The counter-revolution in the un-United Kingdom

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By Thom Cross

There is a counter-revolution taking place in this un-United Kingdom.  We are experiencing, “uninterrupted disturbances of all our social conditions … everlasting uncertainty … agitation … all fixed fast frozen relations are swept away … all that is solid melts into air … all that is unholy is profaned and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life.”  

This is of course old man Marx, describing an earlier bourgeois revolution.  What is particularly significant about the current revolution is that in the overthrow of the post-war consensus, the neo-conservative right has been able to co-opt the Liberal Democrats as allies in this anti-popular agenda.

Even more disturbing is the role of the Labour party, whose Ed Balls was the deficit’s draughtsman.  The Conservative coalition is broadly implementing Labour policies.  The only distinguishing feature is that Labour would inflict the cutting-pain more gradually, over a longer period.  Let us be quite clear, Labour no longer seeks to challenge entrenched power and privilege.

Labourism is no longer capable or willing to deliver social change or to seek the redistribution of wealth.  The people are on the streets creating their own anti-capitalist politics.

New Labour, and Ed Miliband and Ed Balls were at the heart of that economic paradigm, has abandoned any attempt to reform capitalism, tackle alienation or formulate any form of genuine egalitarian politics.  In Scotland they promoted a corporate imperialism that saw Scottish capital and Scottish enterprise shrivel while alienation increased.  

Alienation is currently the dominant mode of political response.  Let Jimmy Reid remind us of that debilitating political phenomenon.

“Let me right at the outset define what I mean by alienation.  It is the cry of men who feel themselves the victims of blind economic forces beyond their control.  It’s the frustration of ordinary people excluded from the processes of decision making.  The feeling of despair and hopelessness that pervades people who feel with justification that they have no real say in shaping or determining their own destinies.”

This current scenario, I suggest, can best be described as the departing spirit of British social democracy.  What we are seeing is a mild modification, mostly of timelines, distinguishing the Cameron-Osborne-Clegg thesis from that of Miliband and Balls.  Indeed, Cameron is essentially a Blairite moderniser indicating a universal realignment of political policy and principles towards the centre right across all three UK parties.

The opportunist policy of Labour, wooing the right of centre-right, is seen as vital to the party.  This is particularly so in southern England, where outside of London, Labour has just 12 seats out of 212 southern constituencies.  It is in the face of this south-of-Birmingham political imperative that Unionist Scottish Labour has to tailor its policies, even if it means abandoning social democracy.

What does this mean to Scotland and the Scottish political process going forward?

I wish to argue that Scotland under the 1999 devolved administration constitution is a near perfect example of the semi-colonial (crown-colony, self-Government) state, attempting under the SNP to advance the constitutional process towards a proto nationalism. 

Social-democrat Scotland, in this limbo-state of pause, of neo-colonial reality, will suffer greatly under the neo-conservative thrust of all three main Westminster parties.  The vital process required for the effective development of Scotland in this 21st century is best described as rapid constitutional decolonisation.

This political imperative will have to be taken up in some form under the new Labour leadership in Scotland.  A Westminster (read Conservative) dominated economic strategy, which Calman acknowledges as dominant and retains within his options, cannot and will not satisfy the demands of a Scottish electorate who have with tenacious consistency rejected Conservative blandishments.  If the Tories retain power until 2015 then we will have had a Conservative government in Scotland for 23 years out of 36.  And Scotland constantly shouted nae!

What is required is the dismantling of this Westminster-British state through a progressive transformation, instigated by a programme of greater national political consciousness in Scotland.  Already there is a popular national culture, quite autonomous in certain sectors, alongside a demonstrable Scottish identity, a kind of ‘epistemic sovereignty’.

But for all that and all of that, it is not enough.  The idea of a Scotland as a sovereign state, albeit in a globalised world, needs more than the idea of a virtual Scotland.  Certainly, indigenous ideas are essential as foundational steps in the decolonisation process but we have been there for 70 years, some may say centuries.  We have over time drawn heavily on our artists, writers and intellectuals to create a collective national consciousness but now it has to become political action.

I for one have come to the conclusion that post-war Scottish Labourism has failed to understand that popular social consciousness has embedded in it a political nationalism.  Popular national conscientisation (Freire) that empowers people has never been realised or released by Labour.  Scottish Labour will decline and atrophy like the Conservatives unless it breaks from its Unionist strategy.

The Scottish Labour Party cannot offer Scottish people any option that does not rely on it being thirled to London Labour.  Partly, it is London’s dependency on the Scottish 50 plus seats; in turn London funds Scottish Labour.

The Scottish Labour party has three strikes against it.  It is not Scottish enough.  It can’t be; it is a Unionist party and has accepted New Labour dictates as any colonial administration does.  It is not Labour enough; following the policy imperatives of its parent party it has no choice but to go along with policies predicated on winning southern England.  It has also failed as a party. There is little genuine party activity or popular activism on the ground.  Even the anti-cuts movement, union led, has no Labour party support.

Across Scotland, especially in my neck of the woods in Lanarkshire, the desperate poor have been conditioned to give their votes to Labour, as others light a candle, in the desperate hope of personal salvation.  Yet the all too familiar ‘have-nots’ are governed by the Tory ‘haves’ under what can only be described as a modern imperialism. 

Persistent poverty and underdevelopment is the future for Scotland under the hegemony of Westminster power.  Devolution has attempted to alter the relations within the culture of politics.  By its very enfeebled nature, Holyrood was born to be self-inhibiting, shorn of autonomous history-making powers.

The idea of an autonomous Scotland urgently needs realisation through a pro-nationalist political programme, and that is the SNP.  It is the only way forward for a social-democrat Scotland.  National autonomy or independence can no longer rely on the idea of a national economy.  

Yet, in what is becoming a highly plural-polar global economy, Scotland has the opportunity and the ability to negotiate its own future through effective bi-lateral arrangements.

It is surely time that the great swathes of the non-active, voiceless social-forces that are dormant across Scotland, especially those who will feel the pain of the cuts, discover their destiny and seek a popular national sovereignty through independence.  

Let’s win the referendum and move on.  Scotland is pregnant with liberty and awaits deliverance.