Independence: Time for the left in Scotland to get organised

Kevin McKenna

The Herald – 11th January 2021

THE weekend brought with it yet further evidence of neo-liberalism’s stranglehold on Scottish civic life. In the Court of Session Lady Poole ruled ministers acted unlawfully in blocking a no-trawl scheme to protect Scotland’s marine environment. It’s a landmark legal judgment that will have significant bearing on fishing rights across Scotland’s inshore waters.

In a judicial review the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation (SCFF) argued that the decision to reject a proposed pilot no-trawl scheme in the Inner Sound off the Isle of Skye was unlawful. This was owing to the Scottish Government taking account only of opposition to the scheme and did not properly assess the proposal – including examining benefits and the wider issues of inshore fisheries management. Lady Poole described Marine Scotland Policy as irrational and their decision as “so unreasonable that no reasonable authority could have come to it”.

If the Scottish Government had any ounce of shame or respect for those “Scottish” values it otherwise purports to foster the Rural Economy Minister, Fergus Ewing, would be handing in his resignation this morning. On his watch Scotland’s seabed has been turned into a ploughed field and our waters, once teeming with a bio-diversity of marine life, have become barren and a Klondyke for Big Fishing.

Mr Ewing won’t resign though, because Scottish ministers get to evade responsibility for failure and incompetence unless they are considered sufficiently junior and inconsequential to be thrown overboard. Joe Fitzpatrick discovered this recently when he was made to walk the plank for a decade of failure to address Scotland’s drug crisis.

John Swinney, despite a lamentable term as Education Minister, remains intact – even after last year’s exams fiasco which exposed a class-based gerrymandering in Scotland’s educational framework which always favours pupils from private schools and those in affluent areas.

Lady Poole’s judgment in favour of the Creelers followed the SNP’s rejection late last year of any attempts to curb the rapacious activities of driven grouse moors. These have made vast areas of Scotland’s wild and beautiful environment into a theme park for rich people who like to shoot defenceless creatures.

No part of Scotland’s natural heritage on land or sea, it seems, is considered too sacred or too important if it can be exchanged for fairytale promises of unspecified jobs of questionable sustainability. Remember those breathless claims of Alex Salmond a decade ago about Scotland becoming “the Saudi Arabia of renewables”?

Thankfully, for the Scottish Government, global and UK forces keep providing opportunities for it to avert our gaze. These also give them space to pivot away from anything radical about what Scotland will look like when it gains its independence.

Boris Johnson last week bowled the SNP another gentle delivery to be swept away imperiously by a gleeful Nicola Sturgeon. The UK Prime Minister’s claim that independence would have left Scotland without access to Covid-19 vaccinations can be set alongside some of Better Together’s most vivid fictions during the first referendum on independence.

Just as ridiculous though, is the Scottish Government’s claim for billions in Brexit compensation. They know and we know it’ll never happen but it eats up valuable column inches that might otherwise be devoted to something more relevant to the real lives of Scots. An over-arching framework of grievance is being constructed here: if only Scotland could be part of the EU we could do so many more things at home.

Donald Trump and the Capitol Hill mob provided another platform for diversionary tactics. When the outgoing President hinted that he might spend time at one of his luxury golf resorts in Scotland rather than attend the inauguration of his successor Joe Biden, Nicola Sturgeon wasted no time in responding. Since then our liberal and media elites have been exulting in a self-indulgent frenzy of sanctimony to explore ways of having his big velvet collar felt if ever he sets foot in Scotland. In the real world beset by unemployment, drugs deaths and the economic ravages of Covid they care not a jot about this middle-class caprice.

No matter, it seems, is too trivial for the Scottish Government to strike an unctuous pose. John Swinney tore into Celtic FC for travelling to Dubai for their annual mid-season training camp. No matter that the trip had been organised with the approval of the Scottish Government several months ago and was well within the regulations as they affect elite sports people. The optics didn’t look good and this government which governs by optics alone couldn’t resist the urge to wag its finger.

This is the time when the left-wing of the wider independence movement needs to unite and act as a counter-weight to the influence of big business on the SNP. Wresting control of the party’s ruling NEC from the identity narcissists and designer radicals was a start but this will become meaningless if they merely participate in the party’s campaign to portray us all as good little Europeans.

The vaccination programme will finally draw the sting from this persistent and wily pandemic but it won’t provide a cure for a much greater health apocalypse which will claim many more lives than the Covid. This is what the Scottish Government needs to be about.

One of the most effective dissimulations of the elites is that the authentic left are obsessed by ideas of class war. Yet, quietly and implacably, they’ve been waging one against the UK’s poorest communities. In the next decade this will be observed in how those neighbourhoods will be required to take the biggest hit when the coronavirus account must be settled. The UK Labour Party has effectively removed itself from this struggle with the ascendancy of Sir Keir Starmer, the ultimate establishment plant. In Scotland, the SNP will simply frame all future challenges in alleviating the stress of poverty in terms of being “dragged out of Europe against our will”.

Already, right-wing and neo-liberal ideology is moving to position itself when independence finally comes. The authentic left in Scotland must get organised.