They Have No Mandate: Reclaiming Scotland Part 1

In an important post-election piece, Donald Adamson looks at the options for the independence movement. Despite recent polls there’s no doubt that there’s a need for reflection and re-organisation and this time, in the aftermath of Edwin Morgan and Jimmy Reid’s death is a good time to come together to do this .

We invite contributions to Bella be part of this over the next few weeks. A key part of this is should we focus on the Tory mandate in Scotland. Adamson is clear enough:

…the long-standing no mandate argument, in spite of what its critics argue, is relevant in Scotland. But there are grounds for taking this further, to the extent that the SNP and, more broadly, the independence-supporting left in Scotland need to promote the significance of the no mandate argument, it must not be left to speak for itself.

Adamson asks: should the SNP could boycott Westminster elections as a means of further undermining the authority of Westminster in Scotland and focusing the struggle for independence exclusively onto the Scottish Parliament? Ultimately he demands for the politics of resistance and opposition, to be replaced by the politics (and economics) of transformation.

Donald Adamson writes:  The recent opinion polls on voting intentions for next year’s Holyrood elections showing a recovery in Scottish Labour’s position from 2007 suggest that normal business is being resumed in Scottish politics. But however disappointing such polls may be at the moment for nationalists, they are neither surprising nor necessarily a setback for the cause of independence.

With the exception, ironically, of the 1980s, Scottish Labour has in recent decades been the main beneficiary of the anti-Tory reflex in Scotland. With the official Tories now re-instated in government at Westminster, we should not be surprised that Scottish Labour voters, in the immediate aftermath of Scottish Labour’s ‘defeat’ in the 2010 general election, should respond to their latest disenfranchisement at a British general election by carrying over their opposition to the Tories into voting intentions for Holyrood. In other words, the long-standing no mandate argument, in spite of what its critics argue, is relevant in Scotland. But there are grounds for taking this further, to the extent that the SNP and, more broadly, the independence-supporting left in Scotland need to promote the significance of the no mandate argument, it must not be left to speak for itself.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Scottish Labour demonstrated its implicit belief that 18 years of Thatcherism was a price worth paying to keep Scotland in the union. Should David Cameron’s ‘new’ Tories remain in government for the next two decades then, for Scottish Labour, that too will be a price worth paying to keep Scotland in the union. That much seems clear and it is surely the threat of this – as well as the painful reality of another Tory government – that the independence-supporting left in Scotland needs to mobilise around.

Not surprisingly, Scottish Labour has no official response to the no mandate argument. In so far as there has been a response, it seems to have consisted of a figurative shrug of the shoulders and a tacit admission that in British ‘democracy’ that’s the way the cookie crumbles. The absence of an official response from Scottish Labour to the no mandate argument means that some proxy needs to be found and, fortunately, there is a helpful one available. In the concluding comments of her maiden speech at Westminster on June 7th 2010, the new Labour MP for Glasgow East, Margaret Curran, came as close as anyone in Scottish Labour has to acknowledging the no mandate argument:

“I hope that the coalition government pay close attention to the voting patterns in my constituency, my city and my country, because those people made it very clear that they do not want to return to an agenda of cuts and unemployment. I hope that, in the spirit of the new politics, the government will pay due attention to that”.

A less charitable view of Curran’s comments would be that, as in the 1980s and 1990s, this is what Scottish Labour is reduced to. A humiliating appeal to the benevolence of a Tory government at Westminster, and this from the party that has just won a 42 per cent share of the vote and 70 per cent of seats in Scotland. If this is the hope of Scottish Labour, that this time round the Tories will show more mercy to Scotland then, as in the 1980s and 1990s, Curran’s party, not to mention her constituents, city and country are destined to be disappointed. Indeed, the SNP could do a lot worse than include this excerpt from Curran’s speech in its campaign literature for the elections to the Scottish Parliament next year. For whatever the outcome of the 2011 Holyrood election, Scottish Labour will be in an invidious position and the no mandate argument can only assume greater significance.

The much-vaunted ‘perfect storm’ anticipated by many nationalists after 1999 – of an SNP government at Holyrood and a Tory government at Westminster – has, for the moment, been eclipsed by the need to prepare for the exigencies of the latest capitalist crisis. But another perfect storm awaits the victors in 2011. This time, it will be more serious and more protracted as the realities of crisis-management kick in. Should Scottish Labour win next year, the meaningless mandate that they were given by the Scottish electorate in the 2010 British general election can only brew this perfect storm further. In these circumstances, Scottish Labour will not only be undermined by its meaningless Westminster mandate but this, in turn, will be compounded by the prospect of a Scottish Labour government at Holyrood charged with the responsibility of implementing the public spending cuts of a Tory government at Westminster. In effect, Scottish Labour would then have two meaningless mandates. Again, in the event of this, the SNP and the independence-supporting left must not leave these meaningless mandates to speak for themselves.

This suggests a number of possibilities. One of these is the adoption of a strategy by the SNP and the independence-supporting left that is oriented, among other things, to forcing the issue of the no mandate argument. Unlike the 2010 British general election, the SNP does not have to raise the spectre of ‘vote Labour get Tory’ in 2011, that much will be self-evident to Scottish Labour voters next year.

Although the SNP can legitimately claim to be a ‘left of centre’ party, its philanthropic business-model nationalism (a benign mirror image of New Labour’s) has failed to connect with Scottish Labour voters. There are, of course, many reasons for this. For example, the model itself (Matheronomics) is past its sell-by date; the depth of loyalty that Scottish Labour commands, particularly in the central belt (a complex phenomenon in itself) is a long-standing obstacle; the intrinsic appeal of devolution to many Scottish Labour voters; the apparent robustness of British hegemony; Scottish Labour’s historical appeal to the working class, a language that the SNP, like New Labour in England, dare not speak and so on.

Against this, the SNP can argue (with some justification) that the momentum of reform is in its favour, so why not let incremental change run its course? The problem with this is that it more or less sums up where the SNP is right now. That is, stuck in the reformist cul-de-sac of devolution and, short of an (unlikely) independence referendum, with no obvious exit.

The Tories’ proposals to re-organise Westminster constituencies and reduce the number of Scottish MPs at Westminster to 50 suggests another possibility which, though it has little prospect of being endorsed by the SNP leadership, would force the no mandate argument as an issue. The SNP could boycott Westminster elections as a means of further undermining the authority of Westminster in Scotland and focusing the struggle for independence exclusively onto the Scottish Parliament.

One of the services that the Thatcher legacy provided to the cause of independence is that it fatally undermined the legitimacy of Westminster to govern Scotland. At the same time, devolution saved the legitimacy of Scottish Labour. Having won four consecutive general elections between 1979 and 1992, Scottish Labour nevertheless found itself in this period as an impotent opposition throughout the 18 years of Thatcher and Major governments. Part of the internal logic of devolution, from Scottish Labour’s perspective, is that devolution could be implicitly sold as a means of offering some protection to Scotland from the policies of a Tory government at Westminster, currently the “agenda of cuts and unemployment”, as Margaret Curran called them, of the 1980s and 1990s. Of course, Scottish Labour cannot afford to overplay this implicit feature of devolution for it would then find itself aligned with the SNP.

A policy of boycotting Westminster elections has numerous implications but, given the unlikelihood that the SNP leadership would endorse it, there is little point in pursuing them here. A more fruitful prospect perhaps is to acknowledge that the independence-supporting left in Scotland has a unique opportunity to play a potentially decisive role as an agent of change. At the moment, the SNP is clearly the party best placed to advance the cause of Scottish independence but it may not be the party best placed to deliver independence or, rather, it is unable to deliver independence on its own.

There is an electoral space and an ideological space in Scottish politics for a new party, or perhaps a little more realistically, a new independence political movement that is to the left of the SNP and Scottish Labour but which, at the same time, could appeal to a broader constituency than the SSP, Solidarity and the Scottish Greens. A movement that could target Scottish Labour’s heartlands and act as a mobilising agent for a Scottish ‘progressive alliance’, as a means of delivering independence. No one familiar with the history of Scottish politics, particularly over the last 30 years, would suggest such a party/movement with any optimism. We need only recall the fate of the real Scottish Labour Party in the early 1980s and the more recent history of the SSP to discourage this particular flight of fancy.

But if the independence–supporting left in Scotland is to transcend the politics of resistance and opposition, and practice the politics, and more importantly the economics, of transformation, doesn’t the present conjuncture, the crisis of both capitalism and the British state demand such a response from the Scottish left?

The contradictions of the Tories’ ‘new’ politics have a perverse relevance here. From the perspective of the Scottish left, it can be said that the Tories have some of the right slogans but they espouse them for all the wrong reasons. Britain is broken, but not because its streets are terrorised by ‘feral’ teenagers, ‘rabid’ drug addicts, ‘criminally-inclined’ economic migrants, or because of the economic burden of ‘work-shy’ benefits claimants, ‘grasping’ single parents or any of the other usual culprits that so animate the Tory right. Britain is broken because Scotland and England are two very different countries with different national interests and aspirations, two countries which, increasingly, are growing further apart.

Many on the Scottish left would also endorse George Osborn’s invocation that, “We’re all in this together” but for reasons that would horrify the Tories. As Marx recognised, capitalism is the first mode of production in human history to create the conditions for truly socialised mass production and consumption. But as long as capital, investment, credit provision etc remain in private hands then so long will we remain relatively powerless in the face of capitalist crises and their devastating consequences.

It would be naive to suggest that the consistent support of the majority of Scottish voters for left of centre parties is a demand for socialism. But it is surely an expression of an aspiration for a new Scotland, a different Scotland that no British government, Labour or Tory, and certainly not the British state can ever satisfy. In fact, as all the evidence consistently suggests, the British state can only continue to frustrate these aspirations.

This is surely also the time for a ‘new politics’ in Scotland but again, in ways that would horrify the Tories. Not a politics of constitutional fine-tuning, regulatory tweaking, institutional reorganisation or the promotion of the ‘third sector’ and social ‘entrepreneurs’. But a genuinely new politics which a Scottish ‘progressive alliance’ ought to be articulating and promoting, not simply as a means of connecting with the Scottish people but to encourage them to claim ownership of it, on the understanding that an independent Scotland offers the only means of realising their aspirations.

Inevitably, the initial focus of any such alliance would be on mobilising support to reclaim the reserved powers from Westminster to the Scottish Parliament. But more importantly, it is Scotland itself, including the Scottish economy that needs to be reclaimed by the Scottish people.

A new political party or movement, acting to orchestrate an alternative agenda of a progressive Scottish alliance, could make a significant contribution to shaping the preferences of Scottish Labour voters towards independence as a means of democratising Scotland, a democratisation that must be based not only on political democracy but on economic democracy. More than this, it could develop and promote a vision for an independent Scotland based on a range of policies. Among other things, bank nationalisation, community credit unions underwritten by the state to provide sustainable investment and greater economic security, the development of local social markets to promote alternatives to neo-liberal marketisation and market governance as well as to the relentless growth agenda of neo-liberalism, education for life for all Scottish adults enabling any adult to enter full-time higher education, a basic income guaranteeing all Scottish citizens a liveable means of subsistence, a new industrial relations settlement and the repeal of the Thatcherite trade union legislation, workers cooperatives and a shorter working week. These and numerous other policies could form the basis of an alternative agenda for an independent Scotland in the twenty-first century.

What the Scottish left must not do is to repeat the same mistakes of the 1980s and 1990s. This time round, self-satisfied but impotent opposition to the Tories and the British state is surely not an option. Independence is an idea whose time has come but it is an idea that must move beyond the politics of resistance and opposition, and embrace the politics and economics of transformation. ‘New’ politics same old economy is one slogan that’s best left to the Tories.

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  1. Toque says:

    Scotland will never vote for independence, you enjoy your culture of victimhood too much to end London rule and take responsibility for yourselves. LOL.

  2. gadgie says:

    The whole reason for Scottish devolution and a Scottish Parliament was to counter the no mandate argument when or if the Conservatives took power at Westminster. There is a no mandate issue however in England when Scottish MP’s especially under the the last New Labour government were appointed as heads of English departments and voted on English affairs. The best way forward for homerule is for the English to be included in a referendum on Scottish Independence.I guarantee a high turn out and a massive yes to Scottish Welsh and Northern Irish Independence.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Gadgie, I wish you luck with creating an English Parliament if you want one and re-creating a vibrant English culture – one not based on deference and triumphalism.

      But your suggestion (for the English to be included in a referendum on Scottish Independence) is silly and suggests that you have swallowed an agenda propagated by the tabloid media and now (seemingly) prevalent throughout English culture that Scotland are ‘subsidy-junkies’. This is not just offensive and factually wrong but I’d suggest is hampering your own nation from exploring a positive agenda for deep-seated and essential political and cultural change.

  3. pkingsnorth says:

    Speaking as an Englishman who has just emerged from several years of being governed by MPs, a Prime Minister and leading cabinet ministers who had no mandate in my country, operating under a constitution weighted very much against us, I sympathise. On the other hand, you at least have a parliament, a government, a national political class, a national media – even national anthem. We have none. I hope you get your independence, if your people truly want it. Maybe we’ll then get ours.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Paul – in what sense did Gordon Brown not have a mandate in your country, and in what sense is the UK constitution weighted against you (given England’s
      size and dominance of Westminster)?

      On election night, Scotland gave a vote of confidence to Gordon Brown and the Labour Party. Labour’s 42 per cent marked a 2.5 per cent increase in its share of the total votes cast. This translated into the maintenance of Labour’s 41 MPs or 69 per cent of the total seats available in Scotland.

      In Wales, while Labour witnessed a 6.5 per cent decline in its share of the vote and a loss of four MPs, nevertheless it attracted 36 per cent of Welsh votes and 26 MPs or 65 per cent of the available seats.

      In England, however the Tories scored nearly 2.9 million votes and 106 seats more than Labour (107 after Thirsk and Malton votes on 27 May, presumably). Indeed, the Conservatives’ haul of 297 MPs represented 56 per cent of the total seats and 40 per cent of the votes in England, way ahead not only of Labour’s 28 per cent share of the vote and 36 per cent of the seats, but also the Liberal Democrats 43 seats and 24 per cent share of the vote.

      It’s not really credible under the circumstances to claim that the ‘constitution is weighted very much against us’. England has a distinctly more conservative political culture and this is reflected in the UK govt we all now endure. In this situation, given coming austerity measures imposed by a govt we in Scotland explicitly rejected – you’ll forgive us for not being overly concerned if you don’t sing Blake’s Jerusalem or fat Les’s Vindaloo?

      In what sense do we have a national media when we pay for services such as this?
      We have a UK / English media foisted on us that we pay for. It’s dominated by the anglosphere from the incessant triumphalismt background noise about English sport to the skewed and unrepresentative news agenda, to the structural under-funding of Scottish services (see here) to the organised exclusion of our political parties from the media.

      As for a national anthem – you can create one – and insist on it. We did because we eventually got fed up singing about deference and feudalism.

      I’m all for more democracy and if England wants its own parliament it should have one.

      I hope it’s based on civic virtues and the best traditons of English radicalism but I fear it will be based on grudges and a false sense of grievance.
      One of the reasons we eventually got devolution (despite not because of our political class) was a civic movement built up over 100 years and more that created a positive campaign about what our values were The Claim of Right and united people across Scotland on a positive campaign about what we wanted from devolution or independence. That debate continues.

      yours for self-determination

  4. Perhaps its true that Scottish, Welsh and Cornish nationalists wallow too much in a ‘culture of victimhood’ as you say, but rather that any day than glory in the culture of the oppressor and supposed cultural superior as many an English nationalist seems to enjoy.

    1. Toque says:

      Methinks you read too much into my comment Philip, Bellacaledonia likes to belittle English complaints, so I was just returning the compliment. Friendly banter they call it in Scotland.

    2. Toque says:

      And I should add that having lived in Scotland I don’t regard Scottish culture as inferior (though some Scottish nationalists themselves do complain about the cultural cringe that I reference above).

  5. pkingsnorth says:

    Who’s the ‘oppressor’, Philip?

    1. Toque says:

      Not Philip Hosking because he’s not English, even though – judging by his surname – his ancestors may have been. Such a tangled web we weave.

      1. Toque,

        Are you suggesting I’ve not told the truth somewhere?

    2. The Anglo-British establishment. Noting that many an English nationalist comes from the hard right of British politics its not difficult to find a connection Paul.

      1. Toque says:

        “Are you suggesting I’ve not told the truth somewhere?”

        I don’t follow, what makes you think that? I’m just saying that you couldn’t possibly be an oppressor because only the English are dastardly oppressors, imperialists, and colonialists, according to Jack Straw (and possibly you).

  6. Alex Porter says:

    Some interesting ideas.

    I think there are some serious flaws in the case though. I don’t think that we are currently undergoing a crisis of capitalism. Clearly the system is broken because of government and central bank intervention. Artificially low interest rates created bubbles and to stop the bubbles from bursting more and more money was printed. The money is lent out into the economy and so what has happened is that there is no security left with which to borrow against. The credit crisis then resulted in central banks colluding with government to lie about security. That’s why you got the sub-prime and the out-of-control derivatives market of globally $700 trillion. Government facilitated fraud and that has frozen markets. This is not a failure of capitalism but a failure of ‘statism’ or the collusion of government and banking (which could be described as economic fascism). Had interest rates been left to the market then any recession or bubble would have been corrected early and we would not have so much money in the system creating the illusion of wealth by having too much debt and the consequent ‘deflationary’ pressures cause by interest payments multiplying.

    No, far more radical is not to make this whole issue one of ideology. What we need is small government which means no war and keeping government well away from any market which we wish to operate as a ‘market’. Wherever government is found in the market you’ll find special interests manipulating them and so freedom genuinely comes from keeping politicians out of it.

    The real problem we have is of the centralisation of credit. The whole idea of central banking is flawes as is the idea of fiat currency. These are the real culprits. Nationalising banks has merit. What I think is vital is that we end the idea of fractional reserve banking. This is dangerous. Most of the money in the economy is created out of thin air by banks. That money is never sound and is not backed by gold or silver and so is reliant on the honesty of government – something I’ll never believe in or find desireable.

    What government does best should be well financed but simplified. That is a real ‘left’ ideal. For some reason when people say government should be smaller that is considered a ‘rabbid right’ statement but that is far from the truth.

    The old saying that “A government big enough to supply you with everything you need, is a government big enough to take away everything that you have” should not be forgotten.

    This truth is playing out now. The US is no longer capitalist. The size of its government has multiplied exponentially. The government owns the mortgage sector, the insurance sector, the car industry and the rest of the financial sector is insolvent. Cronies are now being packed into state-run organisations and the US is collapsing on its feet. Many give it 2 years before there’s a civil war or disintegration. Britain too has become bankrupt through following the US into war and by printing money thanks to Brown.

    As Britain’s bankruptcy kicks in the SNP should position itself for the reality of it. Modern economic theology of printing stimulus has failed. I think the SNP should avoid ideology and reject ‘stimulus’ and ‘austerity’. A caring small government is ideal for Scotland’s future. The SNP should be talking about decentralising credit, moving to a gold-backed currency and using oil to get Scotland out of bankruptcy ala UK.

    Capital is not dangerous unless government lets it in. That means freedom is about keeping government away from markets wherever markets are useful. Clearly certain areas of public life are better run by the government like hospitals and prisons but what we don’t need there is private sector involvement with public subsidy – that’s a nightmare.

    Economics is changing. The Scottish ‘left’ must stop thinking ideologically and start thinking about realities. Whatever works the best is best.

    Banks like debt and they don’t care whether that’s caused by inefficient welfare or warfare. As long as the government is in debt they can enslave the population.

    That’s where we are. The UK is sinking fast and we are in an emergency situation. The SNP should prepare for that reality. With the pound collapsing and the state bankrupt Britain’s demise should be the ideal opportunity for the SNP to open up the debate about why independence will be different.

    The Scottish central belt likes straight-talking not ideological posturing. The two have been confused for too long.

    A left-wing independence movement is a distraction which will use up a lot of energy which should be better spend elsewhere. The old left v right distraction suits only the bankers who right now are our real enemy.

    The financial system is insolvent and needs to be put down. An independent Scotland can get that process going and offer a fresh start.

    That’s the radical ideal born out of reality that will get Scots who care about citizens going!

  7. pkingsnorth says:

    Sorry, Mike, but of course England is disadvantaged in the current setup. You have your own parliament and government, and a whole tranche of devolved issues that elected representatives from other nations have no right to interfere in. Lucky you. I’m jealous. Wales and NI have the same, to varying degrees.

    Why do we have foundation hospitals in England? Why do we have university tuition fees? These – and a number of other measures – were opposed in the commons by a majority of our elected representatives. Your guys came in and tipped the balance on issues they have no right being involved in.

    I don’t blame Scottish nats for this. National self-determination for everyone, I say. I look with generous spirit of admiration and jealousy on your political arrangements. But come on – the Scottish people are simply better off than the English people in terms of how they are represented within the current UK setup. Yes, you have a parliament, and a government, and, yes, a national media (which you may not like, but it’s there). You have a political class which speaks to and of Scotland rather than Britain. You have your own museum, even, and library!

    The English have none of these. This is not Scotland’s fault, and I’ve not said it is. The English are responsible for their own destiny – or should be. Damn right we ought to be singing Jerusalem at football matches and we’ve no-one else to blame if we don’t. I suspect it will come, but take time. I’ve no time for the tiresome grievance politics which defines a lot of nationalist conversation both north and south of the border.

    On the issue of election results – you are right, but only up to a point. The real issue is that no UK nation got what it voted for. Scotland and Wales votes Labour and got a coalition without Labour in it. England voted Tory and got a coalition with Lib Dems in it. Personally I’m quite glad, but if England wants Tories in power I suppose it should get them. The current UK arrangements don’t actually work for anyone.

    So it’s hard for me to support your ‘no mandate’ argument when for years Scots nats have ignored the issues of the Scottish mandate in England-only affairs at Westminster. There isn’t one, and while Scottish MPs are prepared to vote against English MPs on English issues, you’re going to find it hard to garner much support south of Carlisle.

    Perhaps you don’t want to, but that would be a shame. What would spike the guns of the worst kind of nats on all sides would be a network of activists for self-determination in all UK nations working for a UK in which each nation gets its say, and nationalists everywhere support each others’ claims against the monopoly of the British state.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Paul are you aware that the SNP has a policy of not voting on English-only policies in Westminster?

      I think we just see this issue through a different lens. The Scottish mandate in Westminster just seems laughable, you mention two examples but surely simple arithmetic it doesn’t add up.

      There are 646 Members of Parliament (MPs) at Westminster. Excluding the 59 Scottish MPs, 18 Northern Irish MPs and 41 Welsh MPs, there are 528 English MPs. Are you really arguing that our 59 dominate this? Act with one voice? It’s not really a credible argument.

      Btw – I fully agree with your final paragraph.

  8. PS: Alex Porter – that’s genuinely interesting thinking.

  9. Good piece. The ‘no mandate’ argument is an extremely valid one, and not to be thrown away as lightly as some have suggested in the aftermath of the General Election. However, for it to be effective, the argument needs to resonate. So far, it doesn’t.

    I don’t think this is because it has been left to ‘speak for itself’. Rather, it’s because it needs a sense of disenfranchisement to exist and so far at any rate, the politics and personalities of the new coalition have mitigated against this. That doesn’t mean this will still be the case once the impact of the comprehensive spending review takes place, or once people rumble the Potemkin nature of Calman reforms. However, right now, anyone making the ‘no mandate’ argument too strenuously runs the risk of looking peevish and out of touch.

    Lib Con rule in Westminster is a price worth paying for Scottish Labour. They’re quite prepared to try and harvest opposition to the Westminster coalition and to try and blame the SNP for the pending cuts which Labour economic mismanagement led to. Sadly, all the evidence points to a 1980’s style opposition to the Tories from Labour, if not to the British state, regardless as to the outcome of next May’s elections.

    As the author says: “Part of the internal logic of devolution, from Scottish Labour’s perspective, is that devolution could be implicitly sold as a means of offering some protection to Scotland from the policies of a Tory government at Westminster, currently the “agenda of cuts and unemployment”.” If a significant body of devol-unionists still regards a Scottish parliament as being some kind of defence mechanism against the will of a Tory Government, they’re about to get a rude awakening. This gives us an opportunity to show how the present devolution settlement or any conceivable variant thereon is inadequate. The best way to do that is to be able to highlight the policies which we would like to enact, but are prevented from so doing by the limitations of devolution/Westminster opposition.

    There might be ideological space for “a new independence political movement that is to the left of the SNP and Scottish Labour but which, at the same time, could appeal to a broader constituency than the SSP, Solidarity and the Scottish Greens”, but given the established nature of these political forces, I’d question whether there’s the electoral space for it. In any case, the Independence movement has to be more than a simple anti-Tory coalition and although there’s considerable overlap, it would be a mistake to assume that all independence supporters are responding as ‘the left’ might be, or as we might wish them to be doing.

    The author nails it here:

    “the depth of loyalty that Scottish Labour commands, particularly in the central belt (a complex phenomenon in itself) is a long-standing obstacle; the intrinsic appeal of devolution to many Scottish Labour voters; the apparent robustness of British hegemony; Scottish Labour’s historical appeal to the working class, a language that the SNP, like New Labour in England, dare not speak and so on.”

    Why would a new movement succeed where the SNP and others have failed, at least in terms of weaning people away from a Labour vote?

    In any case, Labour might yet have a role to play, even if its an unwitting one. It was Labour which yielded to the SNP’s victory in 2007 by establishing Calman. They will be playing the patriotic card for all it’s worth in the post-coalition politics to try and outflank the SNP. Arguably, we need them to try and do so if further electoral momentum is to build for change which goes beyond Calman and closer to Independence.

    The idea of the SNP abstaining from Westminster elections was discussed informally within the party post 1997. In the end, the idea was dropped. Firstly, the SNP feels it has a duty to make an SNP candidate available to every voter to cast their ballot for at election time. Secondly, since getting to Independence requires the repatriation of powers currently reserved to Westminster, that becomes a harder prospectus to sell if the main party of independence has elected to sit on the sidelines, and doesn’t make the argument as to why these powers would rest better with Holyrood. Finally, the SNP has a role to play once at Westminster in demonstrating how the parliament fails to represent Scottish interests and values – something which it did to great effect over the Iraq War.

    Unless an unexpected constitutional crisis emerges, the only way to secure independence will be through electing a majority of MSPs prepared to back a referendum bill in Parliament. Unlike with the quasi-nationalist ‘Claim of Right’, Labour voters must be helped to follow the logic of where their chosen party’s rhetoric increasingly will lead. For the ‘no mandate’ argument to be any more than posturing, it must be used to win consent for independence. That means the left, and others, winning a far stronger mandate than it is presently able to count on.

  10. George Laird says:

    Dear All

    Richard Thomson states:

    “Finally, the SNP has a role to play once at Westminster in demonstrating how the parliament fails to represent Scottish interests and values – something which it did to great effect over the Iraq War”.

    If the SNP put people in the House of Lords, the Scottish interest would also clearly be demonstrated and they could help SNP MPs in London.

    Funded by the allowances.

    The SNP need to put life peers in the House of Lords.

    Yours sincerely

    George Laird
    The Campaign for Human Rights at Glasgow University

  11. DougtheDug says:

    The, “no mandate”, argument for Westminster rule is only valid if it applies to all parties equally. The Tories can’t have, “no mandate”, to rule Scotland within an integral UK unless Labour has equally, “no mandate”, to rule the Home Counties. “No mandate”, to rule in Scotland only makes sense if it is part of a drive for an independent Scotland and Labour have woken up to that fact which is why they are very quiet about the Tory’s mandate to rule in Scotland. Labour do not want to appear as allies of the SNP by basing their campaign on how the UK Parliament has no legitimacy in Scotland.

    The SNP should only use the, “no mandate”, argument in the context of an independent Scotland because if they use it in the context of the union to apply only to a specific political party then what does no mandate for Tory rule in Scotland imply? It implies that Labour has a mandate to rule Scotland within the Union.

    Scottish voters voted reflexively for the Labour party in the GE because the SNP campaign was pants, to put it bluntly, and it’s what Scottish voters do when faced with Conservative rule in Westminster. It’s interesting to think what a Scottish Parliament campaign would be without the SNP or if the SNP had become some form of tartan regional Lib-Dem party because it shows that the SNP’s return to independence campaigning is the only campaign worth fighting. With no nationalist threat the campaign for a Scottish parliament would be based on ony two things, tribal loyalty and who the electorate thought would be best at divvying up the reduced block grant from Westminster and no Labour voter would be inclined to switch from Labour in this sort of campaign. This is because the Scottish Parliament is at its core simply a large regional council. The SNP message has to be Tory cuts or independence and it will be the thing which will differentiate them from the Labour who can only promise to budget what they are given by Westminster.

    At the heart of Labour’s campaign will be the policy of, “Better Tory than independent”, which was the policy all through the Thatcher years though the public face of that campaign will be that they can somehow protect Scotland from the coming cuts though no party, whether Labour, SNP, Conservative, Lib-Dem or Green can do a damn thing to protect Scotland apart from complain about the block grant within the context of the devolution settlement in the next parliament.

    A new party proposing independence will simply split the independence vote if it is successful. What the Scottish left has to do is gain independence throught the SNP as a goal to new politics in Scotland.

  12. Toque says:

    “Paul are you aware that the SNP has a policy of not voting on English-only policies in Westminster?”

    The SNP do, where possible, observe a self-denying ordinance. But it’s not always possible because English bills do have a knock-on effect on the Scottish budget, via the Barnett Formula. So SNP policy is not always observed, and quite rightly too in my opinion.

    “There are 646 Members of Parliament (MPs) at Westminster. Excluding the 59 Scottish MPs, 18 Northern Irish MPs and 41 Welsh MPs, there are 528 English MPs. Are you really arguing that our 59 dominate this? Act with one voice? It’s not really a credible argument.”

    True, MPs elected in England have vast numerical superiority. But as we know the House divides along party lines, not along national lines, so the non-English MPs can be decissive because English MPs do not vote as a bloc (it would undermine Parliament if they did).

    If we wanted to make things fairer, we could have a number of MSPs elected in England in proportion to the number of MPs elected in Scotland. Under this scheme there would be 14 English-elected MSP able to vote on legislation going through the Scottish Parliament, and able to become ministers in the Scottish government, and you would not complain because you could not argue that those 14 English members could ‘dominate’ the Scottish Parliament – it just wouldn’t be a credible argument!

  13. @DougtheDug – The ‘no mandate call’ is valid because Scots rejected the Tories at the election, it (the rejection) has little to do with a call for independence since it’s clear that it will have involved more Unionists than Nationalists. Nor does it have anything to do with the Labour vote in the Home Counties, we’re talking about countries here, not counties.

    The effect this has on the independence movement depends on how they use it to gather support.

    1. DougtheDug says:

      Dougie Kinnear:

      The current UK Government has a mandate to rule in all parts of the UK. The majority vote for Labour in Scotland at the last GE was a quite explicit acceptance that Westminster, whether the government there is Tory, Labour, Lib-Dem or any combination of these three has a mandate to rule Scotland as a region of the UK.

      Once you’ve voted for a party which campaigns on the right of Westminster to rule Scotland then you can’t complain about regional variations in the vote across the UK and neither can the party that ran on that platform.

      Since Scots voted for Westminster rule the Tories have an explicit mandate from the Scots electorate to rule Scotland as the legally elected government of the UK.

      SNP voters voted on the basis that Westminster has no right to rule Scotland, not that one political party there somehow has less right than another party there to rule within the Union.

      The SNP can use the, “no mandate”, message as long as it is non-party specific and is based on the need to reject Westminster and the Union. If the SNP goes down the, “no mandate”, road and only applies it to the Conservative party it legitimises the Labour party as the natural party of Scotland and dilutes the independence message. In the end a, “no Tory mandate”, message by the SNP will simply bolster the British Labour party in Scotland.

      1. While what you’re saying is correct, in principle, it doesn’t change the fact that a Tory Government was firmly rejected by Scotland, (again). No-one, not even the other Unionsts, wants them. But, we’re stuck with them because the other Unionists want to remain part of the Westminster gravy train and are happy to be in opposition until their time comes round again. Only the Libdems seem to have changed in-so-far as they now favour deals with anyone to get them closer to the gravy, they’ve become little more than parasites.

  14. Mike – I gave two specific examples in which Scottish MPs at Westminster overruled the will of the majority of English MPs, by voting according to orders sent down from their party (Labour.) In England we are living with the consequences of this. If I want to send my daughter to university in future it will cost me a packet. If I lived in Scotland it wouldn’t. Most of my – English – representatives did not want this to happen, but the balance was tipped by Scottish MPs voting on this England-only law.

    This is the precise corollary of what you are talking about in Scotland – except that, while you may not like the Tories, you have your own parliament which shields you from their decisions on many levels. In the 2005 elections, the majority of English voters rejected the Labour party – but we had five years of their rule nonetheless. This is why I called Gordon Brown an ‘illegitimate’ PM. His party was not elected in England, and neither was he. He wasn’t elected anywhere, in fact, outside Kircaldy, where I understand he’s still very popular.

    I don’t see why Scotland should have to labour under a government it doesn’t want any more than England should. On the other hand, as pointed out above, you can’t vote for Westminster MPs – thus giving legitimacy to Westminster – and then complain about the outcome in your part of the UK.

    I don’t see any sign of the majority of the Scots being keen on independence. They are, however, clearly keen on devolution. So, increasingly are the English, majorities of whom have favoured their own parliament in the last few polls where they were asked this question.

    This being the case, how about we all band together and campaign for a federal UK, with all nations having parliaments of equal weight and authority, with a barebones UK government at Westminster? That would allow us to ally across borders instead of sniping at each other!

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Hi Paul. There’s lots of points from what you say. On the tuition fee issue I find this difficult to believe (Im not saying your lying I just find it hard to believe!) just because the narrative we are constantly hearing is about ‘Scottish scroungers’ etc etc and the thing routinely quoted is tuition fees, but now you are saying there was a consensus for this in England. Wow. This tells us more about the bizarre right-wing nature of the contemporary Labour Party than anything else.

      You say ‘while you may not like the Tories, you have your own parliament which shields you from their decisions on many levels.’ Except it doesnt. We have ALL of the Uk’s ‘independent’ nuclear ‘deterrent based in Scotland against our wishes (tha last poll showed 83% of Scots agaiunst Trident. We can try and resist (on GM and nuclear for example) but the idea that Holyrood is a bulwark against coming austerity measures will be quickly tested (and found wanting). This is the myth put out by Labour, yet as we saw with the Poll Tax, Labour cant defend you from English Tory Rule.

      That’s why I wont be joining you in a ‘campaign for a federal UK’. I believe the British State is irredeemable and wedded to its essential imperial and militaristic nature.

      While you were saying that you were jealous that we have a library and a museum I was thinking about the vast concentration of money and power in London and reflecting that you have things like ‘a language’ and a central banking system and …

      But I do not want to ‘snipe at each other’ I am for democracy and despite Toques comments I do support an English Parliament. Im not sure there is much demand for one because while you find the British / English confusion annoying most English people probably feel that they are content with the capital being London and the ‘Mother of Parliaments’ being – 99% of the time – heavily dominated by English MPS. They know fine well that power resides in London and the paltry powers of devolution (“power devolved is power retained”) creates anomalies but irrelevant ones.

      You say: ‘I don’t see any sign of the majority of the Scots being keen on independence.’ But if we look at the direction of (constitutional) travel and the coming shock doctrine from the Cleggeron I suspect that we may see a further boost to self-determination. Polls suggest so and the election of another insipid Blairite functionary in the form of Miliband (whichever one it makes little difference despite much media froth) will do little to prop up the Labour vote in Scotland. For whilst Brown was lampooned in the English media for his ‘dour’ Scottish manner (remember when Jeremy Clarkson called him a “one-eyed Scottish idiot” – and reflect on this when you think we have a media.)

      Also worth reflecting on this:


      and this:

      (randomly selected)…whilst Brown was taken apart by the media (in much the same way as Kinnock was) Camerons background wont play well north of the Border and the deceptive Brown Bounce will be gone for whoever replaces him.

      I’m optimistic about the future.

  15. Interesting stuff Mike. Some reflections in response.

    1. Presumably you think that your parliament does shield you from some Westminster decisions or you’d not worry about having one? Your NHS and school and university system are not decided by the English, for starters.

    2. You do have your own media, and we don’t. There’s no paper called ‘The Englishman’ as far as I’m aware. On this, and the above point, you seem to be arguing that because your devolved institutions aren’t perfect, they don’t exist.

    3. Yes on tuition fees, and also on foundation hospitals. Nobody wanted them except the UK Labour establishment.

    4. Consider how many of the points you are making are not about England but rather about London. There is, for example, no English media: there is a London media posing as a UK-wide media. There is a British library in London, and a British museum. There is, it’s true, something called the Bank of England, but it’s actually a Bank of Britain. Meanwhile, the British – not English government – has been busy saving money by hacking out England-only quangos like Sport England and replacing them with British bodies like UK Athletics.

    If you don’t live in London or the southeast this stuff is very distant indeed. From up here in Cumbria this looks like the actions of a city state – London – running a mini-Empire: Britain. Scotland, at least, has some measure of defence from that empire, however paltry. England has none.

    You might be right about the irredeemable nature of this empire. But don’t imagine it serves ordinary English folk, or English culture, any better than it does you guys. In a number of demonstrable ways it serves us worse. Maybe we should all be campaigning for independence from the UK. In the meantime, please don’t imagine you’re ruled by ‘the English.’ ‘The English’, in the last opinion poll I saw, were more heavily in favour of you leaving the UK than the Scottish were. We are all ruled by the British establishment.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      “You might be right about the irredeemable nature of this empire. But don’t imagine it serves ordinary English folk, or English culture, any better than it does you guys. ”

      Agreed. The issue is really the role of the British State and the powerful forces that shape it. As for the Scotsman newspaper, well the less said about that the better. We do have a media but it is structurally and persistently underfunded and it conveys cultural messages and memes – both at a UK and a Scottish level – which exude anti-Scottish racism and undermine cultural and political action and infantilise, marginalise and ridicule the idea of Scotland and Scottish culture. There are resistances to this which I would say are more powerful and interesting than ‘The Scotsman’ or the semblance of a Scottish media, such as alter media that is emerging. You are probably right to say ‘there is a London media posing as a UK-wide media.’

      Having said that the issue is about the British State, there is a cultural issue as well. The home rule movement (in various forms and guises) – as we have mentioned – is over 100 years old. You say you are maybe in year 3. However closely allied to that political movement is a cultural one which is arguably more powerful and that is perhaps what is missing in English culture and there to be (re) claimed. Creating new narratives about who you are and what values are commonly held may be more useful that campaigning for an assembly, library etc.

      An example – a friend of mine was asked by an English friend in May (!) if she would send her a ‘See You Jimmy’ hat, as they were having a Burns Night. Make of that anecdote what you will.

  16. How will the independence movement react to the news that the SNP are going to drop plans to put a referendum bill before parliament this term?

    I think, if it is true, then the SNP are making a monumental mistake. The opportunity to show Scots voters the true nature of Unionist democracy is to0 important to miss and that backing down in the face of Unionist bullying shows political weakness.

    Let the Unionists vote it down, the debate will still be heard, otherwise the SNP will be drowned in a sea of jeering Unionists

    Looking forward to a Bella post on this.

  17. Donald Adamson says:

    Alex Porter

    Thanks for your response which also gives me the opportunity to expand a little on my own position. I agree that government and central banks are a problem, but for completely different reasons to the ones that you provide. I would argue that the state is a capitalist state and its activities, including central bank activities, as the most recent interventions demonstrate, are geared to saving capitalism or saving capitalism from itself.

    In fact, the history of capitalism demonstrates that it cannot function without state intervention, and this is surely one of the misunderstandings of many on the left and right who set up a false dichotomy between state and market. Moreover, many of the most ‘successful’ – in terms of growth, particularly export-led growth, increases in productivity and output, increases in real incomes, relative stability of macroeconomic fundamentals and so on, – capitalist economies in the post-war period have been state-led, for example, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Sweden and, today, China. At the very least, this raises questions about your own ideological belief that, “What we need is small government which means…keeping government well away from any market which we wish to operate as a ‘market’”.

    My main difficulty with the point you make here though, is that it implies that there is some ideal capitalist market out there waiting to be unleashed, to all our benefit, if only these troublesome governments and central banks would stop interfering. But such a world has never existed, and your belief that it ought to exist is one of the reasons why I would argue that your belief in it is ideological. Even early capitalism required state intervention, albeit from a more minimal state than exists today. But surely this is the point, neither modern capitalist markets nor states exist sui generis, they arise out of the historical development of social relations. As the sociologist Emile Durkheim wrote, “The contract is not sufficient unto itself” meaning that the very existence of a contract, entailing the protection of property rights, presupposes the existence of a society that requires contracts and the protection of property rights.

    Such beliefs in the efficacy of markets also usually reify markets as well as the ‘economy’ more broadly. There was a typical example of this in July during the House of Commons Treasury Select Committtee hearings on the likely impact of the emergency budget and deficit reduction plan. A team of economists were giving their opinions on the likely impact of the British government’s policies and one of them, Roger Bootle, concluded one of his contributions by stating, “Of course, all this assumes that the economy behaves itself”. The MPs present (including the SNPs Stuart Hosie) appeared to nod approvingly at this routine observation. There’s nothing remarkable about Bootle’s point, of course, in the sense that it is just a variation on a point that is reiterated on a daily basis in the broadcasting and print media.

    What is remarkable however is the extent to which this reification of the economy has become naturalized. It is little wonder, therefore, that there are such widespread feelings of helplessness and powerlessness. This is what capitalism has done to us but this is also one of the many lessons that we learn from Marx, hence the numerous references in Marx to the “appearances” of capital and to things “occurring behind the backs of workers” etc, to encourage us to the belief that capitalism is not a relationship between things but a relationship between people, between classes.

    I’m afraid I don’t share your views on ideology either. I wouldn’t use the term ideology in an accusatory sense or as a pejorative. This, in my opinion, conflates ideology and dogma. Without being too tortuous about it, I would argue that the belief that you are being ‘non-ideological’ is itself an ideological position or, as Terry Eagleton once put it, such a belief suggests that ideology is like halitosis, it’s always something that the other person has.

    I also disagree that the present crisis is not a crisis of capitalism. If I’ve understood you correctly, you seem to be suggesting that finance capital or what is now referred to as ‘financialization’ is a kind of historical aberration, that it has somehow distorted the path of ‘real’ market capitalism. But financialization is surely better seen as part of the developmental logic of capitalism.

    What is interesting here, I would argue, is the extent to which large (industrial) firms have become relatively autonomous from finance capital. It’s almost two decades now since UNCTAD estimated that some 80 per cent of world trade had been captured by multinational corporations. One of the well-known points that also came out of the Treasury select committee hearings in July was the extent to which large firms can self-finance in that they can draw on internal resources, cross-fertilise resources, they have access to bond markets and equity markets etc which, clearly, small firms can’t (hence, these large capitals were little affected by the failure of the banks to circulate the proceeds of the Bank of England’s quantitative easing). This has been one of the underlying causes of financialization, driving finance capital into the realm of derivatives, CDOs, the mortgage racket, ‘personal’ finance and so on, particularly in the US and Britain. There’s a useful and brief discussion of three broad definitions of financialization, form a Marxist perspective, in Alex Callinicos’s ‘Bonfire of Illusions’, Polity 2010.

    The conventional meaning of crisis is that it is a turning point that requires a decisive response. On that broad definition, there’s no question that we are in crisis. But my own understanding is also based on the recognition that capitalism produces, and must produce, crisis tendencies, whether it is your idealised ‘market’ capitalism free from the ‘distortions’ of financialization or state intervention, or real capitalism. What financialization has done is to intensify both the frequency and amplitude of capitalist crises.

    One of the key differences between the present crisis of capitalism and previous crises in the era of financialization is that whereas in previous crises – the Savings and Loan crisis of the 1980s, the Mexican crisis, Long Term Capital Management crisis and East Asian crisis of the 1990s, the dot-com crisis at the turn of the century – were all hailed by many on the left as presaging the ‘final’ crisis of capitalism. What is different about this crisis and, I would argue, one of the key features that authenticates it as a crisis, is that it isn’t just the left this time but many capitalists and their apologists themselves who saw the present crisis as presaging the end of capitalism. But for a fuller discussion of crises from a Marxist perspective see the first half of a brief article by Peter Osborne (see, which sets out some important arguments that many on the left would themselves do well to attend to.

    It may be the case, as you say of the United States that, “Many give it 2 years before there’s a civil war or disintegration” – aren’t such apocalyptic visions another indication of capitalist crisis? – but my own view is that it wouldn’t be advisable to underestimate America’s position as a world hegemon or the strength of America’s ruling class. It may be the case that the US government has temporary ‘ownership’ of many private sector assets but I disagree that this means that America is “collapsing on its feet”. No capitalist country, other than the US, has anything like the same capacity to absorb global savings, the institutional depth, the scale of financial intermediation as well as the capacity to orchestrate neo-liberal globalization.

    Bank nationalization is, I agree, an interesting idea and it has found support from some unexpected sources (see My interest in it though is that I see it as a necessary part of any attempt to reclaim Scotland. The policies or policy objectives that were itemised in the piece, including bank nationalization, were not chosen at random. I see them as being interrelated, but given that I’d like to expand discussion of these ideas in a future piece I don’t want to anticipate that discussion in too much detail here. One of a number of influences on my own thinking on this issue has been the Marxist, Costas Lapavistas who, for several years now has been developing some interesting ideas on bank re-structuring (see

    Finally, although I agree with the spirit of some of your points about a gold-backed currency, I don’t share your conclusions. As you know, there has been a long-standing debate about the respective benefits of commodity money and fiat money. Given that all commodity money has a fiat element, in that the value of a commodity as a commodity will differ from its value as a medium of exchange, it might, though, be better not to make too fine a point of this distinction.

    It’s not clear from your discussion whether you envisage a return to the classical gold standard, the inter-war gold standard or the Bretton Woods dollar-gold standard. But what is not beyond doubt is that no standard frees us from banking crises or speculative flows, and this ties in with the earlier point about the systemic relationship between capitalism and the state.

    After all, what we would recognise today in Britain as the beginnings of a modern banking ‘system’ were forged in response to a banking crisis in 1825, with government legislation playing a key role. Similarly, the Federal Reserve was created in 1913 in response to a banking crisis, or the panic that ensued from that crisis.

    It’s often argued that a gold standard would create greater stability and have a deflationary bias in contrast to the inflationary bias of fiat money. But this is based, among other things, on the long-term (though not short-term) stability of the classical gold standard. What is often forgotten is that this operated at a time when labour was poorly organised or, as orthodox economists put it, wages were ‘flexible’ (downwards). One of the key differences between the classical and inter-war gold standards is that, in the latter period, labour was better organised, there was a mature labour movement and wages were thus not ‘flexible’. We cannot, and I would argue must not, attempt to return to that world.

    But what all gold standards had in common is that they required an unerring commitment to maintaining the gold standard from governments and, in the inter-war and Bretton Woods periods, a high degree of coordination between central banks. What I find surprising about your argument is that, on the one hand, you are calling for smaller government and minimal central bank intervention but, on the other hand, you are placing such faith in the unerring commitment of governments and central banks to maintain a gold standard whilst arguing, at the same time, for an idealised ‘market’ capitalism which would surely be seeking every opportunity to undermine that commitment. I appreciate that you are also envisaging the end of the financial system but, with respect, as I argued earlier, I don’t think that’s realistic in the context of your argument that this is compatible with an idealised or pure/authentic ‘market’ capitalism and smaller government.

    If I was interested in putting arguments to save capitalism or save capitalism from itself (obviously I’m not), rather than argue for a gold-backed currency I would argue for a new Bretton Woods or, at least, for major reforms of the Bretton Woods institutions ( That, it seems to me, would provide a more sustainable basis for saving capitalism from itself.

    In the end, it is the relationship between capitalism and labour that is the source of capitalism being “dangerous” as you put it, though I would go a lot further than that but not here. As the Tories prepare to impose what, in effect, is their forced labour programmes on the unemployed in Scotland as well as elsewhere in the UK, we are surely entitled to ask, in spite of all the rhetoric about ‘progress’, have we really made so much progress since the 1840s when Marx, quoting Charles Pecquer, wrote:

    “The evil that millions are only able to eke out a living through exhausting, physically destructive and morally and intellectually crippling labour; that they are even forced to consider the misfortune of finding such work as fortunate”.

    Many of the people in the central belt, as you say, do like “straight-talking”. But, with great respect to your arguments, I don’t think that appeals to a gold-backed currency, the destruction of the present financial system, or an idealised market capitalism is the best way to do it.

  18. Donald Adamson says:

    Richard Thomson:

    Many thanks for your response and for providing such a thoughtful defence of the SNPs position. I agree that the no mandate argument has failed to resonate and we need to identify the reasons for this. I think that you’ve identified one of these with your reference to the absence of a (widespread) “sense of disenfranchisement”.

    I take your point about the “politics and personalities of the new coalition” and the extended honeymoon, not to mention the blanket media coverage they’re enjoying, but I think it goes much deeper than that. In spite of this honeymoon and media coverage how many people in Scotland feel that David Cameron is ‘their’ prime minister or for that matter are interested in David Cameron’s or Nick Clegg’s opinions on anything, and why isn’t this being transmitted into greater support for independence? Apart from the reasons I addressed in the piece, it’s clear that the crisis has created a widespread feeling of powerlessness and resigned tolerance that, although not unique to Scotland as a response to the crisis, are eerily familiar with the experience in Scotland during the lost decades of the Thatcher/Major years (the difference today, of course, is that the SNP is in a much stronger position). Scottish Labour’s silence is another major factor here and, of course, the silence of the mainstream ‘Scottish’ media.

    I would also argue, though, that this absence is, among other things, telling us something about our politics. One of my purposes in doing the piece was to try to open up a debate about political agency and the nature of political and economic change. Who are the actual and potential agents of change in Scottish politics and how can those of us who support Scottish independence increase support for it? My own belief is that these issues – political agency, the nature of political and economic change as well as responses to the present crisis – are now related in Scotland to the issue of self-determination in what I would call the politics of abreaction, and I was attempting to articulate this in the piece also.

    What I mean is, all movements for self-determination appeal to an awakening of national consciousness as well as to the development of what Ernst Gellner called a “public culture”. These are now deeply embedded in Scotland, which is not to underplay the robustness of Britishness. But what is important about this crisis, as I suggested in the piece, is that we are witnessing not only a crisis of capitalism but a crisis of the British state. It is the responses to these crises, including the effects of the crisis-management of the British government in Scotland, where the politics of abreaction will be played out in Scotland and this, I think, is where the potential for a transformative politics and a transformative economics exists.

    Incidentally, I wasn’t arguing that the no mandate argument has been left to speak for itself but that it mustn’t be left to speak for itself. This is an important distinction given that what I mean by reclaiming Scotland draws, among other things, on the broad meaning of what Roberto Unger has called “raising the temperature of politics”, for example promoting civic engagement, deepening political and economic democracy but also, most important of all, encouraging the working class in Scotland to put their stamp of ‘ownership’ on transformative politics and economics. The no mandate argument can also be seen as another means of raising the temperature of politics in Scotland.

    You provide convincing reasons for questioning whether the electoral space exists for a putative party/movement, and perhaps it would be crowded out electorally. I also thought that you made or rather implied another key point, which is often forgotten, that the SNP is itself a coalition of political beliefs, broader than any of the other main parties in Scotland. This is both a strength and a weakness of the SNP in my opinion. But it’s your question, “Why would a new movement succeed where the SNP and others have failed, at least in terms of weaning people away from a Labour vote?” which is critical.

    As far as the SNP is concerned I think that you’ve partially answered this question yourself. The SNP is a broad coalition and this, I would argue, constrains its appeal to many Scottish Labour voters. Of course there is much more to it than that, but as you know only too well, Scottish Labour can trade on the appeal it still has for many voters in the central belt that its candidates are ‘one of us’ (in spite of all the evidence to the contrary in many cases!) in a way that the SNP hasn’t, so far, effectively competed with.

    That being the case, on this basis surely the SSP and Solidarity ought to have made a breakthrough by now? As you know, initially they did. Without wishing to rake over familiar arguments, in spite of some excellent candidates and policies, they are now, unfortunately, a marginal force in Scottish politics. That can change, of course, but it’s that initial appeal of the SSP, in the changed circumstances of the present which, I would argue, has the potential to be reproduced by a new movement if not a new party.

    It’s the appeal to Scottish Labour voters, or to enough of them, which is the key. I am alert to the dangers of wishful thinking here (after all, we are talking about a party/movement that doesn’t even exist yet!). But I can’t see any realistic prospect of either the SNP making a significant breakthrough into Scottish Labour’s heartlands or the SSP or Solidarity broadening their appeal in the central belt. Given that none of these parties is likely to shift their positions it is surely time to explore other possibilities? That was one of the other of my purposes in the piece.

    I’m not sure that I’d agree with you that “[Labour] will be playing the patriotic card for all it’s worth in the post-coalition politics to try and outflank the SNP”. I understand your reasoning but I would argue that it’s at least as likely that Scottish Labour will try to prolong the honeymoon of the new Labour leader and play the British patriotic card – ‘only’ four more years until the next Labour government at Westminster etc – which, given that the SNP, like any incumbent government, will be defensively protecting its record of the previous four years as well as the AV referendum dominating the British media, puts them (i.e. Scottish Labour), by default, in a stronger position than they deserve to be.

    As for the SNP boycotting, and encouraging all supporters of independence to boycott Westminster elections, shouldn’t this be revisited in light of recent events? Again, I appreciate your reasoning, all mainstream parties feed on the oxygen of representation and even Sinn Fein puts up candidates at British elections. It isn’t so much a passive abstention that I was referring to, but more of an active and ongoing campaign which could take many forms. This is what I meant by forcing the issue of the no mandate argument as an issue, not as a stand-alone campaign but as part of a transformative politics and economics.

    I agree with much of your final paragraph, particularly your point about the danger of the no mandate argument declining into “posturing”. Consent is essential of course, independence isn’t possible without it but, equally important, is that a sufficient number of Scottish Labour voters are not only won over to supporting independence but feel able to claim ‘ownership’ of it. Without that, we would, at least initially, simply be creating a nominally independent Scottish nation-state and substituting a Scottish governing elite for a British one.

  19. Donald Adamson says:


    Many thanks for your response. As ever, the more critical comments are among the most instructive. I agree wholeheartedly with your point that, “’No mandate’ to rule in Scotland only makes sense if it is part of a drive for an independent Scotland”, otherwise, as Richard Thomson put it, “it runs the risk of looking peevish and out of touch”. It would, then, have to be part of a broader campaign, a campaign that is led by independence.

    Having said that, there are other issues involved here which, so far, haven’t been taken up in any posts. In constitutional terms, you are correct of course to point out that, however unpalatable it may be for supporters of independence, the fact is that over 75 per cent of Scottish voters at the last British general election supported parties that wish to keep Scotland in the union.

    One of the difficulties I have with your position, though, is that it implies constitutional absolutism. That is, as long as Scotland remains in the union, Westminster has sovereignty on constitutional issues in Scotland or, as Tony Blair once put it in response to a question from an over-excited Scottish journalist after the opening of the Scottish Parliament, “Sovereignty remains at Westminster”. The other difficulty is that your position implies that ‘politics’ can be reduced to the constitutional rules of the game. I’m not suggesting that this is your position, maybe it is (?), only that these are some of the implications of your position, implications which, I think help us to explain part of the conservative (with a small ‘c’) bias in Scottish politics.

    I would argue that both of these positions can and must be challenged on a number of grounds. To take a few of the implications of constitutional absolutism first, if this is upheld, then constitutionally, though not of course politically, it effectively authorises a Westminster government to introduce into Scotland any measures it wishes. Today, of course, these would have to observe the devolution settlement.

    To take an example from the real world, constitutional absolutism would have upheld the constitutional right of the Tories to introduce the Poll Tax in Scotland. I would argue that the no mandate argument is much more significant today than the Poll Tax was in the late 1980s and that it is incumbent upon the independence movement to “raise the temperature of politics” in Scotland on the no mandate issue. To take a more extreme example, it’s possible to envisage a situation where a Conservative government at Westminster might introduce emergency legislation to repeal all devolution legislation and annul the Scottish Parliament. Again, however unlikely this may seem politically, constitutionally, the implication of your position is that this would have to be upheld. There are numerous other (real and potential) examples that could be cited within the spectrum of these two extremes which, I would argue, make the implications of your position unacceptable.

    As for the implication that ‘politics’ can be reduced to the constitutional rules of the game, the most obvious point to make here is that, even in the UK, as you know, there are far too many examples from history to demonstrate that this is not the case. From the reform acts of the nineteenth century, the trade union movement, Irish independence, the Suffragettes, the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland, and the anti-Poll Tax protests themselves, to list some of the more obvious examples, the constitutional rules of the game are, in many respects, the least important area of what we call ‘politics’. Or, to put it another way, it was the injustices and inadequacies of the constitutional rules of the game that provoked these movements. This is partly what I mean by a “new politics”, a politics that resists and dissents of course, but which, at the same time, is self-aware of its transformative potential. Constitutional politics must, inevitably, be used to secure independence but the independence movement, I would argue, cannot and must not be reduced to constitutional politics.

    As I argued in the piece, electoral arithmetic is at the basis of the no mandate argument and I would argue that the electoral arithmetic is, increasingly, being loaded against Scotland. This is one of the reasons why I drew attention to the Tories’ reduction of the number of Scottish MPs at Westminster (in per centage terms, almost double the reduction of the number of British MPs at Westminster). This, in my view, reduces the legitimacy of Westminster’s authority in Scotland even further and, at the same time, it can only exacerbate the no mandate issue. But although electoral arithmetic may be the basis of the no mandate argument, it is surely the consequences of this electoral arithmetic, in terms of the effects of actual policy, that are most significant.

    There is another point here that needs to be acknowledged. History is repeating itself for the Labour Party in England today. Already, two of the candidates for the Labour leadership, David Miliband and Andy Burnham, have drawn attention to the fact that Labour can only return to power, or to a share of power, at Westminster if it can win over enough ‘natural’ Tory voters in middle England. In other words, Labour in England is in a similar position to that which precipitated the official launch of New Labour in 1994 and the revisions of the Policy Review after its defeat (in England) in the 1987 general election. This can only intensify the discomfort of Scottish Labour and, I would argue, is another potent weapon in the no mandate argument in Scotland. Things change, of course – the coalition may fall apart, the austerity programme may prove to be unbearable, even for some Tories and so on – but I don’t think that this issue is going to go away.

    On the broad issue of Scottish Labour’s position, another aspect of the no mandate argument which hasn’t explicitly been picked up in this debate is what I call Scottish Labour’s “meaningless mandate”. We have been here before of course but, to coin a well-worn phrase, that was then this is now. Here, the excerpt from Margaret Curran’s maiden speech at Westminster that I cited in the piece, is revealing, particularly as it came from someone who went straight to Westminster from Holyrood. Without making too fine a point of it, and in the interests of brevity, Curran was expressing what, I suspect, a lot of Scottish Labour voters are thinking. This, too, I would argue is a potent weapon in the no mandate argument.

    Finally, to fast forward to your concluding paragraph, similar thoughts have crossed my mind. I would argue, though, that the potential for a split in the independence movement (if the type of party/movement that I would like to see is established) exists only if a new party/movement competed with the SNP. But that is not how I, at any rate, envisage it. On the contrary, and as I argued, such a party/movement would only target Scottish Labour’s heartlands (where the SNP is relatively weak) and would work in a formal alliance with the SNP as part of the independence movement. The primary objective, after campaigning for independence, would be to weaken Scottish Labour, and to win over more Scottish Labour voters to independence, for that is the key to independence.

    This is one of the reasons why I would disagree with you that, “What the Scottish left has to do is gain independence through the SNP as a goal to new politics”. As I suggested in the piece, it seems to me that the SNP cannot deliver independence on its own, partly because it cannot ‘speak’ to or connect with enough Scottish Labour voters in the central belt. Part of the difficulty here is that in all Scottish and British elections, it is the SNP against everyone else. Another party/movement, working in alliance with the SNP and attempting to capture enough of Scottish Labour’s vote, could make the difference. The other point here, is that I think it would be fatal for the Scottish left to wait for independence before campaigning for a new politics. As I see it, in the context of the effects of the Tories’ crisis-management in Scotland, that would, in all likelihood, result in the Scottish left lapsing back into the oppositional mode of the 1980s and 1990s which would only play into the hands of Scottish Labour as the main beneficiary of the anti-Tory reflex in Scotland.

    1. DougtheDug says:


      In law, Westminster does have sovereignty on constitutional issues in Scotland as it’s got sovereignty everywhere in the UK. These are the constitutional rules of the game and until Scots withdraw from this particular UK game that’s the way it’s going to stay. Westminster can introduce any measures it likes into Scotland because it created the Act of Parliament which in turn created the Scottish Parliament and it can repeal, change or add to that Act or override it on any issue if it wishes. Constitutionally or legally who is going to stop it while Scotland is still in the Union? Scots can then vote to leave the Union if they don’t like what Westminster does but until that point Westminster can do what it likes. You can protest about it but it has the legal right to do it.

      Westminster has no moral mandate to remove the Scottish Parliament as the Scottish Parliament was voted for in a Scottish freferendum but it has the legal and constitutional right to remove it. However it can alter the Scottish Parliament’s powers and structure as it sees fit without breaking the mandate to have a parliament.

      If the Conservatives have no mandate to rule in Scotland the first question to ask is why? A Government has a mandate to rule from its citizens if a large majority accept the Parliament and institutions of government of that country as valid and if the elections are free and fair. The majority of Scots voted for Westminster rule within the UK and under free and fair elections the Conservatives and Lib-Dems gained enough seats to form a majority and a Government of the UK. If the majority of Scots had voted SNP and and rejected Westminster as a parliament then any Westminster government would have no mandate in Scotland but that hasn’t happend. Every Labour voter in Scotland simply endorsed Conservative rule from Westminster by accepting Westminster as a valid institution of Government.

      If the Conservatives have no mandate in Scotland even though Scots voted to be ruled by Westminster, why is Scotland special in the UK? The North-East of England voted mainly Labour so do the Conservatives have no mandate there either? If the Conservatives have no mandate in Scotland then there needs to be an explanation of why the Conservatives have no mandate in Scotland but a mandate in the North-East of England or in Wales. Since neither Labour nor the Conservatives have ever held a majority of seats in Northern Ireland, has any UK governing party ever had a mandate in Northern-Ireland?

      If the rallying cry is, “No Conservative mandate in Scotland”, who does have a mandate here? It can’t be the SNP because Labour got a lot more votes than they did so any campaign based on the conservatives lack of mandate could equally well use the slogan, “Only Labour has a mandate in Scotland”. If the SNP joined that campaign they would simply be legitimising Labour as the natural party of Scotland and if Labour take control of the Scottish Parliament in 2011 it will be a huge boost to their credibility as the true rulers of Scotland, within the Union of course.

      The independence movement is constitutional politics. It is about changing the makeup of the UK from a unitary state to at minimum two states and getting into a fight which in the end is simply about legitimising Labour as the true party of Scotland is just going to be a distraction.

      I still don’t think a second independence party is a good idea as it would simply split the independence vote.

  20. Donald Adamson says:


    Many thanks for this response. I think you and Richard have helpfully clarified some of the key arguments in this debate, arguments that mustn’t be avoided. You set out the constitutional position convincingly and, I agree that, constitutionally, it seems irrefutable (as I suggested in the second paragraph of my previous reply). I understand that you are arguing that it doesn’t just seem irrefutable it is irrefutable. That it is the case, for example, that if Westminster votes to send Scotland into war, to cut the budget of the Scottish parliament, reduce the number of Scottish MPs at Westminster and so on, legally there is nothing anyone in Scotland can do about it.

    What you are arguing therefore, is that, as long as a majority of voters in Scotland support parties who wish to keep Scotland in the union, there are no circumstances in which the no mandate argument would hold. As you say, “You can protest about it, but it [Westminster] has the legal right to do it”. I am contesting what I would call this constitutional absolutism on a number of grounds.

    First, it seems curious to me to defend the principle of constitutional democracy on the grounds that some two thirds of a nation’s voters are consistently (effectively) disenfranchised. Moreover, in the 2010 British general election we are talking about a situation, as in the 1980s, in which even if every single voter in Scotland (with a 100 per cent turnout) had voted Labour, Scotland would still have been governed by the Conservatives.

    Second, and related to this, I’m not sure that the position is as clearly defined as you suggest. For example, I don’t think that, constitutionally, the north-east/home counties of England can be compared to Scotland. Dougie Kinnear, in his first reply to you, made the point that “we are talking about countries here not counties”. I don’t think that this can be so readily discounted on a constitutionally-informed argument that reduces Scotland’s status to a “region” of the UK. As you know, there are numerous factors, historical, cultural, political, and constitutional, behind Scottish nationhood which, in their totality and significance, have no equivalent in the English regions. Constitutionally, the union is a union between Scotland and England not a union between Scotland and the regions of England. Having said that, if there were independence movements in these English regions (as there is in Cornwall) and if they were to use the no mandate argument to legitimate their claim to independence, I would have no problem accepting this. It seems to me that the problem here is for those who contest the no mandate argument, not for those of us who are putting this argument.

    Third, we don’t have to look very far for evidence in Scotland that the no mandate argument does count. In other words, the very existence of the Scottish parliament, the proposals to implement Calman, not to mention the numerous voices, from a range of sources, to extend the powers of the Scottish parliament beyond Calman are, at the very least, a tacit if not express admission that the no mandate argument counts. I appreciate that this may be conflated with other reasons/motives, some of which are devised to save the union. For example, the calls from many on the right and left for fiscal autonomy, the fact that the unionist parties need to try to pin down the ‘settled will’ of the Scottish people short of independence, as well as the obvious point that devolution acquires its own momentum, it has no reverse gear. These, and a number of other factors, need to be accommodated by any position that holds that devolution is itself an expression of the no mandate argument.

    But I would still argue that the point stands, particularly when we acknowledge the added powers that the Scottish parliament has, compared to the other devolved areas of the UK. The very existence of these added powers is further evidence that, constitutionally and politically, Scotland has a different status to the English regions. Further, it’s plausible to argue that Scottish Labour’s support for devolution in the 1990s was their admission that the no mandate argument counts in that, as I argued in the piece, having won four consecutive general elections in Scotland in 1992 they nevertheless spent eighteen years in impotent opposition between 1979-97 and were, after their 1992 ‘defeat’, in danger of losing their legitimacy in Scotland. Devolution, in that sense, as I argued, (temporarily) “saved the legitimacy of Scottish Labour” but it was always only going to be a matter of time before this issue (i.e. the no mandate argument) re-emerged.

    Fourth, and on this latter point, a key feature of the no mandate argument, is what I call Scottish Labour’s “meaningless mandate”. Hence, the title of the piece, “They have no mandate”, is referring to the Tories at Westminster and to Scottish Labour. This is most important for a number of reasons. For example, as you know, throughout the lost decades of the 1980s and 1990s, Scottish Labour ‘turned’ increasingly to devolution and, in this respect, Labour’s defeat in England in the 1992 general election, the election of John Smith as Labour leader and the creation of the Scottish Labour Party in 1994 were critical. They ‘sealed the deal’, so to speak, on devolution in that when Blair became leader in 1994 he inherited a fait accompli on devolution in the event of a Labour victory in the 1997 general election.

    We will never know what would have happened if the Tories had won the 1997 general election or, put it another way, if John Major hadn’t signed the Maastricht Treaty! But the evidence that Scottish Labour was losing its legitimacy, particularly during Mrs. Thatcher’s period in office (1979-90), is that it was the then Liberal-SDP alliance that was clearly winning support in Scotland, at the expense of both Scottish Labour and the SNP, in a blaze of publicity and unwarranted media coverage similar to that of the ‘Cleggmania’ that preceded the 2010 British general election. Overarching this, of course, is that, in spite of this, Scottish Labour retained its position as the largest party even in this period (in terms of share of the vote and number of seats) largely on the basis that it continued to capture much of the anti-Thatcher reflex in the central belt.

    I would argue that in 2010 we are back in the territory of those lost decades once again, which is why I argued that, whatever the outcome of the 2011 election, Scottish Labour is in such an invidious position and why the no mandate argument (in this double sense of the term) must not be left to speak for itself. The key difference of course is that we now have a Scottish parliament. My argument is though, that rather than cite devolution, as some have done, as a refutation of the no mandate argument, devolution is best seen as heightening the contradictions and intensifying the crisis of the British state and that it is incumbent upon the SNP and the independence-supporting left to resolve that crisis by, among other things, promoting the no mandate argument as one of the means of increasing support for independence. Scottish Labour’s meaningless mandate is, therefore, critical here. Hence, the no mandate argument is not a means of “legitimising” Scottish Labour but a means of de-legitimising it, at least with a sufficiently large enough minority of its voters. Both Scottish Labour and London Labour are highly sensitive to and this is surely one of the reasons why London Labour is making noises about giving more “autonomy” to Scottish Labour in the aftermath of the 2010 general election result.

    There are a number of other relevant issues, some of which I’ll be returning to in the follow-up pieces to Reclaiming Scotland Part 1, including the need for a new party/movement, but I don’t want to anticipate those arguments in detail at this stage.

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