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Posts Tagged ‘Scottish Review’

Democracy isn’t working: Can it be fixed?

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, December 4th 2019

Britain likes to claim to be the inventor of democracy, and England to assume the mantle of being ‘the mother of Parliaments’. These are national myths – leaving aside that the oldest national legislature in the world is the Icelandic Parliament.

The Whig story of democracy has been one of the most prominent interpretations of British and English public life and traditions. It is one which has been told and retold by enlightened and less enlightened sections of the British establishment.

It has also been uncritically championed by large elements of the British left, in Labour, the Liberals and then Lib Dems, and wider intellectual circles. They, as much as Tory and right-wing circles, have felt drawn to the story of British continuity and exceptionalism – and putting Britain at the heart of a global story for good which reflects well on life and institutions here.

This story of Britain has been a powerful and at times popular one, but it has been and become even more a self-immolating version of this country, cloaking tradition, privilege and the way things are done from a sceptical eye, let alone a radical, democratising view. It has prevented us from seeing what the UK is like, shorn of mystique and mythology. Read the rest of this entry »

History in the Making: The End of the Era of Neo-liberalism – in the UK and Globally

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, November 27th 2019

This, we are continually told, is meant to be a seismic, even historic election – usually referring to the fundamental implications of Brexit.

What is seldom addressed is that this election also signifies far-reaching change in another aspect of politics. This is the confirmation of the jettisoning of the economic assumptions which have defined UK politics for the past 40 years – sometimes described as neo-liberalism.

This shift is a continuation and reinforcement of a change witnessed in the 2017 UK election, commented upon in a few places, then forgotten. That election saw for the first time since the 1970s a contest where neither of the two big parties, Conservative or Labour, were advocates of the neo-liberal settlement.

Labour’s shift under Jeremy Corbyn is self-evident: a rupture with the compromises of New Labour, Blair and Brown. Less discussed has been the change in the Conservatives after Cameron and Osborne, and their gleeful embrace of austerity. Hence, the Tory manifesto of Theresa May, primarily written by her chief of staff Nick Timothy, contained a powerful dismissal of the politics of asocial individualism – ‘We do not believe in untrammelled individualism. We reject the cult of selfish individualism. We abhor social division, injustice, unfairness and inequality.’ Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

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 »

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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