Reclaiming Our Democracy
This is an extraordinary medium, where comments are as important (often more important) than the articles that precede them. This is what democracy looks like.
Mike beat me to writing an article in response to Liam’s brief comment (or rather I’m working in Africa and have only just got the time and inter(net)connection to write down my response to Liam’s response to me) but by now Liam’s comments have fused with the famous (to Bella readers) battle of the comments between the 2 (nay 3) Douglas’s and Braco on democracy and nationalism . . . but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Both Liam and Braco questioned the form of nationalism on offer whose kicking off point is left of centre. Liam was arguing “that a nationalism aimed primarily at shifting the political centre of gravity – rather than addressing cultural or ethnic suppression, under representation etc. – is a thin, reedy nationalism and that’s perhaps why it’s struggling to breakthrough even when the majority of Scots would welcome the political realignment it might bring.” And Braco? Well, we’ll come to Braco later.
Liam later clarified that he wasn’t asking for a more left wing response, quite the opposite. He described himself as right of centre and someone who had really liked Blair. But before I managed to read his response and discovered his political position, I spent the last week thinking about the difference between what right and left means in:
(1) A fundamentally coherent society where differentials of wealth are not too huge – the kind of post-WWII British settlement that both Labour and Conservative Governments kept to with different emphasis, where Trade Unionists and Business leaders were equally vilified and appreciated – and in
(2) A society where not only the political system but, very soon, the judiciary is likely to be completely captured by corporate power (see Monbiot’s recent piece on this).
Blair may have seemed like a moderniser – and he was in terms of sexuality, gender and racial equality – but he was completely uncritical of corporate power and clearly those ‘in power’ now are also completely in the pockets of the corporates (as Monbiot details in another piece this week). So, although I can appreciate the political position of someone like Liam (I understand him as being an open-minded right wing person as opposed to a fanatical Neoliberal one) the public is becoming very aware that we are being hoodwinked by people masquerading as wealth creators who are actually thieves (see Huitson on the shifting public response).
In this context, right and left should not be understood in the traditional sense.
Just as Gulag socialism was not democratic socialism so the Neoliberal right is not the democratic right, it is becoming as anti-democratic as the gulags were.
To vote for the parties that push this Neoliberal dogma is to vote against democracy (and those that push the dogma include all 3 Westminster parties; the SNP can go either way depending on us). And this is because democracy is so much more than marking a ballot paper every 4 years, it is how we live our lives, and if that way of living is destroyed by people being given a choice between 3 parties of pretty much the same Neoliberal shade every election, then democracy erodes very fast. Not just in terms of people giving up on voting, and not just in terms of the surveillance state, but in far more fundamental ways.
Which takes me back to the endless series of exchanges between a couple of Douglas’s (actually 3 Douglas’s at one point!) and a Braco (none too far from Dunblane, I presume?) that followed on from the ‘Talks from Leith’ post on Bella back in October. It was an endless exchange but to give you a brief excerpt, Braco asked:
…As democrats who consider Scotland to be your Country, how can either of you justify the position that, had the Scots electorate been out of kilter with your political views (right wing rather than left), then you both would vote NO to Independence in 2014 and in so doing, deny your Countries democratic right to receive the Government it votes for? This is a question about Democracy, not Nationalism. Please try and address it as such for me. I am genuinely interested in your ‘democratic’ logic.
Whereupon suddenly a non-Douglas (Thepnr) intervened and responded:
Hypothetically, I have to say that if the referendum meant that we in Scotland might possibly be voting in some kind of right wing party to rule us and that the majority of Scots desired this. I for one would use my democratic right to tell them to go fcuk themselves and vote No.
To which Braco (curtly?) replied:
Fine. So you’re not a democrat. That’s all I wanted to know. How about the Douglases?
But before a Douglas could hit the keyboard, quick as a flash Thepnr responded:
Braco I think your having a laugh. If I chose to vote in whatever direction then I’m not a Democrat? Your measure of democracy appears to be very self centered and if someone disagrees with your version then they’re not a Democrat?
Finally a Douglas found his keyboard:
You get a very similar answer from me as Thepnr gave. If the answer to the problem was a UKIP like or BNP like retreat from civilisation then I too would be against it. A Scotland led towards independence by a fascist-lite or fascist-heavy government has no appeal whatsoever.
Now, I am not interested in Douglas Clerk’s criticism of ‘nationalism’ that kicked off the debate, but to be fair I need to quote it:
I expect Chas Booth and most of us that will vote ‘Yes’ would eschew the ‘Nationalist’ moniker. Because it is a tainted name, you all know why. It does not, in any way, represent what we are about. It is the language of our chums in the Better Together campaign. It is a deliberate smear. I am not willing to have that tattoo branded on me.
I will vote for our sovereignty, the right of the people who live here to decide their own future and for a full and inclusive state. I will vote for a society that cares about the poor and the weak. That respects minorities and enshrines rights in a written constitution. That is what I will vote for. There is nothing ‘nationalist’ about voting for independence. Indeed, we may well be rejecting a more robust ‘nationalist’ ideology.
The reason I am not going to enter into the debate on nationalism is because it is over.
We all know what Douglas Clerk means, and know that we need to win over those who would never identify as nationalists, and so need to emphasise the democratic as opposed to identity aspect of the debate. But we also know that being a nationalist need not mean being BNP but can simply be a way of asserting the right of those who live in a place to be the ones who decide what happens in it, of asserting that the culture and ways of living of a peoples is not as their more dominant neighbours define them, but needs to be understood through their own eyes. Finished.
But the democracy debate? Let’s make that finished too.
To vote for the parties that hand our democracy over to the corporations is not democratic (just a minute and a half of Alex Salmond on the NHS (video) was enough to remind the Liverpool audience that they had no democratic control over this direction of travel whichever way they voted).
And this – I think – is what the Douglas’s and Thepnr were trying to say when they said (as apparently passionate Yes voters) that they’d rather Vote No then vote Yes if that was to usher in control by parties that are hurling us out of democracy and into the kleptocracy of corporate control. And that doesn’t make Braco’s insistent questioning any less important, and doesn’t deny his point that the people who live in Scotland should be the ones to decide on the future of Scotland. It is just that we can’t decide on that future if such parties are ‘in control’ precisely because they are not in control, they are selling democracy to the corporations for their own chance to be allowed by those same corporations to strut and fret their hour upon the stage, and in the process people are losing their jobs, and here in Africa are losing their lands and homes, and we are all losing our planet.
This assertion of democracy sits squarely with (and not against) the nationalism that is rising here: a 21st century form of nationalism that is grounded in a care for place that recognises that all places are being destroyed by a system in thrall to profit.
Cath, over on Derek Bateman’s blog, describes perfectly the emotional side of this journey:
I didn’t vote SNP in 2007. I wasn’t very political, and still largely believed the media “consensus” that they were a bit fruit-loop and a fringe party not to be trusted. I supported the Lib Dems and federalism. But when they won I found I was inexplicably happy and excited. It felt like a real change. I hoped the Lib Dems would go into coalition with them, but instead we had 4 years of the Westminster parties going all out together to make things hard.
I had the strong feeling a lot of people around me felt similarly, that it was a breath of fresh air and they liked it. In 2011, we saw the results of that.
I suspect the morning after a Yes vote will be similar. A lot of people who nervously, reluctantly voted yes, or who voted no with a heavy heart will find themselves inexplicably happy and excited. We’ll start the process of building a new country, and all the possibilities will open up. There are plenty people ready to hit the ground running on that.
My response to Cath is still awaiting moderation on the Bateman blog, so here’s a sneak preview:
I think you’ve hit the nail on the head in terms of what happened in 2007 and 2011 and what is going to happen in 2014. The experience you describe happened for so many people, and is part of a much bigger society-wide shift than any one individual. I remember the conversations at the school gates that gave us the 2007 election results. Its those same conversations happening now that are likely to lead to a ‘Yes’ in 2014, and it is likely to surface in the polls very late on, because changes such as this are not ones you advertise or shout or even really acknowledge, until you have to (which is in the few weeks running up to the vote).
And one way to help that change, that sense of hope, the sense that we can make different choices, would be if we can get a Green, Maggie Chapman, elected in the European elections in May 2014. Electing a pro-independence non-SNP woman with a radical pro-democracy take on what is happening . . . whoops, has this suddenly become a party political broadcast . . . my apologies . . . but you can see my train of thought . . . which continues from the comments and will (hopefully) be challenged and continued in the comments in this democracy we are making.