The power to change

I’m not sure why Robin McAlpine was “startled” by Nicola Sturgeon’s “sudden uncritical evangelising for globalisation and free market capitalism”. It was, after all, precisely what he went looking for. It was what he was determined to find, regardless of what Nicola Sturgeon actually said.

Note that Robin declines to extract a quote from Sturgeon’s speech to the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute. Why is that? Perhaps it’s because the relevant section of her address – under the heading ‘Importance of inclusive growth’ – is rather inconvenient to his thesis. A few lines from that section will suffice to illustrate the point.

“In my view, this focus on inclusive growth, as it is often known, is – first and foremost – a matter of basic morality. Everyone in any society should have a fair chance to fulfil their potential.”


“There is strong evidence that inequality in western economies, has harmed growth. The UK is a good example.”


“There is no point in telling people to fear change, if their current circumstances don’t inspire hope.”

If that doesn’t quite come across to you as “uncritical evangelising for globalisation” then you have a problem. The problem is that you’re thinking for yourself, and not just accepting Robin’s hypercritical demonising of political effectiveness.

Robin is a lovely guy. I would have no hesitation in counting him among the most significant political thinkers in Scotland today. His is an important voice. But Robin has a problem with power.

There is a reason why the left consistently fails to effect the changes that it demands. Basically, they don’t trust anybody with power. They are not prepared to entrust power to anyone. Their instant, instinctive response to any exercise of power is to protest its use and insist that the power is in the wrong hands. For self-styled radicals, power is not something to be deployed in order to achieve a particular goal, it is something to be removed to prevent any possible misuse.

The left is ineffective because it rejects the very concept of political effectiveness.

Those of us who prefer principled pragmatism to righteous dogma look at Nicola Sturgeon’s remarks regarding globalisation and see, not “uncritical evangelising”, but a measured critique of a prevailing system that will only be changed by judicious, intelligent use of the effective political power that is anathema to Robin.

In his eagerness to flaunt his non-SNP credentials by sniping at Nicola Sturgeon, Robin forgets a hugely important fact. Sturgeon is the leader of a party that is unequivocally and unconditionally committed to restoring the power of democratically elected national parliaments. The SNP exists primarily to affirm and defend the sovereignty of Scotland’s people. But this necessarily implies a more general – one might say a global – commitment to the principle of popular sovereignty within nation states.

Nation states, it must be stressed, not as isolated, defensive units jealously guarding their identity and interests by the accumulation of relative wealth and power at the expense of others; but national states as a means of compartmentalising political and economic power in precisely the way that is, by definition, superseded by globalisation.

In its very essence, the SNP represents the antithesis of globalisation defined as “a specific form of capitalism in which trade is not done across borders but over the top of them”.

In the words of Kenny MacAskill, “I’m tired marching!”. I’m tired protesting injustice and inequality. I want the power to do something about it. I’m tired of being told that injustice and inequality must be tolerated a while yet because giving someone the power to do something about it is just too risky.

I’m tired of campaigning to restore Scotland’s rightful constitutional status only to be told that this must be deferred indefinitely because nobody can ever be trusted with the effective political power to achieve it.

I’m tired of the moral cowardice which prefers the easy comfort of honourable failure to the responsibility of success.

Let the righteous radicals sit in a corner warming themselves in the glow of their precious principles against the cold blast of a global corporate mono-culture and the dank chill of a post-democratic British state. I want to do something effective. As I look around me, I see no better political weapon to wield than the SNP. Don’t ask me to throw that away.

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11 thoughts on “The power to change

  1. Sue Rooney

    Thanks Peter. This has articulated for me why I find some of Robin’s views offputting. Like you, I have a great deal of respect for his views and ideas, and I had thought his distancing from the SNP was largely due to the wish to keep Common Weal out of the party political arena. But your article has given a different perspective on what drives this distancing, one I find a little worrying as I believe it could blind him to pragmatic ways to make progress. There will be no big bang, no smorgesboord of radical new ideas which can be implemented in a oner and jettison Scotland into a self determining, locally democratised society overnight.
    Let’s keep the bigger picture in mind (Robin is fantastic at creating visions for the future) and work out a practical plan for getting there that takes the population of Scotland with us. Right now that’s an SNP-led government.

    1. Peter A Bell Post author

      Thanks, Susan. As I never tire of saying, BEING an independent nation is our children’s responsibility, BECOMING and independent nation is our responsibility.

  2. Clachangowk


    I could not agree more.

    When i think of Rise and SSP sniping away at the SNP prior to the Holyrood election ( where are they now); ditto for Jim Sillars whenever he speaks; negative comments about the SNP at local Common Weal meetings.

    I sometimes think they would be happier to have the Tories in power at Holyrood so they could give full vent to their anger without the danger of ever having to take control themselves

  3. Bugger le Panda

    Yes, a more nuanced version of Baldwin’s famous riposte:

    “The newspapers attacking me are not newspapers in the ordinary sense,” Baldwin said.

    “They are engines of propaganda for the constantly changing policies, desires, personal vices, personal likes and dislikes of the two men. What are their methods? Their methods are direct falsehoods, misrepresentation, half-truths, the alteration of the speaker’s meaning by publishing a sentence apart from the context…What the proprietorship of these papers is aiming at is power, and power without responsibility – the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages.”

  4. Dan Huil

    Well said, Peter. Scotland’s independence movement and its supporters, of all political “wings”, must be pragmatic in order to be successful. First things first: an end to the union with England.

  5. David MacGille-Mhuire

    The gentleman in question seems to be a Trot and, thus, does what Trots seem to do, Mr Tariq Ali excepted, carp and whine in the self-assumed garb of a Gadarene Swine martyr seeking center stage attention.

    An influential political thinker? I think not. Matthew Lygate and John MacLean would have had him for a pre-breakfast snack. Paulo Friere might have been kinder and deferred his consumption until desert after lunch.

    A few of his type about battening onto the Scottish mass movement in an opportunistic fashion and of whom we need to ca’ canny.

  6. Gordon Bickerton

    Are they still sore at having to get off their butts and organise themselves to take advantage of the SNP hordes at the SECC? The exhibitors area was diminished by their absence, but I’m with the SNP when they argued that they had to cover their costs. The Science Centre was buzzing when I visited, so they proved they could attract the crowds. Why oh why do they not argree Indy 1st, debate government shape after.
    Is it all about ego for them?

  7. Clydebuilt

    “I want to do something effective. As I look around me, I see no better political weapon to wield than the SNP”.

    Says it for me

    One of your best posts….

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