WHILE the three SNP leadership candidates were going at it hammer and tongs for the umpteenth time on Thursday night, I was standing in Stephen Skrynka’s “wall of death” arts venue in Glasgow listening to trade union firebrand Mick Lynch.

The wall of death – or the Revelator, as it is known – is an excellent example of collective action. Though Skrynka’s obsession, this beautiful wooden structure was assembled by volunteers who put in 13,000 hours of labour to realise his artistic dream after no public funding was forthcoming. “A work-in,” Skrynka called it.

Lynch had come to the Revelator at the invitation of The Tenementals, a group of academics and musicians, who are retelling the city’s history through songs inspired by such diverse subjects as Spanish Civil War hero Isidora Dolores Ibárruri Gómez and the tree stumps at Fossil Grove.

Located in the former Barclay Curle shipyard, it was the perfect venue for Lynch to invoke the spirit of trade union firebrand and one of the leaders of the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders work-in, Jimmy Reid.

Lynch was quoting from Reid’s famous speech on alienation. “Alienation is the cry of people who feel themselves the victims of blind forces beyond their control, the frustration of ordinary people excluded from the processes of decision-making, the feeling of despair and hopelessness that pervade people who feel, with justification, they have no real say in shaping or determining their own destiny,” he said.

Lynch believes these words are as true now as they were in 1972, that all the time – in modern society, in modern economics – we are being offered the illusion of control, where we have none. I was scrolling through comments on the Channel 4 leadership debate – “what a bloodbath!” – as he spoke. I didn’t take much convincing.

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Isn’t that how most of us feel now? Excluded from the processes of decision-making, with no say in shaping our own destiny?

We can listen to Humza Yousaf talk up his progressive credentials, or Kate Forbes promise a new “business-friendly” fiscal approach.

But what’s really on offer, here? A Health Secretary so sanguine about his government’s failures he is marketing himself as the “continuity candidate” versus a Finance Secretary so eager for a reset, she is happy to trash her Cabinet colleagues?

More of the sub-optimal same versus a lurch to the right. (I’d mention Ash Regan but someone who gives Gary Lineker a red card without seeing his tweet is not to be taken seriously).

Illusion of control

There are no great options here. Not that most of us get a say, in any case. We may buy into the illusion of control – weigh up the competing personalities and policies, weigh in on the national conversation – but the decision lies in the hands of party members, who are unlikely to hear what we say, or to be swayed by our opinions.

In two weeks’ time, the country will have a First Minister just 2.5 per cent of the adult population has elected, and a party so fractured it may break.

If this was undemocratic when Liz Truss became Tory leader, then it’s undemocratic now.

But what would a Holyrood election achieve? Because there are no great options there, either. Everyone – particularly SNP members – knows the best thing that could happen to the SNP would be a term out of office to recharge.


The SNP leadership candidates

That there is so little prospect of this – despite the calibre of the candidates – is an indictment of the Opposition, and, in particular, Scottish Labour. Leader after leader has failed to woo back those on the left who defected as a result of its almighty self-entitlement.

This is partly because they have been unable to convince the Scottish electorate they are anything other than a branch office of UK Labour, but also because they have prioritised the defence of the union over tackling social and economic injustice.

Anas Sarwar is a better leader than Richard Leonard was, but is anyone truly inspired by his vision?

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His answer to child deprivation seems to be to increase the SNP’s child payments with no recognition this is a policy born of the need to mitigate the worst excesses of Westminster.

Scottish Labour might be able to capitalise on an SNP shift to the right – there are certainly SNP voters who would find it impossible to continue to support the party with Forbes at the helm – but that would rely on them positioning themselves to left of their UK counterparts, and, you would imagine, acknowledging the right to a second referendum in the face of sustained support.

But so far it’s the Greens that have capitalised on disillusion with the party. And it is hard to imagine a man who sent his children to private school setting the heather alight with his radical social justice policies.

As in Holyrood, so, too, in Westminster. A functioning democracy requires a strong Opposition. With that in mind, has there ever been a more dispiriting sight than that of Keir Starmer at PMQs opposing Rishi Sunak’s Stop the Boats policy on the grounds that it won’t stop enough boats?

When Starmer criticises the Prime Minister with the words: “After 13 years, small boat crossings, higher than ever, claims unprocessed, the taxpayer paying for hotel rooms, and an asylum system utterly broken on his watch,” he is fighting the Tories on Tories’ own terms.

He is buying into, and perpetuating, their image of migrants – not as vulnerable individuals but as an unwelcome invasion; a burden on our system.

It is obvious what the Tories are up to. As others have said, Stop the Boats is their Build the Wall, an ugly slogan designed to create a limitless supply of scapegoats for their failures.

The Illegal Migration Bill is hate as distraction, deflection, displacement activity. Having picked a fight with the EU, they now want to pick a fight with the European Convention on Human Rights. “No-one’s going to tell us how to treat our immigrants. Take back control.”

“The most right-wing government in my lifetime is trying to make us turn on the poorest people in the world, who have come to try and find their way, as my parents did from Ireland, as many of your forebears will have done,” said Lynch at the Revelator. “They want to divide us and alienate us from each other.”

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And then there’s Gary Lineker, with his tweet about the “immeasurably cruel policy” with language “not dissimilar to that used in Germany in the 1930s”, and all the football pundits and commentators who have withdrawn their services in protest at the BBC taking him off his Match Of The Day duties.”


Gary Lineker

These are the sorts of messages I want to hear from the Labour leader: a clear denouncement of the Tories’ agenda, not a collusion with it. I want Labour to defend the marginalised, support the strikers and oppose facism, not cravenly pander to Red Wall racists – or else what the hell are they for?

Stand for nothing

I AM not naive. I know you have to be electable to get into a position of power, and that to be electable you have to make compromises. But what’s the point in being in power if you stand for nothing?

Or, as Jimmy Reid (and Mark 8: 36, before him) might have put it: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”

Lynch said he was just back from Westminster “with Starmer and his Cabinet”. He said they were a professional class, “the same as the people they oppose, if we let them be”.

Are Labour the same as the Conservatives? Of course not. But nor are they different enough. Who wants to be constantly voting for the least worst option? Hobson’s choice. The illusion of control. It’s enough to put you off the party system. At the Revelator, you could see a more traditional, grass-roots type of leftist activism, with a focus on dignity, brotherhood, and an openness to other cultures. Trade union banners everywhere.

Oh, I know it’s dated and mockable. But isn’t this collective action precisely what is happening at Match Of The Day? It made me think of Tony Benn’s resignation quip. “I’m leaving parliament to spend more time on politics,” he said. Amen to that.