what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

How Late it Was, How Late.....

“Depend upon it, Sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully”. This famous quotation of Samuel Johnson has been traced, interestingly, to September 19th (albeit 1777)
As the clock ticks relentlessly toward 18 September, the quality of the writing on the internet  reaches impressive heights and I suspect that I will have many sleepless nights in the 2 weeks to come…
AdamTomkins’ blog (from Glasgow) is a “must-read” for any serious person – but yesterday’s blogposts also quoted from two other quite excellent blogs which had escaped me - Malcolm Henry (in the remoteness of Skye) and Jim Fairlie (in the fatlands ofCrieff, Tayside)

An hour later I found a piece entitled The day of the torn souls may be appearing from the inestimable Scottish Review who looked at the issue I mentioned in an aside yesterday – that the Scottish cultural elite has gone heavily for independence -
the media – particularly the media outside of Scotland – have turned to non-politicians to find ways of interesting their audiences in the independence issue. On Saturday 19 July, having invited contributions from 10 Scottish writers, the Guardian devoted several pages to the topic of Scottish independence. Inevitably the most striking thing about this exercise was that only one of the 10 – Allan Massie – seemed at all likely to vote No. Concerned about balance and fair-mindedness, the paper's editors will surely have tried to come up with a more even line-up. But they were never in with a chance…….
Friends at home and abroad often ask me to explain this degree of unanimity among the Scottish literati. From now on I shall point them to the July article by the actor Bill Paterson in the Scottish Review which reveals brilliantly all the pressures that make it so difficult for a Scottish artist/celebrity to come out in favour of the No side in the campaign. In the future, when the dust has settled and the referendum has become the subject of scholarly analysis, this article I'm sure will gain classic status in this particular context.
Another piece in the same journal is written by a previous adviser to the First Minister asserting that private polls in the nationalist camp suggest that the actual Yes vote on 18 September will be 55% - comparing with a consistent deficit of 3% in the public polls.
A lot of column inches are wasted on the great unknowns – how the newly enfranchised (16-18 year olds) or the undecided will actually vote. I’m surprised that more commentators don’t focus on the psychology of actually making the cross on the ballot paper.
I can never forget that I campaigned strongly in 1979 against a Scottish Parliament. I shared a platform with people like Tam Dalyell (coiner of the famous West Lothian question) who warned about the slippery slope to independence. Despite this, when it came to the privacy of the voting booth and I had the ballot paper in my hands, I actually voted “Yes” to the Parliament.
My suspicion is that there will be quite a few people who will tempted to change their intentions in 2 weeks – positive about independence because it is so difficult to withstand the peer pressure which has built up but paying attention to a warning inner voice…..

Most of my left-wing friends in Scotland have also gone for independence – alienated by the way New Labour betrayed its ideals, many of them started in 2007 reluctantly to cast their vote for the party which still attached its colours to the social democratic banner – the SNP. In 2011 that switch in support gave the “National” party the opportunity to seek a referendum it never imagined it could win. 

The combination of the referendum and the disenchantment with Labour has created a heartening recrudescence of left-wing thought in Scotland – evidenced in such sites as -
- Thoughtland– big ideas from a Small Nation 
- National Collective (artists for a creative Scotland)

Although Class, Nation and Socialism – the red paper on Scotland 2014 is on my bookshelves, I have to confess that I have not so far read it. This is quite reprehensible as it does appear to be the one book which matches my sympathies – leftist but sceptical…..
Nor, to my shame, have I even bought the two books written from a left-wing perspective which support independence – Jim Sillars’ In Place of Fear II – a socialist programme for an independent Scotland or Yes – the radical case for Scottish Independence

However, as I speak, both books are winging their way to me (as well as a few Histories). I will, in the meantime, read the 2014 Red Paper very closely.

But first let me share a couple of reviews of Yes – the Radical Case for Scotland – the first from LSE blogs
In the final chapter, “Scotland vs the Twenty-first Century”, they give an outline for the type of policies they want an independent Scotland to adopt: nationalisation of infrastructure and North Sea oil, a Scottish currency, more progressive taxation, a maximum working week, more open immigration, extended trade union rights, and so on. But nowhere do Foley and Ramand put across a convincing argument for why a Yes vote in September will make any of these reforms more likely to happen; the best they seem to manage is that independence ‘throws the status quo into doubt’ and ‘opens opportunities’ (pp.2-3).Indeed their introduction has a passage that could easily be lifted from a book entitled No rather than Yes:By itself, voting Yes offers no guarantees of a better, more progressive future, never mind a radical redistribution of wealth and power. Scotland would face creating a new state under hostile circumstances… If Scottish rulers, politicians and managers conform to consensus assumptions about national welfare, and if Scotland’s people do not resist them, we could reproduce many of Britain’s current problems. With minimal rights, and low wages, we could enter a ‘race to the bottom’ with peripheral European economies. (pp.2-3)
Such honesty from independence campaigners is welcome. Unfortunately, the book fails to address the challenge the authors set themselves.
The second review strikes a similar note -
The unresolved problem becomes acute in the final chapter, ‘Scotland vs. the 21st century: towards a radical-needs agenda’ (pp.90-117). The authors present an attractive range of policies for post-independence economic, social, and political reform. They would be resisted by the banks, the corporations, and the neoliberal political elite. The attempt to implement them would therefore require the mobilisation of mass forces to confront and defeat these vested interests. And this, if successful, would in turn pose the question of power in society and thus, potentially, generate a revolutionary crisis.Or so it seems to me. For I do not believe that there is a Keynesian/left-reformist solution to the crisis of neoliberal capitalism. I doubt the authors do either, yet they make reference to other, more successful, ‘small-nation’ capitalist economies like Sweden, and to anti-neoliberal regimes which have rejected market models and implemented social-reform programmes in Latin America.Is the radical-needs agenda a left-Keynesian programme for turning Scotland into a niche ‘Celtic Tiger’ economy with strong public services and social protection? Or is it a set of ‘transitional demands’ capable of mobilising the mass of ordinary Scots in a struggle for change that will culminate in the overthrow of finance capital?This question is not posed, let alone answered.....this is what we get instead - "What Scots can unite upon is the unsustainable direction of British capitalism. If we vote no, we all but guarantee more decades of austerity, privatisation, and warfare.
We will miss our chance to contribute a working model of environmental sustainability. We will assume, with utmost complacency, that Labour governments are capable of reforming Westminster, despite all evidence to the contrary. Let us not repeat our mistakes of 1979, and resign ourselves to more Thatcher decades. Our vote counts. By our actions we can restore hope, assert co-operation and tolerance, and deliver a message: that Scotland will never again submit to the administration of mindless cruelty"pp.123-4).
The problem here is that voting yes will not end ‘austerity, privatisation, and warfare’, nor will it deliver ‘environmental sustainability’. These things are not achievable in the context of a capitalist Scotland. Yes: the radical case for Scottish independence provides an excellent critique of the British nation-state and a compelling case for voting yes to break it up. It also offers an inspiring list of social reforms that would, if implemented, transform Scotland. What it fails to do is to spell out clearly what would be involved in making that second transition – from independence to socialism.
The title of this post is taken from the title of one of Scottish writer James Kelman's most famous novels. The New Yorker magazine (of all journals) had a great article about him last week. 

No comments:

Post a Comment