Ten Years on the SNP and Scottish nationalism require a different politics for the future
Bella Caledonia, March 24th 2017
The SNP have been a breath of fresh air to Scotland. Fifty years ago this year the modern SNP emerged with the talismanic victory of Winnie Ewing at the Hamilton by-election, and Scotland was never quite the same again.
If you doubt this, think of a Scotland without the SNP. The only way Scots would be able to show their dissatisfaction with Westminster and difference from the rest of the UK would be to remain loyal to Labour. That would work (to an extent) under Tory UK Governments, but not quite when Labour was in power at Westminster.
The SNP in opposition and then in office have changed the parameters of Scottish politics. They have literally changed the name on the door to that of the Scottish Government – marking a profound shift from the dull administration of the previous titled Scottish Executive. They have altered the nature of the role of First Minister to being the national leader of the country. They have brought statecraft and competence to government. And they brought Scotland onto the international stage – first, with the release of al-Megrahi, and then more substantially, in the long campaign of the first indyref.
Ten years into office and with another indyref looking inevitable, this is an appropriate time to reflect, analyse and take stock on the record of the SNP and of wider Scottish nationalism. The former will be the focus of the forthcoming ‘A Nation Changed? The SNP and Scotland Ten Years On’, edited by myself and Simon Barrow, head of the think tank Ekklesia, which will be published in June. Read the rest of this entry »
When were the Swinging Scottish Sixties?
Scottish Review, March 22nd 2017
The 1960s are referenced throughout the world as a period of immense change, hope, protest and turbulence.
There were ‘the winds of change’ of decolonisation, Latin American revolts and rebellions, the Chinese cultural revolution, upsurges in Paris and Prague, Biafra, the disastrous American military intervention in Vietnam and resultant protest movement in the US and worldwide.
What though did the sixties really represent? In the UK the sixties began with Philip Larkin and the trial of D.H. Lawrence’s ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’; in the US they were augmented by the assassination of JFK in Dallas in 1963. In both there was a shared moment – in early 1963 in the UK, and February 1964 in the US, with the arrival of the Beatles then morphing into a musical and cultural phenomenon the world had never seen before: Beatlemania.
In the UK this aided the overthrowing of the stuffy last remnants of Victoriania, the long shadow of the Second World War, and class-bound high culture. This was epitomised in John Lennon’s now seemingly innocent remark at the Royal Variety Performance in November 1963 in front of the Queen Mother that ‘the people in the cheaper seats, clap your hands. And the rest of you, if you’d just rattle your jewelry’. This was a national moment, shown on TV and immortalised in the press. Read the rest of this entry »
An Open Letter to the SNP and Independence Supporters
Bella Caledonia, March 17th 2017
These are fast moving political times for Scotland. The events of the last week illustrate the accelerated fragmentation and disintegration of the UK as we know it.
But these are also times of high stakes and stand-offs, with the Scottish and UK Governments gaming and predicting the actions of the other. Monday’s announcement by Nicola Sturgeon took the UK Government by surprise and seized the centrestage of British politics – forcing the postponement of triggering Article 50. Theresa May’s most recent statement, declaring that ‘now is not the time’ for a referendum’ until the Brexit talks are completed, was predictable. Despite this, it would be ill-advised to underestimate May and the UK Government who, despite her personal inflexibility and lack of comprehension of modern Scotland, will play hard to keep Scotland in the union.
Similarly, while time works in favour of independence, it also has downsides. The SNP have been in office ten years, and with each passing year have more of a record to defend. Next time, the careful 2014 balancing act of being insurgent and incumbent will be much more difficult to pull off. And the SNP’s domestic political dominance (rather like the Tories in the UK) has costs: in that there is, across the SNP and Scottish Government, a tangible weakening in political antenna and sensitivity of how policies and stances appear to those outside the administration. Such a time of high-wire politics means that it is more urgent than ever to reflect, tell hard truths, and to institutionalise more effectively a deeper pluralist politics. Read the rest of this entry »
Indyref2 is coming but can we do better than two versions of Little Britain?
Scottish Review, March 15th 2016
The ides of March 2017. One single day – Monday March 13th – will go down as an epic day in the fragmentation of the United Kingdom.
The Brexit Bill passed through all its stages in the Commons and Lords shorn of any extra commitments. Nicola Sturgeon announced the prospect of a second independence referendum. And the UK Government in response decided to shelve the triggering of Article 50 for two weeks.
That’s without mentioning what is happening in Northern Ireland as the once impregnable unionist majority sinks below the waves. Political commentator David Torrance reflecting on the state of the UK accurately observed that the UK was one ‘monumental constitutional clusterfuck’.
Every day the UK seems to be becoming increasingly like a ‘little Britain’ – a country getting more nasty, mean, xenophobic, insular, and lacking in any moral character or fibre. This doesn’t look like it will get better anytime soon – with the rightwing Brexiteers oblivious to their narrow 52:48 victory on the back of a manifesto which didn’t amount to more than a proverbial back of a fag packet. Read the rest of this entry »
Nationalism – Scottish or British – is never enough. It always says: ‘We are the Good Guys’
Scottish Review, March 8th 2017
Nationalism is one of the defining features of Scotland and modern Scotland. Last week UK Prime Minister Theresa May came north to the Scottish Tory conference in Glasgow, asking the Scots to think again, lambasting the SNP and their ‘constitutional obsessions’ and ‘tunnel vision nationalism’.
Apart from the ridiculousness of the first point, considering the UK Government’s obsession with Brexit, the second was in the tradition known the world over of majority nationalisms (British) lecturing minority nationalisms (Scottish) about the evils of nationalism. British nationalism, being the ideology of the state, doesn’t see itself or define itself as a nationalism – a story true the world over of state nationalisms: think America, Canada, Israel, literally anywhere.
The above should not be contentious, but is to many. Some unionists blow a gasket at the thought that their ism is a nationalism – British state nationalism, but such sentiments go with the territory. The blowback from London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s intervention on the similarities between Scottish nationalism and racism illustrated this. Read the rest of this entry »