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).

 

 

 

Robin McAlpine: Europe – why I have no answers for you #EUref

Robin McAlpine: Europe – why I have no answers for you #EUref

This article was written for Perspectives magazine, and published on CommonSpace

My friend emails me. Niki is a head teacher on an idyllic island not too far out from Athens into the Agean. She asks me for news of Scotland and sends me pictures of the spring flowers in her garden high above the coast below.

Niki is great. She’s an intellectual, a progressive, a kind and thoughtful person. I have many family and friends in Greece through the marriage of my half sister. I have got to know the place rather well over the years and it is a place I have come to like a lot. It has a thrawn personality, not unlike Scotland – a kind of fatalistic sarcasm is default.

We email about politics and whether we can visit her. Probably not this year, but we’d really love to see her. Will she make it to Scotland any time soon? Nope – in the state Greece finds itself, the headteacher of a secondary school struggles to make ends meet on what is a sharply reduced salary.

That makes me angry, but Niki is more sanguine. With a resigned shrug she is quick to point out that many of the failures that have left her in this position are the fault of the Greek people.

That fatalistic sarcasm led them to turn a blind eye to what was widely understood to be a corrupt, cartel government. It worked for them – for a while – so they put up with it. I don’t think they deserve what they got as a result of this (they weren’t the only people turning a blind eye…). I remain angry at what the EU did.

Where our furies meet is over the migrant situation. This does have Niki enraged – bring a nation to its knees and then, when it’s down, close the borders and decide that since Greece has already sucked up many of the continent’s problems they can just suck up its migrant problem too.

And if that means that Greece is turned into a starving, desolate refugee camp, who cares? It’s expedient to keep the EU’s important member states happy (or less unhappy, at least).

And at that time I found, in the European Social Model, a political philosophy which, while falling short of my own, at least made it a good chunk of the way along there. Progressive tax, social security, nationalised healthcare – I didn’t only feel European, I wanted to be there.

If you want to know what changed, you just have to look at the In campaign (I’m just going to refer to them as In and Out which is in the end what we’re voting for). That it has become Project Fear so seamlessly shows what its strongest adherents now seem to see as the point of the EU.

It is there to impose one global version of ‘economy’ and one global version of ‘security’. And it is the same version of ‘economy and security’ which so alienated me during the Scottish independence referendum.

Only cartel capitalism will keep the banks open. Only cartel capitalism will keep the phones working. Only cartel capitalism will keep you and your loved ones from starvation. Because only the economic order that plunged the continent and the world into crisis can prevent the world from descending into crisis. We’re big, you’re small. Know your place.

Only our neoconservative worldview will stop terrorists. Only our neoconservative worldview constitutes ‘grown up’ diplomacy. If we don’t back the arms trade, the next war, the next crackdown on civil liberties, if we don’t appease the US, China, if we don’t manufacture Russia as a new convenient bogeyman, you’ll suffer.

The In campaign is a banker-corporation-warmonger vision of our future. I have endless friends telling me that I must vote In though they realise I’ll need to hold my nose like they will. Do I? Do I have to vote In while holding my nose, being so conscious of the fact that this is what the bad guys want me to do? Knowing that they are not holding their noses, they are breathing all this in with gusto and loving it?

I cannot identify with an In campaign which is so completely driven by all the motives I oppose.

Then again, I look round at the Out campaign and feel no better. Because this debate is being framed by an England that is strangely socially and politically fractured just now, the options are unattractive. I can find some respect for a Michael Gove argument about sovereignty and accountability, but it still feels like I have to vote against internationalism and instead for one of the versions of nationalism (narrow, angry, inwards-looking, disdainful of others, identity-driven, fearful of ‘the other’) which made that 1992 EU vision seem such a utopia to me.

So I’m making little progress in arriving at a decision. My emotional responses to In and Out, to Inners and Outers, leaves me little room for comfort. Perhaps on this occasion I need to tone down my faith in emotional responses and focus on the ‘rational’.

It’s not going to help, though, because the first thing I cannot overlook is that except for the crushingly conservative bureaucracies of political parties and government and the dogmas of ‘low tax is popular’, my time on progressive policy thinking has found the EU to be probably the biggest barrier to economic (and indeed social) reform.

If I have heard ‘can’t – EU rules’ once, I must have heard it a hundred times. Procurement must go to corporations. Public sector tenders must go to corporations. Basic infrastructure investment that supports smaller and indigenous industries infringes state aide rules. Giant farms are the only farms you’re allowed. Don’t nationalise, privatise.

Now I know that some of what I have heard is a deliberately skewed version of the EU. I know that we have the most restrictive procurement rules in the EU and that this is our fault. But it would be a complete untruth to suggest this is an accidental side-effect of what the EU is trying to do. It is a deliberate grey area which enables neoliberalism to be imposed both through word and deed and through expectation and misunderstanding.

Rationally, don’t ask me to sign a petition against TTIP and then another to stay in the EU. TTIP is not an aberration, some kind of unintended malfunction in the great EU machine. It goes right to the heart of what the EU has become. It is a global economic organising point and its purpose is not to encourage a just transition to a better, greener, healthier, more equal global economy.

It maintains the bare bones of a social settlement. But as far as I’ve ever been able to tell, it’s not that hard to get opt-outs from EU social policies if you want. Getting opt-outs from its overwhelming corporation-friendly agendas? Not so obviously possible.

So if you want me to be rational, coming from my political perspective, explain when and how I’m getting an EU which is not a staging post for US capitalism to get into Europe’s social markets?

Robin McAlpine-Web (1) (2)

Of course, I must then look at the counterfactual – what would be better if it didn’t exist? I can be deeply disappointed at the EU’s handling of the migrant crisis, of trade deals, of state aid rules. But what is the alternative? Every nation investing in more armed border guards? Boris Johnston negotiating directly with Donald Trump over trade? Germany using its economic might to rig trade across the continent in its favour through protectionism and clientelism? And how would we manage a free travel area if it were converted into a fragmented sequence of one-to-one agreements?

We need a means of nation state resolution in Europe. We are far too connected a continent, far too integrated a series of societies not to have such a means of nation state resolution. We have a mechanism that works (kind of) and throwing it away is not necessarily the logical step to a better continent. I realise that.

But – and here’s the big but – it only works if we all think we’re shaping it. And it is here the EU falls down. I know the arguments about how it’s kind of democratic because there are some democratic bits and some of the bits that aren’t democratic are stitched up between other democratic entities. It’s pseudo-democratic.

So explain to me how I can vote against TTIP? This is potentially the single worse thing that is going to be done not only to the continent’s social identity but specifically to the democratic nature of my own nation. It is a move of alarming scope and implication. In a just world it would require specific agreement by referendum in each participating nation state.

Hah! Imagine that. Imagine Europe allowing a democratic veto. Europe views putting its big issues directly to the people affected with utter contempt. No, not a bit of cynicism, utter contempt.

The patchwork pseudo-democracy of the EU is nothing in the face of this contempt. And every progressive Inner is kidding themselves on if they don’t accept this. The European project has become every bit as much about circumventing national democracy as about enhancing it. And that’s a generous interpretation.

Then again, there’s no democracy in each nation state choosing to follow it’s own environmental standards when you’re gulping down fumes your neighbour refuses to regulate. Is a continent of individual nations each with their fingers in their ears really more democratic than a flawed but at least existing mechanism for conflict resolution (which I would feel more comfortable with if it wasn’t for the direction of travel of who we are negotiating with)?

At its outer fringes, the EU now incorporates nations which seem to me to be less than positive partners for the kind of negotiations which I personally believe the EU should be about.

I pick on Poland only because what is happening in that country is so alarming. Shoved fast into Europe for geopolitical reasons, Poland is now turning its back on the principals of Western liberal democracy. Do I wish to negotiate, to compromise, with regimes that seem only loosely attached to the concepts of the rule of law?

And since the EU is now a geopolitical game, we know the pressures to expand the players. Wouldn’t it be useful to have Turkey on board? Not socially, but potentially economically and geopolitically (at least for the US). Who needs a free media or fair elections in that context?

Or the Ukraine, where the role of fascists is constantly written out of the narrative because it is inconvenient in framing Russia as the moustache-twiddling baddy. Let’s get them in because it’s convenient.

This is not an EU for the people of the EU. This is an EU for people who trade weapons and own gas pipelines.

So let us out and we can form a looser negotiating alliance? A Norway/Iceland position? Use them as a club to talk to but not be a member of? It is appealing. It’s just that we’ll end up talking to a club we can’t shape the membership of.

This all means that there is a rational reason for being enthusiastic about some kind of European Union but not that much rational reason to support this particular European Union. Which puts an awful lot of emphasis on the question of reform.

Here I find myself having to return to my own process of making logical decisions. During the indyref I always recognised that, in theory, Westminster could be a force for good. But it’s not enough that something could theoretically be true, it needs to be true in a much more immediate sense.

There needs to be a visible path from here to that truth. In the end, that’s one of the main reasons I was a Yes supporter – because there was simply no credible case for how exactly we were going to get anywhere near that mythical, brilliant Westminster.

My well-meaning Inner friends are horrified that I won’t fully throw my lot in with them and fight first to stay in and then to reform the EU. I just wonder if they are willing first to concrete their feet deep into the shoreline and then to begin the process of preventing the tide coming in.

How? How are we going to reform the EU? Our massed ranks can’t squeeze through the tiniest reform of Westminster. We’ve made no ground reforming anything which the banks and the corporations have their teeth into. Explain the mechanism?

And if that mechanism begins with the words ‘then we can begin a continent-wide conversation…’ I wince. Because that just means ‘we have no idea whatsoever how to go about it’.

There is no coalition we can join, no campaign ready to march beside – hell, there isn’t even a simple shared vision of what reform would roughly look like. It’s not obvious that if we had a united, continent-wide network of reformers backing one big vision that we would win. It is far from obvious that there is any chance of creating a united, continent-wide network of reformers backing one big vision.

It feels a bit like being told to repair a broken computer with a single screwdriver – and then when asking where it is and being told that actually screwdrivers haven’t been invented yet. On balance, I’m pretty sure that the one thing that will kill reform of the EU stone dead is a British In vote.

Every rational bone in my body screams out that it is just the kind of near-death experience that the people who run Europe will take as a prompt to do exactly what they were already doing – and more. I am very deeply sceptical of the idea that surviving intact is going to lead to serious change in the EU.

The way I think some kind of reform genuinely could be promoted would be a crisis – like Britain leaving. It would create the kind of panic which does lead to change. But I recognise two major problems.

First, it’s an act of ‘creative destruction’ which could cause anarchy as well as (or possibly before) reform. It would be a rather large act of faith to burn down the house in the hope of being able to build something better in its place.

The other big problem is that such a vote could be read in exactly any way each person wants it to be read. Eurocrats can just claim that Britain was never really on board in the first place. The left can conclude that we wanted democracy. The right can conclude that it’s all about absorbing greater exclusionary nationalism.

So if you want to change the EU, vote to leave. It’s just that it’s hard to guess what the change would look like.

This is proving to be a real problem for me. There is no good option on the table. Worse, I can’t even identify which is the lesser of two evils. So what if I think cynically, tactically?

If we leave the EU then it’ll solve one major problem come the next Scottish indyref – we won’t need to get bogged down in endless ‘you’ll be thrown out the EU’ debate. It could create a substantial pressure for another referendum. The thought of being stuck on this wet little rock with Boris running the show could prompt a re-evaluation of the merits of independence by many people. Perhaps that’s a good outcome?

Then again, we really will be stuck on a rock with Boris and that in itself could be pretty awful. I could tactically vote for that not to happen (not a positive vote, a negative one). Or equally I could just decide that the bigger the gap between the Scottish ‘In’ and the English ‘Out’ (if that’s what happens), the better. Or really cynically, a Scotland forcing an England that votes ‘Out’ to stay ‘In’ could be just what we want to get agreement for another referendum.

But then again, I simply hate tactical voting of this kind. It’s no way to make a decision.

So, what am I going to do? By this point you may have a better idea of how I’m going to vote than I have. My instincts tell me I’m European and must vote In as much as they tell me I don’t want to be a member of this club.

My rational mind tells me we need a European Union every bit as much as it tells me that the European Union we have is a major block to progress and moving rapidly in the wrong direction.

Logically, therefore I am convinced that the only hope is reform – but I can’t vote for it. I can vote to stay and pretend to myself that there might be reform I don’t for a second believe is coming. Or I could vote to leave and ensure some kind of change – but which might result in something much worse.

Thanks to the people of Perspectives for asking me to explore my uncertainty, confusion and despair so fully and so much in public (thanks offered with only a touch of sarcasm…). It has led me to only two conclusions. The first is that I shall do whatever is in my power to avoid writing about this any more and try to keep wriggling out of the many invitations to talk about this I keep getting.

And the second conclusion? The spring flowers of a foreign country I love make me want to stay; the treatment of the women who looks after them makes me want to leave. I shall make my decision late – and probably dislike myself either way.

Post Referendum – What Kind of Scotland?

Well it’s not boring. Nicola is First Minister with a gender balanced cabinet. Alex looks set to return to London to open up a second front and Jim will lead Scottish Labour and try to find a seat in Holyrood. Added to this all of Scotland’s civil society; the unions, the media, the parties, the churches, culture and citizens have had a democratic shake up like never before.   Now we need to look to the future.

Democratic Left Scotland (DLS) is a wee organisation with big ideas. Ideas and ambitions that we share with others but our size and our heritage also let us ask difficult questions. Questions like: Where are we trying to go and how will we get there? Born as an autonomous organisation in 1999 when the Scottish Parliament was reconvened DLS has Scotland’s future as its centre. Our organisation draws from the rich tradition of independent progressive organisations and individuals that worked for change. Importantly these women and men ‘dug where they stood’ by being part of the daily struggles of their workplaces and communities. They were also critical thinkers and internationalists. Their battles alongside those of their neighbours in England and cousins further afield were all part of changing the fortunes of people and planet for the better.   Our network looks to continue this work.
Scotland’s future is intertwined with what happens across Britain, Europe and the globe: the environmental and the economic impact on relations between worker and owner, state and citizen, women and men. Today’s world creates competition between generations, localities and workforces. So called established communities need to respond to ongoing migration.
The neo-liberal response to the global economic crisis coupled with the British political class’s response to post-imperialism has meant constantly increasing pressure on the many. Cuts, the implications of war and austerity are the social policy back-drop. Monarchy, trident, the Lords, the banks, bonuses and expenses continue. Food banks (emergency food aid), flexibility (wage cuts, redundancy and stress) and welfare reform (sanctions) are imposed, as so called celebrity culture distracts people from this growing normality. Whilst daily discrimination on the basis class, race, gender, sexuality, disability, and faith continues.
In May 2015 we will get a vote (16 and 17 year olds will have to wait). Westminster, the lynch-pin of much of the above inequality is moving further in the direction of the Tory right and UKIP and the parties that pander to the assumed views of ‘middle-England’.   Labour’s ability or desire to put a break on this seems questionable. Still for a few months around May of 2015 Westminster will be the focus. But there is more to democracy than voting. The self-determination that developed around the time of the referendum should be increased not dissipated (and it does not need to be unique to Scotland).  It should not be limited to a cross against one of the parties although we all need to figure out which candidate in each constituency is best placed to move us beyond the broken promises of the palace of Westminster.
A just Scotland is not compatible with the (TTIP) privatisation of the NHS, with Trident renewal, the cutting of local services and the demonization of migrant workers. And if we are to build that different kind of Scotland there is enough to do now: we do not have to wait for the revolution. Working class communities found their voice in September. In alliance with others across Scotland there in a need to oppose fracking, challenge racism, cap rents, introduce a living wage and end the poor-law culture of sanctions and precarious employment. We need to learn from and support activity where it is already taking place. We need to build effective, sustainable, participative communities, local government and Scottish Democracy. Beyond this land, industry and resources need to be employed for the benefit of society if we are to find a route out of austerity. 
The Unionist parties failed to address this with their promised Vow and their approach to the Smith Commission.  All in Labour talk about social justice but they continually fail to understand the new democratic awakening or the developing progressive culture of Scotland.  Until now, they could still have been a part of this but the election of Jim Murphy and Kezia Dugdale make it extremely increasingly unlikely. Importantly we should not disown the traditions of the Labour movement but to attempt to locate them within the context of democratic renewal.
The SNP, the Greens and the Scottish Socialist Party have all gained members.  This is to be welcomed. But the lessons of September 2014 show that alone this is not enough. Discussion of an electoral agreement between these parties for Westminster was always a bit of a side-show. There is more to politics than parties.   There is a need to build an even greater self-determination for a different kind of Scotland. We can’t ignore the Yes and No settlement of September 2014 but we have to move beyond it to an even bigger consensus for Yes – for a different kind of Scotland.
What kind of Scotland will that be? The STUC’s a Just Scotland, the Radical Independence Campaign’s people’s Vow, the work of; CND, the National Collective and Belle Caledonia can all help. As can, Women for Independence asserting the second part of their name ‘independence for women’.   The advent of the National newspaper and the role of the Sunday Herald are pivotal as is social media and importantly real conversations with real people. Common Weal, Engender, NUS Scotland all have ideas. Even small publications like Perspectives and Scottish Left Review have a contribution to make. This is only part of a long list and importantly not all of these organisations and institutions are exclusively or in any way Indy.  ‘Yes Scotland’ needs to speak to No Scotland without bitterness and those impacted by Osborne’s ongoing austerity and other forms of inequality need to be given the space to speak about their experience. The settlement vintage 2014 is not static.
Political spaces, real usable spaces in communities and the policy spaces created by the Community Empowerment Bill, the Strengthening Local Democracy commission and land reform and other legislation need to be use where possible. Tax justice needs to become a reality in Scotland if we are going to pay our bills. The arguments for economic sustainability and appropriate social security need to be nailed.  We need to rethink the relationship between paid and unpaid work. The radical needs to become more common place.
The post referendum Scotland requires us to create even more energy in the run up to May and beyond. We need to start to build the Scotland we want to be. It might not be easy. It will not be boring.