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Friday, 22 June 2012

Tories, Labour careerists and old–and young – Lefties and nationalists

ONCE A TORY, ALWAYS A TORY

When Iain Duncan Smith was leader of the Tory party, he seemed to me to combine in his person archetypal Toryism and LibDem ineffectual wimpishness: he was a kind of harbinger of Nick Clegg, the Labradoodles of politics. But when he lost the leadership, the ‘quiet man’ found a cause – Easterhouse in Glasgow, and was accepted by a man for whom I have unqualified admiration, community worker Bob Holman. In pursuing this new vocation, Duncan Smith seemed to exhibit genuine empathy with and concern for the poor and deprived.

But the nasty party sets the genes, and Tories always revert to type, in an atavistic lurch into their primitive prejudices and convictions. Iain Duncan Smith has  proved no exception. In a decade, he has moved from his great recognition of the plight of the poor to blaming them: the reflex action of Tories in trouble. It’s all their fault, caused by their excessive consumption of alcohol, their laziness – it’s the family again, the lack of traditional family structures and values and poor parenting skills. At a stroke, the Tory sonic screwdriver of blame – also much used by the Labour Party – absolves this benighted Coalition of any responsibility for the havoc they are wreaking on the lives of the vulnerable.

Dorian Gray is dead, and the picture in the attic has come to life and claimed its rightful place in the power structure – or hopes to …

ILL-MET BY MOONLIGHT – THE SCOTTISH LEFT?

Going in search of Scotland's identity

It is a strange little piece, set up as a dialogue – which it patently is not – and both Gerry Hassan and Douglas Alexander start with the mandatory parade of working class credentials to exhibit their backgrounds as humble men of the people. (There was a television comedy sketch some years ago where two men tried to outdo each other in itemising the horrors of their early life.)

As an old lefty, I can play this game expertly, with the edge of having lived through times that Gerry and Douglas can only imagine and reflect vicariously through their parents.

(My early life as a torn-ersed Glaswegian, soon to be a blockbuster movie of the unrelieved misery genre: born in the 1930s in a Dennistoun slum tenement, unemployed and tubercular father who died in 1940 at the start of a terrifying war: brought up by my mother, who spent her time trying to scrape up an income of sorts from low-paid cleaning work while nursing a sickly child in pre-NHS days, being bullied and patronised by the apparatchiks of the primitive social and benefits system of those days, and patronised by the families around us who had working fathers in exempt occupations – mainly munitions - and had avoided military service. My values and political awareness were formed from the brutal realities of grinding poverty and ill-health, and by the wonderful working class men and women of the Labour party of that era, especially the Barras soapbox orators. How’s that for misery, Gerry and Douglas.? Your move …)

From the perspective of my childhood, both Gerry and Douglas were privileged children: both had working parents, in Douglas’s case both professionals, both received an education that I could only dream of, and neither of them have ever experienced anything remotely like real poverty or deprivation. But that doesn’t deprive them of their right to speak, so what are their themes?

DOUGLAS ALEXANDER

Douglas refers to his “growing consciousness of the Scottish dimension” of his politics, Thatcherism, and says that “it felt like a struggle for Scotland’s soul”. Unfortunately for Scotland’s soul, Douglas’s epiphany was occurring at a time when the Labour Party was well on its way to losing its soul, culminating in the Blair/Brown governments who did more damage to the UK, Scotland and the world than Thatcher could ever have dreamed of.

He invokes the ghosts of Donald Dewar, John Smith and Robin Cook, probably the last Labour politicians of stature with any real values, but couples them with the living spectre of Gordon Brown (another son of the manse, but with a seriously defective moral compass), and has to go back to 1997 and the Scotland Act to find anything admirable in Labour. At the end of his first section, Douglas jumps speedily into one of the the two Labour boltholes – he is “more interested in abolishing poverty than abolishing Britain”, a glib unionist slogan that avoids the stark fact that it is the conspiracy of wealth, power, privilege and the concentration of power and wealth – of which he and Scottish Labour politicians are embedded tools – that creates and sustains poverty and deprivation in Scotland. (The other Labour bolthole is its phoney ‘internationalism’ which reached its bloody nadir in Iraq and Afghanistan.)

GERRY HASSAN

I am not a fan of Douglas Alexander (you’ve already guessed!) but I am an admirer of Gerry Hassan. I don’t agree with some of his analyses, but I have never read anything he has written that is not cogently argued and doesn't contains key insights that matter fundamentally for Scotland’s future, whatever it may be. He is, and will continue to be a serious voice in the critical years ahead of us. His commitment to Scotland’s independence is beyond question.

In a number of telling phrases, he captures what is wrong with Scottish Labour, but also sees another dimension to Scottish society, one that is little recognised, but vital.

For example – “Scotland is a social democracy for its middle-class professional interest groups. The system of government and public spending work best for those most entrenched in the system.”

By God, I recognise that reality, and fulminated against it as the Glasgow professional classes, blinded – and bought – by the glitz and glamour of Big Sport and the Commonwealth Games - and the Scottish Government - ignored and betrayed the vulnerable people and small business of old Dalmarnock, and the mothers of the disabled children of the Accord Centre, .

He refers to the “profound absence of responsibility” among Labour politicians as they “closed their eyes to the mediocre services the party offered” and to the “pronounced Scottish Labour entitlement culture” in Labour for the last half century.

But he also inveighs against a straw man, “the romanticising of our history” among a sector of nationalist support that denies the reality of the problems Scotland faces. Gerry is above making the tired old Braveheart taunt, but that’s what he means, and he must know that although this exists – and will continue to exist – among a minority of less informed nats (and a few well enough informed to know better), it has not been a defining characteristic of the party for many years now.

Like many intellectuals of the Left, Gerry is sometimes unaware of his own romanticisation of the potential of a new Scotland - a kind of Left-wing, cloth-capped Mel Gibson fantasy of a Scotland that will fearlessly condemn oppression across the globe, will turn away in disdain from the grubby business of trying to persuade amoral capitalists - and sometimes questionable regimes - to invest in or trade with Scotland, and will bring about the long-awaited collapse of capitalism and the dictatorship of the proletariat.

As one of my Barras soapbox orators of the 1940s used to say, fixing his admiring audience with a glittering, roving eye – “Aye, that day will come comrades, but it’ll no' come the morra, or even the day efter …”

Gerry, of course, can cloak all this when he chooses in dense prose and arcane economic theory, but the essence of the auld socialist cry is there – the Great Left Rapture, will assuredly come, when Scotland will be lifted to an ineffable state of social and economic morality. Unfortunately, for a century now, this has produced the Great Left Rupture, and the dream has turned to dust again and again, as economic reality, blatant careerism, money grubbing and realpolitik intruded, not to mention event, dear boy, events …

Gerry distrusts the pragmatism of Alex Salmond, and doesn’t like his economic vision. At this time of international economic and social turbulence, with the beast of neo-fascism, unbridled corporate power and religious intolerance slouching towards Bethlehem again, I think our only salvation is exactly Alex Salmond’s ebullient pragmatism, to secure jobs, futures and a life worth living for Scots young and old. But we need voices such as Gerry Hassan’s to balance that pragmatism with core values that still matter and are always, always under threat.

But we do not need the voice of Douglas Alexander, a career politician in the thing that the Labour Party has become, profoundly irrelevant to the future of Scotland – unless he and the Scottish Labour Party can shake off their obsession with the Union, abandon their fake internationalism, and embrace the independence of their truly internationalist country, where, in the immortal words of James Connolly - Séamas Ó Conghaile – that internationalism begins with nationalism.


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