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PERSPECTIVES – ISSUE 37
Scottish Literature – an open canon; France; The Crowd in History; Linda Colley and the Strange Death of North Britain; BSL: More than a Language; plus The Hat and Book Reviews
Frontiers: Tom Nairn argues for the re-evaluation of an unfashionable concept in the age of Globalisation.
Also: Lesley Riddoch on Edinburgh – the most British City; The Crowd in History; The Financial Collapse of Rangers;
Perspectives 32 (.pdf)
The Political Economy of Independence
Riddoch’s Scotland: The Most Contrary City; Sandy Moffat and Ken Currie: The Challenges of Art; Berlusconi’s Fall; Counterpower; No More Bling on the Bone – Arts funding in Govan.
Mid Atlantic Depression – How can we avoid another Great Recession?
Riddoch’s Scotland: Eigg – no man is an island; God appears before the House of Commons Select Committee; Pretty Nasty – the great cosmetics cover-up; The Pensions Dispute – what next; The Jimmmy Reid Foundation; The Feral Superclass.
Riddoch’s Scotland: Glasgow, where extremes meet; David McCrone on the Rise and Rise of the Nationalist Agenda; Gerry Hassan on Radical Scotland; Working Class Heroes: The Maryhill Panels; The Arab Spring; The Politics of Public Health
Riddoch’s Scotland: The Culture of the Clan; Spain: The Long Shadow of the Civil War; Ireland: The Celtic Tiger No More; What’s Wrong With Capitalism; New Lanark; Review: Twentieth Century Ideologies
Two Cheers for AV
James Connolly: Colonialism and Celtic Communism; Reviews: And the Land Lay Still; Neoliberal Scotland
Challenging Fiscal Conservatism
Jimmy Reid and the UCS Work-in; History of the National Theatre of Scotland; Big Alcohol and Public Health
After the General Election: Public Services
Radio Caledonia: Scotland’s Lord Haw-Haw; Willie Maley on Rebus; Keynesianism (pdf)
Westminster Election: The Veiw from Scotland
Also: Eric Cramb on the Banking Crisis; Susan Moffat in Palestine (pdf)
The SNP and a Left Agenda: Isobel Lindsay
Also: Why Women’s History?; Plane Stupid; The Union and Devolution (pdf)
Poetry and Painting – Arts of Resistance: Alexander Moffat and Alan Riach
Also: The Spanish Civil War; Catalonia Dreaming; Health Crisis (pdf)
Supping with the Devil: Beatrix Campbell on Second Wave Feminism
Also: Don Roberto; Letter from Colombia; Feelbad Britain Reviewed (pdf)
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THE GENERAL ELECTION AND A DIFFERENT KIND OF SCOTLAND
The UK general election is due by spring next year at the latest. With neo-liberalism still kicking, Stuart Fairweather sketches an agenda to bring about lasting change.
No one can be in any doubt that we are experiencing the impact of a government and a party that has lost its way. New Labour continues to be moribundly connected to a neo-liberal world view: the market and the protection of markets is all that matters. At present avoiding electoral defeat is paramount. So, if a tough stance on the public sector is required, Labour will deliver.
However this approach will fail to address the interconnected crises that we face – a situation that Labour has helped to create. We face a crisis of capitalism where the belief in continuous growth based on credit is no longer tenable; a global environmental crisis that endangers the planet, at a time when US economic and military domination is no longer assured; and a domestic political crisis that is pulling Britain and its communities apart.
WORSE UNDER THE TORIES
Against this background we will see a Labour campaign that correctly highlights the fact that things would be worse with the Tories. Additionally the spectre of the far right will be raised in a Britain confused about its own identity. Above all Gordon thinks we can get back to a position where the market delivers all our needs – where the rich get richer, and community is under the constant strain of accommodating uncaring individualism. The approach to the election will see a damaged and embittered Labour Party fighting on a number of fronts, armed with a desperate language that blames others but offers no clear way forward for the majority. The cannibalising of the public sector, fighting the wars that cannot be “won” and uncritically defending the United Kingdom are not the stuff of modernity. New Labour will no longer be new. Despite the claims at the TUC conference to defend frontline workers, will our public sector be safe in Labour’s hands?
For the left this raises a serious question. How can we respond to the conditions we face and begin to move in the direction of organising things differently? One of the most ludicrous aspects of our electoral system is that we do not know exactly when the general election will be called, but we know it is coming. Support for the SNP, the Greens or any independent left group will, by itself, not create change across Britain. Locating more than a few Labour Party candidates that oppose the excesses of multi-national capitalism and warmongering is sadly no easy task. Those organisations and individuals that have a track record of defending working people and promoting democratic rights deserve support, but again this alone will not be enough to move us to a position that puts people before profit.
Realistically the chances of any individual candidates that pose an alternative to the neo-liberals winning under first-past-the-post look limited. But where there is the possibility there is the need to work together. We need to support people to use their one vote wisely, opposing those that say there is no alternative to market rule.
Strangely some have suggested that this will be a good election for Labour to lose. This view of politics dislocates what happens at Westminster from real lives. The mess that has been made of the financial system needs to be responded to but not at the price of yet another ideological onslaught on the remaining social infrastructure, or the continued abuse of the planet. We do not need new Thatcherism: Cameron wielding the knife. If there are any doubts, refer back to the remarks of Boris Johnson and others about the banking reforms suggested by Adair Turner. The Tories may try to talk nice but when their world is challenged we see that they have not given up class war.
The left’s position should not be about simply giving Labour yet another chance; we need to push for an agreed minimum programme of reforms. Resisting an automatic Cameron victory means reconstructing political agency: people’s collective ability to affect change. This means that our politics also require social and cultural dimensions. The groups and individuals that make up the left need to speak to each other and to generate popular ideas. In this context a hung parliament would be a democratic “victory”, opening the door to ongoing campaigning. It would provide some balance against the power of the party machine and the vested interests to which Labour is so much in thrall. Similarly, an election result that propels further devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would weaken the relationship between the major governing party and the centralising power of the British state. This would create the conditions for a realignment of politics across Britain, differentiated on the basis of distinct political geographies and raising the “English question”. This more “localised” politics would allow a range of responses to the failings of capitalism and the crises mentioned above.
The left should not fear, and indeed should support a political and cultural “federalism from below”. It should work for an exchange of ideas and experience across Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales. It should look to extend this further, establishing an agreed European democratic sovereignty that contributes progressively to global relations.
The role of our trades unions in pushing for greater industrial democracy is not disconnected from the suggestions above. Understandably in recent times the priority has been to push on wage demands and the defence of rights. These sectional interests will require to be accommodated after the election but in the context of economic restructuring, wage militancy alone will be counter-productive. But the recent sit-ins from Prisme in Dundee to Vestas on the Isle of Wight have shown there is the political imagination for a wider struggle. A worker-led discussion with citizens about the nature of responsive public services and green manufacturing may sound far-fetched but if we are to win the labour movement for democratic change then we need to think radically. The welcome call by Mark Serwotka, and other trade unionists, for electoral reform at Westminster needs to be campaigned for before, during and after the election. Calls by trade unionists for the removal of Trident and an end to war are also essential.
LABOUR REMAINS REMOTE
When the election comes we need to remember we are campaigners as well as voters. Pressingly, in parts of England the priority will be the need to challenge the influence of the far-right, minimising their vote and their growing localised corrupt legitimacy. Candidates that stand up against fascism must be supported. The denial of full participation in society because of identity needs to be continually challenged in communities and workplaces. Sadly, Labour remains remote from this struggle. Labour will attempt to win the election again on the imagined soil of Middle England.
So what about us in Scotland? Again, like everyone else, we will get one Westminster vote. The SNP, Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens will all be on the ballot. In some places the SSP and/or Solidarity might be added. Voting for those best placed to challenge neo-liberalism and war might not be immediately obvious but candidates’ records of campaigning might be an indication. November will see action against NATO and the G20 in Scotland. This gives those in political parties and those in campaigning organisations the opportunity to connect local inequalities to their global causes. It provides a clear backdrop against which to paint the kind of Scotland we want to see in a different type of world.
We should not be ridiculously utopian, at the same time we require not to fetter the political images and action that will foster change. The Scottish Nationalist minority administration, which has been at least as progressive as Labour and the Liberals at Holyrood, has added a referendum on self-government to its legislative programme. They appear to be open to a third question. The point for the democratic left is what settlement will allow people here to develop a working alternative to free market fundamentalism and militarism? The point is not fundamentally about London or Edinburgh but about what social, democratic, cultural and environmental conditions will pertain. We should not be denied a vote in a referendum on our future. But that vote, if it happens, and the debate surrounding it, should be about what kind of Scotland we want to see and about our relationships with the others on these islands and the planet.
The promise of a referendum will see some use a vote for the SNP as a kind of insurance against Cameron. What is more important is beginning a discussion now which acknowledges our multi-layered politics (global/Westminster/Holyrood/local). By building connections between communities, workplaces and political parties we can turn society away from greed and destruction and towards a different view of the world.
– Stuart Fairweather is convener of Democratic Left Scotland.