Gorgeous George

George Galloway on why he’s saying “naw” to Scottish independence

The controversial politician explains why he is leading his own campaign for a No vote in September’s referendum
April 28, 2014

" A Yes vote is alarmingly possible" says George Galloway

SK: Where did the idea for your anti-independence “Just Say Naw” tour originate?

GG: The name is derived from the anti-drugs slogan “Just Say No”, which I “translated” into Glaswegian. I felt strongly that we were losing the referendum by default, and that the mainstream Better Together campaign wasn’t doing enough to secure a No vote. Now, I am the only person on the No side drawing significant audiences. I have held six meetings so far with around 4,000 people attending, many of those paying £10 to get in. My wife is due to give birth to our new baby in July and I plan to bring them both with me on the campaign tour bus.

Why are you opposed to Scottish independence?

I have always hated nationalism. My flag is red. I care nothing for either the Scottish or the British flags. I’m not interested in the commemoration of the 1314 Battle of Bannockburn—which this referendum is being timed to coincide with. The only valid grounds for nationalism is when there is national oppression by one nation over another—that is manifestly not true in Scotland. It is not an occupied country. It has never been an occupied country. It is complete hysterical nonsense to pretend otherwise.

How does Just Say Naw differ from Better Together which is being led by the former Labour chancellor Alistair Darling?

My message is that class is more important than nation. Nation is a transient concept. Scottish working class people have nothing in common with the bankers, landowners and capitalists in Scotland. They have everything in common with fellow workers in Liverpool. Why would anyone want to turn the people of Liverpool into foreigners? I can speak to the Scottish people in a language they understand. When George Osborne or David Cameron pop up to Aberdeen and attempt to communicate with the Scottish electorate it’s as if they are speaking a foreign language.

Recent polls have reported that the Yes vote is gaining ground on the No campaign. How realistic is it that Scotland will vote Yes?

It’s alarmingly possible. The trajectory is bad for us, the momentum is bad for us, and the class composition of a Yes vote is bad for us—essentially those who are well-off are voting No and those who are poorer are voting Yes—and that’s dangerous as there are more of the latter than the former. If we lose this vote the possibility of a real Labour government, or any kind of Labour government, in the rest of UK will be gone. The Neo Liberal dream will flourish on both sides of the water and we will have a race to the bottom between the Neo Liberals in London and the Scots who will be forced to compete in taxation, finance and business.

So, you think that independence would actually reduce the chance of Scotland becoming a more social democratic state, because the Conservatives would have more chance of winning general elections in the rest of the UK?

There are currently 59 Scottish MPs and only one of them is a Tory. It’s going to go down to 50 [due to boundary changes at the 2015 election]. You do the math—taking 49 non-Tories out of the Westminster equation gives the Tories a significant head start. Whether there is a currency union or not, a Tory government in London would effectively determine the economic and fiscal policies of whatever government we have in Scotland. We would only be able to use the currency issued by the Bank of England—the clue being in the name—and we can only use it on terms agreed with the Treasury in London. Any sort of democracy in Scotland would have to be paid for from taxation, and a more social democratic state would inevitably have a higher rate of taxation. Some more philanthropic high earners might choose to stay, but most would prefer to pay less tax in England. How do the nationalists propose to pay for this social democracy?

Would you ever consider working with Better Together to strengthen the No vote?

If you ever see me standing under a Union Jack shoulder-to-shoulder with a Conservative, please shoot me. Alistair Darling is an estimable person who has a certain appeal among a section of the electorate, but he is not capable of getting the working class voters on their feet in Glasgow’s East End. I believe that there should have been a Scottish Labour campaign for a No vote with Gordon Brown as its leader and Alistair Darling could have done the numbers. I would happily have been a left-wing adjunct of that, but since Better Together includes the Tories and the Liberal Democrats I can’t get involved.

The Ukip leader Nigel Farage recently said that Alex Salmond is not offering the Scottish people “true independence”, because he would refuse to hold a referendum on European Union membership. Do you agree?

That’s a pointless comment because a Scottish vote on EU membership would be overwhelmingly in favour. Nigel Farage is not a factor in Scottish politics, but he is right on the first part of that sentence which is that Salmond is not offering true independence—if Britain is so bad how come he wants to keep so much of it? With the Queen still the head of state and the Bank of England still in charge, what is on offer is worse than the current situation which at least gives us the power to help vote the Tories out.

How much is the vote on Scottish independence about emotion and how much is it about economics?

The economic arguments overwhelmingly favour the No vote. But, nationalism is a powerful force—it’s similar to electricity in that it can kill a man in the electric chair or keep a baby alive in an incubator. The current tendency among nationalists in Scotland (and in other parts of Europe such as Venice which recently voted in favour of splitting from Italy), is to ferment desire to break up nations and exaggerate racial differences. For example Nigel Farage has been successful in blaming Johnny Foreigner for all the British peoples’ ills. It is easy to sell nationalism to the simple minded but much harder to sell socialism to an informed public.

If Scotland votes against independence, do you agree with the view that Alex Salmond deserves to be remembered as the politician who got Scotland taken seriously at Westminster?

The Scottish First Minister is an opportunist seeking to ride the horse of nationalism to power. I grew up in the 1960s when Harold Wilson’s Labour government presided over the creation of industry in Scotland—forcing companies to open factories in cities such as my hometown of Dundee. The Thatcher government decimated all of that—every factory that had opened in Dundee in the 1960s was closed down in the 1980s. Scotland was taken seriously and got a good deal when Labour was the dominant political force here. Both the Thatcher and Blair eras have poisoned the Scottish Labour vote and could prove to have been fatal to the union.

Would relations btw Scotland and England improve or disintegrate if the vote is in favour of independence?

Relations would inevitably sour. When independence didn’t turn out to be the Elysian Fields that the SNP have promised, then the hunt would be on for people to blame and the English would be the most obvious scapegoat.

I think you’re running a successful and important campaign but are your actions in any way motivated by a desire to raise your own political profile in the run-up to the next general election?

No. The only outcome I want is a decisive rejection of the separatist case and a rejuvenation of the Scottish Labour party, which will have to find a way to reclaim the affections of the Scottish people. As for my career—I have to decide later this year whether I want to remain in parliament (where I have been for 27 years) or run for Mayor of London. The latter is an attractive possibility—Boris Johnson is almost certainly going, Mr Livingstone is retired and Labour candidates of various weaknesses such as Tessa Jowell are being touted—but I haven’t made my mind up yet.

What have been the most memorable moments of the Just Say Naw tour?

During a meeting in Bathgate [West Lothian] someone asked the question “What did Labour ever do for us?” I replied thus; “I was born in a slum, I slept in an attic and shared an outside toilet with five other families. By the time I was five-years-old, I lived in a council house with a garden, there was a new school at the bottom of my road, a doctor’s surgery less than mile away, and a park nearby. As I grew up I had free school milk, free cod liver oil and free school dinners. Everything that is good in Britain was given to us by Labour, not everything Labour did was good, but the Labour movement has benefited this country in myriad ways.” That was my eulogy to the Labour idea, and when I finished speaking I saw that people in the audience were shedding tears. It was an emotional moment.

George Galloway will be speaking at HowTheLightGetsIn, the world's largest philosophy and music festival, held annually over ten days in Hay-on-Wye in association with Prospect