Archive for the ‘Longer Essays’ Category

The Twilight of the British State:

Alex Salmond, Scottish Independence and the European Question

Gerry Hassan

Open Democracy, October 28th 2011

This is a fascinating and fast moving period of politics, at a global, European, British and Scottish level, challenging many of the most deep-seated and unexamined assumptions held across the political spectrum.

In the last week we have seen the euphoric SNP conference at Inverness showing a party on the crest of a wave which seems to think that the future is within its grasp.

Then we have at Westminster the return of the popular bogeyman – Eurosceptism – and its capture of the mainstream of the Conservative Party with the biggest ever backbench Tory rebellion on Europe.

What is seldom explored is the interconnection of these two issues: Scottish independence and Euroscepticism. Both illustrate the multi-dimensional nature of the crisis of the British state, and tensions and faultlines in the existing order with its mantras and folktales of parliamentary sovereignty. And in both, the centre of gravity has shifted significantly in recent times; towards an environment favourable to Scottish self-government, and a Eurosceptic agenda. In the first, the debate is now between full fiscal autonomy and independence, and in the second, the Tory mainstream debate is between repatriation of powers from Europe and complete withdrawal. These two dimensions could in the future influence each other in ways seldom stated or explored. Read the rest of this entry »

Anatomy of a Scottish Revolution: The Potential of Post-Nationalist Scotland and the Future of the United Kingdom

Gerry Hassan

Political Quarterly, July-September 2011

Introduction

The face of Scottish politics has been utterly changed. The political map of Scotland which was once uniformly Labour red across the Central Belt is now nearly completely SNP yellow with small pockets of Labour representing a battered, seemingly defeated army.

Why has Scotland changed so dramatically, and what does this mean for Scottish politics? What has occurred in Scottish society, identity and the politics of nationalism and unionism? What are the likely consequences and evolution of Scottish and British politics, and ultimately the prospects of independence? And is the way Scotland is portrayed by the British political class and media symptomatic of a union which has lost the will to survive? Or is something afoot in Scotland which could be a catalyst for more far reaching British change?

The Changing Face of Scottish Politics

The SNP’s emphatic victory in the Scottish Parliament elections is of watershed proportions. The SNP won 45.4% of the constituency vote to Labour’s 31.7%, a lead of 13.7%, and 44.0% of the regional list to Labour’s 26.3%, a lead of 17.7% (1). This is after four years of the SNP heading a minority government following their one seat victory over Labour in 2007. The 2011 elections resulted in an SNP majority with 69 seats to Labour’s 37 in the 129 member Parliament which everyone had assumed, with its mixture of First Past the Post 73 seats and 56 Additional Member seats, would not produce a one party majority. Read the rest of this entry »

The ‘Forward March’ of Scottish Nationalism and the End of Britain As We Know It

Gerry Hassan

Renewal: A Journal of Social Democracy, Summer 2011

Introduction

Scotland has been changed dramatically and fundamentally. The SNP landslide victory has resulted in a completely different political map of Scotland.

This is a wider set of changes than just a northern, near-foreign politics of little real interest to the Westminster village. For a start there is the demise of the Labour hegemony north of the border. This is part of a deeper crisis of the British political class and state, British identity and the demise of a popular British story that connected people and power. This is a major loss of faith and confidence in left and right, which is only just beginning to unfurl, awakening the possibilities of addressing the English question and nature of the UK.

The Changing Face of Scottish Politics

The SNP’s election victory is a historic and watershed one in Scottish and British politics. The SNP won 45.4% of the constituency vote to Labour’s 31.7%, a lead of 13.7%, and 44.0% of the regional list to Labour’s 26.3%, a lead of 17.7%. This is after four years of Alex Salmond leading a minority SNP Government of 47 seats to Labour’s 46 in the 2007 Scottish Nationalist narrow victory over Labour: the first ever national triumph of the SNP. The 2011 elections resulted in an SNP majority with 69 seats to Labour’s 37 in the 129 member Parliament; the First Past the Post map of Scotland is now emphatically SNP with 53 members to Labour’s mere 15, and the result only made more respectable by the regional list. Read the rest of this entry »

After ‘new Britain’: The Strange Death of ‘the Labour Nation’

Gerry Hassan

Renewal:  A Journal of Social Democracy, Autumn 2010

The question that hovers above the Iraq inquiry is – since the evidence on Saddam Hussein’s weaponry was so flaky and the post-war planning so atrocious – why on earth Tony Blair did it. One theory, albeit not the one likely to be offered by Mr Blair himself, is that his militarism and messianism, the mix of responsibility and entitlement that he evinced, are part of the inheritance of all post-imperial British leaders…

If empire is the backdrop of Britain’s foreign entanglements, it is also implicated in the country’s exposure to another great debacle, the financial crash. The City and the empire grew up symbiotically. Imperial trade and investment made London a world financial centre; the City became vital to the British economy, while at the same time, preoccupied as it was with foreign deals, largely separate from the rest of it. The empire thus bequeathed commercial habits, and an overmighty financial sector, which British taxpayers now have cause to regret.

Bagehot, The Economist, 5 December 2009

We stand at a critical point in Labour’s fortunes: sixteen years of New Labour; the exhaustion of a prescriptive, limiting way of understanding, enacting and doing politics, and the end of the line for the incantation of ‘modernisation’ and ‘New Britain’. Read the rest of this entry »

Labourism, the New Labour revolution and what comes next?

Gerry Hassan

Soundings: A Journal of Politics and Culture, Autumn 2010

The New Labour era has finally ended. And though the full scale of the destruction and wreckage which it has inflicted upon British politics, society and progressive ideas will not be entirely clear until we can gain an element of hindsight through the passage of time, this is not a happy story. Nor is there any prospect of a ‘Back to the Future’ politics for Labour – a ‘restoration’ that returns us back to the certainties and parameters of life pre-New Labour. This might seem comforting and desirable to some, but they are pining for a world which no longer exists.

Fundamental to how we understand the past, present and future of the Labour Party is the term ‘labourism’, which has for a long time been used to describe the party, movement and wider labour interest. The term was used by Theodore Rothstein as long ago as the end of the nineteenth century.1 Rothstein was critical of the idea that a party could simply ‘represent’ the interest of labour (as embodied in trade unions) without developing a distinctive socialist politics critical of existing institutions. He was also critical of labourism’s focus on wages, its economism, at the expense of wider issues, and of its sectionalism. Instead of a call for justice for all, or a radical challenge to the relations of power, those in the labourist tradition simply wanted more of the national cake for the constituency they represented. And for Rothstein, the British state reinforced the ‘non-political, opportunistic and counter-revolutionary’ character of the working class (From Chartism to Labourism, p276). He was scathing on the record of British socialism, Fabianism and ILP ethical socialism, and in assessing Labour’s record up to 1929 argued that ‘its fortunes have most strikingly confirmed the fact that opportunist ideology presented an insurmountable obstacle to the development of a genuine, potentially revolutionary political class struggle of the proletariat’(p281). Read the rest of this entry »