I offer Henry McLeish another quote from RH Tawney,
When men have gone so far as to talk as though their idols have come to life, it is time that someone broke them.
I’m afraid Henry is idolising British Labour in Scotland (BLiS). He asks how BLiS can be saved. He never wonders whether it should be. He envisages BLiS finding a new role in Scotland’s politics by “re-engaging with the constitutional debate in a more positive way”. He doesn’t question whether this is even possible. He talks of federalism as if it were a potential way of resolving the constitutional issue. He fails to see that devolution within an asymmetric political union is the problem, rather than the solution. He doesn’t seem to understand that any devolution measure – including a federal arrangement – which succeeds in terms of the aims and objectives of the British state necessarily fails in terms of the priorities and aspirations of Scotland’s people.
Distil down Henry McLeish’s argument and what do you find? The essence of it is that he seeks the salvation “Scottish Labour” within the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state. It is only within that system that British Labour ever had any relevance, and Henry appears to suppose that relevance can be regained simply by having the party develop a creed as defined by Tawney. Let’s remind ourselves of that most apt definition of a creed.
A common conception of the ends of political action, and of a means of achieving them, based on a common view of the life proper to human beings, and of the steps required at any moment more nearly to attain it.
Unfortunately for Henry’s ambition, such a creed cannot exist within the British state. It cannot inform those structures of power, privilege and patronage because it is anathema to the established authority which is sustained by those structures. Tawney’s creed would disrupt and destroy the British political system. So it is utterly rejected by those who profit by that system.
And this is not mere speculation. We know for a fact that a creed of the sort described above cannot co-exist with the other elements of the British political system. We know this because we see the British establishment’s reaction to this creed in the way it treats the SNP.
Tawney’s definition of a creed will ring true to any member of the SNP. That “common view of the life proper to human beings” lies at the heart of the party’s philosophy. If you want to see a “common conception of the ends of political action”, just look at an SNP conference. Listen to the speeches and you will hear a passionate discussion of “the steps required at any moment more nearly to attain” that “life proper to human beings”.
And how are those who adhere to this creed treated by the British establishment? They are vilified and demonised. The British establishment’s response to democratically elected representatives of this creed was akin to an organism’s reaction to a virus. The Westminster elite immediately sought to isolate and quarantine SNP MPs as if dealing with an infection. The British state’s immune system was triggered by the 2015 election. Like antibodies, the media attacked the intruders with a vigour and vehemence that naturally elevated the temperature of the body politic.
That is how established power deals with any doctrine which it perceives as a threat. The creed described by Tawney cannot flourish within the British state that Henry McLeish wishes to preserve. Not only is he commending to BLiS something which is already an option for voters in Scotland, he is asking that they adopt a set of principles which are deemed detestable by the British state and treated accordingly.
For all that, there is hope that this creed might thrive in an independent Scotland. We can reasonably suppose that it would because the electoral success of the SNP suggests that, despite the efforts of the British state’s propaganda machine, people are drawn to a principled pragmatism which draws heavily on Tawney’s idea of a political creed.
Maybe it’s time for Henry McLeish to realise that there is no way to “solve a problem like Scottish Labour”. Perhaps he and others should rethink their reverence for BLiS and acknowledge that there simply isn’t a place for it in Scotland’s politics. There is no unoccupied niche in our developing political environment. British Labour is a creature of the dark, shadowy British jungle. It cannot survive in the ‘sunny uplands’ of a political culture that is striving for Tawney’s ideal.Views: 2014
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