Japan, England and the Social Aspiration Gap
Imagine a country riven by a culture of deference and conservatism, wholly dependent on nuclear power and desperately short of a drive for social aspiration for change. I speak of course of England, a country sadly lacking in Matthew Taylor’s tasteless blog post in which he decided to compare Scotland and Japan, a country facing unprecedented humanitarian crisis, and found Scotland worse off. Our collective crime? He chides us that we haven’t embraced New Labour modernisation and remain, stubbornly too left wing.
Amazingly Taylor wrote this en route to speak in Scotland and then went in a tremendous huff when it was pointed out to him that this was a) gibberish and b) insulting gibberish, tweeting “I don’t intend to offend but I see English opinions are unwelcome North Of The Border – lesson learnt – good bye.” Yes Matthew the problem here is our foolish sensitivity not that fact you have just compared Scotland to a country suffering from tsunami, nuclear meltdown and earthquake devastation.
So what does he say? His arguments are threefold, first we suffer from a terrible lack of choice, second we have a hopeless lack of ‘social aspiration’ and third we lack a ‘strong right wing voice’ or ‘modernising’ element in our political firmament because of our ‘antipathy to New Labour’.
As Gerry Hassan wrote in Open Democracy: “We know that there is a tradition of criticising Scotland from afar or in the briefest of visits north bringing your prejudices with you unchallenged. This used to be the terrain of the centre-right, of Thatcherites such as Nigel Lawson in the 1980s and The Spectator, but now what remains of the British centre-left has begun to join in.”
You can’t imagine a figure in a similar position doing the same whilst traveling south the speak in London. Can you?
The lack of pluralism in Scottish politics is something of a nonsense, if you think of the history of the parliament when we had six Greens, four SSP and a healthy handful of independents. Our proportional system makes this more likely than at Westminster, its a point which seems to have been lost on poor Matthew.
If there is an affinity between Scottish parties this is mostly a reflection of a nation with a more coherent set of political values, and a state that has in recent times been more skewed by Labour attempting to cherry-pick SNP policies in a bizarre frenzy of policy-theft (tuition fees, council tax freeze, defending accident and emergency, help for first time-buyers) the list goes on. As Iain Macwirter puts it “You sometimes wonder if Labour has any idea of its own”. Indeed you do. The irony of all of this is of course one of the reasons why Labour is so devoid of fresh thinking is that, after the Blair era (in which Taylor played a prominent part) they are rudderless, virtually leaderless and increasingly clueless. After Tony’s Cronies, the expenses scandal, the Devine Comedy, and Purcell’s clanjamfry, Scottish Labour have nothing to say.
And Taylor speaks of ‘social aspiration’? Taylor writes: “The idea that Japan could turn this crisis into a national conversation about a new idea of citizenship and society is inspiring…which brings me mournfully to Scotland.”
National Conversation? Exploring a new idea of citizenship? That has a certain ring to it. No doubt if Taylor had any working knowledge of Scottish politics he wouldn’t have used this phrase, as he’d have known that such a project was under way before being undermined by Labour drone politicians committed to Calman.
But the idea of a lack of social aspiration is probably more insulting that his deep-level ignorance.
We are about to enter a fresh hell of state sponsored Royalism with the latest junket seeming to prove the old Marx quote of ‘history repeating itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.’ As England prepares its street parties for Kate and William in an age of austerity it’s bizarre to argue that a lack of social aspiration pervades Scotland. If anything Scottish civil society is straining to counter the Tory / Quis Dem cuts delivered after the economic debacle of Taylor’s New Labour and desperate to transcend the ‘Union Dividend’ that leaves 1 in 10 of our children living in what Save the Children term the most “severe poverty”. Earlier this month the charity said they feared that number would rise “dramatically” due to Scots having the lowest chance of finding work in the UK.
The charity urged that ‘urgent action’ is needed in Scotland’s most deprived areas to prevent a “lost generation”. So there’s no shortage of ‘social aspiration’ there is a definite gap in the resources and mechanisms to induce the profound change needed to achieve it.
The final piece of Taylor’s odd political jigsaw puzzle is his the idea that what is really missing here is a strong right wing voice or even a modernising wing (nb ‘modernising is New Labour code for privatisation). We have – it’s true – refused to embrace ‘a diversification of public sector delivery’. It’s called having a a different political culture, and a different set of traditions. This to the unreconstructed New Labour elite, like some Tsarist loyalists still proclaiming the Romanov dynasty, is intolerable. In their eyes, Gerri Halliwell is still sporting her Union Jack mini-dress, Des’ree was still being hummed by Cabinet Ministers and talk is of an ‘ethical foreign policy’. It’s difficult to understate the extent to which the very idea of ‘Britain’ ‘New Britain’ and ‘Britishness’ was at the heart of much of the Blair’s blethering.
Instead we stand on the verge of a renewables revolution that could transform Scottish energy output, structure and demand as we move towards a low carbon nation. That’s not just a social aspiration that’s a socio-ecological one. It’s one that has nothing to do with Labour’s tragic ideologically-driven commitment to new nuclear power that – like much of the New Labour project – looks to be spent. It’s the sort of technology and expertise that Scottish engineers might well be exporting to Japan and other countries as we attempt to help reconstruct that stricken land. That’s the sort of international solidarity that should be part of the vision for a new Scotland.