From Project Hope to Project Hate – from Better Together to Bitter Together

Scotland provides a useful comparison with Northern Ireland. Up until Indy-Ref1, liberal unionism, with its acceptance of more political devolution, continued to advance under New Labour and Cameron’s Conservative/Lib-Dem coalition. As recently as 2012, the powers of the devolved Cardiff Bay, Welsh Assembly were extended, using Scotland’s Holyrood devolved parliament as a model.

However, Labour, the main unionist party in Scotland, inherited a sense of entitlement almost as ingrained as that of the Tories in England. For a long time Labour has dominated Scottish representation at Westminster and in most Central Belt local councils. When New Labour set up Holyrood as part of the Devolution-all-round settlement, they were confident that this would see off any SNP challenge. The first Labour/Lib-Dem coalition at Holyrood even introduced a few social democratic style reforms – over land ownership, provision of care for the elderly, the rejection of further privatisation of hospitals, and the ending of student fees. Initially, Labour in Scotland hoped to put some clear pink water between itself and a Westminster dominated by the impact of Tony Blair and Gordon Browns’ neo-liberal gallop to the Right.

There appeared to be continued support for Scottish Labour’s mild social democracy. However, Blair and Browns’ Iraq War ‘car crash’, and the growing economic problems facing the working class, with precarious labour replacing more secure jobs, and continued cutbacks in social provision, showed that New Labour was continuing to undermine Labour’s own post-1945 social democratic legacy. And after the 2008 Crash, Scottish Labour began to turn its back on its own recent Holyrood reforming legacy. Now there was a Scottish Parliament, Scottish Labour could no longer hide behind the excuse of neo-liberal Westminster. Scottish Labour found that Holyrood was a political arena, in which their inability to uphold a social democratic legacy could be exposed and challenged.

And the fact that Blair, Brown and later Alistair Darling, so prominent at Westminster, all had a Scottish background, contributed to Labour-voting Scots questioning their Scottish-British unionist identities. And this change was most marked amongst those from an Irish Catholic background. They had previously been the most loyal to Labour, and had been strongly opposed to Scottish independence. However, the SNP’s move from its earlier ethnic Scottish nationalism to a new civic Scottish nationalism did much to encourage this change. Meanwhile, Scottish and other unionists remained trapped in their own hybrid versions of ethnic British nationalism.

The SNP was undergoing a slow process of social democratisation. This replaced an earlier, unstable alliance of Left urban and Right rural populism. That divide had led to virtual ‘civil war’ in the party in the 1980s. The SNP did not offer a more radical social democratic alternative, as it switched to its own version of social democracy to challenge Labour. The SNP just took over the social democratic ground being abandoned by Labour. The SNP increasingly became associated with the reforming policies Labour had introduced in Scotland. They defended these policies against Rightwards moving Labour at Westminster, and later at Holyrood. Johanne Lamont’s aptly named Midwinter Commission ensured this. But it went deeper than that. The SNP leadership successfully appropriated the ‘national’, but now as Scottish, in that post-1945 British Labour social democratic jewel in the crown – the British National Health Service.

In 2007, the SNP was able to form a minority government with the Scottish Greens at Holyrood. However, the 2008 Crash knocked the stuffing out of Salmond’s ‘Arc of Prosperity’. His adversaries now dismissed this as the ‘Arc of Insolvency’. Salmond’s courting of Scottish based banks (he was employed by the Royal Bank of Scotland) and even of Donald Trump (in competition with Scottish Labour’s then First Minister, Jack McConnell) looked damaging. The SNP lost seats in by-elections. Surely the economic benefits of continued UK state membership, the better to mitigate the effects of the Crash, would be self-evident. However, it was New Labour, now led by Gordon Brown, and the Chancellor, Alistair Darling, which decided to introduce Austerity to bail out the bankers, and offload the most of costs of the crisis on to the working class. Darling even entered the 2010 Westminster election, promising cuts more severe than Thatcher’s!

Thus, it was not so surprising that old-style Labour-supporting social democrats in Scotland began to turn to the SNP and helped to give them an absolute majority of seats in the 2011 Holyrood election. But Scottish Labour was still trapped its own bubble of entitlement and self-importance. As a consequence, its leaders learned no lessons from the SNP’s electoral victory. The Scottish leadership, egged on by the self-delusional Jim Murphy, argued that Scottish Labour had lost because it hadn’t been Blairite enough!

Mandates, Devo Max and a Section 30

The SNP now had a mandate to introduce an independence referendum. Cameron’s Con-Dem government conceded this, after sounding out Labour politicians from their more entrenched unionist base in Scotland. Wendy Alexander, a highly motivated careerist, with business backing, told the government “to bring it on”. This was another example of the self-delusion of those New Labour figures who now moved in elevated circles. However, the main reason why the government conceded the referendum, was because the opinion polls showed support for Scottish independence to be languishing in the lower 30s percentage points range.

Yet, Labour could probably have become the unionist leader of the eventual ‘No’ victors following IndyRef1. The majority of the British ruling class and the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition government had still been in post-1998, liberal unionist, Devolution-all-round mode, when the Scottish independence referendum was announced in 2012. This was highlighted by the government’s acceptance of a further extension of devolved powers for the Welsh Assembly that year and by Martin McGuinness’s handshake with ‘Elizabrit’. To enable Labour to take the lead, a third ‘Devo-Max’ option would needed to have been added to the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ to Scottish independence options on the referendum ballot paper, with the possibility of a transferable vote. Some SNP business backers supported this.

But to win over the working class in Scotland, the new ‘Devo-Max’ powers would have to have been linked with the prospect of some more social democrat reforms. Yet, instead of doing this, Labour backed the binary ‘Yes’/’No’ choice, and then proceeded to join the Conservatives and Lib-Dems in ‘Better Together’. A very pleased Cameron then decided to run an essentially conservative unionist campaign, defending the constitutional status quo. He was quite happy to let Labour front ‘Better Together’. They could make liberal unionist ‘promises’ of more devolved powers, which weren’t on the ballot paper, and which they had no power to deliver.

The SNP leadership, still under Alex Salmond, decided the best way to campaign was to stay in the centre ground and to woo business and more conservative voters. Little would change under the SNP’s ‘Independence-Lite’. The existing union jack flagged institutions of the UK state, and Scotland’s commercial products and services, would display the saltire instead. Central to setting the parameters of a conservative/liberal independence campaign, was Salmond’s desire to drop the SNP’s longstanding opposition to NATO. The party had long ditched its earlier populist opposition to the EEC. Salmond wanted the SNP to fully join the Atlanticist wing of social democracy. Scotland was its take its place within the existing neo-liberal order, but with a new Holyrood more ready to provide some trickledown social democratic reforms.

To hold on to and gain more Scottish business backers, Salmond wanted to replace Scottish Labour as the main source of Holyrood and local government patronage, as the SNP marched through the institutions of the UK state – local councils, Holyrood and Westminster (as well as increase their representation at the EU’s Strasbourg, where they would be model Scottish Europeans). Salmond hoped to gradually prize control away from away from the Westminster head office in a junior managerial buyout. This independence by stealth, coupled with the SNP’s ultimate ‘Independence-Lite’ aim – a monarchical union (back to 1603-1707!), subordinate to the City of London, and the British High Command – was designed not to frighten the SNP’s existing or potential business backers.

Salmond also hoped to make links with any remaining critical social democratic and liberal unionist forces in England and Wales, who understood that the maintenance of the UK as a major imperialist force was completely counterproductive for a state, which was slipping down the global economic hierarchy. Both he and Nicola Sturgeon toured England, including the North, during the IndyRef1 campaign. Maintaining the costly trappings of a lost empire held back economic reform, and had only served to buttress the privileges of a reactionary British Establishment. Support for the costly Trident was the centrepiece of the UK’s grossly overblown imperial window dressing. The House of Lords was another costly archaic relic, and a key part of the anti-democratic Westminster set up. SNP politicians were told not to take seats in the House of Lords. But at the same time they accepted the monarchy, none more so that super-royalist Salmond.

Salmond and his supporters, including Kenny Macaskill (who, as Scottish Justice Minister, upheld the dubious role of the Scottish court in the US state framing of Abdelbasset al Megrahi over the Lockerbie bombing), railroaded acceptance of NATO through an SNP conference in October 2012. However, they were not prepared for the closeness of the vote, nor for the defection of many members, including two MSPs.

Unanticipated Forces

The IndyRef1 campaign was to mobilise completely unanticipated forces. The conservative and reactionary unionist Right, has always had extensive media support from a BBC (falling back in default mode to the meaning of the ‘B’ in the first letter of its title), and from the The Express and The Mail; as well as from the leaders of those sections of the UK state lying beyond any democratic scrutiny. Independence supporters had to create their own presence in the streets, communities and on-line media across Scotland, as they entered the frontline struggle against British unionism and the neo-liberal order.

Over the years, since the formation of the Scottish Socialist Party in 1999, the majority of Scottish Socialists had given their support to Scottish independence. The last socialist party to adopt Scottish independence was the Socialist Workers Party in 2011, when it could finally be justified on anti-Tory grounds, now that Cameron had replaced Brown at Westminster. Despite the split in the SSP in 2004, many from both sides joined with SNP dissidents, Left Scottish Green members and various social campaign members to form the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) in November 2012.

RIC was based not on Scottish nationalist and constitutional monarchist principles, but on Scottish ‘internationalism from below’ and republican principles. RIC went on to organise three conferences in Glasgow – 800 (2012), 1100 (2013) and 3000 (2014) strong. RIC took its case its case to England, Wales, Ireland, Catalunya, Euskadi, Greece and other places. It also pioneered the electoral registration drive in the city schemes, which had long been abandoned by Labour. There were a whole host of other autonomous IndyRed1 organisations. The most beneficial aspect of the official ‘Yes’ campaign, adopted by all other campaigning groups, was its emphasis on civic national principles, inviting support from anyone who lived in Scotland.

This drive from below very much changed the conservative/liberal independence campaign originally envisaged by Salmond and the SNP leadership. Winning over Scottish Labour social democrats became central. This wider Scottish, ‘Project Hope’ became counterposed to the British, ‘Better Together’s ‘Project Fear’. Under this pressure, the SNP went through a process of completing its social democratic transition. After the referendum was over in September 2014, this was further underpinned by the influx of many new members, mainly ex-Labour supporters. Nicola Sturgeon’s election as SNP leader by acclaim in November 2014 marked the full social democratic transition.

The unexpected closeness of the final IndyRef1 result, 55% ‘No’ to 45% ‘Yes, was not experienced as a fundamental defeat. 97% of the potential electorate had registered, and 85% had voted, in a ‘democratic revolution’. This was unprecedented in the UK’s electoral history. Given the split amongst Scottish Socialists, the SNP was able to hoover up the majority of previously Labour-voting, but now Scottish independence supporters. Only the Scottish Greens maintained an alternative Scottish independence foothold in Holyrood and the local councils.

The 2015 Westminster general election brought another blow to the British unionist parties. The SNP won 56 Scottish seats, the British unionists 3 – one each for Labour, the Tories and Lib-Dems. Back in the 1980s, Thatcher had thrown a challenge to the SNP. You can have Scottish independence if you ever get a majority of Westminster seats. And now instead of the 30 that would have been required to win independence, the SNP held 56!

But it was Scottish Labour that suffered most, reduced from 41 seats to 1 – Edinburgh South or ‘Red Morningside’, held only because of Tory and Lib-Dem tactical voting. British Labour’s deeply entrenched unionism, which placed Scottish Labour in a branch office position, had further undermined them in Scotland. Despite the SNP holding to economic and social policies much closer to Labour than the Tories, the hapless British Labour leader, Ed Miliband, said he would rather have a Tory government at Westminster than rely on SNP MPs’ support – and he got his wish!

Two things marked the night of the ‘No’ ‘victory’, on September 18th. David Cameron metamorphosed from a ‘parity of esteem’, ‘four nations’, liberal unionist into a reactionary English nationalist. He announced his support, much to Gordon Brown’s chagrin (but what did he expect!) for `English votes for English laws’. Cameron was already preparing himself for a new battle with the reactionary unionist, Tory Right and UKIP. Only here, he would have to use ‘Project Fear’, not to counter ‘Project Hope’, but to counter ‘Project Hate’, in the EU membership referendum demanded by the Tory Right and UKIP.

Since the main opposition to Scotland’s existing UK constitutional status came from largely social democratic and constitutional nationalist forces (with a republican and Scottish internationalist component in RIC), it had been vital that ‘Better Together’ maintained a liberal unionist public facade during IndyRed1. The reactionary unionists, who wanted to roll back existing political devolution, were kept very much at arms length. Their votes could be guaranteed anyhow. ‘Better Together’ carefully shunned the Orange Order’s 20,000 strong march in Edinburgh, the weekend before the referendum. But the other event, which occurred on the night after the ‘No’ referendum ‘victory’, was a Loyalist and British neo-fascist rampage in the ‘Yes’ campaign’s in George Square, Glasgow’s ‘Tahir Square’. This public space was at the centre of the largely working class city, which along with Dundee and West Dumbarton, had just vote to secede from the Union.

From Orangefest to the Ed Stone

Frightened by the challenge to Labour’s previously entrenched power, which these referendum results represented in their one-time strongholds, the liberal unionist kid gloves were cast aside. Within a few months, on June 1st 2015, Glasgow’s Labour city council was arranging to host an OrangeFest in George Square. Now Labour has always had Orange supporting members and councillors. But they had been confined to a few localities where Loyalism had some hold. Perhaps the most notorious was Sam Campbell, one-time leader of Midlothian local council. But Labour tried to keep such embarrassments concealed at the city and national level.

Now though, reactionary unionism was to be mainstreamed in the Union’s defence. Already, behind the scenes, the Tories, led by the party’s face of social liberalism, the open lesbian and publicity-seeking, Ruth Davidson, who has an Irish partner, was wooing reactionary unionists. Davidson posted a picture of herself alongside North East trawler owner, William Buchan – an Orange bigot, Islamophobe and misogynist. Such an opportunist unionist alliance between social liberalism and social reaction can not remain stable for long. Later events were to show in which of these two political directions, the Scottish Tories would go.

There was now Labour/Tory competition to corner the Loyalist Orange vote. When the 2017 local council election results were announced, the SNP had the largest number of councillors, and took Glasgow, the main prize of the night. For the British unionist camp, the Conservatives surged forward, mainly at the expensive of Labour. But Labour could console itself that in the battle for Loyalist support, the Orange Order claimed they now had 6 Scottish councillors – 5 Labour and 1 Tory!

But in the broader unionist stakes, the Scottish Tories had already overtaken Scottish Labour in the 2016 Holyrood elections, to become the principal unionist party in Scotland. This was unthinkable before Scottish Labour’s near fatal self-harming experience in IndyRef1. This pattern was to be repeated in the 2016 Westminster general election. The SNP lost some of the seats they had gained in 2015, but were still easily the majority Scottish party. Losing seats to the unionists in the 2016 Holyrood election, the SNP now had to rule through arrangements with the Scottish Greens. But whether at Westminster or Holyrood, wherever the SNP wasn’t the first party, it was the second-placed constituency party. The Tories were now the second Scottish party at Holyrood and at Westminster, whereas Labour had slipped back in many constituencies from first to third place. But Labour continued its struggle to be the leading unionist party, attacking the SNP vehemently and often incoherently. They largely left the Scottish Tories alone.

However, a new opportunity appeared to arise when Labour’s succession of Centre or Right British leaders was replaced by Left social democrat, Jeremy Corbyn. Perhaps the British cavalry could now rescue the besieged Scottish-British unionist fort. Corbyn was elected as British Labour leader in 2015, and this was further confirmed in 2016. His position was made more secure by his unexpectedly better (although still pretty limited) showing in the 2017 Westminster general election.

On a few occasions, Corbyn and McDonnell have indicated that, in contrast to Ed Miliband, they could contemplate a post-electoral deal with the SNP, in order to take office at Westminster. However, this requires active support from Labour’s branch office in Scotland. Under Scottish Labour’s Right wing leaders, Johann Lamont (2011-14) and even more SNP-hating successor, Jim Murphy (2014-15), making such a deal had been incomprehensible. In 2017, new Scottish Labour leader, Richard Leonard took office, hoping to ride on the back of Corbyn’s success. However, the more centrist Leonard shares a key feature of his politics with the earlier Scottish Labour Right. Despite the fact that Leonard’s centre social democratic economic policies are closer to the SNP’s, than to either those of the Labour Right or the Tories, he has placed SNP bashing at the centre of his strategy to win back the unionist voters lost to the Tories. As long as he ran the branch office, there would be only one message sent up to British head office – no deals with the SNP. This mirrored Ruth Davidson’s pre-recorded loop message to British Tory head office – ‘No second referendum’.

In Leonard’s election campaign for Scottish Labour leader, he said that he was no Corbynista. He did have a background in the Bennite Left of the 1980s and in the neo-Bennite Scottish Campaign for Socialism. However, any politics stemming from this background were overshadowed by his background as an official of the then mainstream Labour-supporting GMB, under its Right wing general secretary, Paul Kenny (knighted on his retirement). This was the time when the GMB was helping Labour-controlled Glasgow city council evade full equal pay compensation for its female employees. The GMB took a leading part in campaigning against Scottish independence; unlike the more canny leader of UNITE, Len McCluskey, who found that a majority of his members supported Scottish independence.

Nevertheless, the leaders of the GMB and UNITE are motivated by the same thing. Since the rise of Thatcher, trade union bureaucrats have been excluded from beer and sandwiches at No. 10. Today, highly paid and privileged union general secretaries are no more ‘all in this together’ with their members under the Tory austerity drive, than they were under Thatcher’s anti-union member’s offensive. Senior union officials have concentrated their efforts upon defending or extending their privileges. McCluskey is a master of this, with UNITE’s ‘imperial’ absorption of other unions. But this is done, not so much to build One Big Fighting Union, but to build one big pay cheque! But feeling undervalued by Tory and New Labour governments, McLuskey and other union general secretaries are hoping for a return to no. 10, although Prosecco and canapes would now be more appropriate. So both McCluskey and the new GMB general secretary, Tom Roache, saw the opportunities represented by the emergence of Corbyn.

But their support for Corbyn is far from unconditional. A key condition is continued Labour support for Trident, despite it being grossly expensive, its deployment dependent on involvement in a US-led war, and it representing the ultimate weapon of mass destruction, which could kill millions. Virtually anybody on the social democratic Left in the Labour Party has come through CND. Official GMB and UNITE support for Trident on the grounds that it provides jobs shows that their leaders have little commitment to any alternative society. It makes you wonder where they would have stood as union leaders over the abolition of chattel slavery, which required so many British shipping and provision workers to maintain!

Clearly in bowing to this pressure, Corbyn and McDonnell are uncomfortable in publicly ditching their own earlier support for this Left talismanic issue. But Leonard’s principal base of support lies in the trade union bureaucracy. This was highlighted by the fact that union members were the only Labour constituency where he won the majority vote for Scottish Labour leadership. Like Corbyn, Leonard did not win the vote of the majority of Labour MPs (and in Leonard’s case, the MSPs). This was no surprise given the nature of these politicians’ – overwhelmingly Right wing or Centre compromisers – and this is even more the case in Scotland. But Leonard losing the Scottish constituency membership vote provided a stark contrast with Corbyn. Corbyn had motivated a major influx of mainly young people into the Labour Party in England and South Wales. However, the equivalent to those people in Scotland, who in England went on to join the Corbyn fan club, Momentum, had already mainly joined the SNP. Scottish Labour’s Right wing candidate, the Asian-Scottish businessman and MSP, Anas Sarwar, seemed to be more successful in recruiting new constituency members.

And then, irony of ironies, when Leonard won the Scottish leadership election, he inherited Scottish Labour’s 2015 official policy to scrap Trident. But this adoption of a Left policy by a Right and Centre dominated Scottish Labour Party has had a long history. It was easy to dress up in a red cloak in Scotland, when you knew that any future Labour Westminster government would just ignore you. But the emergence of Holyrood has done much to undermine Scottish Labour’s traditional excuses.

But, apart from winning the union membership vote, what does Corbyn’s accommodation to Left-talking, but usually Right- walking, trade union officials mean? In the event of a future Corbyn-led Labour government, there would be new deal similar to the Social Contract, made between Labour Prime Minister, James Callaghan and union general secretaries, including Jack Jones (T&GW) and Hugh Scanlon (AEU) in the 1970s. These two were to the left of McCluskey and Roache. What was required of them, though, was that they police their membership to prevent any independent working class action from rocking Labour’s boat. And that is precisely McCluskey and Roache’s role today.

Hard Unionism and Brexit: Bitter Together

The election of Leonard to lead the Scottish Labour Party has returned it to a hard unionist, anti-SNP position. This was inherited from Lamont and Murphy, following the ambiguously SNP-accommodating stance of short-lived Scottish Labour leader, Kezia Dugdale (2015-17). The Campaign for Socialism, which has now converted itself into Scotland’s equivalent of Momentum, remains a Left British unionist organisation. However, beyond some individuals from the Communists Party of {no longer so Great} Britain, they are finding it hard to win over wider allies for their Left defence of the Union. After joining the Tories in ‘Better Together’, the Labour Right does not have the same problems. Following the 2017 local council elections, Scottish Labour councillors have been prepared to strike deals with the Tories in Aberdeen, North Lanarkshire, and West Lothian. This was to keep the SNP out of office. A shared British unionism with the Scottish Tories has been a stronger pull. And the Centre Scottish Labour leader, Dugdale and the ‘Left’ Scottish Labour leader, Leonard have found it hard to deal with this drift to the unionist Right in the Scottish Labour Party.

The Brexit vote has pushed unionist politics further Right in Scotland. Davidson was a vocal Remainer. Today, she backs the intransigent DUP in attacking May’s deal. And whilst she is on maternity leave, her deputy MSP, Jackson Carlaw, has received far less publicity than Rees-Mogg-supporting, Tory MP, Ross Thomson MP. In the process of the Tories taking over the Brexit mantle from UKIP, Thomson has replaced their MEP David Cockburn as the Scottish buffoon of the Right.

If May cannot get away with scrapping Holyrood, the only thing she has to fear from her Scottish MPs and MSPs is their backing for the DUP. But unlike the DUP’s 10 MPs, the Scottish Tories 13 MPs have got nothing from May for Scotland. David Mundell, the Tory Scottish Secretary, has no demands to make upon May. He just awaits orders for each successive political U-turn sent down to him. His price is lot cheaper than the £1B allocated to Northern Ireland to bribe the DUP. He is waiting for suitable honours for his assistance in getting through a Brexit he too once opposed.

And in having moved so far Right, after the Brexit vote, Scottish unionists of all stripes have abandoned ‘Better Together’ and adopted ‘Bitter Together’, by chasing Loyalist support. Lord Duncan, Tory Under-Secretary at the Scottish and Northern Irish offices, Hugh Gaffney, Labour MSP, and Alistair Carmichael, Scottish Liberal MP met up with top Orange Order officials from different parts of the UK, ahead of the vote on May’s Brexit withdrawal proposals. But just to show that Scottish Labour could still outbid the Tories to get Loyalist support, North Lanarkshire local council voted to donate £500 to a local Orange Order lodge for a ‘civic lunch’!

And what has Richard Leonard said about all this? – Nothing. What passes for the Labour Left in Scotland is complicit with mainstreaming Loyalist reaction. However, this is not just a Scottish Labour unionist phenomenon. John McDonnell has said he could work with the DUP to get support for a future Labour government. And again, no public reaction from Leonard, who seems to be happier at the prospect of a Labour/reactionary unionist deal, than coming to some deal with an SNP, which shares far more with Labour’s economic and social policies.

So what has been the constitutional nationalist SNP’s response to the prospect of Brexit? Although pretty lacklustre, the SNP’s own Europhile, ‘Project Fear’ Remain campaign, still outshone the other Europhile campaign run by the Lib-Dems, and the Eurosceptic ‘Project Fear’ Remain campaigns run by the Scottish Labour Right and Tories. UKIP was nowhere to be seen. David Cockburn, its laughing stock MEP, only holds office as the result of a BBC campaign giving him completely unwarranted attention. There are no UKIP MSPs, MPs or councillors in Scotland. Cockburn found his strongest support amongst some Free Presbyterians in the Hebrides and Orange Order members in the western Central Belt. However, even in these areas, the Brexiteers could not win a single constituency vote in the 2016 Scottish Euro-referendum.

Every single Scottish constituency voted to Remain, along with Northern Ireland, and the Welsh-speaking areas of Wales. These are areas, which have benefitted from the EU regional and social funding. This had helped to lift them from their pre-EEC/EU peripheral British regional status. Many began to see themselves as increasingly Scottish, Irish or Welsh Europeans, rather than as Scottish, Welsh, or more chillingly, ‘Ulster’ British.

And it wasn’t the internationalist ‘Project Hope’ of Indy-Ref1, which confronted the conservative and liberal unionist or constitutional nationalist ‘Project Fear’ of the Remain camp, but the ‘Project Hate’ of the Tory Right, UKIP, DUP and the British neo-fascists and Loyalists. Reactionaries are now cashing in on the Brexit vote, and a greatly strengthened UK state, to push their own projects, e.g. the rolling back of the Good Friday Agreement and the Scottish and Welsh devolution settlements.

Like Sinn Fein’s desire for reunification in Ireland, the SNP’s desire for Scottish independence depends on liberal unionist cooperation at Westminster and the EU’s liberal politicians. The first political precondition has gone, and the second could well be cut off.

Jeremy Corbyn has demonstrated his incomprehension of the powers of the reactionary UK state in his belief that he is leading May down the political track, which he has chosen over Brexit. And when Nicola Sturgeon accused Theresa May on January 23rd of “running scared” over IndyRef2, she showed a similar weakness. Sturgeon is more aware of the weaknesses of Westminster as a parliamentary body than Corbyn. She is also a much better public communicator than either May or Corbyn. May would very likely lose out in any public debate with Sturgeon. But May does not have to debate with her, anymore than she has to take into consideration the voice of Holyrood, or any advice from Mundell or the Scottish Tories (OK this not likely to happen!). What May has is a very good appreciation of all those reactionary powers, gifted to British reaction by the Crown-in-Westminster. So although the politically nifty Nicola can run rings round Maybot, she is completely unable to deliver a decisive blow, when May holds the spiked club of the UK’s Crown Powers. And if May is looking for further advice in how to use these powers, the Spanish government’s response to the Catalan referendum is her more likely port of call.

In confidence, Sturgeon and her close inside supporters know there is no immediate road to a Westminster-recognised IndyRef2. This is one of the reasons Sturgeon is falling back on Salmond’s old strategy of wooing Scottish business. They are quite prepared to go along the SNP leadership’s slow path of increased powers, mainly to benefit themselves, because that doesn’t rock too many boats. This is one of the main purposes behind the SNP’s Growth Commission, chaired by former SNP MP, Andrew Wilson. He is a lobbyist for Charlotte Street Partners. They advised Scottish colleges managements how they could undermine and break a deal they made with the college lecturers union, the EIS. There is not even a token trade union official on the Growth Commission, representing the main producers in Scotland. So may be there are still a few things the old social democratic Labour Party could teach to the new social democratic SNP! The Growth Commission report’s proposals are chained to a neo-liberal corporate world, which is now in crisis. There is no prospect of some mild social democratic trickle-down reforms coming from this quarter, especially after the report’s suggested several years’ dependence upon The City’s sterling currency in an ‘independent’ Scotland

However, support for Scottish independence has reached such a level of support, it is likely to be a permanent feature of UK politics for the forseeable future, whatever set-backs are in store. There is no longer much of a unionist popular culture. The Orange Order, Rangers FC, the author, Allan Massie or the musician James MacMillan on the Right, and the liberal J.K. Rowling in the Centre, are not likely to hold the unionist line for Scottish popular culture. There is now a continuing Scottish cultural revival which took root in the 1980s, after the failure of the of the 1979 Scottish devolution campaign. It with many includes the authors Alasdair Gray, James Kelman and Irving Welsh, the poets Liz Lochhead and Jackie Kay, and the musicians Runrig, the Proclaimers and Martin Bennet This cultural revival built on an earlier Scottish cultural including Hugh MacDiarmid, Sorley Maclean and Hamish Henderson. Support for the Union increasingly depends on support for unionist parties, which are in decline, an increasingly distrusted media, and a greater resort to the anti-democratic aspects of the UK state.

However, the British ruling class, with centuries of experience, has shown its ability to hold up further progress for prolonged periods. The UK’s Crown powers greatly assist them in this rearguard action. An SNP Scottish independence strategy, which accepts the continued domination of the UK state and corporate power, will inevitably produce corrupted politicians. Rules may be set down for politician-business relations, but these are as likely to be effective as the Catholic hierarchy ruling that coitus interruptus is the best method of birth control.

Before Catalan Republicans had the confidence to press ahead with the independence referendum, they had to get Jordi Pujol, CDC President of the Generalitat de Catlunya, to stand down. The CDC had controlled this body for 31 years of its 38 years existence. Pujol had been convicted of corruption. A business-led SNP is the political equivalent of the CDC, and the Generalitat is the political equivalent of Holyrood.

The SNP is currently at an impasse brought about by the rightwards shift in British politics following the Brexit vote.


This is an extract from a new pamphlet by Allan Amstrong titled; ‘FROM BLATCHERISM TO MAYBYNISM: THE CONTINUING SHIFT TO THE RIGHT IN THE TRANSITION FROM NEO-LIBERALISM TO NATIONAL POPULISM’. If you want a pdf copy e-mail him at: [email protected]

Comments (16)

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  1. Blair says:

    The Truth will always prevail.

  2. That’s clearly an error we’ll fix Iain, apologies. Thanks for spotting it.

    1. David McGill says:

      Well done Allan. 10 out of 10 for content, but only 7 out of 10 for grammar. Could you fix that too?

  3. Agnes Jean Thomson says:

    Robert Burns our National Bard wrote ‘ A Man’s a Man for a’ that’ and said something like ‘… and man tae man shid brithers be the world o’er, for a’that..’
    (‘man’ in this sense includes women, of course, so by implication ‘brither’ includes ‘sister’. )

    If only his message about thought for the poor and such as ‘wee tim’rous co’orin’ beasties’ , could be part of today’s ideologies, we might save he world.
    Jean Thomson

  4. Angus says:

    ‘Alasdair Gray, James Kelman and Irving Welsh, the poets Liz Lochhead and Jackie Kay, and the musicians Runrig, the Proclaimers and Martin Bennet This cultural revival built on an earlier Scottish cultural including Hugh MacDiarmid, Sorley Maclean and Hamish Henderson.’

    I thought the SNP spent a decade trying to move the indy movement on from this kind of cultural essentialism?

    1. Isn’t he just describing what happened?

      1. Angus says:

        Maybe in Oran Mor it has but most folk would blank if you mentioned them (minus Runrigg and the Proclaimers) especially if they aren’t from the Central Belt ? I’d like to see the Scottish sales figures between JK Rowling and Kelman. This is just a fact. People don’t really get off on this heavy handed ‘cultural’ stuff. They prefer blue jeans and the blues etc.

        Besides the I thought the point was to move to a ‘civic’ internationalist nationalism that is at ease with say Harry Potter, or the fact that more Scots would prefer to watch say Broadchurch or Doctor Who or the Antiques Roadshow and so on…instead of a bunch of boring poets. (they can do both of course, but not forcing ‘culture’ on people seems a much better way to reach moderates. Only those already convinced about indy care about all that Macdairmid/ Gray stuff.

        1. Alan Bissett says:

          Aye mate, only folk who drink in the Oran Mor have ever heard of Trainspotting!

          And you’ve only gone and compared James Kelman’s sales figures to the *biggest selling author in the world*. Presumably by that yardstick Martin Scorsese is irrelevant to Americans because more of them went to see Avengers: Infinity War than The Wolf of Wall Street?

          In what way are Scottish poets being ‘forced’ on people, whereas the Antiques Roadshow and Doctor Who – funded by a licence fee it’s illegal not to pay and broadcast to every single home in the nation – aren’t?

          1. Angus says:

            I wasn’t actually having a go at the afore mentioned folk (I myself like it). Just pointing out a truism. Most folk don’t like it. Trainspotting aside (it’s popularity mainly due to the film actually- made by a genius English film director and a very talented Scot script writer).

            I didn’t make the comparison. The writer of the article did. Claimed …and the liberal J.K. Rowling in the Centre, are not likely to hold the unionist line for Scottish popular culture…

            …bollocks I’m afraid. Not many read Kelman/ Gray/ Macdarimid etc… Everyone reads Harry Potter. Fact not opinion as you have pointed out. I agree they are wrong in their taste but this doesn’t change the fact that culturally *most* people would rather buy into Hogwarts than Lanark. So stop best leave them to it if you wnat them to vote Indy next time. It’s this *cultural snobbery* looking down on lesser Scots that puts people off. Just saying.

          2. Angus says:

            I think you’re missing my point. I’m not criticizing the writers. Just saying most normal people don’t buy into it any more than people *really* read say William Blake in England. where as many do watch Coronation street. Start banging on about Blake and people’s eyes will glaze over.

            If you want to persuade people leave them be. Don’t force feed the Nationalism.

          3. Presumably Scottish writers and poets are “forced” on people with the same techniques as Gaelic road signs : )

            But seriously I think Angus is confusing ‘civic nationalism’ – by which is meant that the claims of basing the case for independence are based on citizenship not ethnicity – with the case that Scotland may have its own distinct culture and cultures, which it clearly does. This is not a high bar.

            So the case is that anyone living here is eligible to vote and come and make their life here and be welcomed – but also that we have traditions and cultures and writing and artwork that is rich and meaningful. A Polish person or a Nigerian person or an English person can come and live here and read Jim Kelman or Kathleen Jamie or AL Kennedy (or not!).

            In terms of popularity though writers like RL Stevenson, Irvine Welsh, Val McDermid, Ian Rankin, Janice Galloway or countless others are examples of writers that are both high-selling and Scottish (shock,horror!),

        2. John Mooney says:

          Complete and utter pish angus,it would appear you are just another sad uneducated troll more to be pitied than indulged.

          1. Ron Pomfret says:

            It is a sad comment on our age that the Harry Potter books, which seem to be aimed at 8 year olds, seem to be so popular. I started to try and read one when they first came out, I couldn’t finish it, it was so infantile. Unlike the Ursula LeGuin books of a similar genre which are proper, intelligent grown up books of which the Potter books are obviously a dumbed down version.

          2. Wait, what infantile books for infants? Shurely not!

  5. Lorna Campbell says:

    As a long-time Nat, decidedly of the Left, and liberal (I hope) I am worried about the direction in which the SNP is moving because it seems to me that it is starting to look just a wee bit like Labour just before it started taking its Scottish supporters so totally for granted. The party, the political arm of the independence movement, has found itself between a rock and a hard place, but every day that passes, it allows the Unionist elements to merge, meld and Borganize into a blocking device that will eventually wear it down – unless it refuses to be held hostage to what has become a self-defeating paralysis.

    The 2014 vote for NO was so demoralizing for so many of us because we should have seen it coming; I’m afraid to say that I did to some extent but poo-pooed my own gut instinct as being unworthy and cynical; I had heard stuff prior to 2014 that chilled my blood, and, on the doorstep, that was being reinforced. It seemed to me then that we were underestimating the strength of feeling against independence: this strength of feeling was expressed as a kind of neo colonialism that I found scary; and I was aware of it in both the rUK electorate and in the Scottish Unionist electorate; and it was later in the campaign that I understood that EU nationals were being told by Bitter Together outliers that they would be repatriated if a YES vote was brought because Scotland would be kicked out of the EU at the behest of Westminster. These tactics were all the more chilling because the SNP had gone to great lengths to express a ‘civic nationalism’ that threatened no one’s status in Scotland, so there had to be some underlying reason for this strange attitude that seemed to galvanise so many on the NO side with spitting fury.

    After the vote, and EVEL, I, like everyone else on the YES side, was utterly demoralized, and it was at the beginning of 2015 before I felt able to look at the NO vote in detail and to try to decipher what it meant. To say I was horrified would be putting it mildly because I could see that it was not economic factors that had driven the NO vote – although those came second on the list of priorities as far as I could glean – but, rather, something very much darker. The Edinburgh University study came out that year and Professor Ailsa Henderson and her group of psephological researchers put in black and white what I had believed to be the case: that the NO vote was driven largely by neo colonialism in both the Scottish Unionist and rUK groups, and that the status quo was the desired end result even if that meant that 45% of Scots, rUK Yes-ers, and others would have to see their dream shattered. That tallied very closely with what I had been told, overheard and experienced personally prior to the referendum. When the Brexit vote came along, in 2016, and the majority of the Leave vote in Scotland proved to be previous NO voters, the whole charade of the ‘economic claims for voting NO’ fell apart, and the two votes were shown to be precisely what they were: two sides of the same imperialist/neo colonialist coin.

    Now, there was nowhere to go for the SNP but down, as far as independence was concerned, unless – and only if – they were prepared to take risks. They have been risk-averse since 2014, even in the teeth of a disastrous Brexit for Scotland, with the Andrew Wilson ten-year plan showing clearly that the SNP is more willing to bend the knee to two neo colonialist minorities and right-wing neo liberal capitalism, which itself is disintegrating, than to pay heed to its own members. If this attitude continues, like Labour, they will end up voted out of office with independence as far away as ever, and my heart and many, many others will be sore. They have done well on the domestic front, but that will cease, too, if they haemorrhage support because they have not delivered on independence – or at least tried to deliver. It should have been evident from 2015 onwards that a second independence referendum was not going to be easy, even with Brexit, and that realization should not have led to a rabbit-like, caught in the headlights posture, but a determination to find an alternative route, if only as a plan B. That route was always going to be the Treaty itself. It was the way we entered this accursed Union and it must be the way we leave it – with or without Westminster’s permission – if there is no hope of a second referendum on independence, and I cannot see that there can be, unless it is held without a S30 Order and is advisory only. Westminster would behave as Madrid has done in Catalunya. Almost half our electorate – perhaps more now – feel incarcerated within a Union we repudiate. That cannot continue without something giving, and we desperately need a ruling on the Treaty itself.

  6. Lorna Campbell says:

    Angus: “…If you want to persuade people leave them be. Don’t force feed the Nationalism…”

    Don’t force feed the Nationalism? We don’t, I think. We are, however, force fed Unionism at each and every turn, just as we are force fed shallow, mindless pap from our televisions, as Mr Bissett pointed out. At least our televisions do offer us some deeper cultural connections, even if they are not actually our own culture, or infrequently so. Unionism, in 2019, offers Scotland nothing but extinction in a post Brexit Tory One Nation State that must roll back devolution, that must cut our hard-won rights, that must overturn our separate, cultural differences in order to accomplish what it has set out to do – and that is to deliver an answer to what is essentially an English existential crisis. Brexit, even for Scottish Leavers, has no meaning in any ‘British’ Brexit sense because that ‘British’ Brexit is wholly English. Scots who voted Leave might get something out of Brexit, but it will not be what the Tory party, aided and abetted by Labour, hopes to achieve. What it hopes to achieve, with the help of Labour, is an English (ruling elite/establishment) Renaissance built on a renewed neo liberal capitalism that will return the UK to its imperial glory (not just England because that would never do; no, no, no, the colonies must accompany England into the New Dawn which might just turn out to be The Abyss, because no one wishes to be in the dark in an abyss on their own, do they? Even in deepest, darkest Hell, there must be the ruled and the rulers). The Brexit dream cannot play out until opposition is crushed sufficiently to render it compliant. If we thought the Union pre Brexit was bad, just wait to see what they have in store for us post Brexit, particularly if we are working class/non working class.

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