The Scottish Left Review magazine reaches a major milestone next month. Its September/October issue will be its 125th. In reaching this point, it will have outlasted any other left magazine published in Scotland in the post-war period. Radical Scotland, which emerged out of the left-wing ‘79 group in the SNP, lasted just 51 issues between 1982 and 1991.
Scottish Left Review was founded by veteran UCS work-in leader, Jimmy Reid in 2000, as his last political project. He gathered around him significant figures on the left, of different parties and none, to draw up a left-wing agenda that he hoped would influence the newly re-established Scottish Parliament, in particular, but also society in Scotland more widely.
Sustained by a loyal base of subscribers, support from many different unions and much voluntary labour, on a bi-monthly basis, Scottish Left Review has provided commentary and critical analysis. Its format is to lead on a theme each issue, also having an assortment of off-theme articles, book and film reviews and a satirical column called ‘Kick up the Tabloids’.
Beginning by training its fire on Blairism and ‘new’ Labour, the magazine has successfully navigated its way through challenging times for the radical left. Prime amongst these have been two sides of the same coin. First, the decline of not just ‘old’ Labour but the decay of Scottish Labour itself as it both headed rightwards and downwards, in the process vacating the territory of social democracy to the SNP. And, second, the dominance of the SNP as the governing party that talks left but whose words are seldom matched by its deeds. In the process, the SNP has monopolised what is commonly understood to be left-wing.
On top of that, Scottish Left Review has weathered the fractious implosion of what was one of the few bright developments for the left, namely, the Scottish Socialist Party. It also steered a course through the independence and Brexit debates not only by not taking sides but by allowing all the views of the left on these matters to get a fair airing within its pages.
This sense of consensus-building where possible and recognising differences and facilitating honest debate between them – as well as looking outside just party politics to examine politics as a whole – has helped sustain Scottish Left Review. It now has many more people willing to write for it than ever. All are unpaid.
In 2011, a year to the day of Jimmy Reid’s death, Scottish Left Review established the Jimmy Reid Foundation. Over its life so far, the Foundation has produced nearly 100 publications (policy paper, pamphlets, briefing notes) and organised dozens of meetings. Its well-attended annual lectures have featured Jeremy Corbyn and Nicola Sturgeon.
So, what of the influence and impact of Scottish Left Review? It has provided an intellectual resource for many by critiquing, for example, the nature of neo-liberal independence which holds sway with much of the SNP leadership. It has given extensive coverage to the arguments and actions of those in the environmental movement that believe fighting for climate change also requires fighting for system change.
Has Scottish Left Review led to any new legislation in the Scottish Parliament? No, is the answer – though that may be setting the bar a little high given the tight management of the Parliament by the political parties. There are certainly instances of influence within Parliament though. In calling for the resignation of then Scottish Labour leader, Kezia Dugdale, in September 2017 after she made clear her opposition to Jeremy Corbyn, a senior Labour insider attributed Scottish Left Review a crucial role in ratcheting up the pressure on her to go.
So, it is with some wind in its sails that Scottish Left Review looks forward to reaching other milestones – like its two-hundredth issue. You can help it do so by subscribing and supporting at scottishleftreview.scot where you can read all 125 issues for free.
Professor Gregor Gall is editor of the Scottish Left Review and director of the Jimmy Reid Foundation
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