Friday, May 09, 2008

Leadership and nationalism - some questions

Shuggy has a really good post up here. I have two questions arising from it:

Firstly, is Shuggy right in saying this?
"We're always being told that parties are collapsing, their grassroots withering on the vine. We were told this about the Tory party under Hague and IDS. Like the Church of England and the monarchy, it was suggested that we couldn't assume that the zeitgeist would retain their services indefinitely.

Philosophically true, I'd agree - but it seems a little arrogant in retrospect given the state of play now. The withering of the grassroots is a phenomenon that has afflicted political parties across Europe and certainly in Britain. But so what if parties are 'hollowed-out'? They are still going to compete in elections and someone has to win. Those whose prognosis relies on an analysis of the state the parties are in make some acute observations - but they understate the importance of leadership. For those of us who are sympathetic to Labour, ours is a disaster that simply can't be dismissed as a function of a palsied grassroots."
I ask because I think that this needs a bit of thinking about. I'd question how leadable a hollowed out party can be.

Machiavelli's republicanism had an almost Darwinist sub-text: That achieving power by the successful marshaling of the forces at your disposal can provide a leader with the momentum that they need to really lead. In democratic terms, you can't do that if you were the beneficiary of a coronation. You can fight a big fight once you've shown you can win a few smaller ones. And hollowed-out parties usually lose minor skirmishes.

And while I'm slightly more upbeat than the bookies about Labour prospects at the next election*, my biggest worry is that Cameron appears to be able to get the Tories to act in concert - and that at the next election, we (Labour) will be faced with the kind of organisation you can only have when you have thousands of reasonably disciplined councillors (each pulling their own social networks out to knock on doors and identify voters).

In 1997, I know that a lot of New Labour's stage management was in getting people around the spokesmen. We had to position them - on camera - surrounded by grinning activists. Part of a crowd - a tide even. Cameron will be able to do this because - for the first time - the Tories aren't hollowed out.

My second question is this: I've noticed that most of the bloggers that I like in Scotland have a passionate dislike of Scottish Nationalism. Now, is this a dislike of SN (Prop: The SNP) or a more general objection to it?

I ask this because, I suspect that I would be in favour of a much greater level of devolution - even to the point of independence - from the rest of Britain if I were Scottish. I think that all decent socialists should favour decentralisation of power wherever possible, and the idea that you should be largely governed by people who owe their position to the effective triangulation of a few thousand voters in the home counties ... well, were I a sweaty, I'd not be very keen.

At the risk of blowing a few gaskets, I'm asking this in all innocence. Is this an objection to the Tartan Tories, or to the very idea of nationalism?

*... and unlike the commentariat, the bookies aren't paying out on Tory bets yet.

3 comments:

Shuggy said...

At the risk of blowing a few gaskets, I'm asking this in all innocence. Is this an objection to the Tartan Tories, or to the very idea of nationalism?

They're not mutually exclusive - but you've missed something out: there's the SNP; there's the concept of nationalism; but then there's the specific phenomenon of wider Scottish nationalism.

I'll spare you speculations about the very concept of nationalism except to say that nationalists are annoying like the religious are annoying; it's their assumption that just because they believe something, the burden of evidence must lie with you for taking the contrary view.

As for Scottish nationalism in general, I did intend to give you some sort of thoughtful response on the matter but as I type this, I'm struck by how much my objection to the SNP and co. is for aesthetic reasons: because they basically have only one answer to every economic, political and social question that they are presented with, they are deeply annoying and really, really fucking boring. They want everyone to be like them, which is to say people who make being Scottish such hard work. But the truth is that most people in Scotland are like me in that they don't see the point in striving to achieve something we already are.

The SNP don't have a credible idea of what an independent Scotland would look like. In the version they sell us, Scotland isn't really independent in any meaningful sense because it is conceived of having, in effect, no independent foreign policy - this being contracted out to the EU and the UN - and no independent economic policy, this going to the EU instead. In this vision, the role of a government in such an 'independent' country would be essentially reduced to tweaking the edges of fiscal policy in order to sponsor state kitsch.

Moreover, even this state of non-independence isn't going to happen. The thing is, I think the SNP understand this perfectly well and there's not a few of us in Scotland who suspect that the leadership and much of the party aren't really seeking independence and don't really believe in it. The religious analogy applies here too - there's not a few of them who are like those who claim to represent eternal principles but really they just want power in the here and now.

Paulie said...

"nationalists are annoying like the religious are annoying; it's their assumption that just because they believe something, the burden of evidence must lie with you for taking the contrary view."

I like that. It chimes in with my regular theme - 'negativism' - a rejection of one thing in favour of an unproven 'other'.

I've also been planning to showcase a new word here as part of a comments policy: 'Memebot'. These days my comments boxes are often visited (as are yours, Shuggy) by tedious shitheads who think that they can just pop in, answer a complex argument with a one-line assertion of their half-baked ideology.

No need to make an argument: Just keep saying "tax is theft / public sector workers are thieves / government is impossible / the notion of the state is an utter failure" etc.

I may shortly do a little comments policy that says "I always delete memebots."

Paulie said...

Oh, and Shuggy - ta for the comment. A comprehensive answer, I think.