2007 - 2021

Third Scotland

3This is an important contribution from Gerry Hassan marking the launch of his new book ‘Caledonia Dreaming’.  This touches on the themes addressed in the essay ‘Altered State’ and more recently picked up by Kate Higgins (‘Let’s hear it for the changemakers‘) Is this a Scottish form of creative collapsonomics?


“In the past few months the polls for the Scottish independence referendum have narrowed markedly and what was previously seen by many as a mere formality has become a real competitive contest.

Such a swift transformation has left most of the British political classes and media struggling to catch up with events. But it has also left large parts of pro-union Scotland feeling bewildered and disoriented at the pace of change.

Scotland has unambiguously become another country. This has been a very gradual, quiet revolution, one without obvious leaders, or simple causes, and one which has happened over decades.

Scotland’s gathering sense of itself has become interwoven with its changing society. It is a less deferential, ordered, high-bound place. It has become less institutionally dominated and elite-driven, as well as less Protestant, male-dominated and Labour-run.

Traditional authority and key reference points have faced seismic crisis. In the past couple of years, the Royal Bank of Scotland, the fifth largest banking group in the world pre-crash, hit the buffers; Glasgow Rangers FC, Scotland’s dominant and most successful club blew up, faced liquidation and is now working its way up through the lower leagues; while the Catholic church in Scotland has been mired in sexual scandals at its most senior levels.

A longer timeframe captures even more profound institutional crisis. The Church of Scotland is but a pale imitation of the once powerful force that ruled the land. It could, on existing trends, disappear in a generation. Similarly, the Labour party, which once held nearly as much unchecked power as the Kirk, has become a sad, sullen voice. At this crucial juncture, it seems bereft of ideas and resources, only sure in its detesting of Alex Salmond and Scottish nationalism.

Then there is the role of institutions such as the BBC, which has found itself for the past 30 years continually behind the curve of the Scottish self-government debate and even the explosion of arts and culture. Not surprisingly, the BBC along with most of Scotland’s mainstream media is not having a good referendum.

This is a Scottish expression of trends which are evident across the western world: the decline of deference, the rise of individualism, the crisis of traditional authority, and an emergence of new ways of organising and doing culture and politics.

One result of this has been the emergence of a self-organising, self-determining Scotland. I have called this “the third Scotland” by dint of it differentiating from the two establishment visions of Scotland – the new SNP one and the old declining Labour version. It has rightly regarded such a restricted choice and debate as barely adequate in a diverse, complex, wealthy society.

The third Scotland can be seen as a generational shift, with the emergence of a whole swath of articulate, passionate, thoughtful 20somethings. It signifies a shift in how authority and power is interpreted, with people self-starting initiatives, campaigns and projects through social media and crowdfunding.”

Read the full article here.

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  1. Peter A Bell says:

    How refreshing to read an analysis of the referendum campaign* which isn’t mired in the lazy prejudices of the London-based media. At last! A description of Scotland’s politics that does not discordantly conflict with observable reality.

    I would only disagree slightly with Gerry Hassan on one point. While his concept of a “third Scotland” has genuine resonance, my impression is that the “suspicious” attitude towards the SNP to which he refers has actually diminished as this third Scotland has grown in strength and confidence. Non-SNP independence campaigners now have the self-assurance to be able to acknowledge the SNP’s role in bringing Scotland to this historic juncture without being concerned that they are conceding anything to the party’s agenda.

    Some of the warmest and most spontaneous applause that you will hear at Yes Scotland gatherings comes when someone from the Greens or the SSP offers a vote of thanks to Alex Salmond and his team before moving on to outline their very different vision for Scotland’s future. This is in stark contrast to what would tend to happen only a few months ago when non-SNP speakers invariably prefaced every utterance with a disclaimer pointedly reminding everyone that they were “not SNP”.

    There are, I think, two main reasons for this change in attitude. Firstly, there is a growing recognition of the difference between being independent and becoming independent. Along with the realisation that the SNP’s plan offers the only viable way of achieving the latter. There is no other route to independence. We either reach independence by the path set out by the Scottish Government, or we don’t get there at all. There is an acceptance that the SNP is the sole agency by which the people of Scotland will reassert our nation’s rightful constitutional status.

    Accepting this, third Scotland has been able to focus much more on the matter of being independent – what happens after March 2016. With less energy devoted to sniping at the SNP, third Scotland (Is it time to start capitalising this term?) has been able to devote itself to developing innovative, and often quite radical, ideas for transforming the nation in the years and decades subsequent to becoming independent. They have grown into their true role of building alternative visions of what being independent might mean.

    As they have done so they have also grown in confidence. And this new-found confidence is the second reason for a change in attitude towards the SNP. While it is accepted that, as the democratically elected government with a mandate from the people, the SNP must lead the process of becoming independent, any sense that the party might dominate the process of being independent has diminished with the rise of Third Scotland.

    Notwithstanding the increasingly hysterical efforts of Better Together to pretend that the referendum is all about the SNP, and their daily more deplorable attempts to personalise the issue by demonising Alex Salmond, it is becoming increasingly apparent to unprejudiced observers that Third Scotland is something very real. And that it provides the essential counterbalance which ensures that, when we vote Yes, no single political party will be able to impose its idea of what being independent means.

    The scale of change in Scotland in recent years has indeed been of historic proportions. With all due respect to Gerry Hassan, it is slightly naive to suppose that such massive change might have left unaffected the SNP and others’ attitudes towards it.

  2. manandboy says:

    Gerry’s main point is insightful, useful and will I’m sure become part of the self-determination campaign.

    However there is one minor inaccuracy, which would in my opinion have been better omitted.

    Para 5. “Traditional authority and key reference points have faced seismic crisis.

    In the past couple of years, . . . Glasgow Rangers FC, Scotland’s dominant and most successful club blew up, faced liquidation and is now working its way up through the lower leagues; ” ,

    should read, Rangers FC (1872), in liquidation, while the new club ‘The Rangers Football Club’ (2012), is now working it’s way up through the lower leagues.

    At no point, mercifully, did the Club ‘blow up’. No one was killed as it entered first, administration, and then liquidation, where it resides today.

    In an Independent Scotland, I hope that such rewriting of history, and ‘there’s not much oil’, can be left in the past.

  3. john clark says:

    I’ve only just read Hassan’s piece.
    I simply and instinctively distrust the man: if he cannot be absolutely honest and frank about the liquidation of a football club, what else might he be less than objective and open about? He is a man of trodden-upon stable straw.

    Many hacks in the Scottish main stream media (including in BBC radio Scotland) have shown themselves as somewhat partisan and less than diligent and honest in their reporting on the now Rangers Football Club(In Liquidation). Hassan is just the latest.

    They are a disgrace to their profession, and affront to those of us who believe that the bland acceptance by them and by the Scottish Football authorities of the large-scale ‘sports cheating’ and duplicity of that iniquitous club can somehow be ignored as being of no consequence.

  4. barakabe says:

    I agreed with all of it except the part about Rangers as the most successful club in Scottish football- that is very arguable- considering Celtic’s success in the Champions Cup ( as well of course as being the best supported club in Scotland & easily the biggest in global terms)

  5. Peter A Bell says:

    FFS! am I really the only one who can get past the football thing? How depressing.

    1. barakabe says:

      my reply was purely tongue-in-cheek I really don’t care that much. I think Gerry Hassan is one of the key commentators in the ref debate ( his misconceptions about football don’t change that one iota)

  6. yerkitbreeks says:

    Peter, Your comment is apposite – I had to take issue with Robin MacAlpine’s sniping at the SNP the other day. As you say, without the SNP there will be no iScotland, much as I admire the YES campaign. The party is big enough AFTER Inde, to address the issues of Third Scotland.

  7. Alex Buchan says:

    Peter, I for one, thought the article was useful and thought that your comment helped take Hassan’s analysis further. My only gripe with the article is that he never makes clear whether third Scotland is merely a coalescing of the usual suspects who are active, politically or environmentally, or to what extent new people are getting involved, which also leads on to the question of the extent to which this third Scotland is having any resonance with the wider public and how much. Guy Standing in the linked article calls the precariat a mass class of those internationally affected by the recession, so I would have liked some indication of how this mass of people, whose jobs are now more insecure, or how are on minimum hours contracts, etc are linking up with the activism of RIC or the National Collective.

    1. Peter A Bell says:

      I can only address this anecdotally from my own experience and observations. Although I think Gerry Hassan’s article suggests much the same thing.

      I think simple arithmetic answers your first question. The sheer scale of Yes Scotland – by which I mean the grass-roots movement and associated groups, organisations and projects – tells us that Third Scotland must reach well beyond the “usual suspects”. This is supported by the number of people attending public events, and the proportion of those attendees who say that they have never been politically active before.

      There is definitely something happening here. Something very interesting and rather exciting.

      Which brings us to the question of whether this is resonating with the public. A more equivocal answer to that one – yes and no. I think there is a growing sense that something is going on. A buzz, if you will. But it is ill-defined. It lacks focus. People are definitely talking openly about the referendum. And a lot of them are somewhat surprised to find themselves talking about politics. It is a novel experience.

      The main thing that is facilitating this new engagement is the fact that the grass-roots Yes campaign is increasingly detached from the party politics that is such a massive turn-off for most people. People are coming into contact with the Yes campaign and finding it is politics, but not as they know it. They are attending large gatherings and small where party members are in the minority, but include people from several different parties who, rather than squabbling in an unseemly FMQ manner, work together for a common purpose. It almost doesn’t matter what the purpose is, people just like the fact that there is one.

      As I say, they like this “new politics”. They feel part of something. But the referendum campaign is transitory. The thing they are part of seems more enduring. But in order for it to resonate with the public it needs a name. That’s where Third Scotland comes in. I foresee the term catching on in a big way. when they thing that people are engaging with has a name it becomes real. It gains substance.

      As with any term for a new phenomenon, the biggest threat to Third Scotland is over-definition as the “usual suspects” seize on it as a vehicle for their own agendas. But I think that can be avoided. I’m fairly confident that Third Scotland can avoid becoming just another buzz-word in the lexicon of “politics as usual”. I think there’s good reason to suppose that the components of Third Scotland are so diverse, it’s structures so loose, its organisation so decentralised, that it will be highly resistant to hijacking.

      I’ll stop now as I realise I’m rambling a bit.

      1. Alex Buchan says:

        Thanks that helps me to make a bit of sense to my own recent experience. I found myself trying to imagine the name Third Scotland catching on; I have to say that I’m not entirely convinced, either that the name will catch on, or that it would be up to the job of making what’s happening resonate with the punters. The name feels a bit corporate; a bit like Third Sector. I see what as happening here in Scotland as being a bit like the Prague Spring, when suddenly people in Czechoslovakia could envisage a different future. The name Prague Spring caught the imagination I suspect because it was the kind of name a journalist would coin naturally to define a phenomena indicating the sense of rebirth and of energy. Third Scotland comes close to being something a journalist might coin, but it doesn’t convey any really sense of political mobilisation or renewal.

        1. Peter A Bell says:

          It is, perhaps, wrong to think of Third Scotland as a political movement. The term better describes the people involved in a range of political movements.

  8. Dr JM Mackintosh says:

    I thInk there is a tendency to over complicate issues.

    The third way is democracy.

    Quite simple really.

    1. Peter A Bell says:

      What we have at present is also called democracy.

  9. Alex Buchan says:

    I might not think that getting too fixed on the term Third Scotland takes us very far, but understanding the phenomenon of the growing movement in support of radical change in Scotland and how to maximise it isn’t over complicating things in my opinion. I recently discovered that you can get free 24 hour access to the London Book Review where I can across a review by Tom Nairn of Lindsay Patterson’s book The Autonomy of Modern Scotland. Nairn’s review is long covering two books, but I found the second half on Patterson possibly the most useful thing I’ve ever read on why we are where we are, and why many like Patterson and, to some extent, Hassan cling to the idea of a third way between the more normal conditions of independence or political incorporation into the larger state. Patterson saw the Scottish experience of being a stateless nation where the emphasis was on the betterment of civil society as in some ways a noble alternative to the nationalism found in similar small countries during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Nairn shows the dark downside of this tradition and its tendency towards thought control. In my opinion it is this long tradition that Patterson outlines which is at last crumbling rather like the crumbling of the thought control in Easter Europe with the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Hassan draws attention to a generational shift but I don’t think it is linked to a generational change I think it owes more to the likes of Nairn and to websites like Bella. The system of managerialism that Patterson outlines always relied on the cringe and on thought control it is this ideological support system that is at last giving way and the referendum is exposing the real nature of the set up in Scotland. Whether the vote is yes or no in September what we need to ensure is that the thought control isn’t allowed to regain the upper hand which will be the main terrain in the event of a no vote.

  10. florian albert says:

    Not for the first time, Gerry Hassan has written about the loss of authority by many Scottish institutions, though – surprisingly – his list fails to include the Scotsman and Herald.
    Afterwards, he falls into the old failing of the left, wishful thinking. In the past, every industrial dispute was seen as a harbinger of the collapse of capitalism.
    Now, small groups are seen as evidence of social and political renewal. The evidence of an ambitious, challenging and confident Scotland consists of a small number of groups most Scots have not heard of.
    That there is a vacuum in Scottish public life is undeniable but there is almost no evidence that the groups he refers to can fill it.

  11. Brian Fleming says:

    Gerry, I think you mean ‘less hidebound’, not ‘less high-bound’.

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