An American in Scotland...

Hana Bieliauskas undertakes a virtual tour of Scotland and gets a taste for the real thing

What does the word 'Scotland' conjure up for you? I came to London in January from Midwest America to study and complete an internship at the New Statesman. I have yet to explore the UK beyond England, so ahead of getting on a train I decided to embark on a virtual trip around Scotland.

I begin my tour in the seaside town of Ayr about 36 miles from Glasgow. Ayr was formerly home to Scotland's main west coast port. With a street plan dating back to the 1200s, the town began as a settlement serving the castle of William I, which was built in 1197. Formerly, Ayr was known as St. John's Town of Ayr or Inverayr.

Today, nothing remains of William's castle, demolished by Cromwell's forces in 1664 to make room for the citadel they used to this country. But I discover plenty of historical sights to keep me busy – for example there’s the bridge, built in 1470, still standing over the River Auld.

After sightseeing, I escape to Ayr's beautiful garden of Belleisle to tee up for a game at the world-renowned golf course designed by James Braid in 1927. Certainly way over par, I console myself with a hike through the fields and woodlands at the 98-acre Rozelle Estate. In the old Rozelle House, I sip a drink at the coffee shop and wander around the Ayrshire Yeomanry Museum and Rozelle Craft House.

Next I drop in at the village of Alloway. Here is where the world-famous poet Robert (Rabbie) Burns' home is located, known as the Auld Clay Biggin'.

Born in 1759, Burns is regarded as the national poet of Scotland and is the author of, among many other pieces, the popular New Years song “Auld Lang Syne.” I even get a look at the song's original manuscript, displayed at the museum.

In need of a city fix, I decide to explore Glasgow, Scotland's biggest city. It’s dominated the banks of the River Clyde since becoming Scotland's second largest bishopric in the 12th century. The city grew around the Gothic-style Glasgow Cathedral,the only mainland medieval cathedral on the Scottish mainland – it’s also known as the High Kirk of Glasgow, or St. Mungo after the saint who built it and whose tomb can be visited here.

Then I join the throngs of people visiting Glasgow's Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. Since opening in 1901, Kelvingrove has become the most visited museum in the UK outside of London. Financed by the 1888 International Exhibition, one story goes that it was mistakenly built back to front, and the architect committed suicide when he learned of the error.

Heading out of the bustling city to Pollok Country Park, I find myself gazing at European paintings from the likes of Degas, Rembrandt and Cézanne at the Burrell Collection of Fine Art. A gift to the city from Sir Walter Burrell in 1944, the Burrell Collection opened in 1983. Burrell's only stipulation when he gave £450,000 to build the gallery was it be situated out of the city surrounded by nature. Following his wishes, the museum was eventually located in a park about three miles from the city centre. With over 9,000 items, it's impossible to digest everything at the Burrell in one go, but I hit up some of the highlights in collections from ancient China, Egypt, Greece and Rome.

Next I head for the hills. Getting off the plane in Inverness, home of the Loch Ness Monster, it's easy to see the Scottish Highlands offer a completely different view of the country. Secretly hoping for a Nessie sighting, I am unable to resist spending some time searching for mysterious ripples in the waters of Loch Ness. Finally, I give up and separate myself from droves of tourists to head further up the coast.

It is in these more remote areas of the country that Scottish culture of today and yesterday collide. I take in the impressive castles that occupy Scotland's rugged coastline, from the Urquhart Castle on the banks of Loch Ness to the Dunvegan Castle and the Eilean Donan Castle on the Isle of Skye. Looking out across the ocean in the northern Highlands, it doesn't seem possible that a beautiful place could have such a violent history. However, Viking war galleys once roved the waters, and, later, in the 15th century, Gaelic clans capable of threatening Scottish kings occupied the region.

But it's not until I pay a visit to the Calanis standing stones at the Isle of Arran that I feel I am on truly ancient ground. The 50 stones have withstood the tests of time. Arranged in the shape of a cross, they are are over 5000 years old and were only excavated during the early 1980s. The tallest of the stones towers a couple meters above me at a height of about 4 meters.

Although the stones' main intended purpose will likely remain unknown, it's been theorised they were erected as a calendar system based on moon placement.

Taking off to Scotland's east coast, I find myself in the Athens of the North: Edinburgh and Scotland's capital since 1437. My gaze immediately falls on the fortress constructed on a massive piece of volcanic rock, dominating the city's skyline.

Edinburgh Castle existed first as a fort during the Iron Age, and it wasn't until the reign of David II in the mid 1300s that the castle began to appear as it does today. Wandering around within the castle walls, I come across the city's oldest building; St. Margaret's Chapel, built by David I in the 1100s, is dedicated to his mother, Margaret, who died in the castle in 1093.

To ensure I take in all of the big sights, I walk the Royal Mile Royal Mile. Established after David I founded the Abbey of Holyrood in the royal park, it links Holyrood with Edinburgh Castle.

The Palace of Holyroodhouse, farther down the street, is the Queen's official Scottish residence. Built in 1498 by James IV, Mary, Queen of Scots, lived and was crowned in the palace, and her Italian secretary David Rizzio was stabbed within the walls. Holyrood has survived its dark past, though, and is used today for mostly State ceremonies and entertaining royal guests.

I don't miss visiting some of Edinburgh's main religious icons. First, I go to St. Giles Cathedral, founded in the 1120s when the royal family was attempting to spread the Catholic religion throughout the lowlands. The church's over two hundred memorials honouring distinguished Scots and Scottish soldiers bring into perspective who shaped Scotland into what it is today.

I also get a look at the Rosslyn Chapel, made famous by the Da Vinci Code. Before Dan Brown mentioned it in his best-selling book, the Chapel was a quiet place of worship, founded in 1446 by Sir William St. Clair. Then, after the book and movie were released, it suddenly became a prime tourist attraction. Although still a beautiful structure, Rosslyn's celebrity status attracts numerous tourists every day and threatens to lessen its charm.

The museum selection in Edinburgh is impressive, and I find two huge museums stand out above the rest. The National Gallery of Scotland had its founding stone laid by Prince Albert in 1850 and was opened to the public in 1859. Having undergone a major restoration, the museum was reopened in 2003 and has since held many prominent exhibitions. Browsing through the museum's many galleries, I realise I'm seeing the largest collection of European paintings in the country and the most Scottish paintings in the world.

Another museum that I need more than a day to fully explore is the Museum of Scotland, with its vast collections, high roof over the main hall and seventh-floor roof terrace that looks out across the city to Edinburgh Castle.

There I find out more about the Scottish people, culture and land than I ever knew existed. Opened in 1998, the museum contains items from the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland and the Royal Museum. I travel through Scotland's geological history, which tells the story of Scotland's people and their achievements to create a bridge from the country's beginning into the 21st century.

My quick online excursion was a nice break from reality and offered further insight into Scotland, which I formerly knew just as the home of plaid kilts and the legend of Nessie. What it really did, though, was make me want to visit the country on foot rather than simply through a computer screen. Hopefully I'll be able to do so before heading home in May, and then maybe I'll be able to form a first-hand opinion of what Scotland means to me.

Hana Bieliauskas is a junior at Ohio University majoring in magazine journalism. She is currently studying in London.
Show Hide image

Why Jeremy Corbyn is a new leader for the New Times

In an inspired election campaign, he confounded his detractors and showed that he was – more than any other leader – in tune with the times.

There have been two great political turning points in postwar Britain. The first was in 1945 with the election of the Attlee government. Driven by a popular wave of determination that peacetime Britain would look very different from the mass unemployment of the 1930s, and built on the foundations of the solidaristic spirit of the war, the Labour government ushered in full employment, the welfare state (including the NHS) and nationalisation of the basic industries, notably coal and the railways. It was a reforming government the like of which Britain had not previously experienced in the first half of the 20th century. The popular support enjoyed by the reforms was such that the ensuing social-democratic consensus was to last until the end of the 1970s, with Tory as well as Labour governments broadly operating within its framework.

During the 1970s, however, opposition to the social-democratic consensus grew steadily, led by the rise of the radical right, which culminated in 1979 in the election of Margaret Thatcher’s first government. In the process, the Thatcherites redefined the political debate, broadening it beyond the rather institutionalised and truncated forms that it had previously taken: they conducted a highly populist campaign that was for individualism and against collectivism; for the market and against the state; for liberty and against trade unionism; for law and order and against crime.

These ideas were dismissed by the left as just an extreme version of the same old Toryism, entirely failing to recognise their novelty and therefore the kind of threat they posed. The 1979 election, followed by Ronald Reagan’s US victory in 1980, began the neoliberal era, which remained hegemonic in Britain, and more widely in the West, for three decades. Tory and Labour governments alike operated within the terms and by the logic of neoliberalism. The only thing new about New Labour was its acquiescence in neoliberalism; even in this sense, it was not new but derivative of Thatcherism.

The financial crisis of 2007-2008 marked the beginning of the end of neoliberalism. Unlike the social-democratic consensus, which was undermined by the ideological challenge posed by Thatcherism, neoliberalism was brought to its knees not by any ideological alternative – such was the hegemonic sway of neoliberalism – but by the biggest financial crisis since 1931. This was the consequence of the fragility of a financial sector left to its own devices as a result of sweeping deregulation, and the corrupt and extreme practices that this encouraged.

The origin of the crisis lay not in the Labour government – complicit though it was in the neoliberal indulgence of the financial sector – but in the deregulation of the banking sector on both sides of the Atlantic in the 1980s. Neoliberalism limped on in the period after 2007-2008 but as real wages stagnated, recovery proved a mirage, and, with the behaviour of the bankers exposed, a deep disillusionment spread across society. During 2015-16, a populist wave of opposition to the establishment engulfed much of Europe and the United States.

Except at the extremes – Greece perhaps being the most notable example – the left was not a beneficiary: on the contrary it, too, was punished by the people in the same manner as the parties of the mainstream right were. The reason was straightforward enough. The left was tarnished with the same brush as the right: almost everywhere social-democratic parties, albeit to varying degrees, had pursued neoliberal policies. Bill Clinton and Tony Blair became – and presented themselves as – leaders of neoliberalism and as enthusiastic advocates of a strategy of hyper-globalisation, which resulted in growing inequality. In this fundamental respect these parties were more or less ­indistinguishable from the right.

***

The first signs of open revolt against New Labour – the representatives and evangelists of neoliberal ideas in the Labour Party – came in the aftermath of the 2015 ­election and the entirely unpredicted and overwhelming victory of Jeremy Corbyn in the leadership election. Something was happening. Yet much of the left, along with the media, summarily dismissed it as a revival of far-left entryism; that these were for the most part no more than a bunch of Trots. There is a powerful, often overwhelming, tendency to see new phenomena in terms of the past. The new and unfamiliar is much more difficult to understand than the old and familiar: it requires serious intellectual effort and an open and inquiring mind. The left is not alone in this syndrome. The right condemned the 2017 Labour Party manifesto as a replica of Labour’s 1983 manifesto. They couldn’t have been more wrong.

That Corbyn had been a veteran of the far left for so long lent credence to the idea that he was merely a retread of a failed past: there was nothing new about him. In a brilliant election campaign, Corbyn not only gave the lie to this but also demonstrated that he, far more than any of the other party leaders, was in tune with the times, the candidate of modernity.

Crises, great turning points, new conjunctures, new forms of consciousness are by definition incubators of the new. That is one of the great sources of their fascination. We can now see the line of linkage between the thousands of young people who gave Corbyn his overwhelming victory in the leadership election in 2015 and the millions of young people who were enthused by his general election campaign in 2017. It is no accident that it was the young rather than the middle-aged or the seniors who were in the vanguard: the young are the bearers and products of the new, they are the lightning conductors of change. Their elders, by contrast, are steeped in old ways of thinking and doing, having lived through and internalised the values and norms of neoliberalism for more than 30 years.

Yet there is another, rather more important aspect to how we identify the new, namely the way we see politics and how politics is conceived. Electoral politics is a highly institutionalised and tribal activity. There have been, as I argued earlier, two great turning points in postwar politics: the social-democratic era ushered in by the 1945 Labour government and the neoliberal era launched by the Tory government in 1979.

The average Tory MP or activist, no doubt, would interpret history primarily in terms of Tory and Labour governments; Labour MPs and activists would do similarly. But this is a superficial reading of politics based on party labels which ignores the deeper forces that shape different eras, generate crises and result in new paradigms.

Alas, most political journalists and columnists are afflicted with the same inability to distinguish the wood (an understanding of the deeper historical forces at work) from the trees (the day-to-day manoeuvring of parties and politicians). In normal times, this may not be so important, because life continues for the most part as before, but at moments of great paradigmatic change it is absolutely critical.

If the political journalists, and indeed the PLP, had understood the deeper forces and profound changes now at work, they would never have failed en masse to rise above the banal and predictable in their assessment of Corbyn. Something deep, indeed, is happening. A historical era – namely, that of neoliberalism – is in its death throes. All the old assumptions can no longer be assumed. We are in new territory: we haven’t been here before. The smart suits long preferred by New Labour wannabes are no longer a symbol of success and ambition but of alienation from, and rejection of, those who have been left behind; who, from being ignored and dismissed, are in the process of moving to the centre of the political stage.

Corbyn, you may recall, was instantly rejected and ridiculed for his sartorial style, and yet we can now see that, with a little smartening, it conveys an authenticity and affinity with the times that made his style of dress more or less immune from criticism during the general election campaign. Yet fashion is only a way to illustrate a much deeper point.

The end of neoliberalism, once so hegemonic, so commanding, is turning Britain on its head. That is why – extraordinary when you think about it – all the attempts by the right to dismiss Corbyn as a far-left extremist failed miserably, even proved counterproductive, because that was not how people saw him, not how they heard him. He was speaking a language and voicing concerns that a broad cross-section of the public could understand and identify with.

***

The reason a large majority of the PLP was opposed to Corbyn, desperate to be rid of him, was because they were still living in the neoliberal era, still slaves to its ideology, still in thrall to its logic. They knew no other way of thinking or political being. They accused Corbyn of being out of time when in fact it was most of the PLP – not to mention the likes of Mandelson and Blair – who were still imprisoned in an earlier historical era. The end of neoliberalism marks the death of New Labour. In contrast, Corbyn is aligned with the world as it is rather than as it was. What a wonderful irony.

Corbyn’s success in the general election requires us to revisit some of the assumptions that have underpinned much political commentary over the past several years. The turmoil in Labour ranks and the ridiculing of Corbyn persuaded many, including on the left, that Labour stood on the edge of the abyss and that the Tories would continue to dominate for long into the future. With Corbyn having seized the political initiative, the Tories are now cast in a new light. With Labour in the process of burying its New Labour legacy and addressing a very new conjuncture, then the end of neoliberalism poses a much more serious challenge to the Tories than it does the Labour Party.

The Cameron/Osborne leadership was still very much of a neoliberal frame of mind, not least in their emphasis on austerity. It would appear that, in the light of the new popular mood, the government will now be forced to abandon austerity. Theresa May, on taking office, talked about a return to One Nation Toryism and the need to help the worst-off, but that has never moved beyond rhetoric: now she is dead in the water.

Meanwhile, the Tories are in fast retreat over Brexit. They held a referendum over the EU for narrowly party reasons which, from a national point of view, was entirely unnecessary. As a result of the Brexit vote, the Cameron leadership was forced to resign and the Brexiteers took de facto command. But now, after the election, the Tories are in headlong retreat from anything like a “hard Brexit”. In short, they have utterly lost control of the political agenda and are being driven by events. Above all, they are frightened of another election from which Corbyn is likely to emerge as leader with a political agenda that will owe nothing to neoliberalism.

Apart from Corbyn’s extraordinary emergence as a leader who understands – and is entirely comfortable with – the imperatives of the new conjuncture and the need for a new political paradigm, the key to Labour’s transformed position in the eyes of the public was its 2017 manifesto, arguably its best and most important since 1945. You may recall that for three decades the dominant themes were marketisation, privatisation, trickle-down economics, the wastefulness and inefficiencies of the state, the incontrovertible case for hyper-globalisation, and bankers and financiers as the New Gods.

Labour’s manifesto offered a very different vision: a fairer society, bearing down on inequality, a more redistributive tax system, the centrality of the social, proper funding of public services, nationalisation of the railways and water industry, and people as the priority rather than business and the City. The title captured the spirit – For the Many Not the Few. Or, to put in another way, After Neoliberalism. The vision is not yet the answer to the latter question, but it represents the beginnings of an answer.

Ever since the late 1970s, Labour has been on the defensive, struggling to deal with a world where the right has been hegemonic. We can now begin to glimpse a different possibility, one in which the left can begin to take ownership – at least in some degree – of a new, post-neoliberal political settlement. But we should not underestimate the enormous problems that lie in wait. The relative economic prospects for the country are far worse than they have been at any time since 1945. As we saw in the Brexit vote, the forces of conservatism, nativism, racism and imperial nostalgia remain hugely powerful. Not only has the country rejected continued membership of the European Union, but, along with the rest of the West, it is far from reconciled with the new world that is in the process of being created before our very eyes, in which the developing world will be paramount and in which China will be the global leader.

Nonetheless, to be able to entertain a sense of optimism about our own country is a novel experience after 30 years of being out in the cold. No wonder so many are feeling energised again.

This article first appeared in the 15 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Corbyn: revenge of the rebel

Martin Jacques is the former editor of Marxism Today. 

This article first appeared in the 15 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Corbyn: revenge of the rebel

0800 7318496