European Elections – Reject Hypocrisy, Reject the Far-Right, Vote Labour

Tomorrow the European elections that might never have been take place and, as with much of the politics of Breixt, it’s a total shitshow. The far-right continue their resurgence, hitching their wagons to the narrative of a ‘Brexit betrayal’ and asking voters to send a message by voting for the Brexit Party. With something of a depressing inevitability, evangelical remainers continue the absolutely clueless tactics which have defined their cause by being happy to feed this narrative by also turning the elections into a proxy referendum and demanding people vote to ‘stop Brexit’. The Tories, hamstrung by the continued zombie presence of Theresa May and The Deal That Would Not Die, are haemorrhaging votes to the Brexit Party while Labour, the only party which actually attempts to recognise the referendum result while acknowledging how close it was by advocating a softer Brexit, finds itself squeezed by the Brexiteers and Remainiacs on either side.

I wrote before the Scottish independence referendum that I thought it posed a dangerous moment for the left, with the potential to lead it down a cul-de-sac. I think that has largely come to pass and the treatment of every election in Scotland as a proxy for that referendum has seen a centrist SNP remain dominant, stoking the notion that Scotland as a country is ill-treated by ‘Westminster’ and constantly danging the prospect of another vote in front of it’s the indy faithful to keep them on board. The dominance of the constitutional question has also led to something of a resurgence for the Tories in Scotland, fuelled by them portraying themselves as unionist-ultras. Thus we find Scottish politics caught in a mutually-beneficial stranglehold of competing nationalisms, while Labour’s attempts to focus on ‘domestic issues’ (boring things like child poverty) and a muddy offer on the constitution see it slip through the cracks.

There is zero doubt in my mind that the attempts to reorient UK politics, and elections, along the axis of leave/remain offer a similar dead-end for the left. Indeed, since 2016 we’ve already seen a shift away from a critical support for remain on the basis that it was the best option at that time (in the context of a Tory government and resurgent nativist politics) to a strident, moralising certainty that remaining in the EU is the fount of all goodness and that anyone who accepts the referendum result is some wicked enemy. People have built identities around their desire to ‘remain’ in the EU and it’s an identity which ignores the many negatives of the EU, and the enormous complexity of the Brexit context, to simply assert that ‘remain = goodness’.

The ‘moderates’, meanwhile, continue the disingenuous opportunism which so characterises them by portraying themselves as noble anti-racists fighting to ‘stop Brexit’ to protect the most vulnerable in society. It’s irrelevant that their politics offered ‘controls on immigration’ which got more and more restrictive; it’s irrelevant that their politics largely offered support for an EU referendum; it’s irrelevant that their politics offered a ‘remain and reform’ which largely seemed to mean ‘ending freedom of movement’ and it’s irrelevant that their politics has offered a decade of austerity which has already harmed the most vulnerable in society. I don’t believe that most of these people actually care about whether or not Brexit will harm ‘the vulnerable’ – after all, if that truly was their driving concern they’d be advocating for a Labour government which will do far more to help these people than remaining in the EU would. It’s about their identity, their innate goodness, and everything else is subservient. That’s why their arguments are so often threadbare and the thin attempts to paint ‘reverse the referendum result’ as ‘more democracy’ and ‘listening to people’ are so risible. They are afterthoughts meant to convince other people they are convinced are fools, not real convictions.

This leads me to the vote tomorrow. It will be no secret that I plan on voting Labour. I honestly believe that its primary position of respecting the referendum result, while pushing for a softer Brexit, is not only the option which offers the least likelihood of adverse outcomes in a myriad of ways but also the most honest and principled approach from a party which promised to implement the referendum result. It’s a favoured tactic of the Remainiacs to, bizarrely, agree with the Brexiteers that anything less than no-deal would be a ‘betrayal’ of Brexit. They do this because it best suits their notion that ‘Brexit = catastrophe’ and it fuels their narrative of being engaged in a noble Manichean battle. Leave voters will be angered by soft Brexit, they cry, while advocating for no Brexit at all. It’s incoherent, it’s dishonest and by promoting no-deal, it’s profoundly irresponsible and the votes of the ‘remain parties’ to undermine soft Brexit should be unforgivable.

Yet it’s clear there are many who, no matter what, intend to use these elections as a re-run of the referendum. The Brexiteers have made their intransigence and hypocrisy well-known, and it’s no surprise they’d swing behind the Brexit Party. The Remainiacs, on the other hand, are swinging behind a bunch of parties which contributed to this entire mess then have attempted to wash their hands of it. Let’s have a brief look at the hypocrisy of the so-called ‘Remain parties’:

  • The Green Party – the Greens called for an in/out referendum on EU membership in its 2015 manifesto. To be clear, the party wanted the binary referendum which it now decries. Caroline Lucas voted for the referendum at both its second and third readings (Jeremy Corbyn, incidentally, voted for it at neither). Caroline Lucas sat in the Commons while the Tory front bench stated ‘there will be no second referendum’ and didn’t utter a peep and, indeed, there was no mention of a second referendum until after leave won. It’s a deep irony that the Greens complain about our broken politics while running around accusing others of ‘betrayal’ for respecting the result of a referendum the Greens both campaigned and voted for.

 

  • The Liberal Democrats – the Lib Dem record in the coalition government needs little elaboration at this point but, suffice to say, the austerity, anti-immigration policies, anti-welfare policies and broken economy they facilitated make any claims to care about ‘the vulnerable’ absolutely laughable. They like to cry that they had to enter coalition to alleviate the worst of the Tories but the confidence and supply arrangement of the DUP has rather torpedoed that argument. With regards to the EU referendum, the Lib Dems were calling for an in/out referendum throughout Nick Clegg’s time as leader. When it finally came to parliament, the Lib Dems voted for it. Notably, there was a Labour amendment to the referendum bill which would have required ‘…the publication, at least ten weeks before the referendum, of the terms of any renegotiation between the UK and the EU and the consequences of leaving the EU’. The Lib Dems didn’t bother to show up to this vote, so it’s quite something for them to now insist that another vote is necessary because people didn’t know what they were voting for. Tim Farron wrote a column attacking the prospect of a second referendum as ‘pathetic’ and ignoring ‘the will of the people’, and tweeted that this ‘isn’t a neverendum’ – the crucial point being, of course, that this was in the context of remain winning. The Lib Dems, then, are another party characterised by a staggering and cynical hypocrisy on this.

 

  • Change UK – I know, I know – at this point it’s like kicking a dead dog. But it’ll come as no surprise that Change’s position on this is hypocritical, given everything about them is. Every Change UK MP who was in parliament at the time supported the referendum. The Tory members have voted repeatedly for Tory Brexit and voted against the opportunity to put a second referendum before parliament – because it was tabled by Jeremy Corbym. The Labour members, meanwhile, run around claiming to care about migrants and ‘the vulnerable’ while being almost entirely made up of people who wanted Labour to be more stridently anti-immigration and pro-austerity. It’s laughable. Chuka has, in his time, advocated the ‘reform’ of freedom of movement to stop EU citizens coming here to find work, clearly feeding the ‘coming here to take our jobs’ narrative. He’s also advocated only allowing the immigration of skilled workers, that immigrants should be ‘forced’ to integrate more and, in the months after the referendum, was calling for an end to freedom of movement altogether. He also dismissed calls for a second referendum in early 2017. Chuka’s position on this has been characterised by nothing more than what he deems best serves Chuka’s career at any given time – much like the rest of Change UK.

 

  • The SNP – It’s to their credit that the SNP are the only major party which voted against the EU referendum. Yet their position remains deeply cynical and opportunistic. In the run-up to the 2014 independence referendum, as senior figures from the EU lined up to say that an independent Scotland would be outside of the EU, the response of the SNP was not only to dismiss this as scaremongering but to threaten to kick out EU citizens living in Scotland should this happen. I repeatedly point this out because it’s the exact same use of EU citizens as cheap bargaining tools that has characterised Theresa May’s position and it makes a complete mockery of the SNP’s current grandstanding on the issue (indeed, the threat was made specifically by Nicola Sturgeon – then Deputy First Minister, now First Minister). Post-referendum, meanwhile, the SNP hedged its bets after the revelation that a third of its own supporters voted to leave, seemingly settling on a position where a soft Brexit in the single market and customs union was the best possible outcome. It’s only with the charge of the light brigade transformation of the ‘minor’ parties into single-issue Remainiac pressure groups, and the perception that this hurts Labour, that the SNP has decided its policy is actually to ‘stop Brexit’…so it can remain in the EU in the UK…then leave the UK and EU…to rejoin the EU. It seems quite ironic to me that the SNP should so eagerly adopt a position of ‘we should ignore a referendum result to leave a union if leaving it turns out to be quite complicated’ because, well, you know…

 

  • Plaid Cymru – PC abstained in the second and third readings of the EU referendum bill (they did vote for a motion to decline the second reading) and its manifestos made little mention of it beyond wanting to remain. In the aftermath of the referendum, however, Leanne Wood attacked calls for a second referendum, saying there would be ‘repercussions’ if voters could see ‘the political establishment not listening to them’ and that the proper mechanism for voters to express their views was through an election. Given she and PC are now gung-ho for a second referendum, I’m unsure what’s changed.

Parties should, of course, be able to change their minds. But you will search in vain for any of the above parties recognising the contortions and hypocrisies in their own positions, let alone explaining them. In short, you have parties which have shifted position for little more than perceived electoral gain attacking Labour for a fairly consistent position, because that consistent position is not ‘FULL BREXIT!’’ or ‘NO BREXIT’. This is putting the short-term electoral gain of those parties ahead of all else and they certainly do not deserve to be rewarded for it.

Labour’s position is not only correct and justified, it’s the best way to combat the resurgent far-right,  which would clearly love to be able to go out into communities with the message that Brexit was thwarted by the elite. I’ll be voting Labour tomorrow and I urge you to do the same.

No Matter

Untitled The above is from Patrick Wintour’s breathless eulogy to the Tories’ ‘brilliant strategy’ of painting the SNP as dastardly puppet-masters pulling Ed Miliband’s strings. ‘No matter’ that it’s almost entirely based on falsehoods. ‘No matter’ that it’s an irrelevant spectacle. ‘No matter’. ‘No matter’. ‘That’s politics’, many will say. They wouldn’t be wrong. Yet there’s never been an election in my lifetime where the narrative of ‘broken politics’ and ‘failed democracy’ has been as strong as in this one, so you would expect/hope that the twilight world of unreality where most mainstream politics takes place would be under unprecedented scrutiny. Certainly there are some eloquently making the case that our current obsession with the deficit and ‘austerity’ is based largely on misinformation but this has had little effect on our politics. “But what about the Greens, SNP and Plaid Cymru’, some will cry? Even their ‘anti-austerity’ politics doesn’t push the envelope too far –the Greens in 2010 promised to “halve the deficit by 2013” and now promise to ‘end the current account deficit’ (albeit not as a main priority) while the SNP manifesto promises to enshrine deficit reduction in law:

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Indeed, while independent analysis of the SNP and Labour plans for dealing with the deficit suggest the difference could be ‘relatively modest’, we have a situation where the two parties must perform a dance of exaggerated differences in order to appease their respective audiences. The Conservatives and Lib Dems, meanwhile, are able to push the narrative of ‘economic recovery’ relatively unchallenged with questions as to the nature of the ‘recovery’, the underlying state of the economy, the role of consumer debt and housing or the impact of austerity left largely unasked. Few in the UK will have read about how the coalition pulled back on its austerity agenda and how this impacted the economy. Many of us on the left are used to chatting about the pervasive right-wing myths which play such a large role in our political discourse, not least with regards to welfare and immigration. We gnash our teeth and wail at the pervasive, destructive influence these myths hold over our politics. We’re less willing, however, to examine the shortcomings of those we view as being on our ‘side’, something I’ve documented with regards to the left’s approach to nationalism and ‘The 45’ and evident in the need to portray The Greens et al as embodying a ‘real’, frustrated left-wing politics which we need only vote for to unleash. This week Richard Seymour wrote of the ‘anti-racist’ politics of The Greens, SNP and Plaid Cymru, a claim which doesn’t stand up to any close scrutiny: Untitled This is politics as comic book, where bad things happen because of bad people and all we need is to get the goodies, our goodies, into office. This is the logic which lies behind the fixation, led by the left, on getting people to vote or the notion that PR will fix ‘democracy’. It’s the logic which lies behind the idea that ‘Scotland’ is inherently more progressive than ‘Westminster’. It’s the logic which lies behind the notion that if we can only defeat UKIP the battle re: racism is won. We think we can change things cos we’re inherently better than those other folk and in the process blind ourselves to the fact that we can’t reduce politics to such a facile level (something made clear in this great piece on the allure of UKIP in Grimsby). Politics is obviously a lot bigger than politicians, than parliament and than elections. This is why I have previously argued that we can afford to be less puritanical about who we vote for. The dispiriting spectacle of the election campaign and the discourse around it, from both left and right, is based on fighting moral phantoms. We pick our teams and go forth from that position, processing information accordingly. Nicola Sturgeon is villain or hero, identical immigration controls are terrible or great, the ‘need’ to tackle the deficit is indefensible  or revolutionary, all depending on who is presenting to which audience. Structural considerations and any attempt to understand the relations of power are almost entirely absent. The idea, for example, that democracy serves a minority not because of our voting system but because of capitalism is one which you will only hear on the fringes of ‘acceptable’ politics. Yet it seems to me that it’s only by beginning down the road of such an analysis that we can begin to break out of this cycle of voting followed by disappointment and cynicism; it’s only with such analysis that we can begin to even seriously discuss the existential question of climate change and our future on this planet. God knows it’s more comforting not to do this; to keep picking our side, keep believing we’re the ‘goodies’ and keep wading through bullshit, whether that be cheerleading for our party or sitting at our keyboards bemoaning the futility of voting. These battles seem so much smaller, so much easier to win, so much less threatening to our identities. ‘No matter’ is a mantra for doing the same shit over and over and over. Aren’t we tired of live-tweeting Question Time and validating all of this? It matters. We matter. I don’t pretend to have the answers but we all need to start asking the questions and fight our way out of this shit.

We Get What We Can However We Can Get It

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As we edge towards the 2015 General Election or, to give it its proper name, The Worst Election of All Time, we’ll be seeing a lot of boilerplate columns, articles and opinion pieces. You know the ones: a lot of partisan opining on how the deficit is on the right track/doesn’t really matter, about how the Tories are getting people back to work/are building a low-wage precariat economy, about how the Tories/Labour can/cannot be trusted with the NHS. Not all of it will be without merit, of course, but it will be largely predictable.

It’s already clear that one of the boilerplate pieces we’ll be seeing a lot of is on Labour and the Green Party. There’s a lot of undignified mud-slinging going on in both directions but here I want to focus on the ‘ignore the scaremongering, vote Green!’ angle as I’ve seen it quite a lot in recent days – always with a sneering tone which suggests that anyone on the left who disagrees with this stance is a craven Labour stooge.

I’ll focus mainly on Ian Sinclair’s Open Democracy piece as it covers the most ground. Its subheading asks “will it ever be acceptable to vote for a lefty party that isn’t Labour?” Well, that’s easy. Yes, it is. I do it every single year. I’ve voted for Labour only a handful of times in my life and only once at a General Election, in 2010. I did that despite considering myself far to the left of Brown’s Labour government and having many issues with it. I did that because I knew that it would be a tight election and I knew that a Tory government would be a disaster, especially in the immediate aftermath of a financial crash. Others, of course, disagreed and thought that those on the left should vote Liberal Democrat – including figures like George Monbiot, who is now recommending we vote Green – and we all know how that turned out (I’ll return to this later). So the issue here isn’t that left-wing people are arguing ‘never vote for any party but Labour’ (I don’t think anyone but the most slavishly loyal Labour Party hack would argue that) but that they’re arguing ‘this is clearly going to be a very tight election and only Labour or the Tories are going to ‘win’’. This is clear from the daily polls which have Labour/Tories neck and neck but around 20 points ahead of the nearest challenger. The Greens are not going to form the government. As it stands, they’re almost certain to not even win more than one seat. They won’t be kingmakers (and there won’t be a Lab/Green/SNP coalition – the only reason the SNP are floating this is because they know that arrangement will inflame both English and Scottish nationalism, serving no-one other than themselves).

No-one on the left who’s been paying attention could possibly deny that the coalition has done enormous damage to the country. This piece argues that it’s gone ‘further than Thatcher’ in its attack on the vestiges of the post-war settlement and the welfare state. The usual response to this from ‘vote Green’ advocates is ‘Labour were right wing/embrace austerity too!” Well, yes…but do the ‘they’re all the same’ advocates really think that the past five years would have unfurled in the same brutal way under Gordon Brown or Ed Miliband (I know there’s existential points about the relationship of parties to capital etc and I’ll return to that)? I don’t think many would deny that there would have been very real differences in the lives of a great many people. Sinclair mentions Owen Jones’ invoking of the Bedroom Tax as a concrete harmful policy which will be removed by a Labour government, dismissing it because the Greens are picking up support “because of their emphasis on social and economic justice and their opposition to the bedroom tax.” Well that’s great – where does that emphasis get us with one or two MPs? Absolutely nowhere. He also inevitably cries ‘IRAQ!’ Again, great – I marched against the war too. I just don’t see how the Green Party are going to go back in time and stop it.

The point about the Bedroom Tax is important in illustrating that, even within the ‘pro-austerity consensus’, there are important and material differences. The IFS analysis of the three main parties’ stated spending plans for 2015 onwards states that:

The spending cuts required by Labour and the Liberal Democrats to achieve their stated borrowing targets would be significantly smaller than those required by the Conservatives.

and identifies the different plans as one of the “key dividing lines” between the parties. None of this is ‘anti-austerity’ in any sense but the crucial point is that there is no scenario in the 2015 election where ‘anti-austerity’ wins the election. None. As such, we have to be about ameliorating the impact on people’s lives as much as possible.

This doesn’t mean that you suddenly wholeheartedly endorse Labour and everything it does. It doesn’t mean you have to stop supporting the Greens. It doesn’t mean you can’t fight against the Labour right with every fibre of your body. It’s notable that the decline of the two-party system hasn’t been accompanied by a corresponding decoupling of personal identity from parties. We still on the whole think of them in the same way we think of football teams, picking one and ‘supporting’ it. A lot of minority party votes seem to be in protest to the main parties – a ‘not in my name’ mentality. I think this is completely wrong-headed. I think you can vote for a party on the understanding that it might win power in this election and prevent something worse, while still being opposed to what that party stands for. It’s lesser-evilism, yes, but that becomes less of an issue when your politics extends beyond voting and you don’t then feel the need to defend ‘your’ party. Hell, even a lot of people who *do* identify with a party still fight against it. Another characteristic of all this is a failure to consider *why* the two-party system has endured. It’s not just because of the voting system – the fact that parties are broad churches. As much as we may think/be told otherwise, ‘Labour’ or ‘Tory’ has never been a neat signifier and it’s clear that even the Greens and SNP bridge the left/right divide.

Indeed, it’s mandatory that we create movements which are able to influence parties and, perhaps more importantly, wider opinion. It’s an inconvenient truth ignored by everyone from ‘radical’ pro-independence campaigners to ‘vote Green’ advocates that the bulk of the population holds reactionary views on welfare and immigration, is convinced by ‘deficit reduction’ as an important target and doesn’t feel particularly inclined towards what we call ‘the far-left’ (even taking into account support for nationalisation, higher taxes on the wealthy etc). We’re told that if enough of us vote Green then they’ll win – but that relies on the assumption that people merely don’t vote Green because they either don’t know about them or don’t think they can win, which is a BIG assumption and does nothing to parse the reactionary side of ‘the electorate’. The response usually comes “well of course they have those views, that’s what they get from the media and the main parties’.” True. It’s not going to change any time soon and it’s incumbent on all of us to change that rather than pushing the myth that the 7-11% who currently support the Greens are somehow ready to storm the barricades and transform the culture overnight. This ties to the important point of why left-wing parties have moved right in the UK and beyond. The ‘vote Green’ argument would have us believe that it’s simply because the politicians in question are dicks and we have to just keep going til we find the ‘right’ one (see Monbiot with his jump from Green to Plaid Cymru to Lib Dem to Green). Once we begin to understand the importance of the context (the global capitalism system, the UK state, societal pressures) and the break this puts on radicalism (this book is good on that in terms of the Bennites) then our politics begins to shift and we become a bit less precious about what we’re ‘endorsing’ with our vote.

Sinclair suggests that critics of ‘vote Green’ should look to Labour’s growth at the beginning of the 20th Century. It’s absurd enough, having to go back over 100 years to try and illustrate why we should vote a certain way now, but even on its own terms the comparison falls flat. Indeed, it illustrates the importance of context. The Labour Party grew out of trade unionism and socialist movements representing the growing number of ‘urban proletariat’ who had, quite crucially, only recently been granted the vote (and this was still before of universal suffrage). Its breakthrough in supplanting the Liberal Party as one of the two main parties, with a surge in 1918 and a breakthrough in 1922, corresponded with extension of the franchise and is impossible to separate from the small matter of World War One. Comparisons with the Greens in 2015 are utterly useless, especially in an age of instant opinion polling where we can see that, even in elections fought under PR, the Greens are a minority interest (and I think a reform to the voting system should be a BIG priority for the left).

So no, the argument isn’t ‘never vote for any party except Labour’. The argument is ‘get the best outcome we can get in elections and keep fighting for what we believe through whatever means necessary’. You can still be a Green. You can be a radical anarchist opposed to representative democracy. It doesn’t matter. We get what we can, however we can get it.

So This Thing Happened.

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So that was that. 18 months after the date of the referendum on Scottish independence was announced, the vote happened and the answer was ‘No’. The result was closer than most would have expected back then; wider than most probably expected in the final month. The emotion and rhetoric ramped up in the final run-up to the vote, culminating in a massive Yes rally in George Square. No-one could possibly argue that this rally wasn’t well-intentioned and good-natured (especially when compared to what came later, which I’ll come back to) but it inadvertently highlighted a big part of the problem with the general pro-independence movement. Its considerable denial that nationalism was playing any part in their movement meant that they couldn’t understand what was happening outside the bubble; its conviction that all progressive thought and moral righteousness was with them was alienating to anyone who hadn’t drank the Kool-Aid. The movement cemented into a self-defeating narrative of the enlightened (who were able to pierce through the bias and scaremongering of the mass media, ‘Westminster’ and ‘establishment’) versus the scared and huddled masses who were blinded by all of the lies. Critical thought was replaced by grasping onto anything and anyone who supported a pro-independence stance and dismissing everything which didn’t as part of some wicked conspiracy. This absolute, passionate certainty made itself known very vocally and, I think, was largely to blame for the incredibly different experiences of the campaign reported by Yes and No voters.

The thing is, I don’t think most engaged people would deny that the media isn’t ‘objective’ and has an inbuilt bias towards the status quo. Greater minds than mine have already tackled this. The answer to this, I think, is to cultivate a critical approach which enables you to consider everything you read/see and why/how it is being presented. This allows you to understand and form arguments which don’t rest on any single source and, crucially, make the argument to others in your own way. It’s not to repeatedly assert that the media is biased while continually posting columns and articles from this media which support your point of view – that’s completely nonsensical. It’s definitely not to vocally make the argument that most people are being fooled while you can see ‘the truth’, leading only to the misguided notion that the people you should be convincing are idiots.

While it was undeniably the case that many of us got carried away in the heat of the campaign’s final days, it’s to be hoped that the aftermath will let everyone step back and take stock. It’s already clear, however, that at least a sizable minority of the independence campaign remains firmly in the grim of an almost pathological certainty that their cause is the only ‘good’ and ‘true’ one. In the space of a few days we’ve gone from rhetoric centred on the ‘sovereign will’ of the Scottish people and the ‘democratic carnival’ of the referendum campaign to a wounded, embattled pride that the vote was stolen by ‘fear’ and Yes voters are the forces of light. Jim Sillars has thrown his toys out of the pram quite spectacularly, throwing around allegations of fraud and insisting that pro-independence forces dispense with a referendum strategy completely. Many, led by the vile Wings Over Scotland, have been directing deeply unpleasant rage at Scotland’s over-65 year olds, who voted overwhelmingly against independence compared to 16-17 year olds who voted for it. Even on its own psychotic terms (any consideration that your vote at 65+ is going to be influenced by radically different factors than if you are a teenager is entirely absent) this makes no sense – a majority of 18-24 year olds voted against independence while the disparities in support from those aged 35-54 are hardly significant. Astonishingly, much of this has been fanned by the First Minister himself today.

(23rd September edit – @urbaneprofessor has pointed me towards this Yougov poll of the referendum voting, which is far more statistically significant than the Ashcroft one. It pretty much blows a hole in most of the above lines– No won all age groups other than 25-39 and the ‘rich people were No, poor people were Yes’ claim clearly isn’t nearly as neat. Also, if you look at a majority of people born outside Scotland voting No, with those born elsewhere in the UK doing so decisively, you quickly see how sinister the rhetoric about No voters could get.)

So far, then, there has been no significant attempt to take stock by pro-independence forces. In fact, there have been concerted attempts to make sure this doesn’t happen, with lots of talk of ‘keeping the momentum’ and ‘building the movement’. There can be no question of doubt creeping in. This statement by National Collective is fairly typical: they lost because of “the full might of the British state, corporate and media power, that was designed to demonise, smear and alienate”. There are the usual mentions of ‘hope’ and ‘fear’, complaints about ‘scaremongering’ and statements that the Yes campaign wanted “to make people think”. There is not an inkling of self-criticism. They write of pensioners being ‘lied to’ about the affordability of their pensions as if the alternative view is self-evidently correct – but it’s not. They would have had to make the case beyond ‘it’ll be fine’ and ‘it’s scaremongering’, which was the response to far too many of the concerns raised. This isn’t to argue that an independent Scotland couldn’t afford pensions but that the claims of scaremongering and ‘fear’ largely replaced actual argument. ‘Fear’ is clearly in the eye of the beholder anyway – once the SNP decided on its ‘vote Yes or the NHS is doomed’ line, the entire Yes campaign swung behind it without criticism. Anyone who’s looked at National Collective’s Twitter over the past few weeks would have seen plenty of ‘scaremongering’ that a post-No Scotland would be a dystopian hellhole. Their complaint is not so much that people were scared but that people weren’t scared into the right result. It’s risible and embarrassing.

It’s important to reiterate at this point that this does definitely seem to be a minority response. This blog from Peter Matthews, who voted Yes, is a masterclass in a reasoned, thoughtful response and I’ve had some great discussions with people who were vociferously Yes. Yet the reason the minority response made me want to write something is in the indications that it wants to make itself a dominant force in Scottish politics. That indication is in the movement christened ‘We Are The 45%‘. On the morning of the referendum I wrote that I feared a Yes vote would send Scotland down a cul de sac of self-delusion and this is exactly the kind of thing I meant. It underlines how divisive this has been, and how accurate the predictions of the debate eliding class solidarity were, that we have thousands of people engaging in hyperbole essentially resting on the idea that they are the ‘goodies’ and the people who voted No are the ‘baddies’. Someone who voted Yes because they hoped that an independent Scotland would tackle a ‘something for nothing culture’ (Tory language if ever there was) took me to task for criticising this movement, highlighting how utterly bizarre things have become. The denied nationalism remains denied but is more overt than ever, with the movement’s central conviction being that independence is the only path to social justice and many pleas to ‘make Scotland yellow’ by voting for the SNP en masse in 2015, albeit with a smaller benefit for the Green Party also. Indeed, the ‘it’s not about the SNP’ arguments have swiftly fallen apart with a movement utterly unable and/or unwilling to critique them in any way, despite them never once (for example) coming out against the TTIP or explaining how they would avoid austerity (especially as a new member of the EU). We Are The 45% is more of this ‘things will get better because independence’ magical thinking. Apparently there are suggestions that it may change its name to be more ‘inclusive’ but I don’t see how a movement premised on ‘independence will lead to social justice, No voters were scared and tricked’ can ever reach beyond its bubble. It’s the Yes campaign making the same errors and being too wrapped up in sentiment to question it. There are already movements for social justice across the UK which we could all pour our energies into.

The awful events in George Square on Friday night were a gift for this bruised pride in being the ‘good minority’. I wrote about the likelihood of sectarian violence kicking off in Glasgow on Twitter last May, after spending a couple of hours walking around its East End and seeing countless union jacks and ‘no surrender’ slogans. I lived in Bridgeton, an area mired in sectarianism, for about five years and I was unsurprised to see allegations that the George Square trouble had its roots there. This problem has existed for my entire lifetime and these people were always going to make themselves heard, whether the result was Yes or No. Yet some, whether because of a desire to lash out or a lack of understanding of sectarianism, have attempted to portray these people as ‘what No voters wanted’ (actually written on Facebook) and an example of the British nationalism which independence would have magically made disappear. I can understand the temptation to make these arguments (and certainly when faced with polls like the Buzzfeed one above) but they’re entirely cynical and profoundly depressing if they offer a glimpse of the future. People can unite to tackle the horribly complex problem of sectarianism, as they can unite to tackle the horribly complex problems of poverty, misogyny, racism and more, or they can retreat into a conviction that it’s all the fault of those other people and that only getting independence will sort them. This will go absolutely nowhere. On the part of No supporters stepping back, we need to be wary of responding to Scottish nationalist sentiment by turning a blind eye to or inadvertently supporting British nationalism, whether that be the extreme kind we saw or the more insidious kind which boasts of ‘British values’ and the like. The goal must be social justice and solidarity, not the ‘United Kingdom’.

Clearly it’s still very early days and the chips are still falling. We have the greatest chance in our lifetimes so far of a massive devolving of power across the UK and we have to ensure it happens. I can understand and can’t complain about people fixating on the ‘timetable’ promised by Gordon Brown but, for my part, I’d actually rather the change was more considered. A constitutional convention looking at the entire state seems like the best option and the one most likely to deliver lasting, useful change. I think a cobbled-together ‘devo max’ delivered in the next 7 months or so will only lead to further issues. What’s now clear is that the majority of people in the UK want to continue pooling resources, sovereignty and effort and we need to make that work. More importantly, we need to tackle the regressive attitudes which most people in every region of the UK have about welfare, immigration, employment and the like and actually build a movement to try and make things better. It’s important that we realise that there are no politicians and no parties who will just ‘make things better’ – I just finished reading this book which is a sobering account of the range of forces which stood against radical left-wing change. The British state was such a force but I agree with Phil Burton-Cartledge here that this state is now weakened and is best tackled by unity; the might of the capitalist system, on the other hand, is even greater now. The author argues that any response must be as united and as international as possible to have any hope of success. God knows this will be difficult but I firmly believe it’s something we can only do together – a hefty part of the left in Scotland setting off on an endless quest for independence will only damage us. I hope we can progress from recrimination and bitterness to forge alliances anew – or even for the very first time.

The Collapse of the Left into Nationalism

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My previous blog was about the contortions which the Scottish left have been making to avoid facing the fact that the pro-independence movement has been utterly dominated by nationalism. It’s a position, I’ve noticed, which tends to frequently be associated with ‘Green Yes’, as if saying you support the Green Party (who got less than 5% of the vote at the last Scottish Parliament election) removes the wider context. A context in which, since I last wrote, the First Minister has drawn allusions between independence and apartheid, drawn distinctions between the ‘Team Scotland’ of Yes and the ‘Team Westminster’ of No and applauded a protest against the public broadcaster utterly dominated by flag-waving. You will search long and hard for condemnation of any of this from the Scottish Greens, who appear to have utterly abandoned any criticism of the SNP, or indeed from most of the left who support independence. For all the criticism of Labour sharing platforms with the Tories (something the SNP have no business complaining about, as Annabel Goldie pointed out) they at least haven’t completely given up the business of being an opposition. Yet much of the left shouts ‘it’s not about the SNP!’ while offering absolutely no alternative beyond ‘there are some far-left parties too’, choosing to ignore the Hollywood treatment being afforded to the nationalist politicians and the very ugly scenes we’re seeing on Scotland’s streets. Let’s be in no doubt here: if this was UKIP or another brand of English nationalism, no-one on the left would have any difficulty in drawing links between such events and the language and tone of the nationalist politicians, who would be swiftly and widely condemned.

I have finally started to see some good pieces on this from left-wing writers in recent days. Carol Craig in the Scottish Review is one of the best things I’ve read in this whole sorry affair, pulling no punches with the No campaign while ruthlessly parsing the pro-independence rhetoric and leaving readers in no doubt that it has been nationalistic. John Wight, who has written a few referendum pieces offering a class-based critique, laments:

Thus the complete collapse of a large section of the left in Scotland with its embrace of a nationalist project as a shortcut to what they believe will be a socialist dawn has been tragic to behold.

while writer CJ Sansom observes that:

Some, certainly, will be thinking of voting yes on Thursday, not from nationalism, but in the hope of social change. Yet they will not get it, because, like it or not, they are voting for a nationalist outcome.

This piece in Jacobin, meanwhile, similarly notes the “potentially ugly, nationalist taint” while stating that:

The likening of Scottish independence to anti-imperial movements is a devastating repression of Scotland’s own deep complicity in the British imperial project.

This quote leapt out at me because, while the left in Scotland has largely gone down the rabbit hole, much of the left in the rest of the UK has revealed itself to be utterly clueless (and rather opportunistic) in its analysis of the debate. It has rarely risen above the level of ‘this has been presented as the progressive view, I am progressive, hence this is my view’. Billy Bragg, advocate of a ‘progressive English nationalism’, suddenly comes over all coy and denies that independence is about nationalism (he also, incidentally, repeats the common trope that independence will save Scotland from the TTIP, despite no major party in Scotland opposing it and the SNP explicitly welcoming it). You’ll notice his line about Scotland ‘regaining its sovereignty’. This has been a central theme in the analyses of the rUK left. Anthony Barnett’s astonishingly patronising open letter to ‘Scottish voters’ (which, it becomes clear, actually means Yes voters) begins by suggesting independence could be a model for world peace and only gets worse. He draws analogies with Tibet, Chechyna, Palestine and in the comments actually compares independence to a slave achieving freedom. Dan Hind has written several times about Scotland achieving its ‘freedom’. George Monbiot and Suzanne Moore have wheeled out successive columns berating ‘London’ for its ignorant treatment of Scotland, dealing in nationalist myth-making, while being completely blind to the irony of these being their first columns devoted to Scotland in living memory.

The idea that Scotland is aiming for ‘freedom’ is also common on social media. Yesterday I had to point out to an activist that Scotland was not colonised and was not comparable to Palestine. Last week a long-term mutual follower on Twitter blocked me after I questioned her assertion that an independent Scotland would be an ‘ex-colony’ of England. You’ll notice, as I noted in my last blog, that the arguments about Scotland achieving its ‘sovereignty’ and ‘taking control of its destiny’ almost never extend to its membership of the European Union and other transnational bodies, still less to questions of economic democracy (the interventions by various banks and companies last week caused wide outrage but rather than leading people to the conclusion that perhaps transnational capital might be the enemy here, we instead ended up with more nationalist drivel about the Tories coordinating the campaign and the SNP somehow being an exit from it).  No, the arguments are always aimed at ‘England’ and ‘Westminster’. The dominant narrative seems to be one of Scotland as the plucky, oppressed underdog. All this analysis offers is a glimpse of the patronising ignorance of those who advance it – ignorance both of Scotland’s history and its central role in Empire, and of Scotland as a nation.

With regards to the latter point, I think this 2002 essay by Andrew O’Hagan is absolutely essential reading in helping those without a deep understanding of the Scottish psyche to gain some semblance of context to all this. It’s almost certain that it would be met with accusations of ‘doing down the people of Scotland’, an argument all nationalists love to deploy, yet its description of the darker aspects of our collective identity has resonated with most Scottish people I’ve discussed it with:

A half-hearted nation will want to hold fast to its grievances, and in that sense Scotland has done well. The nation’s brickwork is cemented with resentments, from ruined monastery to erupting towerblock: blame, fear, bigotry and delusion, their fragments powder the common air – and always the fault is seen to lie elsewhere, with other nations, other lives…Yet the problem is not the Parliament, it’s the people, and the people’s drowsy addiction to imagined injury – their belief in a paralysing historical distress – which makes the country assert itself not as a modern nation open to progress on all fronts, but as a delinquent, spoiled, bawling child, tight in its tartan babygro, addled with punitive needs and false memory syndrome.

If this seems rather prescient with regards to the current debate, the next statement could have been written yesterday:

Free-falling anxiety about Scottishness has a tendency, among Scots, not only to turn into hatred of others, but into hating bad news about the country itself, and seeing critics as traitors.

It’s not easy reading, certainly, but I think it’s a deeply insightful one and it largely captures the mentality which Scottish nationalism plays to. This is what makes it particularly tragic that so many of the left have pursued it, convinced that things would be better if not for ‘Westminster’ and, as the Guardian put it, pursuing the ‘unattractive’ habit of “attacking the messenger and ignoring the message”. Indeed, if there was any doubt that a demogogic, cynical populism is significant here you need only look at the endless outpouring of criticism and ridicule aimed at any No supporter deemed to be part of the ‘establishment’ (a terms used spectacularly nebulously here) and their contrasting with the SNP who, lest we forget, have been the government of Scotland for years now and are led by as establishment a politician you could possibly find. Nationalists, however, have a knack for painting themselves as figures of rebellion, even when they offer little more than a change of paint.

Scotland goes to the polls in three days now and the result is too close to call. I am certain, however, that the swift narrowing of the polls owes more than most would like to admit to the nationalist sentiment which is currently being inflamed. Perhaps in response to this, the latest line from pro-independence lefties has been that anyone who opposes it must necessarily be a British nationalist. I’ve read this repeatedly in the past few days, and have had it thrown at me more than a few times. Of course it will be the case that some, perhaps many who support the UK are nationalists. The fact remains, however, that it’s the Scottish nationalists who have shifted the ground beneath our feet. I have attended anti-fascist marches, protested against the 2012 Olympics, protested against the Jubilee, protested against the Royal Wedding, was a vocal critic of the hoopla over the royal baby, have long written about and campaigned against our immigration laws and have never laboured under any illusion as to the negative force of British nationalism. I do not become a British nationalist because I oppose a false notion of ‘independence’ premised on the absurd idea that Scotland is not free and instead support the notion of common solidarity in the belief that the real oppressions which matter are those which transcend borders: class, race, gender, sexuality and so forth. As I wrote previously, this solidarity is codified into the UK at present, even if we have to fight long and hard to achieve it and then fight longer and harder to effect change. It’s no secret that the left is in a dire state at the moment: unfortunately aforementioned collapse of much of the left into nationalism is only going to ensure this remains the case for a long time to come.