Scotland isn’t Mad, but Animated and Engaged

Gerry Hassan

Sunday Mail, April 12th 2015

The election has definitely taken off this week.

There were the two Scottish leader debates. The Tories getting personal with Ed Miliband. Labour daring to talk about tax.

Scotland is in a different place. Some once thoughtful pro-union commentators have scratched their heads and come to the conclusion – ‘Scotland has gone mad’ and talked of ‘the madness of Scottish politics’.

It is never good to start citing ‘madness’ and nearly always reflects back on who said it. The fact that pro-union commentators think this demonstrates the degree of their disenchantment and alienation from the state of modern Scotland.

The Scottish election feels very different from any others in my lifetime. This is more than the SNP surge, or the condition of Scottish Labour. Read the rest of this entry »

Are the Days of Scottish Labour Over?

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, April 8th 2015

The official general election campaign kicked off last week. But in reality it has been running since the turn of the year, with all parties and observers knowing in advance that polling day would be May 7th.

Scotland has witnessed a palpable air of perma-campaigning for the last two or three years with the experience of the referendum. But there has been an air of excitement and expectation for some about the coming general election, since the aftermath of the indyref, and when the first polls put the SNP ahead of Labour.

One defining theme these last few months, in light of the polls, has been the slow demise of the once seemingly impregnable Scottish Labour Party. The party knew it had to do something; Johann Lamont resigned saying the Westminster leadership treated the party as a ‘London branch’ and Jim Murphy was elected leader – the seventh party leader in fifteen years.

Murphy has been hyperactive – even without his Irn Bru crates – and has criss-crossed the nation, making speeches and policy announcements and talking endlessly about his love of football. He has done all this, undertaken dozens of TV and radio interviews, employed new staff, adopted the things you are meant to have like a campaign grid, but all of this has had, to the initial surprise of many, absolutely no effect at all. Read the rest of this entry »

Scotland, the Clash of Two Nationalisms and ‘the Children of the Echo’

Gerry Hassan

New Statesman, April 7th 2015

Scotland has always had a reputation for tempestuous disagreements – for fighting and flyting. Power, passion, tribalism and men staying in pubs for long hours drinking and insulting each other are long-standing notions.

Last Saturday I went to Glasgow Citizen’s Theatre to see David Hare’s ‘The Absence of War’ set in the run-up to Neil Kinnock’s ill-fated campaign in the 1992 general election.

Watching it in the turmoil of the current election campaign, and on the day of the ‘Daily Telegraph’ story that claimed ‘Sturgeon’s secret backing for Cameron’, it made for the older centre-left audience a lot of contemporary sense.

In the period since the early 1990s, mainstream UK politics have become even more stage-managed and choreographed. Two decades ago Kinnock’s Labour Party’s obsession with its opponents, the Tories and Tory-supporting press, ended up giving their enemies strength that became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Read the rest of this entry »

The disunited Kingdom and the confusion in Britain’s political elites

Gerry Hassan

Open Democracy, April 5th 2015

Scotland is still making the news. The tartan tsunami that is the SNP surge shows little to no sign of abating as election day approaches.

Beyond Scotland’s shores the UK and international media are making frequent references to the debate north of the border. Strangely some of this coverage – mostly in London based outlets – is even more ill-informed and inaccurate than was seen during the indyref. This is itself no mean feat.

Then most neutral and pro-union opinion thought No would win. They had two years to understand and come to terms with the indyref debate, knew its date from a distance and some of the contours of the environment.

After the indyref things were meant to return to the status quo. Normal service would be resumed. Scotland anchored into the union anew would do its usual thing and return a bloc of 40 or so mostly non-descript Labour representatives to Westminster. The SNP after its rebuttal in the referendum would slowly see the shine wear off their credentials in government as fiscal realities and the constraints of devolution took their toil. Read the rest of this entry »

Where are the Politics of Hope and the Country of the Future?

Gerry Hassan

Sunday Mail, April 5th 2015

British politics are in a state of flux. Many of the assumptions which defined it no longer hold.

This can be seen in the Westminster political class obsession talking about process: coalitions, deals and post-election arrangements. The age of majority government is gone for now.

The two ‘big’ parties Labour and Tory are struggling with this world. That’s the logic behind the Labour slogan ‘vote SNP, get Cameron’ and the Tory message ‘vote UKIP, get Ed Miliband’.

This is a mixture of playing safety first, talking to converts and negative politics. It is a fragmented, fractured world and one on show in the TV debate of the seven leaders: Lib Dems, UKIP, Green, SNP and Plaid Cymru, joining Labour and Tory.

This is a time of uncertainty and transition. A very unBritish, non-Westminster kind of politics – more ‘Borgen’ than ‘House of Cards’, more Nordic than Anglo-American. Read the rest of this entry »