Analysing the pro-indy left. Photo: Getty
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Gerry Hassan is wrong – radical Scotland has left its ghetto

Hassan’s account of Scotland’s “new radicals” – the generation of activists who have emerged over the last two years, as a result of the referendum – is guilty of the very thing Hassan warns against: over-simplification.

Gerry Hassan has a piece in the Scottish Review this week – A Letter to Scotland’s New Radicals – which calls on the pro-independence left to abandon its “unrealistic” and “impossibilist” (whatever that means) approach to politics. Parts of the Scottish left, Hassan says, have a habit of trading on “a series of simplifications and inaccuracies”, including the belief that Scotland is inherently egalitarian, that the Yes campaign is fighting an anti-colonial battle against English oppression and that Britain is “broken, unreformable and undemocratic”. It’s difficult to know precisely who Hassan is talking about, because he doesn’t target any one group in particular. But he does make a few scattered references to the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC), Common Weal, Lesley Riddoch’s Nordic Horizons and National Collective.

Some of Hassan’s criticisms are legitimate. For years, there has been huge complacency on the left about Scotland’s susceptibility to anti-immigrant and Eurosceptic populism, and – clearly – Scottish society sits well outside the mainstream of European social democracy. But the rest of his critique falls hopelessly wide of the mark. For instance, these days, most people who subscribe to the idea that Scotland is an English colony live on the SNP’s ever-shrinking traditionalist fringes. Likewise, anyone who has read James Foley and Pete Ramand’s book, Yes: the Radical Case for Scottish Independence, would struggle to claim Scottish leftists “caricature” the British state. Foley and Ramand (two of RIC’s c0-founders) acknowledge Britain’s capacity to change and adapt, but argue that centrally-guided constitutional reform represents a kind of decline management. They have a point: does anyone really believe Gordon Brown would be talking so enthusiastically about federalism if it wasn’t for the independence referendum?

Hassan’s claim that the left presents neo-liberalism as a sequence of “external”, Westminster-imposed reforms at odds with Scotland’s “organic” centre-left consensus is equally unconvincing. I’ve heard RIC activists say repeatedly that, on its own, shifting Scotland’s constitutional goalposts will achieve little. In fact, there is widespread acceptance on the left that a determined, post-Yes effort will be needed to ensure constitutional change lays the groundwork for subsequent social and economic change, however modest. That is why RIC and other groups have spent months building support for independence in working class areas, and it’s why they are now exploring the idea of setting up a new left party after September.

But the most frustrating feature of Hassan’s analysis is its insistence that the left is oblivious to or naïve about the “myths” that shroud Scottish politics. “Scotland’s new radicals have to realise that the myths of our country have reinforced a faux social democracy and progressive politics of our elites and professional classes”, Hassan writes. “For too long, left-wingers and radicals have happily validated the limited politics, democracy and supposedly enlightened authority which have defined public life.” This is just demonstrably untrue. From the nationalist left of the 1970s, which had a sophisticated understanding of the limits of British social democracy (as well as of its own shortcomings), through to Radical Scotland in Eighties and RIC today, Scottish socialists have consistently positioned themselves at an angle to the political mainstream, challenging the centrist polices of the dominant parties, including Labour and the SNP. In so far as they have promoted the myth of Scottish social democracy, it has been for strategic reasons, to protect what remains in Scotland of the post-war settlement from the liberalising influence of successive Westminster and Holyrood administrations. (Incidentally, it’s not at all clear whether Hassan thinks the post war settlement is actually worth preserving, but that’s a different issue.)

So Hassan’s account of Scotland’s “new radicals” – the generation of activists who have emerged over the last two years, as a result of the referendum – is guilty of the very thing Hassan warns against: over-simplification. Of course political change is “complex”. No one is seriously suggesting it isn’t. Of course the left needs to challenge the “narrow bandwidth” of Scottish politics. That’s precisely what RIC, Robin McAlpine and the “Nordicists” are doing and have been doing for the last few years. There is nothing “comfy” or “couthy” about McAlpine’s (difficult and often unsuccessful) efforts to persuade people at the top of Yes Scotland and the SNP to adopt bolder policies, nor the way RIC has been organising in Scotland’s poorest neighbourhoods. The danger here is that, soon or later, Hassan’s narrative, if repeated often enough, will create a myth of its own – the myth of Scotland as a reactionary backwater, without the slightest bit of progressive or socialist potential. I can’t see how Scotland could thrive in that sort of political climate, let alone the Scottish left.

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25 times people used Brexit to attack Muslims since the EU referendum

Some voters appear more interested in expelling Muslims than EU red tape.

In theory, voting for Brexit because you were worried about immigration has nothing to do with Islamophobia. It’s about migrant workers from Eastern Europe undercutting wages. Or worries about border controls. Or the housing crisis. 

The reports collected by an anti-Muslim attack monitor tell a different story. 

Every week, the researchers at Tell Mama receive roughly 40-50 reports of Islamophobic incidences.

But after the EU referendum, they recorded 30 such incidents in three days alone. And many were directly related to Brexit. 

Founder Fiyaz Mughal said there had been a cluster of hate crimes since the vote:

“The Brexit vote seems to have given courage to some with deeply prejudicial and bigoted views that they can air them and target them at predominantly Muslim women and visibly different settled communities.”

Politicians have appeared concerned. On Monday, as MPs grappled with the aftermath of the referendum, the Prime Minister David Cameron stated “loud and clear” that: “Just because we are leaving the European Union, it will not make us a less tolerant, less diverse nation.”

But condemning single racist incidents is easier than taking a political position that appeases the majority and protects the minority at the same time. 

As the incidents recorded make clear, the aggressors made direct links between their vote and the racial abuse they were now publicly shouting.

The way they told it, they had voted for Muslims to “leave”. 
 
Chair of Tell Mama and former Labour Justice and Communities Minister, Shahid Malik, said:

“With the backdrop of the Brexit vote and the spike in racist incidents that seems to be emerging, the government should be under no illusions, things could quickly become
extremely unpleasant for Britain’s minorities.

“So today more than ever, we need our government, our political parties and of course our media to act with the utmost responsibility and help steer us towards a post-Brexit Britain where xenophobia and hatred are utterly rejected.”

Here are the 25 events that were recorded between 24 and 27 June that directly related to Brexit. Please be aware that some of the language is offensive:

  1. A Welsh Muslim councillor was told to pack her bags and leave.
  2. A man in a petrol station shouted: "You're an Arabic c**t, you're a terrorist" at an Arab driver and stated he “voted them out”. 
  3. A Barnsley man was told to leave and that the aggressor’s parents had voted for people like him to be kicked out.
  4. A woman witnessed a man making victory signs at families at a school where a majority of students are Muslim.
  5. A man shouted, “you f**king Muslim, f**king EU out,” to a woman in Kingston, London. 
  6. An Indian man was called “p**i c**t in a suit” and told to “leave”.
  7. Men circled a Muslim woman in Birmingham and shouted: “Get out - we voted Leave.”
  8. A British Asian mother and her two children were told: "Today is the day we get rid of the likes of you!" by a man who then spat at her. 
  9. A man tweeted that his 13-year-old brother received chants of “bye, bye, you’re going home”.
  10. A van driver chanted “out, out, out”, at a Muslim woman in Broxley, Luton
  11. Muslims in Nottingham were abused in the street with chants of: “Leave Europe. Kick out the Muslims.”
  12. A Muslim woman at King’s Cross, London, had “BREXIT” yelled in her face.
  13. A man in London called a South Asian woman “foreigner” and commented about UKIP.
  14. A man shouted “p**i” and “leave now” at individuals in a London street.
  15. A taxi driver in the West Midlands told a woman his reason for voting Leave was to “get rid of people like you”.
  16. An Indian cyclist was verbally abused and told to “leave now”. 
  17. A man on a bike swore at a Muslim family and muttered something about voting.
  18. In Newport, a Muslim family who had not experienced any trouble before had their front door kicked in.
  19. A South Asian woman in Manchester was told to “speak clearly” and then told “Brexit”. 
  20. A Sikh doctor was told by a patient: “Shouldn’t you be on a plane back to Pakistan? We voted you out.”
  21. An abusive tweet read: “Thousands of raped little White girls by Muslims mean nothing to Z….#Brexit”.
  22. A group of men abused a South Asian man by calling him a “p**i c**t” and telling him to go home after Brexit.
  23. A man shouted at a taxi driver in Derby: "Brexit, you p**i.”
  24. Two men shouted at a Muslim woman walking towards a mosque “muzzies out” and “we voted for you being out.”
  25. A journalist was called a “p**i” in racial abuse apparently linked to Brexit.