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Why the power of loss and not imagining the future aids populists and demagogues

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, February 5th 2020

The UK – and with it Scotland – have left the European Union after 47 years. In human terms, this is a substantial length of time – the equivalent of a lifelong adult marriage or relationship, but in that comparison the British political classes and large swathe of public opinion never fully committed themselves to the European project, making the eventual divorce unsurprising.

This is a watershed moment for all of us – the 31st of January 2020 being the equivalent in importance of 1 January 1973 when the UK joined the EEC along with the Republic of Ireland and Denmark. Taking into consideration the complications of the Brexit divorce – the pro-EU majorities in Scotland and Northern Ireland – and the fact that the UK is not realistically going to be rejoining the EU in the near-future, we are living and making history of a profound, lasting kind.

For many leavers this is a time for celebration, for affirming the triumph of democracy, and the power of the people in asserting the importance of an independent, self-governing UK. For lots of remainers there is exactly the opposite array of emotions – of feeling cheated and betrayed; sensing that the UK has become a mean spirited, bitter and divided country, and that they have lost something precious and important in being part of a set of independent nation states uniquely co-operating together. Read the rest of this entry »

Scotland after Brexit: What needs to happen to win independence?

Gerry Hassan

Sunday National, February 2nd 2020

Leadership isn’t easy. It can be lonely and difficult. But it is not without rewards when you get it right. Nicola Sturgeon said on Friday: ‘leadership is not about giving people easy answers … It is about being honest with people.’

In the aftermath of Sturgeon’s announcement hours before Scotland was dragged out of the EU against our democratic wishes – many felt a plethora of different emotions about Scotland’s future, independence, and the role of the Scottish Government and SNP.

Some felt bitterly let down. They felt the road to 2020 was entirely of the First Minister’s making and that she has cumulatively boxed herself in. Others note that Sturgeon is doing what she has been doing since 2014 and even more so since the 2016 Brexit vote – playing a long-term game of cautious, gradual steps.

The bigger picture is the assault on Scottish democracy that Brexit is. This is the poll tax with bells on. Scotland never forgot the Tories for that episode and being branded ‘guinea pigs’. Today people will never forget what the Tories have done and the Brexit they have imposed – along with the refusal of Scottish Labour and Lib Dem politicians to act against this. Read the rest of this entry »

The Declaration of Arbroath is Alive and Kicking in Modern Scotland

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, January 28th 2020

This year is the 700th anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath. This seminal and pivotal point in Scottish history, in the making of our nation and collective imagination, still says something about each and everyone of us to this day. It has echoed down through the years, along with William Wallace, Robert the Bruce, Bannockburn and the Wars of Independence. These are all part of the foundation stories and myths of what Scotland is and what it means.

The Declaration was designed to secure papal recognition from Pope John XXII in Avignon of Scotland’s independence from the English vassalage of Edward II, son of Edward I, the supposed ‘Hammer of the Scots’. As important as this the words and rhetoric of the document chime and have resonance with debates and how Scotland sees itself through the years, and our autonomy, self-government and nationhood.

The great historian of Scotland T.C. Smout in his landmark ‘A History of the Scottish People’ said of the Declaration that it ‘expresses all the fierce nationalism of the 14th century’, while Geoffrey Barrow in ‘Robert Bruce and the Community of the Realm of Scotland’ wrote that it offered ‘no clearer statement of Scottish nationalism and patriotism in the 14th century’. Ted Cowan, author of a history of the Declaration has claimed that the document represents ‘the first national or governmental articulation, in all of Europe, of the principle of the contractual theory of monarchy which lies at the heart of modern constitutionalism.’

The Declaration matters, still speaks to us and to historians and their many interpretations of Scotland. Yet this overwhelming consensus is not completely universal today and was even less so in the past. The importance of the Declaration has waxed and waned over the years, and it has at times been marginalised, then rediscovered and reinterpreted. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

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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