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It was twenty years ago: Scotland, our Parliament and the limits of Devolution

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, November 14th 2018

Twenty years ago Scotland began the devolution era when the Scotland Act 1998, which established the framework for the Scottish Parliament, achieved Royal Assent on 19 November 1998 – the final parliamentary debate having taken place two days before in the House of Lords.

Much has happened in the intervening twenty years. The Scottish Parliament was set up with a Scottish Executive, which morphed into the Scottish Government. Donald Dewar became the first of five First Ministers, and died tragically in October 2000. Labour-Lib Dem coalition administrations gave way to minority, then majority, then minority SNP rule.

A Parliament set up in George Robertson’s words to ‘kill nationalism stone dead’ has ended – by next year – with twelve years of continuous SNP administration following on from the first eight years of Labour-Lib Dem rule.

There was the rise and fall of the Scottish Socialists; the role of the Greens; the falloff of the Lib Dems; and rather implausibly for some, the return of the Scottish Tories from the shadows under the leadership of Ruth Davidson. Read the rest of this entry »

Glasgow Govan: The Seat that Rocked and Made Modern Scotland

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, November 7th 2018

Thirty years ago Scotland was a very different place. Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister, the poll tax was yet to be implemented, and there was no Scottish Parliament.

Then along came the Govan by-election – a seat that produced a political sensation and set of shockwaves that reverberated throughout Scottish and UK politics with an impact years after the event.

Exactly thirty years ago this weekend – on 10 November 1988 – Jim Sillars, ex-Labour MP, left-winger and powerful orator, won the seat from Labour in a high profile, octane campaign. It was not always assumed that this would happen. Labour had polled well in the previous year’s general election, winning 50 of Scotland’s 72 seats, but soon the ‘fighting fifty’ became known as the ‘feeble fifty’, with the SNP querying what Labour’s strength in numbers was able to do to protect Scotland.

All of this came live in the contest, but still Labour remained favourites. What decisively shifted voters was the energy and dynamism of Sillars and his campaign, alongside a haphazard and badly judged Labour campaign which exuded complacency and was also harmed by UK Labour’s lack of understanding of Scotland. Read the rest of this entry »

Telling the Missing Stories of Working Class Culture in Cinema:

‘Peterloo’ and ‘Nae Pasaran’

Gerry Hassan

Bella Caledonia, November 3rd 2018

It is a rare occasion when two films are released on the same day about working class histories of Britain. This weekend sees such a situation with the release of Mike Leigh’s much awaited ‘Peterloo’ and Felipe Butos Sierra’s ‘Nae Pasaran’.

‘Peterloo’ is the story of the infamous massacre at St. Peter’s Field, Manchester, on 16 August 1819, when fifteen people were killed in cold-blood by the authorities, demonstrating naked power and to remind them of their place.

It is cause for celebration that a mainstream film has finally been made about this important event in British and working class history. ‘Peterloo’ occurred at a time of radical ferment in Britain, in the years immediately after the Napoleonic Wars when, despite the defeat of the French, the British ruling classes were still in mortal fear of rebellion and the example of the French revolution. Read the rest of this entry »

Trump, Bolsonaro, Orban: This is not an Age of Fascism Yet

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, October 31st 2018

A spectre is haunting the modern world: fascism. All around the world people are talking about and identifying fascists. Newspaper headlines abound in the US such as ‘Is Donald Trump a fascist?’, ‘How fascist is Donald Trump?’ and even more emphatically, ‘Donald Trump is actually a fascist’: all from mainstream liberal papers.

The threat of fascism is now a worldwide phenomenon. We have just seen in the Brazil the victory of ‘strongman’ Jair Bolsonaro; the Hungarian authoritarianism of Viktor Orban; the rise of France’s Front National, led by Marie Le Pen; Germany’s Pegida and AfD; and Austria’s Freedom Party. All have earned the description at points ‘fascist’. If that were not enough there is another dimension, with some talking about ‘Islamic fascism’ and frequent comments such as ‘the terrorists are the heirs to fascism’: that last quote from George W. Bush, but it could have been any Western leader of recent times.

Trump is a cheerleader and mobiliser, whether you are for or against him, by dint of being the President of the USA. The thoughtful Robert Kagan wrote before the 2016 US election: ‘This is how fascism comes to America, not with jackboots and salutes (although there have been salutes, and a whiff of violence) but with a television huckster … and with an entire national political party … falling into line behind him.’ Read the rest of this entry »

British politics, Misogyny and the Prejudice which festers in the Tories

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, October 24th 2018

The political world has been seen as an abrasive, macho and male club for centuries. Across the West this has meant to have changed in the last couple of decades with record levels of women’s representation and women leaders across the world.

Yet, despite this, the male exclusivity tag still hangs over much politics. Neither the Labour Party or Liberal Democrats (or their predecessors the Liberals) have ever had a woman leader. The Tories may have given the UK two leaders and two Prime Ministers, but until recently they had a terrible record in women Tory MPs. And the total number of women elected in the last century has only just exceeded the number of men in this House of Commons.

In the year when we marked one hundred years since women first won the vote in the UK, although it took another decade for gender equality (and then another twenty years until 1948 until the UK abolished plural voting), it is a bit of a reality check for some optimists when a number of Tory MPs talk in a disgusting and unacceptable way about their leader and PM Theresa May. Read the rest of this entry »

Gerry Hassan is a writer, commentator and thinker about Scotland, the UK, politics and ideas. more >
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