2007 - 2020

Mobs Marxists and the Mysterious Death of Social Conservatism

 

What do “Leave voters, Corbyn supporters and pro-independence activists” have in common? According to David Jamieson, writing in the first installment of his new weekly editor’s column for Conter,[1] they are not united by any aspect of their essential political character but by their dismissal as “irrational, threatening mobs”, not only by mainstream politicians and media but, according to him, by “many on the western left”. For a writer and podcaster who has carved out a peculiar niche in Scotland in the form of his constant disavowal of nebulous ‘culture wars’, Jamieson spends much of his time working within a culture-based framework, measuring competing movements against the reaction they provoke from the conservative and liberal wings of the British ruling and middle classes. His latest piece, however, takes this to a grim new level.

At the present juncture, the defining feature of both the independence movement and the movement around Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party is that both have reached a decisive impasse. Both movements coalesced around immediate and seemingly tangible goals – respectively, a Yes vote in the 2014 referendum and a Labour majority in the next UK general election. Neither movement has really come to terms with its defeat; they have interpreted the results in 2014 and 2017/19 as setbacks rather than failures, which can be overcome with ‘one more push’ along the same lines. The bulk of the organised Yes movement threw its fortunes in with the SNP, treating each subsequent election as a proxy referendum to little avail, while the bulk of Corbyn supporters have gone through two successive election defeats without breaking from a principally electoralist strategy based on winning an increasing number of Labour voters through sustained propaganda.

Neither the SNP nor Labour’s party bureaucracies are suitable forums for a serious re-evaluation of these movements’ strategies, not least because their leaderships recognise that their positions are directly threatened by any genuine scrutiny. There are perhaps positive moves in this direction in the form of Momentum’s new leadership, but there is no clear analogue to this in Scotland, where no non-party pro-independence organisation can claim both a mass and democratic character. This strategic malaise both encourages and is sustained by a turn towards conspiracy theories, directed inwards and outwards. This arguably began in Scotland with the allegations of vote-rigging in the immediate aftermath of the 2014 referendum, but these were clearly limited to the fringes of the movement; it was only after the SNP’s 2015 and 2016 election victories failed to bring independence any closer that more significant and sometimes organised sections of the movement (such as the Bath-based blogger Wings Over Scotland and his followers) really took on their internal and external enemies.

Most of these conspiracy theories reflect the prejudices underpinning the dominant political ideology across Britain and much of the western world, rather than a break with them. Hostility to transgender people has become a fixation of both the middle-class commentariat and the ‘anti-Sturgeon’ wing of the independence movement. Unsubstantiated claims about the supposed framing of Alex Salmond for sexual assault mirrors more closely the closing of establishment ranks around powerful men like Joe Biden than the insurgent #MeToo movement which targeted the inequity of criminal justice systems in the west. Even theories about vote-rigging, much like conspiracies about foreign election interference, rob the masses of agency in the exact way that Jamieson decries. This is why we should confidently identify those who subscribe to these views as being on or allied to the reactionary wing of the independence movement rather than, as Jamieson appears to do, give them credit because their worldview “assert[s] both agency and coherence of process”.

Although the “flurry of pro-independence ‘list parties’ emerging from the SNP and parts of the wider independence movement” have attracted some wider interest, their core figures are drawn almost exclusively from this reactionary wing. The new Independence for Scotland Party has only really broken from SNP policy in respect to transgender rights, declaring in an otherwise thin list of vague policies that it will “oppose self ID on the grounds that … the legislation, as it stands will severely affect sex based women’s rights”.[2] Its leader, Colette Walker, was already formulating plans for the new party when she stood for the women’s convener post at the SNP’s 2019 conference on a similar platform.[3] The mooted Wings party would only be even more hostile to trans people given the blogger’s entirely open rejection of trans identities. Jamieson fails to identify these new parties within the reactionary wing of the movement; he doesn’t even recognise, while pointing out that most critics of the new parties “couldn’t bring themselves to peep about the Scottish Government commissioned Economic Recovery Group report”, that none of the new parties or their core members have expressed any opposition to the SNP’s economic orthodoxy either.

Beyond this, Jamieson claims that social conservatism “has all but dissipated as a political force on these islands”. Instead of substantiating this, he points to an Observer columnist who points to changes in opinion polling on issues from race to abortion – but even this fails to recognise how the borders of “social conservatism” change and adapt over time. The open homophobia that characterised the millionaire-backed campaign to save Section 28 has sharply declined in Scotland in the past two decades, but its themes and arguments have re-emerged in the new millionaire-backed campaign to roll back trans rights. Interracial marriages may be more tolerated, but Black Lives Matter protests across Scotland received astonishing pushback from all layers of society.

Jamieson’s insistence that social conservatism is not a political force “on these islands” is even more ludicrous across the Irish Sea. In the south, recent victories on same-sex marriage, rape trial reform and abortion rights have only been achieved following decades of sustained campaigning by women and queer people against a deeply institutionalised social conservatism which can still flex powerful muscles, and even these issues are not yet fully resolved. In the north, the reactionary Democratic Unionist Party has used its political power at home and in the last UK government to act as a bulwark on progressive social change. These rifts also extend to the Irish left; Sinn Féin has its own socially conservative splinter party, Aontú, which has councillors on both sides of the border and a seat in the Dáil, in a useful reminder that the Scottish national movement is not so unique.

Jamieson has previously indicated that he does not really believe that many of these reactionary views are genuinely held; in a particularly silly tweet less than a year ago, he suggested that the “avowed and articulated reasons for internal disputes within the SNP are a phoney war [because] nationalism forces the performance of political disputes through a cultural vector”. This analysis again acts to diminish the agency of socially conservative actors in the independence movement which he is otherwise so keen to defend.[4]

George Kerevan’s recent piece for Conter,[5] which has rightly sparked wide discussion on the pro-independence left, is plugged early in Jamieson’s piece and again in the conclusion, in which Jamieson makes an appeal for the left to adopt the “scientific approach to social phenomena deployed in Kerevan’s article”. This is an odd deployment of Kerevan’s article, which neither addresses social conservatism nor shirks from criticising both the rival Salmond/Cherry and Sturgeon wings of the SNP. The second part of Kerevan’s piece – in which he will examine the question of “how do we build a new, effective leadership for the Scottish working class and the independence movement?” – has not yet been published, so I can’t respond to it. However, it does not seem at odds with this goal to cut across the polarisation of the independence movement nearly exclusively along social lines by firmly locating the pro-independence left as part of the struggle against homophobia, transphobia, patriarchy, racism and all other manner of oppressions as well as challenging the SNP leadership on economics.

It is testament to the reluctance of parts of the Scottish left to challenge the most reactionary sections of the independence movement and to champion emancipation, liberation and self-determination in its widest form that so many working class women, queer people and young people in the independence movement are drawn “towards technocratic liberals”, even as they defend the economic status quo that has trapped so many women in abusive relationships, left so many queer people on the streets and denied so many young people stable and secure employment. Instead of proclaiming the end of social conservatism and sympathy for its adherents, the left should play the role once powerfully advocated by Lenin in his appeal for socialists to act as “the tribune of the people, who is able to react to every manifestation of tyranny and oppression, no matter where it appears, no matter what stratum or class of the people it affects”[6] in order to advance the socialist cause.

 

 

[1] https://www.conter.co.uk/blog/2020/7/17/fear-of-the-scottish-mob

[2] https://www.isp.scot/policies/

[3] https://twitter.com/TheStirlingWolf/status/1283498380472332290

[4] https://twitter.com/David_Jamieson7/status/1202371538110078976

[5] https://www.conter.co.uk/blog/2020/7/7/snp-at-the-crossroads

[6] https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1901/witbd/iii.htm

Comments (17)

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  1. Michelle Shortt says:

    Where was the pushback against BLM protests?

  2. Ariel Killick says:

    I’m a former professional gay and lesbian nightclub dancer and had the pleasure of meeting many transsexuals in that line of work. I have no phobia about genuinely trans women. As a survivor of two rape assaults, like many women, I have very serious and genuine concerns however about self-id, with none of the protections that prevent predatory heterosexual men from co-opting trans behaviour or appearance to engage in violent misogynistic sexual assault in previously female-only spaces for females of all ages – phenomena for which there is sadly far too much growing evidence of. Such lax conditions of self-id, emboldening such predatory heterosexual men co-opting trans appearance, is actually the most harmful aspect in all of this for both trans women and biologically born females. Approximately 1 in every four biologically females suffers sexual assault from heterosexual men in their lifetime and our patience for blithe and briefly worded dismissals of the concerns outlined above from men is wearing incredibly thin. This is a heterosexual mens’ rights movement that threatens both biologically born females and the social standing and security of trans women with little understanding of how it just reinforces patriarchal power for men to be and do whatever they want, wherever they want. Instead of enhancing trans protections and broadening understanding and acceptance of diversity in masculinity, it simply seeks to broaden the capacity and spaces for predatory heterosexual men to access females via a pseudo concern for trans rights. If they genuinely cared about the vulnerability of trans women, they would be taking on the violent vociferousness of toxic masculinity so trans women can enter male toilets without genuine fear they’ll be raped, murdered and mutilated – something for which there is also sadly serious evidence of. When such men have the strength to articulate and organise against that, then more biological women might listen to them. In the meantime, some women are likely to lose patience entirely at some point and shut down a heterosexual man spouting on this shouting DON’T EVEN START TALKING AT US ABOUT THIS UNTIL *YOU* HAVE BEEN RAPED. *TWICE*

    1. Liz Summerfield says:

      Ariel – I agree with you. Trans women are not homosexuals, but still suffer the same discrimination as homosexuals. I would be very reluctant to share changing rooms or toilets with self-identifying “women” who haven’t actually taken any steps to genuinely identify as women. Just because you say you’re something doesn’t mean you are, and shouldn’t protect you from the law. Trans women are vulnerable to such people too.

      1. Ariel Killick says:

        If certain people spent even a fraction of the energy they’re spending on supporting/not caring about the consequences of Self ID, on ensuring *both* transwomen and biologically born women feel as safe in men’s toilets and changerooms as they want transwomen to feel in women’s spaces, I’d have more respect for them. They don’t, because they fear the reaction from men less than that from women, have been conditioned into thinking they’ll get away with it, and seek to gaslight us into believing millenia of brutal misogynistic violence and suppression didn’t happen, doesn’t stretch into this very day and age and isn’t worth worrying our pretty little heads about.

    2. IO says:

      Sweet beans! Did you not hear your cognitive gearbox clank and grind as you switched from expressing something vaguely supportive of “genuine trans women” to using rape and sexual assault to demonise them, people who are more likely to be victims of such crimes than cis women?

      The rest of us did.

      1. Ariel Killick says:

        Hi IO, the only people mentioned as being responsible for sexual assault explicitly in my comments are predatory heterosexual men, who I specify as also being responsible for the rape, murder and mutilation of trans women. We see you ignoring that to wholly inaccurately describe that as ‘demonising’ trans women however. The evidence here is written quite clearly for all else to see, as well as others cloaking this issue of genuine evidence-based concerns of predatory heterosexual men (specifically, so *not* all men) as bigotry, when they’re too feart to take on aspects of toxic masculinity that is so incredibly harmful to both women and men, however they present or define themselves.

        1. IO says:

          >the only people mentioned as being responsible for sexual assault explicitly in my comments are predatory heterosexual men,

          Ah yes, the predatory men who you position at length as indistinguishable from other women, lurking amongst other women, and whose theoretical existence you lengthily associate with other women as part of your argument for marginalising them. This rhetoric is familiar to me from Katie Hopkins. Like you, she professes support for ‘genuine’ examples of an endangered community before talking at length about how that group is infiltrated by rapists, terrorists and perverts. Consequently, like you, she positions the group as dangerous and their safety someone else’s responsibility.

          Of course, she’s talking about refugees drowning in the Mediterranean whereas you are talking about women who are more likely to be the victims of rape, sexual violence and domestic abuse than you are (and, again, these are traumas that you are using against them, a marginalised community, in a particularly ugly example of DARVO) but the way the argument functions is the same and the argument remains transparent bobbins.

          The fact of the matter is that you’re not engaging in ‘evidence-based concerns’, you’re engaging in cretinism.

          1. Ariel Killick says:

            IO – how bold and genuine you are in standing up for others when you won’t even invest your own name or potential accountability for your arguments. Those who are predatory heterosexual men exploiting the potential of loopholes in loosening GRA provisions even before they’ve been legally enacted are no friend to transwomen, and I’m not going to argue that point further with you.

          2. IO says:

            >I’m not going to argue that point further with you.

            You haven’t been arguing any point. Derailed by an article’s passing mention of trans people, you have — at very great length — been trying to instrumentalise rape and sexual assault to demonise them.

    3. Georgia says:

      Hi Ariel,
      Just so you know, the law in Britain has been “self ID” on spaces like toilets, changing rooms, etc for several years now. In fact, for trans people to access a gender recognition certificate, they HAVE to have 2 years “lived experience” which amounts to them living as their preferred gender with no documentary support. Many trans activists want to remove this period of waiting because it’s a very dangerous time for trans people – they have little recourse if they are questioned on their use of gendered facilities but if they use their previous gender’s ones and it is reported to their doctor or the gender recognition panel, they can be denied further healthcare and legal rights.

      Despite this already being in place for years in Britain, there are no recorded instances of men posing as trans women to attack cis women.

      This fear is being generated in a similar way to homophobia being stoked in the 80s, with “valid concerns” being created despite there being no evidence that it is happening, even though the law would already enable it if it were going to happen.

      Also, in case you think I can’t speak on it, I am also a cis woman who has been raped twice, both by cis men who I knew, like the vast majority of sexual abuse – neither abuser would have bothered dressing up as a woman to attack when it’s easier and less likely to be prosecuted if they just enter our lives. I have also lived with, shared bathrooms with, used gender neutral bathrooms with, and generally been around numerous trans people, who all just want basic rights and acceptance, without being assaulted or feeling in any way unsafe.

  3. Maggie Mellon says:

    Transgender ideology is homophobic and sexist. It is responsible for agony of teenage girls being convinced that they must be in the wrong body because they are so miserable to be girls in this sexist society where being a girl is not ok. Many women go through period of not wanting to be a girl – we were allowed to grow out of it. Being “tom boys”. Maybe being lesbian. But a clique of mainly men are pushing highly regressive sexist caricatures of what a woman is and claiming to know they are women because they feel like a woman. And denying that there’s any such a thing as a woman in her own right. That It’s transphobic to defined woman as adult human female. Because they are adult human males who want to claim “woman“ as their own creation. Women are Not Made from Adams Rib. The whole of Scottish government and public services and funded charities have been consumed by it. It’s dangerous and regressive nonsense. Literal non-sense.

  4. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

    You see, that’s why Lenin was just like all the rest; it was all about winning the power that would enable him to impose his will (‘the socialist cause’) on his neighbours.

    I’d be less suspicious of this article had its clarion been ‘to react to every manifestation of tyranny and oppression, no matter where it appears, no matter what stratum or class of the people it affects’ full stop, for its own sake rather than as a means of winning power in order to advance a one’s own cause. If I was a working-class woman, queer. or young person, I’d be incensed at being groomed in this way.

    Liberation can only be achieved from a position of perpetual opposition; otherwise, it becomes just another manifestation of tyranny and oppression.

  5. James Forth says:

    Thanks for this, Connor. Jamieson’s attempt to frame an alliance of transphobes as disenfranchised wee souls instead of crass advocates of bigotry needed calling out. It is worth noting that a lot of these people were sharing the Irish/Scottish slave myth beloved of white supremacists during the BLM protests. Social conservatism is – as you rightly point out – still very much with us.

  6. Duine says:

    Other policies of the ISP include decentralisation (as opposed the SNP’s weegie-fication of John o Groats). Its disingenuous to label them as some sort of two policy party.

    Class politics is central to Conter’s philosophy. Whereas it is peripheral and nominal in the politics of their liberal critics. Economic issues are peripheral to the social. The ubiquitous but false conflation of liberal and left is perhaps the biggest problem for progressing the cause of socialism.

    Conter recognises socialist tradition. What of the new liberalism? It shuns 1st,2nd and 3rd wave feminism as exclusionary.

    1. Pat Walsh says:

      Since when did Conter become a party? Thought it was just a website where socialists who are members of different organisations and none shared views and ideas. Have I missed something and has it become an organisation with a specific line/policies on different issues? Duine’s comment implies that it is.

      1. Duine says:

        You’re right – its not a party.

        1. Pat Walsh says:

          Ok it’s not a “party”.

          I don’t necessarily disagree with a lot of the positions articulated on Conter but I suspect Duine has inadvertently let the cat out of the bag: at the heart of the Conter project are the group formerly known as the ISG. With the demise of RISE and decline of RIC, they set up Conter as a sort of think-tank to influence the broader left. This reflects their links with Counterfire, the small English organisation led by former SWP leaders, John Rees and Lyndsay German. Their ideological positions are identical and their aspiration to be a sort of Spiked of the left is similar: a network that is very influential but that pretends it’s not an organisation.

          The problem with this is that it fools no one. It would be much better if the ISG/Conter core group were open about their organisation and politics and on that basis cooperated with others on the left. Many of their leading activists are widely respected and could play a positive role in regenerating the left on Scotland but they have to ditch their pretence of not being an organised group.

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