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Gordon Brown: The Ghost in the Machine

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, November 14th 2017

Gordon Brown, like him or loath him, was a titan of a figure in British politics for close on two decades. Along now comes Brown’s attempt at putting his case and a call for understanding and redemption in his autobiography – ‘My Life, Our Times’.

It comes with much baggage for all who will read and encounter it, including from the author himself who goes through the pretense that he had to be reluctantly dragged into writing it, explaining himself: ‘For me, being conspicuously demonstrative is uncomfortable – to the point where it has taken me years, despite the urging of friends, to turn to writing this book.’

Gordon Brown’s life story could be gripping and compelling. It contains all the hallmarks of good drama. Here is a man gifted with rare talents and drive; who knew he wanted to serve. At an early age comes tragedy when he is deprived of eyesight in one eye. This does not stop the young Brown but only makes him more determined and resolute. Read the rest of this entry »

Sexual Misbehaviour is the concern of all of us

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, November 8th 2017

A spectre is haunting British politics. At a time of high wire politics, instability and the biggest constitutional challenge – Brexit – in post-war times, the political classes are obsessed with allegations of sexual impropriety, harassment and abuse.

This affects all the main parties and at the most senior levels – the Conservatives and de facto Deputy Prime Minister Damian Green, Labour’s Kelvin Hopkins, the Lib Dems with the previous Lord Rennard scandal, and the SNP with the resignation of Children’s minister Mark McDonald. While allegations have centred on the House of Commons and ‘the Palace of Pestminster’, other legislatures such as the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly are not exempt.

This is a political, cultural and ethical storm. There are clearly a whole spectrum of allegations from former Defence minister Michael Fallon putting his hand on journalist Julia Hartley Brewer, to allegations of groping, grooming and even rape. Read the rest of this entry »

The Importance of Joy, Lightness and Irreverence

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, November 1st 2017

Scandals and controversies are thick and fast these days. There are the indictments against senior members of the Trump campaign, allegations of impropriety by sexpest MPs, and the ongoing stand-off and clampdown by the Spanish authorities in Catalonia.

All of these are serious issues asking important questions about politics, public life and the nature of democracy. Yet at the same time, the manner of how these and other factors are brought into scrutiny and debated often seems to contribute to part of the problem. There is a sense of decay and something rotten at the heart of what was once seen as accepted democratic norms. Alongside this there is a prevailing feeling that institutions and elites which once knew certain unwritten codes of behaviour, no longer abide by these, and that in large parts of the West, we really are part of, what is in effect, a complete free for all.

This has become an age of anger, discontent, rage against the machine, and populist revolts. It has also connected to social media, and become a time for simple solutions, soundbite politics, and uber-partisanship amongst the most vocal and true believers. Read the rest of this entry »

The Fantasyland Version of Britain is alive and kicking – and driving Brexit

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, Oct0ber 25th 2017

British democracy used to be presented as the envy of the world – the Whig version of history, the rule of law and above all the sense of continuity which was meant to differentiate the UK from its European neighbours.

Such a view permeated British elites, institutions and public life. But it also informed many left-wing radicals and dissenters. One notable example was provided by the American writer Edward Shils on visiting the UK in 1953. He reflected on being completely taken aback to hear ‘an eminent man of the left, say, in utter seriousness … that the British constitution was “as nearly perfect as any human institution could be.”’ And Shils was even more surprised to find that ‘No one even thought it amusing.’

Fast forward sixty years and the prevailing wisdom is that few, if any, sensible people hold such self-congratulatory views. Britain has been buffeted by so many changes in the decades since 1953. While there are some examples of famous British continuity from then to the present day, such as the monarchy, in many respects, Britain today is a different country. Read the rest of this entry »

Is Scotland really a social democratic country?

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, October 18th 2017

At last week’s SNP conference in the middle of her keynote speech, Nicola Sturgeon asked: ‘What kind of country do we want to be?’ She wasn’t expecting an answer, and seemed surprised when a member of the party faithful shouted out ‘an independent one.’

Behind Sturgeon’s non-question is the belief in Scottish difference, the efficacy of our values, and the link of both of these to the idea of Scotland as a social democratic country. Thus, around the conference chatter and commentary, Lesley Riddoch on Sky News spoke of ‘a social democratic consensus’ in Scotland, while Iain Macwhirter on the BBC talked of ‘a social democratic politics.’

Scotland as a land of social democracy has become the lexicon of our politics. It has accelerated under devolution, contributing to the mood music of the political environment and institutions. This has become even more pronounced under SNP rule, for obvious reasons, as the difference between Scotland and England politically is emphasised – Scotland social democratic good; England neo-liberal bad. Read the rest of this entry »