Social justice versus self-interest

We are Big ChillWhen I spoke to Robin McAlpine on the phone recently, he made an interesting comment that, in his view, the Scottish referendum came down to a choice between self interest or social justice. Robin McAlpine is director of Common Weal, which began as a think tank and has emerged from the referendum as an organisation challenging “me-first” politics and working for independence, but with an awareness that the Yes campaign needs to play a long game.

I’ll post the interview with Robin soon, but watching the results at the Heywood and Middleton, and Clacton by-elections and the impact of UKIP on Westminster politics, it strikes me that the difference is that the ‘ignored’ people in Scotland appear to be clamouring for social justice, a more just and equal society, whereas in England their discontent is being mopped up by a party that offers no such vision, only self-interested, self-preservation, a closing down of borders, imagination and vision.

Contrast Farage’s ‘people’s army’ with the one featured in Ken Loach’s film, The Spirit of 45 – which contains interviews with men and women who dreamed of building a better world, who committed to eradicating poverty and its effects. In contrast, the paucity of the vision the likes of Farage – all the parties – is striking.

A young woman on Newsnight during the referendum debate said she didn’t want to be part of an economy, she wanted to be part of a community – a response that seems to chime with Anthony Painter’s argument that the decline of the traditional parties is not the result of “anti-politics” but the inability of the political elites “to serve a plural electorate”.

Amid all the excitement over UKIP, the calls for politicians to heed people’s concerns about immigration, Europe, what’s happening to the disaffected left, those who like their counterparts in Scotland dream of a better world? Who is going to represent their interests if both mainstream left or the far left are speaking a different language, and everyone’s trying to fend off Nigel Farage?

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