Keeping Up with the Jones

scotlandOwen Jones is a funny and perceptive writer. His book, Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class is a contemporary classic: “In modern Britain, the working class has become an object of fear and ridicule. From Little Britain’s Vicky Pollard to the demonization of Jade Goody, media and politicians alike dismiss as feckless, criminalized and ignorant a vast, underprivileged swathe of society whose members have become stereotyped by one, hate-filled word: chavs.”

His bitter-sweet analysis of Broken Britain hits the mark every time and he’s been lauded north and south of the border for his input. He’s required reading about social inequality and the culture that applauds it. He’s the diarist of austerity Britain.

But Jones commentary on the independence question gets it badly wrong staggering from straw man to pitfall in a litany of Classic Old Left Cliche (‘Owen Jones: What a fairer Scotland would look like’.)

In one swoop he analyses the Tory downfall in Scotland since the 1950s: “as the grip of religious sectarianism weakened, and de-industrialisation hammered entire communities, Toryism imploded.” And we hear: “The disappointments of the New Labour era only compounded a sense of alienation”, with little detail on what the crushing shifts and changes of that era might actually have been? Then we sidle away on a jaunty digression musing: “If northern England had a national identity, it too would undoubtedly have a thriving movement in support of independence.”

That’s quite a big ‘If’ and kind of a meaningless one. We’re debating democracy now, this year, not some future shenanigans invented by some last-minute Westminster committee with the fear of god in them.

Jones problem is he has no wider analysis than the political outlook he has re-inherited. It hangs about him like a folk-memory. He and others remain convinced that the avowedly / explicitly right Labour Party is going to miraculously metamorphise into something of their grandfathers dreams. It won’t. We’ve lived through this. It’s like expecting a dying dog to chase a stick. However high and far you throw the stick it’s not going to chase it any longer.

This political myopia doesn’t stop him asking: “The question is, what would a new Scotland look like? Despite its progressive rhetoric, the SNP would hand big business a mighty cheque in the form of cuts to corporation tax that would out-Osborne the current Tory Chancellor. That could well provoke a Dutch auction on corporation tax with the rump of Britain.” This shard of policy insight is used to obscure all others, including the legitimate progressive claims of the SNP (past and future), the narrative of political dogma spewing forth from Scottish Labour (of which not a word is, probably rightly, spoken), the geopolitical shifts inherent in independence (guaranteeing a non nuclear, Trident free Scotland), nor the agenda being staked out by the broader mainstream Yes campaign.

Of the Commonweal? Nothing.

Jones ends with a plaintive plea: “An alternative, of course, would be a loose federation, with the English regions granted substantial autonomy, too, breaking the hegemony of Westminster across the islands.” Indeed it would Owen, but it’s not on the ballot and we’ve waited 100 years for such to emerge. Like ‘Reform of the House of Lords’ it’s a sort of fable muttered by the political classes to help restless children to sleep.

Labour abandoned Britain to the spivs and The City long ago in a sea of spin, PFI and broken promises. If people in Scotland don’t believe that story any more it’s because of Cash for Honours, fictional WMD and endemic propaganda from the mouths of a decade of Labour spin men. It’s because we came in singing to D:ream and left with a cabinet that was held in contempt by many. One that became, in its dog days ‘sleazy, humiliated, despised’.

The plea Jones and his branch of the English Left makes: “Movements for a living wage, decent housing, publicly run and accountable services and workers’ rights would unite shopworkers in Glasgow with call centre workers in Manchester and Cardiff” would have some traction if there was the remotest hint of such ideas – or indeed any ideas – being floated by his party. Instead we are asked to sacrifice a basic notion of sovereignty for the fantasy of a Labour past that, on closer inspection itself lacks credibility.

Yes, there is something inescapably sad about this situation.

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  1. DaveyM says:

    I think you’ll find Labour came in singing along to D-Ream, not Des’ree…

    1. bellacaledonia says:


  2. Murray McCallum says:

    “An alternative, of course, would be a loose federation”.

    New Loose_Federation Labour doesn’t have the same ring to it. They opted for OneNation which is snappier and maybe gives the game away a bit.

    Andy Burnham has openly talked about rolling back devolution – “let’s get health policies that can be consistent across England, Scotland and Wales”. So much for devolved nations setting priorities and local approaches. This doesn’t sound like a federation, never mind a loose one, to me.

    To be honest I wish Owen Jones had kept to his promise and not wrote anything about the referendum on Scotland being a country running its own affairs. He hasn’t added anything to the reality of the choice facing voters on 18th September 2014.

    We have had 300 years to achieve a loose federation. What is Owen Jones’ timetable for his wishful “alternative” appearing in the future? What major political party is offering us this socialist, loose federation?

    A. Burnham:

  3. fourfolksache says:

    Mike I have yet to meet an Englishman, well at least one who still lives there who ‘gets it’. And good guy though Owen Jones is he certainly doesn’t. He and the rest don’t even acknowledge the inevitable effect of the first past the post voting systems effect on UK politics and the necessary abandonment of true Labour

  4. ‘Here’s a column I said I would never write.’

    Until, as per Galloway and Farage, it was suggested that a Question Time appearance might depend on it.

  5. douglas clark says:

    I added this to the btl comments, for all it is worth:

    “Dear Owen Jones,

    It might, just possibly be, that rather than having our faces stamped on by a litany of Westminster Politicians, we might do something different?

    I think you forget, or choose to ignore the interesting point that Jimmy Reid made:

    “I did not leave the Labour Party, they left me.”

    That is where we are at. A Labour Party that has completely rejected it’s roots, that talks the talk of the Square Mile and ignores, rejoices even, in denigrating the poor.

    “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which was which”

    It seems odd to me that you fall into that trap. There are, as you elucidate, lots of options for an independent Scotland, there are absolutely none under your, apparently preferred option. Which is to assume that we would not become more like the assimilated Borg.

    Best wishes to your family in Falkirk.”

    Frankly he is not the enemy, he is a ‘lost boy’.

    1. Greg says:

      Well said. Jones (and the likes of Galloway) would rather we stoically hold on in the corrupt and unequal UK plc so that we can ‘force’ progressive change in Westminster. Because that’s really likely to happen isn’t it? I’m all for idealism and share a lot of old Labour’s original values but the pragmatist surely has to recognise there is no hope for resurrecting those values in the body of the current UK Labour Party? Only the seismic shift of a new born independent Scottish Labour Party could hold hope of that. And even then, it may take a generation before the current small minded New Labour msp mindset dissipates. I’ve said before the UK is a sinking ship. At least we have a lifeboat ready for us. It may not be ideal for everyone but at least we’ve got a chance to work at our own future. The romantic socialists would rather we acted like the musicians on the Titanic. Playing on as the ship sinks. No thanks.

  6. bringiton says:

    Heard something similar from Will Hutton recently,who is usually on the money but not it seems where Scotland is concerned.What is so wrong with Scots being asked for the very first time if they would like to continue being ruled from London?

    1. Jim O'Rourke says:

      There#’s a better than even chance we’ll say No

  7. Brenda Steele says:

    Check out the white paper. The lowered corporate tax rate goes with a more efficient tax system – to minimize the opportunities for tax avoidance. It won’t be attractive to the tax avoiding multinationals and their overpaid top management, but it will make an even playing field for all including local companies.

  8. George Gunn says:

    It’s pointless and always disappointing when you do to look for any serious analysis from writers in England as to what is going on in Scotland at this present time. Unless these individuals come here and study the process and its history they might stop assuming that the SNP has the power to hand anybody anything. It is the people who will vote in the referendum and it is the people who will vote in the 2016 Scottish general election (if there is one) and then a government of Scotland will be formed. Then we can get down to the business of creating a country fit to live in.

  9. Hen Broon says:

    Re corporation taxes. Those other great powerhouses seem to manage fine with different tax rates across their unions, or currency zones. The USA has taxes including corporation taxes set by their individual states, who have the kind of autonomy Scotland should have had all these years. The EU has over 20 different corporation tax rates. Where is this much fabled race to the bottom? It is very disapointing to see a person with working class roots and politics who can express them so well, joinining the wagon circling convoy of the facist UK state.

    Caroline Flint their latest love bomber, has demonstrated perfectly just how much hatred exists in London for Scottish independence. Her bombastic Anglo Saxon supremacist arrogance has added several more thousand votes to the Yes camp. Fergus Ewing tied her in knots. Who could watch Scottish Questions from that citadel of power and greed, and not feel a cold fury at the bigotry and anti Scottish racism from the unionist attack dogs that surround the SNP MPs snarling and sneering like a pack of hyenas. I am so proud of Angus Robertson and his SNP group aas they endure this racist hostility each week and maintain their dignity and tempers.

  10. Abulhaq says:

    Sentimental attachment to the UK is now the vogue. It is too for us to engage and get gooey eyed. We, at last, see this outfit for what it is Mr Jones,

    1. Abulhaq says:

      oops …too late..

  11. Noel says:

    Good reply.

  12. Luke says:

    This is a very good rebuttal of Owen Jones’ column. Jones is wrong on Scottish independence, categorically. However some of the reactions to his views have been a bit over the top and unfair. Equating him to Galloway for example, is pretty lazy. As has been pointed out, Jones has avoided talking about Jimmy Reid, the SSP, the Scottish Greens, although he is quite positive towards RIC. Mentioning RIC warmly is good, but he kind of glosses it over. A cut in corporation tax is just one issue, it isn’t the whole or sole motivation of the Scottish independence issue. So Jones mentions corporation tax but skips what the SNP has done with stamp duty/land and buildings tax (made it more progressive).

    Jones is right that a “loose federation ending Westminster hegemony” would be an alternative, of sorts. But that isn’t on the cards. Labour has chosen “One Nation”. With regards to Westminster hegemony I would expect Owen to be more attentive to what Ralph Miliband wrote about Britishness and how the imperial motivation and legacy was central to the state political culture. These are intelligent ways of taking on Jones without resorting to insulting him or equating him to Galloway.

  13. Absolutely spot on about the Labour party. This is why influential commentators like Owen would be better off lending their support to campaigns that recognise the abject failure of our system of government and go some way towards reforming it, campaigns like ‘No Vote 2015’ and the ‘None Of The Above’ campaign

    I love this, in relation to Owen’s suggested alternative:

    “…but it’s not on the ballot and we’ve waited 100 years for such to emerge. Like ‘Reform of the House of Lords’ it’s a sort of fable muttered by the political classes to help restless children to sleep.”

    Quite. Aided and abetted by the totally ineffectual Electoral Reform Society. There are alternatives (see above).

  14. Anthony Gair says:

    I’m a big supporter of Scottish Independence although I am just south of your border looking enviously across from the North East. I’m also a fan of Owen Jones and I think I might of been the first to order his book, ” The establishment, and how they get away with it”. He is insightful and almost single handedly unified a lot of people against the assault of the right against the working class. However he don’t know about Scotland as much as the scottish and I don’t think he knows as much about the NE as us.
    In this way he came across as a little patronising. I got to say that because I think its true. And I think he said that because ultimately he supports the Labour Party. I like his vision though, but not the reasoning, but this is too good an opportunity for the Scottish providing they ditch the English Pound, so not to be at the whim of Eton Cowboys.

    I just wish we could go with you and ditch westmonster.

  15. James Morton says:

    Owen Jones at least is not shy of having a debate – he felt this article was a good rebuttal. I think we know no labour politician would have been so generous. Maybe that’s the problem. Labour particular Scottish Labour have forgotten how to debate. I mean look at Anas Sarwar, this man thinks shouting and jabbing with his finger passes for statesmen like oratory. Its not just that inability to debate that’s crucial here. Its also what labour stands for now. It no longer stands for social justice. This was the party that introduced bedroom tax. In trying to chase right wing votes, it demonises the poor, the elderly and the disabled, just so it can’t be outflanked by the Tories. This strategy called “one nation labour” has left Scottish labour looking dysfunctional and in some cases, completely deranged.

    yet Owen clearly has faith. A lot of other people do. Including Yes voters – who think Labour will magically replenish itself with good old labour socialists. It could well do – in time, but first it needs to admit that it has a problem in the first place. Tragically Scottish Labour under Lamont, are looking at the wrong side of history that the Tories dumped themselves and are thinking its a good place to set up camp.

  16. Absolutely spot on about the Labour party. This is why influential commentators like Owen would be better off lending their support to campaigns that recognise the abject failure of our system of government and go some way towards reforming it, campaigns like ‘No Vote 2015′ and NOTA UK’s ‘None Of The Above’ campaign.

    I love this, in relation to Owen’s suggested alternative:

    “…but it’s not on the ballot and we’ve waited 100 years for such to emerge. Like ‘Reform of the House of Lords’ it’s a sort of fable muttered by the political classes to help restless children to sleep.”

    Quite. Aided and abetted by the totally ineffectual Electoral Reform Society. There are alternatives (see above).

  17. Peter A Bell says:

    “It’s like expecting a dying dog to chase a stick.”


    1. Bob Duncan says:

      I was tickled by that line too.

  18. BillfaeDenny says:

    The problem with Owen Jones, and all the other advocates of a reincarnated Labour Party riding to the rescue, is that we gave them that chance but Blair/Brown New Labour let us down spectacularly with their rush to embrace neo-liberalism. The bottom line is that people like me, who voted Labour for 30+ years, feel betrayed and do not trust the Labour party to fight our corner any longer. Owen, like many south of the border, displays an ignorance of the mood here. As for his claim that in an independent Scotland Alex Salmond will write a cheque for big business – why does assume the SNP will form the government? The people of Scotland will choose who we wish to govern us, not all Yes supporters vote SNP!

  19. tartanfever says:

    Owen Jones should be concentrating on getting a brand new left wing party going in England. This self denial that the existing Labour party can come good is delusional and frankly dangerous.

    The continued hesitance from the ‘left’ wing in England while the welfare state gets ripped to shreds is worrying. The NHS is being torn apart, in the next few years English voters will be receiving bills from virgin healthcare and others for medical treatments – direct billing is on the way. It’s only a matter of time.

    Look at education. Free university education, admittedly it has not been free for a good few years, has completely disappeared now. It’s gone forever, regardless of what happens politically. The population has become accustomed to it and accepted it – it’s part of the set up now, a norm.

    That will never come back.

    Next up will be Europe. For a country whose population has no rights or protection bestowed upon them by their own elected parliament, they will now choose to leave Europe and bow out of any rights or protection the citizens receive through that organisation. Thats madness.

    And we’re told thats because of the influx of hoards of Eastern Europeans coming over to grab all the benefits when in fact, the whole EU debacle started when Europe said they wanted to start charging banks with a transaction tax. Cameron and his cronies couldn’t have that now could they, especially as £47m of party funding has come from the city in the last few years.

    Thats the real reason for an EU exit, to protect the vested interests of the City of London.

    And where has the ‘left wing’ been to attack these moves ? Nowhere, it simply doesn’t exist anymore as any kind of political force. It’s been reduced to a few lines in a newspaper.

    For God’s sake Jones, wake up and get on with it before it’s too late. Your time is quickly running out.

    You need a brand new party with a new vision, get on with it.

  20. florian albert says:

    It clearly comes as a shock to Bella Caledonia that Owen Jones, perhaps the best known speaker for the left in the UK today, regards the pro-independence Scottish left as unimportant.
    The Scottish left’s recently acquired reluctance to contest elections is starting to haunt it.
    Salmond owes his dominance of Scottish politics to his success in winning votes.
    If you avoid elections, you lose authority. It is ironic that it should be Owen Jones teaching this lesson.

  21. I really enjoyed Jones’ article, and Small’s, especially the comments from fellow readers, very intelligent.

    As for the Scottish question, I wish you the all the very best, I perhaps think more positively than most, that independence isn’t suddenly going to rip the ties that the people from both sides of the border have with one another. I hope the Scots can show us English folk how it’s done. We need a good example of fair and honest governance. It could be a historic and powerful example to us all.

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