Nationalist gamblers lose Scotland to status quo No

As recriminations from disappointed Yes campaigners become louder, I’m acutely relieved about the No. I also recognise that the No was not a socialist democratic No but a status quo No.

As time went on I warmed slightly to the official No campaign with its resolute rejection of nationalist passion, patriotism, empire or jingoism and focus on material issues. State realism facing off against romantic nationalism is never a nice choice. Up to near the end anyway, which is when the heavy passion artillery got wheeled out. I realise part of the reason that paid off for them is that they and their predecessors have incrementally dismantled the state to the point that any destabilisation looks terrifying. Talat Yaqoob was my favourite activist – she fought a sunny, respectful No campaign which rejected the politics of fear. There was the very impressive, very cogent Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson, whom I didn’t see put a foot wrong in terms of campaigning. Towards the very end, the Labour-led Better Together campaign dusted off an old labour movement discourse of collectivism, solidarity, public good and shared class interests. This was surprising to some – New Labour abandoned this kind of chat when it jettisoned Clause 4 and the militant. Allan Little is good on how nationalism came to fill this void in Scotland. I am steeling myself for collectivism, solidarity and class to evaporate in the run-up to GE2015. Sometimes it’s hard to keep your chin up.

Whereas there were non-SNP socialist Yes campaigns such as Radical Independence and Common Weal, there was no coordinated socialist or far left No campaign. Greens fell in with the Scottish Green Party which easily plumped for the inevitably petro-fuelled independence (though to be fair the alternative was a petro-fuelled union). They’ve whipped down Green Yes Scotland so you won’t be able to look back on that, but they were voting for their best chance to influence a society which could be a proof of concept for other regions. They yearned to get involved in a brand new constitution for a fresh new country. Then there was the radical left who couldn’t resist the prospect of sticking it to the Tories and/or Westminster politics. I have trouble even contemplating Billy ‘there is power in a union’ Bragg without something like disgust.

One of the most profoundly shocking moments of the campaign realising that for the first time in my life I agreed with virtually everything George Galloway was saying. Towards the end, though, there were socialist and radical left No voices. They weren’t organised but Bob has collected them.

Predictably enough this post-election poll from Lord Ashcroft reveals a stark difference between the youngest and oldest voters, overwhelmingly Yes and No respectively. I’m assuming this is about material insecurity of people with little prospect of earning power. The fact that pensions came into this at all is a travesty of privatisation. I don’t at all care for the way some are spinning this difference as the old dashing the hopes of the young. Also troubling and predictable is the fact that No voters tended to be more rural and better off, and that turnout remained lower in the disadvantaged, urban Yes heartlands. Yes was the preferred option for disadvantaged voters – we know from the English UKIP proble that this has got to be addressed.There’s a gender difference too, to do with risk-taking. When those Yes voters on the telly are haranguing people for being feart, it’s women and older people they’re slagging off.

All the raptures about democratic process need to be taken with a pinch of salt. When the SNP threatened No voters that the NHS was at stake, there seemed to be a lack of awareness that health care is wholly devolved to Scotland and even if rUK were to axe the NHS, this need not affect Scotland. Nevertheless the polling data showed that the NHS was a major factor in the Yes vote, so I’m doubtful there’s much grasp what Scotland controls, what the UK controls, and what the EU controls. Moreover this was a single vote on a single issue and that single issue happened to be the emotive and highly exercising issue of nationalism. Don’t assume this would generalise to wider democratic processes, which demand discipline, subtlety, compromise and sustained hard work.

On the bright side, there doesn’t seem to have been as big a problem of intimidation as some claimed – according to that poll at least 85% were prepared to disclose which way they voted to colleagues, friends and family.

There was a big swing to Yes. I’ve been so tense about the nationalism that I was unable to write anything before the referendum but now as we say goodbye to #indyref there is even more nationalism to come.  The West Lothian question will be settled soon. We expect the Tories to try to appease UKIP-leaning voters in marginalised English towns. There’s talk of an English parliament, votes for English laws. While Scotland claims so much of the same, the logic of this is hard to deny. But it should be denied. There is no money, no economic plan, no jobs, great environmental stress – water, pollution, greenhouse gases – which know no borders and which demand cooperation. They also demand a redistributive approach to wealth. We are very close to being fucked. We need to nationalise things and invite the devolved countries to share a stake. We need cooperative enterprises across borders. We need to join supranational environmental movements. If there is to be devolution to the constituent regions and countries of the UK, then what the left needs to do now is build collective institutions and organisations of shared interest which cross all the borders.

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Hands off our movements!

Free Palestine badgeThis is a side issue to the much-needed 999 Call for the NHS march and rally yesterday  (about which more shortly) but when Andy Slaughter casually inserted a reference to Palestine solidarity into his speech about how Imperial NHS Trust are closing services in Hammersmith, I flinched.

My impression is that it’s rarely OK for single issue campaigns to insert themselves into other totally unrelated single issue campaigns. Certainly, Palestine had not been ushered into the NHS demo by the organisers, nor could Palestine activism be said to characterise the rally. But I could sense it hovering nearby, and I want to confront it before moving onto other things.

Left Unity logoFirst of all, the Palestinian flag is red, white, green and black. So is the People’s Assembly logo – and Left Unity is even more overt.

Coincidence?

Perhaps so. Most flags in the Arab world have red, white, green and black. And on the left it’s green for environmentalism, red for socialism, black for anarchism, on a white background. If the similarity is incidental, then I wouldn’t want to make too much of it. That said, there’s a certain pointy-ness to the left logos which is reminiscent. And the timbre of the colours. Which is why – and any marketer would understand this – I find it the resemblance unconsciously and now consciously off-putting. Even as somebody who is pro-Palestinian and generally anti-nationalist (or weakly civic nationalist).

people's assemblyBecause the left has tried to make Israel central. This is in no way far fetched. Both Islamists and pan-Arabists have done the same. Israel is a useful diversion from what is actually wrong with an economy / society / body politic. There’s a name for constructing something else, something other, as the culprit. I hoped we’d seen the back of it with the Arab Spring. But then authoritarianism mostly beat pluralism and with it democracy. Really, I can’t stand scapegoating.

For these reasons I wasn’t surprised that the first #march4nhs tweets I saw on the day were from a few accounts with Palestine flags or Palestine-related names. They were very quick out of the blocks before the thing started in earnest. I remembered how much bigger last month’s anti-Israel rally had been than yesterday’s broad and inclusive NHS rally, which has done far more to promote and unify. For example I have never seen such a diversity of age, sex, religion, ethnicity, political leaning, and background on a single platform as I did at the NHS rally. So the fact that so many more turned out the anti-Israel demo, I take to be reflection of priorities on the left. Weggis66 thinks that since people turned up all the way along, this would have led to lower numbers on the day, but I’m not convinced. I don’t think that privatised services is as thrilling as Israelis doing what other countries routinely do – try to destroy their enemies and hurt a lot of people in the process. Remember the LTTE? No, probably not – there was very little fuss from the quarters that evince such horror when Gaza is beaten up.

I’m fully aware that sections of the left, noticing that the issue of Palestine can unify usually-disparate groups in society, have long tried hard to attach it to other left wing causes. For example, I travelled overnight in a coach to the G8 summit in Edinburgh (a decade ago?) to discover that the War On Want debt cancellation demo whose ranks I was swelling often resembled an anti-Israel demo. I remember various trade unions made it a core issue to exclude Israelis and only Israelis, how Avaaz, which never sends out opinion pieces, sent one from Tutu urging a boycott of Israel, how the Israel is the only country, really, targeted for exclusion from our high streets, and how anti-Israel sentiment always hurts Jews (and the activists so often miss – remember the paediatricians?). The list goes on. God, if only the world’s conflicts had as dedicated, concerned, activism. Only, hang on – it isn’t working. It’s wide of the mark.

I still think the loudest Palestine solidarity activism in this country is antisemitic. Perhaps stop reading here, because I’m about to resurrect an old theme.

Typically, pro-Palestine campaigning proposes double standards against Israel. It seeks a single state for a region hostile to Jews (incidentally often voting Yes for Scottish separatism). It usually fronts the Socialist Worker Party with its antisemitic proclivities. It annoints Hamas (will not recognise Israel, very authoritarian) and condemns democratic, progressive, secular Israelis who are, despite the catastrophising, numerous, and who need and deserve the support of the British left. Its identity politics spits ‘Zionist’ as a cuss word (again, while many of the same people coo over Scottish nationalism) when it has always been a simple Jewish liberation / defence movement supported by almost all Jews. It seeks to position the only Jewish state at the centre of the world’s problems the way antisemites held Jews culpable throughout history. It usually scoffs or bristles – or, chillingly, glows with pride – when anybody raises the possibility that it might be antisemitic.

Better Palestine activism would support Palestinian state-building and political transformation. I don’t know where to find Palestinian grassroots civil society organisations to work with (Palestine is not at the centre of my world) but a genuinely dedicated pro-Palestine activist (rather than a centrally anti-Israel one) would be motivated to. I know they exist, and that their government does not grasp that they should be autonomous, that they are destabilised by the conflict and the occupation, and that they have a role in policy i.e. beyond service. I know they get a hell of a lot of aid which is inefficiently spent, and that they risk losing their constituencies. On the joint Israeli and Palestinian side, there is Friends of the Earth Middle East, Children of Peace, OneVoice, and on the Israeli side, BTselem, GishaThe New Israel Fund, these others, and not to mention the small, beset organised political left who, with international networks of concerned supporters, are trying to keep alive the two state prospect because – surely it’s obvious – the respective societies are so split that right now the only alternative to two states is destructive violence, a zero-sum game to the bitter end, after which segregation, ethnic cleansing, possibly genocide. And that part of the world is crazy enough at the moment, thanks.On the Palestinian side, if Palestinian trade unions call for a boycott of stuff produced in the occupied territories, then we can boycott it in good conscience, I’d say. With due care.

There’s plenty more. I have other things to do – neither Israelis nor Palestinians are at the centre of my world. But you can recognise campaigners who are using pro-Palestinian as a mask for anti-Israel because they do not care to investigate.

And meanwhile Palestine solidarity has virtually nothing – nothing – to do with our well-being in the UK. If Palestine solidarity activism unifies an eddying left, that means the left is disorientated and parts of it are rotten. Put Palestine solidarity activism in its place.