The Sclerosis of Scottish Political Culture

Scottish politics, like British politics, is going through a process of turmoil, renewal and disintegration. The internecine battles of the parties at Westminster where radical party memberships are motivated to going to war with parts of their own parties far more than their supposed opposition, is mirrored at Holyrood.

This week saw the Scottish Conservative Party convulsed in its own war between Arse and Arseholes – a battle that many have considered an apt meta-analysis of the Tories for the past fifty years, but they only now seem to have accepted. Aberdeen South MP Ross Thomson was seen acting as bodyguard to Boris Johnson, clinging to him at the Birmingham conference. Conceived as an act of bravery it came across instead as desperate bromance, and broke the golden rule of Scottish Conservatives: distant yourselves from the Mothership when at all possible.

Thomson, we’re told by The Economist, told a rally of Brexiteers that “he couldn’t look at one of the ubiquitous “opportunity” signs without wanting to add a few modifiers, such as “missed”, “lost”, “wasted” and squandered”. They roared with approval.” He is a rising star in a far-off constellation, Tory Minor, high in the southern sky.

Amongst the comrades things were little better. The aftermath of Kezia Dugdales sudden departure had catapulted the little-known Richard Leonard from obscurity and his reign has been marked by rich rhetoric but ineffective and badly researched interventions. With none of the Momentum of Red England, Leonard’s throwing Dugdale under the bus to meet her own legal costs was a strange move, but the mishandling of the “re-shuffle” made the ruptures within the Tory party look like handbags at dawn.

In a week when the role of men in power had become a political focus across the globe, as Trump’s dystopian nightmare took legal form, the Labour leader chose to sack two of his frontbench colleagues in Anas Sarwar, the party’s health spokesman, and Jackie Baillie, who held the economy brief and replace them with a man still embroiled in allegations of sexual harassment. Leonard took on the economy responsibility himself and handed the health portfolio to Alex Rowley, who had resigned as Deputy Leader only last November and was suspended from the party after Labour bosses launched a probe into allegations he harassed and stalked a former partner.

The woman who said Rowley had sent her abusive messages walked away from the complaints process as she was fearful that Labour were going to share her personal details with the Fife MSP. Labour abandoned their inquiry into the complaint, and lifted the MSP’s suspension. In this light, in this week, the best that Leonard could muster as a rational for the action was the spectacularly low-bar:

“Alex is back because he’s somebody who’s got an extremely high reputation amongst people in local government.”

This public declaration that having a high reputation in COSLA trumps unprocessed allegations of sexual harassment only exposes the weird and wonderful bubble of Scottish Labour. It is, as Alex Massie points out : “a Party that’s hardly overburdened with top-class operators cannot really afford to defenestrate members who, as a general rule, can be trusted to appear on television without beclowning themselves.”

The appointment prompted a response from Labour councillor Eva Murray who said: “In a time of #MeToo & more timely the Kavanaugh confirmation, we are absolutely sending the wrong message. Rowley should not have been allowed back into the Shadow Cabinet. #BelieveVictims”.

The crisis reveals questions not just about the Scottish leaders political acumen but also the internal processes of the party, which seems to be incapable of investigating allegations of serious racism against Humz Yousaf when Jim Dempster, a Labour member of Dumfries and Galloway council, who told transport officials at a meeting month and months ago that “no one would have seen [Yousaf] under his burqa”.

The departure of Sarwar leaves the party with no members of any ethnic minority communities in the party’s top team in Scotland and the Yousaf and Rowley scandals are not the only internal disputes the party has failed to deal with.

Sarwar himself has claimed that racist comments were made about him by the leader of Scottish Labour’s South Lanarkshire council group, Davie McLachlan, who has also been suspended from the party pending an investigation but still denies the allegation.

In February, one of the party’s Westminster MPs, Hugh Gaffney, apologised after making “deeply offensive and unacceptable” remarks about the LGBT community and Chinese people at a Burns supper in Edinburgh. Gaffney was reprimanded by the party and said he would undergo equality and diversity training.

“Equality and diversity training” is fast-becoming a sort of euphemism in Scottish politics for brushing difficult matters (aka rampant and deep-held racism) under the carpet.

Scottish Labour is a mixture of three discernible tribes: the ancient fortressed west of Scotland bastions, mired in casual Orangeism and immune to the 21 century; pockets of faux-radicalism swept forward unconvincingly by trickles of Corbynite energy seeping north; and party functionaries reared on Blairite centrism and efficiency but lacking guile or political clout (think Alexanders Wendy and Douglas). Of course a Venn Diagram would show an interplay between these grouplets but the friction between them isn’t so much a clash of ideas as a tinkling of fragile egos. This is a sclerotic party lacking dynamism or fresh thinking and seemingly impervious to the energies of the left in social movements across Scotland.

If the Tories and Labour in Scotland face internal crisis and difficulties interacting with their southern colleagues, the SNP is also facing real difficulties.

A Panelbase Poll out today shows a seat prediction which leaves them short of a Holyrood Parliamentary majority by ten; and an indy majority short by four:

SNP 55 (-8)
Con 34 (+3)
Lab 26 (+2)
Lib Dem 8 (+3)
Green 6 (=)

[change since 2016 election]

That is, on one hand, an impressive resilience for a party in power for over a decade, yet it does present challenges. Will the Conservatives really gain three seats as the country goes throw the Brexit trauma? Can a Lib Dem party that seems increasingly marginal to life really gain three seats? Can the SNP navigate through the Brexit quagmire and make a renewed case for independent as a solution to the multi-faceted crisis of British politics and English identity?

Possibly. A  poll commissioned for the SNP has: If UK has No Deal support for indy: Yes 52% No 48%.

While constitutional upheaval remains a goal in sight, the culture of Scottish politics seems still mired in outdated attitudes, casual racism, bigotry and endemic sexism. Parties and movements need to transcend these ugly remnants to deliver deep change beyond flags and slogans.



Comments (15)

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  1. Jim Bennett says:

    Whilst congratulating the author for a very good article, I would like to discuss the issues raised re Alex Rowley.
    As far as we know, Alex Rowley did not interfere with the Labour Party’s investigation process about him. He voluntary stood down from his elected position for the duaration of the investigation. As such, if the person making the allegations withdraws cooperation from that process, then what exactly is being suggested about Alex Rowley’s future career? Is it being suggested that if someone has allegations made about them, then it is their duty to withdraw from senior roles from thence forwards?
    I knew Alex well in his role as Leader of Fife Council. It is a matter of fact that he does have respect among people active in local authority circles. I happen to disagree with him politically but that doesn’t negate his considerable knowledge base in the field.

    1. The focus was not so much on Rowell as the ineptitude of the party to be able to carry out an internal investigation – as detailed in the other two examples.

      The person who made the allegations withdrew because they felt they were unable to be given proper protection. This isn’t Rowell’s fault but it is the party’s.

      1. Jo says:

        No Mike, just no!

        If a person who has brought a complaint then withdraws because they don’t wish the accused to know what is in the detail then how can a fair investigation possibly proceed? It can’t! What you’re suggesting is that the accused must still be punished. I’m sorry, that’s bonkers.

        We must have balance Mike. That is vital. The rights of both parties in this sort of case must be protected. The process cannot be stacked in favour of one side. Anyone who is calling for that sort of set up isn’t focused on justice but something else entirely. And it ain’t good!

        If justice is all about nothing but slogans then we need to be clear that the judicial process itself is being set aside in favour of mob-rule and modern day lynch mobs who may not intend to hang someone but, by God, to destroy that person in every other way without even going near a court. With a more than willing media on board there is reason to fear hashtags like #believevictims and, yes, #MeToo. For what they represent is the accused having no voice and being declared guilty from the off. My view of anyone who favours such a process is that they’re not remotely interested in the principles of justice. That is hugely problematic to me. So I think you should take greater care, Mike, in the things you endorse.

        All the signs are that we have not seen the last media circus over such allegations. In the Kavanaugh/Ford case I saw two people in the midst of a media frenzy. I saw mobs screaming all sorts of abuse. I saw a political brawl playing out and I saw the media milking every second of it for all it was worth. It made me feel sick. It was ghastly. Moreso because, in the end, only two people knew who was lying and who was telling the truth. The rest of us do not. We know nothing. Despite that, we ended up with a selection of mere opinions.

        I believe her because she’s a woman.

        I believe him because he’s a man.

        I believe her because I’m a Democrat.

        I believe him because I’m a Republican.

        We believe her because we endorse #MeToo #believevictims.

        We believe her because we hate Trump.

        We want that guy taken out of the running before he makes it to the Supreme Court so we believe her.

        All of these views have some things in common. They were positions adopted even before that ghastly hearing started. They didn’t seem concerned with establishing the facts or, more importantly, establishing guilt or innocence.

        Any system at all which functions along such lines should terrify us all. For ultimately the principles usually associated with justice are not welcome there. I utterly reject such systems.

        One more thing Mike. Leonard didn’t throw Kez under the bus. The Labour Party did and, as we all well know, The “Scottish” Labour Party doesn’t have the authority to overrule HQ!

  2. Robert says:

    I’m not commenting on the veracity or otherwise of the allegations against Alex Rowley. I have no knowledge about the case. But I can’t help thinking that in these days of trial by social media, alleging harassment and then declining to pursue the allegation because you fear the publicity is a quite effective and safe way of smearing a public figure against whom you may bear a grudge. A hashtag like #BelieveVictims is all very well, but how are we to know who is the victim here? That’s what due process is about, surely.

  3. w.b. robertson says:

    so Labour`s west of Scotland bastions are “mired in orangeism”??? strongly suggest you visit your friendly local optician. I fear you suffer from a form of colour blindness which distorts your vision. Clue – wrong colour!

  4. Dougie Blackwood says:

    The assessment on the unionist parties is accurate. The opinion poll figures are misleading; they are based on a good effort from May at their conference; the Tories will be back in trouble very soon as Brexit unraveling one way or another. Either May will not achieve a deal or she will come up with a deal and be unable to get it accepted by the various factions competing for her throne.

    We await the real crunch and the SNP response to it. A clear and statesmanlike statement with a call to action, whatever the circumstances will electrify the situation. Tin helmet time, jackets on and into battle will transform the picture.

  5. McBevan says:

    Interesting piece, showing the troubles of all political tribes. How about a new Westminster election n a few months time if May fails to get any deal through the commons? One potentially major factor which has the pregnant opportunity of enhancing Scottish Labours support is a Corbyn victory early next year in a general election. Richard Leonard might be inexperienced in the political limelight of cut-throat ambition, but he is one if the most principled socialists ever to step into the Scottish parliament and he knows that the ambition of all radical supporters of Independence was to see the end of austerity and brutal oppressive dehumanising social security reform. Many thousands of pro-independence supporters might come to realise that they can end austerity from London by ending Tory rule and put a genuine left wing leader in Downing Street. How many supporters of the snp are aware that the dream of independence would be a cap-in-hand sham without a new Scottish clearing bank? If we can’t print money to rebuild the country, then where would a Scottish government go to borrow money ajdnwhat strings would the IMF et al, attach? Scottish independence without a new central bank under government control would be a Nirvana, a drean broken and shattered by the financial elites. If there is another British general election, snp supporters would be best to support labour to help end the poverty and hardship of our most vulnerable citizens. Instead of ripping at each other’s throats it’s time the radical left saw the opportunity to kick the Tories out in London and give Corbyn a chance to end austerity. After the class war of the new-feudal elites and their neo-liberal economic machinery stripping back all the progressive years if social reform from 1945-1973, the time may have come for labour to rebuild Britain.

    1. scrandoonyeah says:

      Such a lovely Labour Party Political fantasy……..problem is, I don’t want to be governed by a foreign country,. They have had their chance…..chances.

      1. McBevan says:

        With serious talented people like Jean Freeman around, the snp have some top professional analytical minds. She deserves and earns respect. But as Burns once wrote, Fools and knaves are plants overt soil, which means that we in Scotland have some clowns too.

        I was the first person years ago to write the phrase ‘Scottish solutions to Scottish problems’. So I want the very best for the people of Scotland. And therefore one would assume every Scottish government would want the best for all Scots? They were going to push fracking at one point and a few years ago there were a couple of snp councillors who were told to shut up in public and were silenced about their opposition to fracking. Some snp councillors I spoke to were for fracking. One snp councillor I know who is a Tartan Tory, was rabidly pro-fracking.

        Let’s see what happens over the next 6 months. If there is a general election I will vote for the genuinely radical left of centre party whose plans are to improve the living standards of the greatest number of people.

    2. john burrows says:

      Deluded and insulting bunkum.

      The idea that Scotland cannot create a national bank by an Act of the Scottish Parliament is absurd to the point of being ridiculous. How the hell do you think the Bank of England came into being? Did you think Moses brought its charter down from Mount Sinai as an addendum to the ten commandments? This nonsense that the Scots are incapable of setting up and running a banking system is just patronising bull. Ditto for the argument that we would have no currency. Who are you people?

      As a matter of interest, how does this “too poor, to wee and too stupid” angle work on the doorsteps of voters? I know it resonates with a significant minority of people who live in Scotland, but then they tend to be the same people who deny being Scottish, benefit from the current system and would welcome the return of direct rule from Westminster. The Tories and their lackeys. We also have our own fair share of idiots per capita as the English, Welsh and Northern Irish do. Societies are made up of all types. Scotland is no different in that respect. I’m guessing though that even they might be uncomfortable at being characterised as basket cases.

      What is so great about the British Banking system anyway. It appears to be nothing more than an unregulated casino used to launder the money of tin pot dictators and criminals. These same banks were complicit in plunging the entire world (apart from the rich) into depression, for which they received bonuses. They should have been imprisoned. Instead, they received blank cheques to cover their losses and knighthoods to stroke their egos. And what did the taxpayer get for bailing them out? Austerity. The rage against which was aimed by these same scumbags at the poor, the disabled and immigrants. All aided and abetted by their agents in the Labour, Tory and Liberal Democratic parties and the lowlifes and denizens of the Street of Shame.

      The UK is not too big to fail. In fact, we should all be happy to see it put out of our misery. For one thing is certain, it will do it again. It is just like the scorpion. It will sting its host even when it is against its own interest. Brexit being its current manifestation. Even the timing of Brexit is not arbitrary. The date was chosen to allow British banks to avoid the new regulatory provisions of the EU’s banking transparency requirements.

      To add injury to insult, you would have the Scots turn back the clock and put Labour back in power again here in Scotland with the promise of a socialist utopia. Mindless gibberish. Get back to us once you have gotten rid of the 400 odd “lords and ladies” you have elevated over the past forty years. How anyone from a Labour Party can countenance the existence of an unelected assembly of feudal retainers, much less stuff it full of loyal hacks and scroungers, makes a mockery of the whole idea that there is such a thing as a “Labour” Party. Given their tacit support of Tory torture of the people over these past eight years, the noble aspirations you espouse ring hollow against the facts.

      Corbyn has the current luxury of the support of his membership. Once in power, if he ever gets to Downing St., he will be confronted with the entrenched conservatism of England and the vested interests of its establishment. He will betray his membership. If he isn’t compromised by the quislings in his own party, he will be seduced and destroyed by the blandishments of power. It has ever been thus in what passes for “democracy” in the UK.

      I have no doubt though that the same Labour Party will still be dangling the mythical socialist utopia before another generation of deluded activists like yourself a hundred years from now.

      For perspective purposes, I am a socialist to the bone. A shipyard worker on the Clyde, until Thatcher bulldozed our yard into dust. That was the end of the Union for me personally. My home town is still a wasteland, 40 years later. The “British” are utterly incapable of running a modern nation state. It’s time we ran our own country. We could not possibly do worse. In fact, freed from the dead hand of privilege, we may even thrive.

      At least we wont have to put up with the constant refrain of how woeful a people we are from the gammon brigade south of the border, their apparatchiks in the “Scottish” press and deluded activists of Union political parties.

      1. McBevan says:

        What an emotive and hysterical presumptuous ridiculous reply! The reality is that unless there is a new clearing bank most of the plans for independence are humbug dreams. You want a new Scottish government begging from the IMF? Who said Scotland could not create such a bank? Very presumptuous. Then you proceed to attack stuff I didn’t even comment on. Yes Scotland needs a clearing bank instantly if Independence is achieved.

        And you assume I want to continue with the feudal patronage of the House of Lords! I’d kick everyone of those pompous clowns out into the street. Democracy needs social and economic equality and all elitist pomp needs washed away to the trash can of whence it came.

        A socialist utopia? Your use of language is interesting. So you don’t want equality? You are obviously opposed to socialist ideas and plans? Soclialism is equality per se. That suggests you would prefer inequality? If you hate socialism so much I assume you would be disgusted to go near the NHS? It is the greatest monument to equality and socialism in the world and was set up, just in case you don’t know, by Nye Bevan during the 1945-51 labour government. Most Tory supportijg doctors caught him tooth and nail.

        So, the real question to people like yourself is to ask why you would prefer to see kids go hungry all over Scotland for many more years and turn your back on the chance to get rid of Austerity and the damage it is doing to our people? I would rather feed the hungry and end austerity as soon as possible and if that means supporting Corbyn to that end, I would put hungry children and the jobless before a future dream. Aye, the story of Wallace poured a Scottish prejudice into my veins that will flow on till the floodgates of life shut in eternal rest and I want the very best for Scotland, my kids and my grandkids, but I’d rather see food in their stomach now that make them suffer waiting years for a Nirvana that may yet not come.

        I’m delighted to see that after the mess Salmond made of arguments so for currency post-independence are now better focused. No plans existed a few years ago for a clearing bank and the former economist flopped on the area of his best expertise by having so many options for currency. It was simple. Keep the Scots pound and create a clearing bank as fast as possible.

        If there is a general election soon I will be supporting Corbyn, having been marching for independence for many years! McDonald will make a far better chancellor than many prejudiced eyes realise. He has the bite and vision of creating a better fairer society that most people want to see who support independence. That might be difficult for you to get your head round, but there are many radical socialists supporting the snp government for now. Let’s see hoe events develop.

        1. john burrows says:

          Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonald are commited socialists, but asking two old men to reshape a two hundred year old UK in a single term of office, against an establishment which has ruled these lands with an iron fist for over a thousand years, is simply asking the impossible. Especially with an electorate who are content to have the same arseholes rule them endlessly. Their only possible means of doing so, in the small number of years available to them, would require a French solution. I simply assume you are not advocating violent reaction. Although I admit, resorting to Madame guillotine does have a certain appeal 🙂

          And how do they accomplish this deed, with a Labour party behind them constantly seeking to plunge knives into their backs? Riven with types who make glib statements about impoverishment, yet have abstained or even voted for Tory austerity, over the past eight years, and whose only real goal is self advancement. They could have brought down Mays government two months ago, yet the Brexiteer fantasists of Labour actually went through the division halls in support of her chaotic party of chancers and liars.

          Who first instituted the benefits regime and contracted them out to ATOS and Capita, which sanctions the poor and disabled? The Labour party. Who burdened the people with the generational debt that is PFI? The Labour Party. Who, to this day, allies themselves with Tories in councils all across Scotland, to the detriment of their constituents. The Labour Party. All driven by a bitter hatred of any who would see Scotland rule itself. Once it was clear that the Tory’s were the party of hatred. Labour have overtaken them in that role.

          The Scottish Labour leader herself was advocating voting Tory in the last GE to prevent SNP representatives being elected. The Labour Party in Scotland are nothing more than useful idiots for Ruth Davidson and her ilk. Watching them repeat the same attack lines as Davidson and the Tories in Holyrood is pure pathos. Their current spectacle of self destruction, to protect the reputation of a Tory, is a bitter irony. Even Bevan called the Tory’s vermin. And vermin they still are.

          The current Labour leader does not even seem to know what is devolved to the Scottish parliament and what is reserved to the UK parliament. He parrots the same guff, lies and distortions that comes out of the gubs of the shower of bigots and xenophobes who occupy the Tory benches. He may be a principled socialist, but he is clearly out of his depth in the cut and thrust of what we have in the way of representative democracy here in Scotland.

          Much as I admire your passion for wanting to feed hungry children, an ambition I share, the 21st century Scottish Labour party is not fit for purpose. Titans like Bevan or Attlee are no where to be seen warming any Labour benches in Holyrood. Indeed, no where else either. You need only see what is happening in Wales to get a flavor for what Labour will bring to Scotland, if we ever allowed them to regain their foothold here. Their talent pool here in Scotland is woeful. Yet into these hands you would place our future?

          I stipulated in my earlier post that I am a socialist to the bone. An old school Keir Hardie socialist. The first principle of Hardie’s Independent Labour party was Home Rule for Scotland. Yet you suggest such a future holds only “austerity on steroids,” as Jeremy would have us believe. I for one share Hardies’s greater respect for the intelligence and ambition of Scottish people, than you or Jeremy clearly do.

          And creating a socialist republic here in Scotland will be a damn site easier to accomplish than waiting for Tory England to ever wake up and smell the coffee.

          1. john burrows says:

            One final point.

            I am also realistic to know and accept that the timing of Scotland’s independence will not be determined by Brexit, or how capable the SNP government happens to be, or the continuing Tory shit show, or even the dreams of Labour. It will only be decided once Brenda shuffles off this mortal coil.

            She is the anchor of the institution that is the UK. Our pensioners have known her all their lives. They share a common experience over the past seventy years. They will never abandon her.

            But , they have no loyalty to her sprogs. The establishment knows this, the wise among us know it and now you know it.

            Only the spectacle of Chuck and Bowles on the throne will tip the balance. And not before then.

          2. Bill says:

            On the final point, one is reminded that the Stu art Dynasty , “it cam wi alas and it did gang wi a lass.” One can only hope that the same will apply to the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha brigade, taking the name Windsor notwithstanding.

  6. w.b. robertson says:

    well said Scran…and a huge number of scots don`t want to be governed by Brusssels either!

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