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Men Behaving Badly: Boris Johnson, Prince Andrew and Trump

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, November 19th 2019

Boris Johnson in the past week has seen his Tory fortunes soar. This was in a week when Johnson belatedly went and spoke to the people affected by the Yorkshire floods and faced their anger. In the same period, he struggled to answer why he might be ‘relatable’; avoided giving a straight reply to that well-known killer question, ‘how many children do you have?’, and with wider consequences for our politics professed to not know the number of Russian oligarchs who fund the Tory Party.

Despite the above incidents and many more numerous people present Boris Johnson in positive terms as a charmer, a character, someone able to get on with people, to get things done, and critically, who is a proven vote winner. Some of his biggest apologists go even further comparing him to some of the defining Tory PMs – Winston Churchill, Harold Macmillan, Margaret Thatcher – all part of a largescale Johnson sycophantic industry out there.

Johnson represents the worst aspects of a certain kind of man. How is it possible, credible or defensible for a man, and a man seeking our votes to be PM, to not be able or more accurately willing to say how many children he has? Read the rest of this entry »

Jeremy Corbyn, Labour and Scottish Independence

Gerry Hassan

Sunday National, November 17th 2019

This week Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s trip to Scotland made the headlines – and not for positive reasons. Corbyn’s position in less than 24 hours changed more than once on independence.

First, he shifted from his previous position of not having an independence referendum in the ‘early years’ of a Labour Government, indicating that a vote would not take place in ‘the first term’ of an administration. Then when this was seen as the significant shift it was, he rowed back and returned to the first position, stating that a vote would not happen in the ‘early years.’ But he was not finished there and later commented that he would not allow a vote ‘in the first two years’ of Labour in office.

All of this left people confused and questioning the intentions behind the above. This on a day when Boris Johnson’s reputation sank further as he faced the fury of people affected by the Yorkshire floods, which could have led the news bulletins uncontested.

It is not as if we haven’t been here before. Corbyn and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell have long flagged up their open-mindedness on a future indyref. McDonnell in August said that Labour would not ‘block’ another vote, while Corbyn has previously said he was ‘absolutely fine’ with a future referendum. Read the rest of this entry »

Conventional wisdom is no guide to the future in an age of turmoil and surprise

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, November 13th 2019

UK general elections are never about one single subject even when politicians try to define them as such. Ted Heath’s ‘Who governs Britain?’ election of February 1974 became about the state of the country, and Winston Churchill’s belief after the war in Europe ended in 1945 that he would be elected by a grateful electorate turned out to be illusive as voters instead looked to the future.

Similarly this election will not be about just one issue – Brexit. In Scotland there are three big competing issues; and of course much more besides. There is Brexit, who speaks for anti-Tory Scotland, and the independence question.

No one party speaks for majority Scotland across all three. The SNP are the leading party in the first two – positioning themselves as the biggest force in significant sized majorities. But they do not, as of yet, speak for a majority of Scotland on the third issue – independence – which matters most to them.

It is increasingly evident that the ghosts of past elections and limits of what passes for conventional wisdom run through how this election is seen. Thus, 2019 is continually interpreted through the experience of 2017 and the memory of the Corbyn surge – both by Labour Corbyn supporters and many media watchers. Read the rest of this entry »

Letter from America: Civil society matters more than who wins elections in the UK, US and elsewhere

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, November 6th 2019

Britain from afar looks very unhappy and divided. This much is obvious from the USA – not exactly a benign, peaceful, harmonious world itself. But in its media coverage, and the people I have spoken to in the past week, there is a universal understanding that things are not going well in the USA or the UK.

Everybody I have spoken to in America has heard of Brexit, knows that Boris Johnson is UK Prime Minister and that he wants to get the UK out of the EU as quickly as possible. Yet even more than that – amongst some of the detailed conversations I had some of which were in the most unlikely situations – with people in Boston, in wider Massachusetts and upstate New York, there was an impressive understanding of the bitter UK divisions on Brexit, and the faultlines and fissures pulling the country apart in myriad directions.

A young twenty-something barman, Peter, in Woodstock, MA, reflected on the democratic engagement of Scotland’s 2014 indyref, its high turnout, and recognised that it was still a live issue – ‘Are you going to have a second indyref?’ he asked. The conversation begun when I indicated I was from Scotland and he revealed that he planned to come to Edinburgh in 2020 to undertake a PhD on democracy in Tibet and Bhutan. He was of firm belief that the Scottish experience offered lessons for others, and had a global relevance. Read the rest of this entry »

Letter from America: Let’s Stop Looking to America for the Future

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, October 30th 2019

‘You don’t know how lucky you are. Never take your democracy for granted. You don’t realise what it’s worth until it’s too late.’

Mikola Statkevich, former Belarusian Presidential candidate, 2015

America likes to think of itself as the shining light on the hill, as the exemplar in the whole world of life, liberty and happiness. Yet the America of today is increasingly turning it back on such a version of itself.

This is a dysfunctional, divided, unhappy society, increasingly not at ease with itself, let alone the wider world. Whereas once America offered the vision of a society of upward prosperity, supposed classlessness and life chances, it now looks like a version of a future which no longer works for most. In this its fraught politics mirror a society and capitalism which only work for the elites.

On the surface American society, whether prosperous city centres, places of tech innovation and comfortable suburbs, still seems to work. This is after all still the richest country in the world in terms of GDP according to IMF figures for 2019. But in terms of GDP per capita it is seventh and slowly slipping – with Luxembourg in first place, followed by Norway, Switzerland and Ireland. 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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