The true nature of the political upheaval in Scotland

Tom Gallagher’s recent column (and follow up comments) casts a non-starry-eyed gaze over the seemingly natural procession of the SNP at the moment towards a second term in the Scottish Parliament.

For Tom, there are some crucial factors. Salmond’s undoubted sure-touch as a populist Scottish politician; a commentariat and editorial cadre, strategically placed in the Scottish media, that insistently beats the SNP’s drum; and a list of policy prescriptions aimed at “defending” the Scottish people against the worst of Tory cuts, however well- or ill-founded (or funded).

I actually like Tom’s general dyspepsia about Scottish nationalism – it’s a useful negativity. But I think he’s missing where the transformative action might be at this Scottish election.

To start with, it seems slightly churlish of Tom to reduce Salmond’s impact to the “first personality cult in Scottish political history”. Every other day I walk past a statue of Donald Dewar, first First Minister in the Scottish Parliament, in the heart of Glasgow’s Buchanan Street – Scottish Labour’s “Father of the Nation”, immortalized in bronze. More than a mild attack of cultishness there.

And other than perhaps Obama in his 2008 run-up, or Lula-ismo and its variants in Latin America, where are the recent politicians who are able to combine sound-bite mastery while resonating authentically with their constituency? Salmond is operating within the narrow range of devolutionary politics, and plays that three-octave plastic keyboard particularly well.

But in terms of geopolitics, doesn’t Tom think that there’s a much more ambitious Salmond waiting to emerge, as the possibility of independence gets closer? Identifying his range of international stances and pitches as mere exercises in “headline gathering” is, again, just a bit too grumpy. Doesn’t the idea of a nukes-free, pro-UN-aligned, sustainable-energy championing, disapora-and-immigration friendly Scotland excite him just a little? And who would you want to be taking that forward?

I might agree with Tom that there is a shared “managerialism” about the general SNP/Labour pitch – Gerry Hassan has been articulate about identifying the smug complacency of “governing” Scotland, in professions, business and civil society. But there’s more to this election than the SNP/Labour tussle for institutional hegemony.

The most recent IPSOS Mori poll held out the tantalising prospect of a slight majority of seats in the Parliament (between the SNP and the independence-supporting Greens) for a multi-option “Independence Referendum”. Everybody’s benefitting from the meltdown in the Coalition-tainted Lib Dem support in Scotland – but if one of the main beneficiaries is the Scottish Greens, then it all gets very interesting.

At the very least, Green politics is militant about community empowerment – their very critique of the growth-based development model of current capitalism, and its environmental costs, leads them to a “small-is-beautiful” approach which pretty much dominatesthe current manifesto. There’s no doubt that Salmond and the SNP’s successful attempts to build up a concertation of patriotic interests – to “take Scotland’s side” more than “take sides in Scotland” – has led to some uncomfortable corporate bedfellows: the campaign money from transport tycoon (and Christian fundamentalist) Brian Souter, the endorsement from Murdoch’s Sun newspaper.

Many of us have been happy that the proportionality in the Scottish electoral system has always allowed for left-green parties to have their voice in Holyrood – practising some degree of policy leverage, and sometimes “peebling them wi’ stanes” from inside Miralles’ beautiful building.

But the tantalising opportunity opening up at this election is a SNP-Green majority which could completely evade the current political calculus of Westminster. The Greens could provide a necessary progressive and community-oriented input to an SNP model of “green prosperity”, ensuring that the “reindustrialisation of Scotland” does not become the thoughtless “return-to-hyper-consumerism of Scotland”.

If pro-independence parties are in a majority at Holyrood, it means that a referendum will be much more likely – probably towards the end of the term. But the cultural reality of that will mean a futuristic conversation about Scottish progress – not just the sustainability of our energy supply, but the basic definitions and norms of a flourishing Scottish lifestyle – which could be world-leading in its implications. Think Baden-Wurttemberg meets Catalonia.

Tom has every right to grump and carp about the conventional nature of the SNP as a political force – his Fianna Fail caution is well-taken. But he seems to be deaf to the real upheaval that may be about to happen across Scottish politics, and by implication the whole of the UK.

Pat Kane is a musician, writer, theorist and activist. Read Thoughtland, his ideas blog on Scottish affairs.

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  • ItwasSammyMcNally

    Pat,

    re. “But in terms of geopolitics, doesn’t Tom think that there’s a much more ambitious Salmond waiting to emerge, as the possibility of independence gets closer?”

    Salmond’s 3-octavery is surely deliberate, Scottish integration with the British state has very deep roots and as all the opinion polls shows unlikely to be swayed by talk of a new Sctoland the Brave. Salmond may well get a majoirty in Parliament in favour of independence but get nothing like that if he went to the people – a scenario also possible in Ulster in 20 years.

    Alex, I’m afraid to say, needs will need to stick with the plastic keyboard for some time, it’s a pleasant tune and it does lead the Scottish people slowly, but surely in the right direction and personally speaking as a massive fan of the boul Alex I think he’s called it about right.

  • Henry94

    Nationalist electoral majorities but still unionists constitutional majorities are a possible future for NI and Scotland. The message to England would be we reject you but intend to still take your money.

    If that doesn’t create an English nationalist backlash I’d be very surprised.

  • Cynic2

    When has NI had a nationalist electoral majority?

    Keep dreaming.

    And dont equate a vote for the SDLP in a NI election as a vote for a republic. Electors aren’t as stupid as those who want to label; them in one camp or the other

  • Cynic2

    As for Scottish politics, what about the Gorbals Mick dynasty and many others?

  • ItwasSammyMcNally

    Cynic2,

    “Salmond may well get a majoirty in Parliament in favour of independence but get nothing like that if he went to the people – a scenario also possible in Ulster in 20 years.

    FYI: The SDLP are in favour of a United Ireland.

  • IJP

    The SDLP are in favour of a United Ireland.

    Indeed, but they have no serious plan for one.

    Given the DUP’s regionalist stance (well backed by the electorate) also, it could be argued that Henry94‘s idea is already being played out.

    What he writes is certainly how I see the position across the UK 20 years from now, insofar as such predictions are feasible. That Unionists and Nationalists choose to ignore it as the likely uncomfortable reality does not make it any less likely.

  • Kadfoomsa

    Any SDLP members / supporters like to comment on the accusions leveled here?

  • Charminator

    The SDLP know as much about a united Ireland, as Gerry Adams does about economics.

    To describe what has become a party of self-interested careerists (far, far removed from the aspirations of Hume) as being in favour of a republic is pure self-delusion. They haven’t a clue what a republic would mean. They decribe British Labour as the Labour Party, and the Labour Party in the south as Irish Labour. They’re as comfortable with “NI” and lingo as is the likes of Jim Allister QC QC QC. If you can’t get the basics right, how the hell are you supposed to craft a more articulate republican vision. Never mind the lack of any coherent principles or values upon which the party is now based (eg Patsy “up FF” McGlone, Declan “single Nationalist Party in the North will do alright” O’Loan, Conall “champagne Socialist extraordinaire” McDevitt”, and the many disparite mentally infirm SDLP councillors in favour of a UUP alliance). A ragtag collection of self-promoters and double-jobbers.

  • Cynic2

    “The SDLP are in favour of a United Ireland!

    Holy shit! But read the post. We electors are funny beings. On occasions, as a Unionist, I have voted for the SDLP Candidates as a 1 or 2 because I knew and trusted them and knew that there was bugger all chance of any vote affecting the border issue. Time and time again polls show that many Catholics will vote to stay in the UK in a referendum . I am unaware of their allegiance in local elections but might bet that a fair few of them would vote SDLP or Alliance.

    The point is that we are complex buggers who make intelligent choices. Many of us aren’t the electoral sheep that SF and the DUPs just want to herd into their own pens.

  • Nationalist electoral majorities but still unionists constitutional majorities are a possible future for NI and Scotland.

    Just to put my Mr Pedant hat on… unless the SNP score 51% of the votes cast (very, very unlikely ever) then there is no constitutional or electoral majority for Scotland separating.

    In NI, yep, it’s feasible and it wouldn’t do the Unionist parties any harm to ponder on that possibility.

  • You also have to factor in the Scottish Greens who support indepencence. Some of the latest polls show the SNP plus Greens on around 47 per cent of the list vote. That’s extraordinary when you consider their up against the three main Westminster parties. On some of the projections they could have an overall majority between them that would allow them to pass a referendum bill.

  • “Given the DUP’s regionalist stance (well backed by the electorate) also, it could be argued that Henry94‘s idea is already being played out.”

    I think this is true, and we are already seeing signs of the English response. One of the aspects of the “Blue Labour” debate is that the Labour Party is engaging with English nationalism seriously for the first time.

  • Dewi

    “You also have to factor in the Scottish Greens who support indepencence. Some of the latest polls show the SNP plus Greens on around 47 per cent of the list vote.”

    +Margo, + Scottish Socialist Party and you ain’t far off…

  • Dewi

    Pat Kane from Hue and Cry btw?

  • Dewi

    “Everybody’s benefitting from the meltdown in the Coalition-tainted Lib Dem support in Scotland ”

    That was the story til last week I think – the move from Labour to the SNP is the real story now. For a contrast the PNV scored 38.56% in the latest Basque election..

  • Tom Griffin and Dewi,

    Point taken about the Greens, SSP(hmm;)) and Margo, still I will be very surprised indeed if the votes for Labour, Conservatives, LD combined drops below 50%.

    One of the aspects of the “Blue Labour” debate is that the Labour Party is engaging with English nationalism seriously for the first time.

    There are rumblings within the “English” Conservatives as well, the private members’ bill “Territorial Rights (extension)” Bill is only one sympton of the shifting ground.

  • lover not a fighter

    If the English part of the Union ever gets a little low on sterling this Union thing is shot.

    How much could the English save from this Union thingy. Would it be enough for free prescription charges ? and free tuition fees for their students ?

  • Michael Gillespie

    Federal Unionism-Early Sinn Fein

    In Pat Kane’s article he acknowledges the rise of the S.N.P. in Scotland and with that the rise of the issue of independence for Scotland. But what is the word independence supposed to mean? Alex Salmond and the S.N.P. are coy about this. Independence for Scotland or Ireland has two distinct meanings. In which of the two meanings will Scotland be constituted?

    First meaning— Scotland constituted as a Republic in which the U.K. constitution is abolished and the Crown as head of state removed. If Alex Salmond and the S.N.P. were to put that constitution squarely to the people of Scotland and state openly that the S.N.P. envisaged a Republic of Scotland with a president and with Balmoral sold off a referendum on that basis wouldn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of succeeding because the appeal of the Crown is too attractive. I have relatives who live in Donegal and Leitrim in the Republic and they were ecstatic about the Royal wedding. By the same token if Martin Maginess and Gerry Adams were to put a referendum to the people in N. Ireland that the U.K. constitution were to be brought to an end and with it the Crown and Hillsborough Castle to be disposed of such a referendum would be defeated in both communities.

    Second meaning—Scotland constituted as an independent nation under the Crown. This option is Constitutional Nationalism. Constituted thus Scotland would become an independent sovereign nation under the Crown similar to Australia and Canada. If that constitution were put to the people of Scotland with Balmoral retained as the Royal residence in the Scottish Constitution Act similar to the Australia Act and the (Canadian) Constitution Act such a referendum would stand a good chance of succeeding in Scotland. Similarly if a referendum for a united Ireland in the National Government of Ireland Act, Ireland being like Australia and Canada with the Crown as Head of State, such a referendum could very well succeed and unite the country.

    Alex Salmond and the S.N.P. should come clean as to what exactly the word independence is supposed to mean. Is the S.N.P. constitutional nationalist or Republican? In the comments to Pat Kane’s article there is the forlorn Republican hope that the U.K. constitution and with it the Crown will eventually go away and by some political sleight of hand a republic will arrive. This hypermetropia blurs the vision of Sinn Fein brain-washed with Republicanism as they gull the gullible with idle chit-chat about a United Ireland as a Republic. The evidence is that U.K. constitution and the Crown are here to stay for the foreseeable future.

    There is more on this theme at http://www.authorhouse.co.uk by typing my name into the search engine.

    Michael Gillespie Federal Unionist-Early Sinn Fein