A couple of weeks ago, a post from the Daily Mail columnist Chris Deerin appeared on the right wing blog CapX, the premise was that "Scotland Has Gone Mad", intoxicated and hungover from last years referendum. I’m paraphrasing here, but if the referendum was “What’s the Story (Morning Glory)” then this election campaign was “Be Here Now”. You get the drift.
I read it thinking that I’ll be deeply offended at the patently pro-Thatcherite guff. And there is pro-Thatcherite guff. It’s just that there are good points there. He is right about Scotland going mad, but it’s more complicated than that.
The biggest problem, and conversely where I agree the most with Deerin is his claim that “Scotland has become a soft and sappy nation, intellectually listless, coddled, a land of received wisdom and one-track minds, narrow parameters and mass groupthink”. Where I disagree is that Scotland has become a country where there are two competing tribes, each as capable of descending into “received wisdom and one track minds, narrow parameters and mass groupthink” as the other. Both tribes, for the sake of anonymity lets call them supporters of The Labour Party and the Scottish National Party, each have their own ideas over where Scotland goes next. Where Deerins biggest issue is with the rejection of his right wing views, mine is with the adoption of lazy Social Democratic tropes.
The biggest example of lazy socialism can be seen in the debate over Labour’s policy of a top rate tax rate of 50%. Labour hammered the SNP over their (perceived reluctance) to agree with this policy. Yet when you examine the policy, it’s only conceivable use would be as a totem to say to left of centre voters “look we believe in a redistributive tax policy and here’s why”. If Labour seriously wanted the policy to work both as a redistributive tax policy and to bring in the tax revenues needed, the threshold should really be at about £100,000 and not the £150,000 touted by Balls & co.
Deerin also complains that here in Scotland there has been no debate on public service reform. Deerin’s cause is not helped by his view that there needs to be private sector involvement in our public services. Nor his silence regarding Glasgow City Council’s back door privatisation… ah… sorry, that should read spinning off to arms length companies of their services that Stephen Purcell… er… pioneered. That’s not to say there shouldn’t be a debate. However the fault lies with the big two parties in being unable to think of policies or to debate ideas that could reform the public services.
Instead of this, we get arms races where more and more money is pledged to throw at our services. The sacred cow of the NHS is currently front and centre of “Scottish” Labour’s campaign for Holyrood 2016 (surely a tactical error fighting next years election now) with pledges to fund extra nursing from the proposed Mansion Tax. Yet a service which does not deliver either value for money or best service should be audited first before extra money is found to prop up service standards. I thought at the time of the last Holyrood election that health spending should not have been protected, especially given the preponderance of superannuated managers and health board members.
In among all of the obituaries of Scottish Labour, one facet escapes all of those attesting to knowing Scottish Labour well. There has been not one groundbreaking policy or idea developed by “Scottish” Labour, or indeed Labour, since… well probably the Minimum Wage. You would have to go back to the equal rights acts of the 1970’s for the last time the Labour Party was genuinely ground breaking, radical and thought outside the box. While I see this as a problem from a left wing perspective, Deerin’s criticisms stem from “Scottish” Labour’s reticence at adopting New Labour’s market led reforms from England.
He is spectacularly on the money regarding Labour’s running of Holyrood – when, and lets not forget this, Jack McConnell promised to “do less better”. However in critiquing Labour’s demonising of the Tories, Deerin forgets that it was the Tories that demolished the heavy industry which dominated Scottish working class life. Granted heavy industry did suffer from chronic underinvestment from both Westminster parties, but it was Thatcher that pressed the red button without any show of concern or any plan on how to move Scotland away from being an economy based on heavy industry. It was also the Tories as well that created the ‘Benefits’ class in this country by not planning for the aftermath of heavy industry and threw money into benefits in the hope that the problem would resolve itself.
There are things where I profoundly disagree with Deerin. Ed Milliband ‘might’ be the most left leaning leader outside of Central America, but we’re still waiting for that influence to extend beyond his ‘Progress Group’ handlers. He wouldn’t be facing a wipeout here in Scotland if he was. His description of Cameron as a mild mannered centralist is somewhat wide of the mark, given his profoundly rude nature. Widest of the mark was his description of pro-Independence blogger and wannabe Guido, Stuart Campbell, as an ‘oddball’. Quite possible the kindest, most diplomatic description, I can think of for someone who has expressed deeply homophobic and profoundly misogynistic views in the past yet somehow is seen as the Dali Lama of the Independence cause.
Deerin clearly thinks that Scotland has become as mad as the proverbial box of frogs. There is however an argument to be made that England has equally gone mad. Their third biggest party are a borderline racist party who only gained traction in the public consciousness with outlandish claims about immigration and “Scots bleeding the country dry”. They are content and happy with the distance their politicians have put between themselves and the general public. They are seriously relaxed about public services being sold off to the highest bidder. There was even little fuss in the news when the government – a Labour one at that – sold the offices of the Inland Revenue (at that point) to a company based in a tax haven.
They even look likely to re-elect the most shifty and evasive candidate for high office since Richard Nixon. You do have to wonder how much more inappropriate for the office of Prime Minister David Cameron has to be before people notice. Consistently throwing his toys out of the pram when things don’t go his way – check. His casual sexism and his attempts to pick on the school swot across the Dispatch Box – check. His inability to add up – a trait shared by his Chancellor – check. Cameron to all intents and purposes is the young fogey found in Golf clubhouses up and down the country sipping G & T and talking up his own achievements, which don’t stand up to scrutiny, except there’s just not enough scrutiny on Cameron’s achievements. The man who couldn’t be bothered to defend the union and the man who looks to sneak back into No 10 by vilifying a competent but ultimately conservative (in policy terms) Scottish ruling party. Yip, if we’re mad, what does that make our nearest and dearest?
In truth, what can you describe the mood & atmosphere in Scotland as? Is it madness to suddenly realise that there is little difference between the party who have been turned into the bogeyman and the party who previously had your unthinking support and vote? Is it madness to suddenly realise that you’ve been cheated since…. oooh take you’re pick. Scotland has always had a different sensibility to England, and in particular to the South East of England. That sensibility reasserting itself against Blairite/New Labour values is not madness, especially as there are other things maddening about Scotland in 2015.