Behind the slogan

A glittering generality is an emotionally appealing phrase with such powerful positive associations that it carries conviction without supporting evidence or argument. As with all simplistic sloganeering, we should be aware of – and wary of – the manipulative power of glittering generalities. Banal jingoism has been intrinsic to politics since at least the time of the great Greek orators. But that means only that we have no excuse for having failed to develop some resistance to the beguiling blandishments of professional political operators.

‘Together we’re stronger’ is the glittering generality adopted by British Labour in Scotland (BLiS) for its spring conference in Perth later this month. Commenting in the grotesquely misnamed Scotsman, Ross McCafferty observes that this “looks like it came straight from the No campaign in the 2014 independence referendum”. He considers that this choice of slogan might be a bad thing or a worse thing depending on whether it is intended as a “catch-all plea to end divisiveness” or an attempt by BLiS to “reclaim the mantle of opposition by firmly displaying their unionist credentials”. I would suggest that it is both. And even more ill-thought than Mr McCafferty supposes for that reason.

Debate rages in Scottish politics on the question of whether the leadership of BLiS is endowed with an ear of cloth, or of tin. It could be either. While that ear remains stubbornly deaf to the Scottish electorate and much of the pretendy wee party’s own membership, it is uncommonly receptive to the insidious whispering of worm-tongued Tories. Eagerness to adopt the Tories’ agenda now competes with mindless hatred of the SNP as the defining characteristic of British Labour in Scotland. Whatever Ruth Davidson is saying today, Kezia Dugdale will be saying tomorrow, with just a little token reworking by her spin-quacks.

It is not, as Ross McCafferty insists, the SNP which has focused obsessively on the constitutional question. One of the more entertaining features of British political journalism is the way in which the claim that Nicola Sturgeon has “continued to make constitutional politics a high priority” alternate with – and on occasion are accompanied by – the assertion that the First Minister has put independence ‘on the back burner’. Or, indeed, abandoned the cause of independence altogether! Outside the silly contradictions and logic-bending inconsistencies of the ‘cosy consensus’, it is hardly surprising that the constitutional issue still looms large in Scottish politics. The first referendum settled nothing. The British media must accept its share of responsibility for the fact that the outcome of that referendum cannot possibly be regarded as an informed choice.

But it is Ruth Davidson who is most responsible for making the division between Yes and No camps the dominant electoral issue. It was her decision to fight the 2016 Holyrood election on a platform of hard-line British nationalism which did most to redefine our politics as a British/Scottish contest rather than the traditional Left/Right split. And Kezia Dugdale has followed Davidson onto the ground of increasingly fervent British nationalism as if on a choke-chain.

The new BLiS slogan does indeed hark back to the dark days of their alliance with the Tories in Better Together/Project Fear. it does so in two ways. In part, it simply echoes the ominously Fascist-sounding urge to seek strength in unity. This obsession with being ‘stronger’ in some ill-defined way and for no clearly stated purpose was one of the messages that featured prominently in British establishment propaganda. Recall all the talk about Scotland ‘punching above its weight’ as part of the UK. Which, in more inquiring minds, always prompted questions about who we were punching; why we were punching them; and who got to decide such things.

We might also note in passing that this professed desire for unity sits rather oddly with the isolationist, nativist British nationalism that British Labour both opposes and votes for at Westminster. It’s not easy trying to reconcile the appearance of principled socialist internationalism with the reality of expedient ‘One Nation’ populism.

As well as alluding to the facile ‘bigger is better’ message of Better Together/Project Fear, the new BLiS slogan also makes reference to what was almost certainly British Labour’s most asinine argument during the first referendum campaign. The ‘socialist solidarity’ line held that to vote Yes was to abandon the poor and the powerless of England to the Tories. More intellectually acute individuals were immediately prompted to wonder whether it was not just a little insulting to those people in England to suggest that they needed to be rescued from their own electoral choices by the people of Scotland. Many also noted that this argument appeared to suggest that socialist solidarity is necessarily constrained by administrative and/or jurisdictional borders. A suggestion likely to have induced some energetic grave-spinning on the part of early socialist pioneers.

Ross McCafferty is right about one thing. We can be absolutely sure that “politicians put an awful lot of thought into their conference themes”. So we have to assume that British Labour in Scotland intended that their chosen slogan would convey the twin themes of fatuous faux socialism and the dogma of ‘The Union At Any Cost’.

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11 thoughts on “Behind the slogan

  1. bringiton

    They aren’t going to win any supporters in Scotland telling us that we are Stronger,Better Together with England’s xenophobic right wing Tories,except for those optimists who think that at some distant point in the future a Labour government will be elected in England which will reverse all the nasty policies.
    How did that work out the last time there was a Labour government in Westminster?
    Only Tories and idiots now support the union with England,on second thoughts let’s just leave it at idiots.

  2. Cuilean

    Is Scotland a murmuration of starlings or a herd of antelope, that we must, like panicked prey, group unthinkingly en masse to survive?

    And just who or what is preying upon Scotland or sees us as a threat?

    The Westminster Establishment or the EU?

    We all know the answer to that, as demonstrated in Westminster this week (and for every week to come, until we are free of their so called equal partnership).

  3. Sandy

    A glittering generality? Does that mean Scottish labour have now learned to polish a turd until it sparkles?

  4. Jockanese Wind Talker

    It seems that despite all the ‘listening exercises’ BLiS are still the ones who are

    “None so deaf as those that will not hear. None so blind as those that will not see.”

    Only in an iScotland can a real Scottish Labour Party exist.

    BLiS continue to make the same mistakes and in doing so prove that they are still Red Tory Blairites and that their priorities are still

    1. Their own personal wellbeing, 2. The Union, 3. The Labour Party and 4. The Electorate.

    Together we’re stronger?

    No BLiS, Together we the Electorate in Scotland are f*cked and will be at he mercy of perpetual Tory Governments at Westminster uninhibited by EU Laws, standards or Human Rights while you either acquiesce willingly or abstain cowardly.

  5. Kat hamilton

    Can’t believe how labour can’t understand their downfall and pitiful ratings since Indy 1. …the public know they are shysters and have sold out any principles they had many years ago…have worshipped at the altar of greed and self importance for decades and have been truly rumbled by the electorate for what they are..Kezia may stand under the banner of hard unionism, better together mark 2, but the voters will deal with her in a similar way to her predecessor, Jim Murphy and will face th same fate ultimately….yes there’s a market sadly for ruth Harrison’s brand of delusional unionism, but that position has been taken already Kezia as you will soon find out to your cost.theres none so blind that cannot see….

    1. David MacGille-Mhuire

      La Dug and Der Tank Commander, the twa faces of the Brit Janus in their province, as they and their British overlords seem to see it, of Jockistan (with The Bearded One, Mundell, and Oor Wullie Rennie carrying their Butcher’s Apron handbags).

      Ah, but there’s now an elephant in their cosmetic ointment after the rank and rampant Brexit votes shenanigans at WM, this week: Mass hysterical, xenophobic suicide by the hermit crabs of Little Englander Britisher exceptionalism which may, yet, end, God help us, in more than tears apropos the European project and the world at large.

      However and ODE TO JOY, we Scots-European citizens shall leave them to their cultic acts of mass seppuku (harakiri) and get on with embracing our brothers and sisters from wherever they come from in the wider world of our planet.

      Ode to Joy…

  6. Geejay

    “The ‘socialist solidarity’ line held that to vote Yes was to abandon the poor and the powerless of England to the Tories.” and to vote NO was to abandon Scottish people to the Tories (or the Tory-lite party).

    1. Bibbit

      Geejay – since when it has been demonstrated at both the 2015 General Election and the Brexit vote on 23 June 2016, that ‘the poor and the powerless of England’ are voting for UKIP

  7. Puzzled Puss

    It occurs to me that Labour’s latest slogan could very easily be hijacked by putting it on a blue background with a circle of European gold stars round it. Just a thought……

  8. Dorothy Bruce

    Together we’re stronger. Didn’t last long. Scottish Labour didn’t stand by their own slogan, for while they were busy voting against the triggering of Article 50, in Westminster the rest of the party was falling over itself to vote for it and hand the Tories a blank cheque to do what they want in the next couple of decades. There’s no together and there’s no stronger, just a party wandering in the wilderness, slowly dying of thirst.

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