A Liminal Moment

‘A relationship is like a shark. It’s got to keep on going forward. What we have is a dead shark.’
– Woody Allen

Woody Allen’s views on the British constitution are not well known, but he neatly describes the relationship here as Scotland takes another big slide – against all the odds only a few weeks ago – towards a very different future. Scotland’s relationship with England and the Anglo-British State is shuddering backwards, sideways, shunting about in Cameron’s post-Diana oblivion.

The Dead Shark of Britain may have been all dressed up for Kate’s wedding but a Take That concert at Wembley would serve the same purpose. For all the Dimblebores, David Starckeys and the most extravagant display of deference since England elected its Bullingdon Club Cabinet this was a blip of pomp. A temporary autonomous zone of Pedlar’s-Mania.

As slebs and Royalty inter-mingled it was a cast of Hello gathered for a knees-up at our expense. Good on them. But the idea that this actually means something is a stretch of the imagination.

Between now and Friday we are in a liminal moment: ‘between’. We remain there for four or five years. That, despite the Tavish’s hysterics and Iain’s wailing, may not be a bad thing.

Greens talk of ‘transition’ and it may be that the term can be expanded not just to mean a shift from a petro-chemical society of relentless consumerism but ‘transition’ to a state of self-determination, beyond the British State. This stateless nation, in transition from ‘Scotland’s oil’ to ‘Scotland’s wind and water’ may not seem a dynamic place to be. It’s turgid media, dullard leaders and conservative politics may seem to be dominated by a cheeky, too-chipper leader, the Smart Alec of popular press (the British establishment don’t like their Scots so cock-sure) – but the facade masks some bigger real shifts happening.

The Lib-Lab Suicide Pact
Much has been written about Labours hopeless tactics, to confront the whole campaign as a Labour versus Tory decision, when it was about who would form the next government of Scotland. Might this be the last time the Labour Party attempt this approach? It failed in 2007 and it failed five years later.

Then, suddenly, in a co-ordinated awakening the Liberals and Labour awoke and started ranting and raving about independence. But the idea seemed absurd. Hadn’t the previous campaign been all about how no-one was talking about independence, now it was the Nats obsession. Like the idea that Labour put jobs before everything – yet opposed a plan for apprenticeships – or were focused on violence – but opposed control of alcohol – it didn’t add up.

Tavish Scott, landed gentry from Shetland who seems like a character out of a John Buchan novel. Unable to disassociate himself from his London Liberal party – who have come to personify the sort of shabby, lying deceitful politicians as a sort of charicature – he instead turned more and more crabby with the media. His campaign dissolved as quickly as Labour’s did. There is the argument that the Liberal meltdown is more significant than Labour’s. In Scotland, the Liberals have always acted as a bulwark against real change, the rural Tavishes, the Highland Liberals, a safe anodyne alternative, has been brutally exposed. The sad sight of ‘Fag-Ash Charlie’ wheezing on to pretend that Nick Clegg hadn’t happened fooled nobody, and the BBC and STVs decision to exclude Patrick Harvie will now look like the petty narrow media failure it was.

If the Scottish Green Party make the sort of breakthrough that’s now widely predicted – and God hopes they do – it will be because they deserve it.

A block of six, seven or more MSPs will be an inspiring block of sanity in any parliament given no better accolade than the Scotsman’s hilarious editorial. The Greens – the dying publication told us: ‘are often seen as cuddly people, who just want us all to recycle more rubbish. They are not.’ No. ‘They are a serious party, but with left-wing policies.’ Instead the earnest organ informed us that ‘we feel Mr Salmond, in association with Miss Goldie, with whom he has a personal rapport, would be the best team to take Scotland forward in the next half-decade.’
This – as serious editorial in a national newspaper is so lacking in credibility it’s beyond parody.

But the breakthrough for the SGP will be far more important than any victory for George Galloway, should that come.

The Tories have had what some commentators have called a ‘revival’, but it’s a revival based on the vaudeville act that is Annabel Goldie protecting the toxic brand. Keeping the Scottish Conservatives protected from the realities of modern Scotland doesn’t amount to a revival, it’s a retreating tactic to stop the rot, doubtless popular in rugby clubs and golfing bars up and down the land, but otherwise a meaningless presence in contemporary Scotland.

Let’s not pretend this election is a fluke or a freak. Gerry Hassan has called this ‘one of the most disastrous election campaigns in recent memory anywhere in the UK’. Labour Uncut’s Calum Wright called Labour’s campaign, ‘uninspiring, ill-conceived and unsuccessful’. It was thought that things could not have got any worse after the travesty of Wendy Alexander’s short-lived but ill-fated reign, but it certainly did.

The collapse of the unionist parties is a more significant shift than many realise. Repeated studies show that once voter loyalty is broken the pattern of behaviour is rarely resorted to automatically. People voting for the SNP or the Greens for the first time will have dislodged loyalty to Liberals or Labour. It may have been the Stephen Purcell debacle, the competence of the Green opposition or the incompetence of the Labour one, but something substantial has moved in the Scottish political landscape.

Discussion will quickly move to the referendum, but this debate should be delayed, not for long but long enough for a more dynamic energised administration to show some impact unencumbered by the unionist shackles.

If an upturned boat is a watershed, what’s a landslide?

Comments (9)

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  1. Justin Kenrick says:

    Great post! I wrote a comment but it got longer and longer until it became post-sized itself! [Feel free to post it and delete this, or simply leave this very shortened version]:

    Elections are always liminal moments, moments of ‘in between’ when the normal state of things is turned upside down and there is the possibility for completely other outcomes.

    In the few weeks of an election there is a chance that people could completely kick out those who govern them. The classic picture of politicians kissing babies sums up the fact that those in power are – for these few weeks – dependent on the goodwill and support of ordinary people in order to resume their normal state of power.

    Liminal moments always either transform or more deeply entrench the status quo.

    Social structures look solid but actually entirely rely on people believing in them and recreating them day after day. Liminal moments enable us to see that we can recreate the world differently and not just the same, but the juice of our openness, our awareness that the world can be different, has to rapidly self-organise to transform if it is not to be used to feed into and strengthen the power of the structures that dominate.

    Elections force us to choose between parties, but there is as much difference within parties as between them. There are always those more inclined to assert their power by curbing the autonomy of others, and those more inclined to ensure all are empowered.


    The Scotsman came out for Alex Salmond as First Minister yesterday, hoping that he would formally ally his party with the Tories: ”Might such a revolutionary change be Mr Salmond’s ‘Clause 4’ moment?” it asks.

    What is a ‘Clause 4’ moment? It’s when a party gives up on its core purpose.

    For the SNP, a ‘Clause 4’ moment would have to mean reneging on their core purpose of seeking independence. Such an outcome may seem far-fetched until you remember the power for untold possibilities that liminality unleashes. But the polls predicting the SNP will gain over 60 seats and the Greens enough to provide a majority in a 129 seat Parliament may be way off the mark.

    The Greens can get 7 or 8 seats or can get 1 or 2 or no seats, depending on the whim of a few thousand votes pushing our vote up above 6% or leaving it languishing just below in a way that leaves even Patrick Harvie out cold as George Galloway or the LibDems squeeze in on the list in Glasgow.

    A ‘Clause 4’ moment for the Greens would be to enter a formal or informal coalition with the SNP based on accepting the need to expand economic growth instead of pursuing our core purpose: that of creating sustainable livelihoods that are fulfilling and purposeful rather than based on increasing economic growth and so further plundering the planet and further entrenching inequality.

    A ‘Clause 4’ moment is about ‘triangulation’, about leaders claiming that they above the fray, that they can achieve the party’s purpose through appearing to do the opposite. In this way leaders can use an exceptional moment to claim that they can achieve what previously seemed impossible through accommodating themselves to the powerful.

    For progressive movements the cost of such an accommodation is that they lose the only power they really have: their vision for change, and the trust people have in them that they will act on that transformative vision rather than absorb peoples ideas, energies and enthusiasm and use them simply to seek power.

    Hopefully all is well in the world; hopefully today’s voting will bring real progress within and between parties.

    With the AV referendum looking lost, this election in Scotland is maybe the best chance England has of being enabled to shake off the illusions of Empire. It may also be the best chance the Labour Party in Scotland has of rediscovering its core purpose – something it may only be able to do if other progressive parties win, and not only win but then abide by, rather than abandon, their own visions.

  2. David MacGille-Mhuire says:

    Liminal or luminal or revolutionary historical moments. Or windows of genuinely popular opportunity to make things right.

    Luck to you and all.

  3. Tom Hogg says:

    Please arrange for this to be given to any London based meeja type or hanger-on as they arrive at the airport for a 24hour visit to fulminate on Friday’s result.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Will do Tom : )

  4. Dougie Strang says:

    Friday 8.40am: amazing results! Exhilarating. Shame we couldn’t oust the Tory here in Galloway.

  5. Ray Bell says:

    The one downside about the SNP taking so many constituency seats is that the Lib-Lab-a-Tories are taking most of the list seats so far. Gorgeous George has failed, so have some of the other obvious contenders. Greens have two so far, but it will be interesting to see final turnout.

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