Salmond and Social Justice

Former FM has a poor record of helping the poor

If you’re anywhere in the vicinity of Greenock Town Hall the second weekend of September, don’t be startled if you see red flags fluttering alongside Saltires on its balconies. Having abandoned the stupid pretence that they are allies not enemies of the SNP, Alba’s interim leaders now look all set to attack the Sturgeonistas on their left flank. The venue for their inaugural party conference – smack bang in the centre of Scotland’s most deprived district – we’ll be told in the run up to this shindig, has been carefully selected to signal radical intention. By assailing the present Scottish Government for not deploying all the powers it possesses to alleviate the plight of the poor, the new breakaway party will aim to make its first breakthrough at next year’s local council elections in places like the grimmest parts of Inverclyde.

Alex Salmond first attempted to do this during the recent Holyrood election. In a campaign stop he made in Greenock, he condemned the levels of deprivation and poverty in the West of Scotland and elsewhere as a “political scandal”, declaring that “bold and radical action” was required “to ensure that such inequality is no longer accepted by politicians in the Scottish Parliament”. The Alba Party founder then proceeded to roll out a radical five-point plan:

  • Introduce an annual £500 payment to assist half a million low earnings households in Scotland 🏠
  • Increase the Scottish Child Payment to £40 per week for 400,000 children in quarter of a million households 🧒
  • Extend free school meals to all primary and secondary pupils in Scotland 🍎
  • Double the Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA) from £30 to £60 for 16-19 year olds in school and college 📚
  • Introduce universal access to sports facilities for all children and young people under 18 ⚽️

I would like to swiftly point out that the emojis were tacked on by Alba’s digital communicators, not by me. A bit frivolous for such a serious subject, some folk might think. Personally, I’ve no objection to a few gimmicky graphics if there exist any voters out there who don’t know what a household or a child is. I think you might find, though, that such types would also struggle to scrawl an X on a ballot paper. But we’ll let that pass. The important point is that the aforementioned five-point plan is attempting to put social justice at the centre of Scottish political debate. Something of which William McIlvanney would have approved, writing as he did:

There has developed a tendency to judge a society by how much money it can generate, no matter how few bank accounts the bulk of that money comes to rest in.

Social justice is not some optional extra which can be fitted in once we get our sums right. It is the very principle which will determine the rightness or wrongness of our sums.

I’m sure Alex Salmond would nod in firm agreement at that. But here’s the thing: he was First Minister for more than seven years (and SNP leader for far longer) yet did next-to-nothing in all that time to seriously advance the cause of social justice in Scotland. From May 2007 to October 2014 his administration certainly made no serious attempt to implement any of the five radical proposals listed above.

The Scottish Socialist Party launched its free school meals campaign back in 2001. So it has taken two whole decades for another party in this land to advocate every state school child in Scotland being served a nutritious lunch – something all pupils in Finland started to receive when their country was poverty-stricken and menaced by Stalin’s Red Army. The fact that Mr Salmond has only now perceived the pressing need to do this is, to my mind, a far darker stain on his lengthy stint in St Andrew’s House than anything he was falsely accused of doing during his criminal trial. Think how many thousands of Scottish schoolchildren struggled to learn during all that time because they were too hungry to concentrate in class!

Before anyone pipes up about Scotland having free tuition fees or free medical prescriptions, please note these are universal benefits so don’t lessen inequality. On the contrary, bribing middle-class taxpayers with their own money can sometimes widen the gaps between rich and poor. There is ample evidence that Scotland’s FE colleges were starved of funds so school-leavers from extremely affluent backgrounds could attend the nation’s elite universities for free. Plenty of sunny smiles in the leafy terraces around Stockbridge, Byres Road and Broughty Ferry when Mr Salmond proclaimed: “The rocks will melt with the sun before I allow tuition fees to be imposed on Scotland’s students.”

As I’ve argued in a previous blog, I welcome this stalwart’s return to the political frontline and think he could still make some further valuable contribution to the independence cause. Alex Salmond isn’t, however, the person Alba conference delegates should pick to spearhead a party seeking to portray itself as more bold and radical than the SNP. Even some instant converts to this cause cannot avoid acknowledging his wee credibility problem in that department. George Kerevan wrote in the National on March 29:

It is no surprise then that the Alba Party’s statement of aims explicitly describes the organisation as “social democratic” in contrast to the neoliberal economics of the SNP’s Growth Commission report written by corporate lobbyist Andrew Wilson. The early rush of folk joining the Alba Party (now some thousands) appears to be heavily tilted to those who opposed the Growth Report and its conservative advocacy of keeping the UK pound. 

That said, the differences in political and economic ideology between Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond are slight. Salmond himself was an early adopter of the Irish globalist, free trade, limited regulation model for Scotland. This model went belly up with the bank crash of 2008. 

Tell me about it. I covered the fallout of that socio-economic catastrophe as a correspondent in Dublin. I remember cringing when Scotland’s first nationalist first minister flew across the Atlantic to trumpet the “emergence of the Celtic lion of Scotland” to rival Ireland’s Celtic Tiger.

Now, I accept, there has been no silly talk about big cats from him of late. But that doesn’t alter the sad fact that Mr Salmond’s radical credentials remain flimsy to say the least. Kenny MacAskill has polished his up a wee bit in recent years by waxing romantic about the Red Clydesiders in a recent book. But the reality is that these twa Lithgae lads can point to only a brief flirtation with socialism and republicanism. Such was the dual objective of the 79 Group, which sought to swing the SNP towards left-wing nationalism in response to Margaret Thatcher’s rise to power. But neither of them lasted long in that.

Documentary film footage still exists of a young Mr Salmond storming out of the conference chamber when this splinter group was publicly booted out by the Nats’ then party leader Gordon Wilson. But the cheeky chappy was soon readmitted after renouncing the faction’s unacceptably radical objectives. That was way back in the early 1980s. Alba’s interim chieftain can’t point to anything dramatic he (or any other presently prominent figure in the party) did in the subsequent four decades to seriously try to end the scandal of social inequality in Scotland. Does he really imagine his new party’s political enemies aren’t going to point that out? 

One indisputable fact Alex Salmond has unambiguously demonstrated over almost half a century is that he is a political chameleon who will happily adopt any ideological posture he thinks might temporarily aid his personal crusade for independence – in whatever form it might map out. Republican or monarchist? Neoliberal or social democratic? Pro-Trump or anti-Trump? Oor Eck has been all of these – and more. 

Flexibility and pragmatism can be virtues and might nudge opinion poll ratings up a few fractional points now and then. But they are no solid foundation for national or social emancipation. Social justice cannot be brought about by putting places like Inverclyde in the national spotlight for just one weekend. The real reason Greenock Town Hall was chosen, I’m told, is because all other venues were either unavailable or too large and expensive for this fragile, fledgling party. Cllr Chris McEleney (the former SNP group leader there) apparently used his local influence to secure it at an affordable rate. If so, there was no real political motive in the choice of venue. It was purely practical and financial. Which is quite depressing when you think about it. A true indication of how spectacularly Alba failed to make a breakthrough in the recent Holyrood election under its present interim ‘leadership’ (which cannot all be attributed to a broadcasting blackout). And an early warning of the cynical spin we should be on our guard against when assessing this, as all other, set of power-seekers.

If Alex Salmond is sincere about ending the political scandal of enduring inequality in Scotland, he will take to the stage at Greenock Town Hall on Saturday September 11 and relinquish the leadership of Alba to somebody who can call for bold and radical action with some credibility.

20 thoughts on “Salmond and Social Justice

  1. “ If Alex Salmond is sincere about ending the political scandal of enduring inequality in Scotland, he will take to the stage at Greenock Town Hall on Saturday September 11 and relinquish the leadership of Alba”
    ———
    He should have done that already. The conspiracy to destroy him politically has, alas, been all too successful. Sturgeonites are dancing in the streets of Raith.

    The hard truth is that any party led by Alex is going nowhere. This is a bitter pill for genuine independence supporters to swallow. But swallow it they must.

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  2. Alleviation of poverty is not done by Government handouts but by Economic growth.Many of “the poor”,a far from homogenous group that changes constantly over time,understand this hence why the vote for Left “radicals” has diminished.Socialism is dead as are,unfortunately,many of the poor souls who suffered under it.There is no prospect of any resurrection in Scotland no matter how many “radicals” wax nostalgic.

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    1. Ah, the good old trickle down theory. Wondered how long that might take to surface. Read a book called The Spirit Level about how more equitable distribution of wealth can massively boost demand in the economy, thereby spurring economy activity. Enlightened capitalists in places like Scandinavia appreciate that, as well as possessing a decent sense of social solidarity. Forget what that fraud Bill Clinton said. It’s not the economy, it’s the society, stupid!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Salmond should “.. relinquish the leadership of Alba to somebody who can call for bold and radical action with some credibility”

    For example, relinquish to whom ..?

    And where is Robin McAlpine these days?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Let’s see who emerges in the run-up to the inaugural conference in early September. If it proves to be a stitch-up by the same uninspiring ‘leadership’ who failed to make any positive impact in the recent Holyrood election (which cannot all be attributed to a broadcasting blackout), Alba ain’t going anywhere.

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  4. At the omniscient age of 20, in the early years of Thatcher, I reasoned that independence was the best option to securing a socially just Scotland (including Inverclyde which was part of my work life in the “poverty industry”).At UK level, too many vested interests (from media to MI5) to ever allow any form of equality to happen. The Tories are the natural order in the UK; New Labour provided a brief but illusory respite. So, I have voted SNP up until the May 2021 election, by which time I had decided I could no longer support SNP. I voted Scotia Future on both votes. Like William McIlvanney (RIP) or indeed the very alive Robin McAlpine, personal integrity is more important than saying/writing what will please those in power. However, that brief feeling of moral integrity is overshadowed by the stark reality that, for whatever reasons, at least half of the electorate voted Nicola Sturgeon/SNP, thus endorsing by default her brand of governing Scotland for the next five years. Just as the 2014 NO vote meant that we had to accept all the consequences of remaining part of the UK, including the subsequent Brexit vote, May 2021 is an endorsement of Sturgeon and all that follows from that choice. Very depressing but realpolitik. How/when this sad state of state affairs will change will of course continue to form the basis of discussion and debate by those who want something better, and who are willing to be in the target range for the very powerful and pervasive forces of Sturgeon and all that entails. Whether or not Big Eck is declared the President of Inverclyde in 2022 is unlikely to change much, including the daily grind for the good but poor folks of Inverclyde and beyond. Scotland needs new political momentum, so that force has to be intelligent and with integrity do that we don’t lose out way, as has happened now. Whether our morally dubious system of political careership can produce that new magic is a moot point. I await the miracle.

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      1. Rob. I have a Dip Do, Diploma in the Depressingly Obvious! I am also available for “party (political or social) pooping” at any time for those seeking an end to hope!

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  5. Yes, much food for thought, Jaggy. Alba should have realized that the SNP would never have allied with them – and not just because of Mr Salmond. Scotland’s underlying and fundamental problem – well, the biggest one, anyway – lies in its land distribution – or should that be non-distribution. So long as land is concentrated in the feudal hands of the few, and so long as council house building has ground to a halt and houses in local areas go to anyone who can pay the highest price, Scotland will remain in thrall to speculators and the status quo, and young families will suffer or leave. The SNP will never introduce a tax regime that favours the whole of society rather than a small part of it, so nothing will change. Alba is actually, with a few tweaks, of the same mould, but, if it manages to garner enough followers, it has a chance of overtaking the SNP and offering a viable alternative to the establishment, which the SNP has become. This is what we need now: a party that will actually do what it is meant to do. It remains to be seen whether Alba is that party.

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    1. I agree with you, Lorna, about the great forgotten issue – Scotland being frozen in semi-feudalism and, increasingly, a rentier economy. Alba needs a radically alternative agenda. We’ll see if that emerges – or is even up for open debate – in Greenock.

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      1. Land reform (and rewilding) should be top of the agenda of any Scottish party. The SNP used to make promising noises about it, but have failed to grasp the nettle, and now resemble a neoliberal economic orthodoxy, with friends and allies who will keep it that way, and whom the SNP dare not upset. The depressing thing about the SNP is how tame they have become and how insipid they would be if they ever got charge of an indy Scotland. There is no point in independence without thinking through the hard choices which would have to be made and being prepared to act. The SNP are terrified of rocking the cosy boat they have commandeered.

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    2. Yes Lorna, land and wealth ; land and wealth. It has all been stolen over the ages by the strongest armies and now tax accountants and land developers. It will take a special political force willing to spread it around more.

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    1. If Scotland qualify for the next stage of Euro 20 I nominate Steve Clarke to lead Alba as we need a miracle worker with no ego. If we don’t qualify, I nominate him as we need a miracle worker with no ego and recent experience of managing national disappointment! Kenny McAskill can help Steve with football crowd control as long as he doesn’t invade the pitch or go anywhere near the goalposts! Alex is probably best placed in the commentary box. Of course, the women’s team may have alternative nominations on grounds of emotional intelligence and inherent ability to deal with pain and male tantrums whilst simultaneously supervising the children’s team? Alison Johnstone, currently under utilised at team Holyrood, may be available for the right transfer fee?

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  6. I broadly agree with Rob’s analysis of the prospects for Alba at the launch of its first conference in Greenock. It has to be boldly left social democratic and republican in its programme and democratic in its structure and process. Yes, sadly Alex Salmond has to stand down as leader as he has become too toxic because of the way he was monstered by the media and the SNP.
    I’ve been around the creation of quite a few new parties in my long political history. Indeed, I’ve helped form a few myself. Alba has a good basis for a new party with 2 MPs over 20 councillors and over 5,000 members. But it has to differentiate itself from the SNP, where most of its membership has come from and along with the wider Yes movement is likely to be able to grow quickly. This means it has to be much more committed to Independence , much more left in its policies including a radical programme for the economy with a Scottish currency, a commitment to a Scottish independent republic, nuclear free and NATO free.
    I shall be arguing for these policies at Greenock in September but, as I told Alex Salmond when he welcomed me into Alba, if it’s just a vehicle for Alex then I and many other won’t hang around long!
    I know my critics will say: Hugh Kerr chalks up another party to join and leave. Well, as the great man (Keynes) said: “when the facts change I change my mind. what do you do sir?

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  7. Universal benefits like free prescription or free tuition fees don’t decrease inequality!

    What doctrine is that Rab. Are you saying that tuition fees and prescriptions should not be free or should only be free on means testing.

    Seems that you are Rab and maybe the same should go for everything else – bus passes, pensions, medical care even.

    Personally, I thought Salmond was a great First Minister, as do many others.

    We need him and his ilk back.

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    1. I’m far from the first advocate of redistribution of wealth to make the point I did. Politics is ultimately about the allocation of scarce resources: those allocated to people who don’t really need them are no longer available to help those who are in (often dire) need. If you exclude his failure on the social justice front, Alex Salmond was far from a flop as First Minister. I’d certainly rather have him in control of our criminal justice system than his successor. But I believe he is incapable of making a comeback of the scale required to really transform the Scottish political landscape.

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