2007 - 2020

Reclaiming Our Democracy

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On the eve of the launch of the Scottish Greens Yes Campaign, Justin Kenrick, comments on the shifting forces within Scottish politics:

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.

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  1. “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.”

    Despite being an SNP member, I was half-minded to vote Green next year anyway, as I assumed the Greens would need fewer votes to get an MEP than the SNP would need to get a third MEP. I also just quite simply like seeing the Greens doing well. Having done the maths, it turns out that the SNP actually need considerably fewer votes to get a third MEP than the Greens need to get their first. But Maggie Chapman seems like a good candidate, and I feel like the SNP made it a bit too obvious who they wanted to get ranked third on their list.

    (And I do enjoy being contrary…)

  2. James Coleman says:

    Bella. Sorry to come in O/T so quickly, but this could be important for you. I am having the greatest difficulty connecting to your site. When I try, my browser (Firefox) crashes at first, comes back, then crashes and wobbles a number of times before after about 5 mins I am connected. I don’t have that problem at any other site.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Thanks for letting us know – we’ll check it out with other people

  3. Oh, forgot to say – I think we really need to push the “how will you feel on the morning after the referendum?” idea onto people, particularly in the weeks running up to the vote.

    I have absolutely no doubts in my mind that the majority of people in Scotland would like to think Scotland could be independent, but just can’t see it – either because they’ve swallowed the “too poor, too wee, too stupid” propaganda all their lives, or simply because they don’t think enough people will vote for it. These are the kind of people who, upon finding out it’s a Yes vote, will feel a sudden, unexpected surge of excitement about the future. We need to say to people:

    “Try to imagine how you’ll feel on the morning of the 19th September 2014, waking up to the news that Scotland has voted No in the referendum. It’s just another day, nothing has changed. You know exactly what’s going to happen in the future, because it’ll be exactly the same as yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that.

    Now imagine you’ve woken up to the news that Scotland has voted Yes…”

    1. Doug – Totally agree. Will you write this piece of the jigsaw?

  4. mrbfaethedee says:

    The debate over nationalism is over?
    Is that so? How democratic. How green.

    Please let me know if you decide any other topics of democratic discussion are now over.

    1. Hi mrfaethedee – Read the context man!

      I was just talking about a phase of debate that I’ve been listening to when I listen to discussions following talks by people like Robin MacAlpine or Lesley Riddoch, or more specifically (as I discuss in this piece) in the discussions on sites like Bella. It is that context in the run up to the referendum I’m talking about – the willingness to fiercely disagree in order for all sides in the Yes debate (not the No Yes debate) to be able to find deeper common cause and so becoming stronger not weaker. In my experience, it is a rare, really rare process.

      There was a particular period where the nature of nationalism was a hot potato, but it has settled.

      The point I’m trying to make is that there is an extraordinary and fundamental rethinking going on, and it seems to me all of our previously unacknowledged prejudices (each of which also contain insights) are coming up for being challenged. What would you say the prejudice and insight in your comment is, because I’m pretty sure there is one!

  5. picpac67 says:

    Justin Kenrick says that the SNP “can go either way, depending on us”. I wouldn’t be too sure. The stark reality of modern-day politics is that the politicians’ hands are largely tied and that the big decisions are taken in the boardrooms of the 147 transnational companies which control the vast majority of the world’s economy. Politicians who try to pursue any kind of radical ‘socialist’ course tend to end up dead.
    The other big problem is that because there is no genuine democratic culture in the UK, people do not actually know what democracy is (other than voting) and I suspect that most do not care. What they want is simple security and ‘the good life’, so they will tend to continue voting for the party which offers them the (false) promise of jam today and tomorrow. Things probably have to get a lot worse before a majority wakes up (hopefully not too late) to the sobering realisation that perpetual growth is impossible.

    1. There is much in what you say, but what I am trying to point to in this piece – and what I experience in pubs, on buses and at the school gates, is that although that is of course the general rule (as a result of imposed powerless – whether imposed through poverty or privilege) . . .

      . . . that is NOT what is happening in the independence process.

      This IS a democratic culture that we are reclaiming here and now . . . and I totally agree that it needs to catch fire if we are to take the high road of real defiant practical hope rather than the low road of even more increasing devastation and despair.

  6. Nelson says:

    There has been reams written about railing against the power if international corporations since the end of WW2, from Eisenhower, to Kim Jong Il. The Communists used to actually come up with a response to the world of intercorps, although nowadays the Chinese CP is a prime investor in whatever Neo-Liberal policy is.

    If Bella had bothered to articulate a response to globalised neolib intercorps the article would amount to more than a rant with quotes.

    I presume that a suitable response would be to increase corporation tax (say goodbye to a number of international corporations) and / or the State buying parts of international corporations on the open market (unlikely to be possible unless you buy the whole thing).

    In reality, the government response to international corporations is characterised by the Scottish government buying Amazon a bigger warehouse than Northumberland council would buy for Amazon – a fine example of politicians being played like violins in order to compete against each other to see who would give a profitable and huge international corporation the most money, for free, whilst Amazon laughs all the way to the Luxembourg tax office (who’s government has also been played like violins in order to compete against other countries to see who would give a profitable and huge international corporation the most money).

    1. Agree with your description of the powers that be, but succumbing to the cynicism they want us to be paralysed by is understandable, but simply supports them.

      Here in Africa where I work we are each day having to come up with an innovative “response to globalised neolib intercorps” – there is a huge global movement of movements working flat out to respond – this article wasn’t about those strategies, but thanks for asking!

      Being sharply clear (which this article isn’t, that’s not what it was trying to do, you’ll have noticed!) about the savage nature of what we’re up against is one clear and crucial step; but being willing to risk the active hope of thinking and acting outside the corporate box is the other crucial step.

      Very hard to do both, but as I’m sure you’ll have noticed – because you’re contributing to it – there is a willingness to dare to engage and imagine that is happening in the inter-Yes side of the referendum coin. THAT is what scares the powers that be – people daring to hope, but also not putting their faith in any part of the status quo, but in finding the cracks – such as the immediate ballot box Yes – through which a wholly different real economic/ social/ cultural/ political Yes can become possible.

      My guess is that – if we are willing to do the work – then Yes can be the start of a high road of something extraordinary, rather than the end of a constitutional debate.

      And if there is a No then – if we are willing to do the work – that could be the start of a low road that can gather momentum for much deeper change as people realise what they lost by not seizing this moment.

      We’ll see, but we are also the ones making what we’ll see.

  7. nnels says:

    As far as next years MEP elections go, who gets George Lyon’s constituency seat will be almost as interesting as the lack of turnout. My money would be on Labour, or UKIP, with the SNP, the Greens, and George Lyon as outside chances.

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