A Socially Just Economy

Cavemen With God On Their Side: Hope, Equality and The Politics of Change

Many years ago I worked in the North East of England and was lucky enough to have digs with a couple who were involved in the Disability Movement and who were incredible insightful when analysing discrimination. They told me a story to explain the problem of professionals approaching issues of disability without understanding the every-day politics of a situation. The gist of it goes like this:

A disabled middle-aged man had been referred through social work to a counselling service because every time he passed his local primary school the children would tease and taunt him and it was affecting his sense of being.

The Disabled Man attended the councillors but the couple I was staying with were astonished that the social workers felt this was a case they should pass on to others. Key questions posed included; Why did the social worker not engage with the school and attempt to address the issue? Why did they not see the power politics of the situation that involved a group of children using their collective power against a man who experienced a cognitive impairment?

It should be noted that not all social workers are the same. However, some social workers see their jobs as management and triage and don’t spend a lot of time getting out of their offices into the real world. They don’t see their role as actually working face to face with people.

The social worker was unable to see the politics of the situation and therefore, dealt with the case in terms of changing the man through counselling not challenging the discrimination he was experiencing.

The social model of disability seeks to shift our analysis away from dealing with impairment (what people’s bodies can’t do) to removing barriers in society cause by attitudes (such as; you are not a complete human being if you have an impairment), structures (the way we design our world) and cultures (the way we collectively presume the world should be).

Eventually, local groups like Disability Action North East and Disability North worked with the man and supported him to carry out a disability equality project in the school. This enabled the social distance to be closed between the pupils and the man – and the bullying stopped.

People can do terrible things to their fellow human beings when there is social distance, stigma and abuse of power. However, in the end, this is a positive story because local people enabled a collaborative environment to be developed that, in turn, assisted the man and the pupils to resolve the situation.

At the centre of this resolution process was appreciative dialogue and over the years I have been lucky enough to work with other friends such as Mairian Corker (Bakhtin) and Liam Cairns (Habermas) who have drawn on different theorists to explain the importance of dialogue in processes of change.

The only serious problem with using dialogue to resolve a social conflict occurs if the discussion doesn’t engage with the real-politic of the situation or if the politics mean that one or both of the two sides won’t engage in discussion.

Examples of situations where dialogue is difficult include; the middle-east, where there is no trust; the BBC, which attacks its critics rather than reflecting in its limitations; and Westminster, where nil sum games mean the politics of the male bully flourishes.

In the case above, the social worker’s response to the bullying was totally inadequate and lacked any sense of urgency. Disability studies writers such as John Swain, Sally French and Colin Cameron use an affirmative model of disability to explain this type of situation. This model suggests that there is an assumption by professionals that disabled people want to be changed, need to be ‘other than themselves’.

In this case such an assumption leads the social worker to conclude that we need to change the disabled man through counselling. The social worker passes the man on for ‘reprogramming’ rather than: engaging with the professionals in the school to address the issue; working with groups who could support a change process; or helping the man himself to take action (e.g. such discrimination could have, using a less conciliatory approach, been reported to the police).

The social worker failed to focus on the man’s abilities (to be collaborative with the pupils to resolve the situation), his value (that he could speak authentically of his life experience) and his strength (that he could help to challenge stereotypes about himself).

The key to this example is that rather than creating social victims, we have a collective duty to take leadership by promoting and enabling processes of collaborative resolution. We have a duty not to pass by on the other side, nor, to pass the situation on. Please note, I am not promoting hierarchical leadership here, rather, I am encouraging shared and collaborative leadership.

So what has this got to do with the Scotland and the referendum? Well we could all have become victims after the result. But, we adopted a range of responses which enabled us to avoid victimhood. So let us looks at how we achieved this. We can use some old fashioned counselling theories concerning how people internalise there life experiences to explain and better understand how we reacted to defeat.

We didn’t spend much time up that big river called Denial; some people did go for, ‘the referendum was fixed line’ and there was something dodgy about the Glasgow and Dundee turn outs (the process was open to being fixed but I’ve still to be convinced it was).

If you stood like me at the polling station at Polwarth in Edinburgh you knew the game was up. The young voted for us, but all the pensioners shuffling past with their eyes down looking at their shoes, told us all you needed to know about the result. They took no pride in their vote – they knew they were fearties and they knew they were letting us down.

I managed to hold it together for most of the day after the result until my kids came back in from School and I had just read a report on the demographics of the result and realised that my instinct was true, the old had let the young down. One word from my daughter and there were floods of tears – the grief gates were fully opened.

In the first few days I employed tactics of isolation, losing myself in retro Americana Country music, finding jobs to do in the garden, not reading the newspapers, nor, watching the television.

It would have been easy to drop into a blame culture and refuse to excuse the elderly or ‘incomers’ (a majority of people born in Scotland actually voted for independence). But, that would have lost sight of our cause; our cause is for all the people of Scotland whatever their back ground to live in a better country – if you live here, work here, your one of us.

By taking this stance we were able to be self-critical, for example, we let the elderly down by not having a strategy that got out in front of project fear and put their minds at rest and if we didn’t convince people who weren’t born here – we need to improve our offer, not blame them. In the end we lost because we did not alleviate a group of people’s fears who could have voted yes but weren’t convinced (somewhere between 15 and 25%).

In terms of the elderly, the internet campaign could not reach them as they don’t have access to it (more funding needed Scottish Government) and in particular (I know this is going to be unpopular but here it comes anyway) Alec Salmond did not have a strategy to overcome project fear on key issues such as the pound and pensions – he hadn’t expected to win and didn’t have a strategy for the important baby boomer demographic.

Some people who experience loss and grief internalise it in slightly paranoid ways; flying to conclusions, catastrophizing and personalising. Indeed, I have had my own moments falling into this type of thinking in the past.  You assume people intend to injure you without checking what people actually mean before jumping to offence, you refuse to accept apologies and exaggerate slights.

There is great potential for this emotional response to be exhibited by the exhausted foot-soldiers of the #indymovement. It’s a dangerous emotion because it becomes self-fulfilling; the way you react to people ends up with them thinking of you in hostile ways. We cannot afford such self-indulgence if we are to build the 70% required to gain independence. We cannot afford to alienate our fellow Scots who voted no.

Many years ago, I worked in a research centre that was rife with work place bullying. The head was a very weak man, scared about his own position and in order to look powerful he tried to make arbitrary decisions on issues that were nothing to do with him. This meant that when staff fought back he had no ground upon which to stand.  He was forced to back down and looked even weaker. His approach brought about the very situation that he feared most.

About that time, I got the feeling that my immediate boss was fairly politically expedient and would back this man over me if it came to the crunch. It led me to distrust everything my immediate boss did. One of my friends jokingly said that he thought I was becoming paranoid, then he paused for a minute and said – ‘well they are out to get you so I suppose it’s not paranoia’.

The same problem confronts the #indymovement. The more we shout and complain the weaker we will look. We need to engage with people in positive ways and set a different agenda rather than a ‘shouty’ agenda.

So, when Tony Blair today calls independence, a caveman reactionary ideology and says he wouldn’t want to win on a leftist agenda. We don’t need to shout back, we can use the opportunity to highlight that our agenda is not of the past but is for a progressive socially just future. We can also use the opportunity here to show the hypocrisy of his words.

Mr Blaire chose not develop a progressive socially just economy because he was too busy spending tax payers money and governmental energy on bombs rather than funding universal childcare for bairns and developing an economy based on high paid jobs. For ‘New Labour’ read ‘old warmonger’. Mr Blair and his colleagues gave honours to the cavemen who were destroying our economy, rather than build a fare economy.

Blair’s attack on independence today demonstrated how out of touch he is with the everyday people of Scotland. But what was more glaring, was his use of the term cavemen. There is nothing more caveman like than fighting and killing, Mr Blair. Tony Blair was very good a sending other people to do his fighting, sending other people to die and to kill others at his behest.

I can think of no behaviour more caveman like than that – oh actually I can – getting your hands bloody doing your own fighting but Mr Blair would have to take his suit off to do that. Mr Blair’s intervention reminded me of the Bob Dylan song, ‘God On Your Side’ ‘For you don’t count the dead, when God’s on your side’.

This song ‘God on Your Side’ points to the futility of war, and also shows us that war has, ‘aye been’.

But, the cavemen and women did not have the weapons to slaughters hundreds of thousands like Mr Blaire did. Has Mr Blaire forgotten this legacy – no Lady Macbeth moment for him then? What Bob Dylan is pointing out to people like Mr Blaire is that Warmongers get people killed  –  Mr Blair is too pious to notice, with God on his side.

But that is also the problem for the #indymovement war, piousness or paranoia. All are problematic, we have plenty serious reasons to feel injured but if we hark on and on about the way we have been mistreated we look paranoid or if we approach independence as a religion that can’t be criticised we look pious and if we fight with our fellow Scot we all loose.

‘Yet, the Westminster establishment were out to get us’, I hear my indy friends cry. Recent reports would suggest this is true and have, for example, pointed out that the Westminster civil service, ministers and the BBC were bang out of line in their #indyref behaviour. It was also the case that The Queen sullied her position by allowing the media to focus on her ‘think seriously’ line – no sign of neutrality there then.

My own view is that it is appropriate to draw attention to these issues but not to claim victim status. I tend to point out to friends in an ironic and humorous way that these things actually helped our cause and enabled a lot of undecided people to vote Yes who were shocked by the unfairness and, in a very Scots way, wouldn’t be bullied.

So let’s be clear, the more we are attacked and the less we adopt the unionists’ aggressive approach, the more likely it is that people will engage with our perspective. We have to avoid adopting the behaviour of our oppressors. So let’s keep being positive and not dwell too much on the injustices, other than as a pathway to solutions.

A further state of mind that we need to avoid is; Polarised thinking, over generalising and filtering (moaning or over emphasising the negative bits – ‘we are all doomed’) are techniques that we could use to ignore our ability to change our life conditions.

Indeed, we did have a good moan post #indyref particularly about project fear, the Vow and the Smith commission. But we got that out of our system and we were soon filtering the other way and over egging the positives with statements like, ‘we lost a battle but won the war’, ‘we created a massive butterfly revolution’ and ‘we showed the world there is another way’, etc.

The GE2015 gave credence to the benefits of our positive approach and demonstrated an ability to bring No voters into the party (e.g. my mother voted No in September 2014 then voted SNP at the GE2015). There is a danger that the Tories are trying to draw us into moaning about the welfare cuts too much, rather than, promoting the positive alternative – such as a Common Weal Economy (see previous posts).

Hence, care is needed to ensure that we don’t slip into a position of ‘moaners in chief’. I have been calling on twitter recently for Nicola Sturgeon to get out in front of the Tories and start setting the agenda. Recent steps seemed to have achieved this, for example, at Westminster the failure of the Fox Hunting bill made the SNP look powerful and David Cameron weak.

This is the thing about power-politics; counsellors tell us that some people who go through difficult life experiences get too focussed on blaming others for their problem, on saying it’s not fair and on arguing others are not behaving properly towards themselves. This can also be associated with thinking, ‘we can’t do anything about this’.

That was the important aspect of our post #indyref reaction we did not give up, we did not (despite what the media may claim) resort to forcing our arguments down other people’s throats irrespective of their views, nor .did we label our-selves losers.

Indeed, the reaction of the Better Together side looked more like they were the ones struggling with the aftermath of the result; the disgraceful far right thugs in Glasgow, David Cameron’s inability to see EVEL (English Votes For English Laws) as divisive and Labour denial that they were involved in the campaign (Jim Murphy, ‘I’m not a unionist’ the biggest lie-to-self seen since the Vow), all gave the public the impression that the unionists were in trouble.

Subsequently, the Labour Party lost members because of their state of denial brought forth an inability under their Scottish leader (recently resigned) to challenge Westminster bias and a ludicrous attempt to win the GE2015 in Scotland by operating a campaign based on Project Fear Mark II.

The Better Together side bullied, threatened and lied their way to a narrow points-victory in the #indyref. But, they left their chin out and were almost knocked out in the late rounds of the contest. It has been clear for all in Scotland to see that Better Together acted like losers during the #indyref when they stooped very low to bully pensioners into providing them with a grubby victory. Everyone (with the exception of @BBCScotlandNews), is also aware that since the referendum the unionist political parties have acted like deluded tyrants.

It will be interesting to see if the courts will force Liberal’s such as Alistair Carmichael out of his deluded position that it is ok to blatantly lie to the public on national television in an attempt to smear your opponents, whilst narrowly winning the most northerly of Westminster seats.

Tory denial that the vow did not mean full federalism (even when confronted by video evidence), hints at a more than a continued delusion. Tory inability to understand the meaning of the GE2015 (it was amongst other things a vote against the Smith Commission) further demonstrates their disconnection with Scotland post #indyref.

The labour Party’s delusion beggars belief. They are currently like the social worker in my earlier story. Labour does not see it as their role to challenge the power politics of Westminster. They were viewed in the GE2015 by the English swing voter as not having a credible alternative on the economy and those voters concluded that rather than vote for Tory-lite they would vote for the real thing because the Tory party would be better at introducing Tory economic policies.

That’s quite an achievement to be deemed irrelevant in Scotland for being too right wing and in England for not being the real right wing deal.  This failure is an outstanding indictment of their inability to put forward a clear message.

But, we need not get too focussed on the unionists. By focussing on the positive possibilities for change in Scotland we have enabled our fellow citizens to see an alternative to moaning, see that we can actually be more considerate of each other, see we can act in collaborative ways that change people’s lives and see that we can achieve a new kind of economy. Such positive thinking makes an irrelevance of the policies of the parties that were once in Better Together.

The reason the SNP won GE2015 was two-fold. First, the day after the result the unionists split over EVEL . It was as if a veil had been taken off the eyes of a large group of No voters who suddenly realised: there was no chance of devo-max, this was about things for English MPs, this was not about the union and they had been lied to.

The second reason for the SNPs unprecedented success was that the #indyref butterfly revolution created an alternative story about a collaborative, inclusive and socially just Scotland. A progressive Scotland, Mr Blaire, not a caveman Scotland. The SNP need to deliver economically on this if they are to maintain the momentum that currently looks like it will surf us to independence.

There is little space for blaming a lack of change on Westminster. Yes, Westminster creates barriers but we need to be sophisticated enough to find our way around these. Only by providing concrete examples of the new economy will voters keep faith with the #indymovement.

At a recent Common Weal meeting a speaker (who is also coincidently called John) asked of the group, something like, ‘If we were offered the tools to create a new equitable socially just and inclusive economy in Scotland, everything but full independence (e.g. everything but passport change), would you say no because you are so wedded to independence? Or, would you say yes for the good of your fellow person?’

Of course we all said we would accept that for the good of our fellow person. The problem for the Westminster establishment is that they are not offering such a shift. People, like my-self, worked out years ago that the greatest barrier to a socially just economy was Westminster. What was great about the #indyref was that it enabled so many more people to come to the same conclusion.

The SNP have a tricky balancing act to achieve – they must demonstrate we need independence at the same time as demonstrating they can create a new economy and socially just Scotland with the limited powers of Holyrood.

They need to do as well as they can with what powers they have – so that people see the need to make the final shift. Some might think that if the SNP do well it will show that full independence is not needed, I don’t see it like that. I see it more like a young adult making the steps to independence and becoming more confident in the journey until the ties are finally cut.

I have some faith in the SNPs incrementalist approach which will, give us time to work out strong positions on the economy, pound and pensions. However, the SNP need to make sure they use every minute of the time available to improve people’s lives in Scotland. It is concrete examples of change that people need – it will be such examples, rather than fine words and political tactics, which will outwit arrogant and pious Tory, Labour and Liberal politicians.

Towards the end of the referendum I recognised when talking to people that the #indyref was only the start of something and we would have to work very hard after the #indyref to hold people, such as politicians, to account if we were to really achieve the change that was required.

It is difficult to trust politicians. Nicola Sturgeon has the possibility to be different but it requires her to put her hand up when things go wrong e.g. the review of the Police call centres will require a lot of ‘mea culpa’.   Nicola needs time to steady the economy, build local economies and to work out how to use any new powers for the best of the Scottish people.

But, she will also need help in Holyrood. The only party that is more progressive is the Green Party. So rather than trusting Nicola on her own – we need to vote green second vote to ensure there is a strong socially just and progressive group next to her who will help her when it becomes difficult to steer the ship to new horizons. It is only by having a collaborative, inclusive and progressive Scottish Parliament that is clearly superior in its actions to the Westminster Parliament, that we will convince people that we can achieve the ultimate change that is independence.