Neil Findlay with Jeff Homes, Socialism and Hope: a journey through turbulent times, Luath, 2017, £12.99, 9781912147274
Reviewed by Finlay Smith
Neil Findlay’s Socialism and Hope follows him on his path through Scottish politics between 2014 and 2016. These were, of course, turbulent times featuring ‘indyref’, the detonation of the Labour Party, a Scottish Labour leadership contest and a General Election. Difficult times indeed. Being a leading member of the Scottish Labour Party gives him a front row seat, so you get first hand insight into the peculiar world of politics and politicians.
The book for the most part is written in diary style with the exception of a brief introduction and an afterword. The introduction gives an outline of Findlay the man, and he seems a genuinely nice, honest, hardworking and funny chap. However, his endearing habit of referring to his parents as ‘ma’ and ‘pa’ means it takes a while to shake a vision of The Broons from your head. He was a late starter in politics having spent time as a bricklayer, cook, student and teacher before getting a leg up into his current profession by the marvellous, Tam Dalyell.
After that you’re straight into the diary, which must rate as the second laziest way to write a book after the illustrated celebrity biography. The big picture is, of course, politics in Scotland, but there’s no-one to paint the picture for you. You need a knowledge of the zeitgeist to have a hope to following the plot, but I assume anyone who chooses to read this book would be so prepared. So you’re flying solo, but you may also choose to first set your watch to 1975 if you want to tune into Neil Findlay’s personal politics.
You can gallop through the book very quickly, due in part to a lot of it being filler. A random example: ‘6th December: For the first time in ages I had a quiet day then went to my brother John’s 50th birthday party’. Well, my wife and I went out to dinner with my parents last night, but are you bothered?
You have to assume that anyone who sets out to keep a diary doesn’t do so with the intention of having it published so they can be as vicious as they like when referring to others, and here Findlay doesn’t hold back. Characters are described variously as ‘bitter and spiteful’, ‘a sycophant’, ‘a cretin’, ‘a pompous git’, and so it goes. I won’t spoil the fun by naming names except to record that he really, really, really can’t stick Jim Murphy.
The diary style does allow you to follow our hero as he develops as a politician. There’s evident naivety early on when he shares his opinion that being an MEP must be the most boring job in the world and that most people haven’t a clue what MEPs do. Breaking news, Neil – a whole lot of people don’t know what MSPs do either. He is also (unintentionally) funny when he states: ‘We are calling for radical federalism across the UK, retaining a redistributive system of taxation and the Barnett formula but with double devolution to regions and communities; if only Labour would say the same, I’m sure the referendum would be won quite easily’. There you go. Simple as that!
As the months go by Neil’s interest grows in focus groups, opinion polls, TV debates, who’s backing who for what and who said what about somebody else. This is particularly evident during his bid for the Scottish Labour leadership. You can read this two ways. Is he going the way of the popular perception of politicians in that they’re more interested in the mechanics of politics than doing the job, or is it just part and parcel of what committed politicians have to put up with? Personally I prefer the latter, although it is open to interpretation and an intriguing element of the book.
The ‘hope’ part of the book’s title shines through in the section following Labour’s disastrous showing in the 2015 General Election, where the surprise election of Corbyn as leader precedes the remarkable renaissance of the party. As a bonus you get a foreword from the leader himself. Overall, this is an intermittently entertaining book but it will only appeal to those with a sound grasp of recent Scottish politics, or someone with a keen interest in Jim Murphy bashing.
Finlay Smith is a manager in part of the aviation business, an ex-RAF officer and an atypical lifelong Labour fan.