Dissolving Scottish Democracy

DISSOLVING DEMOCRACY: From The Province Of The Cat by George Gunn

When Leo Tolstoy was asked by his increasingly anxious publisher, who had forwarded him a considerable sum of money for his next novel, when he could expect the book, he was told by the writer, “Anna Karenina has left. I am waiting for her to return.” As I look across the dreaming bog of Scottish democracy I cannot help but admire Tolstoy because contained within his honest if not alarming confession – for his publisher, at least – was the seed of optimism. He was waiting. He was sure Anna would return. Scottish democracy has left. Will she return? I too am waiting, if a little less optimistically than Tolstoy. We vote for one thing: we get another. 

How can the structure of democracy withstand the tensions pressed upon it by the rapidly growing inequality of wealth and wages, an over-production of financial elites and an expanding economic catchment area which defines the reality of being poor? 

For example, according to latest figures from researchers at the London School of Economics, households across the UK have paid £7bn since Brexit to cover the extra cost of trade barriers on food imports from the EU. The university’s latest report estimating the impact of leaving the European bloc on UK food prices found that trade barriers were consistently hampering imports, pushing up bills by an average £250.

The cost of food in the UK has rocketed by 25% since 2019, the researchers calculated, but if the post-Brexit trade restrictions were not in place then this increase would be only 17% – nearly a third lower. Adding up the impact on all UK households suggested they have paid an extra £6.95bn as a consequence. You voted for “Taking back control” in the 2016 referendum and you get increased poverty as a result in 2023. 

Just to add to the collective cheer, according to The Times Rich List, the UK’s 171 richest people increased their wealth by £30 billion last year. They now have a combined wealth of over £680 billion. There is little oxygen for democracy to breathe in this climate. 

Wealth is not taxed but income is. When wealth expands and income shrinks something has to give. Britain escaped revolution with the 1832 Reform Act, and the extreme conditions after the Great Depression of 1929 alarmed the US government of the day and led to America’s ruling elite giving away a large proportion of its wealth in taxes to prevent catastrophe. There is no sign that this will be repeated any time soon, either side of the Atlantic. In fact the UK government regularly passes legislation which will make it easier for the wealthy elite to shore up their loot off-shore and harder for the poor to express their discontent at home. The Conservatives have begun to implement a series of measures which will limit the human rights of all who threaten its primary purpose, which is to make a profit for their backers. There are limits put upon the right to strike, to free assembly and the right to protest, as well as the beginning of setting up barriers to participate in democracy, such as voter ID at elections. These are just some of the more obvious and ominous measures they have put in place. More and worse is to come. 

As far as Scotland is concerned the next stage for Westminster is the thwarting and emasculating of the Scottish government and parliament – as well as the unravelling of the SNP as the dominant force in Scottish politics – so that Holyrood will find it hard to pass any legislation the UK government does not approve of, even though the Bills have been democratically processed and approved by the Scottish parliament. 

Also on the increase will be the already substantial surveillance of individuals and groups, across Scotland, that the UK government deem undesirable. And for all of you who cheer for the Scottish space race and for the rocket launch sites to be built on the A’ Mhòine peninsula in North Sutherland and at Saxaford on Unst in Shetland the sobering reality is that if Lockheed Martin, the US arms corporation, are involved (and in Shetland they are) the satellites launched – the payload – will not be those of love, as crooned by Lou Reed, but of military use, mainly surveillance. 

In other words you will be hacked, tracked, tapped and your beloved smart gizmo that you stroke so gently with feather-lite fingers will no longer be your own. Your electronic life will become intel-data and you will be put on a list and the opportunities open to you so freely in the past will suddenly be limited, if not disappeared completely in the future. Everything that was open will be closed. The good life will inevitably become the hard life. No explanation will be given to you except that you or your group will find that it is the price you pay for having an active political life. 

This is how the British state, whether Tory, Labour, or their Lib Dem’s lap-dogs, will dissolve democracy in Scotland. Once this political alchemy has been achieved north of the border it will be England’s turn. A population of 5.48 million is much easier to control than one of 55.97 million but with the technology available to the state and with a significant majority possessing a smart phone it is low hanging fruit for GCHQ and MI5. 

Those who advocate that tackling wealth inequality, poverty and the erosion of our civil rights can wait until after Scotland becomes an independent country – well, for them, Anna Kerenina will never return. Once you are dissolved you stay dissolved. At present democracy in Scotland is like an aspirin dropped into a glass of water, except that when you drink it you develop a headache. We need to address and act upon these issues now or our headache will be that the new Scotland will look very much like the old Scotland and what is the point of that? 

By managing the mediocrity of devolution the SNP have aided the British state in dissolving democracy. Too many in the present Scottish government, the professional party and the National Executive Committee of the SNP, are cheerleaders for independence until the reality, the possibility, presents itself and then they take flight and run away from it. Fear of the unknown and the uncontrollable, of not being able to dictate the process and an addiction to property and wealth betrays their bourgeois nature. The National takes precedence over the Social question; necessary radical change is deferred therefore democracy is dissolved further. While social injustice increases the politicians in Holyrood talk and hold press conferences when they cannot get what they want which, somehow, is never what the majority of the people need. One of the reasons support of the SNP is falling – even though support for independence is increasing – is that the party has forgotten just who voted it into power. The needs of the majority in Dundee and Glasgow always take second place before the sought after good opinion of landowners, bankers and corporations. The former desire a new socially just country to live in. The latter hate the very notion. 

In its quest to consolidate its power the British state has no hesitation in dissolving the very democracy which validates it and gives it legitimacy. It sees democracy as an impediment to its true objectives: power, wealth and military might. Each succeeding Prime Minister and First Minister talks of a growing and developing economy but they are never honest about who this growth and development will benefit. It is not the majority in Dundee and Glasgow. What is not said is that political process and the rule of law can go hang. If you are ideologically opposed to this relentless growth of wealth for the few and misery for the many then you better switch off your smart phone now. The reality is that the development of capitalism is the only growth they are interested in. Historically capitalism is in direct opposition to democracy. 

Witness the doleful tone adopted by Shona Robison, the Finance Secretary, when delivering the Scottish Fiscal Commission’s four year forecast to Holyrood earlier in May. Even a cursory glance at the document makes for grim reading. We are in for tax increases on earned income and more public spending cuts. The cost of living will continue to rise and the majority of people will get 4% poorer. This is what voting No in 2014 means. The Finance Secretary seems clueless as to what to do about it all. In mitigation a lot of the problems are the result of the kamikaze economic and social policies of Westminster. In the National (29.5.23) George Kerevan suggested the way out of this bind is to go for a target of a 3% rise in economic growth, which means “upping the amount of capital investment in machines and new technology, to increase productivity.”

The problem with that is that “growth” is what will kill the planet and anyway the UK will not invest in Scotland for political reasons, and so far the Scottish Government have failed to find a mechanism to meaningfully invest in our own country. Scotland’s assets are being well and truly stripped and her vast wealth remains untaxed and whatever and whenever wealth comes into the public domain it is unfairly distributed. The root of the fiscal problem is that wealth is never taxed. The true value of land is left to benefit landowners who continue to stash their rents and revenues, who contribute little or nothing to the common good and maintain the Highlands as a wet desert. Our land alone makes Scotland, potentially, a wealthy country. Not to tax wealth is a political choice. Instead of economic justice we get the same old weary mantra from the Scottish Government that capitalism is safe in their hands. All that confession does is to lock them into a limited, conservative and highly destructive economic mind-set.

In Scotland we cannot continue to draw inspiration and nutrition from our cultural roots when the political, economic and social top-soil of our society is being blown away. What we can and must grow is an understanding of how we got here, to these dark political times and to believe that things can be better. Let us, the people, asset strip the rich so that our independent country can have a future.

One thing is clear: if you seek the approval of the British state in order to achieve Scottish independence then it is questionable how much you desire that independence. If you do not truly believe in it, as a government and as a party, then you betray the future. Westminster creates poverty through a rigid application of economic principles which lie at the heart of capitalism. If you accept capitalism you accept poverty. Tesco makes millions whilst people go hungry. SSE and BP make tens of billions in profit every quarter as an increasing number of people have no heating or electricity.  

Protecting the assets of our oppressors only hurts the people who so far have supported the SNP. The way to regain political traction is to legislate for your core vote, not to take them for granted. If Scottish Government policies are not directed to help and encourage that support – the majority in cities like Dundee and Glasgow – then that support will fall away and the wheels will finally and completely come off the SNP bandwagon. The SNP will be politically dissolved by the people. 

While the politicians talk the people suffer. For Humza Yousaf and for Nicola Sturgeon before him whatever has to be done constitutionally has to be done legally and respectably. This means that nothing will happen. The sad fact is that there is no radical social or economic initiative emanating from the parliament the people of Scotland voted for. The truth is that not one single person in Scotland needs to go hungry or suffer from cold. There is an opportunity here for the SNP but they refuse to do anything much to alleviate the situation. Our MSP’s may stand up and rage against the austerity imposed on the majority of Scots by Westminster but in reality all they do is denounce an effect of whose cause they, by their inaction, support. 

©George Gunn 2023


Comments (20)

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  1. Graeme Purves says:

    Just so.

  2. stan reeves says:

    George. Your analysis may be correct. Exactly how do you propose the situation could be improved. What legislation or policies must we push for?
    Opposition requires proposition.

    1. David Robins says:

      I spotted quite a hint of Land Value Tax.

  3. Alan C says:

    Love the Lou Reed reference you put in for us dinasours.
    What’s to be done? Maybe if enough SNP mp’s who genuinly want liberation were to resign, a Scottish election would have to happen? I won’t hold my breath.

  4. Douglas says:

    “What is robbing a bank compared to founding one…? (B. Brecht)

  5. John Wood says:

    Very well said George, I agree completely.
    We urgently need to take back control (yes, really) of our sovereignty and democracy.
    The Planet and People Pledge is to put the needs of planet and people before private profit and totalitarianism. I will no longer vote for any candidate that not make that commitment and be held to it. If no candidate will do that – as in the last local election I will spoil my ballot. That means a commitment to the sovereignty of the Scots people and our absolute right to self-determination. Even some Unionists might concede that and then argue for the retention of the Union if they can actually make a genuine case for it.

    We also need a new political party. All the major ones (including the SNP and Greens) have betrayed us, bullied, bought and sold for (mainly) US gold. We need a party that actually believes in something and has a vision for an independent Scotland that people can relate to. Who really wants more of the same? A party that will create a decentralised, community-based, republic that can draw inspiration from the Nordic Countries and Switzerland, and build an interdependent network of empowered, more circular local abd regional economies to deliver a genuine wellbeing economy, free from the railing globalist model.

    It’s all perfectly doable. For goodness sake let’s get over the famous ‘cringe’ induced by our colonisation and conquest and get on with it

    1. BSA says:

      All perfectly doable indeed. Just demand the earth and spoil your ballot if it doesn’t materialise. That’ll show them. Maybe work on what we have gained so far with a decade old dominant party of independence, rather than taking it all for granted with grand gestures.

    2. Alan C says:

      ‘We need a party that actually believes in something and has a vision for an independent Scotland that people can relate to.’

      I think you’ll find the ALBA party fits the bill. https://www.albaparty.org/where_we_stand

      1. What’s the current polling for Alba Alan?

        1. Hugh Kerr says:

          Alba are running at 6% in the latest polls Mike at this level it’s on course to win seats in the next Scottish Parliament elections. However the SNP is degenerating at a rapid rate in support in the polls in membership and in activism or lack of it. They are going to lose up to half their MPs at the next election then their degeneration wil accelerate.
          Alba in 2 years has recruited 7,500 members and held over 50 well attended public meetings on independence in the last year.Alex Salmond is being rehabilitated in the court of public opinion despite being rubbished in the Scottish media and when he appears on our television screens as he did in Question Time last week he is a giant among pygmies.
          However I expect Mike that Bella Caledonia or you which it largely is will go on getting it wrong and backing the SNP after all you do have a track record in failure in prediction who can forget your attachment to Rise that great left wing hope for the Scottish Parliament which turned out to be more of a dodo than a phoenix!
          George Gunn is a poet and a very good essayist he analyses the crisis well but as other commenters suggest he doesn’t have a strategy for action but then that isn’t his job it’s yours Mike and you will no doubt get it wrong as you usually do.
          Finally before you comment about my latest change of political parties to support Alba ( I was a founder member!) I refer you to the famous riposte by the great economist Keynes when challenged “ sir when the facts change I change my mind what do you do?” But then we know what Bella or Mike Small will do keep on getting it wrong ,still it has provided you with a steady income Mike over the past few years how is that doing now?

          1. John says:

            I am not an SNP member but do support an independent Scotland.
            The sight of Alba representatives going on British tv programmes (not Scottish tv) to attack SNP leaves a very bad taste in the mouth.
            The obvious glee that you take from recent SNP problems reads like something out of Mail or Express and says so much about the motivation behind Alba.
            There is much to criticise SNP for over last 18 months but they are the primary political wing of independence movement and if they do implode (as much wished for by Unionist opponents) then you can forget independence for at least another decade.
            After that who knows but I would be very surprised if SNP were replaced by Alba as most Alba supporters appear to be mainly older, disillusioned SNP supporters.

          2. I don’t know how to respond to such a comment filled with such personal animosity, bitterness and self-delusion? I have no idea why you hold me in such contempt. Other people are able to come on here and disagree without bringing such a tone to the forum.

          3. John Wood says:

            I have a lot of respect for Alex Salmond but parties need to be primarily about policies we can get behind rather than individuals. The trouble for me with Alba is that it isn’t radical enough. What we surely need is a party that will commit absolutely to (1) the sovereignty and right to self-determination, putting our land and people before corporate interests. We need to be independent not just from Westminster but also the international plutocrats. Those who rule us here must do so with our assent. It is simply not up to Westminster to deny that right. We therefore need a referendum on the monarchy and if we retain it, on what terms. Charles has sworn to uphold the Claim of Right but he shows no sign of doing so. His support for the horrific, neofascist ‘Great Reset’ suggests to me that he should be wearing a ball and chain rather than a crown; (2) decentralisation and empowerment of Scotland’s regions and localities; the creation of a network of interlocking circular economies; (3) a complete and independent review of our energy and communications needs (Alba just seem to be promoting more disastrous 5G for example) – and application of the precautionary principle. (4) no more ‘rewilding’ ( an insult to Gaels) or imposed ‘nature conservation’ measures that are in reality just assertions of centralised, undemocratic power – hunting grounds for the super-rich; (5) a new voting system: get rid of the ‘list MSPs’ elected by party only and make all MSPs equal and personally responsible to the constituents. Single member constituencies and Council Wards, elected by STV. Scandinavian scale and powers for local government. (6) end the so-called ‘retail markets’ in energy, telecoms and especially water. These things need to be back under local democratic control. And so on. This is why I think we need a new party that carries no baggage and will attract the enthusiasm and energy of those os us who want independence to mean something more than tinkering with ‘business as usual’.

  6. James McCrone says:

    An excellent, and sobering, essay. The new thriller Bastard Verdict (out, 18 May) looks at how far powerful interests might go to hold onto power, and even posits that Scotland might be used as the “low hanging fruit for GCHQ and MI5”, though not exactly as you’ve written about here.

  7. mark leslie edwards says:

    Great piece.

  8. Graeme McCormick says:

    Under the current Devolution settlement the Scottish Parliament can tax heritable assets( land and the erections on and through it) the major component of wealth. My proposal for Annual Ground Floor and Roof Rent (AGFRR) is the quickest way to raise public funding through land ownership. Most of the infrastructure is in place. All that is required is political will.

    it raises far more than existing taxes and can even fund a Universal Citizens Income of £200 per week for every adult and child.

    Almost half the delegates at the Last Annual Conference of the SNP voted against the current land reform proposals because they don’t include AGFRR or similar.

    1. John says:

      Tories are and always have been fundamentally opposed to devolution as they are to NHS. They realise both are too popular to abolish so they are undermining and weakening them in the hope that this will make public turn against them.
      Since Brexit Tory government has become increasingly hostile to Holyrood and are now happy to oppose any policy without overwhelming majority support in Scotland. Labour are saying ‘compromise with Westminster’ purely to undermine SNP. The media which is predominantly hostile to independence will crank this up as a Holyrood (SNP) failure. Affected vested interests now know they can object to any new policies and get support from Tories, Labour and media.
      This makes introducing any progressive policies very difficult as by their very nature such policies means change to normal way of operating and primarily affect powerful sections of society. I agree with the policy suggestions in the article but reality suggests getting them through Holyrood will be very difficult. If someone can suggest a policy which would be overwhelmingly popular despite the powerful resistance we now see please I would love to hear about it.
      The devolution landscape is now set until next general election. If Labour comes into power at Westminster the opposition to Holyrood will still be there just not quite so blatant. Tories wish to undermine then destroy Holyrood while Labour wish to retain Holyrood in a neutered form.
      The only answer is in my opinion independence so the Scottish electorate can decide on all these issues but how do we achieve this in the face of such hostility from Westminster knowing we need EU and international recognition to avoid it being too bumpy and potentially failing?
      I think we can only achieve this by building support for independence to at leat 60% and prove to both Westminster and international community that the democratic will of Scottish people cannot be denied.

    2. mark leslie edwards says:

      taxing erections? these office boys are in for it in wi the tinternet pron epidemic

  9. Wul says:

    Excellent article and mirrors my own perception of what is happening, and is going to happen to us. A rUK without Scotland would be a miserably weak, poor, badly regarded and ill-resourced country. Serious mobilisation of resource will be used to maintain possession of the Scottish “territory”.

    The Scottish Government should be unleashing a tsunami of truly radical, progressive legislation within it’s existing powers; land, housing, tax, education, planning etc; A highly visible battle-cry of policy that will highlight what a modern, fair nation could aspire to. Scare the living effing, bejeezus daylights out of the landowners, financiers, rentiers, grifters and hingers on. Ignite hope (remember hope?) in those with the most to gain.
    It’s far too late to do anything incremental; we are dealing with bad-faith actors at Westminster who despise their own population. They plundered the Empire and having lost it, they are now busy plundering the UK. There will be nothing left soon.

    1. Alistair Taylor says:

      Aye, sad but true, Wul.

      Always fine writing by George Gunn,

      We could do with a good revolution. Easier said than done.
      The timid wee parliament in Edinburgh isn’t doing the people of Scotland many favours. But, then again, maybe the people of Scotland aren’t doing themselves any favours…
      I don’t know. Ah dinnae ken.
      Might just stay in Canada. (Well, until it goes on fire again, which is happening…). It’s a sair fecht. Down with the wealthy, down with the King.
      Let the peasants be revolting.

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