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.”

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.



  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

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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.

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.

David MacLennan Portrait


Democratic Left Scotland hosted the unveiling of a portrait of David MacLennan, the actor, writer and producer who was at the heart of Scottish theatre for over 40 years until his death in June 2014 at the age of 65. The unveiling by Scottish Green Party co-convener and David’s widow Juliet Cadzow took place on Sunday the 21st February.


MacLennan co-founded the influential 7:84 touring company with playwright and director John McGrath.  7:84’s most significant work was the play “The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil” about the Highland Clearances. Following this success MacLennan enjoyed enormous success with “A Play, a Pie and a Pint” which has Òran Mór as its home. The list of contributors included Robbie Coltrane, Elaine C Smith, Liz Lochhead, David Greig and David Hayman.


Sandy Moffat’s portrait marks another step in the on-going project by the artist, supported by Democratic Left Scotland, to represent some of the leading intellectual and cultural figures in contemporary Scotland.


Over the past few years, Sandy Moffat has sketched and painted Alasdair Gray (whose portrait now hangs in Òran Mór), Alan Bissett, Tom Nairn and now David MacLennan. These portraits have been produced for the common good, with Democratic Left Scotland paying for the materials. DLS is a political organisation, open to all, whether members of a party or not, who support our radical, feminist and green aspirations. We produce an occasional magazine, Perspectives, which ranges widely over political and cultural issues in Scotland.


Maggie Chapman said: “It is an honour to be invited to unveil this portrait of David MacLennan. His early career with 7:84 and Wildcat brought political theatre to contemporary Scotland. “The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil” transformed people’s understanding of Scotland’s history, and “A Play, a Pie and a Pint” continues to bring theatre to new audiences in a remarkably egalitarian way – in Glasgow and around the world. We celebrate great cultural figures like David MacLennan in this way to acknowledge the role of artists in reflecting upon, critiquing and recreating our society.


DLS Convener Stuart Fairweather said: “DLS is delighted to recognise the contribution made by David MacLennan to the cultural life of Scotland. We commissioned Sandy Moffat’s painting to add to those of Alasdair Gray, Alan Bissett and Tom Nairn, all of whom have made very substantial contributions to the Scotland we see today.”

A Scottish Perspective Jan 5th – May 5th

Many issues will impact attitudes to Scottish politics in 2016: people’s daily lives and the weather amongst these. Europe and global events, the fate of local government and public services will compete with the Scottish Government elections for people’s attention.
Involvement in politics undoubtedly was at a highpoint during the referendum, ensuring that the campaigns of 2016 come close will be an important task for all. The Scottish election in May has the potential to do this. The impact and timing of Cameron’s European gamble is another matter (we will consider these on another occasion).
Democratic Left see the importance of politics both within and out with parliaments. A progressive Scottish Government bolstered by a range of progressive parliamentary voices would be the best outcome in May if coupled with strong extra-parliamentary activity. The voting system for the Scottish elections offers opportunities. There is a need to remind people that the regional lists offer a potential way round major party dominance. This is important nationally because the SNP are not without limitations and Scottish Labour is unlikely to benefit substantially from any kind of Caledonian Corbyn effect.
Voting tactically for the best placed progressive candidate on your regional list will maximise the possibility of a radical rainbow of MSPs in addition to the government. It will also minimise the chances of the Tories or the Liberals getting into parliament and undoubtedly acting as apologists for austerity.
The Greens and in some places RISE may be the best vehicles for votes but each region will have its own ‘local’ characteristics which will suggest which list to choose. The individuals who top each list are important in this regard. These women and men if elected can connect campaigns and the policy implemented at Holyrood. The election of progressive MSPs can also add to the discussion on how to win more powers for Scotland: those that put anti-poverty, peace, people and planet before profit, pollution and the abuse of others.
Discussion needs to start now about how to get the best from the election campaign as well as from the result: a result that marks a real step forward in achieving a different kind of Scotland and a different kind of world.