For a teenager the early 1980s was the best thing ever. While the new Conservative government was intend on smashing civic society, Scotland remained a defiantly socialist country. Caledonia was filled with plucky soviet inspired pioneers boldly giving the finger to the running dogs of capitalism, whilst waiting for the great leap forward into a benevolent and all loving Marxist paradise – which would come about once the labour party won power in the UK. Thatcher however had other plans.
Much has already been written about the destruction of Scotland’s traditional manufacturing base in the 1980s and I need not go repeat that awful litany of closures here. Defiance without victory is a hard thing to sustain, yet long term things were achieved during the 1980s. Labour controlled Strathclyde region leased land outside Faslane Naval Base to anti-nuclear campaigners and Faslane Peace Camp remains a focus for world-wide resistance to Nuclear weapons. Many of the men and women who suffered under Thatcher’s axe remain defiant and active to this day, not least the men and women of the mining communities who I met during the Social Justice campaigns of the 1990s. But there is no denying that by the mid 1980s Red Scotland was becoming exhausted and increasingly bitter place.
Whether a Scottish parliament could have resisted or at least soften Tory attacks on Scotland is one of those great what ifs of history. Certainly in the aftermath of Thatcher’s stunning 1983 re-election some of the No campaigners of 1979 now came to support the idea of home rule, either as a measure for defending Scotland or protecting the Labour Party’s dominance. Among the converts was Robin Cook. However, this debate remained behind closed doors.
When I was 16 or 17 I went to a Labour party talk in Castlemilk, on the outskirts of Glasgow. The wee man from the party stood up and gave his spiel. Housing, poverty, health and other Social Jutice isues were not mentioned at all. Thatcher was only mentioned in the passing. Instead the audience was given a lecture about the evils and dangers of the SNP. It was the first time I heard this theory articulated, but not the last. To this day, it still does the rounds in various guises and it remains as shocking a thing to hear now as it was then. In summary, here are the facts as espoused by the wee man from the Labour Party. The SNP, he explained, says it’s all for worker’s rights and defying Thatcher. It says it is a Socialist Party. But it is also a Nationalist Party. Socialism and Nationalism. What happens when you put them together? It happened in Germany with Hitler. Do not let it happen here! So there it was explained to working class teenagers, the Scot Nats were actually Scot Nazis.
Luckily I was and remain a contrary wee shite. My childhood has a lot to do with this. Like many families in the West of Scotland, mine is a mixture of the Orange and Green, my heritage being a mix of the Irish who fled the hunger and dislocation of late 19th century Ireland and the Scottish Protestants who tried to shove them back on the boat again. There is pride in both sides of my family and much to celebrate but having brought mixed cultured children into the world my parents and their respective families were faced with a very real problem. Should the weans be brought up Catholic or Protestant. In the end I was baptised a Catholic. However, whilst I went to Chapel on Sunday, I went to Orange walks on the Saturday. As our American friends are wont to say ‘Go figure!’
One legacy of my upbringing is an appreciation that nothing is ever black or white (or orange and green). I like shades and tones and splashes of confusion and sheer bloody mayhem. Having listened to the crazy labour man’s harangue I did not sign on the line and become a member of the people’s party. Instead, within a week I joined the SNP. Admittedly I was more motived by umbrage than conviction, but at least I made a go of it. I did try to stay in the SNP, but I’m not a nationalist. It’s just not in my make-up. I do retain a lot of respect for the SNP activists as I do for many of the Labour activist who I have met over the years. But I guess it’s like my Orange and Green background. I have been influenced and inspired by the Labour and Nationalist parts of my Heritage, but I remain in politics as in faith, a firm Atheist.
Now read Part Five: Defending Red Scotland
All these blogs can be read from beginning at: Social Justice & Scottish Independence
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