Enlightened Leadership Won’t Stop The Right

article-2326042-19D4CBC7000005DC-318_634x460With Trump, Farage and Le Pen on the rise, it’s worth revisiting the ideas of those who have experienced far-right insurgency before. Bertolt Brecht, who fled Hitler’s armies across Europe, wrote in 1937: “those who lead the country into the abyss/call ruling too difficult for ordinary men.” Brecht’s words came painfully to mind while reading Iain Macwhirter’s recent Sunday Herald column, where he argues that Scotland bucks the recent political trend because: “with enlightened political leadership, it is not inevitable that economic grievance should express itself as working-class revolt against social liberalism.” Macwhirter’s take downplays both our continuing drift towards Brecht’s abyss, and ordinary people’s role in avoiding it.

Is Scotland immune to Trumpism? The concerns of Trump-supporting media organisations like Breitbart and InfoWars are voiced by public figures and popular bloggers in Scotland – recent debates over feminism, LGBT+ issues, ‘political correctness’, ‘trigger warnings’ and ‘safe spaces’ have caused considerable controversy online. A Scottish vlogger popular with the misogynistic ‘Men’s Rights’ movement recently spoke at a white supremacist conference in America, where activists chanted ‘Hail Trump!’. There has been a new rise in activity from the neo-Nazi Scottish Defence League, and UKIP’s Scottish MEP David Coburn is a constant reminder that the hard right gets elected here too. LGBT+ rights and feminism – along with causes like Black Lives Matter and solidarity with migrant, Muslim and Jewish communities – are key battlegrounds of an ongoing culture war in which Scotland is clearly entangled.

Macwhirter not only promotes a Scottish exceptionalism which risks complacency; he also uses this platform to warn that the Left’s fondness for “identity politics” may yet push many into the arms of the right. He writes that working-class Scots “have a healthy disrespect for narrow-minded political correctness,” and “the left needs to learn to speak in a language everyone can understand, be less censorious and avoid a discourse that suggests minority groups are morally superior.”

Put together Scotland’s working-class women, LGBT+ people and ethnic minorities, and you’ve got a majority of the working class. If there’s an “identity politics” that’s alien to the working class as a whole, it’s one obsessed with the identity of culturally conservative straight white men. Yet it is the latter who continue to define the predominant understanding of the Scottish working class – what could be more working class than the macho imagery of Clydeside shipbuilders?

But Clydeside also exemplifies a common experience – and suggests a common enemy – across all parts of the working class. As Macwhirter observes, the last forty years have seen people’s communities and livelihoods asset-stripped and broken up in the name of boosting private profit. Shared institutions of education and culture have been destroyed by another class which benefits from the resulting fragmentation. And nobody better represents the deep, existential connection between bigotry and wealth than Trump himself.

dscf2511The President-elect’s bigotry is rightly opposed by Scottish political leaders. But his wealth posed no issue when Labour and the SNP were falling over themselves to help Trump build his golf course at Balmedie. It was people like Balmedie resident Michael Forbes with no institutional power of their own, not “enlightened leaders”, who resisted Trump and helped to create an enduring public antipathy towards the billionaire throughout Scotland.

Rather than celebrating leaders who once appeased Trump and now preach warnings from the Holyrood pulpit, it’s more crucial than ever to recognise that the everyday struggles of people outside of formal power structures – and often outside of liberal-democratic ideas of legitimacy – are the real foundation for social progress in Scotland.

From the hundreds who left Scotland for Spain to shoot fascists in the 1930s, to the Communist miners who found houses for their Chilean comrades fleeing a US-backed military coup in the 1970s, the Scottish labour movement has created an idea of Scots as natural internationalists. Grassroots organising to combat violence against women led to the establishment of rape crisis and women’s aid centres in Scotland. When Brian Soutar and the Daily Record campaigned to keep the homophobic Section 28 law, campaigns outwith the political establishment were crucial in shifting public attitudes. Such a list could go on for pages.

Such unparliamentary conduct still leads the fight against the far right in Scotland. Coalitions like ‘United Colours of Leith’ and the LGBT+ group ‘Glitter Against Fascism’ have humiliated neo-Nazis at recent counter-demonstrations, with their work documented on the invaluable blog ‘A Thousand Flowers’. A Glasgow chapter of Sisters Uncut, a London group fighting violence against women, was established this summer. Groups like the Migrants’ Solidarity Network and We Will Rise, and places like the Autonomous Centre of Edinburgh and Glasgow’s Unity Centre are a few of many vital convening points for collective action.

If Scotland’s leaders appear enlightened today, it’s only because the way has been lit by generations of radicals. For a century, the most effective sections of the Scottish left have put their faith in grassroots struggle rather than elite benevolence. The latter will be found wanting when the SNP’s populist wave inevitably breaks, and the right-wing would like nothing better than for the values of tolerance and openness to be seen as part of an unpopular establishment. The left needs a powerful (even controversial) anti-establishment message of its own, channeling popular anger against the rich and their economic system in Scotland and beyond, instead of thanking our leaders for ensuring that scraps are fairly distributed from the table.

Comments (29)

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  1. Michael says:

    Michael Forbes, whom you mention, is not a Turnberry resident, but lives near Balmedie in Aberdeenshire adjoining Trump’s other (and reviled) golf course at Menie.

  2. David Sillars says:

    The author is a man that does not know his class from his elbow. His digs at the SNP’s populism and calls for some sort of collection of minority campaigns. A collection of different small groups that do not have a common purpose and will not overthrow the British establishment. The establishment will throw a few bones to individual dogs to quieten them. A mass movement for a quantitative change must by definition have an element of populism. Fascism breaks the majority into minorities in order to win. The exclusion of white working class men from your list of fellow travellers will create an alienated large minority.

    1. Harry Giles says:

      He didn’t exclude white working class males, he just asked for it not “to define the predominant understanding” of what workingclassness. That is, he just asked for folk to remember that there are other sorts of people in the working class — he was, in fact, calling for unity, which requires remembering that it’s not just about white males. Yet whenever someone says “it’s not just about you”, the you involved says “what about us!”

      1. Harry Giles says:

        Or, to put it another way, it’s like someone saying “Black Lives Matter” and you hearing “White Lives Don’t Matter”.

        Or, to put it another way, it’s like the doctor saying “You’ve got a broken arm” and you saying “Yeah whatever but what about all my other bones?”

    2. Duncan McFarlane says:

      Where in the article did he exclude white males? I’m not seeing it

  3. Jamie says:

    There are people starving in Scotland and you are bothered about somebody who can’t make up what gender they are and need to scream and cry to the world about it. Bloody priorities mate! People like you grind my gears.

      1. MVH says:

        You should practice what you preach. Just because some people think they are poor because of transphobia does not mean the vast majority aren’t poor because of other reasons. Tory economic policy (or capitalism) for instance. Focussing on transphobia is never going to change this. In fact it is irrelevant.

        I agree with James in that of course there must be equality for all but the priority has to be ending destitution in our society and that is caused by capitalism not transphobia or women’s oppression etc etc. It is a matter of priorities.

        1. Alan says:

          This is where monolithic socialism fails; in its shallow economic determinism & incapacity to understand that women’s rights , racial minority & transgender rights will simply evaporate if we deal with capitalism. The way such issues are dismissed or relegated in importance gives a clear vision of how irrelevant they are considered to be by many people.

      2. MVH says:

        Why this childish reliance on bourgeois academia? For a start it is rigourously censored for Marxist content, and also funded by the military. Are we supposesd to be intimidated, convinced or impressed by your list of citations? Academics said so, must be right then.

        1. Seumas MacDòmhnall says:

          A can unnerstaun scepticism anent trans issues, seein as their suicide rates is disproportionate tae their marginalised status.

          But A dinnae see the relevance o academia for three raisons:
          1) his links isnae that academic tae stert wi.
          2) Some academics work precarious unnerpaid jobs.
          3) Opeenions anent the military an marxism vary athin academia.

          1. MVH says:

            Thanks for your reply. I would be very (pleasantly) surprised if you could find a pro Marxist paper published in UK academia. I dont see that the working conditions of academics are relevant? If anything, unstable working conditions mean that they are more likely to be swayed to conform to what the establishment view is in order to maintain insecure employment. My first husband was an academic and it became obvious to me that what was funded/published was a lot to do with what the funders (the military quite often) wanted to hear, and the usual grubby office politics. Rather than the ‘truth’ whatever that is supposed to mean. So why those on the left cite academic studies as evidence for their arguments, I don’t know. It also irritates me as some academic studies are not exactly comprehensible to the wider public as they are written in jargon you need to be trained to understand. Not exactly conducive to debate.

        2. Seumas MacDhòmhnaill says:

          It is true that funding an lobbyists can misfortunately affeck whit’s published in academia, as in ither subjecks. But the feck o whit is published is still true. It wad thrawin the baby out wi the bathwatter tae rejeck the hail o academia, jist like gif ye wad refuse a heart surgery acause o Big Pharma.

          It is true an aw that jargon can afttimes be uised in academia, sae it isnae sae easy fur maist fowk tae unnerstaun. Some popularisers o science can help wi that.

  4. Derry Vickers says:

    Interesting article but Michael Forbes opposed Trump’s Balmedie Golf Course, not his Turnberry one.

    1. Quite right thanks, our mistake, fixed now

  5. Alf Baird says:

    “Enlightened Leadership” (aka ‘competent’ timeserver career politician pc-neoliberal devolved governance, i.e. no real change, yawn) will never rid Scotland of the entrenched institutionalised privileged elite unionist establishment swamp which still controls our nation and its pure strings, hinders its potential, and hauds doon maist o wir fowk (its purpose?), much as they have done for the past hundred years and more. Arguably Scotland needs its own (preferably Socialist) ‘Donald’ to drain that deep swamp. This is probably why the elite unionist establishment conspired to get rid of their number 1 enemy, Tommy Sheridan, the latter possibly the only politician in Scotland with the courage and ability to switch on a powerful slump-souker.

    1. kailyard rules says:

      Aye. Sheridan and MacBeth. Finally fankled in a witches’ bane.

      1. MVH says:

        Witches? I heard it was Special Branch that ended him. And Rupert Murdoch. Or his humungous ego.

    2. Tumshie-heid says:

      Don’t know what your music taste is like Alf and I know Loki can be a big marmite in the Yes movement, but your comment, the gist of which I agree with, made me think of this classic, Darren’s lyrics on point…

      https://youtu.be/-sWzeGNe29A

      1. Alf Baird says:

        Loki’s no exactly Gerry Rafferty, but he ayeweys hits the nail on the heid, thanks for that Tumshie.

    3. Graeme Purves says:

      But how are we to root out this malign elite, Alf? How are we to distingush its members from ordinary folk? What criteria are to be used to identify its members? Should they be made to wear a badge? What would be your final solution to this problem?

      1. Alf Baird says:

        Civil servants usually appoint consultants to answer questions too difficult for them, Graeme.

  6. Mach1 says:

    A call to organise where the goal is social justice is consonant with the progressive goal of creating a more egalitarian society. Sexual politics is not marginal to such a mission, but central given
    women’s worsening situation as western economies suddenly find themselves with increasingly right-wing governments. Populism is part of the problem; promising people things which come at the expense of the most vulnerable, in particular, the poor, the destitute, the alienated, the outsiders.
    Effective organisation will create its own leadership, a counterpoint to traditional labourist
    careerism. It is indeed the failure to build a grassroots constituency that leave so many politicians at the mercy of the media and career-driven politicians. Egomaniacs are not fit to lead social movements which seek to redress this imbalance, rather they are part of the problem.
    So, rather than brood over the drift to the right, get involved and find likeminded people who want to make the world a better place for all.

  7. David Sillars says:

    What would our slogan be ” Purity not popularity” or “Leaders are bad”. The argument sounds like you cannot trust the masses to behave. Castro, Lenin and Allende were popular leaders. We need a populism to win the struggle. Equally what is the struggle for? What is the goal? Independence as a route to egalitarianism or anti-fascism?

  8. J Galt says:

    Lenin was a butcher, educate yourself about the CHEKA and the Red Terror.

    1. David Sillars says:

      Is this when the Bolsheviks were fighting the British, French, Japanese during the civil war?
      Generally the weakness in many leaders is their successors.
      Churchill was a murdering bastard.

      1. Seumas MacDòmhnall says:

        The Bolsheviks were fechtin agin the electit govrenment o Roushie, the Revolutionary Socialists, an aw.

      2. J Galt says:

        Indeed he was, probably the only thing they had in common!

  9. john young says:

    Power corrupts tears apart and is self defeating eventually,very very few people that attain it come out the other side wholesome,we do not need those seeking power/office or the right to control,we need people of solid ethics honest and true proven in their field that,s only ambition to do the best for their fellow man/woman and for their country are there enough men or women of this calibre in this country? I don,t know but it,s what we should inmo pursue,all other systems have failed to deliver in one degree or another,first thing is to ban all poilitical parties/politicians.

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