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<nettime> Guardian > Irvine Welsh > Labour risks failing the English -- just like it did the Scottish Did

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Labour risks failing the English - just like it did the Scottish

   Thursday 7 May 2015 07.00 BST 
   Last modified on Friday 8 May 2015 15.57 BST

   Irvine Welsh

   The UK is now a pointless entity, existing solely to protect entrenched
   privilege and continue the transference of the country's resources to a
   global elite. For most citizens it's a failed state, which cannot
   guarantee social progress, a decent education, the opportunity for
   useful employment or a debt-free life. With Scotland cast in the
   role as the conscience of Britain, or a running sore on its politics
   (delete to taste), as it continues to both manoeuvre and be manoeuvred
   out the UK door, the unionist rightwing desperately proclaim that the
   Scots have "gone mad".

   Neoliberalism, austerity, the preservation and protection of a
   secretive nonce ruling class, and the destruction of a Britain founded
   on the welfare state: it seems inherently sane to want independence
   from all of that. The real madness lies in tolerating this twisted
   nonsense, while assuming it's going to fix itself.

   If it could, it already would have done so. Ed Miliband proclaimed, to
   party conference Groundhog Day cheers, that Labour would abolish
   the House of Lords.

   But there is no inherent desire from Westminster parties for major
   constitutional reform. The UK can't go for the full-out federalism it
   probably needs to save it: that just wouldn't play in the populous
   south-east region, financially bloated with private money from Russian
   and Saudi oligarchs on the back of the public investment by the rest of
   UK, through our unitary state. So don't look for real change there,
   expect more of the same anti-immigrant drivel that's been churned out
   for years. (It's not really the billionaires that are driving property
   prices up, and working people out of the capital, it's those pesky
   minimum-wage Polish cleaners.)

   That the Conservatives, as Lord Forsyth admits, are now overtly
   abandoning Scotland in order to shore up core support in the south,
   should surprise nobody.

   One of the biggest myths is that those "unionists" actually care about
   the union. If they can't have it on their own terms, it's little more
   than an inconvenience to them.

   Bottom line: they want to win elections. If you are a Scottish Tory the
   news that you do not matter to your party ought to have registered
   years ago. But the Conservatives now have nothing to lose by
   alienating their remaining Scottish voters; for Labour, who opted to
   follow suit by hanging Jim Murphy out to dry, with Miliband, Balls and
   Umunna literally queuing up to publicly humiliate him, it's much more

   Of course, Labour had already made the massive tactical error of
   standing shoulder to shoulder with the Conservatives in Better
   Together, during the seismic referendum campaign. This greatly hastened
   a secular decline, giving generations of Scottish leftists the excuse
   to jump ship. For many Scots, publicly supporting the SNP even last
   year would have felt like taking your secret lover to your long-term
   partner's funeral. Once it was confirmed that this partner had been
   screwing around with your much hated, corpulent boss for years, that
   outing turned from one of shame into a joyous party. With the devo max
   ship probably having sailed, Scottish Labour are now in the position of
   fighting the Tories to be unionism's top dogs north of the border.

   But for the London-based parties, Scotland is now about overt posturing
   while drawing everything towards the steady conclusion of political
   separatism. The real emerging issue is about the sort of democracy
   people want to build in England, and the attendant struggle for English
   national identity. We have an avaricious pro-establishment rightwing
   nationalism playing the Johnny Foreigner card in all its
   manifestations, in order to provide easy non-answers to the more
   gullible subjects.

   This Greater Englandism has replaced Britishness as the major cultural
   force in the south, and it has redrawn the border, de facto excluding

   With the Tory/Ukip/establishment right calling the shots on the issue
   of English national identity, the left has been way off the pace, and
   for understandable reasons.

   In any grossly inequitable society the real, substantive political
   cleavage must always be class and wealth, and there is the natural
   tendency to be suspicious of anything that seems to cut across that
   divide. So while rightwingers regard Scottish nationalism as some kind
   of Marxist, separatist threat to the empire, the English left have
   traditionally tended to view it as a reactionary smokescreen with poor,
   gullible Scots being bamboozled by opportunists and chancers.

   The problem is that this London-centric perspective hasn't squared with
   the reality of the last 30 years. Left-minded Scots, who saw Labour's
   Blairite ditching of clause four as radical reassignment surgery rather
   than the bad hair day some party apologists tried to push it off as,
   have at first steadily, now dramatically, been throwing their lot in
   with the SNP. Figures such as Nicola Sturgeon would have been
   natural Labourites a generation ago. Now it's impossible to imagine
   Scotland's brightest political talents being attracted to a party
   largely the preserve of expenses-guzzling bloaters looking to get on
   the career structure, culminating in an ermine-wrapped, gin-soaked
   tenure in the House of Lords.

   But the traditional English left view of the SNP has been undermined by
   the demonstrative "people power" exhibited during the Scottish
   referendum. Now the Westminster establishment's worst nightmare (of its
   own making) - that this, and every other election in Scotland becomes a
   rerun of the referendum - has come to pass. One problem in affecting
   disdain with an emerging nationalism is that it stops you from
   conceptualising the longstanding one that you're already an integral
   part of: that type that leads us into slaughtering Iraqi children,
   based on lies. Yes in your name, citizens of the United Kingdom of
   Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

   What gave me, and many on the left, the biggest problem with Scottish
   independence, was the idea that we were running out on our English
   comrades, leaving them to the mercy of a built-in Tory power block. But
   this view rested not only on bad arithmetic, but, more crucially, a
   misunderstanding of political forces as static. When you take Scotland
   out of the UK, you are left with something very different from just
   Tory seats. You have a more focused and hopefully inspired English
   left, which instead of doing a half-arsed lackey job of trying to
   contain Scottish independence for the establishment, should have
   those real villains firmly in its sights.

   In the absence of a British or English consensual national identity,
   the shouty, rightwing, media-sponsored Greater Englandism wins by
   default. So it's up to the left in England to start defining and
   negotiating for a civic English national polity, based on citizens'
   rights, in a democratic, decentralised, multicultural state. As
   counter-intuitive as it seems, perhaps it's time to take that white
   flag that has been the real symbol of the mainstream left in Britain
   for the last 30 years, and paint a flaming red cross on top of it. The
   SNP evidently scares the establishment to a greater extent than a
   tawdry, complicit Labour, which is essentially competing with the
   Tories to serve it. How much more would a populist, leftist,
   decentralist, civic nationalist party in England?

   However, the Labour insistence on playing the rigged Westminster game,
   despite the waning enthusiasm for it from many of the party's own
   supporters, shows how its incorporation into the establishment has
   enfeebled and constrained its imagination. English Labour is a rough
   coalition between London and the north and West Midlands. Its
   comfortable middle-class leadership has never been at ease with
   working-class voters who don't do as they say and think the way they
   want them to.

   When I insist to leftist friends in London "don't call me a
   nationalist", it doesn't mean I'm comfortable with the smug, wistful
   and complacent title of "internationalist", which is too often simply
   metropolitan myopia. When one country not 500 miles to the north was
   trying to liberate itself from a vicious neo-liberalism and the
   governmental system that promotes it, many on the London left scoffed
   and sneered. However, few really cared: it just wasn't their party. The
   notion that you can stop, rather than help to just precipitate, a
   cultural shift to the SNP by promising to "get the Tories out" and then
   (presumably) reforming a corrupt, centralist state in ways you won't
   even discuss, is beyond nonsense.

   The sad truth is that Blairism has afforded many people who have
   drifted to the right through wealth, success or just a plain old
   hardening of the political arteries the delusion that they are somehow
   still on the "left". They dislike the grass-roots radicalism of the
   Scottish independence movement, as it called them out on their own
   incipient conservatism. When confronted with it during the referendum,
   their visceral reaction was to pucker their lips in distaste and cry
   "Salmond!" before throwing in their lot with the status quo.

   If the shit-the-bed neo-liberal model of globalisation is truly the
   last stand of imperialism, then the emerging narrative has to be the
   progressive, democratic nation state. It's time for the left in England
   to get over their hurt that this story didn't originate in north
   London, and get onside with this project. After all, it's where things
   end up that's important, not where they start out. The Tories have all
   but given up on Scotland: it offers them nothing but governmental
   headache. Labour now unwittingly finds itself in the same boat, having
   suffered a bad self-inflicted wound by rejecting the Scots, through
   trying to promote a bogus Britishness that no longer substantively
   exists. To make the same mistake with regard to England would surely
   see it dealing itself a fatal one.

   o This article was amended on 7 May 2015. An earlier version said that
   Labour's pledge to replace the House of Lords did not appear in its
   manifesto. In fact it does.

    2015 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies.
   All rights reserved.

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