Hey everyone. It was my dad who first taught me the importance of the three V’s and why they are important to all areas of our lives. Personally I would add a fourth v to the list and that v is voice. You see I believe you can have all the views, values and visions you like but if you don’t have the voice to articulate them you will get nowhere and the cause you want to advance to bring about changes to society will stay static or worse still walk backwards to the past.
This is a message which Gerry Hassan is giving to both The Labour Party and the SNP many of whom he says do exactly that by creating their own interpretations of Thatcherism Labour blaming the SNP for her election and the SNP blaming Labour for her destruction of our country. Personally I have no doubts which one of these theories is more credible and that is why I am a member of the SNP. It is my belief that at best Labour whom I voted for in my first election in 1983 had a very limited lifespan for this story the lifespan of one parliament.
You see Labour may if they wish to, try to blame the SNP for their defeat in 1979 but they cannot blame them for their subsequent defeats to her party in 83 or 87. These results and their inability to defeat Thatcher have nothing to do with the SNP and to say otherwise smacks of childish petulance. This politics of blame is an undesirable trait which is not only bad for the political class but also for the nation especially when most of our political village agrees on so many other issues.
It has to be said however that one of main reasons for this simmering conflict in Scottish politics was that the telling of the Thatcher story as we watched it all unravel was one of a very British story. Whilst this may have suited Labour and the older generation who voted for them it left me and many others who were in our teens and twenties in the time of the Thatcher years very angry. To me and others like me it appeared that the story of Scotland’s destruction was being at best neglected and at worst actually celebrated by the BBC and the other mainstream news outlets and by a Labour Party whose Scottish MP’s didn’t give a damn about the voters they were supposed to represent and it was this attitude which drove me in to the waiting and welcoming arms of the SNP.
There was as our author states a culture of political cynicism during the Thatcher years but Gerry Hassan argues that extends far beyond the Tory years and was also prevalent in the New Labour epoch and during the first years of the Scottish Parliament. It is difficult to argue with this as Hassan presents his case with crystal clarity stating that just like Thatcherism Blair and New Labour despite favourable election results was viewed as a southern English phenomenon not relevant to Scotland, and for its first few years our parliament was savaged by a hostile media who were tapping in to what they saw as public disillusion with politics
This has to be looked at though the Thatcher and Blair years when many Scots felt a sense of hopelessness and despaired of hope for any real change. This to me was the start of a climate of apathy which as yet has not fully lifted. There were however some optimists during that time and I was one of them. It was at this time Scotland began to reassess its relationship with London through what Hassen refers to as a community of communicators and the influence of this group over the last three decades cannot be understanding in shaping the new Scotland as a social democratic nation.
There is though a challenge that I’m not sure has until now or is even at the moment ready to embrace. That challenge is as Gerry Hassan reminds us to stop defining ourselves by what we are not rather than what we are citing the example of not voting Tory yet continuing to support the current set up which he refers to as ‘the settled will of institutionalised Scotland’. This is a view he defines as both ‘conservative and limiting’ yet those who advocate it seem to somehow it to be both radical and progressive. To me even more than to our commentator these people are both conflicted and confused, they seem to hope that by not talking about issues they can be swept under the nearest available magic carpet.
This type of silence on the bigger political and cultural issues is not good for the people of our country. The recent examples of Ruth Davidson and Alastair Carmichael stretching the limits of the law to the last acceptable point shows to me the intellectual poverty of a unionist cause which has nothing offer Scotland but smear, slander, and the ridiculous and infantile attitude of SNP Bad. This silence creates an uncomfortable vacuum in Scottish political life, however it is important to remember that modern Scotland was shaped not only by the union but the terms and conditions of it and indeed those which led to it.
This meant as Gerry Hassan says there was a holy trinity of church, law and education. This gave Scots the trappings of nationhood but not the power of a nation. It was if you greatest illusion in the history of our country. This illusion of power was one which suited the wealthy unionists of the day who were greedy individuals who wanted to advance their own fortunes by getting a slice of England’s imperial cake. This settlement was the perfect solution for the unionists as it created what Hassan described as a closed Scotland. Institutionalised it became dependent on the union for its survival and Scotland became what it still is more than 300 years later a nation in name only. Too often we have been sucked in to fights that have been never ours to preserve not a nation but an outdated trading arrangement.
So what if any were the benefits to this closed Scotland? Whilst Hassan says there is much to be positive about in the sense of what it has contributed to the Scotland of the past such as the Scottish office which was at the time a ground breaking achievement he acknowledges such a Scotland is not without its shortcomings such as its lack of democracy and the perception that our country was run by committees of the great and the good. This is identified by a man with a vision as something we need to challenge, he then goes on say that if we want to be the radical beacon of progress Alex Salmond spoke of in his victory speech after the SNP landslide of 2011 we will never achieved it by reinforcing the language of cautious conservatism so loved by institutional Scotland.
With professional Scotland disillusioned with what it sees as lack of opportunity and career advancement they feel according to our commentator that they have a reduced status in the public life of our nation. One way to combat this is as he suggests to create ‘A new social contract for professional groups’. This would involve them being part of a bigger, bolder, national project which would tackle the big issues in our country. Gerry Hassan goes on to say not only is this a necessary step it needs to break away from the paternalistic traditions so ingrained in Scottish society. To achieve this will not be easy the roots of these traditions are deeply planted in the collective minds of our national consciousness but if Scotland is to progress to be the open Scotland so many of us perceive it to be then this is a road we have to travel.
There is no doubt in my mind that Gerry Hassan is correct to say that much of the paternalism in our society came not only from the churches who in past years were nowhere near as socially liberal as is the case now but also from the trade unions and political parties. The fact that all have declined in recent years with the exception of the SNP who have enjoyed a post referendum explosion with membership now at its highest since the historic breakthrough years in aftermath of the Hamilton By-Election, shows that the concept of active citizens seemed to have all but disappeared from the public realm until the referendum brought it back to life.
There is according to Hassan an assumption that we know how to do political and social change. This however does not he argues stand up to closer scrutiny as he goes on to comment change doesn’t just come from institutional Scotland it comes he from ‘a crucial combination of values, vessels, and voices.
These are important to relate the story of the people’s Scotland in contrast to that of what he calls official Scotland indeed Hassan cites two organisations I was proud to be a part of as an example of this, namely Radical Scotland for whom I handed out many a leaflet and National Collective with whom I was closely involved both attending the Glasgow meetings and performing at one of their sessions.
The importance of this Third Scotland cannot be underestimated in our attempts to create a new different and indeed better Scotland. As Hassan states it is not establishment based nor does it have all the answers but it does have an energy and activism unmatched by most in the political mainstream. There is he says an element of DYI Scotland in this Third Scotland in the sense that people have made it happen because they wanted to. This is something the chattering classes of closed Scotland found extremely difficult to grasp. To them the people finding our voices was an alien concept which I believe they found and for that matter still find absolutely terrifying. This is as our commentator correctly identifies a culture of a self determination which is starting to bloom and that is the beginning of a very different Scotland.
Having examined Professional Scotland and the Third Scotland The next chapter looks at a Scotland beyond labels and the ‘official’ story. In his introduction to this part of the book Gerry Hassan makes the point that the Scotland of the 21st Century has limits to how it understands the tribalism of past certainties and the paradigms that shaped them. The language we have used in political debate throughout the later half of the 20th century such as left and right and unionist and nationalist speaks he says to the past and human condition to put labels on to groups. It does not in the opinion of our author speak to the future condition of our country. Hassan refers to his and my generation of Scots as the inbetweeners. Less rigid in our class attachments than our parents our identities are more fluid. I often refer to myself as a Scot, an Irish-Scot a Gael, European, or Global Citizen.
Despite these multiple identities this does not mean I or Gerry Hassan have lost touch with or disconnected from our working class roots. Indeed our author makes the point that such is his desire to help working class communities that he feels he sometimes has to challenge what he calls ‘the middle class comfort zones of much of polite society’. Hassan goes on to say that Scotland needs to take a long hard look at itself and needs to make radical changes in the way we see our nation. We need to value the things we say we do such as democratic intellect and stop perpetuating the myths of Jock Tamson’s Bairns and the Here’s Tae Us Wha’s Like Us school of Scottishness. Whilst this was no doubt useful at a time when our identity was or was perceived to be under threat. This attitude is no longer appropriate for a modern 21st century nation in fact it has the stench of conservative contentment of which Scotland has to rid ourselves if we are ever to evolve and develop as we should. We need as Gerry Hassan says to prioritise literature and emotional intelligence to a far greater extent than is currently the case if we are ever to be a Scotland where democratic intellect is actually valued rather than just talked about by the chattering classes.
Talking of the chattering classes Hassan takes aim at what he refers to as the London Scots and their disproportionate influence on the politics of our nation through the mainstream press and media. Dividing them in to two distinct groups the new right of Paisley Grammar School’s least favourite old boy. Andrew Neil and his pernicious pals Spectator editor Fraser Nelson and the Daily Telegraphs Iain Martin and on what I as being a lot less charitable than Gerry Hassan would call the luvvies of the pseudo left of Andrew Marr, James Naughtie, and Baroness Helena Kennedy. These people characterise indeed caricature Scotland to suit both their careers and the egos of their paymasters but the Scotland of the London Scot is a Scotland of remoteness both in time and space. It is a Scotland shaped by distance which bears no reality to the Scotland you or I happen to know as our reality.
In his penultimate chapter Gerry Hassan explores the power of dreams in the sense of nation being an imagined space. Hassan starts this chapter with a quote from the playwright Peter Arnott who said Scotland is an argument. Last year as I campaigned for a yes vote in the independence referendum I learned the truth of Arnott’s quote as I found out that Scotland being Scotland it wasn’t one argument it was hundreds, thousands or even millions of arguments. Indeed reading that quote made me think on the title of a poem by Maurice Lindsay Scotland Is A State Of Mind as every Scot has our own view of what Scotland is and what it should be. Gerry Hassan takes this idea further and suggests that ‘if Scotland is an argument then certain kind of conversations or even voices are drowned out’
This kind of behaviour is not good for public debate and discussion. The emphasis on difference and disagreement hides a lack of what Gerry Hassan calls real variety and contesting views. Hassan says this is not just the preserve of institutional Scotland but has also got left and nationalist variants. After campaigning for yes last year I know what he means as one thing I noticed in our campaign was the lack of any credible centre-right voices supporting independence. Though not of my tradition I would have welcomed their input as their lack of representation did tend to push voters who may have been from that background more towards what they saw as the perceived safety of Better Together and the union.
As was mentioned earlier the author takes the view that ‘what passes for democracy in Scotland is profoundly limited and excludes large parts of our country’. Whether this exclusion is economic, geographical, or political or as I suspect all three matters not. What matters is the fact that there is as was stated earlier in this book a missing Scotland. It is this Scotland that we need to connect with more than any other in order to fully democratise our country. Gerry Hassan is bold in his suggestion that we could think about having a programme to begin the process of democratising Scotland his claims that this would be an ambitious move are I think mild and understated. Personally I believe it would frighten the living daylights of the establishments and elites who have always had too much power and influence in over our society.
In the concluding chapter of an excellent read Gerry Hassan looks at the importance of football the Rangers debacle and the rise of fan power through groups as the Blue Order and the Green Brigade. Hassan rightly asserts that many Celtic fans missed their old rivals after Rangers liquidation sent them crashing to the third division. I am not one of those Celtic fans indeed I believe Rangers a club famed for their hard line unionist views should have been given an even greater punishment and relegated to the lowest ranks of the junior leagues. That said I realise that my club are not perfect and we have our fringe elements but overall I was happy that the most pro union support in the country got what had been coming both to them and the old older of closed conservative Scotland for a very long time. I suppose my Celtic supporting nationalist tendencies can be a bit unforgiving at times.
Forgiveness however is an essential part of moving on and that is what a very articulate and talented commentator is urging us to do. Gerry Hassan reminds the reader that far too many of our fellow Scots draw their politics narrowly and inflexibly. This is he says understandable for those who wish to retain the status quo. However Hassan is right to point out that is also all too common in left and nationalist circles and this needs to be challenged.
Another point of concern for Hassan is how people view the prospect of independence. For too many he reasons it is about having the full powers of the parliament and parking the bus at this development. This he argues does not go far enough as he sees independence as an opportunity for societal and transformational change. I would tend to agree with this assessment, to me independence should be about rethinking the way we do them and improving them. This boldness needs to be shown in everything from Education where I believe we need to teach our children our history, politics, and culture, to the idea of a written yet flexible constitution we need to be more radical rather than less. This is I suggest a challenge to the SNP and the broader yes coalition which we would be well advised to start tackling now. You see it doesn’t matter to me if the next referendum is held in three or in twenty three years what matters is winning it and winning big therefore destroying a moribund unionist Scotland which has long since been living on a life support machine but nobody as yet has been brave enough to switch it off.
Hassan though sees three potential futures for Scotland including one last chance for unionist Scotland. Unionist Scotland he claims could survive if it can convince us that it has agenda for a progressive Britain. This however is in my opinion the least likely option of the three as its supporters would have to explain how given the realities of Modern Britain they were going to achieve this vision. The second option is what Hassen calls Continuity Conservative Scotland, this he asserts was once the position of the Labour Party in Scotland but now appears to have become the vision of the SNP leadership. This idea our author says lays claim to the idea that independence is the best way of maintaining the current order of Scottish society and minimising the risk of uncertainty in a post independent Scotland.
My own view on this and I say this as an SNP member is that it doesn’t go far enough to persuade people there can be a prospect of the real change so many of us want to see. The third option is that of the third Scotland which has been put forward by groups as Commonweal, National Collective, Radical Independence, and The Jimmy Reid Foundation. This to me is by far the most progressive and appealing version of the Scotland I want to see and despite what Hassan calls its weak institutional structures I think this people’s Scotland is the best way forward if we really want to see the different Scotland both this commentator and I are both seeking.
As he begins to conclude his journey Gerry Hassan says Scotland’s debate on self government is not about being ‘separatist’ little Scotlanders or narrow nationalists it’s about what we want to collectively achieve as a society. Many countries as he correctly states have went down this road before. However Hassen argues that there are certain geopolitical aspects at play such as the British and European dimensions which have to be addressed before considering our longer term future and with the Uk question it is perhaps significant that he asks us to think of the UK beyond England. By doing this Hassen quotes the words of former Plaid Cymru MP Adam Price who commented that pro union opinion in Scotland talking about independence in terms of divorce and separation was not a helpful way of thinking about matters. For what its worth I think Price is right to remind to us there are four countries in the United Kingdom not just two as so many unionists would like to claim.
With regards to the question on Europe where Hassan asks the question does Scotland stick to the painful relationship which Britain currently has with the European Union or does it aspire to be part a real European project which seeks to build closer ties with Europe. Personally I know where I stand on this issue. I believe that our nation’s prosperity depends to a great on creating closer ties with the EU and that far from enduring it Scotland seek to embrace Europe and where possible play a leading role at the heart of it. If by doing this Scotland can become a more progressive social democratic society whose foreign policy will be ours to shape and not dictated by Etonian elites from an old established order at Westminster then I believe our country will be much the better for it.
To sum up I would firstly like to say thank you to a gifted author who has produced a book which I think as an essential read for those of us who seek a new Scotland. His work has inspired me to think more creatively and is a testament to the value his parents placed on education and I and Scotland thank them for that. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank my late parents for giving two very different gift sets. To my father John Smith I give for the hunger and idealism that has made both the poet and political activist I have become. To my mother Mary Russell Smith I give thanks for teaching a curious and at times impatient child the value of perseverance and reminding me that though they not happen when you want them to, good things come to those who wait. That said it is perhaps not surprising I finish on what I hope is an optimistic and upbeat note by reaching this conclusion. When the power of our dreams can find a voice which speaks to the collective communities, we can have the Scotland we seek to build. We seek to build this different Scotland not for ourselves but generations to come and we do it in the name of a better tomorrow for our country and our people.
Love And Best Wishes
NB Caladonian Dreaming: The Quest For A Different Scotland By Gerry Hassen is available from Luath Press Limited
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