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’.Views: 4280
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