A New Phase of Politics in Scotland

Editorial introduction to this special online-only issue comprising articles submitted for the Jan-Feb issue of the Scottish Left Review.

They say absolute power corrupts absolutely. If so, the limits of devolution mean Scotland’s First Ministers can only be corrupted so far. But within the SNP, concentrated power surely had something to do with the resignation of the media chief, the lies about membership numbers, the emergence of an SNP faction opposing the SNP-Green coalition, and the arrest of the chief executive. ‘Sturgeon’s husband arrested in SNP finance probe’ is the BBC’s headline as I write this editorial. It signifies how things have changed since the articles in this special online edition were written around the turn of the year. Editorial changeover at the Scottish Left Review meant the articles had to be preserved for a few months, but they have no less flavour for it. You can taste the frustrations and foreboding, as well as the tingling anticipation of a new phase of politics in Scotland. There was plenty to ponder in the gloaming of Sturgeon’s government.

Not long after starting as editor, I was waiting to meet a contributor in a café in Portobello, when a man looked up from his phone. ‘Eh, Nicola Sturgeon’s resigned’, he announced to no one in particular, loud enough for everyone to hear. Nobody replied, but for a moment a change of mood came over the café. A salty shudder. The annoyance of knowing that things would certainly be changing. Scotland is now stirring from a long Sturgeon stupor. This issue comes from a time when Scotland was idly gazing into the water, waiting for someone to arrive or for something to change, as Keetah Konstant’s atmospheric cover art conveys.

Since these articles were written, Scotland’s labour movement, migrant solidarity networks, and community campaigns have shown how radical politics thrives from the ground up, and the latest printed edition of the Scottish Left Review captured this season of resistance. This special online supplement to that print edition also starts from the roots. Stuart Fairweather surveys the ‘anti-exploitation ecosystem’ that is emerging in a ‘new political groundswell’ between the wage-focused activity of unions and the efforts of individuals to help themselves. Then Clare Peden demonstrates how one union is building a campaign for a better deal that connects communities across society, from school canteens to coffin factories.

From this view of activity on the ground, the perspective shifts to focus on the juncture facing the Left independence movement. Frances Curran suggests how class identity and national identity will continue to deepen together, building pressure in favour of the ‘right to decide’, irrespective of the shifting short-term strategies for independence. John Dennis reflects on whether a 2024 election may provide the potential to develop radical policies – on asylum seekers’ right to work, or redistributive tax – that would present the case for independence anew. And Simon Barrow offers three routes for the wider independence movement to engage with communities and unions to challenge the flimsy positions of its politicians.

The next section shifts from visions of Scotland’s future to a critique of the current state of our democracy. James Mitchell suggests that the SNP attempt to claim the term ‘democracy’ is a product of their ‘populist political theatre’, which belies a deeper set of deficiencies in Scotland’s devolution system. Chris Holligan probes the register of public interests to gauge the extent of corporate influence on Scottish MSPs, not least through Murrayfield junkets. Whatever the state of democracy, the wealth divide continues to deepen in these Dickensian days, described in verse by David McKinstry, before Graham O’Neill invokes moral message of the Scottish Left Review’s founding editor, Jimmy Reid, whose lecture on alienation provides all the justification that is needed for wealth fairness and a new wealth tax.

On the theme of wealth redistribution, Ben Wilson offers an insider history of the Scottish efforts to secure a ‘Loss and Damage’ fund for social and economic impacts of climate change. Then, leaving Scotland, Chris Sutherland provides a report on the crisis unfolding in Palestine as a result of the Israeli election and the ascendency of right wing extremists. Jackie Bergson reviews a film depicting the Blair Government’s drive to start the war in Iraq that began twenty years ago. A trio of book reviews return to the core themes of this special issue: John Wood reviews Gerry Hassan’s latest book on the case for independence, Mike Danson dissects recent scholarship on the prospects of Scotland’s economy, and Gordon Morgan ends the edition with a wide view of the economic orthodoxies that hamper Western societies.

From roots of resistance to the withering of government, from strategies for independence to the strains of devolution, shifts at the top of Scottish politics have created space for a radical upswell. The more people it includes, the wider the ground the Left can occupy. So – if anything stirs a response, write a letter, sketch out an article, and send it to editor@scottishleftreview.scot.