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Archive for the ‘Longer Essays’ Category

Don’t Mess with the Missionary Man: Brown, Moral Compasses and the Road to Britishness

Gerry Hassan

December 22nd 2009

in Tony Wright and Andrew Gamble (eds), Political Quarterly Special Issue on Britishness, Blackwell 2009

‘…we long for that most elusive quality in our leaders–the quality of authenticity, of being who you say you are, of possessing a truthfulness that goes beyond words.’

Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope (1)


Once upon a time one way people used to judge politicians was by the words they used: in books, pamphlets, articles and speeches. Politicians cared passionately about the words they used, knew they would in part be judged by them, and attempted to create that ‘quality of authenticity’ to show their words linked to a set of values and view of the world.

Looking at the pantheon of Labour politicians through the party’s history, a number of its leaders in its early years–Keir Hardie, Ramsay MacDonald, John Wheatley and James Maxton to name but four–straddled the world of thinking and writing about politics and acting as politicians (2). This tradition has continued–with later R. H. Tawney, R. H. S. Crossman and Tony Crosland–attempting to define a modern sense of the socialist credo. More recently, Michael Foot can be seen within this tradition, while pre-Diaries Tony Benn showed in his work the paucity of much of his thinking (3); the same can also be said of Tony Blair’s few writings which show a politician with only the most superficial understanding of ideas (4). Read the rest of this entry »

The Auld Enemies: Scottish Nationalism and Scottish Labour

Gerry Hassan

December 21st 2009

in Gerry Hassan (ed.), The Modern SNP: From Protest to Power, Edinburgh University Press 2009

Some might wonder why he as a perfervid Scot was not also a perfervid Nationalist. The reason was that the nationalism which he saw expressed in Scotland at present was not real nationalism: it was petty and parochial, and, he was sorry to say it, had signs of a kind of latent hatred. It had a sort of chip-on-the-shoulder hatred that could create very considerable trouble if it were not recognised as such and opposed.

Willie Ross, STUC 71st Annual Report 1968 (1)

The key argument is that if we remove all Scottish political control and influence over what all accept is a single economic entity in the United Kingdom, then we are left inevitably to be controlled by that total economy. Consequently, we would have less say than we have now over our own fate. Paradoxically, total separatism means less independence.

Norman Buchan, ‘Politics I’ in Whither Scotland?, 1971 (2)

The one country the Labour left can help liberate, by direct action, and without diplomatic, political or trading inhibitions is Scotland.

Jim Sillars, Scotland: The Case for Optimism, 1986 (3)

Scottish Nationalism and Scottish Labour have had a long, tempestuous and difficult relationship, characterised by differences and disagreements over philosophy and party competition.

The party story is a complex and nuanced one, influenced by a range of factors from the role of ideology to party identity and positioning, competition and relationship to the external environment. This chapter will focus on the Labour-SNP dynamic, examining the way each has tried to negatively define the other, use case studies to explore attitudes, and offer some tentative conclusions on what this tells us about the two parties and their inter-relationship. Read the rest of this entry »

The Making of the Modern SNP: From Protest to Power

Gerry Hassan

in Gerry Hassan (ed.), The Modern SNP: From Protest to Power, Edinburgh University Press

The Scottish National Party celebrates its 75th anniversary this year in good heart and shape. Established in 1934 as the amalgamation of two parties – the National Party of Scotland and the Scottish Party – it now finds itself in the unprecedented position of being Scotland’s Government after winning the 2007 Scottish Parliament elections, the first set of national elections the party has won in its history.

The SNP has, in the last forty years, moved from being a marginal force often ridiculed, patronised and caricatured by opponents to a force which is both respected and feared, and which has defined and reshaped Scottish politics, brought the Scottish dimension centre stage, and forced other political parties to respond on their terms.

It is now the accepted wisdom to state that ‘modern Scottish politics’ began with Winnie Ewing’s victory in the Hamilton by-election in 1967. If this is true then modern politics can be defined in at least three distinct phases: firstly, 1967-79, taking us from Hamilton through the devolution decade, secondly, 1979-97, the Thatcher/Major years, and finally the election of New Labour in 1997 leading to the establishment of the Scottish Parliament in 1999 and the election of a SNP minority administration in 2007. Read the rest of this entry »

Where is Scotland Going? Foreign Lands and Forgotten Places

Anthony Barnett in discussion with Gerry Hassan

Open Democracy, November 24th 2009

Scottish politics often seem like a foreign land to the Westminster cognoscenti, its political class and media. Where is Scottish politics and where is it going? After all the talk of the popularity of the SNP and Alex Salmond and problems of Scottish Labour what was the significance of the recent Glasgow NE by-election? Labour got an unexpectedly large majority, confounding expectations in a constituency held by Speaker Martin and was tainted by the expenses scandal. It seems to be passing into history as if it was a blip. But maybe it wasn’t. The London media especially considers that the mandate of heaven has passed to Cameron’s Conservative party and is incapable of considering any alternative. So OurKingdom has decided to host a discussion with regular contributor and our de facto Scottish Editor Gerry Hassan. Anthony Barnett asks the first question.

A. This was a by-election with high visibility taking place at a time when voters are angry and disgusted with Westminster. Yet there was only a 33 per cent turnout. By-elections can often have low polls. The by-election David Davis forced at his constituency of Haltemprice and Howden in 2008, for example when he got 34 per cent of the vote. He put a major issue of our liberties to the public. But while there were lots of fringe candidates neither the Lib Dems (who came second there in 2005) nor Labour stood against him. I argued that to get a third of voters out when there was no contest was not bad. Does the same logic apply here – was there always a sense of ‘no contest’? Even though Labour were running against the SNP as the Scottish government? There is another possibility. That Glasgow North East expressed the profound disillusionment that is now widely felt, and voters actively sat on their hands. Perhaps we are heading towards yet again breaking the record of low turnout in the coming general election? Do you think this conclusion could be drawn? What caused the extraordinarily high degree of abstention?

G. Lets start with the Glasgow North East contest. You have to look at the immediate context and the wider picture. This is a seat which is part of the forgotten Scotland and indeed the forgotten Glasgow. A place only mentioned in the media to provide a backdrop to illustrating trite tired phrases as ‘dependency culture’. This is a place where none of the four main parties in Scotland have any real roots, organisation, voice, and where local people themselves have little voice or sense of power. Read the rest of this entry »

Reimagining ‘the English Question(s)’:

English Voices, Spaces and Institution Building

Gerry Hassan

Public Policy Research, Volume 16 Number 2


It is a decade since the establishment of the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly and just over thirty years since the Scots and Welsh first voted on devolution in the ill-fated 1979 referendums. While the Scots and Welsh, along with the Northern Irish have each voted twice on their constitutional status or devolution, one part of the UK – namely England – has not voted once.

Some commentators and observers now talk about the emergence of ‘the English question’ when this actually describes what could be better termed ‘the English questions’. These are a set of issues which have been in the British political system since Gladstone raised Irish home rule in the 1880s, and more recently, since devolution re-emerged as a serious political issue for the British state in the mid-1970s.

This essay will explore the background and terrain of ‘the English question(s)’ and address what is the essence of the issue, namely whether it is primarily one of identity and culture or governance and legitimacy; ask if it growing in salience and what factors and dynamics are likely to influence it in the near-future? In particular, it looks at the likely environment after the 2010 UK election; and in what ways  ‘the English question(s) can be addressed in the immediate and longer-term. 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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