SR Forum, by John Scott
In his recent SR article, Gerry Hassan writes that: ‘across too many areas, Scotland is not going in the right direction’. He also laments the poverty of thinking which has come from the two main left-of-centre political parties, Labour and SNP. On both counts, I am in agreement. However, the responsibility for the failures of the dominant Scottish Left go far beyond two political parties. It is now almost five years since the independence referendum. In the months and years running up to the vote, there was a huge outpouring of political discussion and writing. Overwhelmingly, it came from the Left. The public was, to an unusual extent, actively engaged in this process.
In terms of putting Scotland in the ‘right direction’, what was achieved? Sadly, I would say very little. Where original ideas were discussed, such as on land reform, most of the public showed little interest. On the issues which normally dominate elections, such as economic prospects, schooling, the NHS and policing, almost nothing worthwhile was produced. Of the large number of books produced, how many are still worth reading? Again, it’s difficult to be positive. This amounts to an intellectual failure and not merely that of one or two large political parties.
At the heart of this failure, two factors stand out. First, radical change in Scotland, such as the Left purports to support, would involve disruptive change which would work against the interests of a significant number of Scots. There is no external source of wealth which would allow Scotland to become fairer and more equal without the creation of economic losers from the existing middle class. In consequence, there is no stomach for such change among the voters and – I suspect – many commentators.
Second, there is an absence of creative thinking. It is entirely acceptable to speak of a lack of talent in Scottish football. Drawing attention to a similar dearth of talent in Scottish political thinking appears taboo. The most impressive book I read at the time of the referendum was by Jim Sillars, who is now well into his eighth decade. Whether Scotland remains in the UK or becomes independent, it is unlikely to change for the better until this state of
affairs alters. It is unlikely to alter till it is acknowledged.