The Strange Death of Liberal England Continued

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, July 30th 2014

Liberal England is in a state of confusion. There is the challenge of the Scottish independence referendum, the continued right wing drift of UK politics, and the slow detachment of the UK from the European Union.

All of the above cause apoplexy and dismay to the thinking elements of the English left. One response to this from people such as Labour MP John Cruddas and Billy Bragg is to try to re-ignite the English radical imagination and challenge the increasingly English nationalist overtones of Nigel Farage’s UKIP. A second response from the likes of Ken Loach and Owen Jones believe in the ‘Spirit of 45’ being invoked shaped by romanticism and simplistic, wishful thinking.

However, the largest group by far on the English left in intellectual circles is in denial about the state of Britain. This is not a happy or confident time to be a progressive in England, and despite the actions of thirty years of post-war Labour Governments (thirteen of them under the recent auspices of New Labour), it cannot be claimed seriously that Britain is becoming a better, fairer place. Progressive politics has given up believing that it can create the future, instead pessimistically sensing that the right have the best tunes to fit our times and laid claim to tomorrow. Read the rest of this entry »

A Time for Boldness and Honesty: 21st Century Scottish Radicalism

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, July 23rd 2014

The independence referendum has seen an explosion of radical and progressive thinking and activism. Where there was once silence and disillusion, now there is hope, excitement and imagination.

There is the generosity and pluralism of National Collective, the breadth and reach of the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC), and the energy and dynamism of the Jimmy Reid Foundation. Then there is a wider set of trends looking at how to develop a deeper democracy from the work of So Say Scotland and its Citizen’s Assembly, ‘the art of hosting’ processes, and the Electoral Reform Society’s work on deliberative democracy.

The above – with all its undoubted positives – has to be put in historical and political context, understanding the shortcomings and failures of the left generally, and the Scottish left in particular. This is an essential prerequisite if this outburst of energy and radicalism is to have a lasting effect on the Scottish body politic. Read the rest of this entry »

The Myth of ‘Divided Scotland’

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, July 16th 2014

One of the most oft-repeated descriptions of Scotland at the moment in the heat of the independence referendum is the problem of ‘divided Scotland’.

A Yes victory will leave a ‘deeply divided Scotland’ claimed Better Together chief Blair McDougall (Better Together, June 8th 2014), while a pro-independence website declared in response, ‘A deeply divided Scotland will be the result of a No vote’ (Arc of Prosperity, June 9th 2014).

Much cited recent polling shows that 38% of Scots believe divisions will remain whatever the referendum outcome, while 36% disagreed. In the same poll, 21% of people have had a row with family or friends about the vote. This latter finding led ‘The Independent’ to declare, ‘The Scottish independence debate has become venomous and fraught … pulling some families apart’ (June 15th 2014). Read the rest of this entry »

A Letter to Scotland’s New Radicals

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, July 9th 2014

Radical Scotland’s re-emergence and re-invigoration around the independence referendum has been one of the most welcome and positive occurrences for many years in Scottish politics.

This is a real challenge and change from the predictable stale menu which has been passed off as our political debate and choices for decades. This is even more true of what has presented itself as radical and left politics.

An array of groups, networks and initiatives of which the most prominent are National Collective, the Radical Independence Campaign and Jimmy Reid Foundation, have brought new ideas and energy, fresh ways of doing things and a sense of generational change.

It has been a pleasure to witness the birth of this self-organising culture of self-determination and pro-independence opinion. Yet, with success comes the need for an element of self-reflection and self-criticism, and an awareness of the dangers and limits inherent in any radical politics. Read the rest of this entry »

What do we do we do about the United Kingdom? And Why Federalism isn’t the Answer

Gerry Hassan

Open Democracy, July 4th 2014

In the last few weeks political debate has become filled with talk of the possibility of a federal United Kingdom.

This has come not surprisingly exclusively from pro-union voices. There was Tory MSP Murdo Fraser’s recent thoughtful speech, David Torrance’s short book on British wide federalism, and even former Prime Minister Gordon Brown mulling over the subject.

Murdo Fraser in his Reform Scotland talk said that ‘federalism within the UK, if it were workable and could be achieved, is a solution which could unite both unionists and nationalists, and provide a secure framework for the future’. David Torrance in a ‘Herald’ piece after Fraser’s intervention, cited former Labour MP and academic David Marquand commenting, ‘Does the UK become a federal state, or does it break up?’. Even Gordon Brown has refound his sense of radical constitutionalism, contemplating a written constitution and federalism in all but name.

These developments should be applauded and welcomed as they are trying to deal with some of the challenges of the modern world and the UK, and show a degree of open-mindedness and people being prepared to reconsider previous positions. They should be taken seriously and examined, asking what issues and concerns are they addressing, what are they not addressing, and what are their over-riding motivations? Read the rest of this entry »