Fabian Society to Re-Launch in Scotland

Fabian Society Scottish Convenor, NOEL FOY, reminds us all of the organisation’s importance and history. 


On the 4 January the Fabian Society, one of Britian’s oldest Socialist Societies, celebrated 128th birthday. In that time the Society has played a highly influential and important role in left politics. From its earliest days it has been at the heart of the Labour Party. There at the Party founding conference in 1900 and since then helping to shape the debate while resolutely standing up for democracy and arguing for social justice. One of the founding principles of the Society to ‘help in the reconstruction of society in accordance with the highest moral possibilities’ is still the driving force of the democratic left politics.

The Fabian Society has always been at its most comfortable at the sharp edge of the political divide. And in the process some of the finest political thinkers have grappled with the problems of their time and have challenged the forces of reaction, privilege and plain nonsense.

Historically one thinks of Shaw, the Webb’s, HG Wells, Annie Besant, Rupert Brook, Emmeline Pankhurst and even Oscar Wilde, at the height of his powers, sharpened his polemical skills at Fabian meetings. In the modern era there are Tawney, the Coles, Attlee, Crosland, JP Mackintosh, Bernard Crick, Giles Radice, Robin Cook, Gordon Brown and Douglas Alexander and a host of others who have been involved with the Fabian Society in one capacity or another. Collectively it all adds up to a substantial and serious contribution to radical thought based on a simple determination to make life more tolerable and fair.

Jo Grimond, a formidable onetime Leader of the Liberals and a Scottish member of Parliament, gave some wise words of advice to any Party Leader in opposition. In a conference speech Grimond said that in bygone days, commanders were taught that when in doubt, they should march their troops towards the sound of gunfire.  Its great line and a sound strategy, especially for any Party hoping to regain the initiative after a losing campaign.

Being where the action is has been a watchword of the Fabian Society in its long history.  Armed with nothing but facts, arguments and evidence the Fabians have sought to bring about the good society often with stunning success.

If there has been a flaw in Fabian approach it has been a tendency to believe that the centre of the political universe lies in London. The rationale is probably sound enough when the raison d’être of the organisation is to influence movers and shakers. But times change and centers of power are not necessarily fixed in one place for all time. Devolution is a fact and is here to stay. And revisionists must be prepared to revise when circumstances change.

There is another great conference speech and it was made by Tony Blair in response to the attack on the Twin Towers. In an image of extraordinary power he said that ‘the kaleidoscope has been shaken. The pieces are in flux. Soon they will settle. Before they do let us re-order the world around us’.

While in no way comparable to that dreadful atrocity the metaphor also works well for events last May in Scotland. As far as these islands are concerned the kaleidoscope was indeed shaken by the fallout following the defeat of Scottish Labour and the success of the SNP and Alex Salmond.  The consequences of that success continue on a daily basis and so far the Nationalists are making most of the running. Whether it will all end in tears or triumph depends on the political, organisational and ideological battle which the democratic left must take to the SNP and the Nationalist cause.

There is a role for the Fabian Society here. The tried, tested Fabian methods of reason, analysis, debate, seminars, conferences, publication and persuasion could be invaluable in countering the regressive dead end street on offer to Scotland by the Nationalists.

The good news is that the Fabian Society gets the message and is determined to play its part in Scotland in whatever way it can.

No-one knows how long Noel Foy worked as an organiser for the Scottish Labour Party, but rumours abound that his relationship with Keir Hardie was not good. He’s now retired, lives in Haddington and is still fighting the good fight. 

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34 thoughts on “Fabian Society to Re-Launch in Scotland

  1. A great reminder of the strength of the shared history of the Labour movement, stretching back further than the formation of the Labour party, and breaking down, rather than building, barriers between nations. That broad, principled outlook can indeed do Scotland a great service in the coming debate.

  2. Noel,

    I’m not in your camp so you won’t be surprised that I don’t recognise “the regressive dead end street on offer to Scotland”; I see great opportunities for Scotland to fully express the aspirations of its people, which are currently constrained (as I believe you recognise) by that “centre of the political universe” that you mentioned.

    Labour’s dogmatic position on the union can only be interpreted as meaning a cycle of Tory/Labour administrations at Westminster is better for Scotland than a government of our choosing at Holyrood. That’s a position that I just don’t understand, and I think is one of the key points that Labour needs to address.

    1. Dont you have a Government of your choosing at Holyrood? Its certainly not one of mine!

      There are many things the Scottish Government could be doing, but isnt. I would believe more int he need for independence if we were using the powers we DO have to their limit.

      1. You are not answering my central point that Labour’s philosphy leads to “a cycle of Tory/Labour administrations at Westminster” and that this is somehow better for us than an independent government.

        (How our devolved governments have performed since 1999 is a separate debate.)

        1. Labour’s philosophy will also lead to a cycle of Labour/SNP administrations in Edinburgh… your point caller?

          It’s called democracy. Just because your guys don’t win doesn’t mean you throw the toys out the pram – it means you have to raise your game and put a message across that people can buy into.

          The idea that Scotland will beocme a centre-left utopia upon independence is laughable. Social attitudes across the UK are very similar and in an independent Scotland there would support for left-centre and right-centre parties. When people get bored of one they would elect the other and therefore we would have a new version of Scottish Tories in power in Edinburgh.

          In this situation would the left-centre voting areas demand independence from the right-centre areas like the Highlands?

          The SNPs philosophy would lead to a cycle of separation after separation until you get a small group of people who could agree on everything. A bit like cybernats to be honest with you.

          1. GMcM, Please, we recognise:

            1. Your strawman argument: “a centre-left utopia upon independence is laughable”

            2. Your unfounded speculation: “a new version of Scottish Tories in power in Edinburgh”

            3. Your non sequitur: “left-centre voting areas demand independence”

            My question remains unanswered. In an independent Scotland, the voters can select a government that is not subject to the mood swings of Middle England.

            Put differently, from Labour’s point of view is there an upside to Scotland when the Tories are in power in Westminster?

          2. Farrochie.

            The former Tory voters in Scotland moved across to Labour in the central belt and the SNP up north in 1997 in large numbers. In an independent Scotland, if the SNP were no longer around as some say, those right-centre voters would again be likely to move back to a right-centre party.

            There is no upside for Scotland, for the North-East, North-West, Yorkshire & Humberside, Wales when there is a Tory government.

            Voters in south-east and east England can vote Tory and get a Labour government. Your point is based ona false premise that the outcome of an election is based on the mood swings in those areas when it’s not. You don’t just pick up your ball and go home when you lose a goal at football do you?

          3. GMcM, thanks for your reply. I think I understand your argument now, but naturally I don’t agree with that position, especially as Scotland now has a unique chance to do something about its position.

  3. What have you got against barriers?

    Barriers are important in any relationship, whether professional, social or domestic. This is true for nations as much as it is for individuals. Barriers allow trust to be built and friendships to develop.

    If you think we should live without barriers then why do you bother moderating this site? Why insist on an email address? Or a CAPTCHA? Do you have a fence round your garden, a lock on your door, a PIN for your bank account? Do you allow anyone any access to your kids?

    We need barriers.

    While we’re on the subject don’t forget there is a dirty big mountain range of a barrier between Scotland and England.

  4. Since Scottish independence would facilitate a more just and fair society north of the border, by bringing power closer to the people up here and thereby letting us address more directly areas deemed by the people to be of concern, I would expect true Fabians to be SNP supporters.

    1. Hold on a wee second here Gortch, “bringing power closer to the people”?

      How admirable that the SNP support this view. I trust they will now reverse their unfair Council Tax freeze, they will forget their plans to raid the capital budgets of local authorities, they will devolve more powers to local authorities to ensure local democracy is stronger and that they can ‘bring power to the people.’

      Don’t make me laugh – the SNP are all about centralising power. They want more and more powers for Holyrood and not just from Westminster. They are undermining local democracy yet claim that Scotland isn’t treated fairly by Westminster because we don’t have all the power in Holyroood..

      The SNP are all about getting power for themselves not for the best interests of Scotland. They want the country to be run from Holyrood, that Holyrood can micromanage every area of policy in every area of the country. That is the opposite of democracy in action.

  5. For the record, labour campaigned at the last election for a Council Tax freeze, or did you forget?

    And if youwant power clser to the people, why do you prefer powers to be retained at Westminster under a Conservative led government, rather than passed to the government that is elected by the Scottish people?

    1. Lewis you can’t have it both ways. The SNPs position on this topic is inconsistent, they want power from Westminster to bring it closer to where it is needed yet take power away from local authorities where it is needed.

      Labour are consistent on this – we believe in power being devolved from Westminster to Holyrood and that local authorities retain their autonomy and do not have their democratic authority challenged the way the SNP have.

      Yes we did go to into the last election promising that and I think you’ll find the vast majority of Labour members were against it. The reason it didn’t help us is because we didn’t promise it because we believed it was fair, rather we advocated it to try and shut down options for the SNP. It worked out bad for everyone as we lost momentum and the SNP promised a massively damaging 5 yr freeze. It was a political tactic that backfired spectaularly and has shown the Party that we must stand for what we believe in rather than trying to play that kind of political game.

      Also, just on that subject, we promised to adequately fund a freeze unlike the SNP. It still didn’t make the policy position correct but at least the councils wouldn’t face a huge shortfall like they are now.

      1. Let be honest here: Labour believes in SOME powers being transferred from Westminster to Holyrood. Labour also supports keeping powers in Westminster’s control, to be used by a Conservative led government, rather than passing them to Holyrood to be used by the government elected by the people of Scotland.

        Also, if you are going to argue that councils wouldn’t be facing a funding shortfall if labour had won power, you need to be clear what else you would have cut to provide extra funding to local councils, because as you know – and Labour accepts – the Scottish parliament has to live within a budget decided by Westminster.

        1. Yes because that’s how democracy works isn’t it? We believe some powers are best kept at Westminster to provide a joined up approach across the UK but when the Tories are democratically elected we should want them moved away from Westminster. Nonsense.

          Everyone accepts thats the case as the govt at Holyrood have a responsibility, legally, to balance their budget. You may be forgetting but during the election campaign Labour’s manifesto was the most accurately costed of all the major parties. It’s about priorities and Labour would not only have balanced the budgets but would have been putting money into initiatives that would not have youth unemployment, and unemployment in general, soaring as is the case with the SNP. Plus as well as creating more jobs we would have implemented a Living Wage right across the public sector.

          1. I want powers transferred from Westminster to Holyrood because I want to be governed by whatever party the people of Scotland elect.

            If you really believe the argument about having ‘a joined up approach’, I assume you want the European Union to take powers from individual states so that Europe can have a more joined up approach to things.

            Aye…thought not!

  6. The Fabian Society is to go for a re-launch. That should get the Tories sounding the retreat on cuts and welfare caps. The Fabian Society has in the past made valuable contributions through reflective thinkers and philosophers. Nowadays it is rather more academic than practical. It is what is known these days as a ‘Think Tank’. The Wikipedia entry is not far off the mark: The Fabian Society is a British socialist movement, whose purpose is to advance the principles of democratic socialism via gradualist and reformist, rather than revolutionary, means.
    There is nothing wrong with academic rigour, indeed it is much to be admired. However, what we are facing in a Tory led government cannot be countered by gradualist socialists have a chinwag. What we need is real, consolidated resistance to the Tory cuts, in contrast to the pathetic acceptance of cuts by Labour’s leadership.
    The article refers to democratic left thought. I hold the view that Scotland is best served by all democratic left supporters coming together in support of independence, and there has been considerable support for independence amongst Labour Party members in the past. Once independence is won, there will be plenty of scope within the new Scottish Parliament for democratic left policies.
    Your allusion to the building of barriers between nations is misguided. It is the UK State which has brought upon itself international disgust through its policies of obsequious prosecution of USA foreign policy. These are real barriers to international cooperation which will never be removed as long as we accept the UK as the decision maker for Scotland.
    Independence would mean removal of barriers and our joining together with like minded, peaceful nations.

    1. Independence would have left us standing on the sidelines shouting about the legalities of the Kosovo intervention. Please don’t try and make an argument for independence based on one conflict when there are many instances of UK intervention building peace and ending tyranny.

      1. Independence would mean that Scottish forces would only be committed to conflict or military interventions with the approval of the Scottish Parliament. Why would that be such a bad thing?

        The days of the British Empire are over – that particular chapter is closed – lets look to the future and put in place arrangements that best meet the needs of a small nation of 5 million people in the modern world.

        1. Why do so many arguments about Scottish Independence introduce the British Empire?

          Are you saying that Scotland was invaded by the British Army and occupied like the rest of the Empire?

          Is your argument that Scots were always forced to invade places like India, or attack natives in Africa?

          1. At one time the British Empire controlled a quarter of the world. At that time, the UK was the main world power and required a military capable of operating anywhere in the world.

            The world today is very different. The British empire has gone and the UK itself is a creation that is now approaching the end. The Scottish people need to look to the future rather than the past and decide the arrangements best suited to a country of some 5 million people in a world of 7 billion.

        2. The conflict that so upsets people (Iraq) was approved by Westminster. It went before the democratically elected chamber and was approved. Are you saying in an independent Scotland the Scottish Parliament wouldn’t ever do something similar? The argument seems to be along those lines and again its not accurate. Yes we would have the chance to vote against such action, but you must remember, Westminster wasn’t exactly deprived of that option. What would the real difference be in that situation?

          Yes the British Empire is done; I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about the obligations placed upon nations by the UN to protect citizens of other nations who are defenceless. This is what makes the nationalists sound so insular. If we see injustice in the world we have a responsibility to act. Now that doesn’t mean we can go into every single country where injustice thrives, it should be a shared responsibility of all nations. The problem is that too many nations shirk these responsibilities due to pressure from within their own countries.

          Now a governments first priority must surely be it’s own people but in the case of countries like Libya, Iraq, Kosovo and the like, can we really turn a blind eye and shirk our responsibilities? Democratic Socialism doesn’t stop at a border, unless I’m mistaken.

  7. Noel – ‘The tried, tested Fabian methods of reason, analysis, debate, seminars, conferences, publication and persuasion’ …but a) they need to be applied TO the streams of sentiment and identity that feed the debate about Scotland’s – and the UK’s future and b) Fabians also have to bring imagination and inspiration to the party. Labour (north as well as south of the border) needs to dream as well as model fiscal possibilities; part of the dream is a social democratic Scotland, willing to tax itself for the sake of the collective (national) good …what is hard to hear, in London at least, are even faint echoes of a Scottish Labour articulation of a national (but not nationalist) future, offering a story about what’s to come for Scotland’s cities, industry, culture, universities, resources …and people.

  8. UK way down the HDI (Human Development Index) rankings at 28th place behind the Czech Republic and Slovenia.

    http://hdr.undp.org/en/statistics/

    Hard to spin that as a success story. The UK political state is a failure; no wonder we have a Scottish independence referendum coming up and a surge in support for English nationalism/an English parliament.

    http://ippr.org/publications/55/8542/the-dog-that-finally-barked-england-as-an-emerging-political-community

    “The Dog That Finally Barked”

    “This report presents evidence which suggests the emergence of a new kind of Anglo-British identity in which the English component is increasingly the primary source of attachment for English people. It also suggests that English identity is becoming more politicised: that is, the more English a person feels, the more likely they are to believe that the current structure of the UK is unfair and to support a particularly English dimension to the governance of England.”

    79% of people in England rightly believe Scots Labour/Lib/Tory ‘Unionist’ MPs voting on English domestic matters (i.e. those devolved elsewhere) is wrong. I would imagine Scots, Welsh and N. Irish would completely support them on this. The Union is terribly unfair on England. Jeez in the 2010 GE Scots voters blocked the Tory majority government the English wanted then went on to vote in an SNP government that they wanted at home. That is terribly undemocratic.

    Looks to me like the UK political system is increasingly unliked in all home nations and the SNP are just reflecting UK-wide popular opinion; it’s time to put the last remants of the old empirical British unitary state to bed and move on. Devo Maxx/FFA at minimum for all UK home nations and the union might survive. Otherwise, it looks like its all over, Fabian society or not.

  9. After hearing nonsense about “frames, fabians, and Internationlism” on this site, I thought cut to the chase just go to my reasons for Independence and at the risk of being mod-ed or not.

    You see I remember and what do I remember ? the time of Margaret Thatchers government is what !!! The bloody and utter hopeless’ness of that time, no hope, no chance, that tory government that trampled over our people and country like we didn’t exist. And there was nothing labour, snp, libdems could do about it, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING, and by God did tory Westminster take full advantage. Did the Scottish office not do something to protect Scottish interests, NO, at one point most if not all of the MP’s running the Scottish office were English and we ground-down from every direction. Tory Westminster had full run of Scotland and they delighted in it. We had 50 labour Mp’s representing us, you may as well have dug my granny up and sent her down south it would have made the same impact.

    All those who lived in that time should remember and you should scream it into the lugs of them who were’nt, so how can you even think of letting a tory government having one iota of control over this country your country when you could totally stop it forever is beyond me. And how can your leader in Westminster side with them ?
    Labour how do you not remember, because I cant forget.

    Moderate me to your hearts delight its still true.

    1. Davy, I debated this point above with GMcM, and if I can be permitted a slight edit of his response: “There is no upside for Scotland……when there is a Tory government.”

      So if this is accepted by Labour, why did Ed Milliband agree so strongly with Cameron about preserving the union, and why does Scottish Labour not do the obvious and stop campaigning against independence.

      1. No cannot be premitted to paraphrase my comment in such a distorting fashion.

        I was making the point that the Tories are bad for the whole of the UK with the exception of the City and South-East (although there a re still many areas within the South-East who are hurt by the Tories).

        The idea that the Tories are only out to get Scotland is foolish.

        1. And my point, GMcM, is that Scotland is in a position to do something about its constitutional position.

          The voters of NE England rejected the proposal for a regional assembly with a massive 77.9% against; this halted proposals for North West England, Yorkshire and the Humber to have referendums. There was no outcry.

          Labour needs to quickly overturn its strident opposition to independence, acknowledge the benefits to Scotland of independence, and consider the possibilities for the Labour party to be a radical party of the left in Scotland as the new politics takes shape.

          You have about a year to turn things around or be bound to a unionist position that is becoming increasingly untenable.

        2. p.s. I did not paraphrase your comment. I deleted the part that referred to parts of England, which are outwith the current constitutional debate.

    2. Davy,

      There are two points you must take into consideration with the impact of the Tories on Scotland.

      1) They didn’t just impact negatively on Scotland. Wales, the North of England, the Midlands etc suffered just as badly as us. In some ways we were treated worse (poll tax) but overall we were not singled out. Only a nationalist would try and skew the past to get to theat conclusion.

      2) It is because of the detrimental impact that the Tories were having on Scotland and Wales that Labour promised, and delivered, devolution. It was to take the power the Tories had over these countries and reduce it when they regained power and pursued their destructive ideology. Again, some nationalists believe it was all a conspiracy to shut down the independence debate. Wrong. It was spread power out from the centre and allow Scots and Welsh to have greater control over policy areas that may affect those countries differently while also acting as a buffer from Tory ideologically driven cuts.

      The question therefore is this: which party would deliver a different agenda from the Tories and negate many of the negative policies from Westminster? Labour’s manifesto last May would have done more in terms of creating jobs and raising pay for the lowest paid workers than the SNP have achieved. The SNP have adopted the Tory policies advocated by Osborne that failed in the 80s i.e. cut capital spending (Swinney cut this further and deeper than Osborne) and enterprise zones (a model of job creation that only moves the pieces around the board – taking jobs away from one area to create them in another so that business gains the benefit of lower tax).

      1. GMcM, You must think Im a total numpty, I lived through those times, “in some ways we were treated worse” but not singled out. If you were there how on earth can you believe that.

        And as for putting labour as some type of secrect service working behind the lines to defend our countrys rights, its way out there in cloud cuckoo land. Remember then 50 labour MP’s from Scotland, a waste of time, now 40 labour MP’s still a waste of time.

        And as for the Osborne and Swinney concept thats just a barefaced lie, our capital budget was cut by Westminster as well you know.

  10. I have tried to comment on this article before but the comment was removed. However I am going to try again because I know from my own family history the importance of Fabian Society values and the Society’s belief in open dabate,
    Mr Foy says, “There is a role for the Fabian Society here. The tried, tested Fabian methods of reason, analysis, debate, seminars, conferences, publication and persuasion could be invaluable in countering the regressive dead end street on offer to Scotland by the Nationalists”.
    Please Mr Foy I implore you don’t prejudge the nationalists message. Remember The Fabian values of analysis and debate. Don’t approach the counter argument from the outset as “regressive dead end street”. Keep an open mind and anaylise first.
    That is the Fabian way.

    1. Richard, Thanks for your comment. I appreciate it and the manner it which it is said. I am, believe me, following the debate very closely. So for, I have to say. I am unconvinced by the Nationalist case. I cannot help but notice how the SNP hyperbole being unpicked and the consequent equivocation and backsliding going on. I expect there is a lot more of that to come. I hold firm to the belief Scottish Nationalism is, at it’s heart, reactionary and regressive. Masquerading as something it is not is fairly typical of the species. Look to your history books! We can’t agree I regret to say but thanks anyway.

  11. Noel, you say “I cannot help but notice how the SNP hyperbole being unpicked and the consequent equivocation and backsliding going on.” What do you mean? I am honestly at a loss to follow your point.
    What I do understand is that you are completely against independence for Scotland. I know why you think the way you do because I thought the same, a long time ago. I thought all nationalists were dangerous, that ‘nationalism’ Basque, Irish, Scottish were all the same, a distraction, no worse than a distraction, a cancer in the ‘body politic’ that the real struggle was the class struggle: the uneven distribution of wealth.
    I changed my mind. I still believe in a compassionate society, but not all nationalist movements are the same. That was a naive and ignorant assumption of mine. Every independence campaign is different.
    And I can only speak with confidence about Scotland’s historical and democratic right to argue for self determination.
    So Noel, Please, before you reply, and I hope you do, make reference the following points which I hope we can agree are points of fact;
    1) Scotland is one of Europe’s ancient regimes.
    2) The map of Europe has changed since the removal of the Berlin wall.
    3) The idea of Britain as a world power is a delusion and an independent Scotland would bring an end to that fantasy.

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