George Robertson and the Scots’ Crisis of Unionism

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, April 16th 2014

Something seems to be seriously wrong in the pro-union campaign, ‘Better Together’.

They may still be ahead in the polls, but the gap has narrowed significantly. Two years of dire warnings about the perils of ‘separatism’ and ‘tearing Scotland out the United Kingdom’ have only exposed the threadbare, tetchy character of the pro-union argument so far.

In November last year ‘The Economist’ declared the referendum won for the union; now it reflects on the ‘teflon’ qualities of Scottish nationalism, and the incessant ‘pessimism’ of the pro-union side. Beyond George Robertson’s dire warnings of ‘cataclysmic’ geo-political consequences and ‘the forces of darkness’ a sea change is happening in Scotland which will have an impact long after the referendum. Read the rest of this entry »

Sceptical Scotland needs to be listened to and respected

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, April 9th 2014

There are many Scotlands – generational, by social background, interests, opinions and beliefs.

One Scotland that tends to get overlooked is the thoughtful, but sceptical part of our nation – not Yes but not completely No – who look on with bewilderment and an element of confusion at much of what passes for public debate. We owe it to ourselves to reach out and to understand this Scotland.

Refrains heard recently from this group include, ‘When will this be over’ and ‘When will it ever end’. What does this sense of wariness and resignation signify? Part of it must be an understandable revulsion from the official politics/media ‘civil war without the guns’. But something else is at work which can be summarised as a contest between the Scotland of myth – of our society as a comfortable, centre-left place versus the potential of this debate to demythologise and challenge these myths. That is uncomfortable for some.

Second, there is for some doubt about the Scottish Government prospectus on independence, summarised in the view, ‘I distrust the bright, shiny, optimistic take on independence being put forward’. Read the rest of this entry »

Scotland’s Constitution and the Strange Non-Death of ‘Civic Scotland’

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, April 2nd 2014

Scotland is to have its own constitution. Two years exactly to the day that Scotland could become an independent nation, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon made the announcement that many had long anticipated and suspected.

This was a significant moment with huge import, whatever the result of the independence referendum. It can be seen as confirmation of Scotland’s slow reassertion of itself as a distinct political community, but was also filled with all the usual tropes and references: ‘enshrining Scottish values’, the ‘sovereignty of the people’, and the evoking of a ‘Scottish Constitutional Convention’.

This revealing announcement seems to signify the strange non-death of ‘civic Scotland’ – that amorphous part of polite respectable society, first identified hanging around middle class, well-heeled parts of Edinburgh and Glasgow in the early 1980s, at least in the eyes of government. Read the rest of this entry »

The Importance of Growing Up: Heroes and Villains in Modern Scotland

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, March 26th 2014

Who inspires and defines us in modern Scotland? Who gives us inspiration and imagination which says something about who we are, how we see ourselves, individually and collectively? Who are the heroes and, maybe just as pertinently, anti-heroes of the day?

Is Hamish Henderson’s frequently quoted line that Scotland is a land of ‘no gods and precious few heroes’ (as well as heroines) accurate? Couldn’t the opposite be said to be true?

A certain vocal strand of Scotland proudly declares its allegiance to a pantheon of heroes: Keir Hardie, James Connolly, John Maclean, James Maxton and John Wheatley. This is the left and nationalist version of Scotland evoking ‘Red Clydeside’ workerist connotations.

This is motivated by defining Scotland as a distinct political political community, providing a lineage from past to present which offers directions and what some believe is a moral compass; i.e. what would Keir Hardie have done on independence, the Iraq war or charging Tony Blair as a ‘war criminal’? Read the rest of this entry »

The Strange Story of Scottish Labour: Unloved and Misunderstood

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, March 19th 2014

The Scottish Labour Party tends to get a bad press. People say it stands for nothing. That for years all it was interested in was power and self-preservation. They thus discount its contribution to public life down the years – and in particular its role in the establishment of the Scottish Parliament.

Scottish Labour may not be in a good way but stereotypes evoked of it by some of its enemies are as unhelpful as they are inaccurate. Some nationalists propose that ‘Scottish Labour is a fiction’, seeing it only as a branch operation of the British Labour operation. This is just as problematic as the Labour caricature of the SNP and Scottish nationalism as what holds back politics north of the border; in actual fact both distortions are problems, along with the dysfunctionalism between the two traditions.

Scottish Labour has traditionally presented itself as the party of Scotland and Scotland in the union, and as the long-term advocate of home rule. Pre-devolution the party used to be able to undertake the bridge building exercise of pressing Scotland’s interests in Westminster, while selling the benefits of the union in Scotland. This delicate negotiating act has broken down since the advent of the Parliament. Read the rest of this entry »