Caledonian Dreaming: Review

booksieBy Willie Sullivan

Caledonian Dreaming is a self-reflection for Scotland. It is shows the need for taking a long hard look at ourselves and picks out   of some of what is ‘remembered and what is forgotten’ about our national story. Hassan partially uses his own memories of growing up to show the importance of these stories to our identity, prejudices and dreams.  I liked this a lot both as a metaphor and as an interesting story and was a little disappointed that the technique was not developed further.

He forensically unpicks some of the enduring myths that I think have, in the past stunted the potential of Scots and Scotland .He identifies the UK as a ‘state of ‘non democracy – pointing to the monarchy, Westminster and Anglo- capitalism as part of this problem but also self-aware enough to point out that Scottish institutions dominated by professional elites of the left and right are equally a barrier.  The book also explains the problem of ‘missing Scotland’, that large parts of Scotland people take no part in public life. The exclusive power of UK elites and Scotland’s own ‘undemocracy’ combine to confound a Scottish ideal of popular sovereignty. The UK is not and never has been a fully-fledged political democracy and as people wake up to their impotence ‘missing Scotland’ grows and stops voting and that useful façade begins to fall away.

He exposes the  narrative given us to by UK  politicians of a Britain that challenged slavery, fought the Nazis, won  the cold war and  hosted the Olympics  as  populist , celebratory window dressing for the age of insecurity ,anxiety , doubt and worry , masking  the rise of inequality , a fragmented society and the emergence of a new plutocratic class.

I have always been wary of Gerry’s criticism of ‘Civic Scotland’ as both being true but overly harsh. He is right to identify it as layer of institutions that when empowered can grip and defend that power, maybe holding it above the people. However Civic Scotland has done something to be a counter-balanceagainst the much more powerful institutions of neo liberalism the corporations and the right-wing media and may indeed, if there is such a thing, be part of an argument for a Scottish exceptionalism. The Trade Unions, Councils and Churches in England were knocked out of the ring long ago.

As Hassan points out this space for Scotland to be different from England owes much to radical stories of our past. The things we tell ourselves about who we are become vital, if we are to act collectively with democratic force to build a better future. He subtly begins to separate the helpful bits of that story, the potency of the Community Party and its goal of workers education often through the Trade Unions from the myth of a socialist majorities and the Scottish lefts dysfunctional concept of leadership ‘heroic, masculinst and hyper-active‘.

I agree strongly with the prescription of more democracy as the answer to Scotland’s bright future delivered through a political strategy involving; dreaming, more fun and the self-laughter needed to burst the balloon of earnest self-importance He argues for utopianism but is wise to show  that it must be honestly realised as a technique, almost a trick for change. The massive dangers associated with utopianism and dreaming of an ideal future is that they are sold as complete and possible outcomes.  I have just read Vasily Grossman’s life changing novel ‘Life and Fate‘ Grossman’s stories dissect the dreadful delusional cruelties of both Stalinism and Fascism. The creation of national stories (Scotland’s and Britain’s) that are seen for what they are; partial, partisan and interested has never been more apparent.

Hassan’s excellent book challenges the dominant myths of capitalism, the old left and of institutional Scotland and as such begins to lever open a little room for stories from missing Scotland.  Different and unusual stories that are required to be heard if  we are to challenge Scotland ‘undemocracy’. The book ends with some policy ideas for this  dreamed of Caledonia – more importantly in highlighting the need for and the way to get some fuller national stories, Gerry begins to create a culture were those policy ideas  become possible.



Categories: Books Upside Your Head

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