Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Disunited Kingdom - bloggers' panel

I participated in a bloggers' panel called 'Disunited Kingdom' at the Guardian website today. Here's my opening salvo - and see HERE for the other bloggers' contibutions and a wide-ranging comments thread.

'An independent Scotland would be a step forward. I welcome anything that weakens the cohesion and power of the British state and undermines British nationalism. Then there is the democratic deficit: being subject to a Tory-led central government despite hardly electing any Tories to Westminster.

Scottish politics has increasingly developed its own dynamics in recent years. Take what happened in Scotland in May's elections. Labour did badly, the Tories were nowhere, and the SNP proved the big winners. Understanding that involves a grasp of the distinctive elements in contemporary Scottish politics. Scotland essentially now has two centre-left social democratic parties – and it's the SNP which is faring better, due to disillusionment with 13 years of New Labour government.

Sections of the Scottish political and business elites are comfortable with independence. The Scottish left needs to be pro-independence and anti-austerity, campaigning for a break from dominant UK-wide policies of cuts and privatisation. There's some cynical opportunism in English Labour ranks, among those who want to preserve the Union because they want to hold on to Scottish seats. But the way for Labour to beat the Tories is to deliver serious and principled opposition to austerity and articulate clear alternative policies.'



  1. Weren't you supposed to be speaking for England in that live debate?

  2. No - none of us were speaking for anyone other than ourselves. We were simply asked to comment on the central issues around devolution and independence. We were also limited to 200 words, so it was an extraordinary effort in selectivity!

  3. How is the snp a social democrat party ? Does it have trade union affiliates ? Has it ever claimed to represent the working class ?
    No. Salmond has been very clever ,opportunistically presenting the snp as to the left of labour in order to exploit the weakness of the labour party .
    One of it's biggest backers is Brian Souter of Stagecoach, a union buster and anti-abortionist . Salmond has bent over backwards to facillitate Donald Trump's desecration of the north east coastline to make way for a grandiose golfing development . The SNP has always been a party of the ruling class .
    I've no objection to Scottish independence but don't have any illusions in the snp .

  4. Rob

    Try reading the post before you comment. I make it clear - despite being limited to 200 words - that the SNP has gained support on the back of disillusionment with Labour and by adopting a largely centre-left agenda. This doesn't mean 'having illusions' in them (whatever that means). It means that there are two parties - Labour and SNP - which are politically located on the right wing of social democracy. Of course the SNP might tack right - it's a populist party with no historic ties to the unions - but, for now, it's an accurate characterisation.

    It isn't good enough to simply say 'SNP is pro-business, an establishment party etc'. It doesn't get to grips with what's happening in Scottish politics. It is a retreat into the dogmatic certainties of a bygone age (echoes of the old and silly left-wing cliche of referring to 'Tartan Tories') instead of engaging with current concrete realities.

  5. Perhaps if the SNP/Lib Dem council weren't making swingeing cuts in social services in Aberdeen such as the warden service at my Mum and Dads' sheltered housing I might have a slightly higher opinion of them .
    In the north east of Scotland by the way the SNP historically had a large part of it's support among farming interests which tend to be rather right wing . Hence the term "Tartan Tories" which you brought up , not me .
    I always thought we had to look to the class base of a political party to define whether it's social democratic or not . Unlike the SNP the Labour in Scotland , despite the leadership's betrayals , has a base in the working class with links to the organised working class through the trade unions . Isn't that what a social democratic party is ?
    Just as an aside , living in Wales I've noticed that Plaid Cymru , while polcy wise pretty similar to the SNP , has some good people on the left like Leanne Wood and Bethan Jenkins who are worth working with . I'm not aware if there is anyone like them in the SNP .

  6. If there's one unarguable fact about the SNP in 2011 it is this: they are popular. They won a landslide in May. This needs to be explained.

    Viewing them as 'Tartan Tories', or as to the right of Labour, means failing to grasp what's going on. Anyone on the left who thinks that might as well as give up on politics in despair - if so many Scots are voting for a party that's barely different from the Tories then that's a bleak situation indeed.

    The truth is that the bulk of increased support for the SNP has come from former Labour or Lib Dem voters, most of whom have centre-left or social democratic sensibilities. As I've noted, the SNP is a populist party with broad appeal, capable of picking up support from different quarters. But where has most of its authority and support coming from? From delivering modest reforms and appealing to those left-of-centre voters disillusioned with a) 13 years of New Labour UK government and b) The Lib Dems for going into coalition with the Tories.

    It's likely its support will suffer as the cuts bite, and as it tries to manage the tensions that go with being a devolved administration but in a context shaped by UK-wide Tory policies. Of course they shouldn't be trusted and nobody should have illusions with them. My central argument in the initial 200 words was that the Scottish left needs a pro-independence and anti-austerity campaign distinct from the SNP, thus drawing at least some of their voters into the orbit of an independent radical left. But that strategy is only viable if we recognise that there's a large left-ish constituency, including among SNP voters.