Douglas Alexander’s ‘Better Nation’ – the ramblings of an amnesiac

Douglas Alexander MP must have thought long and hard about the speech he was to deliver at the Andrew John Williamson Memorial Lecture for 2011 at Stirling University. He must have thought hard about a title for it, unless, ‘A Better Nation – A Personal Reflection on Scotland’s Future‘ sprung into his head Archimedes –like in the bath one evening. Personal? Somehow I doubt that. I imagine a fair amount of cross-pollination took place before the emergence of this flowery species.

Don’t know about you, but I’m getting heartily sick of the new-born Scotsmen and women who populate Scottish Labour as we must now call it, formerly the Labour Party in Scotland. You know they type who feature the Saltire on their twitter pics and who pepper every interview with ‘Scotland this’ and ‘Scotland that.’

Alexander cites the Austrian, Ivan Illich, popular in the seventies for his radical approach to education, but I suspect the anti-capitalist Illich would have regarded the Labour Party of the late 20thC and 21st centuries as falling within his corrupt institutions those which end up performing the opposite of their original purpose.

Alexander uses him to suggest there is a need for myth busting in the search for the real Scotland. Certainly there is, not least in the myth of Labour as representative of the working people of this country. Labour has long rejected that role. Too far removed from its origins, too often corrupt, too often self-serving and worst of all, too often dishonest about its intentions.

The nation of Scotland is fine, just fine, Douglas Alexander. We don’t need any tips from you about rewriting our history.

‘…a story that draws too much from our past…’

Isn’t it a strange ideal for anyone to want to get away from our history? Where else in Europe, apart from in the UK is the teaching of history not seen as necessary after the age of 14? Albania is the answer to that. History is about us. Grounds us in who we are. We don’t need to run away from it. It is us.

It’s not Scots who don’t know what Britishness is. That is something almost wholly English. Ask the Welsh. In Scotland we have taught British history to all our schoolchildren, since the Union. Is it so in England? No. In England the emphasis is on English history and British history taught as if it is English history, which has all but written out Scots, Welsh and Irish contributions to most of the major British events over the past three hundred years. It is this that we in Scotland are determined to rectify. We have been the disappeared people for too long.

Alexander harks back to Thatcher and his fight against her attacks on Scotland. Who’s turning back the pages of history now, Douglas? Forget the past what are you going to do about the future. Isn’t that your message? Forgotten it already? How very, very post-Blair Labour. And, hawd me up, he mentions the ‘s’ word – albeit preceded by Democratic. Socialists for a better Scotland within Britain. The days of Dewar, certainly a politician of standing compared to today’s sad bunch, but unpopular with the very people who would have been reading Illich in Aberdeen who ran around sticking Dewar X onto lampposts around the city when he was standing for election there. DewarX – get it?

‘…we did deliver Scotland’s parliament.’

There he goes again, blah, blah, blah – back to history with what Labour did. History – ‘just one fucking thing after another.’

‘Too late in the years before 2007 did we recognise that our policies in government, while not fully eradicating poverty, had created a more diverse and modern economy’

Your policies, while not fully eradicating poverty? Are you given to understatement, Douglas? Since Labour took over government in 1997, the gap between rich and poor has been at its greatest, and health inequalities in Britain. You know this. Remember Illich?

Skipped over oil and gas pretty damn quick. 6000sq mls of Scottish water transferred by the Labour government in Westminster to English waters. Why? You know why. The answer is always oil.

‘…the Scottish Party, largely by reason of the unique national element in our politics, never really felt it needed to be “New” Labour.’

Audacious or what? If you say it, it’s true – is this the idea? Yes, the Labour Party is New Labour with or without the quotation marks. You and the rest Labour voted with New Labour in government, happy to go along with Blair and Brown. You are new Labour.

It’s disappointing that I’m not getting anything in your cultural or industrial references to anything north of the central belt, Douglas. So, so typically Labour.

‘And while the love and respect for the BBC, the NHS, the armed forces and the royal family have stayed strong…’

Can you believe that line?

You might conclude I’m not convinced by many of Alexander’s arguments. His choice of a novelists work to epitomise the case for independence is peculiar, especially when he criticises it for it’s partial view of ‘Scotland’s political struggles’. He may be right in the criticism of the novel but suggesting it is somehow a work seminal to the move towards independence is far-fetched. So what’s the point?

Then he’s off again banging on about history despite his earlier warnings about…you get the picture. Everyone talking Scotland must mention Tom Devine. It’s mandatory.

‘…Alasdair Gray’s evocative description in his greatest novel, Lanark, of “our own wee hard men [who] hammer Scotland down to the same dull level as themselves.”’

Strange, Alexander equates that with intolerant, mean-spirited nats while I see it as something quintessentially Labour.

You have to laugh at Douglas when he drags in Martin Luther King to support his shoogly argument. But, in case there are sceptics out there, he slips in something from science. Can’t argue with science, can we? Not like history. Now when it comes to the human genome argument, it is quite clear Alexander’s marbles have gone awol.

Child poverty. How many years was Labour in power, Douglas. How many? And the result was? I’ve written it above in case you’ve forgotten. Remember Illich? You are right when you say that too few Scots live long and prosperous lives, especially following Labour’s doubling of tax from 10% to 20% on incomes below £10,000. In what way did that help? Perhaps that’s what you mean when you talk about greater sharing and equality.

There’s nothing in this speech that says anything new. Same old story, fags and booze culture. No ideas about how to alter this. Nothing more. Nothing that is not already being debated in Scotland but I suspect Douglas Alexander is fairly out of touch with what is going on in Scotland today.

A Better Nation: sounds like the same old story, Douglas. Despairing, carping, confused arguments and a smattering of amnesia.

Don’t give up the day job, Douglas.

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