Scotland may be Socialist! Gasp! Shock! Horror!

(Previously published in the McTavish Opera blog 21 August 2013)
Should we really be surprised that a US newspaper reporter is not aware of Scotland’s radical heritage?

I read an article recently by reporter Mona Charen in the Chicago Sun-Times, in which she appears shocked at finding so much radical thought during a visit to Edinburgh for the 2013 Fringe Festival. “Modern Scotland is deep in socialism” shouted the Sun-Times headline, above an article which was poorly researched and even more poorly written.

Ms (Is she a Ms? Perhaps someone as reactionary as her would prefer Miss, Mrs, or even Madam?) Charen opens her article recounting the Groucho Marx joke in Duck Soup, “I didn’t come here to be insulted.” – “Oh really? Where do you usually go?” It seems that she was insulted or offended by what she found in Scotland. Oh dear. However shall I sleep at night?

She claims that Scotland is “Modern Scotland is deep-dyed in socialism.” – oh I wish – before going on to claim that “The Scottish parliament, revived in 1998 in the hope that a measure of self-rule would vitiate the independence movement, is dominated by parties of the left.” There are so many inaccuracies in that one sentence, I shall have to take them one by one.

For a start, Scotland voted for a devolved Scottish Parliament in 1997, not 1998, and the first elections for the Scottish Parliament took place in 1999. It is not, contrary to what many claim, the pre-1707 Parliament of Scotland revived. That parliament was wholly sovereign over all of Scotland’s affairs. The devolved parliament is a whole new body where the people are sovereign over an agreed number of governmental posts devolved down to Scotland.

It may be true that the Scottish parliament was meant to “vitiate” the call for independence. The very make-up of the Scottish Parliament voting system was meant to ensure that no party could form a majority and thereby, to use the words of the parliament’s first First Minister Donald Dewar “kill independence dead”. However, as far back as 1976 the Scottish National Party (SNP), in their campaign for the first devolution referendum in 1979, touted devolution as the first step to independence. In the 2011 Scottish Parliamentary election the unthinkable (unthinkable to the unionists that is) happened when the Scottish electorate, tired of lies and failed promises from the Labour Party, who once dominated Scotland, returned an SNP government to the devolved parliament with an overwhelming majority. Previously safe Labour seats fell like dominoes as the SNP swept the board in 2011, but they could only do so through the sovereign will of the Scottish people. Ms Charen would do well to remember that – when she attacks the parliament, she attacks the people; all of us.

It is not true however, as Mona Charen seems to be alluding to (and which some Labourites would have you believe) that the Scottish Parliament was somehow ‘given’ to Scotland by Donald Dewar and his then London boss Tony Blair. It was a long struggle by many good people, both nationalist and unionist, who tirelessly campaigned for devolution. As I said above, there had been an earlier referendum in 1979. This referendum did indeed return a 52% majority in favour of devolution. However, the Westminster government had ruled that 40% of the electorate must vote, and that any spoiled papers would be counted as a “no” vote. When the electoral turnout was found to be around 36%, the referendum was considered null and void. Many Scots rightfully felt cheated by this and there followed a long campaign for devolution, which included a day and night vigil in the centre of Edinburgh which lasted 1980 days. The dark days of Thatcherism (that’s right Mona, we didn’t like Thatcher) and the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, John Major, convinced the Scots that enough was enough. So it was that in 1997, after being pushed into it, Tony Blair’s government held a second referendum on devolution, in which 74% voted in favour, representing over 60% of the electorate.

Mona continues, “The Scottish National Party, which favors (in addition to separation from England) “free” education through university, unilateral nuclear disarmament, steeply progressive taxation and the “eradication” of poverty, holds 65 of 129 seats. Labour, the Liberal Democrats and a couple of green parties hold 47 seats, while the conservatives claim just 15. Of the 51 members of the House of Commons representing Scottish constituencies, exactly one is a conservative.”

Well for a start, the SNP are not a leftist or socialist party. Certainly they are ‘left of centre’ but the fact that many progressive SNP policies lean more towards the left than the Labour Party is more to the credit of the former and the shame of the latter than down to anything else. Yes, the SNP stand for free education. That is deeply supported by the vast majority of the Scottish electorate and always has been, even before devolution. In fact, even under the auspices of the Treaty of Union of 1707, Scotland retained her own eduction system, which was to produce some of the finest minds and greatest advances in the world. Yet the idea of free education was not based originally in universities but rather in children’s schools. It was actually, of all people – and this may surprise even many Scots – the Protestant firebrand and leader of the Scottish Reformation John Knox who first instituted free schooling for children in Scotland. Of course, John Knox had his own agenda. He had children taught reading and writing, using the Bible as a basis. However, that was an idea which not only worked but was adopted by peoples elsewhere in the world, notably – errmmm – early settlers in America. The entire idea of churches doubling as schools in America – thereby offering a free eduction – and US faith schools of today, can be traced right back to John Knox.

Free education is also something most Scots see as a fundamental human right, and one which we will never give up without a struggle. Ms Charen would also do well to note that those in Scottish politics who criticise free education all got their university degrees at the taxpayer’s expense. In Scotland we believe in putting your money where your mouth is and that those who thus got a free education should pay for that before attempting to “pull up the ladder” from the next generation.

Yes, the vast majority of Scots do indeed support unilateral disarmament. Countless polls on the matter have always shown that. The simple fact is that we have Weapons of Mass Destruction, illegal under international law, stationed in our waters and at a base in our country. We have convoys of nuclear warheads delivered to that base by road on a regular basis. All this has been imposed upon Scotland by the Westminster government, wholly against our wishes. Apart from defying the democratic wish of the Scottish people, this also puts Scotland directly in the front line of even a limited nuclear conflict. Some of us are old enough to recall Reagan and Gorbachev crazily talking of fighting a limited nuclear war in the European theatre. Scotland would be used as a pawn in any such exchange and that gives one the impression that we are seen as expendable. It is a stark echo of what General Wolfe said to the Scots at the Battle of Quebec in 1759, “We’ll send you in first. If you fall, it is no great loss.” Of course, we are also multilateralist and would love to see an end to all nuclear weapons. But a great many of us live by the wisdom of Lao Tzu, “The journey of thousand miles starts with a single step.” The bombing of PanAm 103 over Lockerbie and the abortive bombing of Glasgow Airport have also clearly shown that in the modern day “War against Terror”, nuclear weapons are no defence. But then, the USA should have learned the truth of that when the largest stockpiles of WMD in the world did not protect US citizens from the terrible events of 11 September 2001. Scotland has also showed overwhelming opposition to UK/US adventurism in many parts of the globe and have no wish to be part of illegal blood-for-oil wars. We’ll leave the killing to Whitehall and the Pentagon – they are so much better at it than we are.

The SNP are not the party of “steeply progressive taxation” for the simple fact that most taxation is not a devolved issue. Revenue and taxation is largely reserved to the Westminster parliament. In fact, it may interest Mona Charen to learn that Council Tax, which pays for local services, has been frozen by SNP administrations for the past six years, and one of the parties protesting that are the Conservative Party. Compare this to the Conservative government in Westminster who increased Value Added Tax (VAT – similar to a purchase tax) from 17.5% to 20% in 2011. This is the same Conservative government which is implementing tax cuts for the financiers who created the recession, while hitting the poorest hardest.

And yes, most Scots want the “eradication of poverty”. I see absolutely no fault in that and can only wonder why Ms Charen should put that statement in quotes. Scotland has some of the most dire poverty in Europe and that is largely down to misrule from Westminster. If it takes money to help even one out of poverty, particularly if that one is a child, then most of us think that is money well spent.

And gosh, we only have one Conservative in Westminster and 15 in the devolved parliament. That is because frankly the Conservatives are not welcome here. We remember all too well that it was Margaret Thatcher’s disastrous policies which closed our coal mines, our steelworks, our shipyards, our entire manufacturing base. We also recall that it was the same government which instituted the hated Community Charge (aka the Poll Tax) upon Scotland one year before England. We further do not forget that when the other parties came together in the Scottish Constitutional Convention before devolution, it was the Conservatives who refused to join and actively opposed devolution. In fact, if the Conservatives had the courage of their convictions, they would not field candidates for a devolved parliament which they so strongly opposed the forming of. As it is, the only safe Tory seat in Scotland is lavatory seat (and I wouldn’t be too sure even then).

But it is with the shows she did not even attend at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe which Mona Charen is most horrified. Quoting reviews in that well-known Scottish radical journal, ermmm, The Scotsman, Ms Charen attacked “The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning”, “Bin Laden: The One Man Show”, “Bonk!”, “Nick Helm: One Man Mega Myth”, “The Extremists” and “Eastend Caberet: Dirty Talk”, which Ms Charen castigated either through her claims of them being anti-American, or purely because she does not like the content, apparently based on her own puritanical views about sex.

As I said Mona Charen, by her own admission, never even went to see these shows but somehow feels qualified to criticise them, and Scotland as a whole, based upon Newspaper reviews. I’ve not seen most of them myself but I certainly know that the case of Bradley Manning is topical, and thereby should be a valid topic for criticism. Bin Laden: The One Man Show, which I have seen previously is actually parody and irony, but I take it that level of humour is too sophistocated for Mona Charen. Similarly The Extremists is not anti-American but in fact examines conspiracy theory. That is not common to the USA and I would suggest to Ms Charen that the USA is not the world. And if it is criticism, I am sure that Uncle Sam is big enough and ugly enough to take it on the chin.

As to the other shows mentioned above, Mona Charen appears to dislike them because of what she appears to see as ‘sleazy’ sexual content. One can only be thankful she never noticed one of the most popular shows at the Fringe for many years now, “The Ladyboys of Bangkok”. No doubt she would have had an apoplectic fit, as we can see from another show she saved her final broadside for; “I Brake for Traditional Marriage” which apparently features someone so opposed to same sex marriage that he “shoots his wife and daughter before stabbing his mother-in-law with an ice pick and driving into a pedestrian.” This show is apparently by an American incidentally, but given the fact that Ms Charen has singled it out speaks volumes about her own puritanical views. Well Mona, despite your views, we will soon have same sex marriage in Scotland. Take that to the bank and cash it Honey.

Mona Charen bemoans the “leftist tripe and cultural waste” and bemoans that “We’ve come a long way from the “bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomand”.” Well, I for one have no idea where ‘Loch Lomand’ is or if that bears any relation to Loch Lomond. I suspect however that herein lies her problem. Mona Charen seems to be an ill-educated reporter whose tartan-tinted perception of Scotland through is of a Bonnie Prince Shortbried Tin, Brigadoon backwater. Well, sorry to disappoint you Mona but most men here don’t go about in kilts or paint our faces blue. We are a modern evolving nation, whom many seek to be a free and equal member in the community of nations, where we can share our input and innovations with the world, and learn and accept from others in return.

I make no apologies for Ms Charen’s perception that “relentless leftism goes almost entirely unrebutted” in Scotland. It is something we are not ashamed of but which a great many of us take a great deal of pride in. Scotland has a long and proud tradition of radical thinking going back centuries which will not be denied, as has been witnessed by some of the greatest social reformers and thinkers in history.

From Thomas Muir of Huntershill – an 18th century Advocate (lawyer) who founded the Scottish Friends of the People, to Dennis Canavan – an independent left-wing MSP, highly respected by the public and politicians of many colours, the Scots have long been at the forefront of radical and socialist thinking. Keir Hardie (founder of the Labour Party), John Maxton, John Maclean, James Connolly, Naomi Mitchison, Tom Johnston, Mick McGahey, Jimmy Reid, Willie Macrae, Margo Macdonald, Tommy Sheridan, Colin Fox – all radicals, socialists or communists and all Scots. Even when the Conservatives were enjoying their highest popularity in Scotland in the 1950s, at the same time the constituency of East Fife returned Willie Gallagher to parliament – the only Communist to have sat in the House of Commons.

In my view, and that of many Scots, that is not something to be ashamed of, it is something to be proud of. For as another radical thinker Scotland produced, whom Mona Charen would no doubt consider one of those scary socialists, once wrote,

For a’ that and a’ that,
it’s coming yet for a’ that;
that man tae man the warld ower,
Shall brithers be for a’ that.

(Robert Burns, Is There for Honest Poverty)

Mona Charen’s laughable diatribe can be read here:

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