Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Unionist and Nationalist labels stifling Left or Right debate in Scotland

I am bravely going to carry on eating the occasional Tunnocks tea cake. I know. I have no moral fibre. On the other hand I have tried to avoid using Stagecoach buses because of their predatory practices and their homophobic founder (and SNP bankroller), and I have had some success.

But I have failed miserably in refusing to watch the fitba on Sky despite Alex Salmond’s cosiness with Rupert Murdoch (oh, and Murdoch’s dislike for unions, democracy and all that namby-pamby liberal nonsense). I still recklessly watch Bond movies despite the fact that Shir Sean was born just along the road from me and backs independence for a country he doesn’t want to live in. I even speak to (and occasionally accept drinks from) my mates who unfathomably voted Yes in the referendum.

In my deluded way, I strongly believe that Dame Anne Begg is not a Nazi, despite the conclusions the nationalist underbelly draws, and trolls about, from a photo somebody took of her with a National Front guy she didn’t know was a National Front guy. I know this conclusion is based largely on a pile of misinformation about her long fight for disabled rights and on other equalities issues, her chairing of the Parliament All Party Group on Equalities and her voting against the Iraq war in 2003

Oh, and there was the speech to the Aberdeen TUC St Andrew’s Day Rally in 2014 when she paid tribute to Aberdeen’s “proud record in fighting fascism and standing against apartheid” and vowed that the fight would go on. I am so naïve. Don’t you know that the official record, the Aberdeen TUC and Wikipedia are all part of the establishment offensive against Scots patriotism?

I quote this kind of damaging nonsense from the nationalist - and no doubt from the unionist - fanatical fringes, because there is a more worrying mainstream effect. There is an element of an intolerant ‘nationalist’ versus ‘unionist’ political context bedding itself into Scottish politics - as opposed to a constructive ‘left’ versus ‘right’ debate.

One where a basic belief in independence or not is an end in itself. One where Scotland is divided and will become ever more divided if we are not careful.

In the most radical time in Scotland’s history, John Maclean saw the road to socialism coming through independence. Keir Hardie was perhaps closer to federalism while Willie Gallacher eschewed both in favour of an internationalist agenda. They were unanimous in one thing and that was temperance. Try selling that one these days!

However, there was clearly room for healthy differences of view in our socialist history. They were differences of view based on an underpinning principle of socialism. None were prepared to dilute that objective in any way in their quest for their preferred constitutional future for Scotland. The debate remained firmly on ‘left’ versus ‘right’.

The ‘unionist’ label is used to imply association with the Tories and bigoted fringes. I am not a ‘unionist’ and neither is anyone else I know who voted No. I am socialist who believes social justice will be best delivered by solidarity of working people across our nations. I was not prepared to accept the poverty and inequality I believe would have arisen from independence as a price worth paying. With what we now know about oil prices, debt, borrowing and currency implications, I am even more convinced.

However, I also know many Yes voting comrades who would not be happy with the label ‘nationalist’ and all that implies about blind patriotism. They too are socialists who see the practical road to socialism as being unachievable in a Tory dominated UK and only able to be delivered through independence.

The trouble at the moment is that progressive voices are being drowned out by a ‘Labour-bad’ agenda that, despite all the changes Labour has made, has succeeded in damaging the credibility of so many good socialist candidates; followed by an ‘SNP-bad’ response that seems to get people’s defensive hackles up rather than creating a debate on the issues.

At the risk of being labelled as an ‘SNP-bad’ type, I have to say that in some quarters (especially online) any political debate about the SNP’s record in government has been effectively stifled because of the sheer torrent of vituperative responses. That cannot be good in any political system.

With a referendum now at least a few years away, somewhere, somehow, we need to get back to the issues we face here and now.

For me, in local government, that is thousands of people going into 2016 out of a job. Thousands more having unmanageable workloads piled upon them to cover. Care services (yes, part of our health provision) facing new cuts, privatisations and outsourcings that will further undermine pay, conditions, living wage progress and of course quality of service to the most vulnerable.

Of course the Scottish Government can’t defeat austerity alone even if it wanted to. But it can mitigate it and so far it has not seriously attempted that. The words are good but the actions don’t match them. It is not being ‘anti-independence’ to challenge that failure.

One of its tools is tax powers, including the Council Tax. Despite all the hype about Scotland being socially progressive and prepared to pay for good public services, no party looks ready to chance higher taxation to mitigate austerity as a vote-winner! That’s all the more reason we need a cross-party resolution to the Council Tax issue.

It is also a reason for socialists in Labour and the SNP to argue in and out of their parties to persuade people that beating austerity, delivering universal services and benefits, and working towards social justice means we have to pay our fair share in a progressive tax system. It is a role that the People’s Assembly Scotland will be building on at its rally/AGM on 23 January in Glasgow.

Without that, we just replicate the worst of Westminster at Holyrood, whether or not we are independent, by playing to the opinion polls and focus groups with the sole aim of gaining or retaining power to tweak at the edges, rather than trying to fundamentally change the debate.


  1. Well said John, couldn't agree more

  2. Well put. We need to ensure this message is widely shared as quickly as possible.

  3. We live in strange times - endless constitutional ding-dongs have squeezed social justice out of our national political debate. I wrote a blog on this last week:

    PS: It is good to see other comrades defending Anne Begg - well done.

  4. As a non-patriotic, socialist, Scottish nationalist, I see no place for myself in your limited political ontology.

  5. Politics are organic, if allowed to breath properly then a nation will stand left or right when it is allowed to do so. Having always lived in a left leaning country (Scotland) which is politically controlled by a right leaning country (England) I can't help feeling that Scotland's politics have been somewhat stifled. There is no left or right debate that makes any difference when overall policy is controlled by Tories (or the right wing Labour party). There is only one political debate in Scotland and it will rage on endlessly (50/50) until the "No" camp realise it. Maybe the referendum result to take the UK out of Europe will wake them up...

    1. I suppose this was the issue I was trying to address. There is a huge opportunity for a left/right debate and there needs to be one unless independence or not is seen as an end in itself. At the moment, we are not winning the arguments for policies that will mitigate austerity and without that debate no amount of devolution or independence will make any difference. It is not the powers that matter so much as what you do with them.