By Gerry Hassan
Who do we have such a powerful propensity to live much of our life backwards?
This can be seen in the power of the past – from mythical wrongs and injustices, to symbolic, psychic triumphs and disasters – the latter ranging from the Darien scheme to Ally’s Tartan Army’s ill-fated expedition to Argentina.

One defining moment of recent history which operates as a lodestar and hinge year politically is ‘the Year Zero’ of 1979.

There are several versions of this. The most visible and noisy is the Labour-SNP contest of who did what to whom all those years ago. There is the accusation of who brought down the Labour Government, and the counter-charge of who inaugurated the era of Thatcherism.

Bruce Crawford, SNP MP and former business manager of the Scottish Parliament, earlier this year said, ‘After the 1979 referendum, Scotland suffered 18 years of Tory rule we didn’t vote for’. An SNP press release at the same time declared that we ‘were given 18 years of Tory rule’.

From the other side, Johann Lamont, two months ago in First Minister’s Questions, declared, ‘It wasn’t my party which walked through the lobbies to create a Tory Government under Margaret Thatcher’. She then warmed to her theme, asserting to the SNP benches, ‘I know, they don’t like to remember their own history. This is what the SNP did to Scotland and Scotland will never forgive them’.

There is victimhood, anger and evasion of responsibility in both these accounts, but Lamont’s is out on its own in its parallel universe thinking. Labour are still furious at the SNP for having the audacity to exist, challenge them, and call time on what had become the Labour self-preservation society. What logic publically thinks ‘Scotland will never forgive’ a party to whom it has awarded two successive electoral mandates?

However, the Labour-SNP game of pass the parcel of blame for ’79 isn’t the only show in town. There are the voices of ‘civic Scotland’ who present the Scotland of pre-1979 as a land of happiness and opportunity, and who are blind to the many failings of the Scotland of the 1970s. One commentator even dared to pose recently that in the pre-Thatcher world, there were no homeless in Scotland.

This is collective amnesia and invented history. The Scotland of the 1970s was a society characterised by rising poverty, low pay, and structural long-term unemployment. All this is recorded in analyses of the time such as ‘The Red Paper on Scotland’, edited by one Gordon Brown.

This isn’t to deny that all of these socio-economic indicators worsened under Thatcher: Scotland seeing the number of children living in poverty doubling by the end of her reign. But there is a denial of the long term embedded nature of these issues, many of which have plagued Scotland since industrialisation. So much simpler to blame Thatcher and the events of 1979.

There is another strand where this Scottish attitude falls short and that is in its insularity and complete disinterest in the epic global changes of that year and decade.

1979 was a moment of revolutionary change across the planet. Thatcher came to power, Deng Xiaoping began his market capitalist reforms in China, the Iranian revolution overthrew the Shah, and Pope John Paul II visited his homeland of Poland, beginning the unraveling of the Soviet bloc.

As important as all the above, Ronald Reagan began his long march to the Republican Presidential nomination, which he would win the following year, subsequently defeating Democrat incumbent Jimmy Carter, heralding ‘Reagonomics’, the Second Cold War, and Reagan-Thatcher love-in.

All of these changes were products of deep faultlines and recurring crises in the post-war global order: of the collapse of the system of managed capitalism, the inability of Soviet Communism to compete economically with the West, and the failure of secular modernity in the Middle East and Muslim world.

This was the decade which saw the abandonment of the Bretton Woods international order, the floating of the dollar in 1971 as a direct consequence of US over-reach in the Vietnam war, leading to the end of fixed currencies. Following this the 1973 OPEC oil price rise after the fourth Arab-Israeli war and 1979 oil price shock after the Iranian revolution, sent tremors through the world economy.

We are still living in the aftermath of these seismic changes. 1979 and the coming of Thatcher and Reagan the following year came at the end of these huge changes in finance, economics, politics and global power.

While some date the birth of modern Scotland to this momentous year 1979 – we are now so far away from it that it now sits half-way between 1945 and today. That means we have had as many years affected by the Thatcher counter-revolution as the post-war settlement.

We have to let 1979 go. It is meaningless to the generation that has come subsequently – as imagined and invented as Bannockburn and the Battle of Britain – both of which still matter as storied history and as part of our foundation myths.

We have to let the past become history. Previous generations had to let go of their myths: of, for example, Jarrow, the hunger marches, Tory appeasement of fascism and Hitler in the 1930s. That doesn’t mean forgetting; it means putting it in proper perspective.

Scotland has to stop living in the past and trying to continually rewrite perceived wrongs. To take a lead, perhaps Johann Lamont can stop revisiting 1979 and get over the fact that the SNP are a permanent fixture on the Scottish political scene who speak for a large part of our country. Maybe SNP politicians could stop peddling a one-dimensional version of the 1980s where Thatcher set about destroying the very fabric of Scottish life.

Isn’t it time we just grew up a bit and stopped telling the same old hoary tales of how the Tories came to get us? There is an element of truth in this, but it prevents us collectively taking responsibility and maturing for the tough choices we are going to have to take in the next few years.

Courtesy of Gerry Hassan -


# Jo Bloggs 2013-12-19 07:12
"Isn’t it time we just grew up a bit and stopped telling the same old hoary tales of how the Tories came to get us? There is an element of truth in this, but it prevents us collectively taking responsibility and maturing for the tough choices we are going to have to take in the next few years."

Gerry, isn't that just what the SNP have been trying to achieve since the foundation of the party? The first step in "collectively taking responsibility" is to vote YES in overwhelming numbers next September. The time for the past to become 'just history' is when it is no longer relevant to the present.
# DonaldMhor 2013-12-19 07:34
Remebering our past helps us to define who we are. The Unionists would have us forget we were once a very succesfull country with the best educated natives in Europe who pruduced some of the finest thinkers and engineers this planet has ever seen. We were a united independent country for a thousand years. Unionists would have us believe we were nothing untill England assimilated, or as one Unionist recently claimed "extinguished" us. Aye right. As a person my past is important to me, my country is no different. We are right to remember our national heroes, Wallace and Bruce to name but two. We are also right to put traffic cones on the heads of those we find to be born of acts of pomposity.

Comment edited by Admin
# jdman 2013-12-19 08:54
So Gerry what you are saying is forget the empty promises made by Alex Douglas Hume echoing by similar promises today, forget Thatchers febrile hatred of people whitout whom this country would have been at the mercy of Germany within weeks of the start of the 1st world war, I of course refer to the miners who she despicably and mercilessly destroyed on the alter of neo liberalism ,using common market rules as a fig leaf, Germany and France openly ignored the rule which stated governments cannot support industries so they still have a mining industry, a steel industry, a car industry, the life blood of this country was drained away by that woman but hey its all water under the bridge, move on, there are people in my town for whom life came abruptly to an end while they were still young people in their thirties, for whom there was no support there was no retraining there were no alternative jobs open to them, and Norman Tebbit's advice was to get on your Gerry I'll NEVER forget
# lochside 2013-12-19 13:33
I don't understand your point Gerry. Why should we let the generations since 1979 forget about Thatcher? And as for 'pass the parcel' between SNP and Labour?

Let's get it straight: the 'seismic changes were instituted and driven by the pre-existing political system of 1979 which was in crisis, and allowed the evil..yes the evil of Thatherite/Reagonomics to assert itself and remain the yoke which we live under today. Surely the reason that the 'YES' campaign is toiling is that too many people don't remember or want to know either our recent political history (1979 and the gerrymandered referendum of 40%) or our ancient political and national victory over the cruel imperial invader in 1314?
# bringiton 2013-12-19 15:17
If you mean Jerry that we are still shackled to an establishment (Westminster) which is living in the past and in total denial that Thatcherism has failed us completely,then I agree.
Only independence will allow us to create a new vibrant future for Scotland based on the common shared values of our citizens.
# Breeks 2013-12-19 17:03
Let go of 1979? How about the McCrone Report of 1975? Shrug the shoulders and resign ourselves to not crying over spilled milk?

It will take decades for the injustices and betrayals suffered against Scotland just to reveal themselves.

We stand at a crossroads where we must choose to govern ourselves and manage our own resources, or abdicate that responsibility to Westminster for another generation of squandered opportunity.

The 70's provides a graphic illustration of Scotland's roll in the Union and what we can expect from Westminster.
# gus1940 2013-12-19 17:19
A guy in The Scotsman Comments made a good suggestion the other day for a poster to put up on the billboards nearer 18/9:-

A large picture of Thatcher in one of her most hectoring poses with the caption -'VOTE NO you know it's what she would have wanted' or perhaps with a bit more subtlety 'You NO it's what she would have wanted'
# kenneth_clark336 2013-12-19 21:52
Any time I'm urged to forget the past I remember Dennis Healey's admissions. Sorry Gerry, but we need to remember the nature of the beast we are up against. I will happily move on, but only after a YES vote.
# Christian_Wright 2013-12-20 02:10
Gerry Hassan: "Isn’t it time we just grew up a bit and stopped telling the same old hoary tales . . it prevents us collectively taking responsibility and maturing for the tough choices we are going to have to take in the next few years."

Not quite getting this, Gerry. How does one "mature" without learning from the mistakes of the past? Considering the past and FEELING the past provides continuity in the present.

This does not mean we need make decisions solely on the basis of history and mythology, but that we should look to the past for an understanding of how we came to be who we are today, in order that we may contextualize the alternatives that confront us, and more wisely choose the direction of our tomorrows.
# staypos+ve 2013-12-20 03:20
Labour embraced Capitalism . They removed clause 40 .Their 'Scottish' MP's failed to offer any answers to the de-industrialisati on of Scotland and continued to accept the rewards and line their greedy pockets. Gerry they need reminded of this over and over again. And so do the voters who say they have always voted Labour! They need to know that their parents voted Labour for principled reasons - Labour have never delivered. And nor will they.

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