AGM Discussion: Getting on with the day job – an agenda for radical Scotland

Join Democratic Left Scotland for our AGM discussion on Saturday the 14th October in Portobello Library.

Speakers include Justin Kenrick, from Acton Porty on the opportunities and limits to community action, Jonathon Shafi from Conter, on policies for a radical Scotland and Scottish Green Party co-convener Maggie Chapman on how we can build movements for change.

Eventbrite - Getting on with the day job - an agenda for radical Scotland

shafi

maggie

justin

Advertisements

Long read: Looking for answers – economics, Trump and the US left

Long read: Looking for answers – economics, Trump and the US left

Stephen Whitefield talks to American Marxist economist David Ruccio.

Stephen Whitefield is Professor of Politics, Rhodes Pelczynski Tutorial Fellow in Politics, Pembroke College, University of Oxford. David Ruccio’s website and blog can be found at https://anticap.wordpress.com/

Stephen Whitefield: David, it is a great pleasure to start this conversation with you. We met first in Louisville Kentucky in 2000 and we’ve been friends since then. You were the founder and editor of the journal Rethinking Marxism and you are a professor of economics at the University of Notre Dame. So, I have three questions at the start that I think will be of great interest to our readers. First, and a personal question, how did you develop an interest in Marx and Marxism? Second, what would you say is distinctive about the journal you edited for so many years? And third, how does a Marxist economist fit with both broader orthodox economics, which in my experience is pretty right wing, and in a Catholic university like Notre Dame?

 

David Ruccio: The pleasure is all mine, Stephen. I’ve always enjoyed our conversations, which over the years have covered a wide variety of topics – from the perilous state of the left to the thrills and spills of world football. I am curious to see where this conversation will go. Let me take your opening questions in turn. As one of my professors used to say, “We choose theories, and theories choose us.” So it was with my interest in Marxism. Such ideas were “in the air” when I became politically active in the 1960s. I bought my first book by Herbert Marcuse at the age of 16 at a bookshop in Grand Central Station in New York City, and I encountered my first Marxian idea – imperialism – during the anti-Vietnam War movement. Things got a bit more formalized in college when, given my interest in Latin America, I discovered the Marxian critique of dependency theory. And then I went to graduate school in the Department of Economics at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst to study the Marxian critique of political economy only later discovering that, with a PhD, I might actually get a job in higher education. Now, looking back, I can’t imagine ever not seeing the world through a Marxian lens.

 

DIFFERENT MARXISMS

But, of course, there are different Marxisms out there. Some of us at the University of Massachusetts weren’t particularly satisfied with traditional Marxism, especially the more scientistic, “laws of motion” versions that were the received legacy in the United States. At the same time, we weren’t ready to simply abandon Marxism. Influenced by post-structuralism and the critique of all forms of determinism, we wanted to open up the Marxian tradition to a new engagement with itself and to contemporary work (what came to be called postmodernism) in philosophy and social theory. But the existing radical and Marxist journals weren’t interested in publishing that kind of work. So, we started our own journal, Rethinking Marxism, where we looked to publish new Marxian ideas in relation to the natural and social sciences and the arts. Although we published the first issue of the journal at what many considered the worst possible time, just before the Fall of the [Berlin] Wall, I’m proud to say the journal is now in its twenty-ninth year of publication.

 

So, there I was, a professor of economics – writing on various aspects of Marxian theory, editing a Marxist journal – in a discipline that has never been particularly open to Marxian ideas. And it’s only gotten worse in recent decades, as my colleagues in economics have gone from disdain to ignorance. At one time, economists in the United States might have been critical of Capital but at least they knew something about it. Now, given the increasing narrowness of the discipline – courses in economic history and history of economic thought are no longer even offered in most doctoral programs in economics – they’ve never been exposed to even the rudiments of theories other than neoclassical and Keynesian economics. Much the same has happened at the University of Notre Dame, the premier Catholic university in the United States. I was initially hired in a department that prided itself on being eclectic, with professors from a wide variety of theoretical traditions who worked in areas closely associated with Catholic notions of economic and social justice: Third World development, labor, and public policy. Unfortunately, the university administration later decided they wanted a purely neoclassical economic program and they took the unusual step of closing us down. Now, in the aftermath of the greatest economic crisis since the first Great Depression, when mainstream economics has been called into question around the world, they’re saddled with a department confined to the set of ideas that brought about the crash in the first place. It’s a sad state of affairs for economics – and, even more, for the masses of people who have been victims of the ideas and policies advocated by mainstream economists.

 

SW: Look, I want to get us on to discussing contemporary politics in the United States, as well as how this connects with developments in many other parts of the world. But let me first push you to clarify how the form of Marxism that you advocated in your journal engaged politically. Of course, Marxism was always highly intellectualised. To my mind, however, it is reasonable to demand of it the provision of practical solutions to the contradictions of capitalist production, effective political organisation, and a focus on winning power. How did you bridge that divide? It also seems to me that there is a Marxism that tries to say things that are true about the world – such as the tendency (not law) for the organic composition of capital to rise, which strikes me as quite helpful for understanding inequality and the contemporary labour market – and there is another which views its task as critique of the “common sense” of capitalist social relations that mistakes itself as social science – critique of neoclassical economics being the prime example. Now, I am sure that clever people can explain how this is a false dichotomy. But in terms of practical politics by abandoning claims to be scientific, isn’t Marxism even within the university more easily marginalised from fighting to make its claims dominant in the discipline of economics? So you end up looking to find academic positions in cultural studies, which is no place at all to build a counter-hegemony.

 

MARXISM AS SCIENCE OR CRITIQUE?

DR: Presenting Marxism as a science rather than as a critique isn’t going to make it dominant in the discipline of economics. In fact, I think it’s quite the opposite. Mimicking the “science” of neoclassical economics merely serves to undermine the originality of the Marxian critique of political economy. Contesting the mainstream idea of science – with all the baggage modernist science carries within economics, not to mention the dangers neoclassical economic science has wrought on the world – is to my mind a better way of disrupting the discipline of economics and creating a space for critical stances, including Marxism. Then, you get different sciences, in the plural, different discourses or stories about capitalism in the world today. So, Marxism is both a critique – a twofold critique of mainstream economic theory and of capitalism – and a science – of how capitalism works. And often, as in recent years, doesn’t work. Thus, for example, Marxism gives us the tools to criticize neoclassical conceptions of income inequality, in terms of individual choices and given endowments, and to provide an alternative explanation, beginning with capitalist exploitation and the way the surplus is distributed by capitalists to others at the top of the distribution of income.

 

But that combination of critique and alternative science doesn’t give you a practical politics – even though the point of it all is to both interpret and change the world. There’s a reason why you don’t find, in all of Marx’s oeuvre, a blueprint for what an alternative to capitalism might look like, much less how to get there. As I explain to my students, Marxism expresses both an arrogance and a humility: an arrogance to denaturalize capitalism and to proclaim an alternative way of organizing economic and social life is possible but also a humility in not thinking that comes from the pen of one or another thinker, no matter how revolutionary. That’s what political movements and parties do – they organize the masses to make changes in existing programs and institutions without any predetermined trajectory or endpoint. It’s what I refer to not as the progress of history but rather progress within history – connecting struggles on different issues into something larger, more far-reaching, and thus making things better for the majority of people by demanding and making changes in the world as it is.

 

PRACTICAL POLITICS

SW: Let’s talk then about parties and movements and practical politics. I think I get your call for humility and for pluralistic open-mindedness. These are certainly antidotes to the dominant culture of Marxism in most places in the 20th century – sectarian, dogmatic, aggressive. Would you say that through the journal you have shifted the terms of discussion in the US among Marxists and re-integrated Marxism within the broader left? What is the influence of a Marxist critical approach in current US politics?

 

There is another side to this too – the side of those on the right for whom exactly the Leninist approach to party discipline and a focus on state power seems a perfect description. Can these highly organised and ruthless forces possibly be fought on anything other their own terms? I remember the day after Labour won the 1997 attending a talk in Oxford by Peter Mandelson, who I think had been a Communist as a student and who had lost none of his Leninist fascination with power. I asked him if he thought that Labour in power could do anything to change the discourse towards more open enquiry, dissent and discussion – of the sort that I think Corbyn may favour. No, said Mandelson: echoing Stalin on the class struggle, Labour in office would require ever more strict centralisation of power to fight its organised right-wing opposition. I can’t say I liked it, but that Labour leadership finally got rid of the Tories after 18 years and won three elections. So, what is the appropriate form for organising the left and progressives in the United States if winning power is a central goal?

 

DR: As Marxists, politics is of course never far from what we think and do. But, in the journal itself, we actually shied away from explicitly political discussions – as a self-conscious decision to avoid the kinds of divisive, sectarian debates and taking-of-sides that have rent asunder so many organizations on the left. Still, the rethinking of Marxism has had implications for left-wing politics: a discursive focus on class (without attributing to class any kind of causal priority), looking for forms of collectivity subjectivity or ways of being-in-common (instead of presuming a common being), identifying and creating instances of non-capitalism (such as gift-exchange and worker co-operatives) instead of enduring the long wait for “the revolution” to happen, and so on.

 

SPECTACULAR SANDERS CAMPAIGN

As I see it, while Marxism continues to play but a very minor role in US politics, at least directly, the kinds of issues Marxists tend to think about and organize around – class identities and struggles, criticizing and disrupting the existing common sense, expanding the realm of freedom, and so on – are certainly present in contemporary political discourse, especially in the wake of the crash of 2007–08 and during the uneven recovery from the Second Great Depression. The spectacular but unexpected success of the Bernie Sanders campaign is a testament to the resonance of those issues, especially among young people. In fact, although I hesitate to comment on events on your side of the pond, to judge by recent polls, something similar appears to be happening right now with Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party.

 

The problem in the United States is the left has little if any role in national politics – although, I want to add, there are millions of people who would be open to an explicitly left-wing political organization or party. The last time the left had a real chance of leaving its mark was in the mid-1980s, with the National Rainbow Coalition. It was a wide coalition, with an explicitly class message; with a national leader, Jesse Jackson; which also left considerable autonomy to local organizations, which is especially important in such a big, diverse country. Right now – and I readily admit my view is quite controversial on the left – the only alternative is within the Democratic Party. The mainstream of the party is in disarray after the 2016 debacle against Donald Trump, and the other existing and potential activists in the party are ripe for new ideas and new ways of articulating a 50-state strategy of changing political discourse and ultimately winning power. This is a time, at least in the United States, not for enforcing ideological discipline, but for creating a broad tent and giving people – especially young people – a chance to learn what real political debate and organizing are all about.

 

SW: Can you give me some examples of successes that people on the left might look to in the United States? We both know Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who runs a progressive Democratic city in the heart of the Trump-loving state of Indiana. He ran recently for Chair of the Democratic National Committee and while he didn’t win, he made an impression. What does he stand for and is it scalable? Are there other examples that might be worth considering too?

 

DR: Mayor Pete, as he is known, was the youngest mayor of a US city with at least 100,000 residents when he was first elected in 2011. Then, in 2015, he won re-election with over 80% of the vote – after announcing he is gay. This in a deindustrialized city in Indiana, a state that gave Donald Trump a 19-percent-point victory over Hillary Clinton. What Buttigieg represents, as a mayor and a candidate for Chair of the Democratic National Committee, is a direct counter both to Barak Obama’s Democratic Party – which, while successful at a national level, oversaw tremendous erosion in terms of state-level governorships and legislatures – and to Clinton’s – which failed at the national level and continued the slide at the state level. This is significant because a great deal of recent legislation overturning social rights and tearing apart the social safety net has been passed, by Republicans, at the state level.

 

The other problem with the Democratic Party, going back to Bill Clinton (and perhaps even further), has been a commitment to policies, from budget deficits to international trade, that can best be described as neoliberal – celebrating individual decisions in markets and a general aversion to commonweal projects, which had long been the pride of American progressivism. Hillary’s loss in November, especially among working-class voters, called both aspects of the existing Democratic strategy into question.

 

FILLING THE VOID

What we don’t know yet is who will fill the void. Clearly, the enthusiasm with which the Sanders campaign was greeted has made everyone sit up and take notice. New social movements, such as Black Lives Matter, the demonstrations across the country during and after Trump’s inauguration, and survey results, according to which millennials are no longer afraid of socialism, indicate a potential base of support for a different kind of Democratic Party – one that is able to challenge Trump’s political populism, which focuses on the failures of politicians and entrenched interests within government, with an economic populism, which for Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and others clearly distinguishes the interests of working people from those of economic elites.

 

SW: Well, I have been wondering who would be the first in this conversation to use the T word. You put the case that there is a choice to be made by some voters between forms of populism. Let me say a little bit about my own research with my colleague Robert Rohrschneider on European parties. Yes, the anti-globalisation left and the nationalist right do share hostility to national democratic institutions in practice, though on the left I think this is an example of “critical democrats” while on the right much of it is anti-democratic, which makes these two currents incompatible. Beyond critiques of national democracy, however, the anti-globalisation left and nationalist right have very little in common. Ideologically, this part of the left is socially liberal and pro-migrant as well as being much more economically left than the “Third Way” of old. The nationalist right by contrast is extremely illiberal and anti-migrant, as we know, but also just is not as some people claim, economically left at all. Socially and ideologically, these political currents are fishing in very different pools and there is not a lot of cross-over. That is why fewer Sanders supporters went to Trump – about 8% or so – than Clinton supporters went to McCain. That’s why I believe the path to a left anti-globalisation victory has to go a different route, not of course ignoring Trump supporters but not relying on them. Tell me I am wrong.

 

But regarding Trump, millions of words have already been written about his base of support. Clearly, he is not even trying to deliver on whatever phony economic populist claims he made as candidate. But what is the best way for a principled left in the US to fight him? I have in mind a narrative frame that will unite people who already dislike him, with those who can be persuaded, in a way that will maximize the space later for progressive politics to emerge. I doubt you think that labelling him a Russian stooge is the frame to choose. But what is?

 

DR: You’re right. Many words have already been written, most of them at best wasted (and many of them analytically suspect and politically dangerous), about Trump’s bases of support. Your research on European parties, on the other hand, gives a clear picture of the different ways international/globalization issues have cut across and been integrated into traditional party families and their positions on domestic matters. In the United States, what this has meant is a meeting-of-the-minds on globalization between mainstream Republicans and Democrats – basically, promote free trade and adopt government policies to win the competitive race – notwithstanding their differences on a whole host of other issues. This creates an alternative space with respect to international issues on the right, for Trump, and on the left, for Sanders.

 

BUREAUCRATS VERSUS WALL STREET

I agree, there’s little overlap between Trump and Sanders supporters, at least in the short term. That stems, at least in part, from their different approaches to populism. Trump/Tea Party populism tends to blame everything on the bureaucrats in Washington, while Sanders/Occupy populism sees the enemy as Wall Street and large corporations. And those differences stem from or at least coincide with, to borrow a concept from Arlie Hochschild’s Strangers in Their Own Land, the “deep stories” – about who they are, what their values are – people feel to be true.

 

In the longer term, there’s more fluidity – in part because of growing disenchantment with the actual policies pursued by Trump and the rest of the Republican administration in Washington (not to mention in states like Kansas), but also because the younger generation is not bound by the same stories as their parents and older generations. And we shouldn’t forget that Sanders did have notable primary victories in states like Michigan and West Virginia, which in the general election went for Trump.

 

That’s one reason a left that is both critical of capitalist globalization and defends immigrant rights and other socially liberal causes can’t simply bypass the concerns of at least some of the voters who, last year, voted for Trump. We also need to be clear that it wasn’t the white working class, however defined, that was the key to Trump’s victory. His margin over Clinton was in fact much higher among wealthy white voters.

 

NARRATIVE FRAME FOR THE LEFT

That leaves a large space that can be occupied by the “principled left”: a coalition of working-class voters, which is not just blue-collar – but instead includes many others, including white-collar workers, technicians, and professionals, in the 99% – and not just ethnic and racial minorities – since the largest group within the US working-class is, and will remain for some time, white. But what’s the narrative frame that can push the Democratic Party to the left and win elections? I agree, it’s not casting Trump as a Russian stooge, which most people are simply not concerned about. It does, however, include calling out Trump and his family members and administration as the contemporary equivalent of the corrupt, self-serving, conspicuously consuming landed aristocracy. And it means creating a discourse that “we” – or at least most of us – are in this together. So, not just jobs (and certainly not jobs in old industries, which will never be recovered) but high-quality, decent-paying jobs in both left-behind towns and growing cities, and of course a significant increase in the minimum wage. Not uncontrolled immigration but certainly a path to citizenship for undocumented workers and their families. And a sense of community, of a generous being-in-common. That needs to occur both nationally, improving and expanding – not cutting – Social Security, public higher education, and healthcare, and internationally, concerned with human rights and the victims of famine, wars, and natural disasters, and not just corporate issues.

 

My sense is the space for that reframing of both Trump and the larger issues at stake is large and growing in the United States. How does it look from where you stand, especially in light of the results of the recent snap election?

 

SW: In too many ways I am informed by the political experience of the failure of the left in the 1970s and 1980s, the brutal victory of Thatcher – which even Reagan failed to achieve in such measure in the US – a brief period of hope for socialism with a human face under Gorbachev that culminated in the absolute victory of neoliberalism on the right and the left, Blairism and war, to which the Crash provided the coda. I suspect I may be part of the most pessimistic generation of people on the left ever, who have tasted almost nothing but defeat and betrayal. So, to be honest, I was deeply and pleasantly surprised by Corbyn’s ability to make progress against a Tory machine that used all its tricks to monster him and by the apparent surge in turnout and support among young people who weren’t frightened. Now, of course the fact that Labour didn’t actually win triggers all my worries, and the philistine “common sense” of capitalism plus vicious nationalism will no doubt be mobilised when the next election happens. But I am willing to be tentatively hopeful that progressive change can happen here, of the sort that was won in 1945. But uncertainty abounds, about Brexit and the United Kingdom. I don’t know exactly how it will end.

 

So, let me put a final speculative question to you. How does Trump and Trumpism end? With a bang or a whimper or with outright victory for an anti-democratic brutal right?

 

DR: I’m just a bit older than you and remain scarred by many of the same events – from Reaganism and its right-wing successors to Clinton and the increasing failures of mainstream liberalism, from unending war to the most severe economic collapse since the first Great Depression. For me, the most disappointing thing is that it seems to have fallen to the left to defend bourgeois democratic processes and institutions. When I was young, I figured we could leave that to the mainstream parties and our job was to challenge them and, with promises of “real” freedom, to move far beyond that. Alas, we’re now forced to lower ourselves and vote for Clinton and Macron, in an attempt to stop Trump and Le Pen. And, yes, as I remind my left-wing friends, while Sanders gives us some hope, he never had to face the Wall Street/Red Scare machine that would have been unleashed on him had he actually made it to the general election. Corbyn did better than anyone, including many Labour parliamentarians and pollsters, expected – except, of course, he didn’t win.

 

BANKRUPT THINKING

But, borrowing from Gramsci, we have to join our “pessimism of the intellect” with an “optimism of the will.” In fact, it is quite possible that Trumpism signals just how bankrupt the mainstream thinking of both major political parties is in the United States – the Democrats who managed to snatch defeat from victory and the Republicans for providing cover for Trump in order to get what they most want: an even more desperate working class, the elimination of business regulations, and tax cuts for their already-obscenely wealthy friends.

 

That provides a real opportunity for the left, which needs to go beyond mere “resistance” to Trump. I think we can agree this isn’t fascism we’re talking about, either now or in the foreseeable future. It is nasty and brutish, but also bumbling and incompetent. Basically, we’re talking about a band of right-wing opportunists who will say and do anything to attempt to stay in power as they attempt to build a bridge to the nineteenth century. So, at least in the United States, we need both to defend the gains that have recently been made – for example, in health insurance and with respect to climate change – and challenge the existing model of “exclusion” and grotesque levels of inequality, which is endorsed by the mainstream of both parties.

 

Personally, I don’t see it in terms of stages or models – either of how Trumpism ends or of how the left moves forward. There’s too much uncertainty, which can actually be turned to our advantage. People are still looking for answers. It’s more a matter, to borrow from Gramsci once more, of continuing to do the patient, careful intellectual and political work of challenging the existing common sense and of creating new discursive spaces and strategic alliances. In the United States, I think that means working both inside the Democratic Party and labor unions and outside those institutions, in local communities, to show how unreasonable the existing reason is and to pose very concrete demands for the majority of Americans: decent, well-paying jobs; affordable, high-quality healthcare; access to well-financed public colleges and universities; and so on.

 

Neither Trump and the Republicans nor most of their Democratic opponents have any interest in satisfying those demands. Not in this lifetime at least. The left now has to show that it can.

 

Stephen, I know what we’ve discussed doesn’t rise to the level of a complete analysis of the mess we’re in or of a specific program for getting out of it. That’s frustrating. But I really appreciate the opportunity to discuss these issues with you, especially since we share the belief that only the democratic left presents a way forward.

 

The 2017 General Election: what is to be done?

The 2017 General Election: what is to be done?

by Peter McColl, 22nd May 2017

 

The UK General Election on June 8th confirms folk understandings of Freud’s concept of projection. Theresa May’s constant refrain that she will create a ‘strong and stable’ government reflect her underlying inability to do so. We will find out on June 8th just how much of this weakness has been understood by the electorate, but at the time of writing, it appears that she has lost some of the lustre granted to her by the British media’s infatuation with ‘New Thatcher’.

 

Background to the Crisis

 

“The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum, a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.” Antonio Gramsci

 

It is clear that the old world is dying. It is also clear that the new world cannot be born. The very rapid technological developments in fields like automation, energy and data go barely understood in the public debate. Meanwhile, old arguments around immigration, welfare and the replacement of mid-20th century industrial jobs persist. It cannot be a coincidence that the debate around immigration in the UK has ramped up just at the time at which job destruction and automation begins to accelerate. Indeed, the fact that concern about immigration is highest in areas with lowest immigration suggests to us that, for all the over-analysis of the issue, this is obviously a placeholder for other concerns.

 

We cannot understand the Brexit vote and the election of Trump without understanding the broader socio-political and socio-technological contexts. We see in the Trump and Brexit victories a deep longing for a return to the social-democratic consensus of the mid-20th century, but in conditions that can never allow that.

 

The contours of Brexit

 

It is clear that the Brexit vote had no single cause, but there are a couple of important dynamics within this debate. The places that voted for Brexit tend to fall into one of two categories: ‘left behind’ areas of post-industrial England and Wales; and the wealthy home counties. It seems obvious that there are two processes at work here – both are nostalgic: in the home counties, for the days of Empire; in ‘left behind’ areas, for the social democratic consensus when jobs in heavy industry were available to all, were well paid, and carried with them a sense of dignity.

 

This coalition was vital to delivering the Brexit vote, but the outcomes these groups seek from Brexit are radically different and often diametrically opposed. In this context, it is interesting to note just how the Conservatives under Theresa May have attempted to provide attractive policies for both constituencies: lots of talk about Britain becoming an offshore tax haven to pacify the Empire chauvinists, with a nod towards industrial democracy through measures such as workers on boards for the ‘left behinds’.

 

There are problems with each of these positions that I will come on to later. One unifying factor amongst those who voted for Brexit was age, with leaving the EU being an enthusiasm largely of the old.

 

The forward march of Labour reversed

 

Quite by accident and in circumstances very much not of their own making, the Conservatives have stumbled across a fatal flaw in the composition of the coalition of voters that the Labour Party relied upon to govern. In the run up to the Scottish Referendum in 2014, it became clear that constitutional politics was an enormous stumbling block for the Labour Party in Scotland. A party used to what we might describe as elective Bolshevism (you get a plurality in the election and use that to exercise a monopoly on power was simply incapable of discussing issues of power with the electorate.

 

For the Yes campaign, the more they asked questions and suggested solutions based on distributing economic and political power, the more successful they became, in no small part because the answer from Labour to proposals as diverse as reinvigorating local democracy and creating a Universal Basic Income was a one-dimensional refrain of “If you want that, vote Labour”. When combined with a public imagination that could still very much remember Labour under Blair, this simply did not wash. A government that allowed inequality to run away while prioritising an unpopular and illegal war in Iraq damaged the popular credibility of the Labour movement in Scotland. The more Labour found themselves in discussions about the constitution, and, more importantly, about giving power away, the less popular Labour became.

 

When the Conservatives won an accidental majority in the 2015 General Election, and were obliged to deliver on a manifesto pledge to have a referendum on membership of the European Union, another opportunity to put Labour in a very awkward position around constitutional politics arose, this time, affecting not just Scotland, but the whole of Labour’s British electorate.

 

Labour chose to sit out the EU Referendum, recognising that their voters were profoundly split on the issue. Had the vote been for Remain, this would have been a tactically wise decision. But, the distance between Labour representatives and their constituents on this issue meant they failed to understand just how likely a leave vote was. With the Leave vote, Labour was again asked to talk about constitutional politics when it is emotionally incapable of doing so.

 

When added to internal dissent caused by the election of a left-wing leader in a centrist parliamentary group, Labour MPs seized an opportunity to try and overthrow their party leader, Jeremy Corbyn. The cynical opportunism of pro-European MPs trying to oust a leader who was ambivalent about the EU on the grounds that he was unable to understand the concerns of the electorate became clear: he was much more in tune with the electorate than his critics in the Parliamentary Labour Party. Tony Blair said he would rather that Labour lost than that they win with Jeremy Corbyn as Leader. The actions of the Parliamentary Labour Party indicated that they agreed. They looked as if they had fatally holed Corbyn’s leadership even though he had won his second leadership election.

 

Strong and stable?

 

The Tory Party had chaos of its own, with David Cameron stepping down to be replaced as leader by Theresa May in a leadership election where the significant figures of the Leave campaign failed to make it through to the final round of the ballot, which Andrea Leadsom then failed to contest, having made some crass remarks around motherhood and Theresa May.

 

A rapid infatuation by the right wing media with May followed. Her Daily Mail politics and the folk memory of the last woman to be a Conservative Prime Minister, aided by the adoption wholesale of UKIP policies, translated itself into a collapse in the UKIP vote, and a corresponding substantial increase in the Tory poll lead.

 

May strategically blundered by promising no early general election, triggering Article 50, then calling a General Election. This may become seen as the moment she punctured her reputation for playing straight. Further, an election was always likely to expose some of May’s fundamental weaknesses: while claiming to be strong and stable, she is clearly brittle, hiding not just from Leaders’ Debates, but the media and even the public. An election campaign in which the Prime Minister hides is always going to be a difficult one for her Party.

 

As the campaign has gone on, these weaknesses have become more obvious, but another weakness has emerged: while the decision to call the election was based on flimsy reasoning (that there was parliamentary opposition to her proposals for a Hard Brexit) the manifesto and platform are substantially less cynical than those put together by George Osborne for the 2015 election. Gone are the commitments to the Conservative’s core constituency, like the triple-lock on pensions and the commitment to protect the ability to pass on wealth by state payment for social care. The surprise Tory victory in 2015 was built on a series of well-segmented promises to different groups of the electorate. The 2017 manifesto looks like it cannot achieve this segmentation. The logic, of course, is that the Conservatives have a poll lead sufficient to allow them to alienate these segments of the electorate.

 

The terrain of the election

 

In previous general elections, Labour has ‘played the game’ with a media-friendly leader and focus group policies intended to triangulate their way to victory. The outcome has been that after Blair, these leaders have been pummelled by the media, attacked for the way in which they eat bacon sandwiches, and portrayed by Conservatives as being in the pockets of unpatriotic interests, with Miliband being, quite literally, portrayed inside Alec Salmond’s pocket ahead of the 2015 General Election. Whoever had been chosen as Labour leader after the 2015 election would have been subjected to withering attacks across the media and it is hard to see how Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, or any of the other possible candidates (David Miliband?) could have withstood this attack. Labour have needed, for some time, to abandon this tactic, and build an alternative approach.

 

It is hard to see how Labour could be more effective in 2015 at bringing Tory voters across to them, but it is clear to see that many of the non-voters from 2005 onwards can be encouraged to vote Labour. The Labour manifesto has some of the elements that will begin to rebuild a winning coalition for Labour. At the time of writing, it does not look like that will be enough, but it points the way to a different approach.

 

It remains likely that the Conservatives will win the election, though much less likely than many commentators predicted at the start of the campaign. But the complexity of delivering Brexit may well be beyond this next Tory government. Theresa May’s communications indicate that she believes successful negotiation is negotiation conducted from a position of strength, and very often that is the case. But it is entirely unclear how she intends to turn her negotiating position with the European Commission from one of weakness into one of strength. It seems much more likely that she will attempt to negotiate from strength, even though her position is weak. This is likely to result in a range of dire consequences.

 

It remains possible that Boris Johnson’s flounce out of the Tory leadership race was tactically astute, allowing Theresa May to be ‘the fall guy’ for a bad Brexit deal or a failure to complete Brexit, allowing Johnson to take over and attempt to bluster his way out of this failure.

 

What is to be done?

 

The tensions ignited by the Conservatives playing a game of chicken around constitutional politics may be hard to contain. Sinn Fein’s masterful strategy to accelerate a united Ireland may bring the Republic of Ireland’s veto into play in the European Council over any Brexit deal. It seems that Brexit has put the wind back in the sails of the Scottish Independence movement. For those who voted for Brexit as a way to reclaim Britain’s Imperial honour, the loss of Britain’s last holdings in Ireland and of Scotland may be traumatic.

 

Now, more than ever, a coherent political alternative is needed: one that can address the issues of disempowerment and lack of dignity that drove the Brexit vote for ‘left behinds’, one that brings together the need to create a fair economy for all in the face of automation and job destruction with the need to save the planet from climate change, and one that recognises the real social inequalities across race, gender, sexuality, ability and so on. The Green Parties of these islands have advocated this approach and have been successful in influencing other political parties to take this agenda more seriously.

 

The right wing media used UKIP to introduce racism and Empire nostalgia that drove us to Brexit. We need to get our radical ideas into the public debate by supporting and growing social movements, and then ensure our politics takes up these ideas: electoral reform is the best way to achieve that. Only then can we begin to create the next economy that will work for people and planet.

Resistance

Resistance

Friday 20th January 2017 saw the inauguration of Donald Trump as President of the United States of America. Sadness and despair were emotions shown by many. Anger at his misogyny, racism, ableism, climate change denial and the expropriation of “the voice of the people” were expressed widely. 

 

Saturday 21st January 2017 saw the Women’s March on Washington and hundreds of sister marches around the world. A living, breathing example of resistance. 

 

Comrade Angela Davis called for further resistance to racism and heterosexual-normative patriarchy today and during every day of Trump’s presidency. Davis reminded us of Ella Baker’s words: “We who believe in freedom can not rest until we have freedom.”

 

https://youtu.be/TTB-m2NxWzA


Here in Scotland, here in Europe, we need to be intentional about inclusion. We can’t challenge the Right’s dominance of globalisation through protectionism or exclusion. Our progressive alliance needs to be about new voices and learning from others.

 

Class, gender, race and all aspects of identity matter in building a humanity that takes us beyond the right-wing populist backlash.


Stuart Fairweather, National Convener, Democratic Left.

Not My President

Not My President

by David Purdy

 

In the days that followed Donald Trump’s election victory, protestors took to the streets of American cities chanting “Not My President”. Their angry defiance was understandable. Trump’s campaign had been a tissue of racism, misogyny, xenophobia, arrogance, bullying, lies and self-contradiction and his triumph was hailed with undisguised joy by the organised far right, from Breitbart bloggers to the Ku Klux Klan. The slogan was, nevertheless, ill judged.

 

It was one thing to argue that Trump was not fit to become Head of State and Commander-in-Chief, but quite another to disavow the President-elect once the votes were counted, and not just because it smacked of sour grapes. We might detest Trump’s character and conduct, deplore his demagoguery and despair of an electoral system that gave him the prize even though his main rival won more votes. But those were the rules of the game and for all his bigotry, it was undeniable that Trump had managed to channel the rage felt by many Americans against the “Washington establishment” and an economic system that showered largesse on the well endowed and well educated, but left millions of others floundering. As citizens, the protesters had a duty to observe democratic norms by respecting the verdict of the voters. In refusing to recognise Trump’s victory, they were staging a symbolic revolt of their own. They were also ceding the moral high ground, for this was precisely what Trump had threatened to do when asked during one of the televised presidential election debates whether he would accept the result if he lost the vote.

 

There is, of course, a big difference between wearing a Guy Fawkes mask and plotting to blow up parliament. And as street theatre goes, chanting “Not My President” is not in the same league as tearing up a draft card, setting fire to the Stars and Stripes or setting fire to oneself. All the same, symbols matter: they engage emotions, express values, shape attitudes and frame issues. And while the disowning of the President-elect is a relatively anodyne form of protest, it does raise important ethical questions.

 

The self-styled American public philosopher, Michael Sandel, notes that the dominant moral discourse in contemporary Western societies, which he calls moral individualism, recognises only two categories of moral duty: natural duties and voluntary obligations.1 The former are universal (i.e. we owe them to all humans without exception), and their moral force does not depend on our consent. Examples are the duty to treat everyone with respect and to condemn, or at least not condone, cruel or degrading acts and practices. Voluntary obligations, by contrast, are particular and do require our consent. I’m not obliged to help you out unless I promised to do so or perhaps owe you a favour in return for one you did me.

 

Sandel insists that there is a third category, which he calls obligations of solidarity. Unlike natural duties, these are particular: we owe them only to some specified sub-set of people with whom we have some significant social relationship: family members, friends, comrades, colleagues, fellow citizens and so on. (It is significant that trade unionists still address each other on public occasions as “brothers and sisters”. The same goes for members of oppressed racial and ethnic groups.) Yet ties of loyalty and solidarity bind us whether we acknowledge and consent to them or not. If this were not so, it would be impossible to explain why we sometimes experience divided or conflicting loyalties. The novelist E.M. Forster once famously said: “If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friends, I hope I would have the courage to betray my country.”

 

Such dilemmas can be agonising. Sandel cites the case of the man known as the Unabomber, a home-grown American terrorist responsible for a series of package bombs that killed three people and injured twenty-three others. On reading the 35,000-word anti-technology manifesto posted on-line by the Unabomber in 1996, the wife of David Kaczynski, a social worker in Schenectady, New York, drew it to her husband’s attention. He agreed with her that it contained phrases and opinions that sounded like his older brother, Ted, a Harvard-trained mathematician who despised industrial society and was living alone in a mountain cabin in Montana. David had not seen him for a decade. After much anguish, he informed the FBI of his suspicion that the Unabomber was his brother.

 

Ted was subsequently arrested, convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment without parole, having escaped the death penalty only by dint of plea-bargaining. In court, he refused to acknowledge his brother and in a book manuscript written later in prison described him as “another Judas Iscariot”. For his part, David accepted the $1 million reward offered by the Justice Department for information leading to the apprehension of the Unabomber, but gave most of it away to the families of those killed and injured by his brother. He also became a spokesman for an anti-capital punishment group. “Brothers are supposed to protect each other,” he told one audience, “and here, perhaps, I was sending my brother to his death.”

 

As Sandel points out, whatever you think of the choice David made, his dilemma only makes sense as a moral dilemma if you acknowledge that the claims of fraternal loyalty can be weighed in the balance against other moral claims, including the duty  of citizens to help bring criminals to justice. The protest against the President-elect involved a  similar moral conflict, though it hardly qualifies as a dilemma. Trump’s opponents had to decide whether to put their duties as citizens of a democratic state above their political allegiances. Should they abide by the results of tolerably free and fair elections and support the peaceful transfer of power or carry on campaigning – whether for Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party or causes such as free trade, open borders and liberal social values, which they cherished and Trump rejected? The choice was a no-brainer. Upholding democratic institutions and norms trumps partisan commitment and ideological conviction every time.

 

In this case, moreover, doing the right thing also made political sense. Trump’s election campaign was a disgrace and there was much to criticise in his policy platform. But on two key issues, he was right to highlight bipartisan policy failures: the prolonged stagnation in real wages and endemic job insecurity experienced by blue collar workers and by growing numbers of white collar workers too; and the misguided attempts of successive US administrations to export democracy by force of arms, with soldiers recruited disproportionately from de-industrialised regions and disadvantaged social groups. Trump’s stress on these issues was pivotal to his success in the swing states of the mid-west rustbelt. Conversely, in both cases, with her record of support for neo-liberal trade deals and her hawkish stance on foreign policy, Hillary Clinton was not only on the wrong side of the argument, but also lost votes. And it was both stupid and disrespectful of her to insult Trump’s supporters by calling half of them “a basket of deplorables”.

 

Clinton and Obama subsequently made up for this lapse by issuing statements conceding defeat and urging their followers to do likewise in the interests of healing the deep divisions in American society. To repeat, this was not just good form, but good politics. In over 200 counties where Trump won this time, Obama won in 2012. There is no reason why voters who deserted the Democrats cannot be brought back into the fold. But if the Democrats are to restore their fortunes, they need to understand why, to quote the title of a recent best-selling study, so many of their former core supporters have come to feel like “strangers in their own land”.2 Exactly the same problem confronts the Labour Party in Britain and its sister parties in continental Europe.

 

References

  1. Michael Sandel, Justice: What’s the Right Thing to do? (Allen Lane, 2009).

2. Arlie Hochschild, Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right (The New Press, 2016).

 

 

 

God and Caesar

God and Caesar

In the first of a series of pieces from back issues of Perspectives, this article from Perspectives 35, winter 2013 by Rev Ian Galloway  Giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s has been used over the centuries to give authority to the state in ways never imagined by Jesus. But the Church of Scotland, argues Ian Galloway, fiercely maintains its independence from the state, taking action against poverty and injustice.

“When the king is concerned with justice, the nation will be strong, but when he is only concerned with money, he will ruin his country” (Proverbs 29:4)

 

The king, of course, was the government of the time. Replace “king” with “government” and the statement becomes utterly contemporary. It also demonstrates the non-biblical position of the statement that faith and politics don’t mix. As Desmond Tutu opined – I don’t know what Bible people have been reading when they say such a thing. The relationship between God and Caesar has never been about the encounter of separate spheres of responsibility. In mainstream Christian theology there is no false dualism between sacred and secular. Jesus taught and lived a way of suffering love in this world, and his followers at best emulate his stance.

 

The current preoccupation of the media’s interest in churches is the area of human sexuality. Within the Christian community – a broad spectrum – there are differences of opinion about Biblical and cultural positions on same sex relationships as they are now, however what few at any point on the theological spectrum would dispute is that Jesus said much more about money than he did about sex. I wonder how many people are as aware of the detailed and sustained campaign against corporate and particularly multinational tax avoidance spearheaded by the churches’ international development arm, Christian Aid?

 

The specific encounter that gives rise to the God and Caesar tension is significantly related in all three synoptic gospels (Mark, Matthew and Luke) and has Jesus being asked the question “Is it right to pay taxes to the emperor?” His eventual answer: “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give to God what is God’s” has been used and abused over the centuries to give authority to the state in ways that were never imagined by Jesus. In any case, it was a trick question. Say “no” and incur the wrath of the authorities; say “yes” and lose the allegiance of the poor, oppressed, people squeezed by the occupying power at every turn. It was one of a series of encounters in which the ruling religious elite attempted to discredit this man who was so critical of their religious stewardship, largely on the basis of their exploitation of the poor. In the end, of course, they had their way – or did they? But that’s for another time.

 

 Trick question

 

Before giving his apparently enigmatic answer to the trick tax question, Jesus asks his opponents “Whose head is on the coin? – show me.” In doing so he at once demonstrates that he himself doesn’t carry the despised Roman coinage, bearing as it does the head of the emperor in a fashion deemed idolatrous by the monotheistic Jews, but that his enemies do. They are thus shown to be collaborators with the hated occupying power.

 

In the face of the overwhelming might of empire, the teaching of Jesus is greatly focussed on painting a picture of what God’s reign on earth, here and now, would look like if it replaced the priorities of the prevailing emperors and kings, and that remains the task of the community that exists in Jesus’ name. While it is always important to remember that God is not at all limited to working within the institutions set up to worship or articulate faith in God, how does the Church currently articulate the relationship between God and Caesar? To answer that question globally or even regionally would be a task for someone with more information and ability than I have, so what I want to describe now, based on work I am involved in and people I know, is one way in which the church is engaging in society now that might shed some light on the current state of God-Caesar relations.

 

 Fierce independence

 

Today in my small corner of the “global-local” church, which is the Church of Scotland, independence from the state is fiercely maintained, as it has been since the time of the 16th century Reformation. The Church’s income, apart from fees from social services contracting, and a hefty inheritance (pre 2008) of investment income and legacies, comes from its membership and is by offerings – voluntary donation – only. Despite the oft rehearsed decline in numbers of registered members, that giving has steadily increased and some£50 million is currently raised in this way each year. On a recent visit to the Church of Norway I recognised a different model. There the state pays an amount per capita to all faith communities, and since more than 90% of the population is registered as Church of Norway, it is a wealthy institution. Its ministers are effectively employed by a government department, which would be unthinkable here. Church attendance in Norway is even lower than in Scotland, yet as an institution it continues to be funded as a national institution as well as being a faith community.

 

Distance from the establishment

 

In Scotland the Church of Scotland in particular is no longer an institution central to society’s self-understanding. Some people are dismayed by this, looking back to the heady days of the early 1950s (when church attendances peaked) as a golden time, however others recognise that for greater integrity to be pursued, a distancing from a perceived role in the establishment may be essential. While it is true that some in pre-devolution days looked to the Church of Scotland as a context for issues to be debated, the Church itself was an active participant in campaigning for a Scottish Parliament, based on a strongly held belief in subsidiarity, argued at the General Assembly on theological principles by Professor Tom Torrance.

 

On the occasion of Margaret Thatcher’s address to the General Assembly in 1988 (dubbed the Sermon on the Mound), the Moderator at the time, James Whyte, presented her with the Church’s reports on housing and poverty, which though understated and polite was tantamount to a rebuke. While the Church has said it won’t take a view for or against independence, it continues to apply its principles to seeking the most effective and accountable government for Scotland’s people, and has strongly advocated the need for social justice to be central to the debate on what kind of society we want to develop. This can be seen in the report of the Commission on the Purposes of Economic Activity (2012) set up by the Church in 2010 in the light of the financial crisis. That report said in its introduction: “we bring … a clear and urgent call for action to transform our social and economic life. There are four priorities which we urge upon the Kirk, on Scottish/British society and on our governments in Edinburgh and Westminster: reducing inequality; ending poverty; ensuring sustainability; promoting mutuality.”

 

The Church promotes its views and policies to both parliaments through the work of the Scottish Churches Parliamentary Office (SCPO). While this is hosted and almost entirely paid for by the Church of Scotland, it is directed by a reference group with representatives of eleven churches, and will do its best to communicate both views held by all and different views when these need to be presented separately. It had been initially hoped that the Office would also hold the Parliamentary Officer of the Roman Catholic Church, however in the end they decided to operate separately. Currently, the stated first priority of the SCPO is to influence policy at Holyrood and Westminster in relation to social justice, backed by the agreed policies of the churches.

 

Distinct challenges

 

The Church, though, in relating to wider society and pursuing a political voice, has its own distinct challenges to face. Aside from continuing perception of denominational competitiveness, someone has said that the seven last words of the church are: “We have always done it this way”. There is a ferocious conservatism (small c) in church life. As perhaps nowhere else in society, referring back the way is the default position. Scripture, doctrine (which focuses on clarifying what has historically been problematic), tradition, practice, historic conflict resolution – all of these, in an institution that has been developing, forming and reforming over a two thousand year period thus far, form an intimidating backdrop to substantial change, very often for good reason. It is necessary to go deep in order to challenge something that has been deemed to be of worth through many generations.

 

Just because we know a lot in our generation does not necessarily make us automatically wiser in how more fully to be human beings than our foremothers and fathers. So even when a significant need for change is discerned and given assent, the process of change itself makes turning a super tanker seem like a fast spin on a jet ski. This sits in stark contrast with the pace of change in our society as a whole, and in the globalising world order that we are caught in the midst of whether we like it or not.

 

Civil Disobedience

 

On the other hand, when the Church does come to a firm mind after long impassioned debate over years, as it did on the issue of nuclear weapons, it becomes a leading advocate for its new view. It is now quite ordinary for ministers as well as other church members to be arrested for carrying out acts of civil disobedience at Faslane, for example, and the General Assembly has confirmed that such law-breaking is acceptable as long as those so engaged are willing to suffer the consequences.

 

Sometimes, though, the very nature of the institution of the Church makes it appear archaic. In May, during the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, I attended a formal dinner at Holyrood Palace, at which the Moderator (of said Assembly) and the Archbishop of Canterbury were guests along with a range of people from across Scottish society including some political party leaders. The hospitality was gracious and assured, and the evening most enjoyable. I did, however, have the sense of being out of time. The same was true in a recent meeting (for research purposes) with representatives of the Orange Order – the cause they espouse might arguably have once had some relevance, but not now. Both God and Caesar, I suspect, have little if any continuing interest in what used to be. If there is a conflict of power, it is firmly in the present and with the future at stake.

 

Interests of the poorest

 

So, while it is easy and evidently fashionable to criticise, dismiss, ridicule, ignore, fume at, despair over or despise the church of one denomination or another or indeed all, I would want to argue that the Church does not seek in any way to have the voice in society, but to have a voice, and that that voice is not sought to promote itself but primarily to pursue the interests of the poorest and most marginalised of Scotland’s people. Here’s why I think that:

 

First I want to say that the Church has identified and committed to significant ways of acting in solidarity with the people who are the poorest and most marginalised in our society. The Church of Scotland has done this very specifically by identifying the most economically disadvantaged local communities in Scotland (by inviting the Urban Studies Department of Glasgow University to crunch the numbers of the Scottish Indices of Multiple Deprivation along with parish postcodes) and agreeing to double the resources it puts there. These additional resources are not to benefit directly the congregations of the church, but to support those local congregations in these places to help in tackling poverty.

 

To make this happen, other local congregations across the country forego scarce resources in the interests of helping the poorest. This amounts to a strategic decision by the Church to put its money where its mouth is, and to earn the right to speak on these things because local churches are working hard and often sacrificially in the places where poverty and its effects hit you in the face. A decade into this approach there is a range of ways in which local congregations are working in partnership with others to make a difference to people who need it most. They are too many and too varied to go into great detail here, but there are some principles at work which are well worth rehearsing, particularly at a point where government policy seems determined to squeeze resources out of the poorest in society and to maintain income differentials that have seen the gap between the richest and poorest continue to widen alarmingly.

 

Tackling poverty

 

One of these is being willing to work with anyone who shares that priority of tackling poverty. The Church of Scotland is a founding member of the Scottish Living Wage Campaign, for example, and is campaigning for local government to make the payment of the living wage a condition of tendering for public contracts. The Church has also actively backed the STUC’s “There is a Better Way” campaign, and is seeking other ways to co-operate with the trade union movement. The Church of Scotland has also played a leading role in the formation of Faith in Community Scotland (FiCS), which is a coalition of faith communities including the Roman Catholic, Episcopal and Independent Christian traditions along with Jewish and Moslem colleagues, aiming to enlist the resources of faith communities to tackle poverty. One of its initiatives is the Poverty Truth Commission, which, with its originally South African strapline “nothing about us without us is for us”, aims to enable the voices of people with direct experience of poverty to help shape society’s decision making and response in this critical area of desperately needed change.

 

Where I work, in Gorbals, there is a small congregation with a big heart who have allowed me to take risks with their reputation and the little money in their charge. Along with the local Roman Catholic congregation we have worked tirelessly to combat exclusion, and because of our past have also taken seriously the need to rid our society of sectarianism. In the newly regenerated area we are trying to provide a meeting place for the different kinds of people who now find themselves as neighbours. We are there, paid for in large part by the wider Church of Scotland, to serve need by following Jesus’s way of self-giving, suffering love. We are not there to point the finger or claim a place above anyone else.

 

Stark Contrast

 

Famously in scripture, Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey surrounded by branch-waving peasants. At the same time, through a gate on the opposite side of the city, Pilate, the Roman Governor, entered in pomp at the head of the legions of Rome. The contrast is deliberately stark. As an image of a power struggle it is ridiculous and laughable. Yet the Roman Empire is history, as is the British Empire and the Soviet Empire, and the economic empire of the USA and Europe is shaking in its foundations. The Church is having to leave its notions of empire behind too as it faces the future. It is being humbled, but it is also being returned to its roots as a marginal community of hope in a suffering world. When Jesus avoided the trick question about paying taxes to the emperor, he had nothing but the clothes he stood up in. He was born poor and stayed poor. That remains the vocation of the church, and maybe in the next phase of its life it is about to rediscover that that is where its soul is too.

 

From Edinburgh, Ian Galloway was ordained in 1976. He was warden of Iona Abbey from 1983–86. Since 1996 to the present day he has been Minister of Gorbals Parish Church in Glasgow. From 2008–2012 he was Convenor of the Kirk’s influential Church and Nation Committee.

Perspectives: EU Special

image1 (3).PNG

Perspectives42

If there is one observation (which admittedly falls into the totally f***ing obvious category) that might be made about the EU referendum campaign, it is that it is absolutely nothing like the campaign around the Scottish independence vote of 21 months ago.

What passion there is seems to gravitate towards the Brexiteers, for some of whom the whole question has been an obsession since Britain’s first referendum, confirming the country’s membership of the then European Community, by a two to one majority, in 1975.

In addition, much of the media coverage seems to be playing out the internecine war in the Conservative Party on this issue. Even the normally day-glo Nigel Farage of Ukip seems to have been side-lined by senior Tory outers like Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Iain Duncan Smith.

In this issue of Perspectives we have tried to explore the issue of the UK’s EU membership in both a broader and narrower context.

David Purdy sets out the economic background by looking at the recovery from the financial crash of eight years ago, and the continuing crisis of the euro.

Meanwhile, Trevor Royle examines the history of the EU, from its birth, as the European Coal and Steel Community in the aftermath of the Second World War, to its present state of 28 member countries.

Caroline Lucas argues that the EU has had a positive impact on environmental issues, and Stephen Whitefield and Colin Hay discuss Britain’s role in the world and its long decline since the days of empire.

Of course Scotland itself has a special slant on the referendum: should Scotland vote in but the rest of the UK goes for out, the question of Indyref2 raises its head. In this context James Mitchell’s examination of the SNP’s historical attitude towards the EC/EU is of particular interest, concluding with a plea for the party to re-open its debate on Europe.

Ultimately the referendum outcome will be decided by the voters, and one such, Robin McAlpine, spells out the conflicts that are making it so difficult for him to come down on one side or the other.

Margaret Hunter dons the Hat to tell of her experiences as a Scottish artist working in Berlin, and Tim Haigh reveals the text of a conversation between David Cameron and the Cabinet Secretary on referendums.