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Identity politics? Really? There is a far better argument to be had

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THERE IS REALLY only one argument worth having in politics if you are serious about improving the lives of ordinary people, and that is the appropriate balance between what you do for yourself as an individual or family and what the state does for you on your behalf.

If you are on the left or centre-left of politics, you will believe the state can use its size, contacts and overall power to better deliver some services and projects. If you are on the right or centre-right of politics, you will believe individuals are quicker footed and are better placed to deliver outputs. No-one believes services and projects should be delivered purely by individuals or the state, so we are not talking about discreet silos here, we are talking about a spectrum of choices. Most people will know what their default view is, but even this is not fixed. We all know there are times in our lives when we should invest for the future, even if it does seem like a risk at the time. So, for a proportion of the population, depending on the circumstances or overall context, they can change their position on the spectrum. If we all thought the same all the time without being aware of what was going on around us, there would be no point in having elections as our views would be largely fixed in time.

Although people get tired of two party choices, there is an essential honesty about politics that is framed in this way. This discussion focuses minds on how to do things. Should we do something this way or that way? Should the state lead, or should we lead? The focus is on the problem you may be debating. It is also possible to compromise if your politics is framed in this way, and the compromise draws people towards the centre ground. We are told the centre ground does not exist, and many politicians are certainly happier to take a more extreme position for the sake of clarity about what they mean and where they stand, but the centre ground is usually the position that works for most people. A happy medium is what most people try to achieve in their lives, although it can actually be the most difficult balance to actually attain.

The electorate usually punish parties for moving too left or right, or if they appear to have become tired or stale. So, the populace might give the Labour Party the benefit of the doubt until it looks as though they have become too comfortable and are making bad choices, at which point they may swing to the Conservatives. If they appear too callous or self-serving, the pendulum will swing back. The centre of gravity is again around about the middle ground. Elections allow for checks and balances. We see the corrections that are made over our voting lifetimes, and by and large, they keep politics in a place most of us can live with.

But Scotland… 

Politics in Scotland is different. The political and media establishment here refuses to acknowledge that a centre-right politics has a right to exist. Our centre-left narrative has been replaced by a nationalist narrative, which is not the same thing.

There are two problems with this.

The first is when your politics revolves around identity, you are not focusing on the best way to do things. You are not having any useful debate. As Billy Connolly often said, being Scottish will not put food on your table. Arguing about how Scottish you are or should be is even worse. If you want to deal with issues, you need to concentrate on those issues. How Scottish you are is not going to affect that. Being Scottish is not an occupation or a political ideology, and is not the answer to very much at all. People used to understand this, but it is now obvious some no longer understand this premise.

The second problem is when your argument is centred on identity, then there is no room for compromise. We see this now in Scotland. If you are not supporting a particular view, then you are selling out, a traitor, some-one who is not to be trusted. We listen to the words people use to try and identify their allegiance. How Scottish are they? Once we know, our minds judge them very quickly. Any compromise then becomes a weakness. There is no centre ground, and no prospect of achieving a resolution.

This is why Scottish politics is such a mess. The two essential building blocks of a stable democracy have been weakened, and political debate is not focused on people and their problems, but on what some people think our identity should be.

The Scottish Labour Party 

The problem in Scotland is not actually the SNP but the Labour Party. The SNP is simply a symptom of the problem. The problem is our centre-left narrative does not look credible any more, and has lost all focus on what should be important. The Labour Party in Scotland became too complacent, self-serving and arrogant. This was allowed to happen because we refused to believe a centre-right alternative had a right to exist. There was no balancing mechanism, and so our centre-left narrative went wrong. What started off as a third party protest vote then became entrenched and dominant. It became established because there was no more useful debate taking place.

The answer to our problems in Scotland is that we need both the Conservatives and Labour to re-assert themselves with credible policies and new narratives based on their core values. The Labour Party has to look like the Labour Party. They can go as far as they like to the left as long as what they do is credible. Of course, they need personnel who look credible, people who have done things and look as though they can do more. The Labour Party in Scotland is still almost invisible, and when we do hear about it, its politicians are often making some noise or other about the constitution. This is some-one else’s argument and agenda. It is not theirs.

All pro-union parties in Scotland have got to realize they cannot win an argument on the constitution by fighting on the terms the SNP sets for them. They need to establish a different argument on different ground.

Now, more than ever, we need all to be concentrated on how to do things. Should the government be doing the heavy lifting, or should they free us to do some of this ourselves? That is the only argument we should be having. If we concentrate on this, we will at least be focusing on the matters at hand, and stand a better chance of resolving them. If we can do that, then by default, we will have taken the debate away from the constitution, not by arguing for or against it, but by arguing something else is more important. Along the way, we may even find we can compromise a little in achieving this. All polls say the constitution is not a priority. We need to be having better arguments about more useful things, and if we can do that, then we will surely have a better chance of achieving something.

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