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Scotland’s No Vote: the end, or the end of the beginning?

Nick Davies

‘Settled for a generation’ was the  confident, reassured assertion of the metropolitan commentariat after Scotland’s referendum resulted in a bigger than expected margin of defeat for independence. An independent Scotland may be off the agenda in the immediate term but we should remember  Zhou En-lai’s famous remark about the  effects of the French revolution: ‘too early to tell’.  The Scottish referendum campaign and the vote itself may in time be seen as a  fizzing, sparkling firework,  momentarily illuminating the United Kingdom’s gloomy, sterile political landscape, only to fizzle out,  or as the catalyst for a process of fundamental change to that  political entity. Time, and whether the opportunities for change presented by the campaign are taken or lost, will tell.

The campaign itself was fantastic: a brilliant burst of creative democratic energy in which the people of Scotland engaged with the issues and discussed animatedly the society and country they wanted to  for themselves and their fellow citizens. This was what democracy looks like when the decisions people make actually have consequences, when there is a choice, and when it is energised by the presence of 16 and 17 year olds. The politicians and journalists in the Westminster bubble, initially  irritated by what they saw as background noise while they got on with the serious business of politics, ended up scared to death. Politics, in the post Thatcher-Blair era wasn’t meant to be like this.  Credit goes not only to the Scottish National Party for the tone and content of the campaign  but to the Scottish left, such as Radical Independence and the Scottish peace and anti-nuclear movement. With most of the  Scottish-based media, let alone the blatantly  biased and increasingly bewildered London media,  against independence, the breach was filled by social media and blog-sites such as Bella Caledonia. Whatever the merits of the case for independence, the Yes supporters won the campaign even if they did not win the vote. Theirs’ were  the ideas and the vision of what Scotland could look like. Theirs’ were the  alternatives to  the  race-to-the-bottom, free market dystopia imposed by Westminster.

In response, the No campaign was Project Fear: what would  be the  currency and who would control it? Would the new state automatically gain  EU membership or would it have to apply? Wouldn’t that take years? Look what happened to Ireland, and Iceland? Would people in Scotland still be able to listen to the Archers? A drip-drip series of announcements and  leaks by banks and multinationals raised the prospect of  capital flight, price rises and a currency collapse. This was not a serious attempt to challenge the SNP’s economic  perspectives, not all of which would withstand  proper scrutiny, or a serious contribution to the national debate, but a purely negative: ‘Well, you haven’t thought of that, now  have you’, in order to try to close down discussion. ‘Vote No, it’s not worth the risk’ was the message, but, on surveying the, unequal, over-centralised political set-up that is the UK, one can legitimately reply, ‘the risk of what, exactly’?

The campaign and its aftermath poses problems for both the large Westminster parties. Cameron allowed a referendum without a devo-max option on the ballot paper, clearly assuming  that the result would be No. Some political conspiracy theorists say that  Cameron was happy to cast Scotland adrift. Tory rule in a rump UK would be assured without Scotland, with its one Tory MP, but this underestimates the prominence of unionism, or UK nationalism in Tory ideology. As the campaign reached its end and the No poll lead narrowed there was a palpable sense of panic in the UK ruling apparatus: would Cameron be the Tory leader who ‘lost’ Scotland? What would happen to Trident missiles? Might these weapons of mass destruction have to be housed nearer to London? Would the house of Windsor require  passports to visit the  vast tracts of the Highlands they use as a personal playground? The reaction was a commitment, ‘The Vow’, made largely on the hoof with Miliband and Clegg, for increased devolution. Faced with a backlash by Tory MPs against a promise of increased spending for Scotland, Cameron has since attempted to re-invent or re-interpret, for the sake of party advantage, the commitment to deeper devolution into a commitment to  restrict voting on England-only issues to English MPs, thus satisfying the bloodlust of the English nationalists of the Tories and, importantly, UKIP and threatening to sabotage a future Labour government  dependent on the votes in parliament of Scottish MPs. ‘The Vow’ was starting to unravel  by the weekend following the vote with the  Liberal Democrats and Labour both scenting a Tory trap.

Labour’s problems are probably deeper.  Its alignment to the unionist-nationalist, union-flag waving, Better Together campaign against independence, on top of its embrace of free-market neo-liberalism in the Blair-Brown years meant that Labour was never able to challenge  the SNP from the left. Terrified by the  movement of Labour voters into the Yes camp but, like every Tory leader  since Thatcher, despised in Scotland, Cameron was obliged to turn to Gordon Brown to  fight the unionist corner, and Brown duly obliged, his ‘barnstorming’ speech invoking a unionist past more than a  socialist future.

The SNP’s political tightrope walk  combining lower corporation tax with much of the  agenda which Labour should have made its own has left Scottish Labour  little more than a   defensive, unionist, Blairite husk, unable to understand the country it is in. The referendum campaign did little to rescue its image. A look at a map of the  Yes vote should bring the Labour leadership out in a cold sweat:  Glasgow, Dundee, North Lanarkshire.  These have been Labour strongholds for decades but, faced with New Labour’s complicity with the Tories in de-industrialisation and the destruction of  public services, the voters there saw the Yes vote as a means of escape; they need never live under a Tory government again. Of course, despite the panicky, last minute insertions into the No campaign of references to ‘social justice’ they took that chance, and why should they not?

Labour’s  response was merely to assert that a No vote corresponded with Labour’s ‘values’ and  to snipe  against ‘nationalism’. British nationalism, however, appears not to trouble these people; what kind of country do they think the UK is?  Extraordinarily, No campaigners also accused their opponents of ‘tribalism’. This is in a country where politics is still besmirched by  sectarianism; Orange lodges were marching in support of a No vote and the day after the vote, Unionist thugs attacked  Yes voters in Glasgow’s George Square. This was the ugly, snarling face of the British nationalism the No voters never mention.  It makes a nonsense of the accusations of ‘intimidation’ by ‘Yes’  supporters. Politics is ‘ugly’ when politicians ruin lives, not when the argument becomes raucous.  Of course many No voters are not sectarians and have a genuine loathing of Orangeism. However, to  rail against SNP’s ‘nationalism’ without acknowledging  the malign influence of  this form of British nationalism is at best hypocritical and at worst an apology for sectarianism. In the case of the  ‘Labour door steppers’ bussed north to support the No vote, they simply don’t know what they are talking about.

It is depressing that it has to be repeated, but this island contains three countries, England, Scotland and Wales which for several hundred years have been bound together, at different times, by conquest, war, empire, Protestantism, common law, the industrial revolution and the welfare state; when the importance of all of these is diminished, all that remains is geography and a common language.  Crucial in the development of the Scottish independence movement was been the Tories’ destruction of Scotland’s industrial base: coal, shipbuilding and steel, the use of a Scottish natural resource, North Sea oil, to featherbed the British economy through two recessions, the use of Scotland as the test bed for the hated poll tax and then finally, the refusal of New Labour to break from what were, fundamentally, Tory policies.  The people of Scotland were told firstly ‘You voted Labour but you got the Tories’ and then ‘It doesn’t matter which of the Westminster parties you vote for, nothing’s going to change’.  In this context the Yes vote in former Labour heartlands makes far more sense than Labour No supporters’ charge that the independence debate is somehow a distraction from ‘class’ politics.

Socialists  defend the right of a nation to self-determination. That is not the same, necessarily,  as advocating separation. However, in the case of Scotland, the  campaign for independence does not simply amount to a desire to exercise the right to re-establish Scotland as an independent state but a reaction not only against the inequality and centralisation  which has increased  dramatically over the last thirty  years,  as well as the sclerotic, pre-modern body politic exemplified by the House of Lords and the bizarre electoral system. It is a sign that on the island of Britain, there can be a different kind of society.

So what about Wales? Welsh Labour’s leadership  unsurprisingly supported a No vote, with Plaid  giving support and solidarity to the Yes campaign. Opinion polls revealed an opposition in Wales to Scottish independence, primarily, presumably, because of  fears that in a rump UK Wales would not be so much as dominated as smothered by England, doomed to an eternity of English Tory governments.

It is difficult to see anything positive for Wales in the post referendum new Union, let alone in the status quo. The normally ebullient Rhodri Morgan has been in almost Uriah Heep mode, asking that Wales be rewarded for not having  had a war, like Northern Ireland or an independence referendum and oil, like Scotland, by being given a more equitable political and financial settlement within the UK. In other words, he was asking the Tories to treat Wales more generously because it keeps its head down. Carwyn Jones, despite his innate caution and his position as the leader of a unionist party has been forced to come out in  opposition to Cameron’s manoeuverings and call  for a rebuilding of the union on an equal basis between Wales and Scotland.

Despite Cameron’s promise that Wales be at the ‘centre of the debate’, Tory back-benchers are in revolt about a promise of extra money for Scotland, yet Scotland does considerably better than  Wales out of the discredited and unfair Barnett formula. Neither the Tories nor Labour want to scrap the Barnett formula, under which Wales loses out by £300m per year (Labour’s shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna, despite prompting  on TV by Andrew Neil, of all people, seemed to have neither any clue that Wales was being short-changed in this way or feel that Labour should do anything about it).  There’s a well-founded suspicion that if additional powers for Wales are not forgotten about and subsumed into Cameron’s grubby obsession with appeasing English nationalists, they’ll be separated from any additional funding, leaving Welsh Labour or Labour-dominated governments with the consequences of having powers without the resources to use them effectively.

Dysfunctional and unsustainable as it is, the UK could, with some tweaking here and there, limp on for decades yet: dominated by England, with England in turn dominated and distorted by the  financial might of the City of London and the Home Counties. On the other hand, Labour in Wales and Scotland could  muster its electoral weight to move away from an instinctive pro-unionism towards in support  for a more  equal and equitable  relationship between the three countries based on whatever degree of separation or unity that the people of those countries want. On the present evidence, the prospects are not promising.

The Scottish Referendum: My kingdom for a house.

The Scots may have voted ‘No’ but the real loser is Labour in Scotland.

Introduction.

With the last few days of the referendum debates came an awareness that Scotland is awash with social and political enthusiasm, inclusion, participation, in pubs and clubs, community centres and front rooms, in literally hundreds of emergent groupings – Women for, Asians for, Labour for, allsorts for Independence.

As important, probably more so, Scottish cultural life is in bloom. You can’t miss it when you are there: comedy, film, music, literature, theatre, festivals; even the Commonwealth Games set Glasgow alight. In contrast to the prevailing misery and despair in our communities, battered with cuts, abuses, apparent isolation, absence of leadership, the Scots are getting on with it, doing their thing, making the best of life, fighting back. Do not underestimate this. The author, literary figure, Yes campaigner, and self-proclaimed lesbian, Val McDermid, has her name emblazoned across the front of the football strips of Raith Rovers, the Scottish Championship team, this year playing Glasgow Rangers and both Edinburgh sides. If that doesn’t convince you that something rich is going on in Scotland, nothing will.

If you didn’t get it, it is because you didn’t feel it, you haven’t smelt the coffee! Down south, our sensors pick up the rancid odour from London, perhaps tempered by a sniff of fresh air from Syriza, the Indignacios, the Occupy movement, Left Unity or the People’s Assembly. None of this compares with what has happened in Scotland -under  the radar, serviced in no small part by social media.

South of the border, the consensus was that we are internationalists, against nationalism and independence, for a united working class against the Tory offensive, although it is fair to say left leaning commentators began to peel off in significant numbers – John Harris, Billy Bragg, Russell Brand, Suzanne Moore, even Owen Jones all but converts from his hitherto ‘principled’ stance.

There is little point in running through the arguments again. Most formed their opinions after a long debate, impossible to miss north of the border, even if much ignored until the last minute, south.

A 45% vote for independence, with no blood on the streets, no riots or strikes, just popular engagement, is a truly extraordinary political event. The impact on Scottish politics, and very nearly on British politics over the past two years has been immense so, here, we will consider three aspects.

  1. Labour in Scotland, and probably in Britain as a whole, is in very serious trouble.
  2. ‘Tribalism’, a term reserved exclusively, it seems, not for our relations with the Tories, but for ‘the nationalists’, has allowed us to completely lose the plot. Get over it! Concentrate on the real enemy. The Yes campaign, like it or not, was based on a programme the broad left supports.
  3. The media’s, Westminster’s and particularly Labour’s inability to even recognise what was happening in Scotland, let alone consider how it might apply in the rest of Britain, is our best indicator yet that the British political system is at a very low ebb. Something has to change. How to do it is another matter; a question more easily answered in Scotland. Listen to the people, not the Westminster bubble and its media.

Yes! Labour is in Trouble

Members are asking, ‘Why still be in the Labour Party?’. In Scotland there are mass defections. Here in Wales the answer is probably

  1. There is nowhere else to go. Plaid at best has got a socialist current within but that would be even more of a struggle with its mishmash of politics than is Labour, where at least you know where you stand. Their leader, Leanne Wood, still one of the best, is clearly torn by disparate pressures on her;
  2. There are local reasons for being in Labour and perhaps many feel that the essential principles of Labour, at the roots of the Party, are still achievable; and
  3. Welsh Labour Grassroots is probably the most organised and coherent left current in Wales, still a tiny force.

In Wales, there is little alternative and perhaps still some hopes for ‘clear red water’; although less and less so it seems. All this may be in Wales. Now apply to Scotland.

There are certainly other places to go. The Yes campaign was a broad front with the SNP, Scottish Greens and the Scottish Socialist Party at its core and with former Labour MP Dennis Canavan as its chair. The SNP itself is no longer the bourgeois nationalist party we identified as being to the right of Plaid, even 10 years ago. For reasons we will no doubt discuss, the SNP is now in the mould of a social democratic party, a left social democratic party. The Scottish Greens have leapt to prominence with an excellent rounded programme fronted by their MSP Patrick Harvie, who, like Caroline Lucas in Westminster, has proved to be considerably better with socialist aspirations than most Labour MPs. Then there is the Radical Independence Conference (RIC) that, with the Reid Foundation’s ‘Common Weal’, brought together virtually the whole of the Scottish left from anarchists and the SWP through to Labour for Independence, and now surely bound to establish a united green/left party to succeed and embrace the Scottish Socialists, strangled in infancy. The RIC mobilised an impressive campaign, reaching into increasingly disenfranchised estates, bringing in unregistered, disaffected Labour voters, a whole new layer of young activists, and many not so young, for door to door canvassing and public meetings to fantastic effect. They helped raise the voter turnout to over 84% and engaged with the new layer of young voters. Their first conference two years ago assembled over 800 delegates, last year over 1200. This year, over 7000 have indicated they are going! Sheridan, with his Solidarity grouping, by the way, is now urging an independence vote for the SNP at the next election. There are clearly places for socialists to go.

Policy wise, Labour has lost its core electorate. The Yes vote took the industrial heartlands from Glasgow to Dundee. All 8 Glasgow constituencies voted Yes, to the tune of 53.5% to 46.5%. The politicos left in their droves; the Scottish working class has long since seen through Labour. The traditional party of the workers’ movement was further undermined , tragically, by fronting a campaign, a ‘popular front’, with the utterly discredited Tories and Liberals before a Scottish electorate that has ditched them for over 40 years now.

The No vote was clearly founded on that older, conservative 30% or so that will never vote Labour. One analysis claims that the 16-54 year olds voted YES 54%, NO 46%; aged 55+, YES 34%, NO 66%. (See Murray.) Any suggestion that the No campaign might in some way be deemed  progressive is further evidence that Labour is deluding itself. Or us.  Better Together campaigned with a neo-liberal economic attack on all fronts, led by Alistair Darling, arch neo-liberal, with CV to prove it, then by belated appearances from Gordon Brown, whose appeal is, at best, seriously tarnished in the public eye other than with die-hard Labour supporters.

BT wound up its campaign by falling over themselves with offers of devo-max, having refused it two years earlier in anticipation of a rout. The campaign and all its publicity was entirely neo-liberal. Even George Galloway, wheeled out to face 7000 Scottish school students at the BBC event in Glasgow’s Hydro as Labour, incredibly, appeared to bottle out; even Galloway drew on the neo liberal claptrap. That was all they had: the currency, pensions, the NHS, oil, even the utterly disingenuous attack on the SNP’s Corporation Tax, were all rooted in a neo-liberal financial back-cloth. Ed Miliband took the same approach at Labour’s September conference, promising a £2.5bn pledge for the NHS, only to be rebuffed by Tory claims that they have increased spending by more than that. Labour started their conference week by promising to cut Child Benefit and ended it by offering uncritical support for more middle east war.

The neo-liberal austerity debate cannot be won against the Tories’ well-honed propaganda machine. It is their game. It may well win the election for them, like scare-mongering and fear probably won them the referendum. The propaganda was fronted for them by Labour. The Scottish working class rejected these politics decades ago and are sick of Labour regurgitating it.

Labour had nothing to say about austerity, only pious words about ‘our NHS’, ‘our welfare state’, ‘we are the party for change’ as if the Blair years never happened. The attack was on the nationalists, nary a word about the common enemy, the Tories and their financial mentors.

The successes of the Yes campaign

The SNP took on the mantle of social democracy. A while ago, they were ‘bourgeois nationalists’, then centrists, wavering left and right, populists, nourished by the abject betrayals of Labour in Scotland and Britain, betrayals spotted early by the Scots, thanks to the Poll Tax campaign. They turned to alternatives – the Scottish Socialists with 6 MSPs before Sheridan and now The Greens, whose role in Yes Scotland, along with the SNP and SSP, has been exemplary.  This social movement has had a huge impact on the SNP, now overwhelmingly social democratic in nature and probably more so with its more than doubling in membership in the weeks since the poll. So how did they respond to neo-liberal charges?

I refer you to Alex Salmond’s  Arbroath speech 18th August 2014, which takes a wee while to get going but is well worth a listen (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6jAWgC6qgXs). Salmond nails the NHS line. An SNP proposal to a constitutional convention in Scotland will be a clause for ‘A public free health service at the point of need’,  ‘A right to a National Health Service will be enshrined in the constitution of Scotland’. That’s convincing. Discussing the role of Scotland in the world, Salmond argues for the removal of Trident as a fundamental policy of an independent Scotland. He then presents as sophisticated a line on pro-immigration as you are likely to hear from a mainstream politician. Their first focus for the anti-nuclear money is child-care and social care. This is not the left, this is ‘the nationalists’; better than anything ever heard from Labour.  Had Labour taken such stances since the Tories came to power, would the Yes campaign have had the traction it did?

They grapple with the economy but, truth be known, there is much flexibility in economics. What people want to hear is the answer to ‘where do you propose to go with our lives?’. Labour offers a continuation of Tory austerity for the foreseeable future. The Scots are on to them and their future, our future is in jeopardy.

In the course of the referendum campaign, Scots have considered, imagined both individually and in their collectives, a democratic government, a constitution, a set of values based, not least on their experience of Holyrood and decades of Westminster policies and governments they never voted for. That imagination, that culture, is not a million miles away from ours in Wales, once separated from Westminster by ‘clear red water’. In Scotland, imagination converted into an anti-austerity, anti-Tory enthusiasm that not even Plaid, being as tribal as Welsh Labour is, has sought to achieve. The Scottish Yes vote was overwhelmingly anti-austerity and a serious challenge to the ‘Wastemonster’ ways. They may have lost the battle but the war is being won. For a start, about one-third of Labour voters voted Yes. (See Welsh.) These are reasons why Scotland became ready for an independence vote (and why Wales isn’t ready).

Labour’s late entry into the campaign, via Gordon Brown, a hero only to die-hard Labour members, cited our national pride, appealing to history, Labour’s and Scotland’s great role in it – history, empire, sacrifice, the welfare state, the NHS. But just ask Scottish former shipworkers, miners, car-workers. British interest, pride, commitment has long since evaporated. Jobs and a good living in industry, shipbuilding, manufacturing, coal, steel, the industrial revolution, imperialism and the empire, from which we all once benefited, albeit at the expense of others, have all been lost or sacrificed. We don’t even build houses any more. The Welfare State, Pensions, Mail, Telephones, Water and the NHS s are sold, often at knock down prices, to global capitalism. British workers no longer have any practical or emotional ties to our social and economic foundations, many of which Scots gave to the world. What commitment do the Scots, indeed any workers, have to the British state any more?

A Democratic Upheaval and a Danger of Backlash

Without the significant devo-max concessions promised by the Westminster parties, it is inconceivable that independence will go away. Breaking of promises, failure to deliver anything or, worse, more budget cuts and other retribution, will ensure that independence is back on the agenda in very short shrift. Just one day after the referendum, the Tories lurched to the right with a focus on England’s needs, on their right wing, on the West Lothian question, on a democratic structure that can only further marginalise Scotland and Wales.

Coupled with this is seeming delight in offering more powers  to Scotland, Wales and the regions. Let them be responsible for ‘fully devolved powers’ over the crumbs the Bullingdon Boys deign to leave on our tables. Then we can be blamed for cuts, as was the charge laid on the SNP over the NHS, the same tactic as they seek to discredit our efforts in Wales. The real threat to we Celts is that the Westminster bubble does go right, and given Labour’s stances this is not an unrealistic possibility – another Tory government, perhaps with Ukip support, a vote to leave the EU and ditch the EU Convention on Human Rights. Where will that leave the Scots? And us?

The first signs of the very serious dangers of the English nationalist/ Ukip right wing trajectory were evident on the streets of Scotland’s two great cities on the last few referendum days. The No vote unleashed The Orange order, always a right wing force disguised with anti-catholic, anti-Irish rhetoric. For the first time in my experience, they took to the streets and revealed their truly fascist style, taking public space, burning the Saltire, attacking Yes voters, immigrants and women. A Yes vote would have stifled them; the No vote, coupled with Ukip and the English trend positively encouraged them.

Where do we go from here?

The spotlight is now on Labour, already being drawn into the Tory regional game and happy to commit to Tory austerity plans, when what is needed is a language of change, something different, a break from the political decadence of Westminster, increasingly mimicking the shameless, gun-toting, fundamentalist, undemocratic, exclusive, segregationist catastrophe that is US politics and media. Scots were seeking change – austerity, Trident, social care, childcare, NHS, democracy. These are the themes to be convincing about. Their instincts and mine are that nothing is going to change. If it doesn’t, Labour is finished in Scotland. The SNP offered change, much of it taken from Labour’s bottom drawer, yet Labour continues to be tribal against ‘the nationalists’, preferring uncritical deals with the Tories, LibDems and their neo-liberal economics. Recognition of this single fact is a first necessary step to Labour’s unlikely salvation.

Labour has been unable to handle the role of the ‘nationalists’ in Scotland or Wales. What chance have the English got? Paradoxically, in the present climate, a Yes vote was the best opportunity socialist voters in Scotland had of ever achieving a Labour Government they could believe in. These same voters now have the prospect of a Tory Ukip government seeking exit from Europe.

What have we learned? What should we be campaigning on? How’s this?

  1. A clear stance, with our allies, against Tory austerity, for alternatives.
  2. Stand up for our NHS, for National Insurance, for Social Security and a rights based welfare culture.
  3. Challenge the war-mongering culture, not least the ease with which vast funding is found for wars.
  4. Build Homes
  5. Promote a programme of child-care, social care and pensions.
  6. Make Wales a beacon of sustainability, a green investment bank, green energy and re-usables industries
  7. Rail and other public transport back into coordinated public ownership
  8. Instead of faffing about local government reorganisation and who goes where, first consider, with the people of Wales, the question, “How do we best deliver these policies?”
  9. Build, certainly with young people, our communications networks and social media.

The great success of the SNP is that they recognised the occasion for this great political cauldron, greater than they dreamed of. We hopefully now will engage with our true allies throughout Wales and beyond against austerity, and wars and … well, let us discuss that with others.  The difficulty is to recognise the occasion here in Wales, the event round which such unity can be formed. In the meantime, it will do no harm to promote an inclusive discussion on what sort of policies, a manifesto we aspire to in Wales.

Another Scotland, Another Wales, Another Britain, is Possible.

End

Gordon Gibson, September 2014

Here, a few references; the first two are bursting with lively debate.

Radical Independence Conference: http://radicalindependence.org/

Bella Caledonia: http://bellacaledonia.org.uk/

Brett, Miriam. National Collective. Oh Scottish Labour What Have You Done? http://nationalcollective.com/2014/09/25/oh-scottish-labour-what-have-you-done/

Davies, Nick & Williams, Darren (2009). Clear Red Water: Welsh Devolution and Socialist Politics. Francis Boutle Publisher

Harris, John: Scotland has shown how the left can finally find its purpose http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/sep/25/scotland-politics-left-purpose-snp-green-working-class-women

Jones, Owen. Whatever Scotland decides, the old order is dead and buried: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/sep/07/scotland-decides-union-tories

Murray, Andy. FIFTY-FIVE per cent afflicted by Stockholm Syndrome. http://nicodemusscotticus.wordpress.com/

Welsh , Irvine. This glorious failure could yet be Scotland’s finest hour. 

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/sep/20/irvine-welsh-scottish-independence-glorious-failure

 

A new political direction: independence

by Leanne Wood
“Real independence is a time of new and active creation: people sure enough of themselves to discard their baggage; knowing the past is past, as shaping history, but with a new confident sense of the present and the future, where the decisive meanings and values will be made.”
Raymond Williams, 1975

In the space of three short years, the political context in Wales and the world has changed beyond recognition. The 2008 banking crisis should have undermined and resulted in the rejection of capitalism and many of its basic economic and political assumptions. Austerity programmes and high unemployment levels are putting great strain on people not just in Wales, but throughout other parts of the world as are the impacts of energy price shocks and climate change. All countries in the European Union face economic uncertainty, with many, large and small, in deep economic crisis. The future of the whole EU project is now under threatIf the tectonic plates of capitalism are showing signs of stress, then closer to home, the recent elections in Scotland caused a tremor in the British state. The aftershocks from events in the Eurozone and Britain’s response are likely to be felt for some time to come. Questions over whether Wales has the powers to make laws within a limited range of devolved policy areas have been decisively answered by the referendum last March. The next steps for a Wales that rejected the Tory/Lib Dem cuts programme that is now hitting us disproportionately, are yet to be determined.

As Plaid Cymru undertakes an internal review and starts the process of electing a new leader to take the party into its new phase, now is a good time to give some consideration as to how we respond to these new contexts. How can we ensure that the philosophy and values which underpin Plaid Cymru’s political outlook contribute to the building of an economically viable post-crash, post-Britain Wales? Keeping our heads down and continuing to speak the language of managerialism in a time of crisis is simply not an option.

For independence

It’s clear from discussions at the recent Plaid Cymru conference that developments in Scotland have spurred Plaid Cymru’s membership into thinking about the possibilities for Wales. What had seemed almost impossible before last May now seems possible, even tangible. The ‘what are we for?’ question that was asked following the successful ‘Yes’ vote last March has been answered: Plaid Cymru has never, and would never, accept a situation where we were deemed second rate to Scotland. The Welsh people know that our sense of national identity is equal to that of our Scottish and English sisters and brothers. Plaid Cymru is for Welsh independence.

However Wales is not Scotland. While there is much Plaid Cymru can learn from the SNP there are other parties within the European Free Alliance (EFA) group which whom we should learn and deepen links. The Bloque Nacionalista Galego (BNG) from Galicia or the PNC (Corsica) or UDB (Brittany) are more akin to Wales and to Plaid in terms of their socio-economic, linguistic and political statuses and ambitions as well as their economic outlook. All three are green and on the left end of the political spectrum – near to where Wales and Plaid are.

The ‘can we afford it’ question

Most of us who want independence for Wales would accept that the weak state of the Welsh economy means that we would struggle to afford the current Welsh welfare bill. A major contributor to this weakness is the high numbers of people dependent on state benefits. There are historic and political reasons for this. While Plaid Cymru would have no truck with blaming unemployed people for unemployment, neither would we seek to punish those who are dependent on state benefits, as the British unionist parties have. The high numbers of people dependent on welfare benefits has to be tackled in any serious attempt to turn around the Welsh economy. This could be done by providing support and incentives for people to form their own job-creating enterprises building Wales from the community up, using measures similar to those proposed in the ‘Greenprint’ document.’

Constitutional debates are unlikely to capture the popular imagination unless they are rooted in real-life politics. The biggest question facing most people in Wales today is that of their own and their family’s economic security. In a relatively short period of time, safe jobs have become unsafe. Public sector cuts will hit harder in Wales where the public sector makes up a larger proportion of the economy than other parts of the British state. The market has been failing to provide jobs in some parts of Wales since the 1980s and before, so the chances of the private sector filling the gaps left by the public sector during what in Wales is a deep recession, are slim. Social problems widely associated with a lack of or low-quality employment threaten to widen and deepen unless bold steps are taken to reverse the economic decline of our country. Plaid Cymru must give priority to strategies which can deliver full employment.

According to the sociologist Michael Hechter, Wales’s economic development is typical of other colonial/extractive economies like those in Latin America: economies that were built to facilitate the easy export out of any valuable natural resources. With an economic infrastructure built to ensure the transportation-out of the country’s major export product, coal, Wales remains hampered to this day by an internal transport system where all lines of communication lead to “the imperial capital or to the ports”. This infrastructure, as well as Wales’s ‘peripheral’ status, contributes to an inevitable in-built structural weakness in the Welsh economy. Leopold Kohr, that prophet of our current crisis, argued that the drain towards the centre cannot be “stopped by benevolently infusing into the periphery invigorating shots of new industry”. Kohr’s work explains the failure of EU convergence funds as well as other previous failed attempts to boost the Welsh economy. Wales’s economy has design faults that cannot be rectified by tinkering. Those design faults can only be corrected when the Welsh people, in all their diversity, are in a position to fundamentally reshape their economic infrastructure in a way that serves their needs and when they are no longer clinging on the peripheral edge of a vastly unequal British state. Welsh economic outcomes, as compared with those in other parts of the British state or the EU, whatever measure is used, can only be improved and equalised via independence. Independence is the vehicle for boosting an economy that has been stagnating for the best part of a century.

Jobs, jobs, jobs …

In the meantime, the deepening economic crisis demands solutions to combat unemployment now. A ‘Building Wales’ jobs plan which sought to provide everyone who can work with a job helping to re-build the Welsh economic infrastructure in a way which would benefit people living in Wales would be assisted if the Welsh government had the ability to vary the benefits as well as the tax rules, giving concrete reasons for the devolution of such powers.

Leopold Kohr in his book ‘Is Wales Viable’ (1971) advocates the development of an internal or ‘home’ market, where the money earned in Wales is spent in Wales, stimulating local economic activity which would in turn create jobs. A ‘small is beautiful’ approach, as advocated by Kohr, would support small local enterprises over multi-nationals. Financial and practical support to bring new markets to a multitude of small firms should aim for them to take on one or two trainees or new workers to build capacity so they could tender for local public goods or services contracts. The report by Adam Price and Kevin Morgan (The Collective Entrepreneur, 2011) on public procurement and social enterprise could help to inform this work.

Creatively marketed, a Welsh ‘brand’ of locally-produced,fair-trade/ co-operative products could become recognised around the world as being wholesome and natural. Food, the creative industries, green technology and end-product manufacturing for niche markets are sectors which, with support, could be expanded for both internal consumption and export.

Global battles over oil-control and predictions of soon-to-hit peak oil are not going away. If the Welsh economy is to be developed sustainably, in a way which measures up to our party’s commitment to contribute to world efforts to combat climate change, our economic plan has to place sustainable development at the centre of all policies and include measures that will ensure Wales’s natural resources are utilised for the transition to an economy not dependent on fossil fuels. As they have in Denmark, people in Wales must have full control and ownership of the natural resources if money leakage out of Wales is to be plugged. The work involved and the profits made, should, where possible, be kept local. Energy security must be considered, though the good news is that Wales is already self-sufficient in electricity – we export our surplus electricity and water so we have much to build on.

Investment in and the encouragement of worker-owned co-operatives, as promoted by DJ and Noelle Davies in the 1930s and 1940s, linked in with learning institutions could help to build the skills capacity to ensure the availability of local labour. Skilled workers in the public sector could be given the option of reduced working hours to contribute to such enterprises. A Davies/Kohr inspired economic plan to move away from a fossil fuel economy and develop an internal market to create demand for local work, could begin with a home insulation programme which prioritised areas of high fuel poverty thus reducing excess fuel-related winter deaths amongst older people, and supporting small local businesses and co-operatives to undertake that work. This would create jobs and help meet Wales’ commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2020 and to work towards One Planet Wales – living within our resource means, using only our fair share of the world’s global natural resources. It would also help to build up resilience to future food and energy price shocks.

Practical advice could be obtained by linking up with and learning lessons from the Danes and the Basques. The Danish island Samsø has become 100% self-sufficient in renewable electricity and the Mondragon manufacturing co-operative network in the Basque Country, which was set up in the 1950s as a co-operative training college, but expanded into manufacturing during the economic difficulties which caused high unemployment there during the 1980s, now employs thousands. Study visits to Samsø and Mondragon could inform and even inspire Plaid Cymru members to involve themselves in the setting up and running of such co-operatives. Such activity should be encouraged so that party members can in a very practical way contribute to the strengthening of the Welsh economy.

Equalising outcomes

Youth unemployment rates in some places are very high. Competition to get an education or training place, let alone a job, sees long-term youth unemployment threatening to add to the social problems that have been taking root over the decades since the end of mass Welsh heavy industry. Affordable housing is a growing problem for young people too. Any attempts to build the Welsh economy must provide alternative solutions for the people and places where the market has failed: Plaid Cymru’s vision for an independent Wales has to include an explicit aim to equalise economic outcomes for all parts of, as well as for the individuals living and working within Wales.

Despite eleven years of cash injections from the EU, the GDP of West Wales and the Valleys has declined from 76% of the EU average in 2000 to 71% now. Arguably, without those funds, the position would be worse. GDP is a blunt measure unable to take account of inequalities within a given area. Planning for continued economic growth on traditional measures is unsustainable, however, there are plenty of other measures which show that Welsh economic activity and incomes are in decline in relation to other EU countries and regions. Arguments for independence must address Wales’s relative economic position.

An economic plan which pays particular attention to disproportionately affected groups as well as geographic areas within Wales is vital if we are to avoid allowing the continuation of an economy which overheats at the centre to the detriment of the periphery. Unless steps are taken to rebalance the situation, we risk creating an economic structure in Wales which apes that of the British state: one which sees the economies in the peripheral land on which we live – Wales (as well as the other countries and regions) as unimportant in comparison to the overheating economy of London and the south east. Plaid Cymru’s vision has to include an explicit aim to equalise economic outcomes for all parts of, as well as for the individuals living and working within, Wales.

Recently unveiled plans to set up enterprise zones do not set out to equalise outcomes throughout Wales. ‘Real’ enterprise zones would decentralise, for example, promoting the specialisation of particular sectors in geographic ‘centres of excellence’, away from the economically successful M4 and A55 corridors, allowing for the development of new Welsh ‘capitals’. Our west coast is one of Wales’ greatest assets and it is under-utilised. Why not seek to explicity aim to stimulate Wales’ peripheral areas by developing ‘added value’ niche manufacturing sectors in the new ‘capitals’ – Aberystwyth, Swansea, Bangor, Newport, Wrecsam and in the valleys and using Holyhead, Fishguard and Milford Haven as centres for improving links with Ireland & beyond for export?

Progressive Wales

By prioritising the creation of a detailed job-creation programme designed to build a sustainable Wales in a way which aimed to equalise economic outcomes, Plaid Cymru could project a vision for a future which fits with the traditions and history of Wales and the long term thinking of Plaid Cymru.

To counter the hyper-competitive, imperial/militaristic, climate-change-ignoring and privatising government over the border, Plaid Cymru’s economic vision for Wales should be for a thriving decentralised economy where people’s participation in local economic decision making is maximised. Our vision for Wales includes active, resilient communities which are backed up by a solid public service and welfare infrastructure in a political culture that insists that no-one is left behind. Our jobs plan could project a future Wales which takes a more co-operative, anti-militaristic, anti-imperial, sustainable and pro-public services economic approach which would show how an independent Wales would be politically different and better for people in Wales, and for future generations, more progressive and in line with our politics than what middle-England keeps voting for, regardless of the rosette colour. The politics on show from all mainstream parties at the British state level does not exhibit the same values as those represented by the parties at a Welsh level, and devolution has provided a political space for these different, alternative political meanings and values to be aired and extended.

Conceding nothing to the right-wing propaganda which has conned many people into supporting measures which will ensure that the worst off in society pay the price for the 2008 crisis, Plaid Cymru should continue to oppose the British state’s austerity programme, designed by a group of self-serving millionaires, which is conducting an unprecedented attack on benefits, while providing no hope of jobs. Advocating a jobs programme aimed at reducing inequalities within Wales and between Wales and other comparable countries would demonstrate how these socialist values still exist here, and how they can be embodied into policies which can offer a concrete alternative to enforced austerity. Ed Miliband may dream of moving the centre ground to the left, but in Wales we’re already there. Tied to the apron strings of London, the Labour Party is unable to take advantage of the Welsh context. Plaid Cymru is the only party who can develop a truly alternative vision for Wales, based on our fundamental principles as a people, and ‘no mean people’ as Gwyn Alf reminded us.

Scotland is on the road to freedom because a strong SNP government is leading the way, providing assurances and projecting a confidence which has enabled people to believe that their country can stand on its’ own two feet economically. Scottish support for independence is growing. This has been achieved despite, or even arguably because of the vastly changed economic context. It must be the case that most people in Scotland now see that their country will be better off when it is released from the British union.

Winning trust

Like the SNP, Plaid must become the biggest party in the Senedd. To do that Plaid Cymru must win people’s trust with a clear and realistic plan to show how the Welsh economy can be a success, which a majority of people in a Welsh election are prepared to support. We will not get there unless we are able to confidently and competently answer the question, ‘can Wales afford independence?’

Plaid Cymru representatives at all levels including party activists at community council and street level all have a part to play in building the local coalitions needed to turn our jobs plan nto a reality. Such activity in our communities would concretely demonstrate that we are able to afford and achieve what Raymond Williams called ‘real’ independence, where our overall society and social relations would improve as inequalities reduced. The case for an independent Wales is a case for a participatory democracy of a kind which does not currently exist in the UK. The case for independence has been mapped out by writers and artists, some of whom have been mentioned here, but it is also a case that can only be won with economic arguments.

We must rise to that challenge.

Website: http://www.leannewood2012.com
Email: leanneplaid@gmail.com
Twitter: @leannewood
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=613235070

Contact Leanne through one of the above means to read more, support and contribute to the campaign.

The Northumbrian question and devo-max for England

By Jon Lansman

Never mind the West Lothian question, what about the Northumbrian question? Whatever the result of the Scottish referendum, the process of devolution to Scotland, Wales and (Northern) Ireland will continue. And all that the commentariat can talk about is who in Westminster should wield the power — a UK parliament or an English one. If it’s wrong for Scottish MPs to exercise influence over the North East of England, wouldn’t it be preferable to devolve power than just shuffle it about in London? The call from the Hannah Mitchell Foundation in yesterday’s Observer is timely. And, by the way, isn’t an English Parliament bound to be a greater threat to a federal Britain then ever was a Scottish one?

It isn’t just the EDL  and others on the far right that poisons the cause of English nationalism. It is that no-one — apart from a few politicians — will feel any closer to power as a result of an English parliament. Its creation wouldn’t amount to devolution. And yet, its creation, like that of the Russian presidency under Yeltsin, would most certainly threaten the Union. Within a federal UK, in the sharing out of resources between ‘devolved’ parliaments, the dominance of the English would always alienate the others that remained.

That is why Carwyn Jones is right to argue in the Guardian that a more devolved UK requires a new constitutional settlement: he suggests “a new upper house with equal representation from England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.” Unfortunately, this formula doesn’t stack up. It might be OK for Wyoming to have the same representation in the US Senate as California (with a population 66 times larger) and the other 49 states, but equality of representation doesn’t wash in a federation of 4 where England has a population 28 times that of Northern Ireland. It could be different if power was also devolved to the English regions.

Now it is certainly true that John Prescott’s attempt to devolve power to the English regions was a disaster. But it failed through a lack of New Labour’s ambition and will. Without the backing of Blair — “never a passionate devolutionist” as he understates it in his autobiography A Journey (p251) — or that of his Ministers who, department by department, refused to delegate Whitehall’s powers — the offer on regional devolution in 2004 was tokenistic, half-baked and rightly rejected. But the time has come to move on from the defeat of devolution in the North-East referendum for several reasons:

  1. Devolution in Wales and Scotland has moved on in public support and changed the constitutional background. From rejection and near-rejection in the 70s, support for devolution has grown since it was granted in 1999 and the public now demands ever more devolved powers. Wales has just voted for more and “Devo max” has majority support in Scotland (3-2 in favour, whilst on independence it’s neck-and-neck).
  2. If Wales could change from 4-to-1 rejection of devolution in 1979 to acceptance 18 years on, and two-thirds demanding still more 14 years after that, could not the North East shift similarly? There are factors which make this more likely in the North East: Professors Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher found that “‘No’ voters appeared to be more committed to stopping an Assembly than ‘Yes’ voters” leading to a higher turnout (or response rate since it was a 100% postal ballot) from devolution opponents. Voters were also affected by general dissatisfaction with government policy (including over Iraq) and a distrust of politicians in general, and, given the limited powers of the proposed assembly, tended to believe that they were likely to increase costs without delivering benefits for the regional economy or raising the region’s profile in Europe.
  3. The North-South divide continues to widen, increasing the case for a stronger regional voice and new powers to rectify the balance.

What is needed now is a commitment to the incremental development of regional authorities, starting in the North East, Yorkshire & the Humber and the North West with substantial devolution of powers from Whitehall over health, social services and education, universities and training, employment and regeneration, transport and planning, housing, waste management and the environment. It does not have to be a one-size fits all approach, any more than was devolution to the ‘nations’ of Scotland and Wales. London, of course, already has devolved government but needs a substantial increase in what powers are devolved to it.

This is the basis for a new constitutional settlement in England and the UK. It would provide a healthier basis for interaction with Scotland and Wales, for the development of the UK and for England; for government, democracy and parliament. Federalism may also prove a more attractive and durable offer to Scotland and Wales than Unionism.

And let’s hear no more nonsense about an English parliament.

This post first appeared in Jon Lansman’s blog Left Futures

Positively Independent

By Mike Small

Pundits seem to be coalescing around the idea that a ‘positive message’ is an essential part of political campaigning. Whether it’s Obama’s upbeat derivative (but ultimately empty) Yes We Can, or, as critics had it, Salmond’s indy question (characterised by some as some sort of Derren Brown-style mass hypnosis), the idea of positivity is the key, or so we’re told. It’s simple: people who whinge and moan all day become a bit of a drain to be around. We naturally gravitate towards those who bring a bit of sunshine and light into our life.

This presents the Unionists with a challenge. How to oppose the Yes Campaign with a positive. What is the positive case for the Union? Well it’s about security, continuity and stability. All good things, but in stressing these you have to also sort of pretend it’s all okay as is, and that’s where they get unstuck. The nationalists have to say things will be okay, the unionists have to pretend things are okay. It’s not jam tomorrow but it’s a set of ideas – a vision – based on hope. Now we know that this might not work out but we have aspiration whereas in the HERE and NOW we kind of know what things aren’t working. UK Plc has nationalised the banks and given our money away to the super rich. People can’t get the homes they need, and there’s an outbreak of mass unemployment, fuel poverty and a generalised economic insecurity that strikes into the heart of peoples well-being by the residual stress it creates.

In this context stressing continuity has a hollow ring.

This vision-failure isn’t just a problem for the parties political future. As Joyce McMillan writes:

‘And even if their campaign of fear and negativity is successful in achieving the “no” vote they crave, it will leave Scotland – the day after the referendum – with no prospect of a better future, and no idea at all of how it should move forward.’

This is a problem for the emerging Devo-Max contenders. The likes of Kenyon Wright have no political vehicle to hitch onto. The paradox opens like a chasm. McMillan again:

‘In the 1990’s, the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties formed a powerful alliance with Scottish civil society to campaign for what was seen, at the time, as a huge and radical constitutional change in the British state; today, the Liberal Democrats are silenced by their Westminster coalition with the Conservatives, while Labour literally no longer knows where it stands, in the battle for democracy between ordinary citizens and overweening financial power.’

This is the reality behind the sort of paranoia fostered by Tom Peterkin in The Scotsman:  ‘Fears over pressure on ‘civic Scotland’ to back devo-max’.

Scare stories about ‘rigged polls’ have been slain with the setting out of a clear simple question, a transparent consultation process and the concession about the role of the Electoral Reform Society. You’d also have to hope that the ‘civic leaders’ have consulted their membership before committing themselves to a political intervention?

Whatever the outcome – a more positive debate would be welcome. As Gerry Hassan wrote this week:

These are momentous, challenging times, filled with a mixture of excitement and bewilderment, hope and fear, depending on your political opinions. It is up to those of us who want a serious, mature debate appropriate for the occasion to challenge and demand from all Scotland’s and the UK political parties, media and political communities, that they act respectively and reach out and understand perspectives different from their own.’

So we’re inviting people who’s views we don’t agree with to come and argue the point, make the case and have the debate on these pages. But we’re also going to be working beyond politics on showcasing a series of inspirational projects and people working now (today). If you want to suggest someone or some project get in touch with us – it could be an arts project, a band, a community group, a campaign or some social innovation.

Come All Ye.

This article first appeared in Bella Caledonia under the title ‘Positivity‘.

Celyn leans heavily on sororal publications in Scotland to inform, inspire, and stimulate debate here in Wales, not least around the campaign of socialist and republican, Leanne Wood, for leadership of Plaid Cymru. Win or lose, the tremors shake the very roots of British capitalism and its Unionist foundations. We enjoy the reflection of Scottish and Welsh social, political and cultural life in the pages of Bella Caledonia and others and endorse their call for you to join in. Write to us, for us, and to them.

Clear red water over public sector pay cap

by Ed Jacobs

The Welsh first minister, Carwyn Jones has distanced himself from Ed Miliband’s public support for a pay cap in the public sector, concluding that it is unfair to expect public sector workers to face the pain of such cuts in the midst of an economic slump caused by the banks.

Miliband last week faced widespread union anger over his decision to endorse the government’s policy of a one per cent pay cap, a moment dubbed by the FT as the Labour leader’s “Clause IV” moment.

However, it is now apparent that it is not just the unions that are unhappy at the stance being taken on pay.

Speaking to journalists at the first in a regular series of monthly press conferences, Carwyn Jones was clear in his attempts to establish clear red water between him and London, concluding:

“I think it’s absolutely crucial that people see that those who are paid the most in financial services, those who the public believe were responsible for our current economic difficulties, pay their fair share as well.

“I don’t believe that this is being done and as a result I think it’s very difficult to say to those who work in the public sector, who didn’t cause the economic difficulties, that we have to bear the brunt of pay cuts when it isn’t happening in those sectors which are more appropriate.”

Meanwhile, as Alex Salmond is today expected to argue in the annual Hugo Young Lecture in London that England would benefit from Scotland gaining independence, his Welsh counterpart went on during his press conference to call for a much bigger, less Scotland centred debate about the future of the Union.

Against a backdrop of yesterday’s IPPR  report pointing to an English “backlash” against the devolved nations and the establishment last week of the UK government’s commission on the West Lothian question, Jones argued:

“It’s attractive to say ‘English votes for English laws’, but where does it leave us, for example, in terms of the EU where at the moment an English agriculture minister casts a vote on behalf of the whole UK on agricultural policy?

“So there are wider questions that need to be considered and that is the way in which the UK government wishes to go.

It’s not in the UK’s interests to see the debate on devolution taking place mainly in the context of Scotland but also in quite in an incoherent way, in a way that’s not particularly joined up. I think there needs to be a more consistent approach for the good of the UK.”

Pressed about whether he was advocating a federal UK, Jones continued:

The UK is quasi-federal now, and if the West Lothian commission decides on ‘English votes for English laws’ then that’s where we will be, in a situation of federalism.

“Now what we need to is to look at how we can make the UK into an entity where there is stability, of course, but also to make sure in a post-devolution world the UK functions as a state where responsibilities of different governments are clearer.”

This article first appeared on the blog Left Foot Forward and is reproduced with permission.

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