The Early Days of a Better Nation

Monday, March 23, 2015

Scotland's colour revolution?

The former motherland has rejected state control of the economy, and the Party centre has made its peace with the market. In the near abroad, its local branch has glumly plodded along, a few steps behind as usual, and with a twist.

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.


For my tuppence worth, the YES campaign was fun, and much of Scotland found this out. That's a good bit of what is happening. It's exciting to change the world, and believe you can make a difference.
The Labour party have been taking Scots for granted all these years, and have been found out. That and working with the tories.

Advice for Labour? Strategically, "just wait" might seem like good advice. With the SNP and the economy, it's like watching a small child pedalling furiously without stabilisers - at some point, the whole thing's just going to keel over.

The problem that Labour has is - even before nationalism is factored in - people simply don't look at the party and think "these people are going to improve my life." I'm not sure that mass revenge for the party's past is necessarily the whole picture. It's more that the party doesn't seem to have a worthwhile or even an interesting future.

Unfortunately, that Trotsky line about "darker the night, brighter the star" isn't working in Labour's case. Instead, the darker the night, the less there is to see.

I can come up with a juicy fantasy Labour manifesto (#1 outspending California on stem cell research) but how does the party, with its current leadership and personnel, get to the stage where it has this kind of energy and glamour?

The problem is
" the Party centre has made its peace with the market."

Just when the likes of Piketty has shown conclusively just where "the market" is going.

The Labour party was wrong!
Austerity was a STUPID idea when the economy was in the doldrums

The current situation needs a decent strategy to fix it
Tax on Wealth
More progressive income tax
Stinging inheritance tax
(Why not simply treat inheritance as income?)

A "market" is a human construction and like all human constructions it needs a bit of adjustment from time to time

The core market is a "positive feedback" system
The more you have the more you get

There used to be an idea that there was some sort of balancing factor that would automatically limit and reduce inequality

Piketty drove a wooden stake into that theory!

The labour party needs to understand that and work at fixing those problems

I was interested in the book you referenced

Strange Death of Labour in Scotland Paperback – 20 Jun 2012

But at 19 pounds! for the kindle version..
I'm too much of a Scotsman

Another way of framing "has made its peace with the market" is "surrendered to the alien invaders".

While an adversarial relation between the productive classes and the increasingly self-directed and autonomous means of production isn't useful, supine surrender to capital owners and abandonment of the idea of coordinating or modulating markets amounts to a total abdication of any right to claim to be representing the (former) productive classes.

The SNP got inside the LP's decision loop on this issue by adopting a relatively anodyne social democracy and simultaneously running a flag labelled HOPE up the mast. The LP didn't help themselves by joining in on the relentlessly negative "better together" campaign; they've now managed to associate themselves with the threat of dismal continuity of the existing conservative/Blairite project.

We've come a long way since the SNP could be tarred as "Tartan Tories". Now the boot is on the other foot, and it hurts.

So… how were you wrong about your expectations for Scotland after No? I’m not asking as an invitation to self-criticism, I just haven’t heard enough after the campaign to know what you mean. (I live in the U.S.)

My assumptions for Scotland after No were that all devolution promises that were made to get to No would be broken, and that the existing power structure would do whatever it could do to make sure that no important local decisions could be made.

(Sorry if this comment appears more than once. Your blog is very difficult for me to comment on.)

Rich - my expectations were that the SNP would be knocked back and we'd get back to arguing and fighting over the normal stuff of politics.

Scotlad already has devolution over a wide range of important decisions. More were already in the pipeline - 'the vow' basically promised what already exists or was already on the way.

Almost nobody voted No because they were swayed by thse promises. (I voted No despite these promises - I don't want the Scottish Parliament to have more powers).

The only promise that could be broken and will be is that the Scottish Parliament could somehow be entrenched in a way that would make it impossible for the UK Parliament to abolish it. This is impossible under the constitution: no parliament can bind its successors.

Charlie, urging people not to jump off a cliff is relentlessly negative, and also sensible. How the SNP (which carried on a minority government quite cosily with Tory support) has managed to conflate 'agreeing with the Tories about one issue, on which we have always held the same view' as 'getting in bed with the Tories' is evidence of just how hollow are the claims that the Yes campaign was a big boost to political awareness and engagement. No, it was a big boost to political stupidity, a sort of self-inflicted political lobotomy.

PS: For the avoidance of doubt, Charlie, I'm not saying you're stupid! Nor am I disagreeing that in this respect the Better Together campaign did harm the Labour Party.

Canada has gone through its own separatist crises - and probably will again. It has proved traumatic, but also has led to some constitutional evolution (not anything as simple as devolution either - the Charter of Rights and Freedoms has in some ways has decreased regional political power). This has had some beneficial results, not least in keeping the country together. Why would the UK's current crisis not have a similar effect?
Please note that Canadian politicians are just as self-serving, provincial, venal and corrupt as anything the UK can come up with - so inherent virtue can be eliminated as a factor.



`We've come a long way since the SNP could be tarred as "Tartan Tories".'

Salmond's responses to questions about the economics of an independent Scotland were (1) surrender currency sovereignty to the EU; (2) cut the corporation tax; and (3) become a banking haven for foreign capital. All underpinned by a (declining) natural resources pool. I suppose one could say that binding Scotland to German-style austerity rather than Cameron-style austerity is "coming a long way," but it's hardly a long way in a good direction. On the other hand, Sturgeon wisely repudiated the corporation tax cut, so perhaps you mean "a long way since the days of the Yes campaign"?

So - whats happening with the election campaign?

Is the SNP going to banjo Labour?

Coming late to this, but it always seemed to me that the referendum question would have been most fairly framed and answered as a question of the heart not the head. Wee Eck should have said, look, you want rid of the English, you want to be a nation? Right. We all know we can do it even if it might be a bit of a rough ride to get going. Let's do it, and work out the economics as we go.

But, as he should have foreseen, he was backed into a position where he had to answer economic questions and, because he had never updated his position after the meltdown of the Eurozone - his only answers were that he would do as he liked and the rest of the world would have to lump it.

Where we are at the moment truly seems the worst of all possible worlds. Unrequited Scottish discontent is fomenting English resentment and - back to Labour - the party in Scotland seems to have nothing original to say...

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