher path was such a mess

As an engineer getting approval to spend money improving a manufacturing operation I could look at the Germans with thirty years payback and lower capital costs and see just how much the high interest rates were costing us
But most people didn't have that perspective.

Now after Piketty's seminal work its hard NOT to see how disastrous the Regan/Thatcher path actually was

With that 20/20 viewpoint (and Blair's disastrous warmongering) New Labour was terrible

Without the SNP biting New Labour on the bum would it have changed?
Even now a lot of the Labour leaders are talking about moving to the right!

I hope that the new SNP voters - who tend "left" will hold their leaders to that path

"Business friendly"
Interesting label - historically business has always done BETTER under "left" wing governments than "right wing"
The USA is a wonderful example - the growth under Democrats is always higher than Republicans
Since about 1960 the lowest growth Democrat has had higher Growth than the highest growth Republican
Which makes perfect sense - the lefties tend to divert money to the poor who spend it (high velocity of money)
Whereas the "righties" divert money to the rich who don't spend it (low velocity of money)
So "business friendly" should really mean "red hot lefty" - even if "businessmen" don't think it does

I've said it before, but in another world, Nicola Sturgeon would have made a very good leader of the UK Labour party. But then my only real political difference with her is my scepticism about whether Scotland is even a useful concept, let alone the point around which everything must resolve. I just don't see why, living in Edinburgh, I have anything more in common with the people of Aberdeen or Dundee than with the people of Newcastle or Middlesbrough.

As a Scot who has lived in
Glasgow, Kinross, Edinburgh
Kent, London, Darlington
South Island NZ

I would have to agree with anonymous
I found the North of England to be much more similar to Scotland than London and Kent

Indiana was different again but South Island is also very similar to Scotland (bit warmer)

If Scotland goes its merry way I suspect a lot of "The North" would like to come along

The overall mindset in "The South" is completely different

There's not really an overall mindset of 'The South'. There's London, the home counties, and then there's everywhere else (the midlands and the south west).
London and the south east tend to dominate not just the south of England, but all of England, and indeed Britain.
I think Bristol in particular would fit closer to Scotland than London in many ways.

The opening paragraphs of Heinlein’s “And He Built A Crooked House” take a common stereotype of California and, by stages, shaves it down to a single neighbourhood. Similarly, if you express anti-English prejudice you get protests from northerners, anti-southern prejudice and west country folk protest; eventually you shave it down to London and almost everyone’s happy, because hardly anyone’s from London. It’s cheap and easy, you’ll usually get a cheer and rarely get called on it.

This is false consciousness, the feeling something’s wrong, combined with the mistaken belief the wrongness attaches to a region, race, or religion: Bebel's “socialism of fools”. To paraphrase James Carville, “it’s the class, stupid!”

@Duncan Cairncross:

"Business friendly" is code for "Rich businessman friendly", despite the two being almost entirely at odds. Business growth is higher under left-wing governments because they encourage reinvestment of profits in wages, R&D and modernisation, rather than allowing a small number of execs and owners to extract all the money as market rent.

(In the same way that spending is actually often lower under left-wing governments, after an initial burst, because preventative maintenance is much cheaper than crisis management. The right wing does everything by crisis management, because their ideology insists on "saving money" by cutting long-term preventative programs.)

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"Now, in the name of Old Labour values, we've overwhelmingly elected a party that stands on almost all issues to the right of even the present Labour Party, let alone that of Donald Dewar and John Smith."

I'd personally appreciate a little elaboration on this point. Certainly my perception is that in general the SNP are at least a little to the left of the current Labour party but I won't lie I haven't looked at either parties manifesto particuarly closely so could be letting slick political campaigning and what is currently an almost pathological abhorrence towards the recent prominent faces of Labour and Scottish Labour cloud my judgement.

Political Compass website certainly has them as both more left leaning economically and more libertarian than Labour.

Topper, I'm not too impressed with the political compass. I put the SNP somewhat to the right of New Labour on the basis of its record in the Scottish 'Government', but I admit that's a judgement call: other than independence, it's hard to think of a policy of one of these parties that couldn't have come from the other.

I am writing from British Columbia, with little detailed understanding of the politics and policies of the SNP, but is Scotland not making a point of keeping both post-secondary education (Unis and technical schools) and health care free at point of delivery? Unlike jurisdictions further south? If this is the case, it would seem like a fairly important policy. Is it one that all the parties would follow?
Here we have seen education increase in cost rapidly and health care is now being privatised an an increasing pace. The well off are not greatly affected by this, but most people are, as health and education provide the means for them to improve themselves without impoverishing themselves in the process.
Yes, I know that there is a lot more to socialism than this, but it is something.

I can still remember hearing John Smith's party political broadcast in which he said it was time for the Labour Party to become "the party of the individual and the consumer"; and I can still remember shouting at the television "we already have two of those, you pillock!". As a part-Scot I do identify a tendency for maudlin pietism, which needs to be resisted. Even the Labour saints (like Nye...) were no saints (read Foots' biography!).

Harry G.

Rob-Roy - healthcare is free at the point of delivery in England too. Post-secondary education is a complicated story, but the short version is that while Scotland has no university tuition fees (except for students from England, Wales and NI, but not students from other EU countries) in practice we have (possibly as a result) a lower proportion of students from lower-income households going to university, and a massive cut in non-university tertiary education places (what are here called FE colleges) which again affects students from lower-income households.

Harry G. - points taken, and I'm not exactly a cheerleader for past Labour governments and oppositions, but I still think John Smith, if he'd lived, would have won the 1997 election and been a better PM than Blair, if perhaps less popular initially. Also, John Smith had the great advantage of not being the Antichrist, which has to count for something.

I agree John Smith would have been a LOT better - and not necessarily less popular
I remember our plant manager interrupting a meeting with tears in his eyes to tell us that John Smith had died

Duncan - yes, I remember the same sort of thing. Perhaps I mean 'less widely popular'.

Why would tuition-free university education lead to reduced low-income participation - higher bars to entry? I assume that FE colleges would focus on trades education and it is interesting that this sector would be reduced. Is there any intellectual justification for that? I also have to say I find the case of tuition fees for non-Scottish UK students, but not for EU students bizarre. Is there a reason for that? Apart from spite?
I too remember visiting the UK just after John Smith died, and being told even then that he was the great hope of Labour, and Blair was distinctly a second rate choice.



I don't know where Duncan lived in Indiana-I live in South Bend-but I think he would back me up in saying that no political party here pretends to be moderate or on the left. There's a kind of freedom in that; except for Libertarians and that particularly US American phenomenon of born-again "christian" conservatives enthralled by Ayn Rand, you can present your program/agenda to any reasonably liberal, (small "l")open-minded person and they will deal with it,or to a moderate conservative who will usually be civil, with little partisan nonsense. What we don't have here in Indiana is the desperate utopianism that struck me from afar about the referendum and the election (Scottish part); so much of the Scottish left seemed "infected" with the "meme" (and I mean that as a kind of virus) of a "Free Scotland" vs the UK (I'm surprised they didn't say "UKKK" like we used to say "Amerikkka" here during the Viet Nam War a lifetime ago.) I have no horse in this race; if these segments of the Scottish left finally get their way, I hope they're very happy in the Queen's Republic of Scotland, Ltd.

In Indiana, ALL parties and their politicians, including the most liberal Democrats, are unabashedly, unashamedly "business friendly," with NO pretense that it's anything else.

Hi Lee,
I lived in Columbus (Worked for Cummins)

What you have in Indiana is the loony right "business friendly"
Which as Chris said above
(I hope you don't mind Chris but that is such a good summary that I'm going to quote you whenever it seems appropriate)

"Business friendly" is code for "Rich businessman friendly", despite the two being almost entirely at odds. Business growth is higher under left-wing governments because they encourage reinvestment of profits in wages, R&D and modernisation, rather than allowing a small number of execs and owners to extract all the money as market rent.

(In the same way that spending is actually often lower under left-wing governments, after an initial burst, because preventative maintenance is much cheaper than crisis management. The right wing does everything by crisis management, because their ideology insists on "saving money" by cutting long-term preventative programs.)

In the USA where you have a choice between the right wing (Democrats) and the extreme right wing (Republicans) its interesting to compare the parties actual performance on the economy

An American Scientist and science fiction writer compares the parties here

The net take is that the "Right Wing" with it's belief in "Supply Side" voodoo performs much worse than the "left" and that the good old "Demand Side" Keynesian economics works a lot better

Now we have a number of points on the graph - (other countries) we know that
There will obviously be an optimum position and going further to the "left" will give worse results

Scotland would follow a "left wing" trajectory
It is possible that it could be "too left" wing - but I don't think so - so far nobody has managed to get far enough to the left to actually find a position where their economy started to suffer

If you compare Iceland to Ireland - do you see who has recovered best?

So as an American UK politics is certainly the easiest to understand in Europe. It's in English for one thing, but mostly for example German politics makes no sense at all, they just have so much consensus on the fiscal matters that the US parties spend all their time arguing about.

...but UK isn't that much easier.

My understanding is that SNP had a strong anti-austerity election campaign. The whole 'austerity' issue is easy for an American to understand, since we can imagine the alternate universe where McCain won in 2008 and how they are probably having a similar conversation as Britain right now.

And I understand that Labour has pretty much gone along with austerity?

It sounds like a huge difference in parties.

Hi Ian
That is what I understand as well,
The Cameron government applied austerity and stuffed up the economy for three years when they should have been stimulating
They then backed off the austerity for the last two years and the economy recovered enough to get them re-elected
They now propose doing the same again - on the brakes for three years - followed (I predict) by slacking off before the next election

A lot of Labour bought into the "austerity" nonsense
To the extent of NOT screaming LIES when Cameron blamed the bankster's depression on Labour spending (which was not excessive)

I'm a bit less sure about the SNP anti austerity - they did talk about it but as far as I can see they haven't acted on that in the areas that they do control

Ken is doubly right to set this problem of the nation state in an international context. The convergence of the west, which Scotland will not escape, marches under the banner of the principle in the Human Rights Act and the banner of power in proposed TTIP business friendly courts and never the twain shall meet. As the great Satan, T Blair said, "Power without principle is barren, but principle without power is futile." And of course he gave us ample demonstrations proving both contentions.

The so called anti austerity programme of the SNP, as per Sinn Fein, Syriza and indeed the Muslim Brotherhood, boils down to cutting out the middle man. Rather than oligarchs telling Westminster to tell Edinburgh, they will tell Edinburgh directly. For example Trump's golf course trampling the SSSI at Forvie, has Salmond on the menu, and all opposition can be eaten with a long spoon and a significant wedge.

Meanwhile the shallow rootlessness of the Human Rights Act and the International Criminal Court are repeatedly and fatally undermined by localism and archaic faith based prejudices. As business wealth and equality move steadily apart, the SNP will have to choose which foot to stand on. Blaming Edward Longshanks will rapidly pass its sell by date.


I've only just seen this.

Thank You.

I have literally shelves of books about Scottish politics in the house and more at work. Books , pamphlet and cuttings encompassing every aspect - institutions, parties, structures, economy, history , biographies, industrial politics social structure and of course and endlessly the national question, national identity, national consciousness, nationalism and the relationship to class of all of these and so on, and increasingly tediously on.

In all those thousands of pages - and millions of words I don't think I've ever read anything that has said so much, so accurately, so succinctly, as you have in that piece.

By virtue of my NLR subscription not as a correction but a small token of gratitude, can I offer up the exact phrase used by Cde De Bray which was...

"Was it necessary to fancy ourselves Maoist to become American?"

and again - many thanks

Stephen - What can I say? That's made my day, coming as it does from someone whose own work I respect a great deal and have learned a lot from.

(For anyone who doesn't know what I mean, see (eg) here.)

Rob-Roy: Tuition fees for English and Welsh students but not for EU students are because EU rules don't allow you to charge more for education to students from other EU countries than you charge to your own students. However, there's nothing to stop you from charging more to students from elsewhere in your own country. As a side-effect, of course, an independent Scotland in the EU would no longer have been allowed to charge tuition fees to students from the remaining parts of the UK -- at least unless and until the UK left the EU.

This just seems like random abuse directed the SNP.

By all reasonable measures, the SNP has been a more social-democratic party than the alternatives in Scotland. Can you actually argue with that? Because you *didn't* argue with it.

Is the SNP still to the right of Atlee? Yes, but modern-day Labour seems substantially far right of that, having bought into 'austerity' (hard money) doctrine.

Nathanael - the SNP in government in Scotland isn't much to the left of Labour, nor is it much to the right of it. My point is that if you look at which party the SNP most resembles, it's New Labour. It's far more like New Labour than like Old Labour. And yet former Labour voters in Scotland say they now vote SNP because of the change from Old Labour to New Labour.

"My point is that if you look at which party the SNP most resembles, it's New Labour."

Accepting that (which I'm not sure is true)
Would you not still vote SNP because it's small enough and based in Scotland so that you do have a possibility of remoulding the party towards "Old Labour"?
As opposed to the real Labour party which seems to be locked into the "Tory Light" mould??
And is frightened to change because of "little England"

Duncan - I suppose one could, but I very much doubt that anyone but a few thousand left-wingers rationalising their votes thinks like that.

Re 'Little England' - that was an anti-imperialist slogan of the nineteenth century radicals. I think you mean 'Middle England'. I remember someone saying during the indyref that Scotland is more open to left policies because 'Scotland has no Middle England'. On any meaning but the literal, this is sadly delusional.

Hi Ken
With 1/10th of the population and most important
NO London and home counties
I believe that I would be entirely justified in saying that the SNP would be easier to nudge left than a Labour party that has been infected with Blairism and is petrified of anything that "the city" might disapprove of

Now the Labour part may throw off the neoliberal chains
(Jeremy Corbyn looks a possible)
in which case I would expect a lot of SNP voters to return to the fold

Jeremy Corbyn does look like someone that has something I recognise as values I expect to be held by the Labour Party.

Interesting to see what happens if he wins as whilst I wouldn't immediately defect back to the Labour Party, in the fullness of time if he doesn't get ousted early and the phrophets of doom about how unelectable he supposedly is aren't proved true* then I might one day consider it if I thought it meant some kind of meaninfgul change was a possibility.

*I reckon a lot of his views are way more in snyc with public opinion than those that decry him would have you believe, however given how entrenched in neoliberal thinking and basically Tory are so many Labour MP's I think he is in for a difficult time if he does win. Not to mention having most media outlets likely to be utterly hostile and face almost perpetual negative coverage until he is ousted it does seem difficult to imagine him winning in the face of all that.

I would agree that the SNP at Holyrood is not occupying a space left of Labour. But Scotland has sent fewer friends of Tory policies to Westminster than in 2010 or arguably ever. Thanks to Salmond and Sturgeon our political representatives are actually more social democratic than our electorate, with members for Berwickshire or Perthshire (places even Blair could not reach) voting against austerity while Cooper and Burnham sucked their thumbs.

It will be fascinating if Corbyn wins to see if Labour candidates in 2016 can actually get out there and critique Sturgeon from the left. I suspect it will take a year or two yet before voters are ready to listen.

"Anti austerity" while having some opportunistic resonance with the population is a negation that moves within the same orbit as "austerity". See for example "Ulster says NO! As a prelude to Martin McGuinness kissing the dying cheek of Paisley.

An anti austerity vote is not an alternative to the narrowing of the pyramid of global wealth, and its attack on the social democratic gains of the post war period. The soviet union/maoist china awful as they were, did provide "an alternative", with their demise we no longer need to be bribed with state welfare. This is the problem Blairism rolled over in front of. I have not seen any anti austerity programme that remotely addresses it, the SNP included.

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