Never Mind The Lizards… Can We Look Beyond Personalities in Scottish Politics?

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Guest Post by Declan Welsh

DISCLAIMER: this was written before the election. This all seems very trivial in the face of a Tory majority. Everything seems very trivial in the face of a Tory majority. Oh God. They actually got a majority. Jesus Christ al-fucking-mighty. 

Political parties are institutions which represent certain interests. These interests can range from big business, to racists, to trade unions and that single issue party who wants to make sure the gritters run on time because last year Agnes nearly broke her hip, but all political parties are the manifestation of certain pressures. In a democracy, that pressure should come from people. In a neo-liberal democracy, it very often doesn’t.

So, really, what leader is in charge makes very little difference. Not in an enormous sense. Take the Conservative party in Scotland and in England and Wales. Ruth Davidson, by all counts, seems erudite, likeable and decent. David Cameron, on the other hand, has a thin veneer of “human being” applied manually every morning to conceal the power hungry, disingenuous, warped fabric of his true, reptilian self. And yet these two leaders represent the same interests. While I wouldn’t mind debating the merits of redistributive policies with Davidson, what she represents means that I could never vote for her. They are politicians. Their own opinions don’t really come into it. They are part of a machine. Pawns.

This is as true of parties of the left, but not in such damning terms. For example, what Caroline Lucas believes in is sort of inconsequential. She stands under a Green ticket, and these handy labels help us infer certain principles to which we agree or disagree. Now, Caroline Lucas is someone of high moral fibre, who I agree with on near enough everything. But I agree with the Greens on near enough everything, and she is standing for them, so my agreement could have been inferred without me even knowing who she is. That’s the point of political parties. It’s imperfect, it stifles individuality, and – with the behemoths of Lab, Tory and now SNP – it is not without its dissenters. But that’s the way it is for now.

Clearly, there are some differences. Some parties are borne out of activism or causes. Some are borne out of private interests. Some start as one of these and drift towards the other. But the key understanding is that no matter how noble or immoral the individual, they will represent a party and – outside of actions which would be illegal and, very importantly, issues which concern their own constituency – their morality is benign as all they will be doing is representing the interests which control that party.

This brings me to Jim Murphy. Jim Murphy is one of the least genuine, least likeable, least moral men in politics. His voting record is appalling, his rhetoric asinine and his penchant for sporting analogies insufferable. He beat Neil Findlay to the Labour leadership. Neil Findlay seems like a decent human being, who has dedicated his life to fighting for workers’ causes. Guess who advocated Labour vote last week? Both of them. Guess who supported all of Labour’s vaguely redistributive policies? Both of them. Guess who’s not changing Labour’s line on Trident or immigration? Neither of them. Their election is symbolic.

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When Labour dropped Clause IV of their constitution, it symbolised their move to being a party which juggles two major interests, with pressure from both trade unions and businesses. That’s frustrating for a socialist, but – even at their Blairite worst – Labour’s policies at home (with reference there to the Iraq war being as bad as anything any government has ever done) have never, are not, and will never be anywhere near as destructive as the Tory party. New Labour cut child poverty, the Tories increased it. New Labour introduced the minimum wage, the Tories have made people work for free to get their entitled state benefit. New Labour drafted the Equality Act, the Tories took all the good bits out of it. Now, that might not be enough for you, to just be “better than the Tories”, and I agree. But this is where personality warps reality with regard to the nationalists and Labour.

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Red Tories Out. It’s the SNP foot soldiers’ battle cry. A rejection of the pro austerity, pro war, anti immigration, in-the-pocket-of-big business Labour Party that once was so proud. Now we have the SNP, or to give them their proper name, the Scottish [but also for everyone in the rest of the UK, and the world. Can the world not just come to Scotland? We welcome immigrants. Except ones that “have no right to be here”. They can fuck off. Soar Alba] National [Civic nationalism. Not ethnic. Just with loads of flags invented by feudal leaders to give peasants an abstract idea of belonging to a constructed nation state so that they wouldn’t revolt and would go to war for them. But also internationalist (that’s why we changed our stance on NATO), and socialist (that’s why we love the EU). But, like, really good for business as well (That’s why we actually love the EU). And environmental. But like, into oil. But ethically so.] Party [with flags. So many flags.].

The SNP stand for competing interests, just like the Labour Party. They both like to say they stand in the interests of the people, but also court big business. Ed Miliband had that awful photo opportunity reading The Sun. Alex Salmond had his autobiography serialised in it. The Sun has supported both at varying times, and condemned both at varying times. I’ve explained this previously but the interests exerted on both parties (particularly since the surge of working class support for the SNP) is very similar.

Their leaders, though, are not. They are very, very different. Nicola Sturgeon is so good at being a human being that I actually believe she might be one. She can like, talk to people, and even comes across like she has a basic sense of human empathy. She is (with that one “no right to be here” exception) fair to foreign workers, and it makes you wonder if she’s the only party leader to not have had a personal fallout with an unskilled EU migrant. She’s quite funny, she seems fairly moralistic and she says ALL of the right things. I’ve checked. There are no more right things to say – she’s said all of them. Even Tony Benn only managed half, and he was actually a socialist.

But this chasm between the two parties who are not really that different is aided by having these competing personalities at the forefront of each. Labour had a decent manifesto. It wasn’t great, but it was decent. And my God is it better than the Tories. Have you seen what they’re going to do? They effectively want to start the Hunger Games. They hate the idea of public services so much I actually think it might be something personal as opposed to ideological. I think Cameron might have had a girl he fancied at Eton and she ran off with an NHS worker or something. An unskilled migrant NHS worker perhaps, cause he fucking hates them.

Labour, though, have a lot of complete arses, although many of them are seatless for the time being. Jim Murphy, Douglas Alexander, Anas Sarwar, Ed Balls. All these men play into EXACTLY what the nationalist stereotype is. Careerists, liars, cheats, war-mongerers, centre right politicians a stones throw away from some of the more reasonable Tories (who have all been removed from any important positions by the way. Now it’s just the ones who would like to hunt the poor for sport. And in a way they are. Like instead of shooting the deer, you make the deer feel really shit about the fact it was born with walking difficulties until it just dies of sadness). But the problem is that the Labour Party actually stand for some vague conception of fairness (lite). That isn’t socialism, but it’s fucking Cuba compared to what the Tories are doing. Scotland now has the same amount of Tory and Labour seats. That isn’t really anything to be proud of, whatever Labours clear misgivings.

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The SNP, meanwhile, have Sturgeon as this one woman tour de force of social justice raining down upon all the Westminster furniture. But they do not have the policies to back that up. At least not in any way which makes them substantially better than Labour. And yet right now it feels like Scotland is in the middle of a revolution sometimes. All these vague ideas about hope, justice, strength and fairness are being banded about but the SNP are selling off our public transport, voting down Living Wage legislation and calling for tax breaks for oil companies.

I know I’m being highly critical but NO ONE ELSE IS. Like at all. Well, except for Jim Murphy, but Jim Murphy could attack the concept of famine and I would at least weigh up both sides of the argument. Our artists are queuing up to praise the SNP, and the media paint a picture of the party as radical socialists and attack them with such vitriol that you can’t help but back them in that fight. Sturgeon is the darling of the left. At a time when Katy Clark is booed at anti-Trident rallies and loses her seat to centrist SNP-er, Nicola Sturgeon – who joined the SNP in the 80s when they were still, effectively, the Tory party with kilts – is “The Most Dangerous Woman In Britain”. I’m not saying she’s a Tory, far from it, but her parties policies have a distinctly Lib Dem (think Ashdown not Clegg) flavour. Less neo-con than Labour, but more neo-liberal. But it doesn’t matter. Cos she seems like someone who would “fight for Scotland”, wherever it is that means.

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Basically, look behind personalities. With Jim Murphy, just try and imagine someone else is there. Anyone. Or just close your eyes. In fact stay perfectly still and he might just leave you alone. His vision is based almost entirely on movement.

And with regards to the new SNP MPs, I really hope that they can be a great opposition. Personalities might not change how you govern, but they sure as hell can give you the edge in challenging the government. The SNPs anti–austerity rhetoric is hypocritical in Scotland, but they have nothing to lose from going all out, full blown socialist at Westminster. As much as that smacks me as a little bit of politicking, who cares, really? In the face of a country who just gave the most brutal government in modern history an increased mandate, we need all the opposition we can get, by any means necessary. I am sceptical of the SNP, but I am willing, and indeed anxious, to be proven wrong.

Oh and Mhairi Black, a twenty year old working class woman, getting into parliament is the tiny ray of sunshine in this otherwise apocalyptic election. Well in. Give ’em hell.

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Further Reading:

A Mug’s Game: Immigration, Labour and the SNP

Border Patrol with Miliband and Project Fear

Weekly Wanker #048: Douglas Alexander

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