Scotland and Alternatives to Neoliberalism: Roundtable Discussion with Neil Davidson, Satnam Virdee, Jenny Morrison and Gerry Mooney

By Featherstone, Dave; Karaliotas, Lazaros | Soundings, Summer 2016 | Go to article overview

Scotland and Alternatives to Neoliberalism: Roundtable Discussion with Neil Davidson, Satnam Virdee, Jenny Morrison and Gerry Mooney


Featherstone, Dave, Karaliotas, Lazaros, Soundings


Dave Featherstone and Lazaros Karaliotas: introduction

We asked the contributors to this discussion to look at the ways in which class, race and gender interact with, or are overlooked by, nationalist politics, as part of a wider engagement with the contested relations between neoliberalism and diverse articulations of resistance. (1)

Neil Davidson, through his useful broad-brush account of the recent histories and dynamics of neoliberalism in Scotland, opens up ways in which neoliberal common-sense hegemony can be challenged. Moving on from this broader discussion, the other three contributors focus on the context of the independence referendum. Satnam Virdee offers a critique of 'Scottishness' and the lines of inclusion and exclusion drawn by both the SNP and the broader yes movement. He questions the political potentialities of the 'us-them' dichotomy, and the prevailing narrative that there are no issues of racism in contemporary Scotland. Jenny Morrison reflects on the complexities of gender within the independence movement, particularly focusing on some of the problems in the online spaces of activism that the campaign constructed. Finally, Gerry Mooney explores some of the alternative progressive imaginaries which emerged from the movement, while also highlighting the limits to the SNP's political strategy and record in office.

These contributions, particularly when read in relation to each other, provide an invaluable dynamic sense of the intersections forged through independence/post-independence movements. They give a sense of what has been rendered significant through these movements, while also pointing to their displacement of certain key questions, especially around race, class and gender. More importantly, as Paul Griffin has suggested in his Soundings blog about the event, they point to the 'clear need for a critical engagement with the different channels of common-sense neoliberalism', and the 'importance of articulating and asserting alternatives alongside a need for trans-local forms of solidarity'. (2)

Neil Davidson: the SNP and crisis neoliberalism

Neoliberalism is not simply an ideology or a set of policies, although it is both of these things, but rather an entire period in the development of capitalism. It cannot therefore be reversed simply by adopting the policies typical of an earlier period. 'Back to 1945' as a goal is neither realistic--since the post-war boom was a quite exceptional period in the history of capitalism, which will not be repeated--nor desirable, given the oppressive politics of race, gender and sexuality which prevailed then. New periods tend to emerge out of economic crises, as in 1873 and 1929, and so too did neoliberalism in 1973-74. And, like any period in capitalism, it can also be subdivided into different phases--so far we have seen three.

What capitalism required by the mid-1970s was political regimes capable of restoring the rate of profit and initiating a new cycle of accumulation. 'Proto'-neoliberal governments, represented by the Callaghan government in the UK and the Carter administration in the USA, emerged at this time, but neither the Labour nor Democratic Party was capable of installing an entirely new regime for capital, at least at this point.

The first phase of neoliberalism proper--its 'vanguard' phase of initial reorientation--began with the Thatcher government of 1979 and Reagan administration of 1981. Interestingly, the English-speaking countries have tended to be at the forefront of establishing the global neoliberal regime: New Zealand and Australia were also early adopters in the mid-to-late 1980s, in both cases under the auspices of a Labour government. (Here I am referring to bourgeois-democratic conditions; the conditions under which neoliberalism was introduced in post coup Chile and post-Mao China at around the same time were quite different.) Vanguardism lasted until the early 1990s and these years are sometimes referred to those of 'roll-back' neoliberalism--rolling back the welfare state and the power of the trade union movement. …

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