Rainbow Nation Scotland
Scottish Review, April 6th 2016
Scotland is a land of tolerance and acceptance in at least one respect.
Four out of six leaders of our main political parties are lesbian, gay or bisexual. Plus the Secretary of State for Scotland.
This is a far cry from the Scotland of old. Only sixteen years ago there was the near cultural war over Section 28/Clause 2a, centred on the supposed ‘promotion’ of homosexuality in schools, passed by the Thatcher Government in 1988. This episode saw Brian Souter and Jack Irvine lead a campaign against abolition which was nasty, illiberal and filled with fear and prejudice, and which hit a popular cord with parts of the public.
This Scotland was a land nervous and unsure of itself – doubting its attitudes on sexuality and homosexuality, but also much more. Whereas today, Scotland couldn’t seem more different and at ease in these areas. This is the country with the most lesbian, gay and bisexual leaders of political parties anywhere in the world, and was recently rated as the best country in Europe in terms of legal equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
How has this happened? And how do we describe and understand such change? There is, for example, an element now of complacency and conformity in some strands of society – of assuming everything has changed for the better and that much or most of the struggle for equality socially (if not economically) has been won and is irreversible. Read the rest of this entry »
What part of Britain is not for sale?
Sunday Mail, April 3rd 2016
This week the future of the steel industry moved centrestage, Scottish parties have finally started talking tax, and the Tories version of what they call a ‘national living wage’ came into force.
British steel used to lead the world. In 1875 it accounted for 40% of world production. The industry employed 320,000 people in 1971, which has fallen to 24,000 now. It produced 24 million tonnes in 1967, down to 12 million tonnes today.
Tata Steel – an Indian company based in Mumbai who bought Corus in 2007, an amalgamation of British Steel and a Dutch firm – employ 15,000 of the current 24,000 jobs in the UK industry.
The world has a huge steel surplus – the product of Chinese industrialisation, low costs and state subsidies. The US Government has put up protective trade barriers to protect domestic steel from Chinese competition. But the EU, egged on by the UK, has argued against any such action.
This is about many things – high quality, high skilled jobs; good apprenticeships; the future of manufacturing; whether the UK has any kind of industrial policy and what role, if any, government has beyond rhetoric and retraining. Read the rest of this entry »
In the age of constant fear facts and figures matter
Scottish Review, March 27th 2016
The Scottish Parliament broke up this week – ending the fourth parliamentary term and marking the start of the election campaign.
These are strange times. Politicians try to reassure us that everything will be alright, while they scare us witless about the threat of terrorism to national security.
Well-practiced lines are filled with contradictions. The UK is the fifth richest economy in the world. Yet, our future fate supposedly hangs on the verdict of the EU referendum, and if voters dare to vote for leaving we would be taking that proverbial ‘leap in the dark’ – the same one invoked in the indyref.
This is an age of contested facts and figures: of hyperbole, hysteria and manufactured fear. Key drivers are the decline of old class and political terms, the attack on the social contract between government and voters across the West, and the never-ending war on terror. Read the rest of this entry »
‘Arise Now and Be a Nation Again’: The neverending story of Scotland’s history
Scottish Review, March 23rd 2016
Tom Devine has been a huge intellectual influence in Scotland in recent decades, having made major and thoughtful contributions to many important historical and contemporary debates.
His latest work, ‘Independence or Union: Scotland’s Past and Scotland’s Present’ is part a summary of his previous research, ‘The Scottish Nation’ and his work on Scotland’s Empire, seen through the prism of Scotland’s place and influence in the union.
This descriptive, wide-ranging book covers not only over 300 years of Scottish history, but huge changes, the rise and fall of ideas and powerful forces, along with this nation’s place in a wider context: most critically, its relationship with England, but also with its European neighbours, and Empire and Commonwealth. Devine, for much of this story has a real way of telling this, while giving a place for people, traditions and the many complexities involved.
Devine tells the story well of the Scotland pre and post-union, and the difficult dilemmas and competing pressures that parliamentarians and leaders had to weight up. There is a sense of balance and geo-political awareness for the Scotland of immediately before and the years after 1707, and the issues of Scottish autonomy in the union, London’s view of Scotland, the Scottish need for access to greater trade opportunities, the running sore of taxes and duties and the contradictory relationship between Jacobinism and the union alongside the role of Presbyterianism, which puts the 1715 and 1745 risings in proper context. Read the rest of this entry »
The Tory Fantasyland Version of Britain hits the buffers
Sunday Mail, March 20th 2016
George Osborne presented his eighth and potentially last Budget. Bad politics. Dodgy decisions and finances. All leading to Iain Duncan Smith’s sensational resignation sparking bitter Tory divisions.
Osborne is a very political chancellor, convinced of his own sure touch which his record doesn’t bear out. A mere 111 days before his budget he presented a glowing Autumn Statement which he has had to tear up and correct downward; by the sum total of £56 billion.
Even worse, he is missing the targets which he set himself – on debt and the welfare cap, and only meeting the third, on a fiscal surplus, by the end of this Parliament by a sleight of hand moving monies forward one year.
This was a more highly political budget than usual: with Osborne focused on the Euro referendum and coming Tory leadership contest when Cameron stands down. Already he had to drop ambitions for pension reform due to Tory nerves, and opposition to disability cuts began to make another U-turn likely – and led to the resignation of Iain Duncan Smith. Read the rest of this entry »