A guest post by Alex Skinner
My first clear memory of George Galloway is of him being interviewed on TV assailing the blind, anti-Scottish unionism of the Major government, which had just been re-elected, as one of the founders of the pro-devolution Scotland United group. I was eighteen and I liked his oratory and his politics: a left-winger standing up for Scotland and demanding change.
Later I came to love him, in the way some people love able political rhetoricians who seem to embody their most cherished political beliefs. The apogee came with the Iraq War of 2003, as George stood against the Bushite drive to make the world a much more dangerous place. I was one of the million who marched in London against that disaster. Later I cheered as he took Bethnal Green and Bow from a New Labourite and his performance – and that really is the right word – before the US Senate was one of the most striking pieces of political theatre I’d ever seen. I and thousands of others on the left lapped it up.
As a supporter of independence I was disappointed that George was against, but I accepted it as the one major area we disagreed on. Hell, the wonderful Tony Benn was against too. You can’t have it all.
Then came two events that changed everything.
The first was the referendum. It’s not that George campaigned against it. That was predictable. It was the strangeness and weakness of the arguments he put forward: there are too many borders already in the world, independence would trigger a race to the bottom, Sturgeon is Thatcher in a kilt.
The anti-borders stance has validity in certain contexts, no doubt. But in Scotland’s case? Surely if you are horrified by the idea of a Scottish state emerging, logically you ought to campaign – putting a difficult history behind us – for Ireland to re-join the UK. Surely you ought to bewail the fact that Norway became independent in the early 20th century, leaving a union with Sweden. The unionist logic is that the world is definitely a worse-off place because of those two countries sharing the Scandinavian peninsula. That seems, well, let’s be polite - a pretty strange idea.
The race-to-the-bottom theory seems deeply flawed as well, and has in fact been comprehensively debunked on Wings Over Scotland. It seems to me far more likely that a surging Scotland would breathe new life into these islands both economically and politically. A race to the top, if you will.
Nicola-as-Maggie is almost too stupid to comment on, and ironically I reckon she and George would agree on most things with the obvious exception of independence. There was a surreal moment during the referendum campaign when George sat next to his fellow unionist Ruth Nae-Vision, facing Nicola and Patrick Harvey. George painted a horrific picture of – get this – the financial sector fleeing Scotland in the event of independence! Astonished as I was at what my icon had become, at least it let Nicola come back with a nice slapdown.
Though I was rapidly falling out of love with George by this point, the camel’s back was finally broken by something rather more than a straw. I’d never bought the right-wing attacks on George over his critiques of the Israeli government. It seemed to me he was merely speaking the truth about, frankly, a bunch of criminals. But then he said something that sickened and stunned me: that he didn’t want Israeli tourists to come to Bradford (probably not the number one holiday hotspot that they dream about in the cafes of Tel Aviv – but that’s not the point). This was not a valid attack on the Israeli state and its disgusting policies. This was the demonisation, at least potentially, of every Israeli citizen, logically including even those who disagree with their government and campaign against it. That may not have been what he meant, but it’s what he said, and to my knowledge he’s failed to correct it. A line had been crossed.
My love affair with George is over, though I’ll always acknowledge his progressive credentials, particularly his anti-war leadership. I must admit I’m curious what he’ll say when Scotland really does emerge as a progressive beacon, ridding itself of nukes, pushing renewables, protecting the NHS and free higher education and – I dare hope – lifting a million Scots out of poverty.
Who knows, if he can admit he was wrong about independence and his grotesque comment about Israelis, maybe one day the spark of love can flicker to life again. But I’m not holding my breath.
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This is guest post no. 5 since I launched my 'appeal'. Guest posts are welcome on any topic (within reason!). My contact details can be found at the top of the sidebar.