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Posts Tagged ‘British politics’

Standing Up to Child Sex Abuse: The Story of David Steel and Cyril Smith

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, March 27th 2019

The mantra of the current age is that we take child sex abuse seriously. We listen to victims, we respect them, and we act on allegations, knowing how difficult and painful it is for people to come forward.

This is a comforting account on an important and sensitive issue. But in the light of recent events we have to ask whether we really take child sex abuse that seriously? Have we really changed that much as a society from that of the past? Are we still looking for excuses to not confront abuse and abusers? And do we really listen to, and respect, victims and their testimony?

Two examples in the last couple of weeks suggest we have not changed as much as we claim – here in the UK and across the West. Both throw unedifying light on our attitudes and that of many prominent people in public life. Firstly is the case of how former Liberal leader David Steel dealt with historic allegations of child sex abuse made against then Liberal MP Cyril Smith. And then there are the continued allegations against pop star and mega celebrity, Michael Jackson, in light of the documentary ‘Leaving Neverland’.

Two weeks ago at the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse, headed up by Professor Alexis Jay, Steel was called to give evidence about Cyril Smith. A short reminder of the backstory is that Smith was Liberal MP from Rochdale from 1972-92, first winning the seat in a high profile by-election from Labour. He was a larger than life character, having been Liberal, then Labour, then Liberal again, and a local councillor and Mayor of the town. Read the rest of this entry »

The ‘F’ word rears its head again: Federalism and Labour

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, March 13th 2019

One political principle unites not just the Labour Party from Jeremy Corbyn to Tom Watson but also the Conservative Party – from Theresa May to the most ultra-Brexiteers in the Jacob Rees-Mogg faction.

That principle is a belief in parliamentary sovereignty: which for all its elevated sound actually means the right of governments to do what they like and not be bound by things like the rule of law, human rights or what previous administrations have done. It is of course a shibboleth, a fantasy and delusion, because in the real world, governments are actually constrained by all of these factors and cannot live in a world of absolutism.

The mirage of this particular fetishism was one of the driving forces in Brexit and the allure of ‘taking back control’. But it can also be seen in part of the Scottish independence debate with some talking about a version of undiluted sovereignty rather similar to Westminster, and equally impracticable. Indeed, these sorts of debates and the clinging to certainty they entail has risen as the world has in political and economic power become more about shared, fluid sovereignties. Read the rest of this entry »

1979: The beginning of the end of the ancien regime that ruled Scotland and the UK

Gerry Hassan

Bella Caledonia, March 1st 2019

Today is the 40th anniversary of Scotland going to the polls to vote in the first devolution referendum on Labour’s proposals for a Scottish Assembly.

This marked the beginning of Scotland’s constitutional revolution through referendums which, at the moment, stands at a triptych of 1979, 1997 and 2014 but which may have another addition. Despite this there will be no bunting, no ceremonies and no plaques unveiled to mark today. Both then and now, Labour’s plans for an Assembly were little loved and respected. But in retrospect it has become more and more obvious that they marked the beginning of the end of the ancien regime both in Scotland and the UK.

On 1 March 1979 Scottish voters supported devolution by 51.6% to 48.4%: a winning margin of 3.2%. The country was divided and not very enthusiastic. The Central Belt of Strathclyde, Lothian, Central and Fife voted for change (as did the Western Isles), but large parts of the rest of Scotland were suspicious: including Grampian, Tayside, Dumfries and Galloway and Borders, and Orkney and Shetland emphatically against (with the last two even asked a different question to allow an opt-out from the whole thing if it went ahead). Read the rest of this entry »

As Labour and Tories splinter the old political order is broken beyond repair

Scottish Review, February 20th 2019

Gerry Hassan

The Labour Party have finally split after months of rumours – with so far eight Labour MPs resigning from the party and three senior Tories joining them – and numerous stories of many more considering their position in both parties.

This may or may not amount to a seismic meltdown of Labour and of two party politics as we know it. But something is rotten and deeply wrong with British politics. This is usually portrayed as the product of Brexit but has a much longer, deeper fuse. Brexit has merely exposed a series of fissures that go back to Blair and the New Labour era of disinformation, and how Thatcherism before that ignored more than half the country.

The independent MPs have caught some of the public mood with instant polling from Survation indicating this. Asked if they were right to set up their new group, for now called the ‘Independent Group’, 56% of voters said they were and 20% disagreed; asked who better represented voters between the new group and Corbyn’s Labour, 40% said the new group and only 23% Labour. Read the rest of this entry »

The next Battle of Britain is going to about England’s future

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, February 6th 2019

Brexit certainly seems increasingly to be about England – or a certain version of England and a rather specific version of the past.

Take last week for example. The previous Tuesday was another landmark day for Brexit. There were numerous big parliamentary votes and the House of Commons made clear again that it was unhappy with Theresa May’s deal with the EU.

BBC News knew this was a big moment and the next day ended their flagship ‘Six O’Clock News’ announcing: ‘Theresa May says she intends to go back to Brussels to renegotiate her Brexit deal but EU leaders say the deal is done and they will not reopen talks.’

Dramatic stuff. But what footage did the BBC have as a backdrop to showcase a British Conservative Prime Minister with their back to the wall standing up to Europe? They inexplicably choose footage of World War Two Spitfires and the Battle of Britain in the summer of 1940. The reason for this, the Beeb later revealed, was ‘a production mistake’ of loading a previously shown film again. That seemed a little disingenuous to say the least! 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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