Independence First


By Jason Michael

Independence has to come first. The rights of marginalised people and groups are vastly important, but we can never forget that none of our rights will be safe while we remain under the control of Westminster.


Let me begin by saying I haven’t the foggiest notion what people mean when they tell me they are members of the “radical left.” The last time I had a discussion about this radical left was with an enthusiastic young PhD student who introduced himself as being “on the hard left,” and he did this while tucking into a bowl of marinated garlic and chilli stuffed black olives on a bed of kale and quinoa. He lived in a rented room in an up-and-coming gentrified area of town where landlords were busy evicting lower-income tenants on the pretext of “extensive repairs,” allowing them to double the rent. His local, which served only craft beer from its basement micro-brewery, was “established in 1901” while somehow only having been in operation for six months.

This guy, who looked confused every time I corrected him with “people” when he referred to “units of labour,” had adopted an entire set of acceptable positions on the rights of marginalised social identities. “Struggle was all about challenging the hegemony of the cis-gendered misogynistic and transphobic ruling class,” he told me before asking if I had ever heard of baklava. Revolution was about achieving the maximum amount of freedom for all, he’d say, then complain about the “lumpen” kids from the flats who called him gay for drinking beer from a wine glass on a sun lounger at the front door of his house. This was his hard left. “Is that right, aye?” I asked.

On Saturday night I was chatting online with Jordan Daly, the Huffington Post and Common Space contributor who wrote the piece on sending Wings packing, about the importance of keeping the independence movement together. What I said to him was that, for the Yes movement, independence must take priority “above all other social and political concerns.” He took issue with this: “Ok,” he replied, “I’m for Indy but not ‘above all other social concerns,’ esp[ecially] as a gay man.”

We were right back at those acceptable positions on the rights of marginalised identities – what has come to be known on the “new left” as identity politics. These positions have become so important to the radical/hard/new left that it now makes perfect sense for pro-independence identitarians, in the broader context of the independence campaign, to side with unionist politicians when they deploy this politics of identity as a weapon against other pro-independence activists. This, it almost goes without saying, is the very epitome of counterproductive.

Of course the rights of marginalised people and groups are important. The defence and the furtherance of those rights is not the exclusive preserve of Scotland’s unionists. Everyone has an obligation to defend the rights and protect the dignity and worth of his or her neighbour. That much is a given – or, at least, it should be. But my problem with the ideological package – those acceptable positions – of the new left is that it is replete with internal contradictions.

My PhD student friend will soapbox until the cows come home on the need for social and worker solidarity, but he’ll happily fuel the mechanisms that aggravate the structural causes of poverty by supporting the class war project of gentrification in the neighbourhood in which he has become a “coloniser.” Likewise, no doubt well intentioned people like Jordan Daly go to a default identitarian setting when it becomes relevant – even when that relevance is little more than political capital being used cynically against comrades in the Yes movement. It has become an ideological package that trumps even the principle objective of “the struggle” – be that the fight against the systems of capitalism and state neoliberalism or the campaign for Scottish independence.

Such thinking lacks the reflection of classical socialism. It becomes incapable of revolutionary praxis. Battling on the platform of identity rights to the harm of the wider independence movement, following the schemes of unionist strategists, is ultimately destructive because Britain will never safeguard anyone’s rights. Our struggle is against a Westminster establishment that is still up to its neck in political assassinations, foreign interventions for the purposes of bringing about regime changes useful to itself, and wholesale murder and human rights violations.

Britain is about money and power over the needs and rights of ordinary people. It has implemented an austerity regime explicitly designed to impoverish and kill the most marginalised and vulnerable people in these nations. How will becoming an unwitting instrument of Great Britain against the independence cause benefit Jordan Daly, “as a gay man?” It won’t.

When we say that independence has to come before all other social and political concerns, it is not being suggested that we simply ignore these other concerns. That too would be stupid. Neither is this a matter of “nation over individual.” That too is both stupid and dangerous. What we are saying in this – and this is important – is that no one’s rights will be safe, protected, or furthered so long as we remain in the United Kingdom. Hands up if you’ve heard of Brexit and the replacement of the European Convention on Human Rights. It’s all on the way.

All our noble leftist and identitarian ideas of rights are dead without independence. Separation from Britain therefore is the prerequisite for a fairer, more just and equitable society that we ourselves will shape. As I see it, as old-school socialism argues, there is a hierarchy of rights. At the top of ours is independence. All other social and political concerns – while never ignored – are secondary and auxiliary to this end. If we are weakening the struggle for independence by our squabbles over rights and ideas that can never be safe under London rule we are simply rearranging deck chairs on a sinking ship.

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The Religion of Identity Politics


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What Lessons Should Scotland Learn?


By Jason Michael

Grenfell tower has laid bare the complete and utter contempt the Westminster government has for London’s ordinary working people, the marginalised, and the vulnerable. If we think they care about Scotland we are delusional.


Grenfell tower is an inferno that, in the past days, has ripped right through the heart of every part of the United Kingdom. Later today the London Metropolitan Police will release adjusted figures relating to the number of people still missing, and – considering figures on the ground in the north Kensington estate have been ranging from anywhere between 150 to 538 – we must all be prepared to be horrified at the number. We can be under no illusions; in this case the word “missing” is a euphemism for dead. While we hope and pray that this amended figure is as low as possible, this catastrophic disaster must serve as a wakeup call to the people of Scotland.

During the 2014 Better Together campaign, in a desperate bid to stop Scotland electing to leave the United Kingdom, we were loved-bombed with the message that the people of England love us – that Britain and the British establishment loves us. Are we to believe that we in Scotland are loved more than the residents of Grenfell tower? We certainly do not wish to be loved the same as them. No matter the number revealed today Grenfell tower will stand for as long as it is now permitted as a blackened monument to the spiteful indifference of Britain towards its own marginalised people and families. We don’t want or need this love.

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Theresa May enjoying a summer fête in her constituency as families in north Kensington search for survivors.

Kensington in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, where you will find Kensington Palace – the official residence of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, is home to the most expensive real estate in Britain. Conservative politicians and Russian oligarchs live side by side in this salubrious wonderland where a seven bedroom townhouse will set you back a modest £57,500,000. It is also home to the high-rises of north Kensington, where – for more than half a century – people have been forced to live in desperate circumstances and poverty; comparable only to conditions in parts of the Developing World.

Can we imagine what the view of a dilapidated high-rise does to the value of a sixty million pound house? People who live in such splendorous piles – some of the most powerful and influential people in Britain – do not enjoy the community of poor neighbours. They loathe and despise them. It was the want of the rich, and not the need of the residents of high-rises like Grenfell tower, that resulted in a regeneration project in which £8m was spent on making the tower more visually pleasing with a flammable cladding. It was this need to hide poverty rather than address its causes that led to the fire that has now killed dozens, if not hundreds, of people.

From the moment the fire was first reported and the scale of the disaster became known we have seen nothing but naked contempt from the Tory establishment for those who have died. Almost immediately, and while victims were still shouting for help, the borough council and its affiliated tenant management organisation were busy removing incriminating pages from their websites. The local Tory council leader appeared on television blaming the residents themselves for the substandard quality of the renovations and the lack of basic fire safety features. Then Theresa May appeared and didn’t bother speaking with a single local person.

It may seem cruel and judgmental of me, but we have all seen the right-wing responses on social media sneeringly commenting on the size of victims’ families and their reliance on the state. I have no doubt in my mind that there have been a few Champaign bottles popped in celebration that this “eyesore” is at last coming down. This is the fruit of power and greed. It is the result of the individualistic capitalism to which these people subscribe. It dehumanises people, the powerful and the powerless alike. This is modern Britain – a terminally sick nation-state where the wealthy see the poor as nothing other than means to their own ends.

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Trinny and Susannah love-bombing Scotland

This is precisely how this British establishment system views Scotland, the north of England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. We are only loved by it for what we are worth. Those parts and those elements of our populations that are of no value to this system are treated with violence contempt. Scotland’s poor and marginalised are worth as little to Theresa May as those poor people who were burnt to death in Grenfell tower. Even Scotland’s Conservative leader Ruth Davidson discovered only last week how little the London Conservatives valued her fringe sensitivities when they got in the way of the priorities of May’s need to hold on to power by calling on the bigots of the DUP.

Sadly, without something approaching a revolution, nothing will change for the people of north Kensington and poor and working class people all over England. We in Scotland, as sympathetic as we are to their plight, are powerless to protect them. But we can, however, act to protect ourselves. British imposed austerity kills. It has killed more people in the past few days than all the domestic terrorism of the past 17 years. Every day we delay in pressing ahead with our struggle for independence more people are dying unnecessarily. The single most important lesson that we in Scotland have to learn from what Grenfell tower has unmasked is that we must be an independent country.

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Anger at the scene of the Grenfell Tower fire.


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Gentrification as the Child of Neoliberal Urban Development


Gentrification has become a major cause of social tension in Dublin’s inner city. Wealthy middle class ‘settlers’ are buying up low rent properties and causing an upward move in the local cost of living, forcing less-well-off families out of their homes and communities. Is this gentrification merely a fad imported from abroad, or does policy have a role to play in this crisis?

Eoin O’Faogáin’s recent contribution to The Bogman’s Cannon blog highlighted the worrying selective vision of Dublin that is being increasing presented through the vehicles of gentrified culture. As older, working class communities are being gradually isolated, demonised, and fractured, the readership of Niall Harbison’s Lovin Dublin are systematically presenting their neo-colonial enclaves of gentrified urban settlement as beacons of light amidst the darkness of the inner city’s great unwashed. It would be easy to think that gentrification in Dublin at least is a mimetic phenomenon, with the city’s middle class’ self-proclaimed ‘creatives’ imitating what has become the new avant-garde in London and New York. This assumption would be quite wrong.


Gentrification, certainly as it is manifested in Dublin, has been a long time in the making – longer than one might assume. In an often dense discussion of the ideal of the ‘European City’ in the developing trends of architecture and urban development, Philip Lawton, a lecturer in Geography at NUI Galway, explores how the Irish government and Dublin City Council have, since the 1980s, followed a dogma of urban regeneration which has been neoliberal to its core:

[T]he example of Dublin demonstrates how the ‘European city’ ideal can be incorporated within new urban governance trajectories as a means of legitimizing and pacifying the urban transformation according to broadly neoliberal principles.
– Lawton and Punch, Urban Governance and the ‘European City’

Regeneration has very much been in vogue for decades in Dublin, and the plans for the rejuvenation of the predominantly working class areas of the inner city have been caked in the language of partnership, mixed communities, and social integration. Yet this has failed to materialise. By the early 1900s the middle classes were in full flight from the inner city, taking their wealth and rates to the new townships such as Rathmines and Rathgar. In the early 80s the government, in an attempt to attract them back to the city centre along with foreign investment, began the project of regeneration.

What happened as a consequence of the overt financial incentivisation of government policy was the mass buy of up property for investment and private development – and a property boom. Instead of the mixed social ideal of the ‘European City’ model, low cost real estate areas became increasingly unaffordable to the people and communities who had lived there for generations. Lawton suggests that this development model was absorbed into the neoliberal tendencies of Irish state thinking and used to obfuscate the class warfare priorities of the regeneration project.

Ireland’s economic miracle was indeed the fruit of long term strategic planning by the state, and the transformation of the city to attract affluence was a key to the plan. As Dublin was moulded into the image of the homogenous global village the foreign investment arrived (build it and they will come) along with the settlers and a wave of gentrification. It would certainly be worth exploring how much this pattern of city development has been replicated in other cities where gentrification has had a serious impact on the urban social and economic environment.


Ali Grehan spells out the middle class nature of changing the identity of Dublin.


References:
Philip Lawton and Michael Punch, “Urban Governance and the ‘European City’: Ideals and Realities in Dublin, Ireland,” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 38, no. 3 (2014): 864–85.
Eoin O’Faogáin, “LovinDublin V Loving Dublin,” The Bogman’s Cannon (30 April 2016): https://bogmanscannon.com/2016/04/30/lovindublin-v-loving-dublin-by-eoin-ofaogain/


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Facing up to the Gentrification of Dublin


In the decade following the implosion of the Irish economy and the arrival of the international mega recession the insidious process of gentrification began in Dublin’s north inner-city. At the start it seemed to the long-established residents of Stoneybatter, a socioeconomically disadvantaged area of Dublin, as a curiosity; apparently genderless young women in shapeless overcoats and hats and lumbersexual, bearded effeminate men in pathetic beanie hats opening up half-caked coffee shoppes, craft beer pubs, bicycle repair shops cum cafés, and “settling” the area. Less than ten years later those long-established locals were forced out of their homes, due to rising rental prices, shattering the community they had built up over generations, to make way for the settlers.


What Tom Slater had described in 2006 as “an expression of urban inequality” had arrived in our city and was busy devouring a vulnerable working class community in the midst of the worst economic crisis this country has experienced since the 1980s. The result for the victims of this process has been catastrophic, with many being added to the one hundred families being made homeless every month in Dublin. Gentrification in Stoneybatter has been, as it has been in London, New York, San Francisco, and elsewhere, relentless and callous. Motivated by the lower property prices the gentrifiers have opportunistically and parasitically descended on the area, and, without the protection of rent controls or social housing, the original inhabitants’ lives have been shattered.

So far the term ‘Gentrification’ or the social problems and conflict it creates has barely been touched upon by the Irish media, and the government and city council have completely ignored the issue – preferring to stick to the narrative of a housing crisis. The reason for this media and state negligence is quite simple; Landlordism is a staple economic practice of the Irish élite and middle classes, and Dáil Éireann and RTÉ are overrun with landlords and property owners making a killing from this new property bubble. Those currently suffering the effects, dispersed from their historic communities and from the security of their social and family networks, or left to languish in emergency accommodation or on the streets, don’t get a say in this because, as usual, they lack the means.

Earlier today I discovered one of these half-baked, deliberately unfinished (a characteristic of gentrification chic) coffee shoppes far from the Stoneybatter zone of settlement. Half way along Meath Street, in the heart of the Dublin Liberties – another socially deprived area of the inner-city – I came across LEGIT Coffee Co. Let’s be clear, there is nothing wrong with entrepreneurialism. If someone has money to invest and wishes to set up another fucking coffee shoppe, more power to them. It becomes a serious problem when that business bears all the hallmarks of the advance guard of what we have already seen in Stoneybatter. Given that neither the government nor the business owners are likely to give a damn about the effects this will have on the Liberties community, from hard experience, my advice to those people is this: do whatever it takes to shut that place down.


Reference:
Slater, Tom. “The eviction of critical perspectives from gentrification research.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 30, no. 4 (2006): 737-757.


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