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Rise Now and Be a Nation Again: Can a genuine English democratic politics emerge?

Gerry Hassan

Sunday National, January 26th 2020

England has always mattered to Scotland, and indeed to Wales and Northern Ireland. It has 84% of the UK’s population and 533 of the 650 seats in the House of Commons – which means that as of now how England votes gives the rest of the UK the government England wants, irrespective of how the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish vote.

Yet of late, England as a substitute for the UK has become increasingly evident. This is not just true on the right, but in left and liberal circles, underlying how widespread is this mindset.

In the past month, there have been numerous cases. One example was Andy Beckett writing twice in ‘The Guardian’, one pre and one post-Christmas, supposedly about the state of UK politics, but in both all his references were English and all his analysis was about the state of English politics.

In the last week, the ITV current affairs show ‘Peston’ had a discussion about the qualities Labour members wanted from their next leader, and as a graphic of ‘British patriotism’ the English flag was used, with no one in the studio commenting or offering an explanation. Read the rest of this entry »

An Example of the Good Public Life for All of Us: Nigel Smith

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, January 22nd 2020

Nigel Smith who died unexpectedly at his home in Campsie Glen in East Dunbartonshire last week at the age of 78 was never a household name. Many reading this will never have heard of him, but he was an important figure in the public life of Scotland and the UK over the past 25 years.

In his working life, Nigel was a businessman, running his own engineering company in Glasgow’s Springburn for just under 30 years. More than this, he was active in public life especially concerning referendums in Scotland, the UK and internationally; and in other major issues such as the future of broadcasting.

Nigel was that rare creature – a pro-devolution businessman who felt that bodies like CBI Scotland did not speak for him, or for a whole swathe of opinion supportive or sympathetic to a Scottish Parliament.

In the 1979 referendum he had some small involvement in the campaign and the group ‘Business for Yes’. This was to be a salutary experience, because the pro-devolution campaign was divided and outmanoeuvred by its opponents, lacking a single umbrella organisation due to Labour-SNP mutual suspicion. Read the rest of this entry »

Westminster and the Scottish Parliament: Who speaks for Scotland and who will decide its future?

Gerry Hassan

The Audience, January 22nd 2020

As expected Boris Johnson has said no to Nicola Sturgeon and her demand for a second Scottish independence referendum.

This will not be any surprise to anyone in the SNP, all those living in Scotland, or anyone who follows politics. It all had the air of inevitability, with only the tone and certainty of Johnson’s refusal having any element of surprise – born of the confidence of the recent election victory and his majority of 80 seats.

Constitutional stand-offs such as this, involving the UK and Scottish Governments at loggerheads, are not the sort of things we are used to in the UK. This is unchartered territory that raises the questions of what is going on, what is driving each government, and what if any are the long term consequences – for Scotland and the UK, and the causes of independence and the union?

The background to this is that Scotland held an indyref in September 2014 which resulted in a 55:45 vote for the union. The referendum had been agreed by the Scottish and UK Governments with the latter agreeing a Section 30 order – from the Scotland Act 1998 – to temporarily devolve the power to hold a vote on independence, normally a reserved matter. Subsequently, while the UK voted in June 2016 by 52:48 to leave the EU, Scotland voted 62:38 to remain, with the SNP subsequently claiming a mandate to have another independence vote – which would require Westminster agreement. Read the rest of this entry »

Why Boris Johnson cannot say no forever

Gerry Hassan

Sunday National, January 19th 2020

Thirty years ago the Proclaimers sang ‘What do you do when Democracy’s all through? What do you do when minority means you?’

This was the environment in Scotland after Thatcher’s third term victory of 1987. The Proclaimers caught the denial of democracy and sense of powerlessness many felt in the face of that political juggernaut. They also gave voice to the need to name the democratic crisis of the UK as such and its impact on Scotland, while emphasising our collective refusal to acquiesce to it.

Many feel that these sentiments resonate down through the years to the present. They feel that Scotland is trapped and that democracy is being denigrated. All of this raises the questions: what do we do after Boris Johnson has said no? Can he really go on indefinitely saying no? And how should the Scottish Government and wider independence movement respond?

Johnson’s defiant stand follows on from two years of Theresa May saying ‘now is not the time’. The latter was obviously playing for time: a hope that something would somehow turn up which would change events north of the border. Read the rest of this entry »

The Royal Family Story is more than mere soap opera

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, January 15th 2020

The world of 2020 is filled with important events and news: the Iran-US conflict, Australian bush fires sweeping the continent, and the ongoing Brexit process.

Yet what story has dominated the UK media to a claustrophobic and obsessional degree in the early days of the new year? The answer is none of the above but the ongoing crises of the Royal Family engendered by Harry and Meghan’s declaration of semi-independence.

This saga has nearly everything for the modern media including familiar reference points, well-known characters (some loved more than others), and a rich back history.

More than this the royal obsession goes to the heart of what Britain is and what it represents, its established elite history and traditions, the protection and veneration of old and new monies, while offering an alternative and enduring concept of power and legitimacy to the democratic will. And if that were not enough it also engages with class, inter-generational relationships and rivalries, sexism and racism. Read the rest of this entry »

The People’s Flag and the Union Jack: An Alternative History of Britain and the Labour Party
Gerry Hassan is a writer, commentator and thinker about Scotland, the UK, politics and ideas. more >
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