All Aboard! There’s a Bandwagon in Town

By Jason Michael

David Torrance has pronounced the death of “Yes-ism.” Mind you, he has been saying the same thing from the beginning of the independence movement. Ultimately he has nothing to add. It’s just another bandwagon.

According to Scottish unionism’s hipster-in-chief, David Torrance, the end is nigh for Yes-ism. What will we all do with ourselves when it’s all over; relearn the words to ‘God Save the Queen,’ get back into cat memes on Twitter like normal people?  Nah, do you mind if we don’t? When there’s a sniff of a bandwagon in town it is never long before the third-rate hacks of the tory commentariat form a disorderly queue, and this week is no exception. Torrance has raced in as expected and – as usual – added nothing of substance to the discussion that hasn’t already been said.

What he does offer, however, is an interesting distillation of the wishful thinking of Scotland’s unionist audience watching a storm in a teacup – sensationally described by Robin McAlpine as a “Twitter storm” – in the independence movement. This is Torrance’s function. Yes, he does actually have one of those. His job as a unionist outrider is to stoke up trouble in the opposition and convey and ideologically tailored version of events back to his own ranks. In telling his readers what they want to hear he observes:

Yessers have split into two camps: the “radical” Left-wingers who view independence as a means to an end and dislike Wings’ stridency and approach to equality issues, and the “diehards” who view independence as an end in itself and believe platforms like Wings are a vital source of intelligence and propaganda for the Yes movement.

How simplistic can his analysis be? We could have told him all this years ago. Torrance’s reduction of the intersections within the independence movement to just two camps is derisible. We are talking about a national movement of hundreds of thousands of people – hundreds of the thousands of very different people – all working together towards a common objective. Of course there will be divisions. There are women and men, young and not-so-young, people of vastly different political opinions, gay and straight – you name it. After all his experience of working at the coalface of Britain’s attempts to undermine our national aspiration of self-determination, all this clown manages to notice is that there are old-guard independence “diehards” and “radical left-wingers.”

His view of the left-wingers, taken from a Twitter thread of another “academic,” Dr Scott Hames of Stirling University, is rather pessimistic. Bearing in mind that Hames is another talking-head from one of those institutions of higher learning in receipt of “research funding” from the British government as an incentive to defend the union, of course he’s going to have something negative to say – and he doesn’t disappoint. Hames reckons all these lefties are blow-ins to the independence movement from a “busted flush” Labour Party on the verge of being redeemed by the messianic Jeremy Corbyn.

Once these Labour rejects have had enough of the “centrist/Blairite SNP,” and once they’ve had enough of the diehards wiping the floor with them, they’ll all – according to Hames and Torrance – jump back into the big red Brexit Labour bus. Is that right, aye? Well in fairness they have some Cat Boyd flavoured grist for this particular unionist media mill. So what?

New leftism, speaking as a socialist, is something of a postmodern parody of the political left; more of a middle class student appropriation of the worker-solidarity identity used to give voice to a smouldering sense of class guilt and its adherents’ anxieties over their unresolved identitarian issues. By and large, as a “bourgeois” tool, new leftism is used – as we are seeing in RISE and Scotland’s “new” and “alternative” media – as another route into the professional class. Given their social backgrounds and their connections in the media and the world of politics most of these kids will ascend to where their ambitions are leading them, but that doesn’t mean they will abandon the politics that has carried them there. There are plenty of middle class and professional independentistas.

“New leftism, speaking as a socialist, is something of a postmodern parody of the political left; more of a middle class student appropriation of the worker-solidarity identity used to give voice to a smouldering sense of class guilt and its adherents’ anxieties over their unresolved identitarian issues.”

Yet none of this common sense deters Torrance from stirring the pot. In fact what he does is he takes this “divide” to an utterly ridiculous conclusion, that the infighting – which is always to be expected in mass movements – has produced a fanatical resistance to insider criticism. He absurdly compares this to the post-war Soviet sympathisers in Britain who viewed any condemnation of Stalin’s outrages as giving “aid and comfort to their political opponents.” So what are we Mr Torrance, Nazis or Stalinists? People like David Torrance will use any excuse to compare the independence movement to any despotic mass murdering régime. Perhaps he needs reminding that one Yesser threw an egg in 2014. Westminster managed to kill over a million innocent Iraqi men, women, and children.

This many people are just not always going to get along. Nothing of this is new to us, and unionists making more of it than what it is shouldn’t faze us. All of us come to the independence campaign with different social and political visions in mind – all of which can only be dealt with after independence – but what we have in common is the shared understanding that what we all want can only be achieved with independence. No doubt some of our “allies” in the new left will make their bed with Corbyn, but they’ll soon discover even he won’t live forever and neither will his utopian Britain. In the end, in Britain, only the establishment will have its way. Lasting change will only be won in Scotland by leaving Britain, and the smarter “radical” leftists already know this.


David Torrance Conceding the Right of Another Referendum

032 001


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

032 001


Art, Sexism, Wings, and Homophobia

By Jason Michael

The question of what is and is not homophobia and sexism has come to the fore in the independence movement of late. Discrimination is discrimination, but injustice cannot be defined by the angriest and loudest voices.

We need to have a little chat about this culture of identitarianist, hair-trigger intolerant, easily offendedness masquerading as something new, brilliant and meaningful on the political left. Usually this is the calibre of self-involved blundering numbskullery at which I can roll my eyes and happily ignore, but recent events have really brought it to a head for me. Kezia Dugdale being lionised for standing up to the threat of legal action from Stuart Campbell of Wings Over Scotland after she “called out” his comments on Oliver Mundell as “homophobic” and me being called a “sexist git” for defending the creative direction of iScot Magazine’s August cover have pushed me over the edge.

As most of the people I am now venting about probably stopped reading and blocked me after the first sentence, we are safe to continue. Feminism and questions of equality are important. I’m not going to sit here and deny this. Women and girls get a shoddy deal in our society, as do people of colour, religious, ethnic, and social minorities, immigrants and refugees, and the elderly and disabled. In Scotland we have a job of work to do to change this and challenge the structures that perpetuate these objectively unjust realities. But this does not mean that sexism, homophobia, and other forms of discrimination are what the loudest and angriest people say they are.

I find characters like Milo Yiannopoulos, Paul Joseph Watson, and Alex Jones as objectionable as the next “leftist,” but I will also be the first to admit they often have a point. A broken clock is right twice a day. When they mock the “autistic screeching” of “feminazis,” “social justice warriors,” and “snowflakes,” they are more often than not pinpointing exactly what irks most rational people about these self-proclaimed champions of truth and justice. It can be argued, and I believe correctly, that this common distaste for the antics of the “lunatic left” is assisting the rise of right-wing sentiment. When the alt-right begins to make sense to ordinary working people, even in the smallest of things, we are in trouble.

Identity politics is killing the left. While individual freedoms and choices are integral components of the broader human rights and socialist political debates, the left – in the midst of the single greatest transfer of wealth from the bottom to the top in recorded human history – has thrown itself headlong into the politics of identity and individualism over class struggle and industrial and social solidarity. There are 100,000 fewer trade union members today in Scotland than there were in 1995, but there are more workers. Over the whole of the United Kingdom more workers every year are being exploited by zero-hours contracts and contract-less situations, working for less money in dirty, dangerous, and dehumanising “jobs.” Where are the unions? Where is the left?

Theresa May has made it crystal clear that her intention is to further streamline employment rights and conditions, and further financialise and deregulate the economy in her plan to transform Brexit Britain into a tax haven and a billionaire’s playground. The number of those classed as “the working poor” is on the up, the use of foodbanks has skyrocketed, and the suicide rate continues to rise as benefits sanctions go on unabated. Call me crazy, but I can understand why an angry white guy from Stoke-on-Trent would side with right-wing YouTubers when they shed light on the “progressives’” uncompromising support for a university educated preoccupation with identity issues.

These “identity issues” – when they reflect objective social injustices – are important, but when they are the primary concern of the left and no longer solidary with the working class, the growing precariat, and the rest of the non-identitied oppressed they become peripheral and obscure to the struggle of ordinary working people. As a project of the left this is counterproductive. It does not protect those it purports to be defending; it merely aggravates resentment and further pushes the post-industrial ballast it has abandoned to the right. Who will that protect?

Stuart Campbell is being put through the wringer for having the audacity to use the law to protect himself and his reputation from Kezia Dugdale’s repeated slander that he is a homophobe. The unionists of Scotland and the tabloid media are losing their minds that he is doing this on top of fundraising to keep his pro-independence blog alive. He has every right to fundraise. In the past twelve months of daily blogging I have spent over 780 hours writing. That’s just over a month of non-stop work. It is a massive investment of time and energy. God only knows how much more time Campbell and the Wings team put in. Don’t muzzle the ox on the threshing floor.

Weaponising the accusation of homophobia against him – another example of throwing mud and hoping some will stick – is nothing but a cynical attempt to discredit him and thereby his work and that for which he and others are working. Kezia, the apparent leader of party political leftism in Scotland – knows the slur of homophobia will excite the eager-to-be offended and so trigger an overly emotional supportive response. It doesn’t matter a jot that Kezia is a lesbian. Being gay or lesbian gives no one the right to define what they merely do not like or find distasteful as homophobia.

Homophobia, like sexism, is real. Simply using common words and terminologies relating to homosexuality or LGBT people is not homophobic. Neither is the artistic use of nudity – male or female – as political comment inherently sexist. Of course they can be, but all of this is context dependent. Leaping to accusations of homophobia or sexism – especially when political agendas are involved – without reflection and a search for objectivity is just reductionist stupidity. It is harmful to the fight for equality, it weakens the left, and, in this case, it poses a serious danger to the unity of the independence movement. I am with Žižek on this: We ought to react less and think more.


Germaine Greer on Feminism

032 001


Ruth Davidson wants to Reboot Capitalism

By Jason Michael

Scotland’s would-be supreme leader, Ruth Davidson – AKA “Colonel Gaddaftie,” thinks it’s time to reboot capitalism. Like Pinochet and Perón before her she dreams of a softer, friendlier capitalism. It’s just more politics in khaki.

Credit where credit is due, Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, accepts that capitalism has gotten out of control. In a recent blog post on UnHerd she has suggested that while capitalism and the free market has lifted a billion people out of absolute poverty, it is not working for everyone. She posits the idea of capitalism as basically a good social and economic system that has been hacked for the benefit of the few, requiring remedial governmental intervention to close loopholes, address creeping cronyism, and save free market capitalism from an “unfree and anti-competitive capitalism.”

But rather than engage with real critiques of modern free market capitalism – or Thatcherite-Reaganite neoliberalism and the emergence of anarcho-capitalism – she merely asserts that the work of people like Thomas Picketty has been “disproved” on the back of the findings of the Brookings Institution. The reliability of this debunking of course falls flat on its face once we learn the Brookings Institution, located on Washington DC’s “Think Tank Row,” is funded by JPMorgan and Carlyle Group co-CEO David Rubenstein. The irony here, which we can surmise is entirely lost on Ruth, is that she is attempting to argue for a renaissance of the mythical good old days of capitalism while replying on the watchdogs of heartless neoliberalism.

According to her praise of good capitalism the progress of the free market has reduced inequality… from 1986. “The gini-coefficient might tell us,” pontificates Davidson, “that inequality in the UK has fallen to its lowest level since 1986.” This sounds super-fantastic until we take into account the fact that 1986 wasn’t exactly the heyday of economic justice in Thatcher’s Britain. She’s also wrong. We are 20 per cent less equal now than we were in 1986. The measure of real inequality in the UK has been rising steadily since 1978, when inequality was 68.6 per cent of what it is today. Ruth is on a flight of fancy. She’s certainly no economist.


Source: The Equality Trust.

So where is this good capitalism of hers and the free market lifting people out of poverty? It’s not in Scotland. Across the country last year the demand on foodbanks rose between 121 and 290 per cent, with a record number of families having been pushed into food poverty and homelessness due to the Westminster government’s austerity regime. Austerity itself, as Ruth would do well to note, is the result of the capitalist thinking of her Conservative Party in London.

Neoliberalism, the logical politico-economic consequence of capitalism, has really hurt our country. Ruth Davidson may not be aware of this. Her “Scotland” – Tory Scotland – is not a Scotland the majority of us recognise. The financialisation of London, a process that crippled industry in Scotland, was bankrolled with the revenue from the oil that was being pilfered from us. Ever since then, under various guises of capitalism, our stolen wealth has been used as a weapon against us, keeping Scotland in a state of perma-recession until we were given some small say in how we govern ourselves.

Since devolution more decisions have been made in Scotland, for Scotland, by Scots. Under the National Party the standard of living of the average Scot has risen, life expectancy has increased, standards in education have improved, and the economy has grown. All of this has been done against the tide of the Conservatives Party’s austerity agenda and with far less free marketeering than Ruth Davidson would dare to propose. Her Tories have never been in power in Scotland’s devolved parliament, so she can take none of the credit for the advances we have made. In Scotland “literacy is climbing,” as she says, but this was none of her doing and it certainly wasn’t the achievement of good capitalism.

Yet the single greatest problem with her entire article is the fact that she imagines she can fix a system she herself concedes is friar tucked by applying more of the same; modified or tweaked. The market will always be an important element of our national economy, but when government acts to ensure the interests of the wealthy take priority over the people of the nation – essentially the definition of British Conservativism – the result will always be the same; poverty and unnecessary inequality. No amount of cosmetic improvement or statistical manipulation will change this basic truth of neoliberal, free market capitalism. But, as we have said, Ruth is no economist.


Thomas Piketty: New thoughts on capital in the twenty-first century

032 001


Bandwagon Politics and Independence

By Jason Michael

Saying that Scottish independence is not all about the SNP is tantamount to suggesting that independence is not a political question. Only one political party can now lead us to independence no matter what RISE says and Cat Boyd votes.

Cat Boyd, Yesser and former RISE candidate, voted for Jeremy Corbyn – that is, she voted Labour – in the last general election, and she was “proud” to do this because “it was a UK election.” Where do we in the Yes movement begin to get our heads around this decision? Well, to begin with, we should be clear that it was unwise and ill-considered, but we must also be cautious not to use this as an opportunity to instigate unnecessary infighting in the movement. What is required, and urgently so, is a conversation about the so-called radical left and its usefulness to the project of Scottish independence. That I myself am a socialist, and given that the Yes movement is in the main a working class left-of-centre movement, this is an important conversation.

In and of itself RISE, as a political force in Scotland, is of little consequence. Its impact on the polls is at best negligible, but as an alliance built around the various personality cults of characters who made a name for themselves during the 2014 independence campaign it has the power to box – in terms of influencing opinion, if not winning votes – well above its weight. Its ability to divide the pro-independence vote in Scotland, as has been pointed out by others, made it a darling of the British media; thus making its members run the risk of becoming the useful idiots of unionism. While it serves no purpose to attack RISE and therefore alienate it from the independence movement, it is crucial that we examine what it is propagating and show where this thinking leads.

Boyd and others – and not only others affiliated with RISE – have successfully popularised the opinion that independence is not all about the SNP, making way, at least in theory, for other pro-independence parties to share in the task of representing wider visions of an independent Scotland. There is also, as we have witnessed in Boyd’s support of the Labour Party, a continued willingness to work with unionist political parties in the pursuit of a better deal for Scotland. On the face of it these arguments are cogent and appear to present a rational political method moving ultimately towards independence, but they are fraught with contradictions and seriously problematic.

RISE and radical socialism as a whole is infatuated with the idea of vanguardism; an essentially Trotskyist idea of mobilising mass political support behind a class-conscious political vanguard, but is forever getting it wrong. As this political ideology has no mass support – without which there can be no vanguard – it leaps to the head of every grassroots, vaguely left social and political cause; dragging the whole thing down to the level of mere bandwagon populism. In doing this the radical left is forever missing the point of the revolutionary political vehicle – something that clearly does already exist, for good or for ill, in the form of the Scottish National Party.

In Scotland the revolution has already begun. Now more than half of the Scottish people have decided that the future of our country lies in our full separation from the United Kingdom. Whether we like the fact or not this expression of the will of the people of Scotland sounds the starting gun of a race to independence and all other political causes become secondary and even tertiary to this prime political objective. Scotland is already in a state of political paralysis and this will remain the case until the constitutional question is finally settled.

Regardless of the opinions of individual independence supporters it is clear that neither the Green Party nor RISE or any other party can accomplish the task without getting behind the vehicle that is now in motion. Sorry about you, but this does in fact mean supporting the SNP and that independence is all about the National Party. Turning to Corbyn’s Labour Party – a momentary blip in the otherwise downward trajectory of unionist British Labour – is reactionary to say the very least. Britain’s politics have come to an end in Scotland, and dancing to its tune in the hope of gaining anything for Scotland is delusional in the extreme.

It is not the case that I think people like Cat Boyd, Jean Urquhart, and Alan Bissett are problems for the independence movement or that they do no support independence. I believe they are sincere when they speak of what is best for Scotland. What we must question is their level of reflection. Independence cannot be won by undermining the political party that is the de facto party of independence because it does not happen to chime perfectly with any one individual’s or a group of individuals’ particular political thinking. Normal politics has been suspended in Scotland. Running to British parties in the hope of gaining anything else for Scotland is, whatever way we look at it, moving in the wrong direction.


Former RISE candidate Cat Boyd voted Labour

032 001