Archive | December, 2014

Don’t Shoot the Messengers – A response to Gerry Hassan

21 Dec

Gerry Hassan, in an article for the Scottish Left Project and Scotland On Sunday, warns that the ‘Yes’ camp is making serious mistakes in its triumphalism since the referendum.  There needs, he believes, to be more realism amongst independence campaigners and Scottish radicals:

Any radical politics has to have a sense of what is possible, to push it as far as it can, to understand timescales and how these dovetail with strategy. And critically it has to understand the political culture beyond its own boundaries – in the Scotland which voted No.

He tells us that he believes (along with everybody who inclines towards Yes, incidentally) that defeat can lead to renewal and consequent success.

Sadly he thinks this happened to the Labour Party in 1992, even though the 1997 landslide had everything to do with endemic and high-profile Tory corruption. The Sun didn’t lead the electorate to Labour – it followed.

But that’s a mere by-the-way.  Gerry lists twelve ‘myths’ that ‘need dispelling’.

The first is the myth of the 45%.  He calls this a ‘political wall’, and accuses those who proudly claim their membership of the 45% as buying into ‘soft sectarianism’.  A soft sectarianism outdated now that several months have elapsed since the referendum.  He’s wrong on this for two reasons. Firstly, because he’s not spotted the power of a magic number.  In the past few years iconic political numbers have started to motivate people. The biggest one for much of the world – and for those working out the new thinking in society and economics that he superficially seems to favour, is ‘the 99%’.  In Scotland, at least to some, ‘the 45%’ has a comparable resonance. Secondly, it was a secret ballot.  There will be some (and with the SNP’s membership surge, possibly many) who voted ‘No’ and now harbour regrets about it.  Some will be careerists (success comes at a price), some will be grandparents converted too late by their grandchildren, and some will be socialists seeking to ride the floodtide of history.  Some will be people who won’t remember how they really voted, or will remember wrong.  If and when independence is achieved, more than 45% of the eligible population will claim that they were among the 45% in the September 18th referendum.  And after a few decades even people who were twelve at the time will claim to have voted ‘Yes’.  It’s not comfortable, but it is the way electoral change happens.

Second is the ‘propensity to believe that Yes speaks for Scotland’, allegedly ‘missing that No won’. This is an odd comment if taken in full.  Nobody, literally nobody at all – anywhere – is under the impression that Scotland is currently negotiating the nitty-gritty details of EU membership as an independent country.  After all, that’s what we’d be talking about if ‘Yes’ had won.  But the first part of the statement is also odd.  The stated aim of independence campaigners is always to speak for the nation that they want independence for.  Who else are they supposed to speak for?  The 45% that Hassan wants us to stop talking about?  That would be illogical, unless he’s already given up on the first point.  Ho hum. Are they supposed to speak for the ‘No’ camp?  But surely this would be unfair competition for the Scottish press, not to mention the British press, certain tame EU bureaucrats, the BBC, and the large swathe of x-list celebrities who have returned to deserved obscurity since September?

Number three  claims that ‘like independence voters’ those who voted ‘No’ were ‘motivated by a huge variety of reasons – all of which are valid’.  No Gerry.  Not all reasons for any opinion, ever, are ‘valid’. And many are not even sane.  Some do indeed stem from ‘false consciousness’. You might indeed mean this in the specialist Marxist sense, but in a mainstream media landscape utterly dominated (100%, that is) by the Unionist camp, you’d be better off simply saying that most people didn’t really get the chance to make their own mind up. Especially not those who are old enough to have missed the growth of cynicism about the mainstream media. Some did vote out of self-interest or fear for their pensions – despite the fact that they were being lied to.  Does this make their opinion less valid?

Of course it does.

It may in fact make their opinion downright, ineluctably, brainscorchingly obviously, hideously and tragically bloody wrong.


Four.  ‘The union case did not win just because of middle class Scotland’.

That’s true, that is.  Though perhaps not in the way Gerry Hassan means.

After all, the union case didn’t win at all.  The ‘No’ camp won the vote, after which the hollowness of the union ‘case’ was revealed with stark clarity as the victorious face and fist of Project Fear was revealed in George Square.  And then came the SNP membership stampede.  After all, there’s safety in numbers.  If there’s a triumphalism in the ‘Yes’ camp now, Gerry, it isn’t mere arrogance – it is the justifiable pride of people who stayed in the open and stuck to their beliefs despite knowing that the bully boys were on the way.

The other part of Hassan’s point here is that many middle class people also voted ‘Yes’.  He notes the ‘public sector professional middle class’ in particular.  We could talk about whether, for instance, a university admissions officer worried about their job in an austerity economy is middle class – but it would be boring.  Nearly as boring as analysing the many different ‘sectors and cultures’ he says exists within the middle class, and their doubtless multivaried and valid reasons for voting ‘No’ if they did. Luckily for us, although sadly for those who want precise information on which middle-class individuals and organisations to target with leaflets and listening campaigns, he doesn’t give a breakdown.  Good point though Gerry.

‘Yes’ supporters really ought to be seeing their potential converts in realistic categories, or even as individuals.  They could then talk to them as human beings rather than merely as the class enemy.

Except, obviously, those ones that really are the class enemy.


The corollary (point five, in case you’re losing count) is that ‘The notion that Yes won working class Scotland is far too simple to be true and as problematic as placing middle class opinion completely in the No camp’.  Gerry and I differ on nearly all of his points, but there’s an unfortunate and clearly unintentional faux pas in the way he debates this which I think he himself may regret, and would do well to avoid in future.  In talking about the middle class, he talks about ‘cultures’.  In talking about the working-class he talks about the Registrar-General’s classification schema: we are the C2 and the D and E.

This makes me very angry.

Do we not have culture?

But the substantial point, to Hassan, is a biggie.  His solution to a ‘fractured, divided working class’ is a new language which can overcome the left’s alleged failure to get ahead of the ‘curve of capitalist dynamics’ over the last forty years.  The problem here is that Hassan is living in the same weird timewarp as those academics who laid the groundwork for New Labour – he is an evangelist for the fragmentation of the working-class and has failed to recognise a movement that has largely identified with it.  It may seem impossibly idealistic to him if ‘Yes’ voters and the 45% and the RIC and new SNP members talk about Scottishness and being working-class as almost politically interchangeable, but such idealism is the way that effective political language is made.  Certainly, it does not do working-class people any favours if ‘radical’ commentators take for granted that it is impossible for them ever to act as a class. Finally, he doesn’t give the actual numbers or sources he’s working from here – that would be nice. Although, obviously, he would then have to cope with the difficulties of literate and numerate commentators having a jolly old time dissecting his view of class.

Six, he points out a problem with the claim that ‘Yes’ won the Labour heartlands.  This has a nice and tricksy numerical breakdown, although, once again, the source is absent. Please look at it for a fairer picture.  Not my job.  I’m content to quote the following without context:

… four out of Scotland’s 32 local authorities voted Yes; of which three – Glasgow, North Lanarkshire and West Dunbartonshire – can be described as Labour heartlands.

That’s not the kind of statement that I’d put the word ‘Only’ in front of, as he does.

Actually, it’s the kind of statement I’d preface with something more like this:

Yes, it’s absolutely definitely worth reaching out to the Labour heartlands and talking to people there in terms of the Scottish working class because ….

Seven, he claims that it’s a myth that the ‘Yes’ vote was more mobilised than the ‘No’ vote.  In support of this he notes that the highest turn-outs were in affluent no-voting areas.  Obviously, he’s right.  At least in one sense. The affluent are far more likely to have cars, and are therefore much more ‘mobilised’.  They are also more politically organised than working-class people on a day-to-day basis.

The middle class dominates small business groups, designer shopping expeditions, fashion supplements, learned discussions, newspaper letters columns, amateur dramatic societies, choirs, Rotary Clubs, school governorships, creative writing classes, flower arranging evenings, sports club officials, local history societies, cookery programmes, and most of the semi-political and ‘non-political’ groups academics lump together as ‘civil society’. That’s how the middle class get to have ‘cultures’ visible to academics when we Plebs just have designated letters and numbers.  But when working-class people visibly overcome that dominance – as in a mass procession to the polling station to vote ‘Yes’ in the indyref – then it’s way – way – more than simply ‘symbolic’.

Maybe you could describe it as ‘mobilisation’.  Especially since the normal definition of ‘mobilisation’ usually implies the creation of social energy through organisation, typically with a single aim in mind. Such as winning a battle, war or political campaign.  Thus to come from a nowhere to a close call in under a year, and then to an SNP membership flood in months: that is unquestionably mobilisation in the accurate sense of the word.

After all, it’s not business as usual, is it?


Eight.  This is a brazen rehash of number three.  Feel free to skip it.

There was apparently a lot more to the ‘no’ campaign than we’ve been led to believe.  ‘No’ voters were scared of losing something ‘precious’ and ‘existential’.  They were worried about ‘finances, security, status and positional place’. Apparently, that’s ‘more’.

Except it isn’t.  That is precisely what Project Fear was based upon.  And that worry about finances, security, status and positional place is exactly what drives conservative thinking the world over. Let me interpret – once again from a jaundiced, but entirely accurate, angle.

Finances: ‘Will I still be richer than other people?’

Security: ‘Will the trade unions cause trouble for me?’

Status: ‘Will I have to talk to my cleaner like she’s human?’

Positional place: ‘Will my house price go down?’  ‘Will I still be welcome at my London club?’ ‘Will I be taxed more so the working-class can carry on using the NHS?’ ‘Will people on the dole move in next door?’

These existential questions, for Hassan, should not simply be ‘caricatured or dismissed as wrong’.

Oops.  Sorry about that. I’ll just get my mucky feet off the carpet.

Wait a minute.  No, I won’t.  The way to win for those who want both independence and radicalism is to create elegant, fervent, beautiful and persuasive caricatures and dismissals of the thoughts – and lives – of their opponents.  And to do it in ways that cut away their common ties to each other, deny them the chance to exert their normal political power through culture, and destroy their identification with the British state. And then to turn all those ideas into everyday common sense so powerful even the Unionists have to use the language that was created to destroy them.

That’ll take a lot of research and work, but it’d be a start if the research and work was actually directed at creating division in the Unionist camp – rather than amongst those favouring independence.  It will also take sheer personal and political nastiness, character assassination, detective work and realism. Failure to do those things  – within the term of the next UK parliament – will be punished by a wholesale dismantling of the caring and social functions of the state, and shorter, grimmer, lives for people like us.

Nine.  Scotland’s a big place and divided in lots of different ways.  And the greater the distance from the central belt the greater the likelihood was of a ‘no’ vote, for lots of reasons.  People in Shetland and Orkney are suspicious of Edinburgh just as they’re suspicious of London.

This is absolutely true.  Thanks Gerry.

It might not be a clincher though.  Scepticism about being governed from Edinburgh could disappear rapidly if London-imposed austerity causes bottlenecks, cuts or failures in local services – especially vital services in more remote areas.

More so still if there’s a media capable of joining up the dots…

Oh look!

The Kinloss air search coordination centre is closing down and all its functions are being transferred to the south coast of England.  And Jim Murphy would prefer not to be included in the collective letter from parties in Scotland who oppose the closure:

Murphy and the Rescue Centre

And here’s a newspaper article castigating Jim Murphy for not being a part of that collective letter.

More about Murphy and the Rescue Centre

There’s an infinite mass of information to be collected on the nature of the different parts of Scotland. That’s part of what geographers, town planners, mapmakers, psephologists, cultural analysts, folksingers, sailors, birdwatchers, community organisers, socialist paper sellers, trainspotters and business advisors et al do.  All have a role.  But none of them feels they have to wait for all the information to come in before anybody’s allowed to act on some of it.

Except for Gerry Hassan.


An short diversion on theme number nine.  Hassan claims that Scotland’s politics has ‘numerous faultlines and divides’.

This is not something that he has found out by research, however.  It is the central pillar of his academic belief system, and of his personal ideology.  Even as a child he saw disagreements within his family and saw them in terms of essential complexity.  He also, insultingly, chose to regard his Communist father in retrospect as an ‘armchair activist’ – this might, one suspects, have changed if he’d gone to work with his dad.  By the way he dismisses his father’s beliefs and compares them with his mother’s, ‘a genuine community organiser and feminist’, you can see young Gerry positioning himself for a future academic career.  One in which he’s set up (ironically) a two-sided view of the world.  On one side, with his father the ‘armchair’ Communist, are those who can be safely insulted for the ‘simplicity’ of their ideas.  On the other, with his ‘genuine’ mother, are those who understand the complexity of the real community.  (It’s lucky, btw, it wasn’t the other way round, because then even Scotland on Sunday readers would simply dismiss him as a sexist prick).

If you’ve read previous entries of mine, you’re acquainted with my view of complexity.

But here’s a recap: if you really think something’s essentially complicated, you probably don’t understand it.  And if you think everything is complicated, that’s probably because you understand nothing.

Hassan claims later on that ‘nothing is as simple as it first seems’. Ho hum.

This is the same kind of (lack of) understanding that underpinned the facile, murderous, and suicidal opinion-poll pragmatism of New Labour.  It is the same lack of understanding that seeks to substitute a morass of unsifted data for every possible nugget of wisdom, and for any possible explanatory mechanism.  It is an endless accumulation of grey minutiae eating the dead bones of intellectual imagination.

It is an ingrained belief in politics being boring, and in making it so.



Is the same as points eight and three.  The ‘No’ vote won because, despite being a ‘weak campaign’ only supported by all the newspapers, the BBC, every possible former lingerie model with money, and well-known Scots like Sting and David Bowie, it contained a million billion trillion quadrillion different and complex and brain-achingly tedious and ‘valid’ viewpoints.

Did I miss something?


Eleven.  ‘Yes and No are over’.

This is the old Trotskyite strategy of assigning ones enemies to the ‘dustbin of history’?  That same strategy that was reworked by Blairites into mantras of ‘moving forward’ and ‘moving on’. If you’re a Prime Minister it can get you out of war crimes accusations – just tell your interlocutor that everybody’s ‘moved on’. It doesn’t matter that it’s a blatant lie – it’s a powerful lie that combines progress and belonging. Nobody wants to be old-fashioned, and nobody wants to be alone.

But Gerry Hassan has no ministerial authority, no army and no logic for claiming to define what the future is and when the past died.

He just thinks its time to get past the ‘yes / no binary’ of September the 18th.  He thinks it’s more complicated than that.

It’s not though.  Some things really are simple. Yes and no are still here and still fighting, and the only thing that’s definitely over is the era of Blairites telling us to move on.

‘Over’ is just so over.



I was expecting a real killer blow here.

But apparently this point can be summated by saying there can be no real ‘Yes Alliance’. It’s just going to be an SNP-led ‘popular front’.  We’re back to that armchair again.  Only a dyed-in-the-wool Marxist would find the idea of a ‘popular front’ a truly appalling prospect, and not even all of them would pretend to know what Hassan was talking about.

Luckily I’ve got a doctorate in Politics.  I can authoritatively say that the most important thing the phrase ‘popular front’ refers to is that bit in the Life Of Brian, and the second is the government of France from 1936 to 1938.  Is Hassan calling somebody a ‘splitter’?  Is he accusing somebody else of calling somebody a ‘splitter’? Or is he indicating some kind of deep, mysterious, and hitherto unsuspected commonality between Nicola Sturgeon in 2014 and Edouard Daladier in 1938?

Or is he just showing us how complicated this politics business is, and how our wee binary brains need to learn subtlety and sophistication?

Of course that’s what it is.  We must stop being so binary, says Gerry.  Instead, it’s time to:

allow the emergent new voices, spaces and movements which came forth in the referendum to grow, be set free, and find a place to flourish which is not dependent or related to the independence referendum.

That’s right.  Gerry Hassan is going to open a kindergarten!

Whoopee!  All the working-class kiddies and all the radical kiddies can play with political playdough that doesn’t have any of those old-fashioned anti-imperial pro-independence lefty activist toxins in.  As long as they don’t steal oil-based toys from the rich kids.  They can be ‘set free’ and ‘flourish’, without being dependent.  Lucky, lucky kiddies!  Just as long as they don’t try to be independent.  As long as they’re nice and quiet and inclusive about their playtime rebellion.

As long as they don’t hit anybody back.