A Message To You, Gerry

8 Jan

Mea Culpa, again.

I lied.  Or half lied.  When I told you that I’d stop it with all the philosophising and get back to the righteous anger.  The second part was true – but it’s not going to be quick or snappy.  In fact, with all the philosophising going on, this post probably qualifies as one of the longest of the longread blogs you’re likely to encounter.

Sorry about that, to those of you who like brevity.

But it seems more important right now to keep my promise to give a point by point reply to Gerry Hassan’s ‘part two’ of ‘message to the messengers‘.  That’s going to happen here, and in detail.  Roughly like this:

First, I’ll remind you of some philosophical presuppositions Hassan makes throughout his thinking.  And I’ll point out – excuse the predictability folks – that they’re wrong, and that they are the basis of some unfortunate belief systems. In addition, we’ll see that they’re similar to core ideas in the superficially angelic but actually quite nasty article by Yvonne Spence that concluded Bella Caledonia’s #noway series.  This section is broken down in turn into sub-sections on complexity, new age logic, and the myth of the Golden Mean.

Second, I’ll address some problems with Gerry’s preamble, concluding comments, five central recommendations, basic numeracy and ideas of referencing.

Finally, we’ll get round to the twelve points.  If you came here for a neatly numbered crib sheet, just go straight there.  I really won’t be offended.  But you will be missing a couple of amusing metaphors and some mildly important foundational reasoning.

Philosophical presuppositions – complexity, New Age logic and the Golden Mean.

Complexity

If you wanted to boil Hassan’s belief system down to a single sentence – which I do – then you could perhaps say:

“… we have to embrace uncertainty, fluidity and contingency, and use this age of epic transformative change as the ally of progressive politics.” (from part 2 of the message, near the bottom)

That’s his sentence, not mine.  And I’ve quoted it out of context, even though it seems to apply to Hassan’s ideas rather better than it does to the politics of Scottish independence.  Indeed, it may serve better as a description of his ideas than it does of anything in the real world.  But it’s still not particularly straightforward.  Here’s my take on the same thing:

It’s all really complicated.  But everything will work out if you just trust Gerry.

A tad harsh there, you might be saying.

Not really.

The only other Scotsperson who rates a positive mention from Gerry in two fairly long articles is Naomi Mitchison.  She sounds like an interesting lady, and we’ll return to her. But for now the salient point is that she’s been dead a fair while. It seems that nobody left alive in Scotland can unravel complex issues like Gerry Hassan.

But here’s the awkward thing.  It’s not that complicated.  Nothing is as complicated as he’s making out. Hassan has chosen (consciously or not) to focus on complexity both as the organising system for his beliefs – and as the answer to every question he’s ever going to ask.  And the total social commitment and prescription for action that comes from that answer is often ultimately something like this:

We need to ask more questions.  As long as they’re not questions with simple answers, or the kind of answers you might get from Alex Salmond.  Or other people who aren’t important enough for Gerry to name them.

 New Age Logic

Let’s take a little break from Gerry.  It’ll be a wrench for you, I know, but we’ll get back to him.

This may be purely a personal thing, but I’ve noticed New Age thinking inspiring more scepticism recently than it used to.  Talk about ‘detoxing’ in educated company results in a strident sensible voice piping up and saying “you know there’s no such thing, don’t you?”.  And people with back problems will sometimes actually check that their masseur has real qualifications rather than an off-the-shelf degree in “Applied Complementary Gobbledegook, Pastel Shades, Beach Photographs, Mindfulness and Theoretical Aromatics” from the “Holistic, Relaxed, Sexy and Clinical Looking Online University Of Absolutely Bloody Nowhere.tv”.  Overly touchy-feely management and publicity styles – with their inevitable recoil into crass manipulation and authoritarianism – have become a staple of tv comedy, and for good reason.  As have lifestyle gurus.

Unfortunately, the wooly faux-Aquarian thinking that breeds such charlatanism has not yet been expelled from politics, despite Tony and Cherie Blair doing their damnedest to destroy the credibility of New Age thought forever.  This is perhaps because its hard for most of us to be nasty to people who are smiling and hugging people and being understanding and serenely declaring how nice it is to be nice.

But, as everybody who’s danced since 1995 knows, it’s “better to be wicked”.

It’s even better to analyse things with reference to facts rather than insisting on the ultimate meaninglessness of inconvenient data, as Yvonne Spence does. Especially if this prefaces the use of unquestioned and out-of-context stats to label Glaswegians as alcoholics who should really be taking responsibility for their own poverty, instead of ‘blaming’ their parental figures in Westminster.

Am I being unfair?  Nope.  She is.

Maybe you read her article and missed that this was merely old-fashioned Tory beggar-bashing logic, because of the overpowering scent of philosophical patchouli.  So, for the sake of fairness, here’s the paragraph in question:

The connection between poverty and alcohol consumption is complex but it needs to be addressed. Claiming poverty is entirely Westminster’s fault doesn’t actually help those who are alcohol-dependent and in poverty. Independence, on its own, would not have solved this; nothing short of a radical change in attitude will create the change required. Blaming Westminster (or anyone) reveals the same attitude that blaming the poor does.

Oh look, the Glasgow poor are to blame for their own alcoholism – even though using the word ‘blaming’ is wrong. And the solution to this ‘complex’ question is apparently a ‘change of attitude’ which has no necessary connection to independence.

I’ll give two responses to this.  A long one, and a short one.  And then I’ll tie the New Age loose ends up in a short Diversion.

i.  The Long One.

Like I keep saying to Gerry, it’s not that complicated.  And the insistence on complexity is actually a refusal to find answers.  So let me have a stab at this one.

Sometimes one thing causes another thing. Poverty causes alcoholism.  And vice versa.  In an essentially simple way.

Poor people who drink a lot have to choose between, inter alia; drink and food, drink and clothes, drink and American mistranslations of ancient Islamic poets, drink and union membership, drink and gym membership, drink and paying the rent, drink and Crimbo prezzies for the kids, drink for the sake of it and drink for the taste, drink as an entire life-defining behaviour or champers as an accompaniment to high tea at Wimbledon.  And, most poignantly, drink and treatment for their drinking problem.

Because economics and politics have tended for some time to favour the interests of richer people owning property (or shares or bonuses or options) in a fairly small area of England, drinkers elsewhere in the countries governed by Westminster are more likely to be faced with these ‘choices’.  And thus to be labelled as ‘alcoholics’.  The very rich, of course, can drink without it causing poverty to themselves – and put the vintage lunchtime wine down on expenses. Bottoms up!

Given the relationship of the words ’cause’ and ‘blame’ when talking about government and economics (they’re the same thing), this means that the blame is squarely with the run-down of industries outside the south-east and the financial sector – and the attack on the wages and incomes of the poorest that has been overseen by Labour, Tory and Coalition administrations alike since James Callaghan claimed it was impossible to spend your way out of a recession in 1976.

It is perfectly reasonable to use the word ‘blame’ in this instance.

And, given the wide variety of backgrounds and political parties of the people involved in this, the only common link is in fact at St. Stephens Palace.  If you don’t blame Westminster at least somewhere, you’ve really not been trying to find an answer.  Let me just rearrange that for clarity’s sake.  If you don’t blame Westminster at least somewhere, you’ve really been trying not to find an answer. Spence’s pleas for ‘understanding’ boil down to the same refusal to deal with real-world answers as Hassan’s refusal of false ‘binary oppositions’.

Both of them – if they are anything consistent at all – are pleas for a Third Way that takes us ‘beyond’ yes and no.  We’ll come back to this.

ii.  The Short One.

Spence is talking about alcoholism amongst working-class people in that paragraph solely in order to avoid talking about the connection between British state policy and rising inequality.  It’s like someone shouting ‘look over there’ as they nick the food off your plate.

And then doing bad psychoanalysis on you because you’re still hungry.

A Diversion: Some other stuff Spence got wrong.  Or uses in an unfortunate or misleading way.

Unlike Hassan, who at least appears to believe that there is a place in life for real things, Spence does not believe that facts are particularly meaningful.  Unless it’s the facts she chooses to use.  Instead the aim is that we are supposed to ‘listen with compassion’.  If we fail to do so and choose to dislike others, then this is because of things we have repressed in ourselves.  What we dislike in those others, allegedly, is what we most dislike in ourselves.

Her sole reference for the importance of listening with compassion is an English translation from Rumi. He lived over seven hundred years back, and wrote in Persian, Arabic, Greek, Turkish and Konya.  So the phrase she relies on is translated from an already partially translated or retranslated set of documents, with the particular words chosen with weather eye out for the tastes of American New Age-influenced readers.

Readers in the Islamic world don’t call him Rumi, which is a place name.  It’s a bit like referring to people by where they come from in English. You might do it down the pub or the building site (“alright Scouse”), but generally it’s a bit rude and culturally insensitive.

Let’s suppose the translation was accurate, however.  His work and inspiration may have been wonderful, but like all professional poets before legal limits on arbitrary regal power he had to express opinions that State authorities and monarchs were ok with. Because if he didn’t, he’d die.

Actually die, that is.  Not just feel a bit uncomfortable or not be remembered.

So naturally, it’s possible to find some nice sounding phrases in his work suggesting that we should all just get along. And even though he was pretty straight-down-the-line-Qu’ranic, he threw an occasional coded sop to the pagans too. Maybe just in case they came back to power, or because the Bedouin who spread Islam throughout that bit of the world navigable by camel were sometimes still a little lax themselves in their observances to Allah, and had lots of time for the older Gods.

That’s probably what I’d do too.  But I wouldn’t like myself for it.

And I definitely would not attempt to make out that it was ‘right’ to go beyond right and wrong.  Because that just wouldn’t make any sense at all.

Like the claim that what we most dislike in others in what we ‘repress’ in ourselves.  If that was true, then – excuse my unimaginatively literal reaction – Yvonne Spence’s deepest desire is to be right and tell everybody else that they’re wrong.  That’s the complete opposite of what she’s saying. There is a – vanishingly small – chance that I’m just not advanced enough to ‘understand’ the message she’s sending, as her high-handed conclusion claims.

But, maybe, just maybe, she needs to let go of her superiority complex, and learn to listen to other peoples’ opinions without assuming that she has the right to ‘diagnose’ them whenever they disagree with her.

She should also stop attacking people for being ‘defensive’ – it’s the only logical possibility in response to being attacked.  Duh.  And to grasp that the understanding she wants us to extend to the rich and powerful is what they claim by right (and the acclamation of the entire media), whilst the working class and the poor have to shout and fight and reason and philosophise and compose and write better than anybody else before anyone else even notices they exist. The shallow claim to easy ‘compassion’ that is virtually her entire writerly raison d’etre is merely a life spent sitting on the fence.

But there’s a time in every life to get off the fence.

As a rule, it’s right now.

The Golden Mean: Why it’s everywhere, why it’s always wrong, and why it’s even more wrong in Gerry’s case.

The ‘Golden Mean’ – poetic and deep though the term sounds – is simply the idea that the truth must always lie in compromise between the extreme positions on any viewpoint.

It’s also known variously as the ‘doctrine of the mean’, the ‘Middle Way’, and the ‘Third Way’.  It also underlies all ideas based on moral ‘balance’, including those relating to the media.

It has had a celebrated role in philosophy since at least the work of Aristotle in the Occident and Confucius in the Orient.  These twin sources (and their possible common ancestry) explain its centrality in Christianity, Islam (including the work of a certain Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad, a.k.a. Rūmī), Taoism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Zen.

Fascism, as a belief system and practice that often sought to find the common ground between socialism and capitalism, was clearly in their debt.  So too was the school of socialism that has always believed in compromise and moderation more fervently than it has in anything identifiably ‘socialist’ – from Fabianism to Blairism.  And possibly, it’s still too early to tell, from MacDonald to (Ed) Miliband.

I don’t despise the argument of the Golden Mean just because it’s at home in so many – essentially conflicting – views.  I despise it because it automatically presumes that the major perspectives on a given subject contain all there is to know.  By automatically compromising or negotiating between existing views in order to get to what they share, the possibilities of invention, original thought or new facts being discovered are all avoided.  This is why almost nobody in the physical sciences would even contemplate settling debates by reference to the Golden Mean.  And there is no reason – at all – why truth should be nearer the centre point of a debate, if such a thing exists, than to the ‘extremes’.

But in politics and the social sciences it is very handy  – as it means that the powerful are always insured in advance against being wrong.  No matter how wrong (or downright bloodcurdlingly genocidally dronelaunchingly armsdealingly childabusingly Murdochsuckingly evil) they are, assuming the Golden Mean will always allow them to define the parameters of the discussion.

In the case of New Labour, the crass and brainless application of the rule of the Golden Mean led to an abject political surrender that still poisons our everyday life.  But, on the bright side, it’s been a gift to the cause of Scottish independence. The Labour Party moved right to take the ‘centre-ground’, only to discover that the centre ground kept moving rightwards the further they drifted.  The idea of ‘the centre’ came to define the Labour Party to the exclusion of any actual principle.  And then people with principles turned up and started to occupy that ‘left’ ground Labour thought it owned.

This is confusing for the one-time Labour establishment.  Labour and ex-Labour relics of the Blair-Brown eras still refer to the Labour Party as a ‘centre-left’ party, and talk about the failures of the ‘centre-left’ as a reason to avoid having principles.

Or, perhaps, to avoid stating them clearly.

They missed the fact that the ‘left’ bit is more important than the ‘centre’ bit.

Gerry’s position, mostly, is a bit more sophisticated.  And therefore even more wrong. He seeks to overcome multiple ‘binary oppositions’ – which part one of the ‘message‘ specialises in inventing and listing – before it’s worth unashamedly campaigning for radicalism or socialism or Scottish independence.  Or anything at all, as it goes.  Not only does he embrace the Golden Mean – he embraces it for lots of issues at the same time, and demands that the  balance between all of them be achieved simultaneously.

Even if the resulting answers would contradict each other.

Perhaps this is why he’s so enthusiastic about continuing to ask questions – nobody will ever catch you in a contradiction, or a morass of contradictions, if you never – ever – finally and definitely state an opinion.

Problems

Preamble

Let’s start with the title.  The article I’m responding to is titled – including the subtitle and byline – thus:

Message to the Messengers Part 2: Where Next After the Indy Referendum?

The second of a sympathetic two part critique of certain tendencies in the Scottish independence movement. 

There’s a minor dishonesty (or six, to be precise) about this:

i. Those of us who read part one weren’t told at the time that it was part one. Otherwise Mike Small and Alistair Davidson and I might have waited before replying.  Or perhaps enjoyed speculating on where Gerry was heading in the next episode.

ii. It isn’t actually part two at all.  Unless publication in Scotland on Sunday is also forthcoming.  With the greatest of respect to the Scottish Left Project (really – it’s got a gorgeous website and there’s lots of very good writing on it), the impact of ‘part one’ came from its republication in a newspaper.  A unionist newspaper, I should perhaps add, given that it appeared on the one day of the week when it would theoretically have been possible at that time to get published in a pro-independence paper.

iii. The word ‘sympathetic’ should be superfluous.  If Gerry genuinely feels that his support for independence isn’t demonstrated sufficiently clearly in his writing, he could work out what the problem is – and rewrite.

iv.  Last year’s referendum is very much last year’s news – precisely because Scots reacted to the result by changing the political landscape beyond recognition.  Gerry is no longer writing in a ‘post-referendum’ world where left-wingers, independence campaigners and environmentalists can be realistically advised to hide and be cautious.  He is writing in a world where the electoral promise and possibility of Scottish independence has caused the British mainstream media to surrender over the constitution of its electoral leadership debates.  And caused the parties in the coalition government to fight in an unseemly manner over that surrender. And, on a European level, where Syriza can form a government in Greece.

v.  It doesn’t include the words “A reply to my critics”.   Or any similar phrase.  Despite the attempt to answer them without naming them.  We’ll revisit this both in the point by point reply, and in the note below on referencing.

vi.  “Message to the Messengers” is the title of a Gil Scott Heron song, in which Gil relies on his earlier radical reputation to take younger rappers to task for – allegedly – not getting their facts straight.  It’s not the most beautiful moment in the history of black lyricism.  That might well be Gil Scott Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” – a phrase much more apposite to the current Scottish situation. Hassan doesn’t acknowledge where the phrase comes from, which is a bit unfair to Gil – (although it’s hardly the first time a white man has stolen from a black musician).  It’s also unfair to the reader, who isn’t given notice that – even in the title itself – Gerry’s article situates them as intellectually inferior to him.

Talking of acknowledgements, my title for this article is a variation on the Specials retitling of Dandy Livingstone’s classic “Rudy, A Message to You.”  It’s very catchy, which is why I used it.

Also in the preamble, Hassan explicitly acknowledges that there is a ‘feeling of change’ in Scottish life. This is very good, because he didn’t actually say that in the first article. He actually talked of a ‘sense’ of ‘openings’ – before pronouncing that there were “unrealistic expectations of political change”.  It’s nice that he’s explicitly acknowledged the feeling of change.  Although it would be nicer still if he could make the connection and show some understanding of the fact that ‘feelings’ matter just as much in politics as they do in love.  Feelings of power and powerlessness are central to how power works.  Feelings of change are changes.  That’s why some independence supporters thought Gerry was just trying to make them get back in the box.

He’s not.  Apparently.  At least not all of them.  He’s just trying to prevent the ‘disappointment’ newly politicised Scots will apparently feel if they succumb to the:

“pitfall of playing into a left-nat instant gratification culture which poses that all that is needed for change is wish fulfillment, collective will and correct leadership, and hey presto Scotland will be free!”

Doesn’t sound that instant to me.  Does Gerry find his deepest wishes achieved regularly?  It doesn’t happen for most of us without either perseverance or payment. Does he think ‘collective will’ is easily achieved? That’s not usually high on the list of ‘things we have learned from history’. And mastering ‘correct leadership’ involves a meeting of difficult understandings that’s generated vast genres of literature – much of it quite involved and detailed – including hotly debated texts from every culture we are aware of that has mastered printing or writing. Once again, it looks like Gerry is just trying to make everything complicated. And if he’s accusing other people of over-simplifying these things, then he really needs to say who he’s talking about and where they said whatever he thinks proves they are over-simplifying.

More importantly, what the fuck is a  “nat” ?

In the Welsh context it’s a term of abuse, used almost solely by vapid mediocrities amongst Labour Party careerists, to refer to opponents in Plaid Cymru and Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg.  I gather it serves a similar function in Scotland. The reason it’s a virulent term of abuse is because it shortens into a playground insult a word that never needed abbreviating.  ‘Nationalist’ only contains four syllables, is part of any intelligent English-speaker’s normal vocabulary, and takes roughly the same time for articulate people to say.

Just like the word ‘Pakistani’, which only racists, morons and racist morons ever feel the need to shorten.

Obviously, just like black people who claim the right to use the ‘n-bomb’ between themselves, there’s no reason Scottish nationalists should not refer to themselves this way.  But Gerry, until he explicitly takes a side, doesn’t have the right.

(Gerry’s) Concluding Comments

Here Gerry pins his flag to the mast, or comes as close as he seems temperamentally able.  He tells us that the ‘centre-left’ has been in retreat for three decades, that Neal Lawson has pronounced a terminal decline in ‘social democracy’ despite the crisis of capitalism that we’re living through, and that Naomi Mitchison said something very wise about Scottish people not being naturally better than other people and independence therefore not being that important. All of this is used to lead up to an exhortation to build a wide coalition behind a ‘revolution of the normal’.  Which will also be evolutionary, apparently.

If you wanted to be mean – and I do – then you could accurately observe that an ‘evolution of the normal’ would be exactly like ‘business as usual’.  Ho hum.

Shoehorned in there are also a couple of standard lefty-style comments about food banks, some bad things about the free-market, and a whole lot of things Scots ‘cannot’ do or should not do – which in sum seem to add up to a prohibition on doing anything that’s ever been tried before. And the radical alternative is this:

“Instead there is a terrain to set out for a different kind of state, public realm, deeper, more diffuse democracy and creative commons … “

You can’t argue with that.

Nor can you argue against it.

Because it doesn’t mean anything.

Not included is the information that Naomi Mitchison was, at the moment she penned the comment he quotes so approvingly, a Labour County Councillor.  Her scepticism about Scottish independence in itself yielding a better life for Scottish people – whether real or issued in response to the party line – is exactly what you’d expect from a Labour politician.  Although, to be fair, she wrote it so long ago that it’s quite legitimate to ask which party she would be likely to support now.  And to conclude, given her lifelong socialism and opposition to nuclear weapons, that it would be realistic to find her in one of the pro-independence parties or organisations.  Possibly, since the referendum, even the SNP.

Also not given is an explanation of who Neal Lawson is.

That’s probably not surprising, given that Lawson – just like Hassan – is a member of Demos, and on the editorial board of Renewal: A journal of Social Democracy. Lawson was also an advisor to Gordon Brown.  And was one of the founders of LLM Consulting. You may heave heard of them.  If you were a senior executive at Tesco in the late 90s, you’d definitely have heard of them – they were the lobbying firm that saved Tesco over twenty million quid in taxes on supermarket car parks.

Greg Palast looked into this whilst investigating New Labour’s privatisation of Britain, and talked to Lawson about how LLM’s lobbying worked:

Lawson explained how LLM plays on what they call “politics without leadership.” In a milieu in which a lack of conviction is deemed an asset, with no fixed star of principles by which to steer, policy is susceptible to the last pitch heard over cocktails. “The Labour government is always of two minds, it operates in a kind of schizophrenia. On big issues especially, they don’t know what they are thinking. Blair himself doesn’t always know what he is thinking.”

Lawson was one of the people who helped Blair find out what he was thinking.  And he did it for the money.

Bastard.

He no longer has an official stake in LLM, and he may even be genuinely penitent about the effect LLM and the culture of lobbying has had but his personal contribution to the corruption of British politics in our century is noteworthy.

If ‘social democracy’ has been in retreat for decades, it is partly because Lawson helped poison it from within.  My last post called for Hassan to rid himself of toxic associations with organisations like Demos and Renewal.  I don’t think that will happen. Ever. But he could start looking to more trustworthy people for his references.  And his thinking.

The Central Recommendations

Hassan’s five point plan for what the “future politics of Scotland’s radicals should address” is indeed, as Mike Small described the rest of Hassan’s writing, as fervent as it is vague.

There has to be, we are told, ‘serious work on ideas, policy and values’…

We best get cracking on it then, especially if anybody’s actually going to do anything. After all, there’s not long before the next election, and that’s probably important given the context Gerry’s writing in.  The only trouble is that the areas Gerry demands ‘serious work’ on are vast and could (each) take several lifetimes to work through.  I’ll deal briefly with each in turn.

i.  “Develop a serious programme of political economy”.

As opposed to a joke one, presumably.  Although the suggestion itself is a bit of joke, in  all honesty. There’s no reason why this should be a task for the Scottish people or pro-independence activists in particular, to devote themselves to. Theories are supposed to serve people, not the other way around. And, notwithstanding Gerry’s pride that Scotland ‘gave’ political economy to the world, maybe it would be better not to celebrate Adam Smith too energetically. The ‘invisible hand’ of the ‘market’ has been smacking the poor in the face daily for four decades, and a powerful reaction against it is already underway.

On the other hand, perhaps Gerry Hassan could develop this ‘serious programme’. Alone or with a couple of mates, without demanding the assistance and attention of a whole movement. Just like Adam Smith did. Just like Marx and Engels did.  Just like Alfred Marshall did.  Just like John Maynard Keynes did.  Or perhaps with the help of a small team dedicated to killing the ruling orthodoxy of economics and pissing joyfully all over its grave.  Just like Thomas Piketty did.

In a book that was published less than two years ago.

ii.  “Address the limits of economic growth, finite resources and break with the economic determinism of the Westminster consensus and Salmondnomics”.

In one sense, this isn’t possible.  Ever.  To ‘address’ finite resources is precisely to deal in economic determinism.

In another sense, why is Gerry trying to sound like a bad tabloid journalist?  And hasn’t anybody told him that Alex Salmond is no longer leader of the SNP?  Maybe not.  So, altogether now, let’s shout for Gerry’s benefit:

Alex. Salmond. Is. Not. The. S. N. P. Leader. Any. More.

Indeed, Salmond’s resignation in response to the ‘No’ vote may well have helped cause the SNP membership surge. Suddenly – for the first time in a generation – a party leader unashamedly, unapologetically displayed principles.  And then came the flood. Coincidence?  I don’t fucking think so.

In yet another sense, Gerry appears not to have grasped that the pro-independence movement is extremely broad.  It includes the Scottish Green Party – which is campaigning on a platform that looks a lot like addressing “the limits of economic growth”.  In fact, it’s exactly that.

iii.  “Put social justice at the heart of everything Scotland, government, public bodies and business do.”

That’s a nice idea.

Like many (maybe even most) Scots in the pro-independence parties, I think it’s something that’s more likely to happen in an independent Scotland.  And even if it didn’t, the Scots themselves would have had an important role in the decisions that led to that.  That’s democracy.

Under this header, Hassan lists several extra points that should be considered alongside the (alleged) current narrow focus on welfare and low pay.  All normal left-wing fare – but he doesn’t explain why these issues should be worked out before independence.  Especially given that ways of dealing with ‘corporate capture’ and the taxation of the super-rich largely fall under governmental powers currently retained at Westminster.

In other words, the only way for Scots to have any impact at all on these things is for them to secure exactly the kind of independence he appears to think is not important.

iv. “Tackle our weak democracy”.

You may think independence has at least a superficial connection with the idea of tackling weak democracy.  Obviously you’re just not as radically democratic as Gerry.  He points out that Scotland has ‘traditionally had an elite run society and politics’.

That’s how Scotland joined the United Kingdom, isn’t it?  Let me just check my history books.  Oh, hang on.  I don’t need to.  Because everybody and their neighbour’s bloody parrot knows that there was not popular democracy in 1707.

Sure, create a million popular assemblies.  Argue for democratic control of industry. Persuade everyone that Scotland should be a republic.  Or, if you can’t be bothered with all the very specific arguments that would result from those things, consider commissioning a report from Gerry Hassan and the ex-Tesco fixers at Demos on  “A programme of political, economic, social and local democracy” … “which identifies what forces and vessels people can use and own to have collective voice”.

Personally, if I had the choice, I’d prefer independence now to Hassanberry jam tomorrow.

Talking of which…

v.  “Develop a vision of independence and self-government which isn’t about the SNP meme of defining it as ‘the full powers of the Parliament’ “.

Great idea.  Should it be developed before or after getting the full powers of the Parliament?

Hassan thinks this ‘meme’ is a ‘top-down’ conception of independence that privileges politicians over the ‘spontaneous heroic self-organisation of the revolutionary proletariat’.

Only joking.

He didn’t really mention spontaneous self-organisation or the revolutionary proletariat. But he really should have.  What else is the following supposed to describe?

… a self-governing Scotland is about more than independence and the powers of the Parliament – [it’s about] interindependence, dispersing political power, and redistributing and fairly sharing income, wealth and opportunity.

I’m all for that.  If it’s achieved anywhere on this lovely blue-green planet in my lifetime I will move there.  As long as ‘dispersing political power’ doesn’t mean I have to go to meetings on a regular basis. And if anyone manages to come up with a definition of ‘interindependence’ which is substantially different from ‘independence’ and doesn’t make me fall asleep or die before it’s finished.

Meantime, actual independence for Scotland still seems like a great idea.

Especially given the generations Plaid Cymru wasted on explaining to uncaring Welsh voters the subtleties of why it wasn’t using the word ‘independence’.  Instead of arguing for what they actually wanted, Welsh nationalists (many of whom were genuine socialists) found themselves offering up arcane arguments about how independence wasn’t really possible, or wasn’t worth anything in the modern world, or how everything was interconnected these days anyway.  It made them sound dishonest, tricksy, evasive and like they cared more about theory than about people.  Like all the other parties, in fact.

That’s why they finally changed it in 2011.  It would be a crying shame if the SNP – or any Scotsperson – went the other way in consequence of the arguments of Gerry Hassan.

Basic Numeracy

I’m no mathematician.  The fact that I passed an O-level in maths was a combination of a miracle and the inspiring teacher who bet everyone in our class a fiver they’d never get an answer quicker than him – even armed with calculators against his mental arithmetic, and even with him explaining afterwards the process by which he did every single calculation.  In five years nobody ever claimed the prize.  All my life I’ve wondered what it was like to be him, in the same impossible way I sometimes idly and vainly try to imagine what it could be ‘like’ to fight like Cassius Clay, write like Dylan Thomas, read timetables like Lenin or play steel guitar like Cindy Cashdollar.

Looking at Gerry Hassan’s facility with numbers gave me a fleeting glimpse of that omniscience.  Not because he can’t add up.  But because he doesn’t seem to grasp the necessity of using the relevant formula – or any intellectually justifiable formula – for the occasion.

In point one, he claims that the ‘difference’ between Scots and English votes at the 2010 General Election is usefully illustrated by comparing Labour and Conservative votes in the two countries, thus yielding a “36.8% combined gap”. He suggests this is a big gap, and then compares and contrasts it with a survey that he quotes no figures at all from.

Allow me to express the meaning of this in the form of an equation:

(big numbers)  –  (no numbers) = 100% utter tripe

That’s not the worst thing he does with numbers, however.  That is a claim that doesn’t look particularly questionable, or even very mathematical, at first glance:

“Scotland got a Parliament when we decisively voted for one.”

That’s my italic there.

Here’s why I put it there.

You may think, if you’re not used to political commentators’ dishonest use of innocent-looking adjectives, that there was not a majority for a Scottish parliament until the referendum of 1997.  Or even that the size of the “yes” majority was in some way important.  You’d be dead wrong.  If you’re Scottish, you probably know the next bit by heart. Please indulge everyone else for a paragraph or two.

In 1979 the Scottish people voted for a Scottish Parliament.

That is, a majority of those who voted wanted a Scottish Parliament (51.62%).  If it had been an election that would be an outright win with no questions asked. The reason they didn’t get one was because George Cunningham – Labour MP for Islington South and Finsbury –  successfully got a parliamentary amendment passed saying that over 40% of the entire eligible Scottish electorate had to vote for a Parliament.

The date of the creation of the Scottish parliament was, therefore, nothing to do with mathematical decisiveness.  It was to do with a deliberately obstructive legal strategy by a single MP representing a London seat in 1979.  And Gerry Hassan knew that perfectly well when he added the word ‘decisively’ to that sentence.  He lets the evidence for that slip out later in the same article, when he reminds us that Westminster may institute a “new 40% rule” at some point in the future.

Bad maths, Gerry.  Very bad maths.

Referencing.

This isn’t something you should ever have to tell an academic about.  It is the only thing that really separates them from other mortals, after all.  It’s the proof that they have actually read all the things they claim to have read – or at least that they would know how to find them to double-check on the accuracy of what they’ve said.  And it’s the first thing you’re told about when starting uni.

It also gives a clue as to their value system.  If they only acknowledge those of an equal or superior professional rank to themselves, then we are justified – automatically – in being suspicious of their beliefs and assertions.  Truth is no respecter of persons, and simply relying on ‘authority’ is generally acknowledged  to be logically problematic – as any usable search engine will happily confirm.

Similarly, you’ll have noticed that – so far and probably with an embarassing exception or two – I have attempted to avoid saying things such as ‘people like Gerry’.  It would take a whole lot of words to make such connections, and in the end I’d still end up looking a bit silly.  I’m not an academic, but I try to be (fairly) rigorous in my writing, and try to clearly flag where I’m stating opinion as opposed to absolute fact.  And all rigorous thinkers are aware that there are no ‘people like Gerry’, unless the precise nature of the similarity is spelled out.  The detour into Spence’s bad logic is, you’ll have noticed, an argument that her logical problems are exactly the same as Hassan’s.

Gerry, on the other hand, is quite at home with vague dismissals by association.

Here’s some examples; “some such as John Curtice …”, “the received wisdom of Sir Tom Devine” (received from whom exactly?), “such discourse is everywhere in indy opinion” (everywhere?  As in everywhere with not a single exception?), “what Ascherson and others miss” (which others?), “all of this is filled with an air of  anger, condescension and dismissal” (without naming a single source for ‘all’ or ‘this’), “people felt they could project out under future self-government all kinds of positives” (which people?  And why, exactly, were they all supposed to be wrong?), “the well kent mantra goes along the lines …” (in a democratic age, the commonplace nature of a belief does not justifiably mean it is more likely to be wrong, although there would be nothing wrong in explicitly saying that if you were willing to argue the case),  “sometimes the most fervent believers on this…”,  and “When some of the emergent radical voices now cite and invoke the notion of radical Scotland they have to understand this context, historically and contemporaneously”.

That last statement encompasses the future and imperative (“have to”) and the past (“historically”) and the present (“contemporaneously”).  Without putting a name or face to a single ‘voice’ to allow them the luxury of arguing back.

Gerry Hassan’s opinion appears to be all you have ever needed to know, do need to know, will need to know and must know.

That’s probably why he thinks it’s ok to misquote a New Statesman writer without mentioning her name, or providing a link, or the date or title of her article.  Let’s make that right – because its worth reading. Her name is Sarah Ditum.  And you can see the article in question, from October the 26th, here.  It’s called Tweeting a picture of a house is not an act of class warfare, whatever the Sun says.  What Hassan claims is its opening sentence is in fact a second clause, following a powerful and perfectly reasonable byline.  He claim that sentence goes “the British state is fucked”.  But it doesn’t – and the difference between what it really says and what he thinks it says shows how little attention he was paying.  He even manages to miscount the number of words in the statement as a result.  Bad maths, Gerry.

Very bad maths.

Again.

But onto this tottering, invisible, malignant and miscounted evidential edifice he adds yet another storey. Apparently Ditum’s misquoted article is emblematic of the ‘English left’ and its ‘confusion and chaos’. And its failure to understand “the popular mood”. The popular mood, presumably, being whatever Rupert Murdoch says it is.

This failure is “shared by many north of the border”.

So it’s hardly a surprise that Gerry doesn’t bother to say who he’s dismissing when he says “we cannot go ‘back to the future’ of the Britain or Scotland of 1945-1975; to some mythical golden age of stability and security”.  But it sounds to me like he’s giving a sideswipe – without bothering to provide a name – against Alistair Davidson’s Reply to Gerry Hassan: In Defence of the 45.  Which he may have bothered to read, given that it names him and gives a point-by-point rejection of ‘part one’ of the message.  Or perhaps he’s trying to get in a sneaky jab at Ken Loach, who’s a bit too unambiguously left-wing in a “isn’t it good we’ve got an NHS?” kind of way.  Or maybe he’s – again – avoiding discussing the (very well-known) work of Thomas Piketty, who argues for the moral and economic importance of taxing wealth and strictly limiting how much any individual can have, and references almost exactly that time period as the historical period when that actually happened.

Not just in Britain, or Scotland, but in the USA, France, West Germany and a whole huge bunch of other places too. Let me repeat, for the benefit of the young, the very young and the terminally brainwashed. That period was not a fairy tale – it really happened.

If it seems ‘Golden’, in retrospect, that’s because it was a shitload better, in many ways, than the world we now inhabit. By evoking the title of a film about time travel, it looks as if Gerry’s trying to make it all seem fantastical.  It’s a bit like watching a mean-spirited adult lie desperately to a curious and intelligent child.

So he can steal all the chocolate.

If he was tethered by the academic convention of referencing  we might be able to see where his drew all his delusions from.  As it is, in terms of evidence, he is primarily – and sometimes, as shown below, solely – reliant on his rank.  For all the appearance of radicalism, Gerry Hassan’s ‘messages’ show him to be the ultimate proponent of the argument from authority.  As long as its his authority, naturally.

The Twelve Points

Usually, good writing demands paraphrasing for the sake of brevity and clarity, and to avoid simple plagiarism.  I can’t do that here – because some of the headings, and the supporting claims, are so silly. And I’d be unhappy if anyone mistook Hassan’s words for mine.  So the bits in bold and quotes are his headings, and the other bits are my replies.

“1. Scotland is different and not that different from the rest of the UK”.

Yawn.  It’s like listening to a historian talking about ‘continuity and change’ because he’s forgotten the dates.

Hassan looks at voting figures to illustrate difference here, as I noted above.  But he chooses a very odd comparison, by using the difference between Labour and Conservative percentage votes as the numerical measure in question.  This gives a fairly low looking percentage, even though it’s totally meaningless. But more appropriate possible measure might be a percentage comparison between the SNP representatives elected in Scotland and those elected elsewhere in the UK.

The resulting figure: a resounding 100%.  There’s just none of them at all anywhere else, and lots in Scotland.  That’s as different as different can get.  Chalk, cheese; black, white; sublime, ridiculous; love, hate; fire, water; bread, rice; freedom, slavery; Scotland, UK.

That is how different the difference is.

To illustrate similarity, he asserts that the UK has had an integrated economy and political union for over 300 years.  The latter is true – although for many of us, that’s a problem.

The former is only true if you mean that Scotland (like Yorkshire and Liverpool and Wales and Cornwall and Teesside, and even – by sad irony – working-class London) have all been governed – at least since 1976 – largely in the interests of the City of London Corporation.

Call it being ‘integrated’ if you like.  But there’s better words.

2. Scotland has never had a socialist majority.”

No, it hasn’t.  The USA has never had a “capitalist majority” either.  Those questions are not actually featured on ballot papers.  Duh!

But there’s no glory in simply demonstrating the silliness of quotes taken out of context, even if they are accurate.

Here’s Gerry’s elucidation of his point:

The argument that Scotland has had, has or could have a socialist majority seems to be based on a very strange interpretation of Scottish Labour. It argues that the Labour vote is an expression of socialism. Clearly this does not come with any real historical understanding of Labour’s record and culture of conservatism.

Naturally, there is no reference to who is making this argument, or where they make it.  That might be awkward and result in giving publicity to people Gerry disagrees with.  They might also claim to have been misquoted or misrepresented.  Justifiably, because Gerry is voicing what he claims is mainstream academic opinion and very few people are willing to fight against the experts.

But let us take it head on.  Because Gerry is doing unconscionable violence to history here, and pretending like he’s just being reasonable.

In  1900 an organisation was formed, called the Labour Representation Committee.  It was a coalition of socialist societies and trade unions.

Note the socialist societies.  That’s important.  Also note that although the two types of organisation were different, they clearly felt that they had enough in common to form a meaningful coalition.

Then, in 1906, the Labour Party was formed.  It was formed in a committee room in the House of Commons, by the MPs who had been elected as a result of standing for the Labour Representation Committee.  Some were from trade unions. Some were from socialist societies.  Some were from both.

Right there, at the very birth of the Labour Party, there’s significant evidence that socialism mattered. Even more importantly, the Party forever afterwards dated its creation from 1900, and so did nearly all academics who studied it. After all, there’s no glamour, no revolutionary feeling, no fucking passion in a backroom vote in the Commons.  And that revolutionary feeling, that socialism, was the only thing the Labour Party had that was in any wise different from the ‘Radicals’ of the Liberal Party.

This feeling – despite the disappointment the Labour Party often created in its left-wing members – meant that most socialists in Britain for the best part of the next hundred years tended to support Labour in UK elections. And they took that support into council seats, and parish council elections, and university debating halls, and into their hearts, and they took it into their unions, and they made tea and cucumber sandwiches for mass meetings that ended in heartbreaks and disappointments and rare victories. And they watched careerists and legalists and talentless academics and thinktank traitors steal their hopes, and they carried on in the hope that their decency would one day win out.  And sometimes it did.

That’s how the NHS happened, and how the coalowners were briefly evicted from history, and maybe even why the British poor don’t yet cut off their limbs to earn more from begging.  So even socialists who knew full well how conservative the Labour Party could be would hold their nose and vote, and campaign for, Labour every five years.

Because of this magical optimistim, and who it was for, people who viewed themselves as working-class – often even very conservative ones – also tended to support Labour.  There were even books studying the exceptions.  Lots of revolutionary socialists who were thoroughly cynical – and not necessarily decent or optimistic – believed that it was the working-class that was going to bring about socialism and therefore voted Labour because that was the party of the working-class.  In every generation ‘modernisers’ (New Socialists, Gaitskellites, Blairites) sought to get rid of the feeling that the Labour Party should be socialist, or that it should represent the socialist instincts of the working-class.  Only with the victory of the Blairites in the 1990s did they finally succeed.

And the Blairites really thought that the working-class and the socialists would carry on voting the same old way even though they were never going to get anything out of it.  Actually, that’s being too complimentary.  They thought that the working-class and socialists had ceased to exist, and that all that mattered was what you could sell and for how much.

If any of this is news to you, go and check.  Please.  By every means at your disposal.  And then reflect on how strong the urge for socialism (or even just a taste of it) was that kept the Labour Party afloat for that century.  Until it became way beyond clear that Labour had finally and irrevocably ditched the working-class, and the socialists, who had created the party.

Eventually, in Scotland, not even thirty British unionist newspapers and a State broadcaster could cover up the stench of treachery.

The Labour vote was an expression of socialism.  Always.  But the Labour Party never understood.  And now it’s probably too late.

“3. The idea that ‘the British state is fucked’ is simplistic.”

As I showed above, Gerry’s evidence for this point lies in misquotation, the suppression of contextual information, and false association.

And nothing else.

“4. The pro-indy argument that Britain is ‘a failed state’ is wrong.”

Oh look, it’s the same point again, without even a disguise.

Only this time there is an attempt at evidence and the naming of authorities.  Maybe that’s because they are people who are better known than Hassan, as Sarah Ditum – if she isn’t already – should be.  Talking of which, her blog is here.

Anyway, back to the grindstone.

You could be forgiven for thinking from Hassan’s article that Derek Bateman is, these days, “writing off” the British state “by caricature”.  Because that’s exactly what Hassan says he does, and because the title of Bateman’s article (UK: Living Hell) makes it sound that way.

But Hassan didn’t read the same article as me.  I know this because the article that I read allowed Bateman or his editor to reach that title by cleverly  juxtaposing what he considered a “living hell” (a softplay area he’d taken some children to) with a review of a book about Scotland and the UK, which he happened to start reading while he was there.  And also because Bateman, in amongst righteous anger about the UK state’s war on the poor, economic mismanagement and right-wing English voting habits, says this:

“…McWhirter concludes that independence is inevitable. I’m not so sure but I do think Devo Max will be realised eventually…”

I wonder if Bateman was chuckling at the headline and betting on which idiot would be the first to trip over it.

Almost makes it worth taking the kids to the softplay, doesn’t it?

‘McWhirter’, as the Scots amongst you probably know, is the geezer who wrote a book called Disunited Kingdom: how Westminster won a referendum but lost Scotland.

I think Gerry Hassan has probably heard of him too.

Joking aside, I think it’s distinctly possible that this point is in fact aimed straight at the message put out by Iain McWhirter, and that Hassan’s failure to name him issues – at least in part – from fear of giving ammunition to the opposition.  Not that it’ll make much difference now.  Edinburgh Blackwells (where McWhirter was doing a signing the day I wrote this paragraph) had Disunited Kingdom listed as one of its bestsellers of the last week.  Nearly three months after its first release.

That’s just my opinion though.  Whereas Tom Devine did not say that the UK was a failed state.  What he actually said, according to the Tablet, was this:

… I think the governance of the United Kingdom is now inept, inadequate, and we are now almost in a position of a failed state as far as governance is concerned. [my, very very important, italic].

Gerry Hassan does not appear to read carefully, or beyond headlines.  Otherwise he’d have looked beyond the Herald’s headline and discovered that they too had quoted the ‘almost’ that Devine had carefully included in that Stevenson Trust lecture – although they should perhaps be taken to task for a deceptive attention-seeking headline themselves.

And  Tom Devine did not deliver that lecture in the ‘aftermath’ of the referendum, as Hassan claims.  He gave it several days before the referendum and used it to partially explain why he would be voting “Yes”, despite having started the campaign in the “No” camp.  It wasn’t a juvenile, emotive, partisan, nasty, unthinking reaction to losing, as Hassan’s piece implies, but part of the explanation of a careful – and very moral – decision-making process.  The lecture, and much time in Devine’s excessively measured interviews in the run-up to the referendum, constituted exactly the explanation Hassan querulously demands as to why ‘establishment’ figures are using this kind of language.

Neither of the people who Hassan accuses of treating Britain as a ‘failed state’ actually did so.  And nor did the guy that Hassan conspicuously didn’t get round to mentioning.  All of them (by my reading) would probably, more or less happily, agree with Gerry that the British state:

…has never been and is not today just a brutal exercise in class and economic power.

Personally, I’d differ with that perspective.  But we’ll come back to that another time.  For now, let me just reinforce the point that Gerry Hassan has – hopefully by accident – made false claims and misrepresentations as a result of reading only the headlines instead of carrying on to the smaller print underneath.

5. The notion that the British state is ‘a Serco state’ unlike Scotland has to be challenged.”

Hm.  I just can’t help thinking that the historic difference in the voting record between Wales and Scotland, and England, is important here.  The wholesale privatisation of public life and of state assets was pioneered in order to appeal to a Conservative-voting electorate.  The advent of New Labour, in turn, which continued and expanded the programme of privatisation, was designed to appeal to the same Conservative-voting electorate.

Therefore ‘Serco state’, if you meant one in which people accepted greater power for the private sector, would be a fairer assessment of Britain than it would of Scotland.

This makes it look like the Scots (just like the Welsh) would tend to favour tighter regulation, nationalisation or community ownership over significant public goods, like ferry services.

I can’t be absolutely definite on this, as the crystal ball isn’t working right now.

Maybe an independent Scotland would fail to reverse that privatisation agenda.  Or would find itself confronted with the same difficulties as every other state confronted by the realities of TTIP, and back down.

But that would be for the Scots to decide.  Whereas now, it’s indisputably not.

Then we get to some – almost – specifics.  The award of the ScotRail franchise, Serco gaining the Northern Isles’ ferry service, and ‘England debating bus re-regulation’.  These, taken together, are taken to demonstrate that the “corporatisation of public services is alive and well in Scotland”, even by contrast with England.

Hm.

i. ‘England’ has never debated anything.  It does not have any national forum to do so, and it has never had one.  As the Scots have been repeatedly reminded since the referendum.  And parliamentary discussion on English bus reregulation has excluded London (and by implication any other area, present or future, with an elected mayor with similar powers) ever since the introduction of the mayoral system. Reregulation itself, of course, is not necessarily ‘left’ in the same way as either nationalisation or democratic control might be – it can be merely another way of organising state subsidies to the private sector.

ii. Although, that doesn’t seem at first glance to be the nature of the regulation that’s inherent in the new Scotrail Franchise, with clauses on total observance of the living wage by both Abellio and its subcontractors, reduced fares for the unemployed, cycle to train networks etc etc.  The possible alternative to a new franchise that Hassan appears to be obliquely referring to  is the Labour Party’s demand that the Scottish Parliament delay awarding the franchise until the new powers promised under the ‘vow’ were delivered.  Apparently the possibility existed that the Scottish parliament would get the power to nationalise the commanding heights of the economy, and they should therefore have waited.

But of course, there’s no guarantee that the next government at St. Stephen’s Palace will actually keep the promise to pass the limited and flawed extension of powers contained in the viciously named Scotland in the United Kingdom: An Enduring Settlement.  And there is every chance that either a Conservative or Labour administration – in alliance with Unionist members of the opposition, will seek to prevent the ‘settlement’ being passed in full.  And then there is a very significant chance that the limited extra powers over transport being given would be challenged forever in the courts – especially over technicalities relating to cross-border routes.  Meantime, nobody would really know who Scottish railways were being run by, or for.  But any private companies involved in it would have clear long-term interests in creating problems that could be blamed on the Scottish Government’s indecisiveness and delay.

That’s – literally – a train crash waiting to happen.

Given First Group’s alleged capacity for sloppiness and bad management in the cause of profit maximisation, the least worst option for Holyrood was probably just to get the contract out of their hands pronto, and into somebody else’s. Ho hum.

iii.  Serco.

At last!

Gerry has a point.  Serco shouldn’t be running anything, anywhere, ever.

And they should definitely not be handed the property of publicly owned organisations.  I look forward eagerly to news of the Gerry Hassan-led campaign against Serco in Scotland.  Especially I’d love to know how they plan to take back the Northern Isles routes into public ownership without the aid of the full powers of the Parliament.

nb. Incidentally, I haven’t yet looked at Neal Acheson’s Prospect article, which Hassan claims to be ‘challenging’ over the notion that Britain is becoming a ‘Serco state’.  This is because merely looking at physical copies of Prospect, with its shallow and silly attempts to brand itself as the generalist magazine for clever people, makes me nauseous.  (Their version of ‘intelligent’, incidentally, is exactly the same as Hassan’s – an addiction to the ‘complexity’ of things and looking ‘beyond’ the obvious.  There’s a whole class of people who exist on analysing trees and ignoring forests).  And the website – which displays the same pseudo-intellectual snobbery – would like to make me use a prominent data-mining corporation to search its archives, and then charge me to read the article in question.  As if intelligent people wouldn’t question that.  But if a copy of the article should come my way by other means, and Acheson has been misrepresented in the way everybody else quoted so far has, I’ll be overjoyed to revise this section.

If he hasn’t, I’ll be even happier.

“6. Scottish Labour is not in a good place. Nor is British Labour. But neither is dead.”

Nobody said British Labour is dead.

But Scottish Labour just might be.

Hassan points to the size and importance of the voting and membership base of the Labour Party as a predictor of continued Labour influence, although admitting it’s an aging group.  He doesn’t take into account the substantial growth in political interest amongst the young that has taken place over the last two years, and the fact that this new constituency is armed with a new media – which they have created for themselves.

Everything the Scottish Labour voter knows is wrong.  And their grandchildren can prove it.

It’s only going one way from here.

“7. The notion that ‘this was as bad as it could get’ which politicians of all sides reinforced in the indyref has to be ditched.”

It’s difficult to tell what the purpose of this point is supposed to be.  The figures in it do not refer specifically to Scotland, and are therefore utterly meaningless.  Which politicians reinforced this notion?  We’re not told.  Nor are we told how they did this.  And if it was pre-existing idea they merely reinforced, then where did it come from – and why does it have such power?

To be fair, perhaps we could interpret this all as demonstrating that there’ll be no money around to construct the kind of better society that “yes” voters allegedly “projected”.  No matter whether there’s independence or not.

In other words, it’s not just the UK state that’s fucked.  Oh no.  It’s far worse than that.

It’s everything.

“8. It is a myth that Scotland is defined by egalitarianism when post-devolution politics haven’t undertaken any real redistribution to those in most need.”

Codswallop, bollocks, hogwash and nonsense.  On broken Poundland stilts.

Hassan claims that the abolition of tuition fees, free care for the elderly, free prescriptions, free bus passes and the council tax freeze have all effectively subsidised the better off.  No shit, he actually says that.  I really want to say that proving this wrong is beneath me and just leave it there.  But I don’t think this man has any idea how the poor live, or he’s forgotten.  Here’s some reminders.

i.  Tuition fees.  The most debt averse people tend to be the poorest people.  Sad but true.  This isn’t just because they’re more sensible than everyone else, but because they can’t get credit.  A lifetime of this makes you ‘debt averse’. When tuition fees are charged, then if the student’s parents won’t stand as sponsor for their future student debt, they don’t get to go to university.  This applies, incidentally, to mature students also.  The children of the very poorest therefore, even when they have no contact with their family, are held back by the poverty of their parents.

And the Student Loan Company and its hired bailiffs have no compunction at all in chasing up repayments from people who didn’t fill in the deferment forms because they were living on the fucking streets when the form went out to their previous address.

In Scotland now, bright kids from poor families can go to university.  Without ever asking parental permission or living in fear of the debt collectors.  And they can treat it as a right, not a privilege.  Just like all those ‘Spirit of 45’ lefties like to shout about.

So – who thinks this is bad?  Well, Vince Cable and Craig Mahoney.  Vince Cable is the UK government minister responsible for defending massive tuition fees in England (and is also, amusingly, a member of the Demos Advisory Council).  Craig Mahoney is the Principal of University of the West of Scotland – where Gerry works.  Craig claims to be worried about ‘speaking out’ against the SNP, despite happily talking to the Daily Telegraph.  Perhaps his skills as an administrator are better than his command of elementary logic.  I hope so, for the sake of the students.  Incidentally, the Student Union at the University of the West of Scotland supports the abolition of tuition fees.

ii.  Free care for the elderly.  Sadly, rich people live longer than poorer people, so the rich get to make some savings here.  But giving free care as a right means that the poor are not forced to plead for alms before the Poor Law guardians and enter the workhouse in their dotage.

That sounds like a pretty good deal to me, or as good as it’s gonna get under the current circumstances. Of course, in an independent nation there’d be a chance to even this up by a massive inheritance tax.  If you’d like that, Gerry, try voting ‘Yes’ next time around.  And then doing some ‘projecting’ instead of carping.

iii.  Free prescriptions.  Could someone please explain to me how this benefits the wealthy more than the poor? Because I can’t even begin to grasp it.  I have put my head in my hands.  I’ve banged it on the table. I’ve rung up a surgery and asked a receptionist.  I’ve gone to the shop and bought fags, seeking the inspiration of the minor stimulant quality of nicotine.  I meditated on the possibility that the couple of relatively wealthy people I actually know are secretly making multiple appointments under false names and selling their painkillers for vast profits on the dark web.  Nothing seems to come.

Nothing.

Except the memory of one time, years before the Welsh Assembly existed, when I got ill and had to choose between medicine and food.

Naturally, I chose medicine.

And then I went shoplifting.

iv.  Free bus passes.  I know well how it feels to sit in a bus full of wealthy pensioners on a shopping trip subsidised by everybody of working age (including their younger selves), and spending their entire journey moaning about the young and the poor.  It’s heartbreaking to realise this silliness is necessary in order to enable one poorer one to go and buy and weeks’ groceries, visit her children, or go to the surgery.

At least, without the humiliation of showing a benefit card at every turn.

A steeply progressive tax on wealth or property (or both) would sort out the inequity there.  But the Scottish Parliament doesn’t, absent independence, have the power to institute that.  With some interesting exceptions.  Talking of which…

v.  Council tax freeze.  The Council Tax is a thinly-disguised successor to the Poll Tax.  It will never be fair, because it is a tax on residence rather than a tax on ownership.  There will also, because things go wrong with all bureaucracies, always be occasions when unemployed people do not get the full (100%) discount on the Council Tax that they should – if a form is not filled in, or gets lost, or the unemployed person gets sanctioned on a short-term basis, or because they’ve signed off in order to claim Working Tax Credits without doing the calculations right, or a Council Officer feels like going home early.

That’s why many of us still call it, for the purpose of simplicity and clear condemnation, the Poll Tax.

The best you could do, without the power to create a root and branch reform of the tax system, would be to freeze it, so that tenants were consequently being taxed relatively less than owners – even though you would then be forced to come up with new funding for the councils depending on that money. If you were being imaginative, you could make modifications to the law to result in some Council Tax coming in from owners as well as tenants.  Like taxing empty properties on a punitive basis.  Although you’d expect Tories and business groups to complain vociferously about that.  Along with those antediluvian “New” Labour types who were concerned with appealing to business groups instead of to the working-class.

Oh look.

Oh look.

vi.  Talking of the Poll Tax.  Does anyone with even a passing interest in Scottish politics not remember this?  This radio intervention features Alex Salmond, whilst still SNP leader, utterly destroying a Labour politician who had been seeking to hound debtors out of their right to vote.  And Alex Salmond was stating Scottish Government policy in that phone in. Did Gerry Hassan really forget about this when he claimed that the Scottish Government had done nothing at all for the poorest?  If so, as a Scottish political commentator, he surely stands convicted of sheer incompetence.  If not, of dishonesty.

Gerry doesn’t believe in binary oppositions, mind.  It could be both.

“9. Salmondnomics is dead and discredited along with the Laffer lefties insisting an independent Scotland has to cut corporation tax.”

Alex.  Salmond.  Is.  Not.  The.  S. N. P.  Leader.  Any.  More.

And the SNP – appearances to the contrary in Gerry Hassan’s work – would be unlikely to form a permanent majority in a post-independence Scotland.  But having a whole lot of oil and some politicians who can actually add up surely couldn’t add up to a handicap for a small country.

That said, there’s a note of triumphalism in Gerry looking at the dropping price of crude and turning this into the death of “Salmondnomics”.  He doesn’t go further into it.  Possibly because that price won’t carry on falling forever – indeed, it’s now rising sharply again.

Or possibly because it would uncover an unseemly reliance on explicitly and unambiguously anti-independence arguments.  Like the one presented here – where, despite the third-hand analysis (borrowing the Financial Times‘ conclusions about figures from the UK Office of Budget Responsibility) the argument is far sharper than Gerry’s.  This is because it explicitly takes a side.  Of course, he doesn’t note that the argument depends on the Torynomic / Gerrynomic / ScotlandOnSundaynomic (hey, look Gerry, everyone else can do that trick too) fallacy that no country anywhere ever can legitimately run a budget deficit.

Funny thing is, the UK does.  And has done for hundreds of years.  And will do for the whole of the time it continues to exist.  And – like most every other capitalist country in the Twentieth Century – it successfully used public debt as a positive tool to keep the economy relatively stable in the period of its greatest equality and prosperity.  From 1945 to 1976, roughly.  If you think those dates are familiar, scroll back up.

Corporation tax.  Now there’s a point.  Imagine a corporation tax (albeit possibly a reduced one) which was actually collected rather than simply written off by a UK government in the pockets of the corporations. That would be a refreshing change.  It might even add up to an increase.

This is the only point where Hassan talks about economic policy.  Possibly understandably, given that the current UK government is continuing to engage in an orgy of destructive and undervalued privatisation in the pretence that it’ll get us ‘out of debt’.

Remember the Royal Mail?  Thanks to Vince Cable’s privatisation, your grandchildren won’t.

10. A second independence referendum and independence are more likely than they have ever been but they are not inevitable.”

This is the heading where Hassan puts forward the ideas the British state could use to stop Scottish independence.  And acts that he’s just looking at what’s going to happen anyway.

He does this first by laying out a liberal, democratic, strategy for keeping the UK together, although he frames it as what British ‘political elites’ might do:

“constitutionally reforming the UK, tackling the English question by democratic reforms beyond English votes for English laws, and rebalancing economic, social and political power away from London and the South East.”

He doesn’t think this is going to happen.  So then he lays out the illiberal, anti-democratic, strategy:

The UK government could determine some of the context of the discussion by, for example, passing a law stipulating the need for a super-majority in constitutional referendums.

He suggests this would be ‘perceived’ as a “new 40% rule”.   He’s right.  Because that is exactly what it would be.

Although the 1979 referendum was a long time ago, and memories are short.  More likely, it would be seen as another “Boris Law”.  Not heard of the Boris Law? That’s because it isn’t law yet.  It’s an idea Boris Johnson has for union ballots, in which over 50% of the total membership would have to vote for strike action.  Just like the old  40% rule then, but more so.

I invite the reader to speculate on the result of a future UK government simultaneously denying the legitimacy of both a major strike ballot and a referendum on Scottish independence.  To take it a little further, I invite the reader to consider the consequences if the UK state started playing with moving the numbers upwards every time it looked like losing.

 “11. The mantra that ‘political change is easy’ has to be challenged.”

Personally, I think the compulsive use of the word ‘challenge’ ought to be challenged.  It’s all over every reality tv show, sports interview, c.v. and social science paper.  Ideas get ‘challenged’.  Behaviour is ‘challenging’.  Athletes, corporate strategists who enter tv sewing competitions, and people desperately begging for shite jobs all claim to love a ‘challenge’.

It’s about time we started saying how nice it would be if things were easy.  Even political change.

Sadly, I failed to find an instance of this alleged mantra actually being used.  It looks to me like yet another instance of Hassan accusing others of an easily-ridiculed political position, and then ridiculing it.  Even if it was used, I would like to be sure that the context the statement was uttered in didn’t essentially change the overall meaning.  In the way that it might if somebody said “Nobody ever said that political change is easy”.

But, once again, let’s take this head on.  Hassan follows up the heading by claiming that the changes of 1945 and 1979 demonstrate that political change is not easy.  Apparently, “they show the opposite”.

No, they don’t.  They don’t show either thing.

That would be Gerry indulging in false binary oppositions. They show (pause for drum roll leading to comic anticlimax) … something completely different.

The transformation after 1945 showed that the left is capable of enacting popular and lasting social change, even in the hardest of times.  Perhaps especially in the hardest of times.  Gerry was forgetting the establishment of NHS when he said “it never ends well”.  No Gerry, you’re wrong.  Sometimes a decent person goes into politics with deep and righteous and viciously stated socialist beliefs and simplistic rhetoric and ends up founding a fucking national health service.

Whilst the transformation after 1979 showed that to change society the right needed the assistance of a pet mass media, a war, and a whole lot of people within the Labour Party and trade unions whose prime aim was to make sure that there were no more left-wing transformations like the one in 1945. Or institutions, like a Scottish Parliament, that might end up being responsible for such transformations. One of those people was George Cunningham – author of the 40% rule and later, briefly, an SDP MP. Another was Vince Cable, who joined the SDP in 1982, and who, by his candidacy in York a year later, helped the Tories gain that seat for the first time since 1964.

nb. Cementing those right-wing changes after 1979, was the rise of think-tanks in the Thatcher and New Labour eras. The new politics was increasingly corporate, managerialist and dominated by image over substance.  And the think-tanks, even those allegedly on the “centre-left”, tended to exacerbate this.  Fortunately, in the Scottish case, think-tanks had a far harder time getting to grips with the political establishment.

At least, that is, according to this 2008 article by ‘Gerry Hassan’.  Wonder if it’s the same bloke?

“12. Never underestimate the forces of conservatism and the entrenched nature of the many faces of establishment Scotland.”

The critical foundational belief of New Labour was admiration for the alleged might of the Right, and a constant intellectual trembling before it.

Despite having won an election solely by not being Tories, the Labour Party set out to outTory everybody. The scraps they threw the way of their own supporters were given grudgingly and along with kicks, whilst a media army worked on how to do nothing in the most reactionary, mean-spirited and micro-managerial way possible.  Until there was a chance to launch an actual army out to do less than nothing in an even more reactionary, mean-spirited, murderous and barbaric way.  After thirteen years they left some inadequately devolved adminstrations, a pitifully low minimum wage, and some stupid wars.

That’s probably not the way you’d want to go if you were seeking a radical future for Scotland.

Instead, you’d be seeking to define the changes you wished to make, and to work out the moves that would enable you to actually achieve them.

It isn’t necessary to take on the whole of establishment Scotland at once in order to make every single change.  It can be done one moratorium, one protest, one landowner, one election, one tax procedure, one bus company, one thinktank, one debate and one overblown ex-radical intellectual at a time.  Every member of the ‘establishment’ somewhere is at odds with one of the others, or with the laws, or with the people they need support from most to maintain their position. And radical Scotland – inside and outside the SNP – is quite capable of working out how.  In both microscopic and kaleidoscopic detail.

More power to them.

The gravest danger now is not acting too confidently, too much or too soon.  It is in being scared, pulling punches and letting the establishment – whether the Scottish or British establishment – get off the ropes.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: