John Harris’s video piece in the Guardian this week follows George Galloway on his ‘Just Say Naw Tour’ of Scotland (the Edinburgh leg of which is brilliantly recorded here).
George appears dressed like Pozzo as he pulls into the carpark of Kingdom Shopping centre in Fife. It’s the sort of shopping centre you’ll see in most Scottish towns; £-stretcher, Dunnes Stores, Greggs… The sort of town centre you hang about in as a teenager looking at the obligatory army recruitment stall and wondering if Helmand could possibly be worse. The vox-pop interviews at the start of the piece reflect this, with the locals describing the dismal state of a town and, in the case of one man in particular, explaining that he’s thinking of voting Yes as it’s a chance to roll the dice again for Glenrothes.
The first two things said by Galloway as he walks the shopping centre floor with Harris in tow (well, one appears to be dubbed on later, but nevertheless) reveal his delusion and hubris. According to him The SNP only rose to prominence in the wake of the disillusion caused by New Labour, and, though the Labour Party expelled him, he could be the man to save their bacon. The first point is true, to an extent. The SNP’s rise does owe much to disaffected voters abandoning Labour.
Blair’s New Labour attempted to capture the centre-ground by repositioning itself to the right. The Median Voter Theorem suggests that in a two-party system, both will attempt to move towards the middle- or median voter- on a notional left-right spectrum. The closer you are to the middle, the more your party’s policies will chime with the greatest number of voters. Patrick Dunleavy saw this as analogous to ice-cream vendors on a beach taking their vans as close to the largest number of people as possible. If most people are on the right side of the beach, that’s where you take your van. As long as the other van is even further to the right than yours, even people on the left side of the beach will see your van as their best option. Labour realised that their old, immobile, ice-cream shop in its historic structure was too far to the left side of the beach to cater to the bulk of the people, so sold the beautiful old parlour that had been in the family for generations and bought a tacky van. The van wasn’t ideal, but it could get closer to the customers.
Scottish Devolution caused a problem for this business strategy, though. Suddenly another beach sprung up behind them, the mass of people thereon sitting to the left. Labour found it impossible to position themselves in a manner pleasing to both beaches simultaneously, and the SNP moved into the territory they’d vacated to hoover up the abandoned customers on the new beach.
Fuck the beach analogy, the point is Galloway’s kinda correct about Labour’s repositioning explaining the rise of the SNP: they took their van and fucked off to the right, and the SNP filled the void. But his boast about being the man to save Labour speaks to the true intention of his tour. This is a narcissistic exercise, an MP for Bradford touring Scotland and signing autographs so that he can prove former colleagues wrong. This man who made great play of his temperance in canvassing for votes in Bradford, and campaigned for a seat in the Scottish parliament based on being a Celtic fan. Indeed he appeared on an episode of The Celtic Underground Podcast as part of this campaign and was shaken warmly by the hand by Neil Lennon during its recording in the lobby of Glasgow’s Hilton hotel. Galloway does have principles, but chief among them is his career. Ian Bell in The Herald and Michael White in The Guardian accuse another great socialist temperate, Tony Benn, of being similarly motived by his own self-regard rather than principle in his political career. I went to see Benn speak a couple of years ago, he played the Royal Concert Hall to standing ovations before and after he spoke. I could get addicted to that feeling too. Galloway’s reception in Glenrothes doesn’t seem to have been quite so rapturous, but a fix is a fix.
Harris puts to Galloway the argument that people on the shitty end of neo-liberalism’s stick may be best served by voting Yes and doing away with the Tories forever. Galloway counters that you’re not going to get socialism in a small country with a much bigger Thatcherite neighbour next door. After his gig in Glenrothes he’s seen selling copies of his biography of Fidel Castro. One can’t help but wonder if he told Fidel, whom he met during the Regan era, to pull his head out of his arse and abandon his socialist fantasy while the Whitehouse was occupied by ‘The Great Communicator’. Not that I foresee Scotland turning into Cuba post-independence, but why is the socialist dream ridiculous in a wee country on this side of the Atlantic but laudable in a wee country on the other?
Galloway instead predicts that an independent Scotland, in cutting corporation tax, would precipitate a ‘race to the bottom’ with England that would hurt working people on both sides of the border. This argument, one suspect, may well find truck with left-leaning voters whom the Union flag-draped Better Together campaign fails to appeal to. He does not acknowledge, however, that a race to the bottom is what we have now; for example the UK government resisting EU reforms to banking for fear of the wolves who fund them leaving this carcass and going to pick on one elsewhere. London isn’t about to get into a race to the bottom with Glasgow or Edinburgh while Hong Kong, Tokyo and New York exist as competitors. Let’s not kid ourselves. At least in an independent Scotland, though, we could build a beast minded to fend off some of the most injurious attacks of capitalism’s red teeth and claws, which is more than we can expect from Westminster.
What Galloway offers instead is the idea of a Labour government for the whole of Britain, ‘a real Labour government’, as he puts it. This is never going to happen while the median voter in England sits as far right as they have for the past 30-odd years, and Galloway knows it. He’s offering a solution that doesn’t exist and has no real prospect of developing, to the people of Scotland. Towns like Glenrothes have been waiting for the worm to turn for decades. Galloway’s solution is more purgatory while he draws up the blueprints for paradise.
He then goes on to cast up the specter of the SNP as ‘tartan Tories’ who he accuses of conspiring with the Tories to bring down the Callaghan government, before he steps into the shoes of the Reid brothers and cries ‘Bathgate no more! Linwood no more!’ He’s just a performer playing all the old hits. Perhaps he should do a rendition of ‘Cap in Hand’ too.
I used to follow George Galloway on Facebook: I unfollowed him after my comment complaining that the unpaid internships offered by Respect were a betrayal of his values was deleted. I have his book ‘I’m Not The Only One’ on the shelf beside my bed. Galloway’s not the enemy, he’s just self-serving. There are worse spheres in which to pursue your own interests than campaigning for social justice, I guees.
Perhaps it’s time for Scotland to become a little bit self-serving too. It’s not about whether we’ll be a socialist utopia or just another bastion of big business- that can be decided later- it’s about recognising that we’re being fucked by the current set-up. Galloway proffers solidarity between the working classes of England and Scotland, that’s all well and good, but a gallows built for two is still a gallows. Galloway’s not above getting ahead when he feels the urge, perhaps Benn wasn’t either, but he’d like the people of Scotland to swing from the rope because our guilt keeps us from escaping.
Last Saturday I was walking around a neighbourhood that is as deprived as Northern Europe has to offer. The subway was supposed to be extended out there, but they decided it wasn’t worth it. When I got home I heard a radio program discussing infrastructure spending in Britain: HS2 (£42 billion) connecting London to Birmingham, and London’s Crossrail (£14.2 billion) which happens to be the largest infrastructure project in Europe, two years after London hosted the Olympic games (£9 billion). HS2 was supposed to extend up to Glasgow, but they decided it was too expensive. Glasgow was supposed to get Crossrail years ago, it never happened.
But we’re to keep on waiting Glasgow, Glenrothes. One day the political sands will shift and Britain will jut violently to the left and start caring about the impoverished north. Vote No, keep waiting. Once Galloway’s vision of a party built in his image is realised, we’ll all be saved.
– “I can’t go on like this.”
– “That’s what you think.”
– “If we parted? That might be better for us.”
– “We’ll hang ourselves tomorrow. (Pause.) Unless Galloway comes.”