Brexit Campaigns Democracy Elections Left Politics Political Philosophy Sam Hamad Scottish Independence Ungagged Writing

Illiberal Democrat

Jo Swinson has been elected as the leader of the Liberal Democrats.

Usually I’d no more comment on the leader of the Liberal Democrats than I would the latest happenings on the degenerate Love Island, but we live in times that have catapulted the Liberals into public relevance and my consciousness.

Partly, it’s because Corbynism is so horrific.  The alt-left cult that now infests the Labour Party, which was always a bit cult’ish in any of its ideological forms, has essentially ruled that party out of being good for, well, anything.

Thus, in England, the Liberals have become the main party of the anti-Brexit vote.  Though they currently only have 11 MPs in the British parliament, they have polled continuously highly and did much better than Labour in the Euro elections.  In truth, when it comes to England, I sympathise with those lost progressives who have been driven into the untrustworthy arms of the Liberals.  As bad as the Liberals are, the Corbyn Party has proven only that it will continue to find new ways to be worse.

It’s an entirely different context in Scotland, of course.  So much so that you might even confuse us for a foreign country to our southerly neighbours.

In Scotland, the Liberals are still languishing in obscurity.  Outside of the anomalous Liberal bulwarks of Orkney and Shetland, things aren’t looking up for Liberals.  Far from the bad old days when Scotland was ruled by a Labour-Liberal coalition, the Liberals hold only 5 seats, including Orkney and Shetland, as well as outliers in North East Fife and one seat in the dwindling Unionist stronghold of Edinburgh, with only one measly list seat in the North East.

Every single one of those seats, save perhaps those of Orkney and Shetland (weirdos), are far from secure.  The seat in North East Fife of Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie, a man whose charisma is of such a measure that every time I see him I can’t help but think an ASDA somewhere desperately needs its assistant manager back, is far from safe.

And this general environment of electoral volatility for the Liberals extends to their 4 British parliament seats, including the seat of Supreme Leader Swinson in East Dunbartonshire.  In the Euro elections, the SNP won in East Dunbartonshire with 34% of the vote, with Liberals coming in second with 24%.

In the 2015 British parliamentary elections, when Unionism was almost killed off in Scotland, Swinson was one of the casualties.  She, like the rest of her Coalition Comrades in the Liberals, had been hit by a triple whammy of electoral despise:

Firstly, she served in the cabinet of the notoriously horrific Tory-Liberal ‘ConDem’ coalition.

In Scotland, the coalition was almost exclusively associated with the austerity it had enacted on our country and rUK, further devastating communities and degrading public services.  It was the coalition of the Bedroom Tax, benefits sanctions, ATOS-run work capability assessments, skivers vs strivers and all the most malicious aspects of Toryism delivered with a Liberal veneer.

Despite Nick Clegg’s slick campaign in 2010 targeting especially young progressives sick of New Labour, the fact that the Liberals were so amenable to a coalition with Cameron’s Tories and their austerity agenda ought not to have been a surprise to anyone who had read the infamous Liberal ‘Orange Book’, where many leading Liberals wrote essays endorsing Tory-esque fiscal conservatism merged with their social liberalism and zealous Europhilia.

Secondly, Swinson and her party had taken part in the awful ‘Better Together’ Unionist campaign during the 2014 independence referendum.  Yes, we all know that ‘Better Together’ technically won, though almost everyone agrees that Unionism triumphed in Scotland in 2014 despite the almost hilarious omni-fuck up of ‘Better Together’.

Of all of Scotland’s Unionist and British nationalist parties, the Liberals are easily the most incoherent.

They passionately advocate a second referendum on UK membership of the European Union, yet they passionately oppose a second referendum on Scottish independence.  Swinson doesn’t believe she, well actually she lives in Wiltshire and not Greater Glasgow where her seat is situated, or any Scot deserves a right to self-determination when it comes to the most important question that can be asked of Scotland, namely independence.  The right to decide independence for a nation is the ultimate standard for any right to self-determination, yet Swinson, the Scot, doesn’t want Scots to have this right on the matter of independence despite the huge material change of Brexit and the consequent democratic mandate of the SNP to hold one.

She’s happy to support second referendums when her side lose, but when her side win, suddenly second referendums are completely unthinkable.  Even the British media, hardly supportive of Scottish independence, have hit Swinson with this howling discrepancy again and again.  She has generally flapped over it, as anyone who tries to insert coherence to something ultimately incoherent must, but her most recent defence of this incoherent policy amounted to a line so astonishingly thick that I couldn’t quite believe what I was hearing.  In an interview with Sky News, she basically said that if the Yes campaign during the indy ref had been liars, like the Leave campaigns in the EU referendum, she’d support a second independence referendum.

To unpack the sheer stupidity of this line by Swinson would take an article or five.  Forgetting even a moment the mind-numbing illogic at play in her argument, the fact that the ‘Better Together’ campaign, and its affiliates across the entire British media, engaged in the same kind of fear-mongering, lies, distortions and half-truths – everything from independence leading to an Islamic State of the Highlands and Islands to falsely claiming all these companies were going to leave Scotland thus everyone would lose their job – is clearly lost on Swinson.

Though the reality is she is just a British nationalist and her party is a British nationalist party.  Sure, they’re the kind of British nationalists who can afford to globetrot (and bore you about it) and thus their ‘internationalism’ is based more on upgrades to first class and air miles than anything else, but they’re British nationalists nonetheless.

Sometimes the Liberals laughably attempt to disavow the ‘Unionist’ label (despite literally being Unionists), knowing very well that it has political connotations that much of their middle class base might feel uncomfortable about.  Instead, they claim so dubiously to be ‘federalists’, advocating a ‘federalist’ UK that they know is impossible to actually implement given the manner in which the Union they support works.

They might not like it, and indeed many of them don’t even know it, but they are not merely Unionist but British nationalist – Liberal British nationalism, contrary to what many believe, was arguably the most pervasive form of nationalism during the days of the British Empire.  So while they might hilariously rail against the perceived evils of Scottish nationalism, which is civic, overwhelmingly progressive and centre-left, internationalist and anti-racist, the Liberals are themselves very much part of a tradition, spectrum and current of a fundamentally illiberal, chauvinistic and socially destructive British nationalism.

Thirdly, following Brexit, the SNP is the main party of ‘Remain’ in Scotland.  There’s just not room up here for the Liberals to homogenise the anti-Brexit vote in Scotland.  Brexit has produced a series of unavoidable realities for Scotland and Scots that the Liberals, as Unionists, are incapable of answering.  The main one is that Scotland doesn’t even remotely have meaningful self-determination.  The ‘Better Together’ campaign that Swinson was part of championed the absurd notion of ‘a Union of equals’, but the reality, from 1707 onwards, has always been one of Scotland ruled by English majoritarianism.

This, via the pathetic genuflections and despicable self-hatreds that feeds into British nationalism and Unionism in Scotland, means that people like Swinson, who sit in Scottish seats while living in Wiltshire and play the Scottish card when necessary, are very much Britain first when it comes to everything – including their own obsession of opposing Brexit.

Unlike many Scottish progressives who had been pragmatic Unionists in 2014 but, faced with the simultaneously unfolding and looming catastrophe of Brexit and Boorish fucking Johnson, who have now been sold on independence, the Liberals will stick with Britain rather than an independent Scotland in Europe.

This is why it’s a must for supporters of independence, when faced with some baw-heided Liberal half-wit prattling on about how they hate ‘nationalism’ and how regressive ‘Scotnats’ are, as Jo Swinson has been doing on every media outlet available to her, to point out that the Liberals are not merely just default British nationalists, but British nationalists who would irrationally and destructively side with Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson and the ultra-Brexiteer far-right of the Tory Party than pragmatically support Scotland becoming autonomous and preserving its place within the European Union.  That’s what true regressive nationalism looks like.  To put it as plainly as possible: if the choice was between a Britain on course for a hard-Brexit, ruled by the Steve Bannon-allied, Trump-loving, Muslim-hating, immigrant-bashing wanker Borish Johnson, and a EU-remaining, immigrant-supporting independent Scotland, Jo will side with the former every day of the week and twice on a Sunday.

But somehow Swinson made it back into parliament in 2017, during a time when the SNP was badly damaged by multiple factors, but, most notably for places like East Dunbartonshire, a failure of what might be called the ‘new core vote’ to turnout like they had in 2015.  During the indy ref, there was a general radicalisation of the electorate towards to the independence side of things and as a backlash against the Tory-hugging Labourites of ‘Better Together’.  More importantly, the so-called ‘unreachables’ of Scottish society, those marooned in the poorest areas of Scotland who aren’t supposed to vote in any election, came out in record numbers to vote for independence.

This, to a large extent, carried over into the 2015 British election – hence the gargantuan nature of the SNP triumph.  But by 2017, also taking into account different permutations related to Brexit voters switching allegiance and more savvy Unionist tactical voting, these people had once again lost interest in politics.

This is a major reason why the SNP vote dropped relatively dramatically (they still won a clear victory) and Swinson and her ilk slipped back into parliament.  But it’s very much ‘skin of their teeth’ territory.  The SNP have a very good chance of winning the seat again.

Though East Dunbartonshire is one of the most affluent constituencies in Scotland, there is a significant minority of voters from the lowest socioeconomic bracket.  Much like their neighbours in the far poorer and socially deprived West Dunbartonshire, who famously was one of the four areas of Scotland to vote Yes to independence in 2014, these people mostly support Scottish independence and the progressive politics that feed into it.  Politics that literally affect their lives – opposing benefits sanctions, the disaster of Universal Credit, cuts to frontline services and welfare.  All of the things that Swinson, when a member of the ConDems, imposed on them without a second thought.

And Swinson, by doubling down and having a Britain first policy on not simply Scottish independence but her stated intent to help block the very right of Scots to vote on the matter, as well as by continuing to defend austerity and the role she played in rolling it out, could be on very shaky ground with her own electorate.  This is a person who using faux-feminist justifications supported, as an MP representing a constituency in Greater Glasgow, a statue dedicated to Margaret Thatcher (Thatcher was decidedly anti-feminist) – a British Prime Minister who devastated Scotland’s industrial heartlands, Glasgow worst of all, and the communities that depended on them.

A Prime Minister who used Scotland as a testing ground for her most socially destructive fiscal policies – whose lack of care for the victims of the heroin that swept into the dying communities of the industrial areas of Scotland led to parts of Edinburgh having the worst rate of HIV infection in Europe (seven times the national average), on par with some countries in Africa.  Now, caught in this horrific death drive partially unleashed by Thatcherism, Scotland has the highest rate of drug-related deaths in Europe – one that’s on par or even higher than the crack and meth-riddled streets of America.

Jo Swinson wants a statue celebrating one of the criminals responsible for this.

This tells you everything about what independence means.  It tells you that it’s time to rid ourselves, politically, of these people who ultimately, when all is said and done, hate us.  Her world is, well, Wiltshire, but, at least when she visits Scotland, it’s the little opulent bubble of East Dunbartonshire.  Where only a few miles away, beyond the fetes and Rotary Club barbecues of Milngavie and Bearsden, there are areas of the country that have an average life-expectancy worse than Gaza.

There can be no question: for all the reasons above, supporters of Scottish independence and, more generally, progressives must do whatever it takes to get rid of Swinson, who, like any other Unionist, despite her anti-Brexit rhetoric, would block our escape route from a Union that is ruled by those who hate us.

By Sam Hamad

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