No Shock Doctrine for Scotland


“Margaret Thatcher is lying sick in a private hospital bed in Belgravia but her political children have just pushed her agenda further and harder and deeper than she ever dreamed of…” writes, Johann Hari in the Independent one of the best columnists around. And make no mistake, those children are on both sides of the benches braying at each other.

There is a difference in Scotland. Following a sort of feint folk-memory Scots voted in droves for Labour, Old and New: Thatcher’s bastard offspring that led us to war and PFI and a culture of bank excess and the super-rich, conceived by Blair, delivered by Brown, umbilical cord cut by Clegg and Danny Alexander, fumbling as a Cabinet of 23 millionaires deliver austerity measures on the poor of this country. The Financial Times has the Comprehensive Spending Review cuts “only” 7% higher than those proposed by New Labour in June. Policy merger is virtually complete, despite Labours protestations from the comfort of opposition. The difference is this: Scotland didn’t vote for shock doctrine.

They have no mandate to do this here. Middle England may have gleefully warmed to two decades of Daily Mail hatred of the poor ‘benefit scroungers’ rhetoric and warmly greeted Cameron to No 10. We didn’t. The befuddled fools who voted for the Liberals when they promised no nuclear power and no tuition fees might be feeling shame and stupidity, but at least the Tories were clear this was their intent. When Nigel Lawson and Co shuffle on screen to welcome these measures there is thinly-masked glee in their eyes. As Monbiot wrote this week: ‘The cuts are being used to reshape the economy in the interests of business – and to trash the public sector’.

As I listen to Joyce McMillan, her voice cracking with anger on Good Morning Scotland as she recalls the pain of the Thatcher era and the hatred of the poor that drives the Tory-Liberal measures announced yesterday, it’s difficult to know how to respond. The shock in Shock Doctrine leave you numb before the actual axe falls. Numb at the braying laughing Tory back-benches. Numb at the futility of it all and the sheer stupidity. Numb as you tune in to The Apprentice (“Lord Sugar will see you now”) and the oafs and a new generation of desperate grovelling incompetent management careering towards a ‘six figure salary’ as we cut benefits that are our collective entitlement. We broadcast this on the same day as the CSR.

Cut to the news and we interview bankers and the head of the CBI north and south of the border. They are delighted. Numb. Pat Kane writes: “We seem to be the victims of the most extraordinary act of ideological hypnotism, though. We go through a banking crisis involving the worst kind of plutocratic excess and arrogance. The result? Not jail for some bankers, and a more bounded role for finance in general – but their debt rectified by the state, and the basic lifestyle and assumptions of the financial elite unchanged.”

The ideological hypnotism has affected even the most astute. The oscillating Iain Macwhirter writes: “The kind of people voters are happy to see hit are bureaucrats, public-sector workers, local councils, banks, and people on benefits. And these are precisely the people targeted.” Are they? How many people in Scotland are on some form of benefit or a public sector worker Iain?

Is there a history to this? Only this year ‘we’ returned to our default setting of “Vote Labour to stop the Tories”. Scotland dutifully did so. What did we get? We got yesterdays travesty. As one commentator at the Scotsman wrote recalling the then 50 Labour MPS who couldn’t prevent the Poll Tax wrote: “Have the feeble fifty now morphed into the feeble forty? Just what exactly are these ‘feeble forty’ Labour MPs about to do for Scotland?” Yesterday we were answered.

But there’s another history to this. Hari again: “George Osborne has just gambled your future on an extreme economic theory that has failed whenever and wherever it has been tried”. Collective amnesia. Numbness. He continues:

“When was the last time Britain’s public spending was slashed by more than 20 per cent? Not in my mother’s lifetime. Not even in my grandmother’s lifetime. No, it was in 1918, when a Conservative-Liberal coalition said the best response to a global economic crisis was to rapidly pay off this country’s debts. The result? Unemployment soared from 6 per cent to 19 per cent, and the country’s economy collapsed so severely that they lost all ability to pay their bills and the debt actually rose from 114 per cent to 180 per cent.” Read the whole article here.

This is the time to test whether there is any substance to our claims to want to be a better place, with a real commitment to equality and social justice, or have we all been corroded by the tabloid culture of self-hatred, blaming the poor, kicking the weakest when they are down that we will scuttle back to the false safety of Labours arms?

The media would have you believe this is the only response we have. This morning the Scotsman and other outlets are shouting the same headline that Labour are ahead in the polls (‘Osborne forces ministers to slash £1.3 billion as poll shows SNP behind Labour’).

Don’t believe it.

Labour’s vote has flat lined and the Lib Dems vote crumbled to its lowest level in over 9 years. The SNP is polling at a higher level than at the same time prior to the 2007 election. Can the Tory vote sink lower in Scotland? Where will the Liberal vote go? Danny Alexander and Michael Moore prodded forward by Tory fixers both had car-crash media moments on Newsnight and ‘nicht yesterday. Gordon Brewer – hardly an intense interviewer had them for toast. Next year they face annihilation. The sudden fall in Lib Dem support could leave the party with only nine MSPs at Holyrood, down from the current 16, if replicated next May. They may have to face up to the notion: You can’t lie to all of the people all of the time.

“The huge cut in housing support, and the end of lifetime tenancy of council houses, introduces the cold steel of domestic turbulence into many poorer families who were hanging on in the best of times. A commitment that “wages are never exceeded by welfare” will mean a downward pressure on welfare, in an environment where wages are already depressed.

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of forthcoming unemployed from the public sector have to hope in what Joseph Stiglitz (Alex Salmond’s new economic advisor) calls the “confidence fairy” of private-sector revival to appear. According to Stiglitz, economic history shows that austerity measures in a slump rarely, if ever, create the “jobs boom” predicted by advocates.” (from Thoughtland)

I don’t believe in fairies. Neither do you.

In times like this, gallus humour prevails, Armando Iannucci: “I think the cuts were fair. It’s about time bedbound homeless people with learning difficulties were taken down a peg or two.” But there’s a need to move beyond the constant shift between laughing and desperation.

Yesterday was about myth-shattering. Defence jobs are safe under the union. Gone. The Liberals won’t do the Tories dirty-work. Gone. A vote for Labour will stop the cuts. Gone. The Tories cuts will be fairly made, ‘we’re all in this together’. Gone. Okay, no-one ever swallowed that last one.

Our friend Lallands Peat Worrier recalling and deconstructing a recent Salmond’s speech writes: “The speech included some snappy lines, snappily delivered – ‘Our water will not be privatised – not a tap, not a drop’ and plenty of intertextuality including Edwin Morgan, Robert Cunningham Graeme, Jimmy Reid.  I noticed that he twanged on one of my own favourite strings – that independence is not the radical irresponsibility of the teenage tearaway in the huff, but fundamentally a movement about civic participation, active citizenship – and the tensions of responsibility.”

Sound like the Big Society? No, it’s about whether we have a collective response as a nation to reject this failed dogma and take real responsibility for a different Scotland where the sort of austerity measures announced yesterday just couldn’t happen. Do we? The shock doctrine is a failed experiment, and so is the Union.

Salmond’s speech ended like this: “I want us to act together, in common purpose, to deliver that better land. I want you and everyone here in Perth, in this land, to know that having a parliament in itself is not enough. We need a purpose – and it is my purpose to get the powers to address our problems.
I believe our people want a better society. Not a bit better, not a wee change, not some tinkering at the edges, but a better land full stop. Perhaps from now on I should explain it thus – The referendum we wish to have is first and foremost a jobs referendum. The Independence I seek is the independence to create jobs. The powers I wish for us all are powers to protect us all. This is not an arcane question removed from the people – it is the people, you and me, and how we protect our society.”

It’s a speech we should not just be listening to but making ourselves.

Comments (23)

Join the Discussion

Your email address will not be published.

  1. KBW says:

    Thank you, I feel better now, your excellent article has covered every emotion and thought I have had since this inferno was lit.

    Moore and Alexander are just as embarrassing and hypocritical as Gray, perhaps even more so. They were tongue tied and relied on the mantra that has now taken the place of rational thought, “we are all in this together, and tough decisions have to be made.”

    Neither of them could answer the question regarding the person who physically cannot work and ends up without money which is the reality now. Alternatively, the person who just cannot find work, which will be many thousands now.

    We are bloody not all in this together; throw another benefit scrounger on the bonfire. Trebles all round?

    Pray God Scotland votes overwhelmingly for the SNP.

  2. Dubbyside says:

    While I agree with much of your article I would take issue with the part that states “They have no mandate to do this here”

    They do indeed have a mandate to do this here. Every vote cast at the general election for Labour, Lib Dem and Tory was a mandate for Westminster rule.

    Every one of these votes said “we are part of the democratic process of the United Kingdom” Every one of these votes agreed that decisions made at Westminster are binding on all parts of the United Kingdom.

    To argue that these measures are imposed on us by Westminster directly contradicts these votes. The Lab/Lib/Tory cannot have it both ways, if they did not want measures agreed at Westminster implemented in Scotland they had the opportunity to vote for a party that wanted all decisions about Scotland made in a Scottish Parliament by Scottish MSPs.

    The message is quite clear, you voted for it, now you have to live with it. Did not get the outcome you wished for? too bad. Maybe now people will look at Scotlands 59 MPs and think maybe we will never get more votes than Englands 600 plus MPs.

    There is only one way to get Scottish outcomes from Scottish votes, vote SNP.

  3. Labour’s vote has flatlined? You have got to be joking. The SNP are a busted flush, the people of Scotland have seen right through their single-issue pressure-group mentality, and they will be out of power for good next year. Labour’s vote in Scotland INCREASED in May, and polling shows it continuing to increase as Labour produces the only credible alternative to the Tory/LibDem cuts.

    People will vote for a Labour government in Scotland next year, not because of some thoughtless sheep-like Scottish bias, as the SNP are so often claiming for the Scots, but because they judge Labour to have the best answers and to be the best positioned to fight.

    Salmond’s time is over. He is a lame duck leader of a failed party. His economic comparisons are laughing stocks, his judgement is in tatters and his party is ready to implode with in-fighting. Goodbye SNP.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      But you lot led us into this catastrophe. How are you going to lead us out? By nuclear power, Trident and PFI?

      The truth is you can’t stop England voting Tory, and they elect the government.

      1. Sandy Mathers says:

        …the only sheep-like thing in this column so far is Duncan Hothersall’s contribution..,

        …it’s too late for your knighthood Duncan, Gordon isn’t dishing them out any more…and the current bunch of millionaires in the cabinet don’t need the money… tough luck pal…your defence of the Union will bring nothing to Labour voters…like the rest of us they will be rained on from a great height…

        …but it might get you promotion in the Labour Party…?

    2. You give the SNP far less credit than they deserve and the LP too much, how typical of a unionist to ignore facts.

      I doubt the SNP will even have a majority of 1 next year (it’ll be close though) because, in my opinion, they failed to even try to deliver the much promised referendum, something that no doubt played a part in their existing majority and an error that will cost them a lot of the floating voters they picked up last time.

      However, don’t let that fool you into thinking that the LP are growing as a political force in Scotland, it is clear that the Labour sheep came out to vote in Scotland at the last GE, scared witless by the thought of a Tory Westminster Government, they won’t be so keen to come out next year because they’ve already been stitched up.

      I feel confident that Labour will have to enter into another alliance with the parasitical LibDems to form a Scottish Government, if there’s enough of them around after their lust for Westminster glory. Maybe they’ll hook up with the Tories if the LibDems are totally decimated.

      Lets be very clear though, Labour have /no/ answers and they couldn’t fight themselves out of a wet paper bag.

      Like most LP fanbois you appear to have forgotten which party led the country to Torydom, if the Labour sheep come out to vote next year I hope they, for once, remember who gave them this Con-Dem nation and vote accordingly.

    3. Duncan Hothersall: What you just said describes the labour party on both sides of the border not the SNP. labour part conference Milliband makes a great show of praising Lamont then stabs her in the back, if that’s better together i resign from the human race.

  4. Wilhelm says:

    Duncan Hothell

    ”He is a lame duck leader of a failed party. His economic comparisons are a laughing stock, his judgement is in tatters and his party is ready to implode with in-fighting.”

    That sums up Gordon Broon.

    Where is he now ? Working at Asda ?

  5. JohnB says:

    Interesting times.

    Salmond’s strategy has always beentlong term – 2018 is seen as the earliest chance of breaking the Union of Parliaments. I perceived in his speech at conference an idea of a different kind of independence, of accepting the bonds that bind the peoples of these islands together but with a view to pursue fiscal autonomy: ipso-facto independence.

    The Tories, the shamed (and shameful) Liberal Democrats and the ineptitude and powerlessness of Scottish Labour will be thoroughly exposed in the coming months, particularly when the real cuts bite – when the average worker whether in public or private employment see that the axe has hit them hard too.

    At least in Scotland, we have a choice. I know quite a few supporters of the Lib Dems are going to be voting Green or SNP (mostly the former) so we could end up with an SNP/Green minority government in Scotland next year.

    I fear the real stumbling block, even if a referendum does eventually take place to judge public opinion on constitutional change, it shall be ignored by Westminster which has the final say on such matters.


  6. David McCann says:

    You appear to have forgotten that the Labour party bottled it when it came to forming a progressive alliance with the SNP, which would have kept the Tories out, but like all Unionists, you prefer permanent baying from the opposition benches, at Westminster, than forming the Government in an Independent Scotland.

  7. KBW says:

    JohnB. The people of Scotland have the final say, they are sovereign, all it takes is a vote for independence and a declaration of secession. It may well be that Westminster try and have the final say by use of force, as they have done in the past, but in this age we live in that would be unlikely and ill advised as civil war would ensue. Unless of course they take the Sri Lankan option.

    Scotland has a lot of friends in the world, and a lot of people want us to be our own country. We would not be short of support. I would rather live in a free Scotland even if we were under threat and poorer than live another year in this bloody union.

    What is taking place now is just cynical bigotry, there is and never was a respect agenda. Dave has shown him self to be no more than a sound bite jockey who says what he thinks his audience wants him to. Moore and Alexander are a nasty sick joke. Taking benefits from people at the end of their lives in care homes is just fascism. They are worse much worse than Thatcher.

  8. EH says:

    An excellent article. Well presented and highlighting not only the reasons why we are in this mess, but the lack of credible alternative thinking as supplied by the Labour Party (either side of the Border).
    The time is absolutely now for a grown-up discussion on the future of a fiscally-autonomous Scotland. A Scotland that genuinely embraces change but for the whole society. One that cares, but one that seeks to ensure an integrity in everything it does. To that end, we are lucky. We do have the scale to make meaningful connections across our whole economy, culture and society and to use that advantage to create a Scotland that is inclusive, forward-thinking and positive.
    Will it be a bed of roses? Of course not, but with the ability to make genuine decisions on how we organise our priorities, we will ensure a more robust future for Scotland. At the very least, it will be an honest one and a future that if some people don’t like, their voices can be heard and decisions taken that include these concerns. Even in 11 years, the Parliament at Holyrood has shown that it can be responsive and considered. With proper powers, that responsiveness and consideration will grow.
    This is fundamentally about jobs – Alex Salmond is right about that. With the ability to genuinely create and shape our economy, Scotland can become a country proud to take it’s own decisions and happy to live with the consequences. And like any entity that has the decision-making powers, we will learn as we go, but be more confident and assured when we get there.

  9. Kiki says:

    I don’t agree with much of this article – especially that we are all entitled to benefits – benefits are for those who really need them – not for middle class famalies to stash in bank accounts for their kids – sure they’ll miss it but they don’t need it.

    Council houses were built for the war heroes – they were never intended as a long term solution – there are countless examples of wealthy relatives buying family council houses at a very low price and selljng at a profit.

    In response to your comments about the Scottish MP’s – I agree with this – don’t you think it is time for the people of Kirkcaldy to make a noise about Brown – presumably he has a lot of constituents on benefits and in the public sector who would have preferred it if he had the courtesy to turn up to the HofC once in a while.

    finally, labour is no longer a credible alternative – look at the rathe basic performance of Miliband / Johnson – they could have gone nuts but completely missed the point whilst cracking jokes.

    The state of this Country is just not funny.

  10. Andrew McPake says:

    This was a cogent article stating a truth that is known by all thinking people, yet completely ignored by the mainstream press.

    One of the reasons that the Tories are so successful in spreading their pernicious ideology is because they are in the habit of creating problems then offering simplistic solutions to them. For instance, under Thatcherism they created huge unemployment, and then promptly blamed the unemployed for this state of affairs – they are already using this tactic this time round.

    One of their most successful tactics is to make the services of the state on available for the poorest in society, meaning that the middle class get nothing out of the state, turn against the state and ultimately to supporting the Conservatives. To address Kiki’s point, I believe that benefits should be paid on a universal basis. It means that those who pay for the state get something back from it while at the same time removing the stigma and bureaucracy of means testing.

    My only criticism of the article relates to its glorification of Alex Salmond’s Government. This is the same Scottish National Party who favour a 5% cut in corporation tax isn’t it? Hardly a policy for Scotland’s poor. Neither is their obsequious treatment of Donald Trump for that matter.

  11. Doonhamer says:

    What surprises me is that people still have faith in politicians of any hue, the green, the yellow, the red, the blue (apols to W H Auden). Take each party in turn and you can tear them apart. I find politicians creepy, local ones are the worst. What normal person wants to rule over others? Can’t think of an alternative.

  12. KBW says:

    Andrew, as I remember it Jack McConnel courted Trump rather heavily also, enjoying chopper trips round Scotland with him and wining and dining him. If we do not allow money to be invested in Scotland what is to become of us? The vast majority of local opinion is for the Trump development. This was yet one more hysterical agenda whipped up by the hee hawing unionists to find something, anything to trip up Salmond. If the Martin Fords of this country get there way we will be no more than a safari park for rich people to come and gawp at.

  13. Observer says:

    ”Council houses were built for the war heroes – they were never intended as a long term solution”

    What a very bizarre thing to say. Of course they were intended as a permanent solution, that is why they were built. Have you never heard of John Wheatley? Look him up.

    The thing that scares me about the Tories is not just that they are nasty, but that they are also incredibly stupid & know nothing about how ordinary working class people live.

    The social consequences of the measures they intend to take in England could be catastrophic in terms of social harmony. We really need to realise the enormous advantage the Scottish Parliament gives us in protecting us from their most lunatic policies. I think that will become more & more evident as time marches on, & will illustrate to Scots that actually forming a separate state would be no bad thing.

    It’s just a shame for the poor English stuck with them, but that is their fight (& I wish them luck).

  14. Seon says:

    @ Doonhamer. ‘What surprises me is that people still have faith in politicians of any hue […] Can’t think of an alternative’.

    The alternative is a position against politicians and against a society based on private profit. In its place that working people take control through direct democracy and self-management in the workplace. Call it anarchism, libertarian communism, council communism, participatory economics, whatever.


    ‘that independence is not the radical irresponsibility of the teenage tearaway in the huff, but fundamentally a movement about civic participation, active citizenship – and the tensions of responsibility’

    – Independence – will never lead to real ‘participation’ by ordinary people. It will never give us economic or political equality.

    What, in capitalism, is an ‘active citizenship’?

    Lastly, I’d question the headline itself: ‘No Shock Doctrine for Scotland’. Let’s not be sectionalist. Scottish working people are in the same position as English and any other workers. We’ll end the system of shock doctrines by fighting together.

    1. Doonhamer says:

      As I say, can’t think of an alternative. Fraid your solutions do not appeal to me. I have worked with too many committees. It would help if there were less hypocrisy in politics. Politics does not mean everybody wins. This is a naive viewpoint. Politics is a zero sum game, winners and losers and many neither. Let us all remember that the reason we are in this mess is because of the incredible greed of a small number of bankers AND the Labour government (G Brown) who let them be greedy. GB needed the financial sector profits to fund his social schemes. Now GB is the perfect example of what I mean by a creepy politician.

    2. bellacaledonia says:

      I dont think its sectionalist to argue for self-determination and a socialist Scotland Seon. ‘We’ll end the system of shock doctrines by fighting together.’ Well yes we will but we’ll also hasten it by creating good examples of alternative systems and by breaking the stranglehold of the British State. John Macleans argument that ‘the destruction of the British state is a socialist act’ remains true today.

      If we were to wait for the movement in surbiton we would be hear for many centuries to come.

      ‘Independence – will never lead to real ‘participation’ by ordinary people. It will never give us economic or political equality.’ Well independence on its own gaurantees nothing, and the opportunity for us to mimic the British State and have a minor and mini capitalist country with flags and flunkies and newly invented hierarchies is obvious and real.

      But what is perhaps less obvious but no less real is the opportunity for a country with a radically revived set of land ownership laws and principles, a devolved and re-devolved set of political institutions, with ecological sustainability and social justice at its heart. All of this is possible, but none of it is attainable within the confines of the British State, irredeemably caught up in imperialist decline, enthralled to the City of London and captured by big business and the corporate media.

  15. Seon says:

    “Fraid your solutions do not appeal to me. I have worked with too many committees.”

    Were these directly democratic ‘committees’, with delegate structures, rotating positions etc.? Let’s not be deceived in thinking that the type of committees we meet with commonly are in any way democratic. This isn’t to be utopian in the perjorative sense but to suggest quite rationally that the people that run things should be making the decisions.

    “It would help if there were less hypocrisy in politics.”

    There has never been a time in history when politics was without hypocrisy. Why do you expect things to change? The problem is allowing there to be a political class in the first place.

    “Politics does not mean everybody wins. This is a naive viewpoint.”

    Politics will always mean the domination of the vast majority by a tiny minority?

    “Let us all remember that the reason we are in this mess is because of the incredible greed of a small number of bankers AND the Labour government (G Brown) who let them be greedy.”

    This is how capitalism functions. There has been a string of crises and, in general, they’ve got progressively bigger and more global – as capital has. Greed and complicity was a part of it but a crisis was inevitable, as are following crises.

    “Well yes we will but we’ll also hasten it by creating good examples of alternative systems and by breaking the stranglehold of the British State. John Macleans argument that ‘the destruction of the British state is a socialist act’ remains true today.”

    Ofcourse, I’ve got a lot of respect for MacLean. Ending the British state, however, won’t affect capitalism in the slightest and it will never be possible to live up to ‘social justice’ or even, I’d argue, ‘sustainability’ through the state or capital. Socialism is built bottom-up through class struggle or not at all. I think deep down you might even be sympathetic to this point, Mike.

    “If we were to wait for the movement in surbiton we would be hear for many centuries to come.”

    Struggles exist here and now. We can’t afford to wait. And if we don’t argue the libertarian socialist position now there will never be a movement.

Help keep our journalism independent

We don’t take any advertising, we don’t hide behind a pay wall and we don’t keep harassing you for crowd-funding. We’re entirely dependent on our readers to support us.

Subscribe to regular bella in your inbox

Don’t miss a single article. Enter your email address on our subscribe page by clicking the button below. It is completely free and you can easily unsubscribe at any time.