What Gerry did next.

3 Jan

I got angry with Gerry Hassan whilst writing my last post.

This makes me unhappy.  Despite the fact that I think true serenity and calm are for people who have failed to realise how bad things are.  Or who profit from misery, poverty, environmental degradation or the employment practices of CityLink.

It makes me unhappy is because it temporarily blinded me to a few things. But it’s not too late.  For those who care about philosophical integrity and acknowledging your sources, the first of these is important. Those who only care about Scottish independence can skip to the second heading.  If you’re think the two are inseparable, or if you’re still enjoying yourself in a deeper way than you could looking at ladbible videos on facebook, carry on to point three.

Please note, a lot of this is all a tad more academic than my usual fare.  I’ll get right back to the righteous anger next time.  Promise.

Acknowledging your sources

I read Hassan’s article because of a link provided by Mike Small at Bella Caledonia.  And when I’d read Hassan’s article and website, I decided – in contrast to Mike’s more subtly structured piece – to do a point-by-point demolition of Hassan’s article.  I wasn’t reading Mike’s work – and I only actually went online whilst writing in order to double-check my facts and links  But you’re not to know that. So, if you wish to give credit for any of the ideas that are duplicated between the two critiques, give them to Mike. He got there first.  Or, in other words:

Thanks Mike.

That said, there’s a few other differences.  I’ll point out two.  Mike didn’t explicitly note Hassan’s silly attachment to the essential complexity of things, or the central place of a similar idea of complexity in the marketised brainlessness of ‘New Labour’.  And I didn’t note that Hassan’s writing had a:

   … fervent urgency that’s mirrored only by a distinct vagueness.

Fair play, that’s a well-constructed sentence.

And an important idea that deserves to be spread further. Indeed, it bears repeating, expanding, discussing and investigating.

Yes, investigating.  Let me put my understanding of it as a two-part (and deliberately leading) question “Yes” inclined academics might like to set their students in the run-up to the general election:

How do critiques of “Yes” combine narratives of urgency and radicalism with static and conservative motives? Discuss with reference to any detailed plans for social change which can be found in, or are implied by, those critiques.

It would surely be an outstanding student who successfully tracked down a detailed plan for social change in Hassan’s critique. Although he might just feel like providing it himself.  We’ll come back to that.

Talking of Details … 

Hassan had pointed out that not all ‘middle class’ people had voted ‘No’.  This helped make me angry because he was using this in order to make us admire the sophistication and variety of middle-class life – as if the ‘features’ and ‘family’ pages of every newspaper everywhere wasn’t already doing that.  The middle class was to be looked at in terms of its differing ‘sectors and cultures’.

In the next paragraph he analysed the working-class vote not by ‘cultures’, but by letters and numbers. By the very same letters and numbers the British state uses to classify us.  The middle class, it appears, have culture, whilst we do not.  I said that.  I also said this imbalance probably wasn’t an intentional error on Hassan’s part.


There is a big positive factor for ‘Yes’ that he managed to wriggle out of talking about.  And my anger stopped me noticing it in my last post.

The middle class sector that he suggests had a ‘Yes’ majority was that of public sector professionals. This group includes most academics.  That is, most ‘intellectuals’. The working class sector he thinks had a ‘Yes’ majority was that of skilled workers.

Revolutionaries for a long time – maybe even always – have sought to unite intellectuals and skilled workers behind their revolution.  It doesn’t guarantee success, but it is an important necessary precondition of success.  If you really want a reference for this, then pick a book from one of the hundreds here.

In Scotland, if we’re to take Gerry’s idea of analysing classes on a sector by sector basis seriously, the independence movement has achieved this.

Well done “Yes”.

What Gerry Did Next

Amusingly, that point gives any lost “Yes” supporters – and radicals like Gerry who claim to be above such ‘shallow binaries’ as ‘yes or no’ – some clear signposts as to where to go next.  Once this fusion of radical intellectuals and skilled working-class exists, with the openness to debate that Gerry so welcomes, then the movement is in the position of being able to create independent and liberating institutions to compete for radical dominance against the institutions of the established order.  In ways that would make ‘independence’, in mere parliamentary terms, irrelevant.

And I’m not just talking about theoretical dominance.

Lets assume that Gerry Hassan is sincere about wanting to aid the new Scottish radicalism that could be so much ‘more’ than independence.  Here’s two simple steps he could take.  Starting today.

i.  Publicly disassociating himself from the Demos think-tank, and any other links that he still has with the intellectual (and pseudo-intellectual) foundations of New Labour.  After all, it’s a bit rich for someone to claim greater radicalism and openness than the most devoted Radical Independence activist – whilst still happily hobnobbing with the architects of New Labour.  This could also mean getting off the editorial board of the pathetically New Labour Renewal: a journal of social democracy.  

After all, he’s lucky enough to live in a country where “socialism” is not a dirty word.

And it’s not like he’s a new and unknown political thinker who needs to build a publication record in order to get or keep a job.  But there are plenty of those in Scotland.

He could, if he really wants to encourage open dialogue and political engagement, also publicly condemn Demos’ cynical – and symptomatic – failure to maintain responsibility the website set up for the Glasgow 2020 exercise in public imagination that he took a leading role in.  What’s there now is an insult to Glasgow’s history (it doesn’t mention shipbuilding), politics (it doesn’t mention shipbuilding, or unions, or political parties, or class, or religion – bar a cathedral tour), or the referendum, or the working-class), and memory…

important deviation in mid sentence: (although the link on the site refers to events in 2013, there is an ‘upcoming event’ listed that really should be updated with some urgency and sensitivity, or simply replaced).

…and webdesigners.  You could be forgiven for thinking that it was all just about an academic trying to get ahead.  But Hassan is in a position to show that isn’t true.  By…

ii.  Putting his money where his mouth is.  Literally.  His money.

Hassan’s Part two of ‘message to the messengers’  puts forward the case, citing Gandhi, that the Scottish left needs to ‘be the change’ it wants to see.  Or, in Hassan’s words “developing a practice of social and political change, nurturing catalysts and agencies which make real a culture of self-government, and is, critically, not owned by any one party or perspective”.

A brief digression. Somewhat inconveniently, Gandhi’s most important function was as a leader of a movement for independence in precisely the sense that Hassan is rejecting. Despite the loincloth, sandals, salt collecting, appearance of pacifism – and the reflex worship given him by western lefties ever since, simple independence was the aim.  Gandhi was enough of a realist to let the struggle of the Dalits for rights slide, and he really didn’t give a toss about the economic struggles of the Lancashire labourers and unemployed when he toured there in the hungry thirties.  Internationalism goes a long way – but Gandhi seemed to indicate that if you let it trump national independence, you’ll lose both.

Another brief digression.  Sooner or later, I’ll get round to replying to the dozen-point part two of ‘message to the messengers’.  Point by point, because I have no imagination.  What is it about the number twelve that Hassan finds so appealing?  For now, let me just say that Labour leaders have often disappointed the people who voted for them – because the leaders have been more right-wing than the voters wanted.  Scottish voters (as opposed to political analysts who are paid by Demos to discover problems with left-wing viewpoints) may indeed have been voting for socialism when they voted Labour.  The claim that ‘Scotland has never had a socialist majority’ is an unproven one and dependent on a questionable academic perspective – which Hassan does not even trouble to give a source for.  The fact that it is the ruling academic perspective does not automatically make it correct. After all, the elite amongst Labour historians have has been constituted for the last generation of those desperately seeking complexity and subtlety and escaping what they thought were cliches. In the Welsh case, at least, I think that’s wrong. As yet, I haven’t researched the Scottish case, but I will. More details on that, and on the Welsh example, for a future post.

Back to ii. now that we don’t have to talk about Gandhi or messengers anymore Those ‘catalysts and agencies’ of self-government are indeed important.  Gerry Hassan, as a prominent academic and political expert, is in the position to do more than put together books and blog articles aimed at influencing the independence movement – or at disturbing it and creating a pervasive insecurity at a moment of decisive intellectual optimism and numerical increase.

Obviously, I’m not in a position to judge Hassan’s personal wealth, or his credit rating, or the wealth he could mobilise by seeking out investors from his vast contact list.

But I’d make a safe bet that (maybe with a remortgage) he could spot a gap for a collectively owned social enterprise in a deprived area, cover start-up costs, and employ half a dozen currently unemployed people for the first year at the kind of salaries not usually seen round there.  That would be a real redistribution of wealth of exactly the kind that he urgently demands.  And he’s just the man to make sure it gets the media attention it deserves.  And to find the delivery people, the fitters, roofers, the cooks, the software engineers, the webdesigners, the business contacts, the political contacts, the funding, the boatdesigners, the investors.

What would that enterprise be?  Surely, with his lifelong expertise in finding the stories and narratives, he could find some ideas.  Or, how about this?

Twelve proposals, from across Scotland, for what could be radical and wonderful thing could be done using that seed money – and influence. Honed and haggled over months by face-to-face and onine committees in every participating area, with the completed proposals forming the basis of Gerry’s next edited volume.  It wouldn’t be so bad leaving Demos behind if he got to roll out the foreword to it …

Twelve dreams of freedom and radical futures made electronic, or of paper and ink and spirit.  Argued bitterly – and sometimes beautifully – across all the radical media.  Gerry’s at the University of the West of Scotland, and their media students and staff and links would mean explosive coverage on social media. With competition from teenagers and pensioners arranging film screenings of their phonecamera interviews and rants and figures and graphs and poetry.  The BBC might even end up covering it (cough). It’d make a hell of a tv programme or twelve.

And it would certainly get beyond simple yes/no binaries and cliches.

Perhaps there could be a referendum to choose between them…

There’s still a few acknowledgements remaining, especially of the couple of other people who’ve written contra Hassan’s points.  Alistair Davidson is one, and deserves much more attention than I just gave him – that will happen in a post in the near future.  The importance he gives the resonance of  ’45 is definitely worthy of more detailed comment.  Apologies to those I’ve missed.  This will also be put right. Happy New Year.   

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