Not Business As Usual

This article picks up a thread from Peter Lomas’ post The Common Weal Syriza Debate – Beginning of a new Europe? and develops it further from a personal perspective.

This week, I’ve seen two similar criticism’s made of Common Weal.  One came from NUS President, Gordon Maloney, during the Common Weal debate about Greece and Syriza in Edinburgh on Wednesday evening, posed (at least to some degree, I think) as a challenge.  The other came from Philip Stott, of Socialist Party Scotland, in an article in Scottish Left Review.  Though slightly different in tone and detail, both questioned CW’s accommodation with the capitalist system and particularly trying to find common interest with those of business. As someone who has a great deal of respect for the two individuals concerned, I hope they receive this response in the spirit of comradeliness with which it is intended.

The criticisms some some level are valid and have substance but, I would argue, are based on a misunderstanding of what Common Weal is – it is not a political party with a fully developed and coherent programme. It is an arena for thinking about things afresh, free from much of the baggage that has dogged left politics for so long. It is a place where people can get involved and be active and not have to endorse one particular orthodoxy or another up front. That is not to say that theory and intellectual rigour are absent – far from it. However without an umbrella under which these can be debated constructively, they become an alternative to action, rather than the basis for it.

As someone who cut my political teeth in the Militant Tendency and Scottish Socialist Party, I see no contradiction with embracing the Common Weal today. I still consider myself a Marxist in outlook but am far more aware of common cause with others who may not be. We are all looking towards the same destination but are discussing which route(s) are viable to get there.

As to the issue of finding common cause with business, let’s pull that apart a bit.  I see no suggestion that we need to find any common cause with Tesco, Amazon, Ineos or any other corporate giants that feeds vampire-like off us.  However the self-employed plumber, the local baker in the High Street with two employees, these people live in our communities an their existence can be easily as precarious as the rest of us. The left has too often lumped both in together and we really need be a bit cleverer.

The Common Weal will become what those involved in it decide it should be. At its heart is the prime motive of taking politics back to the people.  To me that’s what ‘all of us first’ is about. How we actually do it has still to be written.


About Grant Buttars

Socialist, trade unionist, RISE, Common Weal Fife.
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2 Responses to Not Business As Usual

  1. Peter Lomas says:

    Philip Stott’s article also includes criticism of CW’s embrace of the ‘Nordic model’. I think his point is well taken that even in Sweden (the industrial powerhouse of Scandinavia) there have always been very rich people. The boom in the Swedish economy in the 1970’s and 1980’s (I lived in Sweden 1984-7) depended to a considerable extent on multinationals – IKEA, Saab, Volvo, Electrolux and the very lucrative arms manufacturer Bofors. With such successful companies in a country of 10m people it was not surprising that there was considerable wealth to go around, negligible unemployment and quiescent trade unions. Since the country’s entry into the EU, privatisation and unemployment have become more normalised. On the other hand, Sweden was, to me, a more egalitarian and politically more activist society, e.g. in terms of aid to developing countries, support for nuclear disarmament, green technology, and access to quality social resources, than anything imagined in Britain. This was the result of a determined effort by the Social Democratic Party since the 1930’s to engineer a fairer society from the top down.

    In Scotland we can learn from, and take the best from, such experience. In particular, I think it’s helpful for now to think in terms of public ownership of infrastructure and its development over the country as a whole, to encourage people to live in the North and not drain to the cities and out of Scotland (to think bottom-up, in the sense that people would rather have jobs where they live). This demographic effort has succeeded all over Scandinavia, even in the far Arctic North. It would also take us away from the continual talk about costs and relative taxes – the number-1 obsession in rich Scandinavia, which shows that the politics of envy are not eliminated simply by tinkering with the fiscal system. In humbler societies like Greece, social solidarity is much higher than in Scandinavia, because they have never conceived of their problems simply in terms of money, but in terms of shared public institutions, including informal ones. The Swedish media are full of agonisings about why ‘we are not happier’. I think in this respect that in Scotland we are closer to Greece than to any other Northern society. You can’t engineer social solidarity, you have to build on the identity that exists. So long as the economists and British politicians throw calculations at us of what is “affordable” fiscally, we’ll always succumb to their narrow neo-liberal terms of reference and be trapped into inventing an alternative UK, instead of a really new and inspiring country.

    Peter Lomas

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks Peter. I too have issues with the ‘Nordic model as holy grail’ approach. It is a good indicator that things can be much better than they are, and gives practical examples of alternatives, but we need to go much further, starting from the bottom up with what we need and, as you say, not from what we’re TOLD is affordable.


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