George Galloway yesterday published a blog claiming that the Farage protests indicated the beginning of fascism and that Scots would turn on minorities after independence. Here, Dan Paris responds.
I have to admit that I didn’t expect that I’d be spending my time writing a response to someone with as colourful a past as yourself. However, I felt that your article ‘Scotland, Farage and Me’ was so bizarre and fanciful in it’s scattergun attack on supporters of independence that it merited a response. Not, it must be said, because of your own importance – you polled only 3.3% when you stood for the Scottish Parliament in Glasgow in 2011, and after seeing you on the campaign trail (which mainly involved shouting through a megaphone outside Greggs on Byres Road and handing out bizarre, dog-whistle leaflets targetted at football supporters) I was surprised that as many as 6,792 Glaswegians considered you a suitable candidate for office. It was that a former Labour First Minister, Jack McConnell, promoted your article, and in doing so giving it an air of credibility, that I decided I might reply to you.
Here’s the thing: I’d like to at least give those opponents of independence who come from a Labour background the benefit of the doubt. In a discussion between myself and yourself, who would both identify as left-wing, the question of Scottish independence should be an entirely pragmatic matter. To those whose politics are based on furthering the interests of the working-class, the sanctity of the Union has never been an absolute. In the 1970s, a more radical Gordon Brown wrote that socialists could not ‘give unconditional support to maintaining the integrity of the United Kingdom – and all that that entails – without any guarantee of radical social change’. Since then there has been radical social change, but it has been going in the wrong direction. As opposed to the Tory case for Union – which is that we are British and God Save The Queen – the ‘Labour case’ for Union, as I understand it, is that the interests of ordinary Scottish people are better served by sharing political structures with the other countries of the UK. It’s a position that, despite disagreeing, I can respect.
In fact, Labour have, in the past, been more outspoken in advocating the distinct nature of the Scottish nation than many in the present Labour leadership would feel comfortable with. Support for Scottish Home Rule was a part of the Labour platform in Scotland for decades before devolution was delivered. After the betrayal of the expressed democratic will of the Scottish people in 1979, when a Labour government failed to recognise a referendum showing a majority in favour of a devolved Assembly, a generation of Scottish Labour figures – including yourself, George, and one Jack McConnell – spent much of the 1980s arguing passionately and eloquently for Scottish self-government.
Now there is, I grant you, a distinction between support for devolution and support for independence. Yet many of the arguments used in the 1980s for a Scottish Parliament still stand. You said in 1987 that ‘when the governing party of a State which contains several nations is so bereft of support in one of those constituent nations… then I think that there is definitely a crisis.’ Your argument was so strong that a young Alex Salmond described you as a ‘crypto-nationalist’, although you dutifully disagreed with this description.
The constitutional crisis that you spoke of then followed the Conservatives winning only ten seats in Scotland. Today, George, they have only one. The Labour case for devolution was that Scotland had suffered under Tory governments acting without democratic mandate. Is that not still the case today, George? If Scottish education and health should be protected against Tory rule, then why shouldn’t welfare and defence? Does Iain Duncan Smith have a mandate to impose the bedroom tax on Scotland, George?
Your answer to this question, I suspect, can be found in your article: ‘Are the people of Liverpool or Leeds really foreigners to you?’, you ask. No, George, they’re not – certainly not anymore than the people of Dublin are. But then, what if they were? Any true internationalist understands that the bonds between people come from our shared humanity, not our common citizenship. When you argued for a Scottish Parliament, you did not do so because you cared any less about the people of the North East of England, or the Welsh Valleys, or the inner cities of London. You simply recognised that Scotland was a national body in it’s own right and accepted the case for greater democratic control over that body. It never stopped you from understanding that solidarity extends beyond borders.
As the No campaign has busied itself with flag-waving and nationalist triumphalism, the old Labour argument has been lost. Where is the pragmatic Gordon Brown of the 1970s, willing to endorse Union only as far as it will benefit Scotland? I suspect this argument has disappeared because the evidence for any benefits is so scant. No wonder, then, Lord McConnell is happy to endorse your arguments, George. It is easier to make independence seem difficult, and its supporters seem strange, than it is to make a persuasive case for the status quo. And in under 1400 words, you have compiled a list of arguments which range from the bizarre to the downright dangerous. It’s all there – from the pepperings of ‘Brigadoon’ to the, entirely fictitious, claims that the campaign is being bankrolled by Sean Connery.
Will a Scottish Navy protect our coast? Yes, George. How would we pay for it, you ask? Like we pay for it now. Every other country seems to manage.
Do I consider The Beatles to be my fellow countrymen? Well, to tell the truth George, I couldn’t care if The Beatles came from Toulouse, Toronto or Timbuktu. I adore The Beatles. I’d hate to lose them. Thankfully, Abbey Road seems to be popular amongst people who don’t share a passport with Ringo Starr.
Am I aware that Scots have been successful in English football? I am! Although I’m more of a Celtic man, like yourself, to tell the truth. Does it matter to you that Henrik Larsson was Swedish?
I could go on, George, but I’m being flippant. You make some very serious allegations. If I believed, as you apparently do, that independence would be followed by Scotland turning on it’s immigrant populations then I would not support it. Of course, this claim is as baseless as it is offensive. I know Scotland. We might not be perfect, but we’re not all a few bad days away from the persecution of minorities either.
It is an imaginative mind that sees a peaceful, diverse, and inclusive movement for independence and concludes that the endpoint is ethnic nationalism. It is the same mind that sees a rowdy student protest directed at an eccentric politician and proclaims the end of democracy creeping round the corner. You’ve tried this before, drawing apocalyptic visions of a Stormont in Edinburgh and a country run by sinister Orange forces. Please stop this, George. It would be good if you could make your case without inciting old hatreds.
I would love it, George, if you’d respond to this. Maybe through a civil dialogue we could come to a greater understanding of each other’s positions. Unfortunately, I have apparently been included amongst the ‘hundreds’ of Scots who you have chosen to block on twitter. As I have nothing to do with any ‘poisonous parade of flag-waving and militancy’, I am completely unaware as to why this is the case. I have heard that others, who have had absolutely no communication with you, have found the same. I hope that somebody else passes on this message, then, seeing as I can’t do it myself.