Friday, October 14, 2011

Labour's constitutional conservatism in a nutshell?

It's hard to draw satisfaction from the inevitable conclusion of any fox hunt, so instead I'll turn my attention to the very interesting exchange that's been going on over at Better Nation in response to Pete Wishart's article urging Labour to embrace independence. In particular, this contribution from Labour blogger Aidan caught my eye -

"That’s the crux of this – no particular constitutional state is sustainable in the long term.

Scottish political history both before and after the union of the crowns and then the Act of Union has been one of constant flux, change, revolution, revolt, counter revolution and altering the balance of power between the people, the church and the crown(s).

The best results have come from considered changes which have occurred on a gradual time scale allowing time for review, reflection and revision. That’s what devolution offers."

What Aidan seems to be saying is that it's literally beyond the wit of man to comprehensively devise the best constitutional arrangements for Scotland right now - we instead have to rely on the 'wisdom of centuries' to know better than us, meaning we can never stray too far from the status quo. Any presumptions to the contrary could lead to disaster.

If that's in any way representative of Labour's instincts on the constitutional question, it's rather telling. Dare I suggest that if the arch-conservative theorist Edmund Burke was alive and living in Scotland, he'd find his spiritual home at John Smith House?

* * *

Also incredibly sad to see the thread start with Duncan Hothersall brazenly claiming that the SNP's civic nationalism is "fundamentalist anti-Englishness" in disguise, before hurriedly and unconvincingly 'clarifying' what he had meant in a subsequent comment -

"And I did not say the SNP was anti-English. My point was that they are careful to mask the anti-English sentiment that drives much of the support for nationalism. Of course the SNP as a party is not anti-English. But there is significant anti-Englishness in the ranks of their supporters."

Nice try, Duncan, but I cannot see any way of reconciling that 'clarification' with the words you originally used. A gentle reminder to unionists - you can try to slip in these false and offensive allegations of anti-English racism as casually as you like, but they'll never go unchallenged. Never.


  1. Duncan comes across as basically a nice guy but he is blinkered. I've seen him ignore challenges rather than deal with them (e.g. recently someone asked him about the prevalence of Labour politicians and Officials at the BBC and friends at the Herald/Record and its affect on discussion in Scotland - totally given the dizzy)

    This makes me think he's not as sure of his ground as he might be. I think he said he was new to this Labour game

    Given that many of the policies he espouses have a better home in the SNP rather than in New Labour then God alone knows why he sticks with them


  2. From what I can gather, his answer to that would probably be something to do with the idealism of Labour being an "international movement" - except, of course, it isn't. He'd have loved the 1960s, but these days the Socialist International is a political family in a very nominal sense. Tony Blair preferred the company of Berlusconi to Chavez for a good reason.

  3. In the heady days of 60s & 70s Labour it was a very Euroskeptic organisation still trying to pretend they hadn't gone to the beach with Stalin.

    Also not big fans of "alternative lifestyles"

    That was a bit of a blight that darkened the name of honest socialists

    Later internationalism meant holidaying with billionaires and in Tuscany (Just like Call One Dave)

    They seem happier hobnobbing with financiers than ordinary people. In its way the SNP is more internationialist, wanting to deal with many peoples and nations as a small country dealing and making alliances, than post Imperial New Labour

  4. Odd that you didn't choose to give the entirety of the first quote, James, despite giving room for the second. Let me help. What I said was

    'the SNP’s careful cloaking of fundamentalist anti-Englishness as “civic nationalism”'

    Note that I didn't say that civic nationalism was anti-Englishness in disguise, as you claim, but that the SNP cloaks such fundamentalists among its supporters - and there are many - with the "civic nationalism" brand.

    Next time you choose to berate me, please at least quote me rather than paraphrasing in such a misleading way.


  5. You are accusing the SNP of covering something up as Civic nationalism

    Since "Civic nationalism" is part of the central ethos of the SNP, that such nationalism is based on Citizenship, rather than ethnicity, then you are equating that central tenet with anti-English racism

    In fact nutters at Siol have decried the SNP's emphasis on CiviC nationalism, as referred to on pg 57 of this

    which is a revolting accusation you should be ashamed of!


  6. So now I should be ashamed of something written by someone I've never heard of, in a publication I've never read? Surreal.

    Allow me to clarify once more. My statement intended to convey that there exists in Scotland a wellspring of anti-English sentiment. I know some SNP folk deny this but I would hope you wouldn't. Anti-Englishness is absolutely not SNP policy - I never suggested it was - but it is inescapably true that anti-Englishness foments pro-independence beliefs. Now independence *is* SNP policy. And the votes of the anti-English, however abhorrent their views, are useful and, given the split in the country, potential vital in achieving independence.

    I believe the SNP recognises this, and they try to mask the odious views of this section of their support by promoting civic nationalism in its place.

    I hope that is clear. My view is unchanged from my original statement, but apparently it was open to misinterpretation, an opportunity seized upon by several folk. So I hope it is clearer now.

  7. You didn't read pg 57 did you?

    It points out how central the notion of Civic nationalism is to the SNP. That the SNP have been derided by extremists because of it

    And in your own words you say that civic nationalism is merely a cloak for anti-Englishness.

    Your words which can be read in full here


  8. Your repeated reference to the statement you misunderstood, rather than engagement with what I have clarified it meant, suggests to me that you are just trying to have a go, not a debate.

  9. Do you disagree that Civic nationalism is a tenet of the SNP, as an organisation?

    Do you deny you called it a cover for "Anti-Englishness"?

    If your position has changed, what do you understand by the term "Civic Nationialism"?


  10. By the way I did read your "clarifications"

    To be honest I think your first post expressed your true feelings and then you realised what a hole you had dug for yourself so you were trying to get yourself out


  11. See how this scans Duncan:

    'There is an element among Labour supporters in Glasgow who are motivated by a blinkered detestation of those who aspire to a better standard of living. This foments a belief in redistribution and more generous social provision. The odious prejudices of this section of their support is masked by the Labour Party by promoting the idea of social justice.'

    It's bulls*it isn't it?

    Davie Park.

  12. "My view is unchanged from my original statement, but apparently it was open to misinterpretation, an opportunity seized upon by several folk"

    That's a terrible shame, Duncan. What were these people doing? Imagine thinking your original statement was your true feelings on the matter and not waiting for you to "clarify" what you really meant before attacking you. It's just not cricket.

    Extra marks for insisting the fault is on the readers of your original remarks for misinterpreting what you said, rather than for acknowledging that you worded it badly.

    The thing is, no matter how you try to weasel your way out of it, your remarks were made with one intention in mind: to tarnish the SNP/independence with anti-Englishness. The same way I could claim any Labour MP who talks about immigration concerns is just covering for the racist working class voters who flirt between Labour and the BNP.

    Your original statement implied the SNP's "civic nationalism" is just a mask, and that the real driver behind independence is anti-Englishness. That was easily dismissed as a pithy, tired remark. However, your "clarification" was that it wasn't the SNP that was anti-English (although clearly they have absolutely no problem with such sentiments, since the tenet that is meant to be their whole reason for existence is actually just a ruse to cover up this anti-English sentiment), but rather their supporters - of which a "significant" number feel this way - and that this sentiment is what drives "much" of the support for independence. Not "a little", not even "a significant amount", but "much". Now you're saying:

    "but it is inescapably true that anti-Englishness foments pro-independence beliefs."

    How is it?

    Here's the thing Duncan: after two clarifications, you still sound like you are trying to tar the SNP and the independence movement with the anti-English brush. Either you are very poor at articulating your views (in which case blogging is perhaps not really an advisable hobby), or you quite simply believe that wanting Scotland to be independent is nothing more than a natural progression from deep-rooted illogical hatred for English people. Well, I say "either", but I would not be surprised if it's both, and in fact I suspect it is both.

    Why don't you just admit you were wrong and we can try to forget the whole silly episode? At least until the next time you try to imply that independence supporters are just racist heidbangers.

  13. "Next time you choose to berate me, please at least quote me rather than paraphrasing in such a misleading way.


    As with so many premature offerings of 'thanks', I fear I may have to disappoint you, because I'm struggling to see how I could have paraphrased you any more accurately. As you helpfully volunteered, this is what you originally said -

    "the SNP’s careful cloaking of fundamentalist anti-Englishness as “civic nationalism""

    And this was my paraphrase -

    "the SNP's civic nationalism is "fundamentalist anti-Englishness" in disguise"

    I can spot a difference of words there (ie. 'disguise' rather than 'cloak'), but if you can spot a difference of meaning you're a better man than me.

  14. There defibitely does exist a wellspring of anti-English sentiment which in political terms will probably grow worse the longer the Tories hold sway in Scotland. I don't know how old Duncan is, whether he was actually an adult during the Thatcher years but if so he will remember the very personal hatred that many Scots felt for her. That was something I always felt a little bit uncomfortable with, I disliked her policies intensely but the level of hatred felt towards her as a woman, and as an Englishwoman, was quite unpleasant. But that came from Labour people as much if not more than from SNP people.

    I can see that kind of seniment resurging unfortunately the longer the Tories stay in power. It's actually a class thing as much as an anti-English thing. People who are struggling to get by in their daily lives will look at a Cabinet made up mainly of millionnaire public schoolboys and we all know what they will think and say, don't we? Especially when David Cameron says things like come on chaps, do the right thing and pay off your credit cards, we're all in this together blah blah.

    But the solution to it is pretty obvious. Take away their power over Scotland and there is no cause for resentment any more and we can then have a more mature and equal relationship with our neighbours.

  15. As a long time member of the SNP which has several English born members in my branch I've never thought of my desire to have an independent Scotland as anti-English but only as a desire to be Scottish.

    I put a reply in to Duncan on the Better Nation article but the idea that the SNP is anti-English seems to be rooted in the parochial, anglo-centric nature of unionism in Scotland.

    I can want an independent Scotland and be proud to be a Scot without any need to feel anti-French, anti-German, anti-Swedish or anti-English or feel that my culture and nationality can only be defined in comparison to these countries.

    However there is a curious inversion in the unionists repeated claims that the SNP are parochial as unionists can only see politics and nationality in terms of England and Englishness.

    In their world Scotland does not have a free standing identity and can only be defined in comparison with England as England is the centre of their world. Therefore Scottish nationalism cannot stand on its own and can only be defined as a rejection of England and the English. In other words nationalism is not pro-Scottish it's anti-English.

  16. There has been a 'McGlashan tendency' in the past, but I think that's dying off with a generation and I think that devolution is helping to do any case, it was usually Westminster and the elite surrounding it that attracted that ire, and that is a sentiment shared by many English folk down south.

  17. I think there are justifiable concerns about anti-Tory feeling spilling over into anti-English feeling but equally I think Labour activists also like to get in constant digs about the SNP being narrow minded nationalists and even having fascist tendencies on purpose.

    There are two reasons for this. One is that they may genuinely believe that. They may genuinely believe that we are just pretending to be mainstream social democratic types but underneath we are secretly preparing the cattle trucks to deport all the English people from Scotland come the glorious day. That's a completely irrational and paranoid view but it may be genuinely held by some people.

    But the secon reason they do it is because they know it winds us up. And of course it does wind us up - I couldn't think of many things which would be more personally offensive to me than to suggest I am some kind of neo-nazi racist who wants Scotland to be independent because I hate the English. I feel outraged by that suggestion, both by its stupidity and by its crassness, given the quite horrendous reality of what actual fascists have done.

    But I think it is something that we are going to get thrown at us by our political opponents with increasing frequency as the referendum campaign gathers strength - as an example, take Willie Rennie's suggestion that there is "something of the night" about the SNP. This is going to be a tactic and we need to think about how we deal with it.

    My personal feeling is that we need to learn not to rise to the bait, we need to learn to be able to just brush it off without getting angry and defensive. Because the more defensive you are, the more people think that perhaps there is something that needs to be defended.

    And the reality is that we do not need to defend ourselves on a charge of being ethnic nationalists because nobody, other than our political opponents, thinks that we are. Out there in the real world normal people don't see the SNP as being in any way an ethnicentric party for the simple reason that we are not. If we were, would we be the party that ethnic minority Scots are most likely to vote for? Of course not.

    So really we need to learn to be a bit more relaxed about this type of thing. It's a sign of desperation after all so let's not worry about it or let it get to us quite so much.

  18. I tend to take the opposite view, Indy - if we just chill out about it, we're effectively conceding that outrageous charges of racism are a legitimate part of political knockabout. No other party would tolerate that, so why should we?

  19. Very well said James. The don't rise to it argument reminds me a bit of some of the more right on* independence supporters who berate nationalists on blogs for complaining about BBC bias. Their argument is "what on earth did you expect?" or "they've always been like that" as if that somehow makes it ok.

    I thought the opening line accompanying Wishart's piece was slightly off as well. "Don't panic cybernats!" was a bit cheeky.

    They'd hardly introduce an article from a Labour MSP (spoof or not) with "Don't panic Cyberbrits" or "Don't panic Pseudo Socialists" but picking them up on it would presumably be dismissed as having no sense of humour.

    * right on independence supporters are often the ex Labour people who like to tell us how uncomfortable they are with nationalism but are bravely prepared to hold their nose and tolerate and even mingle with the rest of us presumably fundie shortbread munching headbangers to get an independent Scotland. Lucky old us.

  20. To be honest, I don't agree with casting those sort of aspersions on other nationalists, especially not Indy. We're all on the same side. But for my money the correct response to allegations of anti-English xenophobia is the one Alex Salmond gave to George Foulkes on Question Time a few years back - he certainly didn't laugh it off, and nor should he have done.

  21. I understand the feeling about needing to rebut these arguments and instictively that's the way I feel myself because it is so outrageous. But the question is who are we rebutting them for - ourselves or the voters?

    You know there was an interesting piece of research, can't remember where, I read about Oxfam and some of the other agencies who were working with asylum seekers. And they put a lot of effort into coming up with rebuttals about the usual lies that are put about in the Daily Mail etc - you know the kind of thing, asylum seekers get more benefits than pensioners, they get put to the top of housing lists etc - but what they found was that focusing on rebutting these arguments actually reinforced them for many people.

    It's a bit like asking someone when did you stop beating your wife. No matter how stronngly or passionately someone denies it they are still talking about beating their wife.

    And my point would be that since no-one outside the cyber-unionists and the more extremist politicians - Lord Foulkes, Iain Davidson etc - believes that we are semi-fascists we really have no case to answer as far as the general public are concerned. So why should we? But if we let the unionists push us onto that ground we are basically letting them set the agenda and to bring in issues of ethnicity etc which we don't want to be a part of the independence debate because that is not what independence is about.

    So every time someone comes out with a slur about us being anti-English or with nonsense about border guards or independence resulting in families being divided, by a border of barbed wire or a ditch filled with burning oil presumably, we must resist the temptation to get dragged into that kind of debate. We need to talk about what independence really means in the modern world, not what dyed in the wool unionists think it means (or pretend they think it means). We need to decide the narrative, not let them decide it for us.

  22. Dear Duncan

    Of course there is anti-Englishness in Scotland, as there is anti-Catholicism, racism, etc. However the only party to take it seriously is the SNP. They have in the past banned members of certain organisations like Siol nan Gael from being SNP members.

    In contrast, we have the example of the last Labour First Minister Jack McConnell announcing he was supporting anyone but England at football, or the Shuggie and Duggie cartoon in the Labour-supporting Daily Record regularly churning out cringeworthy anti-England stereotypes, or the BBC encouraging local youths in Gallowgate to trash a car covered in England flags for a news report. Small examples perhaps, but indicative of an unchallenged, unthinking anti-Englishness amongst some Scottish unionists.

    Or is it OK to be anti-English so long as you prefer to do it within the framework of a British state?