Archive for category Ideology

I, nationalist.

I’ve never been one to call the Deputy First Minister by her first name, as if we’re just mates. The SNP freesheet with the Yes Scotland branding that popped through my door this week promised me an ‘at home with Nicola’ interview, and there she was just chilling out in a comfy jumper.  Nationalism with a human face. The whole of the freesheet was as laughable as the fake newspapers handed out by the No campaign where every headline simply read ‘[noun] better together in UK, say experts!’.

The fact is, a lot of the stuff kicked out by both sides is cheap and ridiculous, and rightly deserves to be laughed out of town. Now writing newspaper articles calling Alex Salmond a fascist is the other extreme to hailing him as a genius and a saviour. He is, at the end of the day, just a middle-aged man in a casual sports jacket. The problem is that people are getting increasingly defensive of things that don’t need to be defending, so when a Telegraph hack phones in some copy calling Alan Bissett an agitprop extremist, people on the Yes side defend him as if he were Scotland’s greatest living playwright, the SNP conference performance included. He’s written some pretty good novels and his Andrea Dworkin-inspired introduction to feminism was patchy but well-conceived, but he can probably look after himself. The last thing we need is a homogenisation of the voting public into two camps where Greens are the SNP with a bit of recycling thrown in and Labour are the Conservatives. The #bittertogether hashtag stopped being funny about ten minutes after it was invented.

Because we have to admit that there are ridiculous things about both sides, from Alex Salmond’s taste in substanceless ‘poignant’ art, as hangs in his office, to George Robertson’s postcard to the apocalyptic. We probably need to find amusement in the ironies of both sides at the expense of the overly zelous and the impressively naïve. We need to accept that Christopher Grieve was a gifted but often tragi-comic figure and not an unsung hero. We need to realise that Nicola’s cuffs of Ayshire lace provided an unexpected comic touch, and that the Yes Scotland film using Big Country on the soundtrack first shown at the Declaration of Cineworld was not the stuff that aspring nations are made of. Quite rightly, we should also laugh (though not in the way they intended) at whichever Better Together staffer thought the best way to respond to the National Collective Yestival was with a ‘joke’ straight from the Top Gear annual. Laugh at far-left splinter groups arguing about whether nationalism is the antithesis of communism or the path to true liberation, and take heart in the fact that the guy sitting in an armchair in Perthshire with ‘Free Scotland’ on his twitter profile is as ridiculous as the guy tweeting from his sofa in Renfrew with ‘British AND Scottish’  under the picture of his face.  We live in a country of complexities and overlaps, divided loyalties and shared values. Pretending there is a big dividing line down the middle of two exclusive groups is equivalent to the Edinburgh-Glasgow jokes trotted out every night in comedy club warm-up acts. Diversity is a good thing, and that means realising you don’t have to be part of Yes the identity, just Yes the voting preference. And if you’re reading Nicola, my favourite thing to do on a night in is cook a curry, have a cheeky glass of red and  watch Michael Fassbender films.

The Scottish Greens’ Nordic Future

Patrick Harvie's Swedish opposite number Gustav Fridolin. Notice the dissimilarities from Alex Salmond and Johann Lamont

Patrick Harvie’s Swedish opposite number Gustav Fridolin. Notice the dissimilarities to Alex Salmond and Johann Lamont

The Scottish Greens’ conference in Inverness last weekend was dominated by one theme, and one question. Why is Scotland not like its neighbouring Northern European countries in terms of living standards, life expectancy, wellbeing and sustainability?

Three of the plenary speakers chose variations on the theme and all of them spoke glowingly about the potential for moving away from the Anglo-Saxon obsession with big economics and moving toward a government and financial system more similar to Scotland’s Northern European peers.

The effervescent Lesley Riddoch has made it her mission in recent years to persuade Scotland of the advantages of decentralisation, localism, empowerment and Nordic levels of public service provision. In the Greens she has obviously found a receptive audience. She was joined by Mike Danson  from Heriot Watt University whose time seems to have finally come after years of proposing alternative economic models of Scotland, and Robin McAlpine of the Reid Foundation fronting the work done by a team of academics and researchers to develop a blueprint for an autonomous Scottish parliament.

The Reid Foundation’s Common Weal project is gaining momentum, and Robin McAlpine paid the Greens a compliment in saying that they already have the policies to make it work. The challenge lies in convincing the SNP and Labour of the validity of such an approach or making sure that the Greens gain enough seats at the next Holyrood election to at least begin to implement it in government with another party.

Talk of the Arc of Prosperity may have vanished from the lips of the First Minister, but over in the Green and Independent corner of the chamber the vision is very much alive, and it is hard to argue against Scotland pursuing such a course when all the evidence suggests it would lead to a decidedly better country for everybody.

The list of potential polices is almost endless, but the Greens are committed to increasing investment in strategic public transport infrastructure, re-regulation of bus services to give local authorities more say, increased basic wages to both help people and increase tax yields for investment in services, municipal energy companies and education reforms based on Finland’s proven globally leading example.

The Common Weal project is a welcome addition to the Scottish political scene with its stress on common consensus rather than socialist revolution, and its use of existing similar states to Scotland which clearly illustrate that it is possible to tackle some of Scotland’s endemic problems in an inclusive and democratic way.

The Greens now find themselves in the strange position of having a more cohesive and coherent vision for Scotland’s future than almost any other party in Holyrood, the SNP included. Next time you’re stuck in a traffic jam on the way to pick up your kids from an overpriced nursery and worrying about the 8.2 per cent price rise your energy company have just foisted upon you, take a moment to consider that Scotland has an alternative modern future ready and waiting.

A Niceway To Die


The ’Niceway Code’ is not just about appeasing cyclists – it is typical of a government increasingly tokenistic and out touch with the challenges it faces.

The Scottish Government recently launched a campaign to improve Scotland’s road safety record called ‘The Niceway Code’. You may have missed this due to the fact that it only has a budget of 500,000 pounds and it is so appallingly lame that Transport Minister Keith Brown’s department seem faintly embarrassed about the whole thing.

The campaign aims to reduce the number of road deaths by asking road users to be nice to one another, which is surprising in that the law already compels people to be nice to and not kill one another on the roads.

The fact that the campaign does not even remind motorists or their legal obligations (and in some cases directly contradicts what road markings tell cyclists to do as shown in the picture below) has incensed active and sustainable transport groups. One Holyrood insider even talked of how an panel of interest groups were left dumbfounded when Keith Brown’s team revealed their grand strategy for preventing death and injury on the nation’s streets. The Scottish Government’s own statistics show that 1 in 14 road deaths each year are cyclists, and only in a tiny minority of cases have the cyclists committed even minor infringements to the highway code.

Don’t go left, even though that’s where the cycle lane is.

The SNP seem to want to keep everyone happy, which is why they seem to view cyclists and cycling as an interest group and not as a genuine means of tackling some of the endemic transport and urban problems of contemporary Scotland. They will happily commit three BILLION pounds to doubling the A9 from Perth to Inverness but cannot muster the couple of million pounds it would require to radically reshape Scotland’s urban and suburban spaces to make them more liveable.

Cycling is not just about lycra and weekend hobbyists – harnessed properly it can create safer streets for children and families in particular, cut air pollution and help meet Scotland’s climate goals. It can save the government and taxpayers money, cut health bills and reduce the strain on public transport networks without extra subsidies. If even a crumb of that three billion were spent on redesigning towns and cities to make them more people-friendly the SNP would be a world leader, but for the time being they’ve just got everyone sniggering into the back of their hand. And I’m being nice.


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Diverse In Action


The independence movement is just that; a movement. It is not a retailer of one narrative, or one coalescent ideology. It is a broad church peopled by persons of many political creeds, and none.

Disagreements about post-independence policy are inevitable, and welcome. This is one of the Yes campaign’s strengths. Any attempt to convince the public that we all agree wholesale on every aspect of post-independence direction would be completely disingenuous, and the public wouldn’t buy it.

The SNP have been very successful in recent years because they appeal to the centrists in the voting population. The electorate from large swathes of the centre centre left and centre right can all look to the SNP and identify policies which appeal. The SNP have been able to bridge ideological positions because the SNP itself is fairly reflective of public voting demography; made up as it is of people who can compromise on policy in pursuit of independence. That the SNP have cross-section appeal is no coincidence, but neither is it simply a construct to garner public support. It simply is because the SNP has to reflect the views of its membership, and we are a fairly diverse bunch.

It is no secret that I disagree with the SNP on NATO membership. The majority of Scots in any competent polling have expressed anti-Trident, and anti-Trident replacement preference, and I obviously welcome the SNPs commitment to the removal of nuclear weapons post-independence if it is in the SNPs gift to do so, but I will be campaigning for removal from NATO after that yes vote.

Similarly, I am a republican and I disagree with the current SNP narrative on a continuing monarchy. I say narrative because I am not aware of a vote in which the party have had an opportunity to express any preference for this new position.

I also have a preference for an independent Scottish currency, and agree with Professor John Kay that this is the best possible position for a post-independence Scottish Government to consider. However, I also agree that continued use of Sterling in the interim, as a short to mid-term stability measure is a rational and sound proposal. We will be using sterling on the day we become independent and any transition to a new currency would inevitably take time, but I also agree with The Sun’s Andrew Nicholl that locking a post-independence Scotland in to perpetuity of economic reliance on rates set by rUK isn’t much like my idea of independence either. That said, Sterling is ours too, and any attempt by Osborne to try persuading Scots that we will be excluded from using it is as ridiculous as it is offensive.

I am comfortable that I can be in the SNP and not agree with all of its policies. It isn’t a shock, horror moment that I don’t, instead it is a valuable lesson about the art of compromise because for every policy I disagree with, there are ten that I do agree with, and I can live with that. Post independence it is up to me, and people like me and the public to make our case to the Scottish people about what shape our independence takes.

Independence does not belong to the SNP, nor does it belong to Alex Salmond. Independence is about opportunity and democracy. It isn’t about policy. The SNP are quite right to set out their position on post-independence policy, and as the leading party in the independence movement, it is inevitable that the public expect them to. However, it is important that the public know that independence and the SNP are not interchangeable and the press are partly responsible for this. It suits their narrow reporting of the independence movement to conflate SNP policy with post-independence reality.

That said, the SNP are also not responsible to the independence movement. If Patrick Harvie wants to present an argument for a Scottish currency, then his vehicle to do that is his political party. If those on the radical left want bolder vision for post-independence policy, let them sell it to the public. If they call on the SNP to do these things, they are just as guilty as the media of conflating independence with the SNP. Diversity is strength, if those on the Yes side are bold enough to sell it.

The risk for those on the Yes side is that, while welcome, all the groups which have been set up to campaign for independence risk being consumed by navel gazing and endless posturing on post-independence policy. All the policy in the world doesn’t matter a damn if there is no yes vote.

The SNP are a campaigning party. James Mitchell’s study in to levels of activism in political parties evidences that the SNP has the most motivated membership and the membership of the SNP are used to campaigning, and campaigning hard. The SNP membership knows that to win elections it is all very well to have a national strategy, but when it comes right down to it, it is the areas where the highest levels of activism take place that garner the best results.

This campaign will be won on the doorsteps. It won’t be won on social media – or even in the national media. It won’t be won spending innumerable hours creating socialist utopian ideas in rooms with like-minded people. It won’t be won at rallies preaching to the converted. We don’t have to preach to the converted, we have to convince other voters that independence offers opportunity.

It is a frustration that people in political parties have known since the dawn of time: those that talk the loudest, or tweet the loudest, or speechify the loudest don’t necessarily work the hardest. It is all very well to talk about what you want from independence, and that is a valuable enterprise, but it must be accompanied by action, not just narrative.

A few weeks ago when David Cameron came to Scotland, around 50 people gathered to protest against him, the Conservatives and Trident in Govan. How many of these people then translated that protest in to proper affirmative action by actively campaigning for independence in Govan that week? Almost none, I can confirm. Protesting has its own value, but it certainly isn’t productive in convincing the public of the benefits of independence.

So, “splits in the Yes campaign” isn’t something to be feared. It is a necessary part of democracy that different views are represented. However, what we need to fear is inaction.

Those campaigners in the SNP will be campaigning on the doorsteps and in the streets for independence. If other groups and organisations in the Yes campaign don’t want the SNP to set the agenda, they have to ensure that they are out there campaigning right alongside them. The parties and bodies which make up Yes Scotland may have different opinions, priorities and opinions, but are united in seeking a yes vote.  The yes campaign’s breadth is its strength, but the public will only believe that if they see it.

We can live without the “keyboard warriors”, but we can’t carry the campaign without the support of active campaigners.

We have just over 500 days until the referndum, it is time to step away from the computers, end the obsession with minutiae and get our bahookies in gear. This referendum ain’t going to win itself.

Over your cities Green grass will grow

The Labour party have looked about them, taken stock of the post-Blair wasteland and identified the enemy. which apparently is those well-known destroyers of democracy and oppressors of the common people in the Scottish Green Party.

At Scottish Labour Conference in Inverness this weekend there will be a fringe event entitled ‘Green Splinters’, staged with the express aim of finding out why some people have realised that they would rather vote Green instead of Labour.

Labour peer Lord Bassam, who I am told by Sooth Folk has a flatteringly obsessive distaste for the Greens, tweeted: ‘In Inverness to discuss countering the Green threat to progressive politics.’. It is hard to think of a more obtuse statement given the situation that many people in England find themselves in. I have no idea how much Lord Bassam knows about Scottish politics or the Scottish Green Party, but I would wager that it is significantly less than he thinks.

The Green vote is not a strictly socialist vote, and it is not an anti-Labour vote. The Green vote is a vote for people actually doing their jobs with competence and enthusiasm, and for an ability to bring new ideas into an intellectually moribund arena. Green politics is socialist in certain aspects, normatively seen it embodies the values and aims of social democracy, but it is marked above all by its ability and tendency to challenge institutions from a citizen-based democratic perspective.

Green politics in Germany is a case in point. The German Green Party as it now exists was born from a coalition of environmental and democratic organisations instrumental in the downfall of the German Democratic Republic, combined with the West German Green Party. After first breaking into German regional parliaments, in the late 1990s it provided crucial support to an SDP government looking to form a parliamentary majority.

In Sweden too the Greens have been able to pick up votes from the intellectual middle class and disillusioned former supporters of agrarian and socially liberal parties where those parties have drifted to the right. They often get a hard time from the officially socialist and social-democratic parties respectively, but for the maths to work it is actually in the interests of the red left to work with the Green left in order to form workable governments, rather than expend resources trying to exterminate them and claim 45 per cent of the vote and a lifetime in opposition.

Now the fact that this event is even taking place caused a squeal of delight amongst many in the SGP because it means that the Greens have gone from being a party nobody in politics cared about to one which is obviously threatening the hegemonies enjoyed by institutionalised Labour and unimaginative nationalism.

It would, however, be sad if the Labour party were to decide that keeping the Greens at bay were more important than trying to build workable alternative governments at Westminster and Holyrood.

There is also the crucial matter of Labour failing to embrace either electoral reform or the environment to any significant degree. And devolution, childcare reform, progressive taxation and urban planning. We need a future democracy which looks quite different from today, and all tomorrow’s parties should try to work together to make it happen. The Greens have the ideas and they need viable partners to make it happen.

We’d rather be friends than enemies, but if Labour want to be enemies they should consider the fact that it is a civil war they might well lose.