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The stony road from social democracy to nationalism

As a fully paid up member of the political classes, moving seamlessly from university to professional politics without ever passing through real life, Mhairi Black would probably recognise the name of Karl Kautsky. The disputes between Kautsky and Lenin over the role of nationalism and national interests versus internationalism are a staple of any left wing education. For a professional politician like Mhairi (she can hardly complain about the professional politician jibe – she used it against Douglas Alexander) such questions, of how it can be socialist to demand much higher levels of government subsidy for the hard working people of Berwickshire as opposed to the hard working people of Berwick upon Tweed (because of the Barnett formula) in the name of nationalism should be meat and drink.

You can’t have missed the chorus of Twitter love for Ms Black. Effortlessly, she has claimed for her party the mantle of the left alternative to Toryism; what her more uncritical supporters have failed to do is ask if all her party actually want that mantle.

If you’re at all interested in political history the rise to fame of Mairi Black has parallels closer to home than World War One and the left wing factions of central Europe. Does Mhairi Black ponder the life story of Margo Macdonald, for instance? As a member of the SNP and the proud possessor of a first class degree from Glasgow Mhairi should know the story, and doubtless she can explain why she won’t be rejected as comprehensively by the SNP as the undoubtedly socialist Macdonald was.

As a woman, Mhairi might like to explain where she stands on the issue of sex work as well. The SNP has supported the creation of Police Scotland, and supported the homogenization of police policy on sex work, leading to repeated attempts by Police Scotland to get saunas in Edinburgh closed. Does Mhairi think sex workers should be forced onto the street? And does she dare disagree with the majority in the SNP, risking, like Margo Macdonald, expulsion and rejection by the SNP? These lines from one of Margo’s obituaries might usefully be carved on Mhairi’s desk at Westminster

“Convinced that nationalism was as much about personal liberty as freedom for the Scottish nation, she twice left the [SNP] — under duress in 1982 when its leaders lost patience with her Left-wing 79 Group; and again before the 2003 Holyrood elections, sitting for her final two terms as an Independent.

Margo MacDonald was uncomfortably far to the Left for a party establishment she branded “tartan Tories”, but the SNP found it hard to live without her charisma…”

Margo Macdonald walked the stony road from socialism to nationalism, killing off the embryonic Scottish Labour Party in the process through her alliance with Jim Sillars. Yes, the same Jim Sillars who hails Mhairi Black, even though he himself dismissed the SNP, just three years ago as a totalitarian and intellectually dumb party. Sillars has been an articulate critic of Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon, yet come the 2015 election he fell back into line, and, terrified to step off the stony road, decided to back a vote for the self same party he denounced just a few years ago as totalitarian and intellectually dumb. He lavished praise on Mhairi Black too; in a curious gesture resonant of political ancestor worship Margo’s daughter gave Mhairi Black her tartan scarf to wear during the campaign.

For left nationalists like Sillars and Margo Macdonald nationalism was intrinsically linked to the idea that the nationalist road offered better prospects for the journey towards a decent, and in Margo’s case, libertarian socialism. The reality of that journey though is Sillars falling into line and campaigning behind party leaders he denounced as totalitarian and dumb just a few years ago. This was always the case; if your principal aim is to attain power, why would you split a party that can attain power on a mere issue of principle?

The problem with the stony road of nationalism for those of the left is that what seems like a short cut seems all too often end in a cul de sac; Margo Macdonald escaped the cul de sac by becoming a broadcaster and then ultimately an Independent MSP, Dowager Duchess of all she surveyed in Scottish politics, but ultimately powerless. Is that the role Mhairi Black envisages for herself? Even Margo Macdonald could not bring herself to make the argument that what was needed in Scotland was not one SNP, but two; one making the case for a libertarian social democracy, the other making the Tartan Tory case for intellectually dumb nationalism. Once you make the choice that party unity is more important than principled politics, the stony road stops being a journey to freedom and becomes the road to political purgatory. Margo Macdonald chose to be an independent to avoid that trap;one wonders if Mhairi Black will face the same choices and decide to accept the lessons of history.


5 comments on “The stony road from social democracy to nationalism

  1. reecemjones
    July 15, 2015

    Reblogged this on Braindroppings and commented:
    An interesting piece on the SNP and its history of flirting with being ‘Tartan Tories’, especially given the videos of Mhairi Black ‘s speech flying around social media.


    • jemima2013
      July 15, 2015

      I have to say I loved the speech, but in Carters greater historical knowledge, and cyncism i do sense a lot of warnings that we would do well to heed.


      • reecemjones
        July 15, 2015

        Indeed. It was a great speech. But as you said, history can inform us what may come of it.


  2. Cath
    July 15, 2015

    Seems somewhat misleading to suggest that Mhairi Black hasn’t passed through real life, as a young woman who has worked a number of low pay ‘normal’ jobs while being educated in a state school, also volunteering for local charities. She grew up in an area of deprivation and essentially is more ‘real life’ and accessible than most MPs, where ‘real life’ experience usually means safe middle class home, school, uni, graduate professional job then politics if you are lucky. For those who have met her she’s pretty much a normal working class Glaswegian with rare political talents at an early age.


    • cartertheblogger
      July 15, 2015

      Thanks for your comment. My view is that if you live by the sword you die by the sword, and it was Mhairi who used the professional politician jibe at her opponent. There’s something worryingly workerist about your rejection of the ‘real life’ experiences of people from ‘safe middle class homes.’ The reality is that just like Douglas Alexander Mhairi is a state school kid chosen at an early age by her party to be groomed for a career in politics who plays up her ‘ordinarines’s to present the right image. If the only thing you can find to take issue with is a jibe at Mhairi using her own language then, frankly, you should try harder.
      As for rare political talents, a few speeches and an election victory in a landslide are not actually evidence of political talent.


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This entry was posted on July 15, 2015 by in Uncategorized.

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