‘The Non-Life and Death of Scandinavian Scotland’ and Other Tales From #SP16

In 2014 I wrote an article entitled ‘Heroes of a Deferred Nation in which I opined that far from having the potential of a Nordic social-democratic economy, an independent Scotland was better placed to remain a rainy small C conservative outpost – not dissimilar to the one it would have recently left. I feel that last week’s Holyrood elections proved I and many others correct in this regard. You may thank me later, but here is why:

Blue is the colour
Scotland has always had Tories. I see them walking their nonsensically named dogs through the park, clad in tartan jackets for that Walter Scott feel you need when dressing a Yorkshire Terrier. Occasionally you will also see them on the news postulating social cynicism and economic mania, but in that guise they are more likely to say they are SNP or Labour. That works as follows:

David Cameron: “We need to make savings in public expenditure to secure the future prosperity of Britain”

Reaction: “Booooo, bloody Tory filth. Go back to London and shag a pig”

Nicola Sturgeon: “We cannot increase tax, it will make high earners flee Scotland”

Reaction: “Goan yersel Nicola! One of us, one of us, one of us!”

It’s a simple yet effective equation.

For a great deal of time this hedging brought many a traditional Tory voter to the door of Labour or the SNP, and as long as taxes remained relatively low, and petrol was reasonable at the pump – all was well. That is of course until the constitutional issue became precipitous. Once the prospect of independence barged down the door of sedantry Edinburgh politics, many true blues decided simply trading off their vote to the most steady handed of the two dominant parties would not cut it. The churn of this rising vote has its origins in a number of as yet ill defined demographics, and it is fair to say it was not simply a matter of a Labour to Tory swing. If we strip away the party clothes and poke at the naked flesh of ruddy political policy there is a clear swing towards economic conservatism, the final destination of which usually depends on your position on independence.

Labour seemed to be ashamed to say they are avowedly unionist (secret sources have told me they very much are), and the SNP for all their middle ground omertà cannot go a day without scaring the flock with talk of another referendum. There are a great many people who genuinely do not wish to leave the United Kingdom, there was a big vote on this and everything – you might be surprised. It is therefore not shocking that a party running on a platform of ‘we are going to oppose the dangerous separatists at the gates’ did quite well with those who go in for all that.

A short addendum to this: it is nothing new that parties seen to be competent often do well, and regularly win. Can anyone honestly say that any party in Scotland at the moment looks competent outside the SNP and Conservatives? The Tories knew this and tailored their election materials around competence and their inexplicably popular leader Ruth Davidson.

A lot of people are tight

If we take a very base analysis of what defines the social-democratic ‘Nordic’ economies it has to pivot on the fact they are much more willing to pay higher rates of tax. This assumes a modicum of affectless cynicism about the complex and varied contributory factors, so you will have to bear with me.

Denmark (61.12%) , Sweden (56.8%) both have average top rates of income tax between 1995-2015 well above our own current top rate of 45%. That should be the jumping off point for any comparison. Scotland belly flops in the first round here without any help from Gordon Strachan.

We should not only focus on income tax however, the Scandinavian welfare apparatus germinates from a wide range of personal taxes and employer contributions, many of which are higher than what we pay here. A better overview is how much tax constitutes the various countries’ overall GDP. For this purpose we will also include Finland, which may not strictly be ‘Scandinavian’, yet does follow a very similar socio-economic model:

UK – 37.5%
Scotland – 37.7%
Denmark – 49%
Finland – 43.6%
Norway – 43.6%
Sweden – 45.8%

It would be heart-warming to assume that there is swelling desire within Scotland for greater taxation which might emulate the Nordic economies, but last week 68.5% of voters in the constituency ballot, and 64.6% on the regional list voted for either the SNP or Conservative parties…both of whom promised a 45p top rate of tax. If philosophy is the discovery of the obvious, you may cry EUREKA.

The SNP are an economically conservative party, and their supporters like them that way. If you have convinced yourself otherwise may I interest you in a timeshare in Bulgaria?

Dominic Hinde posits this more effectively when he writes:

High basic wages, free education and good housing were the  foundation of the Nordic model from the 30s onwards, and in time environmental responsibility and greater gender equality were added to the mix. To the wealthy these things are prosaic details, to those less well-off they create a life worth living.

Look through the SNP manifesto though and it is very difficult to find anything that would make Scotland more Nordic in the immediate future.

The two parties proposing a 60p top rate of tax (something I personally agree with) the Scottish Green Party and RISE managed 7.1% on the regional lists between them. Tommy Sheridan’s, Solidarity, may have also proposed this but every time I seek to uncover this information I find myself lost in Tommy’s treacherous gaze.

Parties positing such ‘radical’ policies are regularly forming governments and oppositions in the aforementioned Nordic countries. This is not the case perpetually, many softer conservative governments have attempted to draw back the social-democratic consensus (Swedish Moderates 0614, Danish Venstre 0111), but few have lasted long enough or commanded the majority needed to overhaul it entirely.

Perhaps we can sustain a cognitive dissonance that sees this disparity as a by-product of a British political tradition during cross-party referendum campaigns, yet when manifestos are printed and Ponsonby deployed, it becomes evident that the predators in this ecosystem closely resemble their southern genus.

Leave them kids alone’

It is reasonable to wonder if this election had any big issues whatsoever (Buzzfeed tells me Willie Rennie and a slide was an ‘unforgettable’ moment). At a cursory glance around Glasgow I would guess that Nicola Sturgeon’s face was atop the agenda quite a lot, otherwise why would I need to look at it as I approach Ibrox? I don’t need another reason to avoid Ibrox after all.

For all the posturing from parties across the spectrum, education only briefly appeared in any meaningful sense during recent months, most notably when Calamity Constance got her face on television.

Education requires fundamental reform in Scotland. Whether it needs to abandon the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) as seemed to be hailed by Sturgeon’s desire to bring back standardised testing for primary school pupils, is another matter.

Continuously saying that the cuts threaten educational attainment is important, honest, and true…..but it does not actually say a great deal about what any of the parties wanted to do to improve teaching and schools. Here are some of the manifesto examples that I would put in the ‘non-policy’ category:

SNP:

Oversee a “revolution in transparency” about school performance

Ensure that every child in early education in the most deprived communities will have access to an additional teacher or childcare graduate by 2018

Scottish Labour:

Bridge the gap between “the richest and the rest” in classrooms

Give every primary school the opportunity to establish a breakfast club

Scottish Conservatives:

New measures should be put in place to ensure the best possible teachers are recruited

The Scottish government should be “far bolder” in measuring progress in the education system

Scottish Greens:

Help for all pupils experiencing poverty

Fair funding for college and university students

I suppose I was not alone in thinking ‘and how are you going to do that?’ when reading these pledges. Of course each party had other policies which were more cohesive. I would particularly welcome the plans from Labour and the Greens to considerably increase apprenticeships. Despite this there seemed to be no other area quite as mottled with pecuniary detail as that of education. A trend I dare say will continue in Scotland for some time to come.

The unending appearance and disappearance of SNP education policies has oft left me wondering if these are to follow the purpose of Dewar’s ‘Pied Wagtail Preservation Order of 1968’ – existing only to distract or delay some inevitable banality. Yet what rankles with greater torment is how soft, and I mean ‘Carry On…Up the Khyber’ soft, the press in this country are in regards to these half steps and mistruths. If the mainstream press have at any point questioned continuously the obscene gaps in attainment between rich and poorer areas in Scotland, I simply have not seen it.

As you were

To conclude, not much went on, not much at all. Scottish politics remains dominated by the question of sovereignty – and divvies will continue to write books and think pieces claiming there is a ‘rennaissance’ of activism and political debate north of Carlisle.

There really isn’t.

No one cares.

They care so little they reelected the government for the third term running.

Scotland? Bit boring really.

Until next time.

Critical Hostility – A personal reflection

In the years following Tony Blair’s departure the soft left made a brief return to power on the back of union votes and left activism.

This suggested to many that there was scope for an anti-austerity caucus of left and centre-left voices in Labour that could form a coalition to drown out the right. I would have put myself in that bracket, straddling the two divides on an issue by issue basis in the hope that I would never again have to listen to the likes of John Woodcock on a Labour podium.

What I and others had not reckoned in any serious way was the absolute devotion the young shock troops of Blairism would have to his doctrine of insincere nothingness. Sadly they simply will not go away, and this I am afraid is a big problem for the pursuit of a fairer politics in this land for those who need it most.

These people are not socialists, they never have been, and they have no intention of ever being so. They are for want of a better comparison West Wing junkies who think Justin Trudeau represents a sea change in global politics because he scrubs up well and is not scared of saying he is a feminist.

He was big in the 90s, like Pogs.

Before you cry hypocrite, I am well aware that I supported Andy Burnham for the leadership in 2015. I also supported Neil Findlay for the leadership in Scotland, and campaigned for Diane Abbott and Ed Miliband in 2010 simultaneously – what a bloody weirdo. I second preferenced Jeremy Corbyn last year….and voted for absolutely no one else. If you have universally supported David Miliband, Liz Kendall, and Jim Murphy then you are of course a much more principled individual than I for electing all of those people with….no principles.

How does this chime with my dissatisfaction with the self-proclaimed soft left you ask? Well the answer is twofold.

I like many others cannot exist outside the rampant media onslaught which reiterates day after day that left candidates do not win, I have made attempts to, but sometimes you find yourself desirous of a piece by Nick Cohen explaining why America is great and anti-private school sentiment is simply reverse snobbery. I had assumed quite naturally that one of Yvette Cooper or Liz Kendall would mount a serious challenge for the leadership, leaving a more ‘pragmatic’ (I am growing to despise this word) Burnham led campaign in a much better position to keep the right out than Corbyn’s campaign would have managed, a campaign which I foolishly thought would go the way of Diane Abbott’s in 2010. How wrong I was.

The second reason is much more related to the point at hand, and this is where I have changed my position. The centre left, or soft left as they seem fond of calling themselves (imagine thinking ‘soft’ was an attractive political prefix…) – I had long believed to be more amenable to a leftwards latitude than seeking to return to the failed 90’s project of soft Thatcherism. The victory of Jeremy Corbyn in the leadership has unfortunately proved that I was mistaken in this regard, at least among the vocal soft left.

Those who warned me that these people were irreconcilable devotees to a form of politics that values style over substance were very much correct. I am even aghast to see that the majority support Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination in the U.S., a politician who would not be out of place in the 1970’s Liberal Party. Their hypocrisy and short sightedness seems to know no bounds. The litany of stories and whinge pieces decrying Corbyn for doing what he is mandated to do, defend the interests of those worst off in society, has been absolutely obscene. On a very base level we could ascribe this to a distinct fear that they will lose influence, but it cannot only be this. As we know from characters like Peter Mandelson in the past, there are few as adaptable as those who lack any real political principles.

There must be something more – and I suspect we can see the seeds of this fear in Scotland.

If you think Blairism is dead you really have not spent enough time in Scotland, at least among the overly vocal membership it remains ‘the’ way to do things. There is clearly a strong left constituency here (under the new OMOV rules Neil Findlay would likely have beaten Jim Murphy)  but they are not making the noises we see in parts of England.

He’s football crazy, he’s power mad…

In Glasgow it is often quipped that Labour had no ground campaign because they did not need one, when the time came to change this we engaged in delusions. I cannot personally attest to the truth of this as I live in a hardworking constituency that is well run by fairly principled individuals, but I have heard tell of it from supporters of all parties. This meant that MPs and their acolytes rarely spoke to the people they represent directly. I saw it when I arrived in 2013, there was a fear of the working class here. They knew that underneath the decades of ‘we built the NHS’ rhetoric lay a deep seated dissatisfaction with careerist politics and Westminster centrism. Now I am not claiming those are fair assumptions, but they certainly were prevalent, and they remain so.

This created a peculiar reaction when the proverbial hit the fan after the referendum, an overt and patronising “we are just like you” campaign led by Jim Murphy – that focused on football and drinking, because that’s all people do you know? This was coupled with a commitment to patriotism, which somewhat undermines your argument that nationalism is divisive and regressive. I hear the same rhetoric among online detractors of Corbyn within Labour back in England, focused on UK issues. Ideas such as:

The people voted for cuts, we can’t pretend otherwise

We cannot enter an election appearing to be critical of the armed forces

Austerity may be wrong, but let’s work within the government’s parameters to ameliorate it

Don’t criticise private or free schools, it makes us seem like we hate aspiration

The core theme running through all of this is simple, what the media reports is the truth, and no one will ever be convinced otherwise. Well quite frankly, bollocks to that.

This stems from a largely (though not completely) middle class pseudo-intelligentsia who feel they know what is best for working class people even if that constituency tells them otherwise.

They work for political parties, they are the most prominent journalists, and they all went to the same universities (as articulated by this wonderful twitter account). To anyone from the long since abandoned mining communities of Cornwall, or the industrial north of England for example (like me – shock horror, I am talking from experience here rather than simply espousing working class notions only for it then to transpire I went to Eton) these considerations are alien. Why should a man losing his job in Middlesbrough care about ISIS more than he cares about the safety net that should be in place to help him? The answer is obvious, that narrative is absolutely everywhere, he hears little else unless he goes out of his way to do so. Thankfully many responsible and considered people did go out of their way, and that is why we now have a socialist leading the party.

The media is able to do this online in the same way they do on television and in print because there is such an influential constituency of young activists giving them a free ride when they do so.

This is why it is so important that social media, and any sort of ‘citizen’ media becomes a critical hotbed of opposition to the Conservative Party. Enter stage right our friends from the soft left, who sadly do not understand this concept in the slightest.

In a week that has seen Iain Duncan Smith forced to resign, after endless pressure from Labour – I have read tweet after tweet completely disregarding the idea that the current leadership had anything to do with it. Two polls were released putting Labour level and one point ahead of the Tories have been denounced as nonsense. Several articles have been printed discussing who the next leader should be, and who that person’s team may well be.

All of this almost exclusively from Labour members who would describe themselves as centrist or soft left, or the mostly inane journalists who work at the New Statesman, which has come to resemble a tribute band at an office Christmas party for all of the worst people in Shoreditch.

It’s nice to be nice

This is an organised campaign to depose a democratically elected leader, and to wrestle control of the party from those seeking to bring it back to ordinary members and away from spin doctors at Westminster. As such it appears to me there are only two options:

1. The culprits of this fairly pathetic conspiracy can settle down, get behind the leadership, and reproduce results such as those we saw this week. This will be in the interest of both sides of the debate, and most importantly it will give the poorest in our society a shot at ousting this pernicious government. I truly hope this can be the case.

2. Recreate the SDP, or potentially migrate to the Liberal Democrats, in short….leave. I know it is completely frowned upon to suggest such action but you are quite simply in the wrong party. It happens, you made a mistake, do not blame yourself. The change that occurred in the membership after Corbyn took over is a long term trend, your style of politics needs to change or you will be ejected from every seat of power we can muster. This party has no loyalty to you, it is only loyal to the collective membership and those we seek to convince of our argument. I am not a member of Momentum but they are to my mind simply expressing a fundamental principle of democracy, you must represent the views of those who elected you. If you balk at this idea then you are more than welcome to run as an independent.

My call here is not only to those who think being ‘soft’ means actively trying to destabilise the labour movement. It also reaches out the wider left, the mass majority of this party across the UK. We must be bold and relentless in our pursuit of change in the structures of this party. There must be working class voices at every level.

The struggle begins within. Corbyn is only the first of a new generation, and with each subsequent electoral cycle the very idea of a return to Blairism should become patently ridiculous.

One place we can actively enact this change is online. Am I advocating hostility? If you are defending the approach of George Osborne, or placating it with apologism…..then yes, I am. I am advocating critical hostility without personal or private motive. Rudeness is unacceptable, but when people with a far reaching voice seek to undermine what we are working for we should critically dismantle their argument. There should be a flood of critique and open opposition. Let us make it the case that to join the Labour Party means to join a group committed to renationalisation of the railways, a group committed to ending our interventionist wars in the Middle East. You should know by intuition what this party is and who it stands for, this must be a core project of the coming four years alongside returning to power.

We should be hostile towards the argument that John McDonnell is incompetent, we should be hostile to any suggestion that austerity is necessary whatsoever, and we should be hostile to the section of this broad church that wants to keep the largest part of it silent. I saw the SNP do this with great success in Scotland. No longer can unionists (of which I am one) laugh off independence as a fantasy and be treated with any real respect. I would like to see a similar change across the UK in regards to the core principles of Labour that unfortunately were silenced during the 1980s. Austerity should become a byword for economic idiocy. I believe this is something achievable with a collective voice online and on the streets. Make them know that we create the news, we do not have it dictated to us.

This party was founded on hostility against the ruling classes, it is time we stopped being so sensitive and realised that it is only through struggle we will achieve the same heights we have in the past.

Let us set about this task.

Bella Caledonia and the Art of Comment Baiting

Bella Caledonia’s homepage

Recently Mike Small at Bella Caledonia wrote a piece denouncing two articles/blogs by members of the ‘English left’ [http://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2015/01/03/risk-and-the-union/]. The first by James Stafford a PhD student in History/Politics at the University of Cambridge and commissioning editor of Renewal Journal [http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/the-radical-proponents-of-scottish-independence-dramatically-overstated-its-potential-to-transform-britains-broken-political-economy/], the second by me, Seán Duffy…also a PhD student in Sociology/Education at the University of Glasgow, commissioning editor of the Snaffle Bit’s premier second place pub quiz team [https://themortalash.wordpress.com/2014/12/19/heroes-of-a-deferred-nation/]

The first thing we should probably deal with here is that yes I am English, and I assume James is too, though you would think we are fully signed up members of the Morris dancing stonemasons of Glastonbury Tor, who know one another well, based on the article. This in and of itself is pretty unremarkable. There are a lot of English people commenting on Scottish politics, many of them live and work in Scotland, I am one of those people. With that fact in mind it seems somewhat odd to describe me as on the ‘English left’. This English left is of course always referred to as ‘in crisis’, whereas the flourishing socialist rhetoric reaping the streets of Scotland is incomparable in its fervour…or so I am told.

This is characteristic of the sort of in group/out group rhetoric that those espousing divisive concepts like ‘the 45’ have come to use as conversational. It’s fine being English, as long as you agree with us. If you do not, it’s because of your Englishness, which is exactly why English Scots for Yes became such a ubiquitous campaigning tool in the final months of the referendum. There is no better tool for a winning national rhetoric than co-opting the imagined nationalism of your imagined opponent.

This was remarkably prevalent in Robin McAlpine’s article ‘So Far So Good. British Unionism’s Review of 2014’ for Bella Caledonia [http://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2014/12/30/so-far-so-good-british-unionisms-review-of-2014/] in which he remarks:

In the end, reality wins out over fantasy. No blood was spilled, no glass was broken; Scotland lived up to its democratic duty in a way and with a maturity that should shame the current British Empire. Remember, Scots-born voters voted Yes. Without ‘English immigration’ Scotland would now be independent (English-born voters voted three to one against). Yet everyone of us ‘barbarians’ embraces the ideal of those resident being part of our community wherever they started their lives. Not a single one of us has formed a UKIP, not one of us has talked about the ‘English problem’ or asked whether these incomers have distorted out politics and what we should do about it.

As Rory Scothorne (@shirkerism) commented on Twitter ‘here’s robin mcalpine expecting us to pat him on the back for not hating english people’ and that is exactly what such a paragraph is. It is a plea to the mushed minds of England that no matter how many of you own holiday homes in Ayr, or how frequently you come to our golf courses and embarrass yourselves in front of your kids we are never going to run you out of town, like you lot are doing with your saviour Nigel Farage. Well thanks for that Robin…top man.

What’s more is that this is remarkably unrepresentative of my experiences in Scotland, and I must admit by that I largely mean Glasgow. I have rarely heard anything remotely as stupid as this, and no one has ever made me feel unwelcome – except those two times we thumped you in the football. What does Robin even mean when he says ‘not a single one of us has formed a UKIP’? Did the European elections pass him by, or did he conveniently forget the decades of anti-Irish prejudice that still leaves its mark to this day?

In fact, this categorisation of the ‘English left’ seems almost deliberately designed to illicit a particular kind of response. If we follow the comments section of said article we can see some prime examples (disclaimer comments sections should not be read as representative of the views of the website bearing the article – though they are a good laugh)

MBC comments:

I think you are spot on. And though Mr Stafford does raise some good points in his angry riposte to Mike, explaining for instance that his polemical article was intended merely as an opinion piece, and is not definitive in scholarly terms, but can still be backed up by his wider scholarship, if Mike cares to examine it, it is undeniable that what has really riled him is that Mike and others on this thread have pointed out the paucity of his aspirations as a wannabe English radical. Thus showing the futility of the Union as a vehicle for progress. Mr Stafford accepts neo-liberalism as a universal system and thinks that all you can do is nibble your way around the edges, and that the crumbs that are released are worth having. The Scottish ambition to establish a new state which frees itself from the wrong patterns and worst decisions of neo-liberal austerity Britain raises resentment not admiration, because it reveals how much further the radical tradition is in Scotland than in England. And as an Englishman that galls him.

His reaction is significant for a number of reasons.

It is hypocritical to aspire to be any kind of radical yet despise the radical pretensions of fellow-Britons by defence of the forces of reaction and power that radicals struggle against.

It also reveals the lack of fellowship in the concept of ‘Briton’, or any sense of the term ‘Briton’ as meaning something progressive.

In short, Mr Stafford is an Englishman first, a radical second, and a fellow-Briton, last.

Here’s the wonderfully named Big Jock in reply:

MBC. We can use all the polite reasons and excuses for how people voted. But if you are asked ,should Scotland be independent. You are offering nationhood in a referendum. You cannot choose to be a nation for football or at a Burns night. Its not a part time job. Being a nation means you accept everything, and the responsibility of being independent. You can’t have it both ways. The world looked on and saw that Scotland chose to remain a region of the UK. Whether we view ourselves as such doesn’t really matter. Legally and politically we are not a nation in the UN.

We can’t keep making excuses for people running away from things. I know businessmen,poor people,old people young people who voted yes. Why because regardless of money,wealth or even political persuasion. They agreed Scotland was a real country. Everyone has personal circumstances! Is the cleaner in my work less worthy because she doesn’t have a car and large mortgage. The argument being that poor people have less to lose. I am middle class have a mortgage and cars and wife and bills. Why did I not care about any of that when I ticked my box. Because it wasn’t about me,it was about Scotland my nation.

Me and the lads back home.

I have had enough of apologists having their personal circumstances as an excuse for voting no.Everyone who voted yes has personal circumstances, and how dare no people presume theirs are unique or more important than the 45.

I am not sure how else you can read this other than to say it is xenophobia, and I do not say that lightly. As a white, male from Northern Europe it’s not often I have ever felt pigeon holed but reading this attack piece it was difficult not to consider it.

Of course these quotes are out of context and if you want to read the full discussion between MBC and Big Jock to remind you what it might have been like to encounter Popper and Wittgenstein going at it you should visit the original site.  There’s plenty more where that came from.

Yet quotes out of context are far from off the cards for Mike Small as he writes that:

Seán’s analysis is par for the course: set a radical critique of the independence movement and adjourn to the Labour Party as default lounge of historical choice; declare nationalism a corrupt and useless vehicle; finally, declare all of Scottish politics redundant and file ALL of the indy movement as being about the ‘Yesnp’. As he boldly declares: “If independence is a ‘movement’ then it’s only functioning and influential facet are the SNP and their business cohort.”

Which is all well and good, except I am fairly sure I have never used the term ‘Yesnp’ (if I am wrong then I shall retract that) and the culminating quote is actually from a tweet I wrote but a few days ago on my handle @seantduffy, and has nothing to do with any analysis I included in my article. Despite pointing this out to Mike he has refused to change the attribution. Any casual reader would assume I had written that in my article, I certainly did on first perusal. Prior to my request Mike had also failed to link to my article that he is critiquing, nor even do me or James the courtesy of pointing out this denouncement had been written. Perhaps I am simply not important enough, and if so why bother in the first place, but this is hardly in line with the kind of spirit of debate I believed sites like Bella Caledonia were set up to foster.

The insubstantial demonisation continues throughout as Mike seeks to attach everything James or I write to the Labour Party. His belief that my article was designed to persuade people to ‘adjourn to the Labour party’ is not supported by a single thing I wrote. This is pure conjecture and not in line with my views at all. In truth I think Scottish Labour deserve a right royal thumping, and in cities like Glasgow they have operated almost as monarchical tyranny. This does not mean to say I would seek to unseat them and hand power to the Conservative Party at Westminster of course, but I would certainly never belittle anyone for abandoning Scottish Labour given the recent context and new leadership.

It seems ‘strange’ and ‘bizarre’ that  I would criticise Better Together to many of the readers of this article. Why is that strange? Do the self-appointed doyens of Scottish new media really believe there is no one on the left of the Labour party who thinks the concept of Better Together was severely flawed if not borderline suicidal? If the contest by Neil Findlay to take the leadership, and the surprise level of support it received, was not testament to that then I am not sure what will convince such characters, characters who think simply using the word ‘dialectic’ equates to quoting Marx. I really do despair. I accept the need for commentary not to be a preserve of academia but this is exactly the kind of anti-intellectual nonsense my original article was trying to highlight and therefore I must be grateful to Mike for adding further fuel to the flames.

James has adequately defended himself in the comments against a wall of white noise, so I shall let him speak for himself. I would implore you to read his thoughts however as they highlight many worrying trends prevalent here that I do not have time to go into.

Another point of note that keen observers will have picked up on are the graphics chosen to adorn this article. One depicting a reactionary protest against the ‘Islamification’ of Britain with a noose and plentiful union jacks in shot, the other of the now infamous ‘Go Home’ vans that blighted parts of the South East due to a heavily ill-advised policy by the incumbent coalition government. All interesting sociological images I am sure you will agree, but what they have to do with my article or James’ work seems to be a mystery. Presumably because we criticise the Scottish independence movement we are as a result advocating the worst kinds of neo-fascism going on in Britain today?

This is by and large tabloid comment baiting. Mike knows that his readership loves nothing more than a good swipe at the British state and/or the Labour party. Finding two relatively tame articles by largely inconsequential early career academics who just happen to favour the Labour party is manna from heaven for this cause. Be they English? Even better.

This highlights a prevalent trend that many friends have commented on of denouncing any reluctant defence of the union as being a symptom of a lack of ‘thinking big’. This is the language of Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs, not serious economic consideration. I suppose that many Bella Caledonia supporters would describe their constant banging on about Tom Nairn and similar writers as part of a ‘democratic intellect’, whereas the snobby intelligentsia  that James and I produce is of the old guard, there’s something of the imperial about us etc. This is a tiring dualism that really should have no place in serious debate. Most PhD students are paid well below a living wage if at all, and not all are privately educated Oxbridge graduates (as the common demonisation goes), so it would be heartwarming for once to see some recognition of this instead of constant berating of any attempts to academically discuss a phenomenon with a blanket attribution of elitism to anyone who might be working at a university.

In many ways this is sad to see as I have enjoyed a number of articles on Bella Caledonia over the past year, and believe it has provided occasional glimpses of the kind of quality citizen journalism that is required in any locale, never mind Scotland.

It is time those on the left of any inclination in regards to the independence referendum began discussing substance and engaged in serious polemics that are not chock full of ad hominems. I would like to think that these prejudicial definitions were not deliberate, but consistent identification of this by myself and others has not led to any change in tone by Bella Caledonia and other much worse imposters.

I see myself as part of the Scottish Left, and it’s future, and the British Left and our future. That is still a thing….isn’t it?

Heroes of a Deferred Nation

This article was first published by postmag.org in an edited form under the title Patriot Games: Scotland’s false starts on 16/12/2014.

‘All of us first’: the fallow minds of New Labour’s most intellectually vacant meeting rooms could never have come up with something so meaningless, yet phrases such as this have come to litter the popular discourse in Scottish politics since 18 September, 2014. ‘We are the 45’; ‘Better together’ and perhaps strangest of all ‘One Scotland’ used in almost cultish equanimity by both sides, claiming the progressive agenda for their own.

The referendum marked a recent high point in UK politics for social media, citizen journalism, and general public engagement despite this sloganeering. Yet an oft overlooked group of beneficiaries from the near two year campaign are the pseudo-intellectuals and pop academics that are never far behind any significant hype train. Their adoption of populist mantras born of Nordic utopianism, and nationalism with a small (they would like to think, invisible) N gave credence to a torrent of shallow reasoning that would dominate the debate up until the final day.

One of the more prominent strains of Scottish exceptionalism stemmed from a largely unfounded belief that Scotland is like, or can be like, the celebrated liberal democracies of Scandinavia. The most frequently cited being Sweden, which has somewhat hindered this fantasy by electing a significant number of far right xenophobes, managing to bring the governing coalition to its knees in the past week. Practical anomalies like this are not really welcome however, and so it was with Lesley Riddoch’s much lauded ‘Blossom’ in which she set out to define Scotland as a nation formed of a remarkable tolerance for inequality, as such possessing some sort of inherited ‘spirit’ (here she employs Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of the habitus; incorrectly). A spirit which apparently didn’t manifest in England because more people had back gardens and a longer experience of urbanisation.

Other publications and frequent blog posts from outlets like National Collective and Bella Caledonia dealt with uncorrelated assumptions such as Scotland being friendlier to immigrants than its neighbours. This historical analysis stops somewhere around 1997 for it would not be advantageous to categorise the history of Irish migration to Scotland prior to this time, nor perhaps to remark that year on year Scotland sees a below capita relative rate of immigration compared to the rest of the UK, yet the majority of Scots still want to see it reduced (1).

Both of these examples disregard serious analysis of contemporary conditions. Aside from health, Scotland performs above and beyond England and Wales in almost all areas. Lower youth unemployment, lower general unemployment, higher expenditure on public services per head, cheaper public transport, lower pay inequality, lower likelihood of being a victim of crime – all of these and more place Scotland favourably in a comparative analysis within Britain (2).

As posited by Anthony D. Smith and Benedict Anderson, any imagined community requires an intense devotion to the idea of nationhood to survive. The multiplication of food banks and increase in general deprivation since 2010 supplied the nationalist cause with a shared solidarity that could be compartmentalised into exactly this sort of intense repulsion and responsible activism. This was always presented as pioneering by writers like Gerry Hassan who opined that the centre-left debate in Scotland was ‘putting the values of solidarity into a lexicon of inter-connectedness and interdependence to produce a politics of inter-independence’ (3) which is another way of saying ‘we did something different here’. We might yet be waiting a long time to see the fruits of this inter-connectedness however, unless you are in the SNP of course, who are reaping it merrily as we speak.

This imagination equally required its own folk devils in the form of the ‘fear campaign’ that shook Jim Sillars to his very core in his book ‘In Place of Fear II’ (presumably he had not witnessed a British or Scottish election prior to last year, nor read Bevan’s original). This allowed groups like the Common Weal to take vague national populism and present it as an alternative to serious costed policy. This was often dressed up in a semi-patronising ‘language of the people’ fit for the worst kind of t-shirt slogan gentrifiers about high-wage economies and reducing wealth inequality. The assumption again being that the economy of Scotland is self-sustaining and not subject to the harsh weather of global capital, so too it is replete with altruistic taxpayers who have been screaming out for progressive taxation since the days of Maxton, all of course to the refrain ‘but they did it in Norway…’.

The nationalism that now proudly states ‘I belong’ to a deferred promised land, to a Jerusalem of the young, hopeful, Yes congregation was the winner of this anti-intellectual bout, not British nationalism. As adequately evidenced by Pat Kane’s remark on the BBC’s Scotland 2014 programme that “If all the world is in Scotland, then it makes sense for Scotland to be in the wider world, and to have that conversation about Scottishness with other people in the family of nations, as a nation” in one of the finer examples of not being a nationalist by speaking exactly like a nationalist. This rhetoric presents Scotland as generous, progressive, civilized; as opposed to the UKIP voting hordes to the South who are but an unfortunate by-product of their own avarice. British nationalism is always contextualised as the Iraq war or Nigel Farage, Scotland on the other hand lilts wistfully to a tune of ‘Freedom Come All Ye’ on a soft Highland breeze.

This very rhetoric provided cover throughout the debate for the new philosophy of nationalism as liberation, in just the same way that various demagogues have concealed the destructive elements of British national identity under the guise of liberalism, and continued to do so as part of the Better Together campaign. The UK and Scotland are suffering from a concerning redundancy of serious thought, falling back on Russell Brand and Owen Jones, Robin McAlpine and the Radical Independence Campaign in the absence of any critical approach to the problems of globalisation, sustainability and the domination of capital. A continuing simulacra of the social movements that have visited yet never remained.

Aside from the usual suspects confined to a strict political analysis, or historians hawking their old wares to new audiences there was little in the way of a rigorous dialectic to be found. There is nothing wrong with articulating hope of course, and certainly not during a partisan campaign, yet when that hope is dressed in the clothes of intellectual legitimacy and hard scholarship there must be calls to reveal its true face.

Perhaps such revelations are still to come, but into the sediment there now seeps a proud ignorance that might be difficult to drain away.

1. Oxford University Migration Observatory (2014)

2. All statistical inferences from ‘5 June 2014 – Output and Productivity – National Statistics, ONS’ and ‘Scottish Crime and Justice Survey 12/13’

3. Why Scotland has finally woken up and become a democracy – September 21st, 2014 | Gerry Hassan

The Myth of Moral Authority

The U.S Senate Select Committee on Intelligence last week released the executive summary of its report on the CIA’s interrogations of suspected foreign terrorists in the aftermath of the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States. In short it did and did not confirm torture – depending on how you define the term.

Since the report there has been a lot of discussion regarding the loss of ‘moral authority’ as a result of being seen to engage in such acts. This is specifically in reference to the United States. Foreign discussion centres too frequently on our big cousins across the pond, yet often fails to truly question the role countries such as the U.K, France, and Germany played in both facilitating these acts and undoubtedly assisting in their enactment.

The rhetoric from within the U.S goes that due to its position as the foremost world power they are something of an example for us all, and as such should never be seen to fail in their duty as guardians of freedom (ho-hum). Let us quash that falsehood immediately. The United States, the U.K, in fact almost any significantly influential global force has about as much moral authority as the baying mob that stones to death the apostate.

The wonderfully named White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest recently referred to this moral authority as “one of the most powerful tools in our arsenal” to advanced United States’ interests across the globe [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e5rH7O8dBAM]. Unsurprisingly ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ (as the hipsters at the CIA call torture) have a tendency to undermine such authority, though perhaps only in the United States itself.

No one outside of a specific demographic within even the U.S actually believes in this moral authority, yet like most things in politics, if you continuously state something is the case then over time it will end up being marked down in history as a fundamental belief of civilised humanity – these are the good guys, and those are the bad guys.

What is perhaps more nauseating to behold than any of the facts of the torture itself, are the eulogies for a lost innocence written by the press at large. This is an impression that anyone with even a modicum of foreign policy interest should realise is mournfully naïve, and worse still perhaps even deceitful as so many have reported on this previously (as summed up by John Pilger recently http://johnpilger.com/articles/torture-is-news-but-its-not-new ). In fact, what the Senate report reveals is much more tame than many in the know expected. After all, when you are at the mercy of the most powerful state on Earth, and as such seen as an obstacle to their preservation, then tawdry concepts like your mental and physical health become somewhat nebulous to say the least.

This is symptomatic of the veil of delusion that such structures as the UN and EU have allowed for us. Surely if we have globally/continentally mediated structures of accountability this sort of thing simply cannot go on (so the thinking goes)? Please…

In some ways the foreign policy of old, exhibited with splendid aplomb by the pre-WWII governments of Britain in such conflicts as the Boer War and revolutionary Ireland, was much more honest. I feel this can be adequately summed up in the following exchange between John Connor and the Terminator in that classic of moral philosophy ‘Terminator 2: Judgement Day’:

John: Jesus, you were gonna kill that guy!
Terminator: Of course. I’m a Terminator.
John: Listen to me very carefully, OK? You’re not a Terminator anymore. All right? You got that? You just can’t go around killing people!
Terminator: Why?
John: Whattaya mean, why? Cause you can’t!
Terminator: Why?
John: Because you just can’t, OK? Trust me on this.

For all their reprogramming, face changes, and new methods of construction the USA and the UK are still very much the same goal oriented, machines of self-preservation that they ever were. They are still Terminators (though in the UK’s case certainly an older model surviving on borrowed parts).

Yet rather than responding with the indefiniteness of ‘Why’, as delivered by the inimitable Arnie, there now comes no response at all. The act of killing, or more accurately ‘harming’ (as John Stuart Mill would prefer to categorise it), is no longer acknowledged. The harm that is of importance is that of reputation and legitimacy, not an inflicted harm upon individuals. Certainly not any harm that might bring the great and the good into disrepute.

Richard Joyce (2007) argues in ‘The Myth of Morality’ that our attachment to moral discourse has left us hopelessly ill prepared for the reality of a world which so often fails to conform to our values. Torture is but one example of this. We are gradually seeing a culture of self-delusion take on a virtuous position within our day to day lives, at least in the UK and similarly sustained countries, to support this. It is of great importance to discuss death and pain, but never to see it. We may witness footage of aerial bombardments, but never the dismembered torsos of dying civilians, never the blood strewn streets of a perpetually vicious environment.

Morality comes to have a ‘useful function’ in regulating our individual behaviour, but rarely that of the wider collective. This in turn allows us to believe falsehoods about our states and those who seek to lead. The discourse used by our politicians embodied by platitudes like ‘hope’, ‘family of nations’, ‘just peace’ begins to appeal to some perceived fundamental nature within us which mirrors a normative ethical standpoint.

We are left powerless by this. Our only hope becomes an expectation that unaccountable supreme powers will regulate their own behaviour due to a wave of moral sentiment. It seems with supreme power comes supreme naivety therefore, and those wielding the sceptre can do little but smile as we coddle ourselves in the knowledge that we have said our bit, our attention soon moving elsewhere.

There will be reports and even legislative reflexes in regards to this issue, the question is; how firmly will they be adhered to when the next attack on European or North American soil occurs? How far does our sympathy stretch when fear guides our hand? Given it is not so long ago that Jean Charles de Menezes lost his life for the crime of looking like someone he did not look like at all, or the shame of Abu Ghraib was revealed and we are still feigning shock, you cannot but question whether we will be reading of similar acts in the years and decades to come.

But hey, at least we have our moral authority.

Applauding the Hangmen: Leeds United and the theft of football

There are many tales across Europe of fallen giants and mythical football clubs that captured the spirit of ‘the beautiful game’ only to disappear or flounder under the tide of time. Ajax of the early 70’s, Stade Reims in the 50’s and IFK Göteborg in the 80’s. I grew up following one of these teams as they reached seemingly impossible heights and painfully inevitable lows. Yet before I was born Leeds United were spoken of in the same sentences as these aforementioned greats. During the 60’s and early 70’s, under the tutelage of Don Revie, Leeds went from parochial no-hopers to a European power house sporting players like Billy Bremner, Johnny Giles and Jack Charlton whilst overcoming the likes of Bayern Munich (if justice were done) and Barcelona. I am afraid to say that those were different days and the Leeds United of present are a mere shadow of what once was.

Cellino Crotch

Mr. Cellino holding fast

Recently Leeds’ ignominious years in England’s second and third tiers were made all the more ludicrous due to the purchase of the club by Italian corn magnate Massimo Cellino. I will start with a disclaimer that, according to the FA at least, Cellino is a stand-up individual with little of disrepute to his name. In reality he is a corrupt businessman of laughable superstitious practices. Highlights of his reign at the Serie A club Cagliari include sacking 36 managers in 22 years, rechristening all seats numbered 17 as 16b and ordering the team to play ‘home’ games 1000km away in Trieste after their stadium and its mooted temporary replacement were found to be unsafe; local boy Antonio Gramsci would not be best pleased. His takeover at Leeds was briefly held up by an Italian court case over the non-payment of taxes on a yacht resulting in it being blocked due to failing the Football League’s ‘fit and proper persons test’. A mere week later however Cellino successfully appealed the verdict via an independent QC due to the fact the Italian legal system only publishes explanations for its verdicts 90 days later. This in effect supplies the football league with no evidence as of yet with which to bar Cellino, and therefore the appeal had to be upheld. The test as a result is quite clearly not fit for purpose. Vincent Tan at Cardiff City and Munto Finance at Notts County are perhaps two of the more notable examples of the test’s redundancy in England, yet there are many more. Craig Whyte’s purchase of Rangers in Scotland deserves a special mention also.

Yet as much as it is no surprise that governing bodies who are embroiled in scandal after scandal seek only to rubber stamp fresh financial injection into their leagues, it is perhaps more ominous that fans too often applaud the arrival of these individuals with as much gusto as a returning Olympian. Cellino’s investment at Leeds has been hailed as a new dawn, the seventh new dawn at Elland Road of the 21st Century by my count; each of Portsmouth’s four owners of the 2009/10 season were applauded at Fratton Park on their arrival, and I wonder how secretary of The Federation of Hearts Supporters Clubs John Borthwick now feels after describing the arrival of Vladimir Romanov at the club as “a defining moment in the history of Heart of Midlothian Football Club”. He certainly was not wrong. Perhaps to their credit, Craig Whyte’s purchase of Rangers was met by suspicion and requests for a detailed financial plan by fans, though this may have had more to do with that which went before than any inherent sensibility at Ibrox. Suffice to say, he was still allowed to buy the club and the rest is history.

The footballing men

These purchases are often little more than predatory capitalism. Investors see an ailing club with a loyal, some might say blind, fan base and as is their nature they seek to turn the club over rapidly, either by achieving short term success or by obtaining further investment. Any fan that still believes in the ‘white knight’ investment of the likes of Jack Walker, Blackburn Rovers’ local lad done good, has clearly been ignoring the footballing landscape for over 15 years.

The very tribalism of football inculcates this culture as opposed sets of fans clamour for wealthy individuals to buy out their club in order to best their rivals. In Glasgow, supporters of Rangers and Celtic celebrate their counterpart’s potential collapse (Celtic in the early 90s and Rangers post-2012) with a vigour rarely seen for any political cause. Now of course, there are deep seated social and pseudo-historical reasons for this divide yet in essence such animosity is a prime example of a worrying kind of vitriolic working class division, an example you will witness in equal measure in Milan, Madrid, Athens and Manchester. When we ponder the eternal question ‘cui bono?’ the answer is simple: cowboy investors and fluid capital does, not the fans, nor the staff and certainly not the local communities.

There are clubs up and down this island called Everton, Cove Rangers, and Taff’s Well because, originally at least, they represented a sense of community pride in the footballing prowess of the young men and women who lived and worked in those areas. Investors play on these connections, casting glances at prominent community figures and supporters trusts in order to lubricate their ascension to the status of Abramovich level demi-gods. They have their photographs taken with club legends and reinforce the idea that without their investment the club would have ceased to exist. At Leeds United the infamous Ken Bates claimed he would buy back the stadium and castigated the previous owners as irresponsible, claiming they were not ‘footballing men’. Nine years later Cellino is saying exactly the same. It seems to me that ‘footballing men’ like Bates and company are the last thing any club needs. What we require is democratic control and a philosophy which sees the club as a community asset, an inalienable asset that will nurture talent and provide entertainment for generations to come.

Friends in strange places

One of the great contradictions of British football, from a socialist perspective at least, is that were we to seek a sustainable model of large scale professional sport management we would be best placed to find it in the U.S.A. The Green Bay Packers of the National Football League, that’s football with helmets and plenty of pizzazz rather than Bovril and hooligans, are owned by the local community. Equally they are a non-profit organisation, and have strict rules in place to prevent any individuals from taking ownership of the team. Not to mention that the NFL itself has a salary cap, revenues are shared between the members of the league, and college players are initially allocated via a draft system which weights selection order in favour of the worst performing team of the previous season. Imagine for a moment how different the Scottish Premiership might look under these rules. As tribal actors seeking to bludgeon other clubs upon the jagged rock of relegation this might not seem appealing but as football fans, and by that I mean lovers of the game and the 11 vs. 11 of a Saturday afternoon, such a prospect is tantalising.

Green Bay owner

A Green Bay Packers fan sporting his rightful position

Many now look to the German Bundesliga as a progressive example of sensible club ownership within Europe. Foremost among the league’s policies of sustainability is the rule that all clubs must be 51% owned by the club’s members, a rule the league has stuck by despite sporadic challenges from some of the largest revenue generating clubs. Further to this the Bundesliga has consistently been the most financially solvent league of the major European competitions, whilst having the highest average attendances in the world. A fact not hindered by the league’s commitment to affordable ticket prices, a concept which has now become almost utopian in the upper tiers of British football. All this has been achieved whilst the league’s top two contested the most recent European Champions League final and in so doing supplied a wealth of fantastic players to the German national team. Whether in the long run this system will be able to resist the financial clout of clubs like Bayern Munich who are quickly becoming the world’s best team remains to be seen, but as a starting point the results achieved in Germany are very promising.

Coming back home

We can look to the likes of Chester F.C and A.F.C Wimbledon as notable success stories closer to home, yet at the top similar examples are virtually non-existent. Even with the advent of fan controlled clubs the structure within which they operate remains staunchly geared towards the accumulation of talent and wealth within a select elite. In England the introduction of the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) will mean that the wealthiest Premier League clubs will have the right to cherry pick the best talent from the lower leagues for a fraction of their potential market value. Not only do we have rampant capital dictating the focus of the top clubs, but the very bodies set up to protect the local and national game at a lower level are disdainfully restructuring it in order to drain those unable to defend themselves of their prized assets. This represents a microcosm of globalised capitalism itself but it is a magnified form of it, one which acts as a feeding frenzy for the ultra-rich.

What we need are not songs and idle online rants regarding which team has the birth right to be successful, we require debate on the terraces, airwaves and message boards pondering the question of how fans can exercise influence over their clubs so as to make them accountable to the real shareholders – the people who attend matches and tune in to their broadcasts week after week. There is no easy solution to this problem, and given that football governance at a national, continental, and global level is rife with corruption the prospects of any top-down reform are slim. This is why intervention must come from below. Fans must ‘vote with their feet’ as the saying goes, and refuse to countenance insane ticket prices that cater only to the wealthy and masochistic. We must form collectives and pressure organisations that seek to hold the football associations and club hierarchies to account. Most of all, if we do nothing else, we must cease our adulation of big money investors and hold fast when the choice is presented as corruption or doom. There will always be a club as long as there are fans, and there will still be football long after the well of dirty money has run dry and the investor’s private jets have flown away.

 

1988: Benn’s Righteous Defeat

With the death of Tony Benn the UK left has lost one of the last individuals to seriously challenge for the leadership of the Labour Party from a principled position.  The 1983 Labour manifesto, famously described by Gerald Kaufman as ‘the longest suicide note in history’, is often cited as the tipping point at which the Labour Party began its transformation into the marketable and heavily populist New Labour of today. Arguably, however, it was the defeat of Benn in 1988 against Neil Kinnock’s rampant metamorphosis from staunch socialist to a willing bystander as Thatcher crushed the miners in 1984-5 that chimed the death knell for a party that began with the likes of Keir Hardie and coughed its last at the hands of Tony Blair. In 1988, as he had in the Deputy Leadership election of 1981, Benn stood up for socialism and to the minds of many he stood for the very essence of the labour movement.

1981 saw Benn come within a whisker of claiming the deputy leadership of the Labour Party. His supporters ran a vibrant and highly visible campaign which enthused activists and the sympathetic public alike. The result was doubtless a disappointment, yet the narrowness of the margin inspite of the calculated impartiality of Labour’s moderate left wing MPs, demonstrated that the hard left of the party remained a considerable force.

By 1988 the electoral defeats against  Thatcher’s new brand of free market conservatism had taken their toll on Labour. Kinnock had carried out an internal purge of the Militant Tendency and responded to Labour’s resounding defeat in the 1987 General Election by shifting further to the right. Benn’s leadership challenge was a last, desperate, rearguard action; an echo of a movement that once thundered. He was resoundingly defeated. Within a year Kinnock had reversed the party’s position on closed shops; a totemic move designed to demonstrate a move away from traditional ‘Old Labour’ socialist politicTony Benn deaths.

One can perhaps point to these defeats as the impetus for the furtherance of Benn’s rightly celebrated anti-establishment views. His anti-war activities in particular were remarkable given his age and esteemed status within the Labour Party; activities that clearly had a notable effect on individuals who may not have been active against Iraq and Afghanistan otherwise, not to mention his opposition to the Falklands conflict and the first Gulf War.

His complete devotion to the NHS as a basic right for all stemmed from his belief that everything begins with democracy and must in turn reflect that democracy. This kind of moral stance can be identified in the myriad interviews and diaries he has left behind, records that we should urge young people to enjoy. I was fortunate enough to briefly meet Tony Benn in 2010 when he told me and others present that he did not hope for socialism, he expected it, and that we should too as a right and a duty. That is a duty we have to fulfil by working towards it from many different perspectives and ideologies, and by ensuring we learn from his fundamental character and life such an outcome can be possible.

Benn was consistently a sharp critic of governments he served in, specifically those of Harold Wilson and James Callaghan, and had no truck with the kind of sentiment that bore the famous quote attributed to Herbert Morrison that ‘socialism is what a Labour government does’ . In this vein it would be false not to articulate some instances where Benn himself veered from the path of socialism and perhaps fell foul of the bewildering beast that is parliamentary politics.

During the 1960’s, as Minister of Technology, Benn advocated the expansion of the UK’s nuclear power infrastructure which would ultimately serve as a plutonium supply to the United States’ nuclear weapons programme, something he came to regret after the fact. In recent years he has had many positive things to say about David Miliband and even remarked last year that he believed Ed Miliband was ‘a socialist’ which would suggest that he is offering lenience where perhaps it is not due. Further to his soft touch towards the Milibands, Benn has always had rather little to say about his hereditary wealth and the ‘family business’ of politics (his father, grandfather, children, and grandchildren are all involved in politics or were/are MPs) which were he to answer honestly he would be forced to denounce as regressive, despite the fact he renounced his peerage early on in his political career.

Does Bennism, a somewhat nebulous subscription to nationalisation of industry and increased democracy, offer the required radical critique of neo-liberal capitalism which pervades all three major Westminster parties? The answer is no. It is however laudable in the fact that it exists within a stream of thought that can adequately be called radical, given that anything even partially left of centre can now be accurately described as radical. Compare this to various recent attempts by Labour to occupy notions of redistributive economics and ‘responsible capitalism’ and it is plain to see that Benn was a character who meant it when he said ‘Most political questions are at root moral questions: is it right or is it wrong?’ In this sense we can see that Benn was a man who invested his belief firstly in the labour movement, and secondly in the Labour Party. How much he invested in the latter to his own detriment will be for history to decide but it cannot be denied that in the battle for the party’s identity Benn ultimately came out on the losing side.

There will always be those of us who still see a luminescent hope in the spectre of that red rose which speaks of a bygone labour movement that swept from shop-floor to hospital bed becoming the most significant, yet ultimately flawed, opposition to conservatism this land has ever seen. For those individuals Tony Benn is a beacon and his legacy will be cherished.

There is a passage in The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell, published only a decade before Benn’s birth, which adequately exemplifies the rarity of his principled stance when the character of Barrington questions the latest Liberal orator to arrive in town espousing the glory of capitalism:

‘I hope you’ll excuse me for asking, but were you not formerly a Socialist?’ said Barrington.

Even in the semi-darkness Barrington saw the other man flush deeply and then become very pale, and the unsightly scar upon his forehead showed with ghastly distinctiveness.

‘I am still a Socialist: no man who has once been a Socialist can ever cease to be one.’

‘You seem to have accomplished that impossibility, to judge by the work you are at present engaged in. You must have changed your opinions since you were here last.’

‘No one who has been a Socialist can ever cease to be one. It is impossible for a man who has once acquired knowledge ever to relinquish it. A Socialist is one who understands the causes of the misery and degradation we see all around us; who knows the only remedy, and knows that that remedy–the state of society that will be called Socialism–must eventually be adopted; is the only alternative to the extermination of the majority of the working people; but it does not follow that everyone who has sense enough to acquire that amount of knowledge, must, in addition, be willing to sacrifice himself in order to help to bring that state of society into being. When I first acquired that knowledge,’ he continued, bitterly, ‘I was eager to tell the good news to others. I sacrificed my time, my money, and my health in order that I might teach others what I had learned myself. I did it willingly and happily, because I thought they would be glad to hear, and that they were worth the sacrifices I made for their sakes. But I know better now.’

It would be all too easy, and even foolish, to downplay Benn’s role in the modern Labour Party. He was born into it, proudly lived within it, and died a committed son of the party. When Tony Benn stood against Neil Kinnock in 1988 he knew very well that he would lose, and with him the last vestiges of ‘Old’ Labour, yet in doing so he avoided the ignominy of the man with the scar in Tressell’s work and accomplished that true impossibility in modern politics; he remained a socialist when it would have been much easier not to do so.

He may have grown into socialism, as it were, but for this resilience we must thank Tony Benn and hope that the likes of he will grace the halls of Westminster once more.