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.


The Religion of Identity Politics

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Common Space – What Hast Thou Done?

By Jason Michael

Common Space’s decision to platform pot shots on the side of Kezia Dugdale at Wings Over Scotland is naïve and dangerous. Stuart Campbell is more than “a man with a blog.” He is – for good or ill – the voice of thousands.

Stuart Campbell, the Bath-based independentista behind Wings Over Scotland, has sparked a storm. Maybe it’s better to say that he has sparked another storm. That’s what Scotland’s biggest pro-independence blog does. It’s a rabble rouser. We’re used to that, and we love it and hate it in almost equal measure for this. It’s undeniably the Marmite of Scottish politics, but even with its astounding ability to get people rattled, neither it nor its founder Rev. Stu Campbell is above reproach and criticism.

Back in March Wings tweeted: “Oliver Mundell is the sort of public speaker that makes you wish his dad had embraced his homosexuality sooner.” The Secretary of State for Scotland David Mundell, father of the Dumfriesshire Conservative MSP Oliver Mundell, recently came out as gay. Wings’ tweet thus became easy ammunition for the Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale to label Campbell “homophobic,” leading Campbell to threaten legal action. In defiance Dugdale repeated the accusation in the Scottish parliament whereupon Wings’ launched a fundraiser to cover the costs of going to court – now seeking more in damages.

Not being gay, I am not going to start straightsplaining what does and does not constitute homophobia. It doesn’t read to me as an abusive comment. Not every mention of homosexuality is homophobia. “What Stu Campbell said about Oliver Mundell was not homophobia,” writes Paul Kavanagh on his Wee Ginger Dug blog. He continues:

Homophobia is founded in the sentiment that gay people are less worthy. What Stu Campbell said about Oliver Mundell was based in the sentiment that it would have been a good thing if his then-closeted father hadn’t been closeted but had instead been proud and accepting of his sexuality. That’s not a homophobic sentiment.

Paul is gay. He is a man who has suffered on account of his sexuality through some of the ugliest days of social, cultural, and legal homophobia in our country. I’m going to listen to the opinion of the wee ginger dug on this one, but – given that opinions vary, and they do – we can maybe settle on Wings’ tweet falling in the grey area, though, personally, I do not think that it does. What we do know, however, is that Dugdale’s use of it was political. She deliberately weaponised a comment that was dubiously homophobic at best against an opponent because she “knew,” again quoting Kavanagh, “she’d get more traction by accusing him of homophobia than she would if she’d simply called him out for being crass.”

As was to be expected, this being all about the politics of national division, the unionist establishment press has been working overtime to make a hatchet job out of the tweet; hoping to undermine support in the independence movement for Campbell’s legal action. Then this afternoon we find Common Space has decided to join the fray with an opinion piece from Jordan Daly. I’m not going to waste anyone’s time here and hide my thoughts on this piece or indeed Common Space’s decision to publish it. “Why we should back Kezia Dugdale and send Wings Over Scotland packing” is the most in-your-face fifth columnist attack by one “pro-independence” blog on another I have ever had the misfortune to read. Daly is entitled to his opinion – of course he is, but FFS!

“When it comes to Wings Over Scotland and his controversies,” says Daly in his opening paragraph, “I generally try to stay detached. He’s nothing more than a man with a blog, who has gained some notoriety, a bit of a strange cult following and whose online behaviour is akin to trolling. All in all, not someone I really want to discuss.”

How’s that for an attempt at impartial positioning? It’s enough to do the Daily Mail proud. I don’t want this to be another assault on Common Space. It has lost enough love over the head of this. Common Space is important to the independence movement too, but it would be wrong for me not to fire a shot across its bow. If its editors bother to read this I want them to accept it in the spirit in which it’s intended.

There is a fault line running through the Yes movement. It’s no secret that there’s a class divide between the more polished, vaguely hipster blogs of the typically Glasgow University-educated middle class independence supporters and those with an often less chiselled working class vibe. Scotland has a class divide. It’s no big deal, and it’s only to be expected that this divide is largely reflected in what people read. Considering – as no real progress on anything is likely without independence – that the campaign for independence should take priority over all other issues and antagonisms within the movement, one would expect class resentments to be on ice for the sake of our common goal.

Yet I have long suspected knives have been drawn for Wings in the polished blogs and precisely because of his appeal to the ordinal working Scots of the Yes movement; the “strange cult following” of trolls as Daly calls them. Second guessing myself, fearing this was just my own – possibly paranoid – hunch, I decided to ask Campbell for his thoughts.

“It’s very much that,” he replied.

So why’s this a problem? Well, for a start, there is a level of mistrust among the ordinary Yessers for those described as “carving out a media niche” for themselves by Wings. Let’s remember it was National Collective, in the immediate aftermath of the 2014 referendum, that published an article about how we can still get everything we want within the union. In this Declan Walsh argued that the fight for a fairer society – what we were really fighting for – “can be achieved with the rest of the UK” and this is, after all, “even more important than independence.”

The thinking of a great many of Wings’ fifty thousand followers – compared to Common Space’s twenty thousand – is that the middle class is a class of survivors. It is. As the “increasingly dominated fraction of the dominant class” – à la Pierre Bourdieu – in every state the middle will be looked after. Working class Yessers were fighting and are fighting still for more than some idealised notion of a fairer society. We are fighting for the only society in which that notion can even nearly be realised – an independent Scotland. So long as we can all work together in that common cause then working class independentistas are content to set class antagonisms aside.

When Common Space opens full salvo on Wings Over Scotland, yes there is a deep suspicion that it was biding its time for just such an opportunity. But going for Wings isn’t – however much some will argue otherwise – a matter of going for and taking down one man. It is attacking an instrument of the independence movement the overwhelming majority trust and to which they are ferociously loyal. Stu Campbell is not the messiah, but he is a great deal more than “a man with a blog.” If Common Space wants to go gunning for Wings – especially on the back of such a flimsy and obviously politically motivated accusation – then its producers have to know they are instigating a serious and probably catastrophic split in the entire movement.


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