Sunday, 11 May 2014

The story we tell ourselves ....

Gerry Hassan's new polemic, Caledonia Dreaming (Luath Press), seeks to ask us Scots to think further than the assumption that we are 'Aa Jock Tamson's bairns' and ask ourselves - just what is the evidence?

Are we in truth the left of centre nation we consider us to be or is this just some comfortable myth which has been created and used for the last two centuries, or so, to salve the consciousness of Scotland's middle classes towards the poorest in Scottish society?

The core of Mr Hassan's thinking is that Scotland's 'establishment' is simply a mirror or an aping of the very 'British Establishment' a Yes vote, in September, is seeking to break free from. He fears the current plethora of Quango's in Scotland, of Civic Scotland's vested interests, of Scotland's self selecting elites will ensure the same people remain in control, that democracy in Scotland will be a pale imitation of what should or could be. Is Mr Hassan correct in his concerns and by voting 'Yes' are we merely jumping out of one non democratic frying pan into an equally non-democratic fire?

In terms of democratic deficit Mr Hassan points out the level of disengagement in Scotland in the electoral process at council (30% turn out) and Holyrood (50% turn out) elections. He makes the case the poorest in society are the most disengaged from the democratic process, in doing so implies the middle class concerns for those worse off are potentially patriarchal and possibly a bit condescending. While pouring a degree of scorn on Scotland's democratic pretensions there is no analysis of why the poorest are the most disenfranchised, detached and uninvolved or how this state can be addressed.

This, though, is a thought provoking work and like any polemic there is a lot you can go along with but equally parts where you stop and think, 'Hud oan Gerry, that's just total mince', no matter how well argued the point is.

I do agree with Gerry Hassan that basing our future nation on a founding myth, or series of unsubstantiated myths, is to build on shoogly foundations, yet to deny the reason we have come to assume this current mythology is to throw the baby out with the bathwater - something Gerry also alludes to.

So what parts of our 'founding myth' are sustainable?

  1. The people of Scotland are sovereign and their considered will is paramount. The legal evidence for this is traceable back to the Bruce Parliament of 1328. This right was encompassed and reaffirmed in Scots Law in the 1689 Claim of Right (Scotland), protected for all time by the Treaty of Union of 1706 and conceded as being protected for all time by the UK Parliament at Westminster in McCormack vs the Lord Advocate (1953) before Lord Cooper. The draft Scottish Constitution(s) all have this is as the start point for all other constitutional statements.
  2. Social Conscience.  After the Scottish Reformation in the 16th Century the idea of being your 'brother's keeper' was made real with legal obligations being placed on each parish to look after their poor, sick and elderly while also providing a basic education for children up to the age of 12. By the 18th Century the relatively high level of literacy and numeracy saw Scots quickly being recruited into minor 'civil service' and 'colonial positions' as secretaries and book keepers in the new UK Union. 
  3. Political activism. The rise of Labour in Scotland reflected the increasing engagement of what had previously been the disenfranchised poor, especially in the West of Scotland. The disenfranchised could mobilise themselves when they saw the need and make their voice heard. Prior to suffrage this took the form of the mobs in Scotland's towns who rioted against bad laws. By 1916 this had moved to the Govan Rent Protest where disenfranchised women took a peaceful stand against profiteering landlords and their factors. A protest so effective that Scots and English Law concerning rental provision were changed to give tenants greater security and stable, binding rental agreements. Within the Yes campaign we see groups who are actively seeking to engage the poorest in our society in the debate. Ordinary people are turning out on wet nights to fill halls to hear the arguments for and against a 'Yes vote'. A process of engagement which the record number of voters on the Scottish electoral roll suggests is having some impact.
These are tangible elements which have created the Scotland of today and brought us to the point where we are increasingly looking as if we will end the UK Union. This is the past and we, the people, will decide after a 'yes vote' just how much or little of these 'founding myths' we tell ourselves will inform Scotland's future and to what extent.

I believe the Scottish electorate have become adept at using the d'Hondt voting system to get their message across to Scottish politicians at Holyrood. Scots are inherently politically conservative and, in modern parlance, the majority tend towards social democracy as a default position. I am also certain the stated concern for fairness and even handedness is an inherent trait in most Scots, equanimity rather than equality.

In May 2016, an independent Scotland will be in an interesting place politically as we wait to see just what sort of Phoenix will rise out of the ashes of the current Labour train crash and where it will actually fit back in to the political spectrum in Scotland. Will the STUC and the Unions continue to fund the current Scottish Labour set up (distinctly right wing in character remaining in cahoots with the Liberals and Conservatives) or will they back a new Labour Party built on the Labour for Independence movement and look to squeeze the Greens and SSP on the left. To a large extent this will decide to what extent the old political guard and their baleful influence, Gerry Hassan is so concerned about, will remain in place.

I understand the importance of the past but wish to create a future Scotland not weighed down and held back by its history, a new nation not dominated by 'Its aye been!' - on this I completely agree with Gerry Hassan.


  1. I have heard this story from a number of British nationalists i.e. "there is no point in voting Yes because nothing will change".
    Disappointing that Gerry still seems to be banging this particular drum.
    The point about independence is that we choose our government and most importantly,hold them accountable.
    At present,many in the Scottish 'establishment' can hide behind decisions made by others in a remote location as in the " it wisnae me" claims.
    Independence means that their actions will be more transparent and more readily accountablke to therir electorate.
    I also hope that a written constitution will prohibit non elected individuals and bodies determining government policy.
    Transparency must be at the heart of a modern functioning democracy which means we need to dump most of the baggage associated with the British state and it's political parties.
    State funding for political parties should be considered as"donors" can often distort policy in a way not mandated through the electoral process.
    Thanks Peter

  2. I've read Hassan's stuff here and there for the last couple of years and I distrust most of it.
    Good post briginton, in particular your point on State Funding. Lobbying by 'Big Business' needs looking at.

  3. I have found difficulty in believing Gerry Hassan is anything other than in some small way biased. I think that so many like him believe the only way is the Westminster Way and nothing can be changed from that.
    Well I think we could prove that wrong and with so many people engaged, some for the first time, in politics in Scotland. I don't even think, heaven forfend that should the Scots vote NO, it will be the same again.
    I agree with your thinking and wish that more people understood what power they have at their own fingertips. I know many are finally discovering it.