Sunday 13 March 2016

Brexit: the Self Inflicted Wound

The Self Inflicted Wound – Brexit and the Idea of England

A lot has been made recently of the negativity of the Remain campaign, that it cannot find it within itself to make a positive case for the European Union, that, like the No campaign in the Indyref, it seems trapped in a rhetoric of threat, that it is nothing but Project Fear 2. The “Remain” campaign feels like a repeat performance to us in Scotland, and it is becoming clearer by the day that Oor Wee Referendum was regarded principally by David Cameron as “A Rehearsal for the one that Matters.” I would argue that what looks like a repeat is in fact a continuity – and a continuity undermined by the very project in whose name both campaigns are undertaken. I would argue that the valuless negativity and desperate scrabbling for a “positive message” that characterized “Better Together” and now defines an increasingly desperate and confused campaign to stay in the European Community have their roots in the same paradox.

The dominant rhetoric of the last thirty years is that “the state” is inherently corrupt – that truth as well as virtue resides wholly in the workings of the market. Communitarian values are the self serving lies of state employees. Welfare corrupts its recipients, “workers rights" are a fiction cynically put about by Trade Unionists to feather their own nests. There are no values that cannot be measured in money ; indeed, to attempt to do so is another Guardian reader hypocrisy as the system of robbery known as taxation continues to batten on the long suffering “hard working people” we hear so much about.

And if the UK “state” (other than the Queen and her Glorious Armed Forces) is a nexus of this evil, what can you say about the EU? Its parasitic and unaccountable bureaucracy getting its sticky foreign fingers into every decent British pie, its nasty cosmopolitan pretensions to suspiciously garlic flavoured “human rights law”, its obsessive regulation of decently curvy British bananas and our manly disregard for “health and safety”, let alone the protections the language police offer to those people who lacked the better judgement to be born with the  right skin colour, gender and “sexual orientation” whatever the hell that's supposed to mean! Oh it's enough to make ones Boudiccan Blood Boil!

And now, after forty years of moaning about it along with the rest of us, David Cameron and the rest of them are trying to tell us after a couple of nights of negotiation in some Palace somewhere that it's okay now and that they've fixed it? Who the hell do they think they're talking to?

The deeper truth is that the “Establishment” have inflicted on themselves with their years of Libertarian Anti-Communitarian chit chat and assumptions, is that when it comes to defending the Collective Values of either the EU or the UK, their words sound hollow, unconvincing. Just as it never seems to have occurred to these clowns that in their systematic and self interested undermining of the welfare state and the collective provision that they DON'T care about that they might ALSO be undermining the collective institutions (like the EU Free Trade Area and UK plc) that they DO care about.

And the human values of inclusion, of immigrants as well as Provincials, that have been so deeply damaged by the nihilistic looting that has characterized our history since the “bad old days” of the 1970s, do seem to be threatened by the tidal wave of resentment and racial hatred that is boiling beneath the line in the comments sections of the Daily Mail.

The collateral damage has already included the Labour Party, who did once represent, in their always flawed way, the best hope of a unitary civilisation on these islands. Now the Tory Party itself, like everything else in this sceptred Isle, is beginning to look fractured and fragile as it tears itself apart between its metropolitan elite and those members of that elite who've decided that the Neanderthals are their future mandate

While the idea of England, its richness and decency so long subsumed and distorted beneath the Imperial and post -Imperial Fictions of Britain, might just send the lid off the kettle...and that is going to be good for no one on these islands that we call home.

In more senses than simply calling these two referenda in the first place, David Cameron, the vapid PR man , has delivered unto the Britain he professes to love, a possibly terminal self inflicted wound.

Tuesday 8 March 2016

Is There an Echo in Here?

It's already a cliché, isn't it? The Brexit campaigns, for leaving and remaining, are following so exactly the pattern set by the Scottish Independence Stooshie that you begin to wonder if the damn thing was just a rehearsal. Maybe Mark Carney and David Cameron on one side of this Blue on Blue Hate-Fest and BoJo and Nige on the other did indeed regard Scotland as a Testing Ground. After all, it wouldn't be the first time.

But if all of this Project Fear talk and Economic Crystal Gazing does make us reach for the irony pills to counteract the flashbacks, it's worth thinking about both the differences and the similarities between these exactly similarly phrased bust ups...and that's even before we get to the (I think) distant prospect of IndyRef 2 (The Revenge).

There were similarities of process. David Cameron actually originated and engineered both projects. He decided what the question was going to be (and not be) and Alex Salmond got to choose the timing. This time it was Cameron rather than Salmond who got to choose the timing after he got bounced (by an unexpected parliamentary majority) into holding the thing at all.

Spooky, isn't it?

And beyond the rhetoric of boat rocking vs best of both worlds, there are also familiar distortions and simplifications on offer from both sides about North Korean isolation on the one hand and Oodles of Unregulated Cash for Gunboat Britain keeping the bloody foreigners out on the other.

One can, I think, also characterise both the Leave campaign and the Yes campaign in Scotland as being reactions against the complacent hegemony of soul-less globalisation. Mind you, that mere dynamic of the local in itself would also stretch to cover al-Qaeda.

And it's thinking in these broad terms, maybe, that gets us into historical territory, where we can look past the identity of the soundbytes to the larger cultural meaning of what is happening to the idea of Scotland, the idea of Europe and the idea of Britain respectively.

Europe first. Europe is in big trouble. It's unity has crumbled before first the impact of the global downturn on its make-believe project of economic solidarity and now with the impact of the civil war in Syria. This week's short term panic of grovelling to the appalling Erdogan to sort out immigration for us is the nearest Europe has come to unanimity for a while. And with Cameron hovering around the summit looking for a camera crew to whom to bleat “special status” “nothing to see here” over and over again, one can't help thinking that the political behemoth of the EU will never really recover its shine if the Brits do decide to pull out. Both internally and in the face it turns to the world, the razor wire is springing up all over and the dysfunction and democratic deficit that was always there in the good times begin to look insuperable in this time of crisis. Meanwhile it drowns thousands of refugees in the old moat that has replaced the iron curtain as its defining metaphor.

So I'm voting for staying in.

Because the idea of Britain is in big trouble too. And no, the SNP and their diminishing band of MPs (despite their devoutly wishing it were so) are more of a symptom of the Idea of Britain being in trouble than they are the embodiment (yet) of the Idea of Scotland.

No. Britain is in trouble because the decision was incrementally made over a long period of managed decline that the only bit of economy left over from the Empire that still functioned was the Great Money River that flows parallel to the Thames. (It has some tributaries in Edinburgh). And by “period of time”, I mean that the Labour government of the 1970s was the last failed attempt to run the whole thing as a coherent enterprise on any other terms than those of encouraging the filthy rich to get even filthier and praying to God that you could persuade them to pay some tax.

And now, after Thatcher, after Blair and Brown...and after that project very nearly coming to grief in the banking crash, we have had the last stagnated decade which has changed nothing in response to that stagnation, that has an exhausted, pessimistic elite looting what's left of the bling before the lights go out.

To my surprise, the Little Englandism that animates the footsoldiers of Leave from the both UKIP and the shire Tories has been entirely eclipsed so far by the bitch slapping going on in the Upper Echelons of the Elite as they squabble over whether Staying or Leaving is going to yield more Swag. We'll get back onto who can keep out more immigrants later, I suspect. Which it will get just ugly as opposed to Ugly and Quite Amusing to Watch from a Distance.

Which brings us, in order of the Idea of Scotland., an idea which is getting an advance test in an election campaign which has yet to get the heather even mildly warm. Our enthusiasm for democracy seems to have dissipated like Morn's Mist. I get the terrible feeling that in terms of ideas, all of the contenders who matter used up all their ideas weeks ago. Labour made a meaningless gesture on Income Tax to cheer up their troops (bless!) and David Cameron did a bad Scottish accent in a story about a chip shop and that was about it. The SNP are so assured of a win and a majority that everyone else is already posturing entirely on the basis of a foregone conclusion. So it's a bit of a let down. We got used to it not making a damn bit of difference who we voted for in elections for about twenty years...but then when we had the Indyref followed by the Up Yours Labour Landslide last year, and we got used to it all being quite exciting, so that our now sliding towards a new normal of Devo Max (which seems to have won the referendum without being on the ballot) headed up by the SNP...which would have been a revolutionary thought at the time of the LAST Scottish election in 2011...seems very boring and hardly worth getting up for.

We are yet to discover if we are going to get some excitement back in our lives if Britain decides to get even more declined and awful by voting to pull up the lifeboats...but the accident of timing means that we are voting for the bosun who just maybe has the key for launching the inflatable for a getaway before the UK floats into the Atlantic in search of an iceberg. “Boring” politics in Scotland just may be devoutly to be wished.

Friday 23 October 2015


As Scottish Politics settles into another dreary round of on-line name calling, the action has most definitely moved to Westminster where the real politicians in the real parliament hang out. Why, on a phone in this morning on Radio Scotland, John Redwood, the single Tory MP probably most responsible for the adoption of English Votes for English Laws as a policy for the answering of the West Lothian Question, could only spare ten minutes before getting back to his “real” work..

And that, to me, summed up a good deal about out now officially unequal constitutional arrangements. By force of brute arithmetic, the 55 (or 56...who cares?) SNP MPs always were an irrelevance except in propping up a minority Labour Government (just like the Irish MPs did for the Liberals in 1906), and, in the short term of “getting that ghastly business with the Sweaties over with so that we can shut them up for bit” level, Redwood was quite right to bugger off from a programme that no one important ever listens to with a feeling of a job well done....leaving the field free to Pete Wishart and whatever diminishing gang of obsessive dingbats phone in to this kind of thing....

In the medium term, however, let alone the LONG term...(which in political terms is a couple of years...or “a generation” if you prefer) surely even John Redwood must know that he's backing a loser.

On the workings of EVEL itself, like the insanely complex version of when you do or do not pay for a plastic bag at the shops that has been introduced by the state-averse culture south of the border...(in Scotland we don't mind nearly so much being told what to has made us terribly USEFUL over the years) , the idea that the Speaker (as a strict neutral) decide on what is or is not an English-only bill is cumbersome and unworkable...and invidious to the role and function of the Union parliament and its officers both in theory and in practice....and that the dysfunction of the Commons will be glaringly obvious to everyone, even John Redwood, by the next election. It just won't work. It will be an antinomian will stoke the resentment it seeks to cure on all sides. It's already doing it. Even the mention of Scotland as such, as a political unit., is poison to the system.

And that's just by Christmas THIS year.

But by next Christmas, it may well become clear to the members of the political class of the once upon a time UK that now no MP elected by any constituency in any of the nations of our Happy Family OTHER than England..can ever be Prime Minister, or Chancellor, or Home or Foreign Secretary in a UK fact, it's hard to see what they can be...

They can't possibly even be Speaker, can they? I mean...think about it.

Which means, for example, that even were Labour or the Tories to achieve the unlikely miracle of an electoral comeback in UK elections in Scotland in 2020, their best and their brightest couldn't possibly get a senior job in the cabinet. The political upper class, as represented in Westminster, is now closed as a practical career path...and absorption into that class is the key mechanism by which the British Political Establishment has both refreshed itself and absorbed trouble makers (sometimes Celtic). Not any more. 

The only destiny available to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is dissolution. And the only destiny for the lad or lass of pairts who are looking for a career in the SNP (a LOT more suits and sharp elbows at conference!) or emigration to the Money Pit.

Plus ca change, in some ways...perhaps. Power will be where power will be...and moths always head for the flame. But in a modest way, for good and Ill...there is now a Light in the North in a way there has never been before..which is probably why those of us most interested in Scottish politics and society should act as if the constitutional question is actually already settled and get on with trying to fulfil all those promises we made to each other and everybody else about the Better Nation we are Already in the Early Days Of..

Because when we lost the vote on September 18th last year, we had only hours to wait before the British State, just as it did in Ireland a hundred years ago, contrived to snatch Defeat from the Jaws of Victory...when, on September 19th, Cameron announced EVEL, he lost the Union. 

As I believe I've said before, breaking up the UK was always a job for the English.

Thing is..that what is WRONG with EVEL is absolutely transparent to anyone involved in politics in Scotland...and mystifying in England...where it seems "fair" ...where they only think about it for ten minutes before getting back to the "real" John Redwood did on the radio this morning..."you said I was on for ten minutes..." he complained...after 14. Thing is, for us in Scotland, it's ALL the time. We're aware of and variously uncomfortable with the Union ALL the time...not for ten minutes every two years when Scotland is allowed to the annoying enough to exist sufficiently to gratingly impinge on our consciousness. And that, dear friends as well as the difference between us.

Oh I think I also might have said once or twice...Tick Tock

Tuesday 22 September 2015

What Country, Friends, Is This?

Well pigs might fly...

What is interesting about the Daily Mail turning from savaging Jeremy Corbyn for one week, and then assassinating David Cameron by mockery the next, is the answer to the question : who benefits?

Clearly, a faction in the Tory Party – which one? - feels so secure of crushing victory in 2020 and beyond that they have calculated that they might as well dispose of Cameron now as later...before the Labour party get it together to assassinate Corbyn....

It's all turning into early Shakespeare...or maybe Marlowe...or even Webster...A Revenge Tragedy in any case.

The Tories as we know, being...well Tories...are much better at the sudden stab in the dark behind the Arras than are Labour...who get all caught up in stuff like democracy (if not loyalty) like Hamlet getting stuck in the curtains when he kills Polonius by mistake...(rather a silly old man but he had to go)

Nothing new in political parties hating their leaders either. I do remember eavesdropping on a conversation between Glasgow Labour types (some now only recently redeeme'd) in a nice bar on the Southside in 1994...on the day Blair was elected. The loyal comrades at no time I was spying on them, ever referred to their new leader without the prefix “that cunt”.

And David Cameron did say in the recent election campaign that he intended to stand down before 2020. Well, someone seems to feel that he should bring forward his plans to retire and spend more time with his money. I can't imagine it will break his heart.

As I say, the interesting question is Qui Bono? To play the role of the Machievel for a moment, I'd hazard that the feeling among the chaps in the clubs (pig initiation optional) is that Boris has muffed his moment. He stood for Parliament on the bet that the Tories would lose the election and that Milliband would now be in number Ten propped up by those ghastly Sweaties, and that he would have stepped in to save the nation as leader of the opposition, a cut rate comedy Churchill bumptiously setting about Old England's enemies...

No, the betting around Whitehall and the Stately Homes of England this week will be that it is another and entirely more sinister entity who will step into the breach his good friend has so sadly vacated, licking the blood and Cocaine off his teeth. Somebody who went away to China for a week the day before this happened, looking all Prime Ministerial while his friend looks like an idiot...Somebody with a line in carpets, as well as other drapery. Like Richard the Third then, shuffling into the light to disarmingly celebrate his own villainy.

And Lord Ashcroft might get that cabinet post after all. What Brown did to Blair, and what Ed did his brother, are a comedy by comparison

Saturday 25 July 2015

The Corbyn Catastrophe...or The Oblivion of Unity

As the British Political Establishment and their Associated Meejah go into full-blown, panic-stricken melt-down mode in a way that we haven't seen since those few unbelievable days last September when the polls indicated that there might be a Yes vote, I want to indulge in a little Corbyn Crystal Ball gazing of my own.

From a strictly sectarian  SNP perspective. for reasons that are not entirely respectable, the spectacle of Tony Blair and Co yelling all too familiar insults about the ultra left feels a little like enjoying someone else's grief.  You could take an article from any paper in the first half of September last year, and cut and paste "Jeremy Corbyn victory" over "SNP fanatics" and not even have to get a copy editor in for a rewrite. 

For the last twenty years, the SNP have been engaging in a long term "replacement" strategy that has eroded the credibility of Scottish labour to a point where it scarcely even seems worth while considering "the enemy."  And one baleful effect of Labour's existential UK crisis is the terrible temptation to keep hold of the the fixation.  It's like staring at a car accident. But now,  as Andrew Tickell pointed out in the Scotsman the other week, with total dominance in both Westminster and Holyrood, it might be good for the party and the country to get past that that.

The trouble is, of course, that the dead horse in question is lying there muttering "Hit me."  The extraordinary farce of the abstention vote "against" the welfare cuts was a self-inflicted wound of quite staggering political torpor, moral exhaustion and tactical ineptitude. The Labour Party make the SNP look brilliant.  The 56 of them scarcely need to turn up or even get out of bed to look like geniuses. The same is true, however, of George Osborne, unfortunately. It is not just the SNP who are fortunate in their opposition right now, and I do think there is a terrible temptation to sit back and indulge in Scottish Superiority in a way that will do us more harm than good in the long run. 

However, it is someone else's long run I want to think about.  I think we need to take advantage of having a little critical distance on Labour's crisis, as well as being in some ways ahead of the game in thinking about the previously unthinkable, to get past the Schadenfreude and onto thinking about what these islands might look like five or so years from now depending on which of a number of scenarios work out.

First, Jeremy Corbyn might win.  And if he does, given the level of current hysteria, I don't see any way in which the Labour Party holds together as a unit.  The SDP would rise from the dead like an opportunist zombie, with Tony Blair and David Owen gibbering from one and same winding sheet. One difference, however, is that the gang of four would be a gang of about 200, and it would be the Labour party under Corbyn that would be left as a rump.

But would it really get that far, even if the Bennites finally won? 

The Labour party has always been an amalgamation of interests, of course, a coalition of trade union pragmatists, radical intellectuals and morally supine careerists.  What is called "a broad church." What held it together was the prospect of power and a sense of possibility...that there might actually be a practical difference to be made in society. Both of those coagulants are pretty thin these days - thinner than I remember them being even in the dark days of the early eighties, even if, like in the referendum last year, we do seem to be re-running my youth in ways that are disturbingly exact.  

In my defence, lots of parallels are being drawn in the "progressive" papers between the situation after the post 1979 party struggles and now.  And the coincidence of a Scottish referendum followed by a Tory victory and a leadership/identity crisis in the party is obviously compelling.  But the differences in the situations are at least as important as the similarities. The leadership that Michael Foot won was of a Party and a Movement that was incomparably stronger than the one that Jeremy Corbyn is seeking to inherit. And the fact that Scotland is written out of the calculations entirely is heavily symbolic.  What is really different, and really unthinkable from the perspective of the cultural memory of 1979, is that soon there might not be a single political party in these islands that is capable of, on it's own, taking power off the Tories for the occasional interregnum of comparative sanity. Then, in 1979, or 2009 the idea that the SNP might win all but three seats in Scotland in a General Election in 2015 having just lost a referendum vote was every bit as unthinkable.

Of course, if the underwhelming Andy Burnham emerges as the people's choice, at least the Party might hang together in a grumpy and depressed kind of a way. And spend the next five years waiting for the Tories to fuck up so that they can replace them as the only very slightly less offensive face of monopoly capital.  They are already hell-bent on displaying the same mean reluctance when it comes to considering the Common Good.  But the Labour Party, even in the depths of Harold Wilson's or even Gordon Brown's instrumentalist cynicism...stood for something other than power, I seem to remember.  It stood for hope.  It derived energy and meaning from being, as Wilson put it it, "a moral crusade or nothing." 

All the papers say that a vote for Jeremy Corbyn is a deluded hope...but even that may well be better than the "nothing" they seem to be heading for otherwise. We broke the Labour party in Scotland, after all, and they show every sign of breaking themselves in Britain.  

There are deep historical forces at work here which i might attempt to explore another time, but for now, with an eye to that "future" we all used to hope for, it may well be better that some new focus needs to be found for the radical, angry energy I feel in every part of the UK to find some kind of expression than to simply allow all belief in something like a better future to fade into cultural memory. A new, smaller party might become the focus of that energy and radicalism.  But I simply can't see that being remotely possible if anyone other that Corbyn wins. It may be that the labour party in the UK now has to choose between the slow, atrophied death that pretending there could ever be a "return to normal" that they've suffered in Scotland over (at least) the last ten years or so...and a radical surgical intervention right now.  Explosion or atrophy. Either way, in the word of the Stranglers, "Something Better Change."

(I somehow didn't think a Sam Cooke analogy was tenable there!)

Yes, in this parliament, before 2020, we're talking about creating in opposition to the Tories exactly the same expedient alliance that was being proposed before the election in support of the Labour Government that all of those of us who have been obsessively whipping the poor decrepit cuddy were hoping for.  Once again, the challenge is to overcome the paradox of two parties dedicated to the non existence of the other actually having to cooperate in the face of the "real enemy" who is currently sitting across the chamber of the Commons rather with an air of quite unbearable public school smugness written all over his pasty chops. 

But this coalition would now be made of Fifty odd "real" Labour MPs, 56 SNP MPs...and whatever liberal not quite Tories the remnant of Labour make of themselves to contest the election in 2020

Once again, however the challenge is to overcome the paradox of two parties dedicated to the non existence of the other actually having to cooperate in the face of the "real enemy" who is currently sitting across the chamber of the Commons rather with an air of quite unbearable public school smugness written all over his pasty chops. 

(Osborne had a telling line in an exchange with Dennis Skinner....that they had both now got the Labour party they'd been wishing for)

The tragedy of all this seat shuffling on might well be the deck of the Titanic as well as the Union, is that in the meantime the working people of Scotland and England and N Ireland and Wales are going to find themselves being fucked over by quite the nastiest shallowest set of swine I've ever seen on the Government benches, Margaret Thatcher notwithstanding.

It might be that for however long the Union lasts, or in whatever shape a constitutional settlement is hammered out over the next ten years, whether we call it A Federation or a Fare Thee Well, that what remains of practical progressive politics across the Kingdom (or Kingdoms...or Republics!) will need to be FUNCTIONALLY federal well in advance of the sovereignty negotiations. Even a new Labour Party with fifty seats,  fifty actual socialists sitting alongside, voting with, and maybe even forming coalition governments of  200 novo-liberals and 56 self righteous Jocks, might be better than taking yet more limping steps into an oblivion of "unity"

It's also the only way that other Union holds together that I can see.  But that's a story for another time.
Peter Arnott

Sunday 19 July 2015

Elections on Mars

Looking at UK Labour's Leadership Election through the wrong end of a tartan telescope (Caledonian Kaleidoscope?) my first thought is that, rather like the UK General election just past, whatever is happening seems to be going on on Mars. It demanded an effort to recognise that these things matter more than as a matter of detached concern for the neighbours.  Then Owen Jones pointed out on Sunday morning that the Observer, in several worried think pieces about the prospect of Jeremy Corbyn actually winning the leadership election,  and what Labour's chances might be of denting a Tory Majority in 2020...never mention Scotland once.  So it seems that even labour's House Sunday has been digging a conceptual ditch along the Southern bank of the Tweed. Scotland is written off to the degree of not its fifty odd winnable seats not even being worth a mention.

And the depth of the crisis facing the left in these islands become clear. Labour can't win ANY election without offering hope of something better than the economic brutalities and ideological idiocy of market nihilism. They need to offer hope and a paractical prospect of being in a position to deliver on hope/.  And they clearly don't believe it of themselves any more than the electorate in Scotland did in may.  They can't offer a hope that they don't have themselves. The sense of doom and drift feels inescapable.  With Scotland gone, the British Road to Socialism has finally led into the sucking mud of terminal despondency.  Liz Kendall waves the defeat of any distinctive Labour Values like a flag over her head.  A vote for Liz is an act of existential suicide. Yvette Coop[er is a half conviced technocrat with the air of having backed the wrong computer programme.  Andy Burnham imitates them both but in an "authentic" accent.  He wears his class like Cooper wears her a meme.  And to elect the old fashioned bourgeois radical Jeremy Corbyn as leader may make the endlessly exploited and shat on membership feel better, but the Labour Party after nearly a hundred years as a potential party of government in the UK, looks from here to be abandoning the ambition of power in the unitary UK.

We have long lived with the paradox of the need for a principled and powerful opposition to power at least looking as if it is capable of taking power itself in order to be effective.  And there will no doubt be those who will blame us for taking away the last glue that held the shaky broad church of St Albion's parish church together. But if UK Labour need us that much, then UK Labour was already doomed. Or that we have looked to the SNP as a substitute for something that seems to lack all credibility.  That this lack of credibility seems, according to the research published over the weekend, to be shared all across the UK,  is more to be lamented than celebrated, even from the most narrow sectarian viewpoint of the SNP.  After all, you can't make progressive alliances if there really is a terminal break in communication between the aspirations of the electorate and their would be representatives.

In the short term, one can easily see scenarios where in the event of a Corbyn victory, the Parliamentary Labour Party simply refuses to recognise the result, and where some new version of the SDP split off as a minority to eventually be subsumed into the Liberals.  But that was a minority of Labour MPs who made the split back then.  In this case I think it would be Corbyn who be left with a rump of fifty or so MPs and that the other 200 would either coalesce around a charismatic centrist (who isn't visible yet but might be Alan Johnson, say...) or just fall apart where they're sitting. Even if it is the comparatively "safe-pair-of-hands" candidates of Yvette Cooper or Andy Burnham who end up in charge of the Titanic, it takes a colossal effort of optimism to envisage either of them steering the Party past the looming Iceberg of electoral indifference next time round.

The deeper cultural problem of which all this is the symptom rather than the cause is the malaise inherent now in the very project of Progress to which both the SNP and Labour theoretically subscribe. The very culture of a combined trade unionist collectivism combined with a progressive social liberalism that made their success possible was itself only a by-product of optimism in the culture itself. And it is cultural exhaustion, the death of hope, the end of the future, that is hobbling the left all over Europe right now.  There is only one law and one truth, say the Merkels and the Camerons...and here it comes, crashing onto your head like an anvil in a Tom and Jerry cartoon.

Which brings me to the nub of the matter.  Time to put down the tartan telescope and get hold of the microscope.

Scotland's different, we say.  The SNP are genuinely socially democratic. Given half a chance, we'd introduce all manner of yummy progressive social policies.  Oh really?  Said the NO campaign last , year to the electorate?  Do you really believe that? ...and we lost the vote.  Hope lost to fear.

We have to face the possibility that our assumptions of the greater appetite for social equity we detect in our fellow citizens is conditioned by what David Torrance has identified, I think correctly, as a rather ugly Scottish penchant for exhibiting our moral superiority in the comfortable certainty of never having the power to back that up.  never to have to put our taxes where our principles are.  The same psychological trap that makes for cosy Unionism..the ability to blame other for what benefits the Scottish Middle Class as much as it does the English, combined with the positivist echo chamber of the invisibly shrinking Yes campaign that is already visibly fragmenting, may be leading us astray. I also recognise from Good Old Labour Days the way that the SNP and its supporters, myself included, tend to circle the wagons in the face of criticism and dismiss all doubt as a tool of the enemy.  We may be in danger of substituting a very Scottish "Big Man" client-ism to the Labour hierarchy to the SNP.  Defensive deference to our defenders may be one of our defining cultural characteristics for all I know. .

It seemed self evident to me last year that when asked to chose between Hope and Fear that one was bound to choose Hope, as one would choose Life over Death. But I am living as part of a wider set of cultures than that Yes or No aspiration can encompass. And in the UK and in Europe, to hope seems culturally hopeless.

Are we just kidding ourselves up on our Misty Mountains? Is New Scotland Cloud Cuckoo land?  We know what "Better Together" said about that, and we were stunned at their negativity, at the poverty of their arguments which all seemed to boil down to "No point.  Don't try.  All doomed. Have a drink"...(which always seemed to me an authentically Scottish attitude.)

But we are coming down now to a new set of tactical realities in a new sense of normality.  And a normality which does not include the UK Labour Party as at least a POSSIBLY positive contributor to the cultural life of these islands is not one I can comfortably welcome in the same way I welcomed the doomed time-servers of Scottish labour tumbling down in May.

We must learn to navigate new waters.  And it may be that our celebration of maiden speeches and a popular first minister are about to shown as insufficient.

Tuesday 14 July 2015

The New Normal

Who would have thought it? The revolutionary date of the 14th of July ...but in the UK in 2015, when the most undisguisedly reactionary government in living memory has just been voted into power on a wave of Jockophobia, here at the fag end of a victorious, delirious Tory majority Westminster Parliamentary mini term, marked by the overt brutality of the Osborne budget and measures designed to drag Trade Unions back to the semi-legal status of the Combinations Act in the 19th Century...maybe...just MAYBE...also marks, in a wholly different register, the beginning of the new normality for not just Scottish politics, but for the future mechanics of UK politics as a whole.

The prospectus of the SNP at the last UK General Election just ten weeks ago was that UK Labour recognise in the SNP a strategic and occasional anti-Tory ally in the specific context of the UK Parliament. Now, it was never an expectation that UK Labour acknowledge any such possibility while in the throes of the Campaign itself - that would have been to throw the Scottish Party and its chances of recovery under a bus.

Then, late in the campaign, when the Tories, to their own surprise, discovered that they might achieve decisive traction with the twin bogeyman of a Jock and Jewish usurpation of some hitherto undigested vision of Englishness ad a profoundly (if unaccountably) threatened sense of identity, on the 30th of April Ed Milliband made a speech  where he ruled out any possibility of ever even talking to the SNP ever about anything under any circumstances...

Now Labour were already in deep trouble in Scotland and deeper trouble than even their focus groups told them in England, but this speech effectively sank the hearts and boats of all but the most tearily loyal troops North of the Tweed.

One has to actually live here to understand the depth of shock and long lasting hurt that our still overwhelmingly Unionist establishment up here (in broadcasting, the media, business and academia) now feel. Culturally speaking it is hard to see any healing of the damage that was done by the steadfastly fear and nihilism campaign fought for the Union has just plain disappointed and disoriented people who were far more sincerely and historically conscious and collegiately British in their outlook than are the electoral beneficiaries of the fear and hatred whipped up by the baying, empty shirted opportunists of the contemporary Press and Tory establishment in London.  It has become terribly and terminally clear that the Tory defenders of Britishness are entirely skin deep and cynical in their commitment to anything pother than the immediate rewards of power..  They're not Unionists in any sense my own Unionist family would recognise.

Labour became the establishment Party in Scotland during the sixties and kept that status right through 18 years of Thatcherism partly in response to the moral and intellectual hollowing out of the alternative.  And when Ed Milliband threw Scottish Labour under the electoral bus at the end of April, as I said at the time, the last proper Unionists left the building. Leaving their Scottish branch office utterly bereft.

Beyond all the predictable (and justified) Tory yells about the SNP performing a convoluted and semantically dubious U-turn on their traditional policy of abstaining on what they (as opposed to the Speaker of the House of Commons) as clearly "England Only " measures on the Fox Hunting vote, that same Loyalist Establishment in Scotland are screaming themselves puce about SNP hypocrisy and neglecting to identify the true significance of what has just happened today.

Which is that the UK Labour Party, (although admittedly using Ian Murray, the last unlikely survivor of the Scottish Party as postman) invited the SNP to support them on a vote on fox hunting in England and Wales.  For the SNP, the fact of this invitation was what mattered. That they were thereby forced into some inelegant contortions of mind bogglingly transparent sophistry hardly matters beyond the fact that what Ed Milliband rejected so vehemently and finally on the campaign trail has now in fact come about (Albeit in opposition rather than the hoped for informal coalition).  The Tories, ten weeks into their term, have already been deflected on Human Rights legislation, English Votes for English Laws...and now on the totemic issue of fox a de facto progressive alliance that Labour have now come out and publicly requested in the specific instance of a specific winnable vote.

And like the empty shirts they are, rather than risk a fight, the Tories have backed down.

Now we are a very long away from the by-elections that might, two or three years from now, routinely thwart the wishes of the slim majority in the Commons.  And we already know that the Tories are callously and cynically front loading the most anti-social of their revenge fantasy economics on very many on both sides of the Tweed who can ill withstand the assault.

But in the maiden speech of Mhairi Black that came on the same day as the Parliamentary Gamesmanship jointly and successfully played by UK Labour and the SNP yesterday, ,maybe, just maybe, the wider UK electorate will begin to get a sense of what was happening up here in the deep North last year.  And in a sentence, what we felt here was a sense of re-discovery of the sense of possibility.  That maybe, just maybe, there was a way to challenge the version of reality to which margaret Thatcher bore witness and to which Blair and Brown subscribed.

This has also been the week, of course, when that very sense of democratic possibility of self determination (or at least self-defence) was so brutally stamped into the killing floors of Brussels with an almost audible grunt of "That'll LEARN ya!"

We faced the same ugly closing of the future in name of "Reality" in the No Campaign last year.But maybe, just maybe, our experience may be salutary and useful down well as refreshing.  Maybe...just maybe...positive and progressive alliances, practical solidarity can indeed be found in a federal approach to opposition across these islands and this continent that will one day bear democratic fruit constitutionally and in terms of the re-discovered possibility of progress towards social and economic justice.

For me, the most important thing the SNP can do in Westminster is make the case for a new, reconfigured sense of solidarity across these islands.  And the human presence of Mhairi Black and Tommy Shepherd may well do more to accomplish that than anything else. Stranger things have happened, and, after all, no matter what the constitutional settlement in 2025 or 2030, we will all still be living on the same Atlantic Archipelago, whatever we want to call it.

And 14th July 2015 will one day be known as Day One of the New Normal