“Scottish socialists cannot support a strategy for independence which postpones the meeting of urgent social and economic needs until the day after independence. But neither can they give unconditional support to maintaining the integrity of the United Kingdom – and all that that entails – without any guarantee of radical social change.” “Nationalism should not be regarded as a disease.” Gordon Brown, student.
Gordon Brown, Hapless Gordon, bag man to the banks, failed politician.
Having stated socialism must never be imposed on Scotland, Brown resurfaced to impose his version of neo-liberal capitalism on Scotland and the UK. His current obsession is Devolution, or ‘Devo-max’, a discredited, befuddled proposition that has no merit.
Arguably the most disliked prime minister of recent times, he stands accused of chronic blindness in proclaiming an “end to boom and bust” economies when we were running from the path of an economic tsunami that originated in the USA and adopted by the UK.
A man who doesn’t like people
Back in the Eighties Gordon Brown attended a conference in Edinburgh on the way forward for the Scottish film “industry,” (there is no industry, only cottage activity) a conference arranged by the under-funded Scottish Screen. Brown spoke nary a word throughout the entire two-hour discussion. He sat facing the audience in a corner on the speaker’s platform taking copious notes.
He left the impression of a man with personal problems, over and above poor eyesight brought about by a kick to the head in a rugby match. We can add to that an oddly anti-social persona, a mistrust of people. And he’s ill-natured.
He never visited the Scottish Parliament when prime minister. Not once. Still hasn’t. He turned his back on a gaggle of reporters when the news broke of the SNP’s victory at Holyrood. This is a man with serious social problems. His reticence, his surliness, it must be said, hasn’t stopped him and his wife becoming friends with children’s author, J. K. Rowling. They’re pees in a pod, fit for each other. Both are reclusive and misanthropic.
Brown’s relationship with Tony Blair is well documented, one minute Blair’s right-hand man, the next his nemesis. There is an inability to relate to people in consistent way.
Implacably set against Holyrood and Hollywood
A few years later, chancellor of the exchequer, he announced the offer of grants in the form of six tranches of £30 million for individual film production companies, generous assistance to struggling filmmakers for project development and distribution deals. He also passed tax benefits for film production but later withdrew them. He left corporate tax dodgers unmolested.
Not one Scottish-based company got support. At least two were manifestly eligible, a portent of things to come as far as his concern for Scotland’s interests is concerned.
A safe seat
It’s easily forgotten he did not attain a seat in Westminster’s parliament by political adroitness. He first stood for parliament in 1979 and lost in an election that swept Margaret Thatcher to power.
His gift was to be granted the safe Labour seat of Dunfermline East, his family backyard. An easy career path does not seem to have helped him with free time to support his homeland in its efforts for empowerment. He might have disliked Toryism but he practised it with a vengeance.
The quotations at the start of this essay
In a celebrated dispute with his alma mater, Edinburgh University, when he was rector at the same time as a student, he defeated the University’s attempt at censorship by exposing its investments in apartheid South Africa. He also fought a running battle, and won, the right to chair the University’s court. Gordon Brown was a rising star.
Emboldened, he gathered a group of radical intellectuals around him and published their essays and thesis in what he entitled, The Red Paper. The people he chose to publish read like pillars of Scotland’s socialism in the Scotland of the Seventies: playwright John McGrath, author David Craig, future MP and “ethical” Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, academic Owen Dudley Edwards, John McEwan, who went on to write a searing expose of the greed of Highland landlords.
A belligerent Jim Sillars is there too, espousing the kind of template socialism that makes pub socialists comfortable. When rejected by Scotland, Sillars tossed a Malvolian rebuke at voters as “ninety-minute patriots.” Gordon Brown committed a similar misstep. Microphone switched on while in a car after an election walkabout, he unwittingly gave his opinion of a constituent as a “bigot” that was picked up by the right-wing press. Gordon the Hapless clumsy as ever, piss-poor timing an indelible characteristic.
The Red Paper
Brown’s collected jottings altered my outlook from pink socialist to enquiring nationalist (Back then I was a professional director and a dedicated dominie.) Naturally, I looked for guidance, got hold of a copy of The Red Paper, devouring it in a single sitting. The Red Paper was a kind of Bible of socialism as it could be practised in Scotland. A second reading proved it a lot less of a drum beat.
A great deal of it is incomprehensible, not unlike some left-wing independence blogs today. It is crammed with meretricious jargon glued together with woolly thinking. I don’t recall much about “Britain” as we talk of it now, not the Britain Mr Interventionman so boldly protects at Scotland’s cost. It did attack power held by an elite, a fallacious protest thrown at the SNP, yet each treatise attacking the centralisation of power increased Westminster control.
There were unique voices. Loquacious Irishman Owen Dudley Edwards was one, once upon a time the doyen of BBC Radio talk shows. He had a few lessons to teach the Scots about Ireland’s experience wrestling violent control from the British establishment. The other was the theorist of political nationalism, Fife-born, Tom Nairn, a man Gerry Hassan surely tries to emulate. I believe he is now a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study at Durham University. I read Nairn’s piece avidly yet nowhere in his chapter, “Old Nationalism and New Nationalism,” did he define what he meant by “nationalism.”
I came to my own conclusion – Scottish nationalism is small nation pride, not big nation imperialism.
Power to the people – maybe
The Red Paper was full of proposals for worker’s self-management, transferring power from the elite to the working class, expanding the public sector, profit participation, taming multi-national companies, criticism of imperialism, and attacks on the malignant influence of “the market.” Almost all of which Thatcher, and then Blair and Brown, reversed vigorously. Unless my memory fails me – few copies were printed, fewer distributed, mine loaned by my journalist cousin, Ian Christie.
Brown’s enthusiasm encompassed a kind of independence. He was certain constitutional change would lead to socialism and socialism to social justice, which in turn – because The Red Book was essentially defining Scotland’s ills – could only mean some kind of self-governance for Scotland. But his ideal always fell short of genuine autonomy.
Nationalism is not a disease
I thought it then a comprehensive illumination of Scottish political values in a contradictory world of diverse socialist doctrines, from Italy’s Gramsci to France’s Sartre, from Sweden’s Olaf Palme to Scotland’s Hugh MacDiarmid, from H. G. Wells to Bertrand Russell. In their day they all professed to be radically Left Wing, their humanitarian doctrines dominated by the threat of succeeding Tory governments as the natural party of the United Kingdom.
Radicalism isn’t only for Christmas
When he became an MP, Brown’s socialist radicalism all but disappeared. Under Blair and the rejection of Clause Four, Browns party had become the party of business, a carbon copy of Conservative orthodoxy, only with a slightly different emphasis. What he had for the electorate was taxation cartwheels, shocks and rescue for the Bank of England and its satellites, and a smile remindful of rigor mortis.
Brown wanted to help the working class and poor of Scotland, and in the Red Paper he made it clear that if the Union could not do it, then to hell with the union.
Today we see him tell us rule from Westminster is the only choice. He is the walking example of the socialist who adopts Tory policies in middle age.
Brown is the politician who saved the careers and bonuses of the criminal class banksters. He became the very thing he detested. The difference between Brown’s nationalism and that of the SNP is monumental.
Only one choice can deliver the mechanisms of progressive change for Scotland and it isn’t Gordon Brown or the Labour Party. It never was.