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|<nettime> Guardian > Irvine Welsh > Labour risks failing the English -- just like it did the Scottish Did|
< http://www.theguardian.com/politics/commentisfree/2015/may/07/labour-risks-failing-the-english-just-like-it-did-the-scottish > 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 serious. 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 Scotland. 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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