Forwarded from Michael Keany (reply to Anthony)

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Wed Jan 24 07:39:36 MST 2001


Re Anthony's post of 24 January:

In my post of yesterday I tried to distinguish between nationalism and a
distinctive Scottish political culture, which is not the same thing. As
such, nationalism can indeed be dismissed as at best "a dead end reaction
to the collapse of the Soviet Stalinist version of socialism". However, the
unintended consequence of the Thatcher regime was to revitalise a sense of
that distinctive culture and in such a way as to focus the efforts of
progressive forces. Thatcher effectively discredited whatever remained of
establishment Presbyterian unionism, which for years had discouraged
descendants of Irish Catholic migrants from enthusing over any degree of
political autonomy.

(This was underlined by the make-up of the police, the judiciary and senior
politicians -- William Ross, when Secretary of State for Scotland in Harold
Wilson's Cabinets effectively stymied the Labour government's efforts to
resolve the Northern Ireland "Troubles" owing to his Orangeist allegiances
(in the days when there really was Cabinet government). One can only
imagine the authority with which Ross would have spoken on a subject over
which many English and Welsh Cabinet members would have been at a complete
loss. As a result they acceded to the folly more readily associated with
the Conservative Party's treatment of that issue. Meanwhile the President
of the SNP during the 1970s, Billy Wolfe, had to resign from his position
after making some injudicious comments about Catholics being puppets of Rome.)

Indeed, the Church of Scotland itself became the target of Thatcher's
moralising. Its Church and Nation committee, in parallel with the Church of
England's famous "Faith in the City" document, issued a number of highly
critical reports charting the social and economic consequences of
Thatcherite policies. Thus it was to the General Assembly of the Church of
Scotland that Thatcher lectured the Scots on becoming more like Adam Smith,
and even more infamously, that "there is no such thing as society -- only
individuals and families."

Gaelic is largely confined to the highlands and islands, and is not a focus
of any credible nationalist campaign. As for the clans, such as they are,
they are largely symbolic entities whose purpose is primarily to drum up
tourism. The revival of Scottish democracy is exactly that -- not some
romantic revanchism based on some untenable notions of Scottish nationhood.
It is the direct result of a broad mobilisation of forces determined to
stem the concentration of power in the executive of the Westminster
government that marked the Thatcher years. It is thanks mainly to her that
the inhabitants of an area designated "Scotland" enjoy a greater measure of
self-determination than ever before.

Should there be any lingering doubt, let me recall the poll tax. It is
widely agreed that this single piece of legislation did more to spell the
end of Thatcher than any other event. She railroaded it through her
spineless Cabinet against the considered views of many who were otherwise
quite happy with her general orientation. But it was introduced in Scotland
one year earlier than the rest of Britain. Why? Because for years the
matter of local government taxation had been a festering sore, owing to the
regular revaluation of the rateable values of domestic and commercial
property in Scotland, in contrast to the rather lax revaluation regime
elsewhere in Britain. As a result of this and of the rules determining the
level of rateable value Thatcher used the opportunity to be rid of what she
and many others regarded as a detestable tax on property and instead
implemented the euphemistically titled "Community Charge", effectively a
poll tax, in which all adult citizens of municipalities were to pay an
annual charge for local services rendered. The consequences of this are
well known, culminating in the famous Trafalgar Square riot of 1990 and the
subsequent downfall of Thatcher. But it was in Scotland that the U.K.
anti-poll tax movement began and where its effective leadership (Tommy
Sheridan -- whom the Labour Party expelled for his "Can't Pay, Won't Pay"
campaign) resided. (Even the SNP got in on the act, with its own "Can Pay,
Won't Pay" campaign.) The same "popular front" later successfully halted
the privatisation of Scottish water facilities (in contrast to those in
England and Wales, which were privatised separately in 1986 -- Thatcher did
not dare face down the opposition to that without careful preparation).

So it's really quite good that Scotland has been "losing the classic
attributes of a nation" and picking up some rather more progressive
attributes along the way. It's not quite a situation of "Goodbye
nationalism, hello socialism" (far from the latter), but the fact that the
Labour-led Scottish executive has felt impelled to enact legislation in
clear contravention of Third Way verities dictating Westminster-based
politics is in no small part due to the strength of progressive forces in
Scotland.

Once again, I hope this is of help.

Michael Keaney


Louis Proyect
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