Tag Archives: Scotland

You Are The #IndyRef


355Below, my immediate thoughts on the referendum, posted on the Review 31 website. The point I try to argue is that we are in a midway stage within a very long, slow cycle of working class structual de- and re-composition. The Yes vote benefited from a breakdown of certain old ways of doing class, and points to some new ones, but they are not yet so entrenched so that the yes side was simply able to shrug off a determined counter-offensive. The “You” of the title is aimed at the majority of my readers – like me, non-Scots, but located in societies at an essentially similar conjuncture. Friends have suggested certain bridgeheads which could be added to my list (jobs and regions dependent on oil, banking). Finally, when I quote Macintyre on the need for a party, I mean “party” in the way he did – an organisation of hundreds of thousands of people

The temptation, in the short period immediately following the referendum, will be to be focus on the final breadth of the No victory and to assume that the result was always a forgone conclusion. The Yes vote began the poll with the support of 35% of Scots, during the campaign it had to increase this figure by 15%. Reaching 45%, it achieved two-thirds of the swing it needed for victory.

Among the wealthy and those who identify most strongly with them, there is clearly a feeling of resentment that their representatives were obliged to make concessions to the independence campaign, in order to placate those key groups of voters – workers, women, the young – who in the penultimate week of the campaign appeared to be swinging decisively from No to Yes. It will be said in public by Tory MPs, and privately, by the classes of people they represent, that the concessions were unnecessary, and any promises can now be withdrawn. We should expect threats of Tory rebellions against any legislation for devolution. There will be plans to draw those rebels off, by (for example) mixing up devolution with steps to reduce the powers of Scottish MPs in Westminster. Trident will remain as will the detention centre at Dungavel. It is most likely that the issue of independence will not sink away but will be revived, starting with the general election next year.

Why did Yes lose? Yes had a narrow majority among men; No had a bigger majority among women. For about 30 years in Britain, the right in all its forms has been better at aiming propaganda at women than the left. The left has had no counterpart of the success of the Daily Mail in working a message of women’s subordination into a total analysis of every aspect of politics and daily life, and of selling this message – targeted and superficially attractive, but disempowering – to millions of readers.

More here.

And mine is worth reading alongside Pete Cannell’s piece here.

In the event of victory, hold on to your rifles


pp02 It wasn’t supposed to be like this. When David Cameron vetoed the original, proposed three-question referendum (“Yes”, “No”, “Devo Max”), he suggested that the No camp’s inevitable victory would defer to the indefinite future not merely any possibility of independence, but any prospect of the future devolution of powers to Scotland. As he told the world’s press, “Scotland’s two governments have come together to deliver a referendum which will be legal, fair and decisive”. Should Yes win narrowly, you can expect to read a great deal about how “decisive” means “interim”, “temporary”, and “requiring confirmation in a second vote”.

Among the advocates of No can of course be found many defenders of the existing economic and political status quo; what is more surprising has been the willingness of many even on the left to misread the mood that underlies Yes’ so far success. If you look hard enough in the very darkest corners of the internet, you will find those arguing that a No vote represents the principle of internationalism which is always – by definition – preferable to mere nationalism.

The argument is not persuasive, either in general, or looking at this particular Yes campaign. Most of the worst international conflicts of the last 10 years have been capable of justification in international terms, whether that “internationalism” was of former Trotskyists now looking to back Bush, Lebanese Shia fighting for neighbouring Baathist police state, or British teenagers making atrocity propaganda in the name of a pan-national Islamism temporarily rooted somewhere between the artificial borders imposed on the Middle East after 1918.

Indeed a particular feature of the Scottish referendum has been the willingness of the most nationalist voices to eschew, quite voluntarily, the traditionally language of what theorists of nationalism call “palingenesis” (ie appeals to national identity as a factor which when given primacy over class is the means to achieve national rebirth).

The vote has had no ethnic undertone: everyone living in Scotland – British, Scottish or whatever else – has been enfranchised, while those able to claim a Scottishness based on ten generations of proved ancestry (but no present residence) have been told, most politely, to keep out.

The referendum consultation insists, quite counter to ordinary nationalist discourse: “Scotland is not oppressed and we have no need to be liberated … Much of what Scotland will be like the day after independence will be similar to the day before: people will go to work, pensions and benefits will be collected, children will go out to play and life will be as normal.”

What has held the Yes campaign together has been rather two things:

First, an idea that the adoption of neo-liberal politics in 1979-82 was a choice, and something which can ultimately be overturned. The most effective messages in the Yes campaign’s support have been those which have used London as a short-hand for a society indefinitely in hock to the banks. And the least effective politics of the No campaign have been those strident appeals which have said “voting No will be bad for your pensions” or the pound, when the mood of a key contingent of swing Yes voters (ie people who have voted SSP or Labour in the past) is precisely their rejection of “business as usual”.

In a year where the non-fiction booklists in most countries have been dominated by a book warning of the emergence of new kinds of economic relationships where the rich are able to increase their power exponentially, simply because the system over-rewards the fact of ownership – the Yes campaign has mined a rich seam of goodwill for any politics which confronts the status quo credibly with any suggestions at all of redistribution.

Second, the idea that voting is a meaningful act. A key moment in the second debate was Salmond’s effective use of the language of  what he called “a mandate” – ie if people in Scotland vote for independence with the pound, then they will get independence with the pound, simply because their vote will have more authority than the refusals of a cadre of English politicians, for even though the latter may claim the support of the banks and the newspapers, there will be no referendum down South, and by definition a politician equipped with democratic support must overcome one without

The surprising feature of the Yes campaign has been its ability to thrive on the contemporary politics of resistance. It is a gamble in the face of the neo-liberal dogma that there is no alternative, there is no point voting, and any party which stands up to business will inevitably be crushed…

All over the world, these dynamics are turning people against politics – save in a very few places (Scotland, Spain) where a political movement responds to the attrition of democracy by insisting on democracy with ever greater force.

None of this is to invite anyone to suspend the scepticism which our conjuncture dictates. An independent SNP government would cut not raise corporation taxes; there are many supporters of independence (Souter, and now possibly Murdoch) who see a chance to increase their power in what would inevitably be some sort of rearrangement of the present bargain between social labour (ie both wages and benefits) and an independent Scottish ruling class.

Ninety years ago, faced with a different mood of left nationalist revival, an Irish Marxist James Connolly once called on his supporters to keep hold of their guns: “In the event of victory, hold on to your rifles, as those with whom we are fighting may stop before our goal is reached. We are out for economic as well as political liberty.”

In an epoch where access to media, supporters’ lists and meeting rooms counts for rather more than it once did, something like the same advice might hold true. If there is a Yes vote, do celebrate, but do not forget for a second to keep organising.

Scottish Refuge for Battered Wives (Women’s Voice, 1974)



‘DIANE IS now 28. She went out with her husband for 15 months and they were happily engaged for a year. Shortly after their marriage he became very possessive with her and tried to break up all her relationships with other people including her own family. He also began to drink whenever he had the money to do so, and to beat her whenever he was drunk. The situation became intolerable and she left him to go and live with her father. After three months, a reconciliation took place, but shortly after the birth of their third child (now three) he assaulted her so badly that she had to go to hospital and he was given a thirty-day prison sentence. It was around this time that she made a suicide attempt, which temporarily brought her husband to his senses and alleviated her situation. Their fourth child (now two and the only one unplanned) arrived and things became as bad as ever. In desperation Diane moved to her sister’s house in Edinburgh where the Social Work Department drew her attention to the EWA house. She moved there immediately with the two younger children, leaving the older ones with her sister so that they could continue to attend school regularly.

She saw them almost daily and they came to the house at weekends. She applied to the Housing Department for a Corporation House and after four months was allotted one near the EWA House. It was a long wait and with the overcrowding and lack of fuel and cooking facilities (the latter problems are now overcome) she was often tempted to return home. She is about to get divorced and is prepared to let her husband see the children. She is now well-installed in her new house and an active member of the tenants association. Equally important (from our point of view) she regularly visits the Women’s Aid House and tries to offer comfort and assistance to newcomers. She reflects sadly that the only happy days of her marriage were the seven weeks when her husband was unemployed and forced to stay at home due to lack of resources to buy drink. It would be foolish to pretend that her problems are solved. She is a very conscientious mother trying to bring up four children on her own with £19 per week and all the frustrations and loneliness that this involves, but at least she has been given a chance to make some kind of new start.’

Self Help

This is one case study from a report by ‘Edinburgh Women’s Aid’. This group was set up by members of Edinburgh women’s liberation, and succeeded in getting two houses to rent from the corporation, and an initial grant of £500 from the Social Work Department. The houses are open to any women who are desperate to escape violence, but have nowhere to go. The houses are organised on a self-help basis, so they are run only by the women living in them at the time. Some of the women only stay a couple of nights – others for many months until they can be re-housed with their kids. Edinburgh Women’s Aid wants to see small self-help units in all areas, and is keen to offer advice to any women willing to start putting pressure on their local authorities. Already they have made links with groups in Glasgow, Dundee and Aberdeen, and hopes that the idea will spread through England too.


It is important that battered women have somewhere safe to go by right. In most towns and cities there’s no such provision, and if you go to the police they’ll probably tell you to go home – they won’t deal with ‘domestic problems’. If they do agree to prosecute your husband, they can’t offer you anywhere to go to get away from him. So most women keep their mouths shut, suffer the beatings, and accept that it’s all part of our ‘civilised’ male-dominated society.


But the truth is – men aren’t naturally women beaters. Men can be as kind, gentle and loving as women. What kind of society is this, that turns people to violence? What kind of jobs, and housing conditions, and burdens distort human beings and lead them to harm the people they love?

Battered wives must be protected, but Women’s Aid centres will only become more crowded in this violent society. Remember most battered wives and their husbands were once happy young couples before the hardships and frustrations of married life in slums – unemployment – bad work conditions etc took their toll. Remember Diana? ‘She went out with her husband for 15 months and they were happily engaged for a year…’

Anyone wanting to contact Scottish Women’s Aid should write of phone Women’s Voice for information.

from Women’s Voice (paper version) Number 14 (1976?)