Friday, July 10, 2015

Syrizia and the SNP

I didn't really like Ian McEwan's novel Saturday but there was one line that spoke to me, which had to do with the "accidental nature" of the opinions you hold.  We like to think we arrived at them by a rational interrogation of the available evidence but really it often has to do with timing and the (frequently unrepresentative) people you read or talk to.  I'm like that with the Euro.  I graduated three years before the introduction of EMU and from what I had read, I was convinced it wasn't a very good idea.  It was pretty basic textbook optimal currency zone stuff.  Europe, as far as I could tell, fell far short of qualifying as one - but I could have easily drawn a different conclusion if I was reading the same European history a few years later when it looked as if the naysayers were wrong, or if I had been clever enough to convince myself that the differences in the putative Eurozone economies didn't matter as much as I thought they did.

I don't, in other words, have anything particularly original to say about the position Greece finds itself in now.  One is inclined to agree with much of what has been written about the deflationary impact of the IMF intervention within the context of a monetary union, which now virtually everyone agrees Greece should not have joined.  

Syrizia obviously were not responsible for all of this but I'm also with a rather smaller number who think criticism of the way they have handled this situation they did not create has to go some way beyond admitting "they've made a few mistakes".  Dan Davies has a very good summary of this, "When negotiating with Germans, do mention the war, as much as possible" non-strategy here.  

There's one small point to add of a personal nature: I was a little dismayed when people were going on about how cool it was that Varoufakis was a clever leftwing academic because it reminded me of my Dad.  There's lots of things that clever leftwing academics are generally really not very good at but at the top of my list is admitting they might be wrong.  (You may find something Freudian in this if you wish...)

It is in this context of a complete failure to do anything that could be reasonably described as negotiation that Sunday's plebiscite should be understood.  I'm not alone in finding similarities between Scotland's September independence referendum and this, although I think most people would agree the former was rather better conducted.  Among the features they shared were as follows:

1) The insistence that, what to the outside observer would be reasonably described as populist nationalism, it is absolutely not this but rather democracy!  What with democracy being an unarguably Good Thing, if you disagree with us, or have any issues with the populism inherent in plebiscites, then you obviously hate democracy.  So saith those who intone the General Will.  For them, raising issues about whether this 'purest expression of democracy' is the best way to conduct politics in a country is unbearably bourgeois.

2) The insistence that this exercise in democracy creates obligations that stretch outside the borders of the country in which it is held.  In both cases this has to do with the messy business of sharing a currency.  With the SNP and Yes Scotland, the idea that the outcome of the referendum created an obligation for the rUK to enter a currency union - and was not a matter that the English, Welsh or Northern Irish needed to be consulted on.  You can take this 'sovereign will of the people' thing too far.  

It is a similar situation with Syrizia.  I should stress that I hope Greece strikes a deal with the EU and to this end I hope people realise that the last thing they need here is more democracy because there is no way that a proposal for more assistance would pass the sort of 'democratic' test in Eurogroup countries that Greece held on Sunday.

3) The insistence that pointing out that potential pitfalls in a chosen political trajectory is just 'scaremongering'.  I would concede that there was some of this on the No side in Scotland and the Yes side in Greece but I'm afraid merely pointing out that if party x does y, it's reasonable to assume bad stuff might happen, simply can't be dismissed in this blanket fashion.  Hope over fear?  Yeah, that always works, doesn't it?  Like with children and fireplaces, for example.  

For the Nats, it was this idea that refusing a currency union was a 'bluff', as if the Eurozone crisis hadn't happened or something.  Then it was the idea that 'sterlingization' might not be a very good idea and if you suggest otherwise, you're 'talking Scotland down' - as if any 'dollarised' country isn't dependent on its balance of payments to generate currency reserves, or that the fall in the price of oil might have created a bit of a problem here - with or without 'secret oil-fields'.   

For Syrizia it was the idea that 'Oxi' may well mean an exit from the Eurozone.  I do hope and believe that this won't happen but the consensus is that it looks increasingly likely.  There surely isn't now anyone who thinks this is impossible?  Yet at the time of voting apparently only 5% of No voters thought this was a likely outcome.  I hope to God it doesn't happen but those lines about 'scaremongering' are going to look pretty stupid if Greece starts paying wages and pensions in IOUs.

For the future, for Greece we'll have to wait and see but being of a parochial mind recently, one can't help wondering what impact all this will have in Britain and Scotland with the forthcoming referendum on EU membership.  I'm struck by the way that the Greek debt crisis has caused some on the British left to return to the days before (some) Labour and the Tories swapped sides on the issue of EU membership.  The question is, what does a party led by someone who seriously imagines Labour went wrong when they ditched Michael Foot do now, given that they claim to represent 'real' Labour values?  The SNP adopted 'Independence in Europe' as part of Salmond's gradualist strategy but the interesting thing is that not only is Scotland not a country of Euro-philes in the way that the SNP leadership likes to pretend, Yes voters are actually more Euro-sceptic than those of us who voted No. 

The Euro crisis has obviously had an impact on the SNP, which is why what they were effectively arguing for in the referendum was independence within the UK rather than Europe.  Assuming this ill-advised Europe referendum goes ahead as planned, there is no question of the SNP adopting the position of the Bennite left that many of them claim to represent.  They won't do this because they are not a leftwing party at all, Bennite or otherwise.  Making these assumptions, one could make the following predictions about the SNP's position on the EU 'in-out' referendum:

1) They will struggle to have anything relevant to say.  They will conveniently forget that Salmond-era SNP wanted us to ditch the 'millstone' of Sterling for the pound and join EMU but there is no question of campaigning for an exit.  Therefore their position is likely to be the same as that of the Conservative government, which one assumes will be to retain membership of the EU but rule out adopting the Euro.  What's left is complaining about details such as insisting HM Government needs a 'mandate' in all the component part of the UK and complaining about how awful it is that 16 and 17 year olds can't vote or whatever.

2) This won't make a blind difference to the level of SNP support.  It's not just that your average SNP voter is indifferent to the EU, it is that the Nationalist movimento has occupied a space that is completely beyond any arguments about economics, which creates something of a problem for opposition parties.  It doesn't seem to matter that a party doesn't have a coherent plan - what matters is they are seen as making a stand for the national collective, regardless of whether they actually achieve anything.  Both the SNP and Syrizia are considerably more benign than some of those who cheer them on but it is a trend in European politics that is more than a little unsettling.  You could say that I take this position because I am fearful, conservative, on the side of 'neo-liberalism', or lacking faith - but then you'd be making my point for me.


George S said...

Late on this but it reads very well to me. I didn't know that pro-independence voters tended to be more Europhobic than the antis. I am very confused just what the SNP is: whether it is a nationalist movement in all the old conventional senses, or a socialism-in-one-country party. Sometimes it seems one, at other times the other. But I don't live there so have no ear-to-the-ground idea.

Shuggy said...

Realising I should have drawn a distinction a bit more: for all their shortcomings, Syrizia are a leftwing party; the SNP is not. They've been very good at pretending to be but I'm a little confused as to why so many are falling for it because if you look at their record in government, they haven't introduced one progressive policy, with the possible exception of tax bands on house sales. Everything else has been regressive and in some cases really rather authoritarian. Let me put it this way: was there ever a populist nationalist movement that didn't come out with some piety about the poor in their borders? There's always a mix and it's always the socialists and trade unionists that are the first to be sidelined (although note that no union thus far supports the nationalists). The SNP are Fianna Fail in tartan and I'd predict that, in the event of independence, one of the first things you would see would be articles and books from Sheridan types complaining that their vision for a socialist utopia had been betrayed.

Bruce said...


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