George Galloway is unhappy. One of his interlocutors on Twitter has told him to ‘Fuck off back to England’. Gorgeous George is in Glasgow for the first in a series of roadshows in which he sets out his case for Scotland remaining part of the Union and he’s not going anywhere. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever. Not even to England.
This will disappoint his many critics. But Galloway has a new, higher calling: saving whatever remains of the British left. To do that he must first save Britain. Which means persuading his fellow Scots they should remain a part of the United Kingdom. Like a latter-day Othello, he loves us not wisely but too well.
‘If I thought Scottish Labour leaders were capable of persuading people to vote no, I wouldn’t need to be here,’ he bellows. Here in Glasgow’s City Halls and nearly 500 souls have paid £12 (plus booking fees) to hear a fedora-sporting Galloway make his case for the Union. If few politicians could command this kind of audience at that kind of price, it still occurs to me that Preacher Galloway is needlessly limiting the size of his flock. Be that as it may, ‘Alistair Darling is a nice fellow but he’s no one’s idea of a leader.’
Time for George, then. In one respect Galloway has a point. The battle for the Union is, in reality, a battle for the hearts and minds of Labour Scotland. These are the voters upon whom the result of the independence referendum will hinge. Many of Tommy Sheridan’s former colleagues in the Scottish Socialist party are part of the yes movement; this week Sir Charles Gray, the former Labour leader of Strathclyde Regional Council, announced he will vote for independence. If the Labour vote can be split, the yes campaign may win.
So George Galloway is David Cameron’s friend in this fight. Perhaps even Cameron’s ‘useful idiot’. Not that Galloway is a Unionist. ‘My flag is red,’ he says, which is why independence is an act of betrayal. Worse, it is a proclamation of false consciousness. A factory worker in Coatbridge has more in common with a factory worker in Consett than either does with their bosses. Class still matters more than bloodlines or borders.
And anyway, if you think a Cuba-on-the-Clyde can be built you are deluding yourself (reader, I confess I found this reassuring). Independence means permanent Tory rule in England. (Not true, but that needn’t detain us.) A low-tax, low-regulation, low-public-spending England will force Scotland to follow suit in a ‘race to the bottom’. Otherwise what business will stay in Scotland? Here too, I found myself wishing Galloway’s prognosis of neoliberal doom might actually -happen.
Socialism in one small Tartan country is impossible. Of course Scotland would not ‘be a Burundi or a Bangladesh’ after independence. But: ‘You need a critical mass of people to stand up to the vicissitudes of global capitalism. Do you really think Scotland is up for that? For being an Albania? For being a Cuba?’ At this point I began to worry we might all be talking at cross-purposes. Besides, what kind of independence is really on offer? Scotland will still have a ‘German queen’ as head of state. It will still be part of Nato, still a member of the EU. Still, above all, keep the pound and be subject to the Bank of England’s authority. If that’s independence, George Galloway is a Zionist banana.
But George isn’t afraid to bring a knife to a public meeting, even his own public meeting. No Roman Catholic should vote for independence, he suggests. Catholics would become scapegoats for Scottish failure. He insists an independent Scotland would be an Orange Scotland. ‘If you’re not afraid of that, you should be.’ He hints that pogroms and perhaps even ethnic cleansing might follow.
Since the Scottish Labour vote will decide the United Kingdom’s future, Galloway’s old-time religion — however contradictory or barmy it may seem — is a useful, if necessarily disreputable, adjunct to the official Unionist campaign. It is a reminder that for all nationalists complain about Unionist ‘scaremongering’, the official campaign is a pussy-cat when compared to Gorgeous George’s approach.
Perhaps a third of those who have paid to hear two hours of Galloway’s tub-thumping rhetoric seem minded to vote for independence. When Galloway suggested, ‘Britain is a big ship, rusting and listing but still a big ship. Getting onto a small boat on the stormy seas of globalised capitalism seems like a bad idea. I’ll stay on the big ship’, many of his comrades seemed ready to abandon George to his fate.
Of course, he may yet abandon us too. It was interesting to hear Galloway talk of ‘you’ when he might have used ‘us’. But then, as he grinned, ‘You can still back me to be the next Mayor of London at 20/1.’