Compass loses its bearings in Scotland

June 8, 2016 at 7:42 pm (apologists and collaborators, capitulation, grovelling, labour party, posted by JD, reformism, scotland, SNP)

By Dale Street (also at the Workers Liberty website)

Well, it probably seemed a good idea at the time.

On 31 May Neal Lawson – chairperson of the “influential left-wing think tank” Compass – penned an open letter to the SNP calling for a “progressive alliance” with the Labour Party.

The letter might best be described as obsequious (synonyms: servile, ingratiating, unctuous, toadying, oily, greasy, grovelling and oleaginous). Its tone evokes that of someone fallen on hard times trying to tap a loan:

“Most esteemed Sirs! Mindful of your legendary munificence, I turn to you in my hour of need. Struck down by the vagaries of fate, I would humbly request a modest contribution from your financial largesse, to see me through until payday. I remain, your obedient servant, Neal.”

Lawson thinks he knows which buttons to press in his letter to the “progressive” (sic) SNP.

He writes “as a Londoner”. (You can smell the sackcloth and ashes as he typed that phrase.) He refers to “your country”. (Even though, as confirmed by the 2014 referendum, Lawson inhabits the same country as the SNP.)

Adopting the language of the SNP – Look! I’m really one of you! – he denounces the unholy trinity of “English Tory rule, the Daily Mail and the City of London”. (As chairperson of a think tank, Lawson probably found it too vulgar to go the whole hog and inveigh against “Westmonster” rule.)

Lawson professes to being “jealous of the political conversation you had as a nation over independence” and the consequent “rise in political consciousness”. But, Lawson continues, it’s time to move on. It cannot be a matter of independence or nothing.

“We have a duty to go around and beyond tribalism,” he writes. Another referendum is off the agenda for at least a decade. In Scotland and the rest of the UK “Labour knows they can’t win outright.” And trade unions are “shifting to embrace pluralism”.

(Momentum member Rhea Wolfson was recently denounced for supposedly having dismissed the importance of Labour winning in 2020. Labour Party member Neal Lawson goes a step further and writes off Labour’s chances completely. But maybe that’s what it takes to run an “influential” think tank.)

Ever so gently, Lawson mumbles in passing a couple of secondary concerns.

The SNP seems to have “shifted” from seeing independence as “a pragmatic tactic to build a good society” to seeing it as “an end in itself”. And SNP “party discipline” is transforming the SNP into a “machine” inappropriate for the fluidity of 21st century politics.

The solution to all this is a “progressive alliance” between the Labour Party and the SNP. “As ever,” concludes Lawson, “you must be bold and take the lead in forging a new politics. Compass is here to help.”

Lawson’s open letter achieves the rare feat of being even more ridiculous than the ritualistic calls for left unity periodically issued by the SWP.

The SWP knows that their open letters don’t deserve to be taken seriously. But Lawson – being the chairperson of an “influential” think tank – probably really does believe that his open letter constitutes the pinnacle of political acumen.

Lawson’s basic problem is simple ignorance.

The SNP is a nationalist party for which independence has always been an end in itself. To achieve that goal it wants to destroy the Scottish Labour Party and deprive trade unions of an organised political voice by securing their disaffiliation from the Labour Party.

This is something very different from trade unions “shifting to embrace pluralism”.

The referendum of 2014 saw class politics overwhelmed by nationalist grievance-mongering, nationalist scapegoating, nationalist tribalism, and nationalist irrationality. Lawson has a strange idea of what constitutes a “political conversation” worthy of envy.

The SNP is intolerant of dissent. Its MPs and MSPs are banned from making public criticism of SNP policies. Critical motions submitted to party conferences have been ruled out of order. And criticism from outwith the ranks of the SNP is denounced as “talking Scotland down”.

The reason for this intolerance is not to be found in the answer suggested by Lawson’s rhetorical question: “Is all this part of your (the SNP’s) incredible rise tapering off?” It has everything to do with the inherent nature of the SNP as a political project.

In power at Holyrood for nine years, the SNP’s policies have seen a slump in levels of educational achievement, increased class inequalities in education, cuts in NHS standards and increased waiting times, massive cuts in funding for local authorities, and subsidies for the middle classes at the price of cuts in jobs and services.

In its 2007-11 term of office the SNP relied on Tory votes when it suited them. In its referendum White Paper the only tax change promised by the SNP was a cut in corporation tax. In recent months the SNP has repeatedly voted with the Tories against a 50p tax rate for the richest.

All this – and much more – undermines Lawson’s claim that “something like Denmark on the English border” would have been the outcome of a ‘Yes’ vote in 2014.

(Yes, it’s true that Denmark has a hereditary monarchy, is a member of NATO, has seen a recent upsurge in support for populist nationalism, and is surrounded by water on three sides. But that probably isn’t what Lawson meant.)

Lawson is also blissfully unaware of the absurdity of his invocation of a “duty” to go “around and beyond tribalism”.

When the Lib-Dems won nearly 70% of the vote in the Orkney and Shetland constituencies in last month’s Holyrood elections, cybernats suggested that the islands be handed over to Norway.

Tory and Labour victories in Edinburgh in last month’s elections triggered demands by cybernats that the city’s English inhabitants be sent back to England.

And the cybernat response to the Tory victories in in Dumfries, Galloway and the Scottish Borders was to propose that the ‘border’ be redrawn so that the south of Scotland became part of England.

But there is hope on the horizon. Lawson’s letter may yet prove to be the start of a belated learning curve for its author. And the source of that potential education lies in the responses to the letter.

Lawson holds out the hand of friendship. But this is the response he gets:

“For us, it IS independence or nothing. … Why would the SNP form an alliance with a party that despises Scots? … Labour doesn’t only despise Scots. It despises everyone that is not Labour.”

“The biggest problem a progressive alliance faces in the UK is that the UK most of the time votes Tory. … Labour in Scotland is an ex-party. It has gone from dominating Scotland for 60 years to being an irrelevance on the way to total extinction.”

“I use the term ‘British Labour’ advisedly. Because it is necessary to constantly remind people that it is a British political party. A party of the British establishment.”

“There is no possibility of an alliance between British Labour and the SNP because they exist for entirely different and quite irreconcilable purposes. The SNP exists to serve the people of Scotland. British Labour exists to serve the ruling elites of the British state.”

“(Lawson wrote): It can’t just be about independence … Yes it can, if we decide that. What it can’t be is what anyone other than Scots decide it is. … Like most unionists, Lawson’s reaction can be reduced to a mixture of pique, resentment, confusion, loss, sadness and rejection.”

Lawson should also bear in mind that his article was published on Commonspace. That’s read by the ‘left wing’ of the Scottish-nationalist political spectrum. If that’s the response from the ‘left’, what would the more ‘mainstream’ nationalist response look like?

9 Comments

  1. Jim Denham said,

    Lawson has form: at last week’s Another Europe Is Possible public meeting in Brum, he was sucking up to Caroline Lucas in a nauseatingly obsequious / servile / ingratiating / unctuous / toadying / oily / greasy/ grovelling / oleaginous manner, bemoaning Labour’s decision to stand against her in Brighton.

    • John Palmer said,

      Strange Jim that you use such language to describe someone seeking friendly cooperation with one of the most progressive MPs in the entire House of Commons. I would not even approve of it where someone was exploring possible joint action with Workers Liberty. Of course Labour under Jeremy Corbyn should be open to possible future cooperation with progressive Greens, or Plaid Cymru or indeed – the SNP. But I suppose you can take comfort from the fact that your attitude on this issue is shared by the Blairite right who only want to cooperate with Liberals “One Nation” Tories.

      • Jim Denham said,

        No John: it’s a matter of working class politics vs popular frontism – you should remember the arguments from your Trotskyist training. Strange that someone so unsympathetic to Jewish nationalism in the context of what happened to them in the 20th century should be so soft on Scottish nationalism, based as it is upon petty and/or non-existent grievances nurtured by the divisive and thoroughly bourgeois SNP.

  2. Steven Johnston said,

    Yet I thought at Shiraz you were in favour of national liberation movements? Or are you just making it up as you go along?
    So now you are having a go at compass, I don’t blame you, but isn’t it all a bit rich as you will be urging us to vote Labour in 2020 and hopefully a compass-led one at that.
    As for the greens, well I thought even Brighton was sick of them. Surely they are a spent force. But at least that is one area we would all be in agreement on, green capitalism is a joke and not worth voting for.

  3. kb72 said,

    The utter delusions about the SNP, that its independence is “a pragmatic tactic to build a good society.” The SNP would like a good society, of course, but they’d take a bad society as long as they had their own seat at the UN. The English left are utterly stupid about the SNP and its raison d’etre.

    “So why is it, in the 2015 election, and even today, many of us on the left in England still entrust our faith in SNP rhetoric? Still beat the drum for an electoral ‘progressive’ coalition with a party that doesn’t seem very happy to embrace even the concept of higher taxes?
    My theory is that the SNP have successfully, indeed more successfully than any party in Britain, adopted the prime hobby of much of the Left: ‘againstism’.
    ‘Againstism’, clumsy I admit, is to be against everything. This can include a negative framing of being anti-austerity but not pro-anything in its place. But in this instance, it means to be anti-establishment. The latter, the establishment, is what Labour as a party of government always has aspired to be in competing to be the national government in Westminster – which is why elements of the Left will always hate it and will always vote against it. In a way, some of the left is suspicious of governance. This is occasionally healthy, until it prevents real progressivism from ever being elected.”

    http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/staggers/2016/05/english-left-must-fall-out-love-snp

    • Steven Johnston said,

      Kb72 there is nothing progressive about higher taxes, that is not socialism but sounds like Keynesism. Keynes himself hated Marx and was anti-semitic. This in it’s self does not mean that I reject his economic theories it is just everywhere they have been tried they have failed to solve the problems of capitalism. Maybe the SNP have realised that high taxes solve nothing? Now capitalists will only invest if they get a return on their money and I accept that high taxes may not put them off, such as low taxes are not always attractive either.
      As for the SNP ending austerity, what utter tosh, they have introduced austerity measures in Scotland, they don’t have any choice, capitalism has imposed it upon them and not Westminster.

  4. Political Tourist said,

    Pretty meaningless.
    SLAB is finished.

    • Glasgow Working Class said,

      A new working class party could emerge after the Nat sis are sussed.

      • Steven Johnston said,

        Will the CPB enter in a pact with them? As they love making deals with Nazis

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