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Brexit, Dunkirk and a Britain Where the Past Shapes the Future

Gerry Hassan

Open Democracy, July 26th 2017

The past is always around us in what passes for modern Britain.

In recent years, particularly in the aftermath of the Brexit vote, it seems more omnipotent and increasingly problematic. From politics to culture and most aspects of public life we are confronted with a fantasyland version of the collective past which is selective and sepia-tinged. This matters because it reduces the prospect of us believing that we can make a better collective future than the nasty, mean-spirited reality which is for too many contemporary Britain.

This predicament comes into full view in the summer of 2017 and in Christopher Nolan’s just released film ‘Dunkirk’. This has attracted many plaudits for its grand scale, alongside its depiction of chaos and confusion. But it has also attracted comment (including critical ones) for its lack of characters, central story, and context (one of which is the absence of any Germans or overall strategy from either side).

However it did portray powerfully the gathering foreboding and claustrophobia on the Dunkirk beachhead as the Germans closed in on the trapped British and French forces. This was after all the greatest British military disaster and reverse ever in the country’s history. In military terms it rates much higher than the American Wars of Independence and Irish independence – which were geo-political defeats – or the much cited humiliations of the loses of Tobruk, Singapore and Hong Kong in 1942. This is epic history on every level: a bigger encirclement of men than even at Stalingrad, and the biggest amphibious military rescue ever undertaken by anyone. Read the rest of this entry »

Living the High Life and Post-War Dream in Dundee

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, June 28th 2017

In the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower tragedy tower blocks and social housing are everywhere in the news.

Much of it has been ill-informed, instant commentary. People asserting that tower blocks aren’t suited to modern living or making sweeping statements about the failings of council and social housing, A large part of this seemed to be a displacement or discomfort of middle class opinion having to talk about a forgotten and neglected section of the country, and confront the living conditions of large numbers of poor people.

Housing is a topical subject. Long neglected by the British political classes it has become a social and generational scandal – one that has overlooked millions of people, and in particular, younger people, from owning or renting a decent home. It is all a far cry from the Thatcherite hubris of a ‘property owning democracy’ in the 1980s: a phrase which came of age in the 1950s and which was invented by the Scottish Tory Noel Skelton in the 1920s. Read the rest of this entry »

The Limits of the Ruth Davidson Show

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, June 21st 2017

These are times of change. An election that shocked. Parties in crisis. And a world which never seems to stop in terms of news, surprises and tragedy.

Scotland isn’t immune to this. But one take as we come up for two weeks after the election has been that the Tories are back and that this is all due to the appeal of Ruth Davidson. And then there is the secondary story of Scottish Labour showing that it isn’t dead, and has possibly even come off the ropes, prepared to fight and hope again.

The Scottish Tories are seen as on the way up and even having UK impact and influence. Scottish Labour are now talked about as possibly having a future and not written off as a complete basket case. Read the rest of this entry »

We have reached a watershed for UK politics: Time for independence to catch the wave of change

Gerry Hassan

Bella Caledonia, June 20th 2017

These are bewildering and often disorientating times to live in. In recent weeks and months it has felt at times difficult to keep up with the speed of events – as history has been seemingly made and remade every few days.

Such periods call for being honest, respectful in debate, and reflection and self-awareness in everything any of us say or do in public. Look around at the events in the UK and world and they rightly should imbue any of us with a humbleness and wariness of easy remedies.

That said the Scottish election results mark some kind of watershed. Take a couple of perspectives from the ‘Imagination: Scotland’s Festival of Ideas’ Scotland after the election event in Glasgow on Sunday. Peter Geoghegan said the election was ‘the end of the 2014 indyref road’. John Curtice that ‘Brexit has been as disruptive for the Nationalists – as for every other party.’ Angela Haggerty that independence was facing its ‘first big test’ since 2014.

Curtice pointed out that the SNP’s 37% was the tipping point of support for the party and FPTP working in its favour (the SNP won 35 out of 59 seats: 59%). Its support is relatively flatly distributed across the country compared to its opponents, and this produces according to Curtice for the SNP ‘feast or famine’. Any further fall of even a few percent and the electoral system will begin to work against the SNP – the way it currently does for Tories, Labour and Lib Dems – and did when the SNP broke through at Westminster in October 1974: their previous peak until 2015 and 2017. Read the rest of this entry »

A new era of Scottish politics has begun:

The Forward March of the SNP Halted?

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, June 14th 2017

There was a UK election last week. We have the semblance of a UK Government, but underneath all this there remains little that could be called British politics.

This was a four nations UK election. Each gave a different party a conditional victory. The SNP were the most popular party in Scotland with 36.9% of the vote. The Tories were the biggest force in England with 45.6%. Labour were by far the strongest party in Wales with 48.9%, while in Northern Ireland the now famous Democratic Unionists won 36.0% of the vote.

This election showed that the concerns of England are centre-stage but, as is often the case, are assumed to be that of the wider UK. Often this comes down to a tiny slither of London with a vague concept of ‘the North’ added on occasionally. Scotland was, as is traditionally the case in Westminster elections, virtually squeezed out of the media – returned to the box marked ‘miscellaneous’ after the excitement and promise of 2014 and 2015. ‘You have had your coverage now’ the Westminster broadcasters will think if the subject ever enters their heads. Read the rest of this entry »