Robin McAlpine: President Trump and the lessons for Scotland


CommonSpace columnist and Common Weal director Robin McAlpine outlines what Scotland must learn from the doomed Clinton campaign for the White House

SO it's confirmed; Kezia Dugdale is an international electoral super-jinx and Clinton was doomed the moment Dugdale joined her campaign. But what other lessons did we learn from the US election and what do they mean for Scotland?

Lesson one: Globalisation is over

It is important to be clear that globalisation means something specific. It does not just mean a global economy built on international trade – we've had that since the 17th century and globalisation is barely a couple of decades old.

Globalisation is a specific form of capitalism in which trade is not done across borders but over the top of them. It takes control of the world economy out of the hand of nation states and places it instead in the hands of multinational corporations constrained only by very generous legal structures.

The idea was simple; democracy isn't best for growth because democracy keeps putting the interests of citizens in the way of the interests of growth. Corporations don't make that mistake and so should be allowed to manage the economy in their own interests.

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Unsurprisingly, it has turned out to be incredibly good for the people who own corporations who have rigged the system enormously in their own favour. It has been very bad in most other ways – environmentally, in terms of human rights, workers' rights, resource depletion, declining productivity and especially because of the predictably sharp rise in economic inequality.

Economists from both the right and the left now recognise that even on its own terms globalisation isn't working (it relies simultaneously on growing consumption and downward pressure on the incomes of consumers, on increasing resource exploitation in a world of finite resources, on wild financial speculation which simply can't keep getting wilder).

But more importantly it is rightly seen as the cause of much of the economic decline in democracies around the world. Many Trump voters were clear not only about their anger, but about globalisation as a root cause.

For at least 25 years we've been told that what was good for corporations was good for us all. Who believes that any more? To win elections in democracies, another story is now needed.

This is why I've been so startled of late at Nicola Sturgeon's sudden uncritical evangelising for globalisation and free market capitalism. That era has passed and all of Scotland needs to move forward in exploring new economic models.

Lesson two: Triangulation is over

Triangulation was the political concept of our era. It was based on the belief that you can plot your positioning so that you find yourself in some kind of 'sweet spot' on the intersection of right wing and left wing.

Just left wing enough that the left have nowhere to go, but right wing enough to attract conservative voters. Of course, every iteration of this ended up giving an awful lot more to the right than the left – and even more it was used to keep voters distracted while getting on with all that globalisation.

The battle cry of triangulation is that 'elections are won from the centre', but when was a major democratic vote in the English-speaking world last won by someone from the centre?

People are not idiots. Telling them 'we're on your side' when it seems that everything you do is for someone else simply engenders more and more cynicism and eventually anger. Quite right, too – it's a lie.

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What is winning popular support now is someone who really seems to believe something, is open and direct in advocating it and who makes you believe they will follow through on it.

I'm never long away from someone telling me that someone told them that the next independence referendum will be much less inspirational (or 'ideological', as Angus Robertson calls it) but will be a much more sober, centrist affair.

The Scottish working classes, after all, have 'nowhere to go' – they're just drones who will troop to the polling stations and do as they're told. It's about triangulating Tories.

This McClinton strategy is doomed to failure and is based on neither evidence nor recent precedent. Stand for what you believe in and articulate it passionately. Creeping around pretending that secretly Scottish independence was always about successful hedge funds is not helpful.

Every time someone says it to you, remind them that if only Democrats had been less 'sober' and more 'ideological', I'd be writing a column about President Sanders today.

Lesson three: Smart arses are losing their appeal

Closely linked to this era of triangulation is the rise of the 'governing class'. Politics isn't now about representing the interests of the people but about technocratic governance which is carried out by professionals who know how things work in a way that plebs don't.

They live among their own kind, talking animatedly to each other about their own importance. They network with other Important-People-Who-Run-Things with whom they roll their eyes about the naivety of civilians.

For the governing classes, the public realm is a delicate thing which must be protected from citizens by their wise guardianship. If only the bloody public could understand that Clinton wasn't in Wall Street's pocket, she was making pragmatic and necessary compromises. Best CV ever!

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And if it all looks like screaming mediocrity making a very generous income from apparently failing to deliver anything substantial or real, that's because you lack sophistication.

Scotland was horrendously centralised by Michael Forsyth in the early 1990s. Every administration since has centralised it more. The public's desire to have things done to it by a self-certain management class is declining rapidly.

If Scotland doesn't stop 'empowering communities' through complex administrative processes run by that same management class and start giving actual power to actual citizens, someone is going to come along and capitalise on the growing anger.

Lesson four: Liberalism is in crisis

Actually, the left had a good US election. Bernie Sanders was the only person other than Trump to connect with anyone. But Liberals are in meltdown.

This wonderful first reaction from Thomas Frank to the Trump election puts it clearly and succinctly. That metropolitan governing class not only believed in itself completely, but couldn't see past its own preoccupations and concerns.

Liberals think that everything is basically fine barring a minor tweak here and there (because for middle class liberals with nice houses everything really is basically fine). It's signature policy is more women in the boardrooms of multinationals. It has managed to take the massive issue of inequality and turn it into a problem of the rich.

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Liberals see the decline in the lives of the working classes as unfortunate but a fact of life. What really matters is them. Anything which goes against them is never a function of their own errors but of the inherent badness of everyone else. (Misogynists! Racists! Deplorables!)

So every time I ask an SNP person what policy the government is currently pursuing that a social progressive should be grateful for and they say "baby boxes", I wonder if they've thought through what direction they're going in.

Lesson five: You can't control everything

Every sign that things were not well, every challenge to the smooth operation of the machine, any threat to the established order, a momentary hint that the ruling classes might lose a centimetre of control – the Democratic National Committee would fix it. Legs would be broken, pressure would be brought to bear, favours called in, processes subverted, Bernie would sleep with the fishes.

When this produced unpopular outcomes (i.e. Hilary Clinton), the Democrats ruthlessly 'fixed' things by claiming any suggestion that she was anything short of perfect was misogyny. This approach got them seamlessly through the entire campaign and was a great success.

Of course, they lost humiliatingly. Remind yourself that every time you're told that only silence about Scottish Government policy mistakes can get us to independence.

Read more – Land of the Brave? Trump victory and the American Scots who saw it happen

Edit: The final segment containing information about Nicola Sturgeon’s chief of staff, Liz Lloyd, was inaccurate. Lloyd did not campaign for Hillary Clinton in the US.

Picture courtesy of Robin McAlpine

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