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

Friday 3 July 2015

Whatever Happened to the Tories, Ma?

All the way through the referendum, I could feel my Tory ancestors tugging away at my insides somewhere. As I watched the various intimidating manoeuvres of the Better Together campaign, I could hear their ghosts muttering, "Jesus! Can't we do better than this? Has the Britain of the Empire and the Welfare State really got nothing more elevated to say for itself? "

And since the result, since the very morning of the Union's victory of fear over aspiration, it does seem that the mean but professional campaign that was run by Scottish Labour on behalf of Past Glory really did mask something much more tawdry and diminished than any of my forebears from the left or the right would have recognised.  It was Scottish Labour that paid the price of course.  But May's election result has revealed something decadent and terminal in the Tory soul as well.

They are so delighted with themselves, so stunned that they won so decisively.  They are empty shirts...they know it.  They're a weird agglomeration of sock puppet creatures of the Masters of the Universe, and whiny, provincial Daily Mail readers whose sense of victimhood shrieks from every appalled and hateful headline.   The UK electorate have been, apparently, sold on the idea that suffering should only trickle down one way as, free of the social responsibility of even pretending to give a stuff for collective welfare, those who already have far more than they need loot the nation and the planet as a shore against the economic and environmental ruin their cupidity is bringing down on us like a hammer. They are free to pursue an agenda made up in equal parts of pure resentment and pure class interest.

To bomb Syria in revenge for an attack planned in Libya on British tourists in Tunisia!  To redefine child poverty out of existence! To turn teachers into the thought police! To destroy the BBC and flog off the remainder of welfare state to their chums!

And they owe it all to Scotland.

That's how they feel.  That's why they cheered like they did in the Commons when they rubbed our noses in our numerical irrelevance.  That's why they're trying to smuggle the constitutional monstrosity of English Votes for English Laws through by a hole in the corner Standing Order.  They are not trying to solve the West lothian Question.  They're trying to exacerbate it.  They're rubbing salt in the wound. Because they think that's how they won the election.  They turned their whole campaign around when they stumbled so decisively onto "Scotophobia"as a way of shoring up their base.  Remember, the Tories might swagger around like suited and booted Lords of all they survey, but their electoral base is made up of people stoked into ever deeper anxiety about clinging on to their little bit of England in the face of bloody Europe and bloody immigrants and bloody paupers and bloody Jocks....

If it ever did, the Tory Party no longer represents a settled, conservative Britain. Instead, it lives entirely by exploiting fear of the other, including the other within. And just as the presence of 56 SNP MPs is dramatising so clearly and decisively for the Scots electorate the sheer hopelessness of trying to continue as if the flag still flew over a quarter of the globe and as if there was any such thing as a UK National Duty of Mutual Care, so for the Tories, in the short term, the more we can look like marginalised, irritating little tykes, the better they like it.

In short there is going to be a row about what defines "English only" legislation every single time there's a finance bill, then that's not a problem.  The Tories think will work for them.  As in the election, they will trap Labour into looking if not anti-English, then dependent on the Scots. It worked for this last election, it will work for the next one.  This isn't so much grubby English nationalism as squalid realpolitik.  They're doing this because they think it will work for them.

It is not just my British Ancestors who I can feel rotating in their graves.

Even at its best, politics is a myopic, short term business. We are unfortunately well acquainted in Scotland with the sterile territorialism that seems to hobble the very considerable talent we have in our political parties.  We glimpsed, I think on all sides, in all parties, a rather more interesting and enlightened civil society in some of the arguments that we traded during the campaign. Still, it is rather a shock to my Unionist DNA to see what has become of the Conservative and Unionist Party of Great Britain.  Daily they shrink into nasty little parochialist monkeys dancing to the tune of powers that they ape but don't seem capable of understanding.

Last year, we hesitated to end the Union that has played so large and complex a role in the world for the last three hundred years.  But then, breaking that Union was always too big a job for Scotland. Now we feel that we can only watch in shocked, mournful silence as the big boys next door blunder so inanely into doing it for us.

Wednesday 10 June 2015

That'll Show 'Em!

Sometime in the early eighties, Scottish Football Supporters decided to be nice.  In an era of testosterone and alcohol fuelled competition between footballing nations as to who could wreck the most pavement cafes, Scottish Football Supporters went all post-modern and dressed up as themselves in ginger wigs.  “We’re the FUN country,” they seemed to say, improbably.  “We don’t think we’re going to win anything, but if we do we’ll be really happy. of course.  But we won’t hospitalise your policemen.  Love us.  Love our kilts.”

But let’s be honest, it wasn't just the inherent benefits of popularity that accrued to being a cartoon that we embraced.  A national healing was required.  I mean, look what had happened to us last time we thought we were any good! We came, we saw, and we got cuffed three-one by Peru.  And let’s be even MORE honest, we (or some of us) had made the imperialist mistake of thinking that just because we didn’t KNOW anything about Peru, that we didn't have to take them seriously. (At least, I didn’t.  I didn’t know anything…but I do remember the sense of shock, of disappointed entitlement.) I don’t think it occurred to Scotland fans to be so calculating as to think through the strategy of niceness to the point of articulating the expectation that other people, even policemen, would be friendly in return.

So are Scotland fans…Scottish people…inherently nicer, funnier, and friendlier than other people?  Heavens no! I think Scottish football supporters put the bunnets on to piss off the English football mock them for taking themselves so SERIOUSLY! It turning out to be a good thing in itself to be nice to people was just a bonus.
We had the cartoon impression, back then, that every time England failed to win the World or European football competitions, a bi-annual shock of shame and disbelief ran through the nation. “We invented football.  We won the war.  What’s gone wrong with the universe?”  Jimmy Hill seemed to say, as another bit of Belgium got all its windows broken.  Now there had been a time, not long before, when the fact that Scotland really were quite good in the seventies had tempted Arthur “Disaster for Scotland” Montford and Scotland fans in a similar direction…though we were more apt to trash stuff if we’d WON.

So I think, in our complicated way, we decided to break the rules of masculinity not out of some intrinsic collective moral worth, but from the somewhat more unworthy emotional territory of “That’ll Show Them!” I think that is exactly the spirit we should be exhibiting today when it comes to income tax and the rules of politics.


It will become very clear next week that the Scotland Bill, in its committee stage, has only coincidently got anything to do with the good governance of Scotland or the UK as a whole. It is being pushed through parliament before the summer recess because no one actually takes it or Scotland seriously.  After all, 56 seats out of 59 is impressive.  56 out of 650 is sod all. The bill is going through now to “keep the vow” (yawn) but mainly to get it and Scotland out of way till September and the serious business of the European referendum will get going and the Labour Party elects Huey, Dewey or Lewey to carry on the onward march to oblivion. The raw parliamentary arithmetic overcomes the evident absurdity of Ian Murray on his tod “leading the opposition” to a bill he sort of supports, while the Tories are constrained to field David Mundell to lead on legislation that they wouldn’t give to a serious player even if a serious player were available.

Like football, legislation is only sort of about government.  It is also used to embarrass the other guy.  It is already very clear that the other guy, in this case, is not “Her Majesty’s Opposition” , it is those cute but inexplicable other people who have turned up when nobody wanted them. Next week, I promise, the amount of attention paid to the actual provisions of the hastily concocted sausage of the Scotland Bill will be heavily outweighed by its political purpose, which is, of course, as a trap for the SNP. Never will the word “progressive” have been sneered so often and superciliously as a taunt.  “You people think you’re so NICE, “ will be the gist of it.  “Go on, then, put your taxes up the month before the Holyrood election.  Go on.  Go on.”

Guess what.  I think that’s exactly what the SNP should do.  It is absolutely no accident that income tax is the only substantive money raiser on the table with the Scotland Bill. We are being “given” that power BECAUSE political wisdom says it’s unusable.  It is no accident that George Osborne will ram through cuts to the Scottish budget which could be mitigated by raising Income Tax in Scotland by a penny in the pound.  Make no mistake.  We are being “dared.”
And I say “we” because this is not a matter of the managerial tactics of the SNP being tested.  This is about the central assertion of cultural distinction that we in the whole Yes campaign kept going on about…that we voted for in the General Election.  The Tories, with Labour, in apparent consensus with them that talking about Poor People at all is deeply wrong-headed and something they’ll never to again, are now daring the SNP to what they would never do, or dare to do themselves –to run the next Holyrood election on a promise to raise personal taxation in a way that the electorate might notice. To do what nobody has done since the seventies…which is the last time that an appeal to the collective good was deemed to have been anything other than laughable. “Put your money where your principles are…” is what they’re saying to us, never dreaming…never dreaming that we’ll say “fine.”  Just to show them.

We have been accused of nostalgia for the good old days of the binary choice between Yes and No. Well guess what?  Here it comes again.  And I know it’s symbolic, I know perfectly well that a lot more financial and political levers are required to fix our economy for the benefit of everyone who lives here are required than a “Penny for Scotland.”  But I would argue that despite the understandable reluctance of John Swinney et al to repeat a campaign that failed before, or to go against all political wisdom, the best response to being set a trap that you can’t avoid…especially when to avoid it, to defer the cuts till the next financial year would achieve nothing and get you to jump onto the trap with both feet.

(We'll get to "Full Fiscal Autonomy" later. That will take an even deeper breath. And political courage and straight-forwardness from the SNP that, despite their bestriding the world at the moment, they haven't exactly exemplified. What better chance than this to do better.)

But this is where you come in. This isn't just about what "they" should do.  It's about what "we" should do. The strength of the Yes movement last year was the pepper that was put into the campaign by the involvement and invention of those from outside of the political box.  It’s another of the benefits to democracy we keep going on about.  Well, I think a positive popular demand to voluntarily raise our own taxes, to INSIST to our representatives that they raise our taxes…has again got to come from the counterintuitive place of the electorate in itself, as such, in the spirit of the Scotland Football Supporters who put on those kilts and bunnets long ago…”Fuck it…£100 out of every ten thousand I earn over the threshold?  Why not?” And then, like we did last year, we should get out on the streets and internet and say so.

That'll show 'em. 

Saturday 16 May 2015

Personality Politics or Advice to Kez on Jim's Big Day

As a once upon a time Labour supporter,  I sincerely hope that what I'm writing right now will be fish and chip paper by tonight.  But here goes.

I suppose if Jim Murphy can use the referendum campaign as a personal pension plan, then there is no real surprise to see him scurrying round Holyrood trying to shore up his votes for the NEC meeting today.  I suppose if you and the lickspittles around you are so deluded as to have thought that the headlines gathered from the Daily Mail et al for your Irn Bru and Egg tour were the same thing as an historical endorsement for your personal charisma as the saviour of "your" party/career, then you might even think that surviving a no confidence vote after you've just lost every seat in Scotland including your own is the same thing as a mandate to drag the party of Keir Hardy into the grave after you.  That the destruction of all you pretend to hold dear in favour of your ego  is a fair enough plan for the next 12 months.  I suppose you might not have time to reflect as you begged and lied and threatened every vote you can out of the MSPs and apparatchiks yesterday that even Margaret Thatcher stepped down after narrowly WINNING a leadership vote among Tory MPs.  Even when people compare you publicly to Bruce Willis in the 6th Sense (somebody tell him he's DEAD) then you might, if you were desperate and dysfunctional enough, be sufficiently personally vain or deranged by your personality problems as to cling on.

What is actually surprising me this morning is the possibility that the Scottish Labour Party might LET you.  If this was an episode of the Sopranos, it would be time to call in the "unidentified Black males" who get the blame every time Tony needs to take somebody out to the back and cut up the body in Satriale's Pork Butchers.

Even now, as I write on Saturday morning at 8.20, one word from Kezia Dugdale, even a slight nod...and Jim is in the bag and the bag is in the river.

What did she say to him yesterday?  What will she say today as they face each other in the meeting of the NEC?  Will she quote Burt lancaster to Tony Curtis in the Sweet Smell of Success?

"You're dead, son.  Get yourself buried."

In a development that sends shivers of historic thrill and fear down my Old Labour spine, the STUC have publically slammed the Labour Party while announcing closer cooperation with the SNP government in resisting the Tories...

That's the STUC, the founders and pay source of the Labour Party...cutting them loose.  Jim may also have been too busy to notice, but the noises coming out of Holyrood this week also signify a circling of wagons in preparation of the defence against Tory Westminster's Unholy War.  On the interpretation of the Smith Commission Proposals and the defense of the European Convention on Human Rights , Tory and Liberal MSPs...and even Labour ones, are forming sotto voce and provisional but quite tangible  defensive alliances with the SNP government.

Is this the atmosphere in which the Labour party really want a myopic, egotistical, self serving electoral dead fish hanging round their necks?  Is there anyone other than John McTernan and Jim who really think that's a good idea?  That the forward march of history take a step back in favour of the career rescue of one man, no matter whether or not they voted for him for leader only six months ago (in a fit of headline led, news managed bewilderment)?

Surely not?

On a rather bigger stage of history, about this time in May 1940, Neville Chamberlain drew Lord Halifax and Winston Churchill aside and said :"the King has asked me for a name...I thought I might suggest Lord Halifax?"

Churchill was trapped.  he couldn't say "No"...and he couldn't say "Yes".  So he said nothing.  He looked out of the window in silence until Halifax cracked and ruled himself out of the running.

Now...I know it's only wee Scotland...and the entire future of civilisation is not actually at stake....But Kezia, when Jim says today, "Kez...I know I can count on your support" and he smiles that weird, crooked smile...remember, he knows that at that moment he is entirely in your power...he is entirely dependent on your say so for his political survival...and he hates you for it.  He will never forgive you.  Powerless in everything else, he will destroy you along with the Party...

Believe me.  I'm a dramatist.  I know how this scene works.

If i were you, I'd look out of the window.

Saturday 9 May 2015

The Frightful Sphere

Pascal was the first serious religious thinker to attempt to cope with the new "scientific" View of the Universe that Galileo and Newton had just come up with.  Suddenly the place where he had always lived turned out to be a very different kind of neighbourhood to the one he had thought had been created with humanity in mind and God's Purpose at its heart.  Instead he found himself adrift in "a Frightful Sphere of which the Centre is Everywhere and of which the Circumference is Nowhere."

So where do we find ourselves this weekend?

It's not where I or any of the polling organisations thought we'd be.  In fact the only people I know who called this pretty much exactly in advance were my fellow playwright David Greig and the Times columnist Matthew Parris.

I think the rest of us were expecting a weekend of permutations and possibilities, plots and surprises. From the immediately dramatic point of view, the voters of the UK have delivered us something of a let down.  Instead, it feels like the electoral map has caught up with the reality that it symptomatically represents, and that the nature of the first past the post electoral system  (which rewards half the votes cast with sudden total dominion) has now told us what it feels like we've known all along.

As Dorothy once put it after the Tornado had dumped her house on a wicked witch. "Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore."

People have already visualised the new Britain as Maggie Simpson - Yellow on top and Blue down below.  Her being wholly inarticulate and mysterious may also signify something.  Her choice of silence as a strategic response to the mayhem of the world around her also has a good deal to recommend it. However, if pressed for a headline as to "what all this means" historically, I'd maybe hazard this. :

There Is No Unionist Route to Power in Britain Anymore.

Ed Miliband's Labour Party could not only not reach Scotland anymore - it couldn't reach outside London and the exhausted and abandoned heartlands of South Wales and the North of England either.. Tony "I told you so" Blair has already described Thursday's election as a traditional Tory win over a traditional Labour Party. As usual with that gentleman, there is both some crass accuracy and mypic instrumentalism about what he's saying.  He has been proved correct in a narrow sense however in that New Labour believed that it was no longer possible for Old Labour to win in the post industrial UK, that they had to redefine themselves as the Friends of the City and hope that nobody outside the South East would notice.

Well, obviously Scotland noticed. That's why the electorate here have made the ruthless and simple decision that Labour cannot offer any defense against the Tories anymore, and that they may as well give the SNP a shot. (At least that's how it feels from my Glasgow-centric point of view.  The centre is now EVERYwhere, remember?)  What is new is that Radical London found its man in Ed Miliband.  What is not new is that provincial working class England and Wales is almost wholly politically abandoned. I'll come on to what I think about Scotland in a minute. Right now I'm thinking about London and how well, actually, Ed Miliband's New Version of Old Labour represented that wonderful, radical, diverse, maddening city, and how BADLY an intelligent, humane, ruthless North London Jewish Radical Intellectual turned out to go down in the rest of England.  The big surprise this week was not that the SNP swept the Liberal and Labour board in Scotland.  It was much more about how the Tories took all but the Labour heartlands in England, and how in those heartlands which wouldn't vote Tory in the modern era if you threatened to set fire to them, any more than Glasgow or Dundee would, UKIP came a fairly impressive second.

Friends of mine in London are in shock at the moment, and had the result been a bit closer, they'd be very cross indeed with the SNP right now...but the clarity of the result on both sides of the border takes us into very new territory indeed.  And that territory is Balkan.

London is is one centre.  It has one version of the Labour Party to represent it. It is now wholly distinct from the ex-industrial North which needs another version of the Labour party to fight for it. Wales puzzles the hell out of me, but for the moment let's say it needs yet another Labour party to represent it (in Westminster anyway).  Scotland, which I think is the ONLY one-of-many-centres with a head start on the new rules of the universe...has now got the SNP  as a replacement for the Labour Party - which I don't think is sustainable in the long term, except as a representative OF Scotland AT Westminster - and a left that needs to reinvent itself from the ground up, in which, I think and hope, the STUC and civic society have now got a crucial and exciting role to play.

The Tories have got England. Almost all of it.  The Union has got NOBODY.  Except for the Ulster Unionists and the DUP in Northern Ireland.  It turns out that the moral and intellectual vacuity of the Better Together Campaign last year was the harbinger of an empty equivalent vacuum at the heart of the Imperial Project.  The Crown is Hollow.

I repeat: There is no Unionist route to power in Britain anymore.  The Tories can win in England and England is big enough to outnumber the rest.   Labour can't ever win as a British Party again. The only future for the once upon a time British left is federal.

There will be time later for more detailed prognosis.  For now, in my view, what happened on Thursday was that the Westminster Electoral Machine caught up with the political change implied by Scottish devolution in 1999.  It took 18 years for the cultural event of the 1979 referendum to find a democratic mandate.  It has taken 18 years for the events of 1997, both Blairism and the second Devo referendum, to come home to roost politically. The future begins now.

The SNP now have the challenge not only of herding 56 mostly new, mostly untested and mostly unpredictable MPs without any terribly clear role most of the time in the Imperial Parliament, they also need to define the Independence they stand for now not against a moribund and clearly knackered Status Quo but against a reinvigorated majority English Nationalist Tory Government and a British Media Pack wholly in thrall to its interests. They will also now, I hope, find themselves with a post-British opposition in Scotland.  The radical left and the Greens are already geared up for Holyrood in 2016.  I hope that the many capable people on the centre left here too, who belong for now to the Jim Murphy photo op and sporting club, will find a new channel for their abilities and energies and good will. The EU referendum and the Holyrood Elections will be upon us sooner than it is quite comfortable to contemplate and the challenge is both for the SNP and the wider civic society that they do and don't represent to get ready for both of these events and the excitements and opportunities as well as perils they afford.

As for the individual stars of our little sideshow up here, I can understand with the busy couple of years ahead why Jim Murphy and the ScotLab hierarchy want to stress continuity.  But their members must surely to God want something better than the nihilistic oblivion that the Better Together nabobs have on offer. All Ed Miliband lost was an election, for God's sake.  Jim Murphy lost a country and seemed to entirely clueless as to which century he was occupying.  Labour either re-invent themselves as a Scottish Party or the STUC get on the blower to the water walking Nicola Sturgeon. Labour's future path here is clarified by the  paradox  that the other cultural winner in Scotland of that electoral campaign just finished, other than Ms Sturgeon, was Ruth Davidson.  The Tories have now adjusted to the end of Britain and have reinvented themselves here as a Scottish Party.  Labour have had since devolution to do the same.  Their belief that they could cling to the pre-devolution version of reality has now surely come definitively and finally unstuck. They now have the same number of MPs here as do the Tories and the Liberals after all...(even typing that sentence feels weird!) ...and even among the Three Wise Monkeys of Scottish Labour the penny has surely finally dropped.

The other paradox is that the Federalism that the Liberals (all eight of them) used to go on about (and still do occasionally in the persons of David Torrance and (once in while) Willie an idea whose time has surely come if there is anyone left standing to articulate it.

Still, I can't help feeling, like Pascal, a bit deflated. It's not so much that the universe has changed as that its nature has been clarified. There are still matters of power and morality to fight over, just like there were last week.  It's just that, like the polling organisations who got it all so wholly wrong, we're going to need a new map of the place.

Saturday 2 May 2015

The History Trap

How has it come to this?  How can it possibly be that Scotland's voters are so impervious to reason? Have they all just gone mental, as Iain Martin suggests?  Are they just being emotional as the Insights Director at the polling organisation TNS would have it?  What has gotten into them?  Why was Labour's participation in Better Together, which from their point of view was a pragmatic and principled defence of the structures of compromise and compensation Labour had historically negotiated on our behalf, so toxic?  Are the Scottish electorate falling victim to some sinister mind control?  Has Alec Salmond got a machine underneath Edinburgh castle that sends out idiot waves to the gullible, kilted inhabitants via the aerial implanted in the Sturgeonator robot?

The answer to these questions, as I see it, lies in the fact that these are the wrong questions. This is because they are questions about Scotland.  What is happening in this election, just like what happened during the referendum campaign, is a question about Britishness. What was it?  What is it? What went wrong with it?  Can anyone fix it?

Scottishness hasn't really happened yet.  Scottish identity, despite what everyone in the British Establishment North and South seems to think, is not an issue in this election any more than it really was in the referendum campaign, except on the very fringes of the Yes movement. Questions about what we want Scotland to be remain vague and unanswered and unasked by the electorate not because the electorate is mental, stupid or misled, but because the electorate are asking other questions.  They are interrogating the idea of Britain as represented by the Labour party as the nice face and the Tories as the nasty face.  And they are saying to's the same face...This is possibly, even definitely unfair.  But hey, history is like that.  It's an unforgiving old bastard at the best of times.  And, for Britain, these are not the best of times.

In sum, though, it is the idea of Britain that is being found to be vacuous and it is the SNP who, in Scotland, are filling the gap.  And you can call them liars and opportunists and mountebanks, and you may be right.  But the essential fact is the vacuum.  You ask any physicist.

There is something fundamentally wrong with Britain then that the Scottish electorate have noticed. And they don't believe anymore that a unitary Labour government of the whole UK can fix it. All the rest is incidental.  Jim Murphy and Nicola Sturgeon are accidents of personality.  The history is what essential. History has made the Trap that is likely, if the polls are right, to squeeze the Scottish Labour party to death next week.

2. The Great Money River

It's not that voters in the rest of the UK haven't noticed what has been happening since 1945. It's not that no one in South Wales or Newcastle or Bolton or Tower Hamlets and Southwark and Newham don't see exactly how things work.  To borrow a metaphor, as is my wont, from the late and  great Kurt Vonnegut, everyone in these islands knows that somewhere through the centre of the ruins runs the Great Money River.  Now this river is not exactly geographically located and is directly accessible only if you know the code to the room where they keep the buckets.  But we all know where in the building the bucket room is.  We all know who keeps the keys.

There is no blame to be attached to anyone for the architecture.  It's quite an old building, even if some of the most ancient and venerable institutional offices turn out to be mock gothic.  Over the years, in order to keep everything the same, everything has had to change.  Empires have come and gone, markets have been opened and shut and sovereignties renegotiated from time to time. Always adapting reluctantly to changes in the weather, but muddling through in the end, the river has been kept flowing. The necessary arrangements for it's flow that were carved bloodily out of England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales and then the world, have become so natural, so obvious, so elemental as to unquestionable.  To think that nature might be different is deranged.

Power is where power is.  Things are what they are. The centre is the centre. To extend the "river" metaphor, complicated systems of pulleys, canals, locks and viaducts have been constructed to spread the water around.  But to question the location of the river itself is unthinkable. In constitutional terms , no matter how ramshackle, illogical and gerry built, the structures that feed allocations of money and power to the British periphery must be maintained, but to divert the river itself?  To permit the digging of a new, potentially rival river system ELSEWHERE? Are you insane?

3. The Project and The Trap

So, to focus again on the leading character in our wee drama,  the Labour Party, in order to defend the National structures they have attempted to put in place, the civic structures, the redistributive structures, have had to become defenders not just of those things that compensate for "the way things are" but of "the way things are" in themselves.

 When Tony Blair and Gordon Brown pragmatically embraced the structures of power in the 1990s, becoming relaxed about commercial borrowing for public projects, for example, and relying on the tax receipts from an unregulated financial market in the City of London they were only being pragmatic.  The rich were flattered into allowing Labour to carry their very own buckets down to the river, and they poured away happily, and relegated questions about the actual sources of wealth and the ownership rights of the river and the bucket room to their juvenile past.

Their problems really started because they couldn't quite tell anyone what they were up to. They were slightly shame faced about it.  But as long as the river kept on flowing and they kept being handed buckets, everything was fine. It didn't matter that they had accepted the de-industrialisation of the Thatcher era.  It didn't matter that they had accepted that the only part of the economy that mattered was located in one super-heated corner of it whose interests must be served if anywhere else was going to get a chance at the table scraps. It didn't matter that Trade Unions remained underfoot, that generations of under-employment were allowed to regulate the labour market, that the welfare state and the health service teetered on the edge of privatisation or collapse.  Just as long as the rich didn't take their borrowed buckets back. Devolution and regional po,icy would keep things going provided only the taps didn't get turned off.

Which is exactly what happened in 2008.  And the ramshackle public structures of compensation for the "way things are" became unsustainable.  Or at least that's what the Tories argued.  And not only did the Tories win (sort of) the election in 2010 on that basis, but the Labour party accepted the narrative, accepted the blame, accepted the logic, as a precondition for contesting the election that is happening right now.

And no doubt, in this election campaign, Hereford and Hampshire, and possibly even Hartlepool, they are doing the right thing.  Not in Hamilton they're not.

4. The British National Moment/ The Scottish National Moment

In the democratic era, the way that God or nature have arranged matters for the benefit of the river guardians has had to renegotiate itself in a democratic fashion. That is, "nationalistically" in the appalling, modern, French sense of the word.  1945 was the popular democratic British national moment, to this way of thinking, and it remains the foundation of everything the Labour party defines itself as standing for. Labour people in Hereford and Hamilton will bridle at the idea that their party of the unions and the cooperatives was in any way a nationalist phenomenon, but I beg them to think outside of their accustomed box for a moment.

Modern Britishness is a contested territory. But Britain has been the question in every election. As Billy Bragg once put it : "Theirs is a land of Hope and Glory; Mine is the green field and the factory floor" In this interpretation, which is inevitable, I think, through the prism of a pre-existing  and conscious "national" identity as British and Scottish, every UK election has been about the National question.  And the National question has always been : What kind of Britain should it Be?

The Tories and Labour have always been and remain then, British National Parties. This is not to say they are the same.  They contest the territory. But they believe in the same "Britain" and it is Britain that is in crisis. The question is whether britain will recognise the crisis in time to offer a British solution. And whether this election will provide the shock that will force Britain to do that.

If voters in Scotland are voting for anything in this UK election (as well as against an idea of Britain that has run out of steam, conviction  and invention) they are voting for the shock that most of us now agree the system needs.  There is no reason to be coherent yet about what the future of either a properly federal Britain or a fully independent Scotland look like (these being the only even medium term alternatives).  The issue for today is to kick Britain awake.  To say : a No vote hasn't made all this go away, you silly sods.

Oh and by the way, you guys in the political parties and the papers and the BBC all getting together to agree with each other that we were a bit crap hasn't gone down all that well.

You have to say the precedents aren't promising.  It is astonishing both how swiftly we became politically invisible again the moment we ceased to be a "problem" last year, and how irritated and petty the response has been to our perversely not having followed through on our "generation long promise" to shut up and go away.

I would contend now that what this election means is that the referendum was not an endorsement of the Union so much as it was a narrow decision to give it one last chance.  And that when David Cameron came out on the morning of September 19th to say it was England's turn now that all that unpleasantness was over with, and when Ed Miliband said, in effect, the other night that he rather preferred to idea of letting Cameron back into Downing Street than talk to Scottish people who haven't been hand picked by the Labour Party, you can't really blame us for not feeling the love.

But we did vote to give "Britain" one last chance to reinvent itself.  Sending all those SNP MPs does not contradict that decision as the Daily Mail inter alia indignantly alleges.  It is a condition of remaining in the UK that we represent ourselves within it differently.  Britain has been reinvented by wars, an Empire and a Welfare State.  What is happening in Scotland means that it needs to do it again. It's just that we insist on taking part in that reinvention this time, as ourselves, rather than as mendicants with a nationalist begging bowl.

What happened last year is that the Better Together campaign succeeded in making the identity of "Britain", "the Establishment" and "the Labour Party" unequivocal in Scotland.  Even with a No vote, however, paradoxically, against expectation, it equally unequivocally established that the sovereign power of decision as to what happens in Scotland was now and forever to be a matter for decision in Scotland.

We voted No.  But we voted.  That turned out to be more important than the result. Because we had been told by the united chorus of the United Kingdom knew now that if  we had dared to vote Yes, all these benevolent creatures would turn on us like wolverines in a sack. We got the message.  That's why we're sending the SNP to Westminster.  For self defense.

Still, one thing at a time.  Next week, when the votes are counted, will come another defining and possibly final British National Moment.  Whether and how it is followed, five or ten years from now, by a Scottish National Moment, is a question for all of us.  Voting SNP is just our way of letting our brothers and sisters know that.

Friday 1 May 2015

The Last Unionists Have Left the Building.

When Ed Miliband said last night he would rather see David Cameron back in power than make any kind of post election deal with the SNP, the nice positive piece I wanted to write about my hopes for the future governance of these islands disintegrated in disbelief. Who on Earth has Ed been talking to? What nonsense are they feeding him? Why did he agree to say something quite so mind bogglingly, multifacetedly stupid?
Not only has he just told the voters of Scotland that he prefers Tory government for the whole island to a civilised conversation with the people more than half of them (according to the polls) are going to vote for, he has just insulted the intelligence of voters everywhere in the UK with a quite unnecessary concession to the baying nutjobs of the Tory Press.
Here’s one possible scenario. The Tories are the biggest party next Friday. They try to form a government in cooperation with the Liberals and the DUP. They get as far as a Queen’s speech. If the SNP and Labour combined vote against that Queen’s speech, they can bring the Tories down before they get going.
The logic of what Ed just said, which every single Tory MP and mouthpiece in the media will hold him to, is that he abstain. Because to form his own minority government, he will need the support of the SNP whether he pretends they don’t exist and he can’t see or hear them or not.
He has just crippled his own minority government in an act of craven stupidity, a last ditch attempt to put the Scottish horse back in the stable from which it has clearly bolted, and a pointless bit of pandering to the Tory consensus which will despise him all the more for it. Once again, with the SNP, Labour have decided the best thing to do is shut their eyes and wish they’d go away.
Now I kind of understand where they’re coming from. It must hurt like hell to find yourselves to be the chumps of history.
But if they do go on to form an administration now, with support from the SNP which they can deny all they want to, it will be perfectly clear for everyone to see (and point out to them daily) they will look like power hungry hypocrites. They will tacitly, but obviously, be in hock to the Scottish Satan who will no longer be in the mood for positive engagement and exposed to the daily mockery of the entire British Establishment. They’ll look stupid as well as unprincipled. It will be hideous.
Labour made the historic mistake of accepting that government overspending was responsible for the financial crisis in 2008-9. This was bollocks then and it’s bollocks now. But they decided they couldn’t fight the lie so they’d accept it. They cringingly conceded to Tory logic. They’ve just done it again with regard to Scotland and even if they do form a minority government, it will be crippled and compromised from the start.
And they can blame the Scots for voting for the wrong party all they want. Their willingness to join the Tory world view on this and every other matter, it seems, is why Scotland, which is fortunate enough to have an alternative electoral repository for hope, is about to reject them.
I had such hopes that once the Scottish Labour MPs were out of the way that we in Scotland on the one hand, and progressive forces elsewhere would accept the new reality together. That a new constitution for the islands could be worked out between us in good faith. My fear is that what Ed said in the heat of a TV programme last night has condemned us instead to a messy, bitter, recriminatory few years with Labour and the SNP continuing to scream each other puce in blaming each other for everything until Boris walks into Number 10 and we walk out of the Union in a welter of avoidable acrimony.
I had such hopes. That we could recover some of the focus on our mutual welfare that were embodied in the Labour Government of 1945. That we’d find it in ourselves to amicably re-negotiate sovereignty for the benefit of everyone who lives here. Whether we called it federalism or independence. That a bloc of SNP MPs could actually become a fixture of a UK parliament that would then redefine itself through negotiation, with a full transfer of sovereignty to…
I give up. Courage fails me. I find myself unable to hope for anything so sensible. Even with the prospect of a transformative victory next week for the SNP, I find myself in mourning for the better “Britain” that might have been.
Because we might have done this so much better. Till Ed Miliband listened to the bitter trolls of Scottish Labour. And said something stupid last night. Careless but defining. Final. Without even thinking. And this demonstrating that not only have the Tories just abandoned the Union for their own narrow stupid, greed headed advantage, not only are the Tories short sighted and stupid in regard to their precious Union, so, when it comes down to it, are the Peoples’ Party of the Britain that Was, the Britain that they used to represent as a positive inclusive sense of mutual value, and that they now, like the Tories, represent only as a tawdry, vacuous pretence, a shambolic, empty pageant of royalty and Britain’s Got Talent.
They have been trying to make the case that they remain the historical heirs of the last British National Moment that made sense. That they held dear the creations of the Labour Government of 1945-51 to which the people of Scotland still, maybe naively, cling.
Are they Hell. They’re a bunch of squeaky useless PR people who wouldn’t know a value if it punched them in the head. And if they’re better than that, they’ve just blown their chance to act like it.
At least that’s how I feel this morning. I am filled with the same cold, contemptuous anger as I was during the referendum and that they’ve been meeting on the doorsteps, bewildered that no one seems to love them any more.
You did this all to yourselves, you dumb, doomed, craven little men.
Last year, when I looked at the scummy, doomed campaign style of Better Together, I remember thinking: “Jesus, the United Kingdom, no matter what I think of it, surely deserved better than this second rate, nihilistic shit. Can’t they see the price they’re going to pay if they keep this up?” I feel that way again. There’s sadness mixed in with the determination that we may as well get it over with and get shot of the lot of them.
Postscript: All day I’ve been wondering what possessed a careful intelligent man like Ed Miliband to say something so transparently stupid and careless.  Then the answer came to me.  Nick Clegg.  Nick and Ed are doing a deal and what Ed said last night is part 0f the price. I’d bet my house and kids on it.

Monday 27 April 2015

Memo that No One is Asking for Yet

This is basically the letter I sent to the Smith commission in October. A few minor tweaks and it's a memo to Miliband and Clegg for May 8th. Just because his Lordship paid no attention (why would he?) doesn't mean that I have any expectations that anyone else will give a monkeys either, but I wanted it on the record.  Rather like applying for an important job that you know you won't get, because when they give it to some tosser, you can say to least I tried.

What follows is an attempt to make the best of a bad job anyway. Had some specific package of "Devo Max" been on the ballot paper in September...then...Wha Kens?


Here goes.
"The nearest I can get to a "solution" to both Scottish and English demands for "home rule" that doesn't explode almost instantaneously into chaos and vitriol is a properly federal wholesale reconfiguration of how these islands are governed - a writing of Britain's unwritten constitution.
This would entail , as a minimum condition of success and minimal durability, a full "granting" or "devolving" - or, more properly, "acknowledging" - of popular sovereignty within Scotland as an autonomous democratic entity and that this sovereignty be reflected in a new democratic constitution for all of the nations. Power would need to transferred wholesale. And Scotland would then decide what, if any, sovereignty it would be appropriate to devolve "back" to Westminster and Brussels.
And write it down,  for God's sake.  Enough of this "unwritten" "glorious compromise" bullshit
This constitution would need a specific democratic mandate. We'd all have a good fight about what form that should take, but it must be decided on the simple basis of popular sovereignty within Scotland as mandated through the democratic process.  It must be a  vote conducted here that needs no permission from elsewhere to be binding.
This fully autonomous "region" of the UK then devolves "back" an agreed package of powers over matters agreed by a democratic mandate at some future date. 
The details of the powers and responsibilities we hand back will probably need to be taken at a properly informed and briefed constitutional convention after an election in which a mandate can be sought. The Scottish and general elections of 2020 spring to mind. No less heated or fraught an alternative to "independence", to schism through crisis rather than reform through negotiation, is available. 
But the specific packages of proposals on proportion of taxes and English votes for English laws etc etc on offer at the moment look more like a poker game with Smarties than any serious attempt to address constitutional anomalies which can only properly be decided in detail and then put to a popular vote to receive a mandate.
Yes...there needs to be another referendum, but this time as proper one based on legislation we can actually read, not between two varieties of pigs in pokes.
Independence vs federalism. Now there's an interesting argument. 
To pretend that the recent No vote decided all this for a generation in any but the most superficially legalistic and wholly symbolic sense, and then to expect that "settled will" to be permanent, is several degrees past wishful thinking.
On principle, I believe that only a permanent and irevocable transfer of constitutional "power of decision" to Scotland would both reflect the sea change implicit in recent events and go some way towards marrying the aspirations expressed by Yes and No voters, and those two halves of Scotland that vote for the SNP or for anybody else next week.
It seems clear even at this stage that any consensual package agreeable to all three main Westminster parties that retains all decisions over further devolution in Westminster's exclusive gift cannot be stable, even if it is capable of being stitched together in a "let's pretend" way after the election.
The bottom line of any sustainable settlement, whether we call it independence or transferred sovereignty or federalism or association...or man in the moon mushrooms,is that meaningful democratic sovereignty of decision on these matters remains where the referendum put it,  in the democratic gift of the Scottish people, and not of the Crown in Parliament".