Forwarded from Michael Keany (Scottish nationalism)

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Tue Jan 23 08:39:03 MST 2001


Firstly, been missing you on PEN-L. Secondly, on one of my periodic glances
at the Marxism list archives I came across Anthony's plea re the above.
Therefore, if you like, feel free to forward what comes below:

Scottish nationalism, until recently, had a not very glorious history.
Flirtations with fascism in the 1930s, irrelevance from the 1940s until the
mid 1960s and then jingoistically cashing in on the discovery of North Sea
oil in the 1970s merely demonstrated the poverty of a line that straddled
romanticism and outright reaction. The collapse of the vote for the Scottish
National Party (SNP) in 1979, where it retained only 2 of its 11 Westminster
seats won in 1974, was in large part the result of a "Vote No" campaign
against a Scottish assembly, for which the Callaghan government had
organised a referendum. The inconclusive result to that, together with the
series of public sector strikes labelled ever after the "Winter of
Discontent" saw the demise of the Labour government and the rise of
Thatcher. It was this that proved to be crucial to the revival of the SNP
and a distinctly Scottish political culture more generally.

Throughout the 1970s the Labour Party was famously split, with a Left-led
National Executive Committee trying to hold the government to account. This
story is featured in Leo Panitch and Colin Leys' excellent book, "The End of
Parliamentary Socialism" (Verso, 1997). As well as the Bennite left and
Militant, there emerged in Scotland a growing feeling among some activists
that devolution should be granted in some measure. Enter Jim Sillars MP,
who, with Alex Neil and some others, left the Labour Party to set up an
independent Scottish Labour Party that eschewed the tartan Toryism (Sillars'
phrase) of the SNP and instead campaigned on a platform not dissimilar to a
Labour Left one, albeit specific to Scotland. Sillars and Neil lost their
seats at the 1979 election, and the SLP folded soon thereafter. Sillars and
Neil began their long journey into the SNP, which was rife with dissension.
In the process they were able to transform the SNP into a party which now
boasts policies to the left of Labour (not difficult, it must be said) and
is the main opposition party in Scotland. (Sillars later lost a power
struggle within the SNP and now writes a poisonous column for the disgusting
Sun "newspaper", when he's not coining it in from his rather obscure private
business activities.)

Meanwhile, the Thatcher government's systematic downsizing and closure of
nationalised industry was felt particularly keenly in Scotland, especially
the central belt, famous for its economic dependence on "smokestack"
industries. Combined with the shrill "Little Englander"ism embodied by
Thatcher herself, the Scottish electorate, in increasing numbers throughout
the 18-year period of Conservative rule, rejected the Conservative Party as
irrelevant. This culminated in the complete electoral annihilation of the
party by 1997.

The effect of the Thatcher personality should not be underplayed. As the
first Prime Minister to employ the media so ruthlessly, and increasingly
regal and autocratic during her tenure, her articulation of the petit
bourgeois mores of what is euphemistically called "middle England" merely
served to alienate her further, to the extent that her efforts to win favour
became an embarrassing anachronism to the Conservatives in Scotland. This
was especially so by 1997 when she was wheeled out to campaign against a
Scottish Parliament in the referendum of that year. Alex Salmond, then
leader of the SNP, memorably described her as "a living monument to the need
for a Scottish Parliament".

Meanwhile the Labour Party, despite winning overwhelming majorities in
Scotland, found itself powerless to withstand Thatcherite policies (in the
days when it was against them). There grew increasing recognition of a
"democratic deficit" as deeply unpopular policies were imposed. In this
respect Scottish nationalism not only incorporated but was led by
progressive elements. Home rule quickly reasserted itself onto the political
agenda, and, especially under the leadership of John Smith, was enshrined in
Labour Party policy. Despite his death in 1994, Blair was obliged to keep
the policy, such was the Parliamentary Party's reliance on MPs north of
Berwick (as a casual glance at the present ministerial team would confirm).
In large measure all this was due to the formation and deliberations of the
Scottish Constitutional Convention, an unprecedented gathering of many
strands of Scottish civil society during the 1980s, boycotted only by the
SNP (at that time arguing for full independence, nothing less) and the
Conservatives (full unionism, nothing less). The Convention, after some
fairly tortuous negotiation, established the framework on which the present
Scottish Parliament is built. In so doing it cemented the otherwise
fractious coalition of interests in favour of some measure of devolution.

As for the Scottish Socialist Party, it is largely (though not exclusively)
an offshoot of Militant. As such it possesses the same strengths and
weaknesses -- the former including strong local grassroots organisation in
various urban pockets; the latter including an unfortunate macho
anti-intellectualism which patronises and alienates in equal measure. I
would like to see the party prosper, nevertheless, and have voted for it on
every occasion possible. Firstly, it is a useful check on the rightward
advance of the Labour Party in Scotland and official political discourse
more generally. Secondly, the emergence of other prominent spokespeople
would dilute what is threatening to become a cult of personality surrounding
the leader, Tommy Sheridan.

Together with Alan McCombes, Sheridan has published a book entitled
"Imagine", published by  Rebel inc.; ISBN: 1841950564, retailing at £7.99
and available for less from The book is an effort to envisage
the kind of society which socialists in Scotland should be striving to
create. It has attracted sterling praise from Tony Benn and John Pilger,
among others.

I hope this is of help.

Michael Keaney

Louis Proyect
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