Just Say Naw – To Galloway’s Sectarian British Unionism
With the Scottish independence referendum less than nine months away, George Galloway is bringing his ‘Just Say Naw’ roadshow to Edinburgh’s Assembly Rooms on Monday February 3rd. A seat costs £10 a head – nothing comes cheap where ‘Gorgeous George’ is involved.
Galloway has been dining out on the Left for a long time since his triumph at the US Senate hearing, almost nine years ago, during the Iraq war. Whatever political differences others on the Left held then, we could all cheer his performance in front of such a smug, then thoroughly riled, bunch of war-mongering US politicians.
However, since then, it has been all downhill for Galloway as a credible Left politician. His Westminster election victories, won on a Left populist mix of Islamic communalism and Old Labourism, leave nothing solid behind. He only held the Bethnal Green and Bow seat from 2005 until 2010, and, in 2015, will almost certainly lose the Bradford West seat he won in the 2012 by-election. In Galloway’s own mind, this has no doubt been largely compensated by his financial gains for being an MP (albeit mostly absentee), from earlier substantial libel awards, from good earnings on the celebrity speaker circuit and, of course, from his cringe-worthy performance on Celebrity Big Brother.
One indication of Galloway’s political decline, over the years, is the allies he now has in the ‘No’ campaign. The official Better Together/‘Project Fear’ leader, Alistair Darling, was New Labour’s Scottish Secretary in 2003. He gave his wholehearted support to the Iraq War. Tory leader, David Cameron, also backed the war. The Lib-Dems, then in opposition, briefly opposed the Iraq War, but today Clegg wants to commit British troops to Syria!
And, of course, Hilary Clinton, a supporter of every US promoted war, including that in Iraq, is strongly behind the UK state in opposing Scottish independence. So too is Mariano Rajoy, Spanish PM and member of the rightist People’s Party. He follows Franco in denying Catalunya the right to national self-determination. He also backed the Iraq war.
And moving ever further right, backed by the British ruling class
But the mainstream ‘No’ campaign, with it official Labour (whatever Galloway’s own misgivings on this score), Lib-Dem and Tory backing, does not account for the full political breadth (or should that be lowly depths) of the anti-Scottish independence campaign.
Beyond the Tories lies the virulently anti-Scottish independence UKIP. Indeed, until fairly recently, UKIP wanted to close down the Scottish Parliament. UKIP are pulling both Tories and Labour further to the Right. ‘Blue Labour’, with its ‘UKIP-Lite’ politics, is far more influential in Miliband’s ‘One Nation’ Labour Party, than the marginal Left, or populist George for that matter.
UNITE general secretary, Len McCluskey and the Red Paper Collective project to reclaim Labour for the Left, was blown out of the water at Grangemouth by Miliband. Yet, in the British Labour Party leadership election in 2010, McCluskey supported Miliband as the favoured UNITE candidate, over the socialist, John McDonnell.
It was not the SNP who denied Galloway a venue for his ‘Just Say Naw’ roadshow in West Lothian (despite the completely false impression Galloway gave in his sectarian diatribe directed against the council). Labour run West Lothian!
Last year, the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) challenged UKIP’s British chauvinism, homophobia and misogyny, when Farage made his British media-courting visit to Scotland. He came to Edinburgh for publicity when backing UKIP’s candidate in the Holyrood by-election in Aberdeen Donside. Aberdeen lies 120 miles to the north of Edinburgh!
The BBC fell right in behind the British ruling class in their wooing of Farage and UKIP. In the future, the ruling class could well turn on Farage and UKIP, once he has served their purpose and shifted the whole of mainstream politics to the Right. We have recently seen how the Greek ruling class, facing an even deeper economic and political crisis, used Golden Dawn, before turning on them. They had served their immediate purpose in diverting enough attention from the Greek ruling class’s alliance with the Troika to impose a banker-controlled government.
However, right now, the British ruling class still has time for UKIP in its drive to push mainstream UK politics further Right. Thus, four British unionists, Right populist, British UKIP leader, Nigel Farage, Scottish Tory leader, Ruth Davidson, Scottish Labour Depute leader, Anas Sarwar (who sends his two children to a private school) and Left populist, George Galloway, were invited on to Question Time. To counter this, the BBC only invited two pro-Scottish independence advocates, SNP right winger, Angus Robertson, and independent campaigner and journalist, Lesley Riddoch. The pro-Scottish independence contributors were outnumbered 2:1 by the British unionists. Yet the SNP forms the majority official government in Scotland. This sort of treatment of the official government would never occur on the BBC in London.
UKIP has little backing in Scotland – not one saved parliamentary deposit, nor one councillor. Their party machine has now fallen apart in Scotland. Here UKIP depends on in life support provided by the British media.
Galloway had already been seen off by the Glasgow electorate in his bid to win a Holyrood seat in 2011 – he did not even save his deposit. Yet, he used Question Time to support Farage’s right to publicly campaign unchallenged in Scotland. In effect, they formed a left/right populist ultra-British unionist ‘No’ alliance, to complement the more mainstream British unionist official ‘No’ speakers invited on to the programme.
Nobody was invited on to Question Time from the pro-independence Scottish Greens, who have 2 MSPs and several councillors in Scotland, nor from the pro-independence SSP, which has a councillor. Along with the Left wing of the Scottish Greens, they are both parts of RIC. Given that RIC’s challenge to Farage and UKIP was a central topic for this programme, the lack of any RIC speaker, and the choice of speakers taken showed the BBC’s pro-unionist bias.
But the BBC’s actions in this regard are just par for the course. It can produce more challenging programmes. Yet, whenever the British Establishment puts on the pressure, the ‘Beeb’ just rolls over, and does what is expected of it. Their supine record was highlighted by the sacking of journalist, Andrew Gilligan, over the Iraq Dossier; and their allowing New Labour spin-doctor, Alistair Campbell, to gatecrash one of their news programmes.
Now the BBC whips up anti-migrant feeling. On New Year’s Day, they sent camera teams to the Bucharest to film the ‘invasion of Romanians coming over here to get benefits’. They could not find any new benefit-seeking migrants. BBC managers would not dare to doorstep those greedy bankers, whose actions have made the vast majority of workers worse off, and pushed some people to suicide.
Galloway’s hypocrisy over the right to publicly campaign
Nobody in RIC was denying UKIP’s right to stand in an election in Scotland, or to publicly campaign. RIC was just asserting its right to publicly challenge UKIP’s putrid politics, especially when so openly encouraged by the British ruling class and mainstream media. Far from RIC’s protest being motivated by anti-English sentiment, those protesting included English students living in Scotland. On January 21st, this year, Farage faced a similar protest in Margate, which he stated, “Was actually worse than in Edinburgh, because in Edinburgh they came along to make a noise”! Good to see the spirit of Wat Tyler still lives on in Kent.
Any socialist would have used their time to attack UKIP’s British chauvinism; their hatred for migrant workers; their homophobia and misogyny; their tacit support for the banksters; and point to the embarrassing number of far right politicians and candidates who have emerged in UKIP ranks, from open racists to holocaust deniers.
When Galloway stood in the 2011 Holyrood election for the Respect Party in Glasgow, he effectively denied the right of free speech to SSP candidates who opposed the dishonest Left populist celebrity politics of Tommy Sheridan’s Solidarity. At a Solidarity rally, held in the city, Galloway virtually encouraged the audience to engage in attacks on other socialists. With Tommy away in jail, Galloway hoped to claim the celebrity socialist mantle in Scotland for himself. He still dismissed the prospect of an equal electoral partnership with Solidarity’s Gail Sheridan. Galloway’s misogyny is deep-rooted. His opportunistic electoral bid was firmly rejected by the Glasgow electorate.
And on to the ‘No’ camp’s wilder Right
But the chauvinist, homophobic and misogynist British unionism of UKIP does not constitute the furthest right limits of the ‘No’ camp. Beyond them lies the sectarian British unionism of the Orange Order and the Loyalists. Nor is the divide between UKIP and the Loyalists always that clear. UKIP’s chair in Scotland, Arthur ‘Misty’ Thackeray, has labelled Labour controlled Glasgow City Council as follows – “GCC actually stands for Gays, Catholics and Communists”!
The Loyalists morph into the neo-fascist British unionists of the BNP and SDL. The official ‘No’ campaign, UKIP, the Orange Order, the Loyalists (including their currently rampaging ‘Ulster’ brethren), BNP and SDL, all want a ‘No’ vote on September 18th. The official ‘No’ campaign depends almost entirely on the UK state machine and a pro-unionist British media to promote ‘Project Fear’. If they organised a public demonstration in support of the Union, people would very quickly see the ugly face of British unionism, as Loyalists and neo-fascists turned up.
The SDL have said they are coming to protest against Galloway on February 3rd. They are not protesting against Galloway’s support for ‘No’, which they are every bit as keen on, but his support for Muslims and Catholics.
Galloway will undoubtedly enjoy the publicity any SDL protest will give him. However, Galloway’s own politics do not really fundamentally challenge the politics of the SDL. The SDL is anti-Catholic and Islamophobic. Galloway attempts to counter this through his own flirting with Catholic ‘Hibernianism’ and Islamic communalism.
The sectarian Catholic ‘Hibernian’ tradition has long-standing roots. It makes no effort to challenge the official sectarianism embodied in the UK state with, for example, its Protestant (Church of England) head of state. Instead, ‘Hibernians’ seek better deals for Catholics within the existing order. The Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH), tried to emulate the Orange Order, only for Catholic Irish nationalists. Joseph Devlin became the AOH Grand Master in 1905. It is not surprising that, in the First World War, he ended up acting as the chief recruiting sergeant for the British Army in West Belfast.
Galloway’s courting of Islamic communalism in Bethnal Green and Bow has become notorious. Most of the councillors in his Respect Party in Tower Hamlets and Newham soon deserted back to Labour, or even to the Tories. When they became disenchanted with Galloway, they settled back into an earlier form of Islamic communalist politics. Some Respect Party members also became involved in anti-Semitic activity.
It has become a hallmark of Galloway’s politics that he leaves nothing behind but an unseemly political mess. It did not take long after his most recent Bradford West Westminster by-election victory before all five Bradford Respect councillors proclaimed their resignation from the party. Galloway announced that, in effect, he was no longer getting enough of the national publicity he craves. He was now seeking a nomination for the London mayor election in 2016!
In Scotland, during the 2011 Holyrood elections, Galloway’s abysmal political sectarianism directed against socialists he disagreed with was partly overshadowed by his resort to crude Catholic ‘Hibernian’ religious sectarianism. He attempted to play the socially conservative Catholic card and to appeal to Celtic FC supporters on a sectarian basis. Galloway claimed a vote for the SNP would be, in effect, a vote for a new Stormont in Scotland. He argued that only a vote for himself and, implicitly Labour candidates elsewhere, could protect Catholics in Scotland from this prospect!
The decline of religious sectarianism and its replacement by anti-Irish racism in Scotland
The problem with Galloway’s misleading picture of contemporary Scotland is that it is based on a political ‘understanding’ which fails to relate to contemporary reality. Furthermore, his emphasis on the anti-Catholic nature of the SNP is only partly true of that party’s past politics. When the SNP was formed, in 1933, it absorbed the former Scottish Party (SP). Made up of dissident Conservatives, the SP indeed held the Northern Irish Home Rule Stormont parliament as their model for Scotland. A persistent anti-Catholic current remained in the SNP through William Wolfe’s leadership up until 1979. It last showed itself in the Monklands 1994 by-election.
However, even from its earliest days, Catholics were found in the SNP and could take on prominent roles. The Catholic convert, Sir Compton Mackenzie, won the rectorship of Glasgow University in 1931 as a candidate for the National Party of Scotland (the larger nationalist party which merged with the SP to form the SNP).
More recently, SNP leader, Alex Salmond, has been trying, with some success, to woo the support of the Scottish Catholic hierarchy away from Labour – at least until the removal of Cardinal Winning from his post. Although, the SNP have developed a more Left economic and constitutional pitch than Labour, in their contest over shared social democratic politics; when it comes to social issues, such as gay rights and abortion, the SNP have tacked to the right of Labour.
However the Labour Party can not be equated with always protecting the rights of Scottish Catholics either. Outside the Clyde Valley, Labour has sometimes courted Loyalism, particularly in the Lothian coalfields. As recently as 1986, Sam Campbell, Labour Provost of Dalkeith and member of the Orange Order, was expelled from the party for making virulently anti-Catholic comments at an Orange rally on Leith Links. He later returned to Midlothian Council as Labour’s Equal Rights spokesperson!
Labour has never opposed the Protestant/Catholic divide on principled secular lines, but has tried to mediate between two sectarian approaches, opportunistically adopting ‘Hibernian’ or Loyalist colouring in particular areas. More recently, this has also been their approach to Muslims where they have adapted to Islamic communalism. The SNP leadership is currently attempting to duplicate Labour’s approach with some success.
The comparison between Scotland and Northern Ireland
Over the last two decades, however, there has been a gradual shift from traditional Scottish Presbyterian anti-Catholicism to a more specific anti-Irish racism in Scotland. In the nineteenth century, when Ireland was part of the UK, both Catholics and Protestants thought of themselves as Irish, either as Irish-British or Irish-Irish. Then Unionists and Loyalists played up the Catholicism of the overwhelming majority of Irish nationalists, in order to differentiate themselves.
Since Ireland’s Partition in 1922, however, a new division has emerged in Northern Ireland, between those upholding an Ulster-British identity (replacing the old Irish-British identity) and those now upholding an Irish identity. No longer needing to assert their own Irishness, Ulster Unionists and Loyalists, along with their their Scottish allies, have concentrated less on their adversaries’ Catholicism and more on their ‘Fenianism’ – a specifically Irish (and originally anti- or non-religious) term.
In Scotland, that hybrid sectarian/racist divide was never able to entrench itself as firmly as it did in Northern Ireland. James Craig, Stormont’s first PM, declared that, “We are a Protestant Parliament and a Protestant state and that, “I am an Orangeman first, and a politician and Member of this Parliament afterwards.” Both the Church of Scotland and other Presbyterian denominations have declined faster in numbers and influence than their Northern Irish counterparts. They have also become somewhat more liberal in the process, despite a rearguard reactionary backlash.
It is no longer the religious sectarianism, of the likes of the late Pastor Jack Glass, which dominates the thinking of the Loyalist opposition in Scotland. Scottish Loyalist organisations follow the anti-Republicanism and anti-Irish racism of the UDA and UVF.
There has been a considerable influx of Catholic migrants from Eastern Europe into Scotland recently, but they have not attracted the same ire from Loyalists as the Irish-Scottish – unless they wear a Celtic (‘Fenian’) scarf! Where there is anti-Eastern European migrant feeling amongst Scottish Loyalists and neo-fascists, these migrants are not thought of as Catholics, but ‘unwelcome foreigners’, along with Eastern Orthodox Romanians and Bulgarians and Protestant Latvians, all barely distinguishable from Catholic Poles, Lithuanians and Slovaks.
At the same time as specific anti-Catholic religious sectarianism continues to wane, a new anti-Irish racism is consolidating itself in Scotland. The SNP government’s Offensive Behaviour Act of 2012 highlighted this. Celtic FC’s Green Brigade does not encourage religious sectarian songs, but Irish national and Republican songs. The Fields of Athenry condemns Trevelyan’s genocidal behavior, when he was in charge of disbursing aid to the victims of the 1845-9 ‘Great Famine’. There are certainly Green Brigade songs which celebrate Republicans who fought against the UK state and British Army. Yet those caught singing these Irish national or Republican songs face punishment for singing religious sectarian songs.
Now the Loyalists’ song repertoire certainly still includes religious sectarian songs. However, the notorious Billy Boys and Famine Song are specifically anti-‘Fenian’ or anti-Irish racist songs. The individual racist (and misogynist) Loyalist David Limond has just been jailed his for online physical threats directed against Irish-Scottish journalist, Angela Haggerty. However, when it comes to British soldiers in a Scottish regiment publicly displaying an openly sectarian banner, ‘Keep Ulster Protestant’, at a Rangers/Stenhousemuir football game, their commanding officers are left unquestioned, whilst the soldiers are merely ‘reprimanded’ – or so we are assured. The imposition of the Offensive Behavior Act is decidedly more skewed against Irish-Scottish Republican supporters than Scottish and Ulster-British Loyalists and their UK state backers
Galloway’s politics do not challenge but help to sustain reaction
In Scotland, Galloway has appealed to traditional socially conservative values of the Catholic ‘Hibernian’ tradition. ‘Hibernians’ might dream of a future society, where they come out on top, and are able to treat their former oppressors ad they have been treated themselves. However in the actual circumstances ‘Hibernians’ live under, they have first looked for an improvement in their everyday lives and current status within the existing political and social order. Clearly, such politics is unable to fundamentally challenge sectarianism and racism, since it remains trapped within the existing parameters of the UK state’s divided political order. The political counter to Catholic ‘Hibernianism’ is secular republicanism. Historically this sought to unite Catholic, Protestant (meaning Anglican) and Dissenter (including Presbyterians). Today, this unity would extend to those of other religions and none.
Galloway’s unsuccessful sortie into Scottish politics, in 2011, demonstrated that the majority of Glasgow’s Irish-Scottish and Catholic population have moved beyond his sectarian ‘Hibernian’ thinking. Today, more and more Scottish Catholics question the social conservatism of the Catholic hierarchy. They have done this for some time over contraception. Recently, more socially liberal attitudes have emerged amongst lay Catholics over gay rights and marriage. The international spate of scandals over the role of the Catholic hierarchy in covering up, or being directly responsible for, sexual and child abuse has speeded up this process of lay Catholic liberalisation.
Indeed, when it comes to conservative and reactionary social attitudes, be it over abortion and the provision of family planning clinics, or promoting homophobia, there have been alliances, in the USA, Northern Ireland and Scotland between the now increasingly marginalised right wing Catholics and Protestant fundamentalists. Jim Dowson, a Scottish Loyalist and fundraiser for the BNP in Northern Ireland, tried to make contact with right wing Catholics, with the intention of violently targeting abortion clinics.
One reason that Galloway made his specifically Catholic ‘Hibernian’ pitch in Glasgow, is that much of the Muslim opposition to the traditional Labour supporting Islamic leadership in the city has found a voice in the anti-Iraq war SNP, a rather inconvenient fact for pro-Labour Galloway!
In England, Galloway has had far more success in attracting Muslim voters, disenchanted with their traditional leaders’ support for the Iraq war. Galloway’s own appeal, though, has played to, rather than challenging, traditional socially conservative Islamic values. Certainly, he has also come under attack from even more conservative Muslim spokespersons. This is partly because whatever sympathies Galloway declares for some traditional Islamic values, his own personal lifestyle contradicts many others.
However, even in those Islamic communities, where very traditional attitudes still remain, some of Galloway’s own socially conservative ideas have been rejected. This was highlighted when the Salma Yacoob resigned from Galloway’s Respect Party over his glib dismissal of the rape accusations directed against Julian Assange. Thus today, amongst both Catholics and Muslims, more progressive thinking can be found. But Galloway still panders to the more traditional socially conservative values found in these communities.
Both Catholic ‘Hibernianism’ and Islamic communalism and remain barriers in the way of developing a consistent anti-racist and secular politics, in the face of the continuing state promoted anti-Irish racism and the Islamophobia we undoubtedly have to confront in Scotland.
Why RIC will be demonstrating on February 3rd
Thus, Edinburgh RIC will not be deflected from its intention to challenge Galloway’s British unionist ‘Just Say Naw’ roadshow on February 3rd, on the grounds of some specious ‘anti-fascist unity’, despite the planned SDL counter-demonstration.
Instead, RIC will be pointing out that Galloway and the SDL both work within the political parameters of the British unionist ‘No’ camp. The fascism of the BNP and SDL does not draw its strength from German Nazism, but from British unionism and imperialism. The EDL idolises Winston Churchill, and the BNP won its first council seat in Millwall, heavily bombed by the Luftwaffe in the Second World. The BNP, EDL and SDL see their political role as defending the British imperial and unionist state.
The UK state invented concentration camps for use in South Africa, long before Hitler appeared. Both the BNP and SDL see the original UVF of 1912, formed in response to the challenge of the third Irish Home Rule Bill, as the precursor of a their own specifically British fascism. The UVF received the backing of the British High Command in the 1913 Curragh Mutiny. This puts an interesting light on the behavior of the British officers in charge of the Scottish regiment at the Rangers/Stenhousemuir game last year. In time of economic and political crisis, British unionism and imperialism provides the grounds upon which both fascism and anti-democratic British militarism can take root.
We can not rely on the British media denying Galloway’s reactionary views on the Union the oxygen of publicity on February 3rd. It still remains to be seen whether the media goes along with promoting Galloway’s latest political stunt. Given the media’s earlier promotion of the Galloway/Farage left/right populist, British unionist, publicity-seeking marriage of convenience, genuine socialists should be ready to counter their possible response.