Comment: Issue 63

In these times of change, the Scottish Left Review is changing as well.

One way or another, this feels like a period of change. Perhaps big change. There are perceptible shifts all over the place. The sort of rhetoric about the abuse of power of big business that would have been dismissed as fringe ‘class war’ a couple of years ago is now the language of the Daily Mail (at least intermittently). The all-consuming greed of the bankers is simply taken as a given. Issues like corporations avoiding tax make it into news bulletins. There is widespread unease at the level of influence exerted by Murdoch. The impact of our economic situation is starting to unsettle the unshakable consensus of recent decades – perhaps the market doesn’t know best and perhaps the rich don’t really deserve it.

In Scotland there are a few signs that the approaching election might actually be one in which the parties prioritise things that are popular with people and not moves which are popular with business and therefore with mainstream newspapers. In this issue of Scottish Left Review, both potential First Ministers do not appear to blink before ruling out any moves to change the status of Scottish Water. This sets them in direct conflict with the CBI, the higher echelons of the civil service and the business-linked think tanks. In the face of the Settled Will of the Scottish Establishment (and its couple-of-hundred votes) there is to be no charging for universities. Prescription charges are to go – and this in the period where ‘cuts are unchallengeable’.
You do not need to go far to hear the pathetic cries of the elites in Scotland – ‘this is all cheap bloody populism’ they spit through gnashing teeth. What they mean is ‘when did populism start meaning popular for someone other than us?’. It is a troubling time because change and populism is the order of the day, at least in the Middle East. How do you condemn decisions made hear which have the support of the many while lauding the decisions being made elsewhere which have the support of the many? Well, you just do.
This is nothing to get too carried away with yet. What we are hearing here is a change of tone and it is very welcome. But what we need is to start to see change. In the upcoming election there is already a battle to claim the ground of ‘decreasing inequality’ as the ownership of one party or another. Good. But it is only real when we start to see real action taken.

And of course, not all the change is good. In England we are seeing one of the most agressively radical programmes of political change ever seen in this country. The Tories are simply ripping up the British social model and replacing it with the US system of survival of the richest. The Big Society is a cover for allowing multinational corporations to take over public services. It will change Britain forever. We are about to see one ideologue in ownership of half of our media and commercial product placement (one of the most insidious forms of commercial manipulation) simply slipped onto our screens almost unnoticed. The UK we thought we knew looks like it will soon be gone. Scotland will be pretty well protected whatever party is elected, but that in itself will change everything.

But there is one thing which this issue suggests is simply not changing fast enough – the Scottish left. Perhaps it is enough that the mainstream is swinging our way, but perhaps not. After all, the mainstream has a knack of swinging back to where it wants to be whenever we take our eyes off it for a second. If we can take some degree of pleasure of watching as the slogans of the anti-capitalist left of the last decade become the conversation-points of people bumping into each other in the supermarket, we cannot trust that this is enough. Scotland has just seen something that Scotland hasn’t really seen before – the full might of the corporate lobby descend. The ruthlessness with which the big supermarkets sent their arm-twisters up to Scotland when it looked for a second that the Parliament might get uppity about cheap alcohol or massive profits is educational. As is the outcome. Nothing stands still. There are no vacuums. The old order will not go down without an almighty fight.

So who is fighting back? Can we just hope ‘popular opinion’ will do the job? Almost certainly not. We aren’t going to get to a better place by looking on and waiting. For all the positioning of the big two parties, it will take a time for old habits to die. We do not – and almost certainly will not – have a parliament of radicals. ‘Fighting the cuts’ simply hasn’t provided the lead. And as we can see from the writers in this issue, we don’t have a properly-organised alternative.

It is against this background that Scottish Left Review has been looking at what it has achieved in the last 11 years and thinking about what it has to do next. We have started with a redesign. After more than a decade it was certainly time to look at the magazine and hopefully these changes have made it feel easier to read, cleaner and hopefully more contemporary. We have also undertaken a major redesign of our website which will make it much easier to use. We have been getting a very encouraging increase in people reading the magazine online and the words we print certainly seem to be reaching more and more people. So we want to make them as easy to access as we possibly can. This is all a work in progress and we would be very happy indeed to get your thoughts as we refresh what we do.

But that isn’t going to be the end. The Scottish Left Review – as envisioned by our founder Jimmy Reid – wan’t meant to be only a magazine. It was meant to be a force of change. We all take that intention very seriously and we are working hard on plans to expand what we do; to try and do more than simply reflect change. We will let you know more soon.