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.