George Galloway is sharing his populist message in halls across the country, but it could backfire, writes George Kerevan
The Better Together side in the referendum campaign has an unexpected secret weapon in its battle to defend Great Britain: George Galloway, he of the embarrassing cat impersonation on Celebrity Big Brother and that chilling meeting with Saddam Hussein. For the bête noire of the Tory tabloids and the man expelled from Labour for “bringing the party into disrepute” is currently packing halls from working class Coatbridge to middle class Edinburgh, with his populist “just say naw” message.
Last week George was in the Scottish capital speaking at a debate sponsored by the right-wing Spectator magazine and Brewin Dolphin, an investment company. He shared the No side of the platform with Annabel Goldie, the former Scottish Tory leader, and Ian Murray, Labour MP for Edinburgh South. (Note: Galloway disdains any formal link with Better Together, but you are known by the company you keep.)
According to Spectator blogger Alex Massie: “You know that strange things are afoot when George Galloway is cheered to the echo by an audience of Edinburgh lawyers, bankers and fund managers.”
I’ve begun this introduction unfairly in Galloway-esque rhetorical fashion: guilt by association and appeals to emotion rather than hard logic. George Galloway understands the emotive power of rhetoric. That is his objective usefulness to the lacklustre No campaign. For George Galloway is no fool, no crude demagogue, no political dupe. He ran rings around a US Senatorial inquisition in 2005 and blind-sided Labour to win the Bradford East seat in 2012.
Of course, it’s easy for Galloway’s opponents to poke fun at him. His narcissism frequently leads him into traps: witness the embarrassing cat impression. His self-imposed political isolation has, over the years, transmuted a fairly standard socialist critique of imperialism into a full-blown paranoia about the alleged machinations of western governments and intelligence agencies.
Galloway is often tempted by the paranoia of his political fans into propounding what many would call absurd conspiracy theories. Witness his statement in March on Iran’s English language Press TV that “the Zionists sent gunmen to the Maidan [Independence Square] in Kiev, to help a revolution, the cutting edge of which… was being done by actually outright Nazi anti-Semites?” How does Galloway explain this bizarre alliance of Zionists and alleged Ukrainian fascists? “If these Nazis come to power in Kiev, and they hate Jews so much, the remaining Ukrainian Jews will feel that they have to go and settle in Palestine.”
Beware: Galloway has a political sting. It could prove dangerous in the closing weeks of the referendum campaign. Which may explain why Tory tabloids who normally treat Galloway as if he was the devil incarnate are now giving him column space to bash the SNP and Scottish independence. Witness George in full flow in a hymn to British nationalism that could have been penned by Nigel Farage: “I recalled those midsummer days when our RAF came together to save us at a moment of supreme national peril. The Battle of Britain was fought by Brylcreem boys from all classes and every part of our land… It was our finest hour…We were better together then and we can and must be again.”
I had an uncle in Bomber Command who was shot down over the Ruhr. He was a Flight Sergeant because – Mr Galloway, please note – in the wartime RAF, working class aircrew were NCOs while upper class aircrew were officers. My mother and father met in the RAF. But my mother hated the Tories to her dying day because she’d lived in Glasgow through the poverty of the Great Depression.
Actually, George, my parents’ finest hour was when the Brylcreem boys came home determined to vote out the Tories forever. The same Tories who have been in power at Westminster for 22 of the past 35 years – yet consistently rejected by Scottish voters. The same Tories who are now five points ahead of Labour in the latest opinion poll. It is the quest for social justice and representative democracy in Scotland that animates the fight for independence, not identity politics. Ironic, George, that it should be you who is donning the ideological armour of Britishness.
Actually, he has more logical arguments, as he showed in a TV interview with Max Keiser last year (you can Google it). Galloway believes that if Scotland gains its independence, there will be a Tory majority in England “in perpetuity”. Scotland will be too weak economically to resist tax competition from Tory England: “Scotland would be stepping off an ocean-going liner and into a Para Handy Clyde puffer”. Scots will then blame the English and politics will turn national chauvinist and nasty.
Here we have Galloway’s paranoid view of the world writ large. Why should “smallness” make Scotland an economic basket case? The smaller industrial democracies of western Europe without oil or natural resources have generally enjoyed higher growth rates than either Scotland or the UK, for the past generation. As a result they have higher standards of living and better state pensions. They even have lower government borrowing rates than the UK.
And why would England be condemned to a perpetual right wing government? I have more faith in the English than George Galloway. Besides, why would a prisoner voluntarily choose to stay incarcerated with their inmates if, instead, they can escape and smuggle in a cake with a file?
Galloway believes that the break-up of existing big states is always bad, as it generates chauvinist politics although, paradoxically, he remains a supporter of Irish re-unification. He argues for “democracy not atomisation” as the progressive alternative. But this is too mechanistic, which sums up Galloway’s politics. First, big states often become ethnic prisons held together by nationalist rhetoric and the foreign adventures Galloway deprecates. Second, democracy – social and economic – is precisely what the quest for Scottish independence is about.
Back in the 1980s we talked about George Galloway being a radical First Minister in Scotland’s new home rule parliament. I for one am sad he has lost faith in the Scottish people to make their own, progressive destiny. Faith trumps paranoia every time.