Living the Past

Not so many years ago opponents used to laugh at Scottish Nationalism as an echo of the past, reviving ancient battles and recalling Wallace and Bruce. There was some justification for this when party delegates turned up in kilts carrying Lion Rampants – in an age before tartan became mainstream.

Asserting an historic or traditional Scottishness provoked the Cringe from those whose worldview accepted that Scots had been beaten by history and that modernism dictated Britishness was dominant. The clammy touch of embarrassment still hung to the Labour benches at the opening of parliament on the Mound in 1999 when the singing of A Man’s a Man produced only sour faces and mumbled sounds. What was OK to say at a Burns Supper didn’t translate into modern Blairite politics, even among those whose street upbringings included varieties of the Scots tongue.

An aversion to history has adjusted the language of nationalism. We rarely talk of national freedom for example. It sounds dramatic –Wallace-esque even – when our debate is more about process and procedure. People bear arms for freedom.

Even national sovereignty, which I would say was technically correct, is only sporadically given an airing, imbued as it is with the air of centuries past. (It is also word of choice for Quebeckers whose movement is a more theatrical business altogether. I can’t find my original text but this phrase is from Wikipedia and sums up the whole 1500 section of the independence preamble: We know the winter in our souls. We know its blustery days, its solitude, its false eternity and its apparent deaths).

So is the Past another country? Does history matter in a modern context? Or do we still dismiss it as an out-of-date irrelevance?

I think it plays a key but understated role and shapes our attitudes to political questions. I don’t believe Bannockburn is directly relevant to policy questions or that we should remember Flodden when we vote. But I do think not enough attention is paid to the story we tell ourselves about our history. It is that which informs our sentiments – our feelings – about our country and how it should be governed and by whom. Further, I think the distortion of Scotland’s story (by Scots) and the vast panoply of omission our education tolerates, corrupts our judgment and diminishes us as people.

Now there is no great conspiracy at work here. Sorry. Rather it is an inch-by-inch retreat from one view in favour of another. It is a wrinkle of the old adage of history being written by the winners…of a slow surrender to the prevailing attitude. It is a why-bother shrug over generations when other questions seemed more important and aspects of Scottishness seemed less so – around the time of a world war for example. It is one result of the ambitious assimilating their thoughts with the views of the powerful, a general intellectual bending of the knee to authority.

We were taught the kings and queens of the United Kingdom but not the Scottish ones. I was brought up five miles from Abbotsford but was never taken there to learn about Scott while at school. I didn’t know the importance of Ettrick (Royal) Forest until years after I’d left school even though I played in it as a boy. No one told me in History class that Wallace was made Guardian of Scotland in the local kirkyard in the Wynd. (Years later Winnie Ewing would sing the Border Maiden for me at a party in Strasbourg in honour of the anniversary.)

We did know all about Flodden though – a crushing defeat when the Scots were, by some accounts, betrayed by the Homes. It wasn’t until the 1960s when the Earl of Home (former Prime Minister) was forgiven for this treachery by being made a burgess of the town by being obliged to ‘lick the birse’ – to pass through his lips shoemakers’ bristles which have first been through the lips of the entire town council…I think we made him pay. I particularly like that it took Selkirk – my town – 450 years to get over it. (If ever you want the definition of the word thrawn…)

We have allowed distortions of the national story to take hold and become standard thinking. This week on one of those nippy threads on Twitter someone – quite gratuitously – mocked Scotland with the words: You were bankrupt and England saved you with the Union.

Now I know many Scots tacitly believe this was the root cause of 1707 and it is now used even by otherwise ignorant ranters to demean Scotland. But it isn’t true. Scottish maritime trade was restricted by English embargo, it’s true, which was one reason Darien gained traction so quickly. But every penny subscribed to Darien was private money. Nothing came from Scotland the nation, which had no debt – although England did. When it was in the interests of the English Crown to assimilate Scotland, the money paid out – the Equivalent – went to the investors who had lost their cash.

It was in reality a bribe to sell out the country. The wider population protested at the deal as many still do today. Darien was partly created by English embargo on Scottish trade. Its investment was partly blocked by England at the request of Spain. Even the desperate stragglers were denied refuge on the king’s order.

But Darien has become shorthand, even among intellectually-challenged English nationalists, as a sign of today’s inability of Scots to run our own affairs.

Is this just post-event grievance? I hope not because to me Darien represented the very best of Scotland’s entrepreneurial spirit. It was ambitious and daring. It was international and prescient – why is the Panama Canal there today? Failure is the risk of enterprise and in almost every other sphere Britain has revered or glossed over its role as losers.

When the British were massacred in Afghanistan in 1842 it was the story of William Brydon, the sole mounted survivor, which was remembered. His tragic hero return – Where’s the Army? I am the Army – turned defeat into noble heroism. It was followed by brutal British repression.

When the British were crushed by rudimentary-armed Zulus at Isandlwana in 1879, it wasn’t the deaths of 1300 of Chelmsford’s troops or his disastrous leadership that came to mark the event but the following day’s last stand at nearby Rorke’s Drift. The humiliation of a heavily-armed, professional and British army by bare-chested natives is barely mentioned today. But the genuine heroics of Chard and Bromhead’s subsequent siege are known to every schoolboy.

Darien should be remembered for its failure but also for its place as a unique national experiment in which ordinary citizens with £5 to spare backed a great collective venture. It was bold in ambition and magnificent in scope. Collecting roughly half the estimated private capital of the country, it is possibly the greatest national investment scheme in human history. The people weren’t leaving it to the brave either. Thousands of them volunteered to make the trip themselves.

But that’s not how it’s remembered. The story has been edited to fit the prevailing narrative of incapable Scots.

I mention all this not because I enjoy a good moan – although it does you good from time to time. No, it’s because I read an *insightful piece by Nicholas Boyle, Emeritus Schröder Professor of German, University of Cambridge, on the anguished soul of England and thought it got to the heart of so much of the complex responses we get from our neighbours who pretend one moment to love us and the next to detest; one moment they subsidise us, the next they need us to stay. Essentially the argument is that England cannot find its own identity and won’t accept that it isn’t exceptional any more. The bullying of others is displacement activity for finding a role and being content with it. (Scots are one of the few remaining dogs they can safely kick). England doesn’t need to disport itself like other countries. It is unique and finds the expressions of nationhood of others to be trivial. It is driven mad when others fail to recognise this special status and pay respect.

The signs of this are all around us. Listen to the impudence of Theresa May lecturing 27 other countries on what Britain will put up with, having messed them around for 40 years…wonder at her blatant threats of retaliation if she is thwarted…just like the indyref when warm words turned to sinister threats if we dared defy them.

Out of my personal grievance box pops David Starkey, the open-minded English nationalist historian (quote: Scotland only has a history in so far as it relates to England). He scoffed at the idea of others having national emblems and jingoistic expressions. These were merely the outward signs of self-justification. England, he said, has no need of such trifles, so strong is its intrinsic worth.

Another personal favourite is the airy contempt that leads institutions to call themselves, for example, the Football Association (no need to mention the word English…goes without saying).

As Boyle writes: While Ireland, Wales, and Scotland became, for the English, slightly comic regions of ‘Britain’, ‘England’ became for them the sentimental ideal of ‘home’, the image of the green and pleasant mother-country that concealed the brutal realities of empire from its agents and possessed nothing so sordid as distinct political or economic interests of its own.

And, he goes on: …because England has been unable to acknowledge that loss,(of empire) it has also been unable to acknowledge the end of English exceptionalism, the end of the characterlessness the English had enjoyed as rulers of the world – with no need of distinct features to mark them off from their equals since they had no equals, embodying, as they did, the decency, reasonableness and good sense by which they assumed the rest of the world privately measured its lesser achievements and to which they assumed it aspired.

This default contempt for others came home to me when I interviewed our former ambassador in Washington, Christopher Meyer. We were skirmishing about Britain always sending troops abroad, always interfering, dragging ourselves into insoluble conflicts. I said other countries didn’t make that mistake and as a Scot I looked for example to Denmark which didn’t rush to back the USA and took pragmatic decisions in keeping with popular support at home. He spluttered. ‘Denmark! You can’t really compare Britain to Denmark. They’re poles apart in terms of importance…etc’ was the gist of it. In his words you heard the echoes of Palmerston or Chamberlain, brimming with conceit.

If we have been the beneficiaries of English charity, we are the victims too of their hubris. The stultifying hangover of empire and its loss still dictates so much of that country’s behaviour, buried as it is deep in the national psyche.

To end, one of my favourite pieces of historical propaganda contains an uplifting message for independence-minded Scots 700 years on. On the plain marble tomb of Edward the First in Westminster Abbey is inscribed Edwardus Primus Scottorum Malleus hic est 1308 Pactum Serva or Here is Edward I, Hammer of the Scots, 1308. Keep the Vow.

This is commonly regarded as the declaration of Edward’s triumph over Scotland, the epitaph of a wielder of the crushing hammer that destroyed a nation. Indeed that is the interpretation widely in use in Scotland. It is also poppycock.

Edward did have his triumphs in Scotland and he was brutal but he, like every monarch before and since, signally failed to crush the Scots or beat the nation. The opposite is true. His treatment of the people, including savagery against prisoners, male and female, so enraged the Scots that more flooded to support the fight against English domination. Edward’s real ambition had all along been victory over the Muslims in the Crusades. He saw it as his kingly destiny to recapture the Holy Land for Christianity. But the constant trouble caused by the Scots (and by Philip in France) robbed him of that destiny. The conflict with the Scots devoured him and after every setback they came back to haunt him.

The epitaph he bears is in reality a reminder of how his obsession with defeating Scotland derailed his reign and left the name of Scotland marked on his chest for eternity. Keep the Vow is the command to resist the Bruce for his treachery.

In other words, the reference to Hammer of the Scots is no boast. Instead it is post mortem admission of his failure to defeat them. He went to his grave in that knowledge.

If you accept that reading – and you can find a version of it detailed in The Hammer of the Scots by David Santiuste – it changes your impression of history. It demonstrates how, far from being crushed by Longshanks, men like Bruce, Wallace, Comyn and Murray led a resistance that refused to yield despite terrible cost and ultimately left their own mark on Edward’s grave.

In this version of history Scots more than survived and today continue, albeit in more delicate and democratic terms, a centuries-old cause linked to the concept of self-government, national freedom if you like but, in modern parlance most certainly, independence.

History is always with us. What matters is how you read it and what you think it means today.

 

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Save the Union

Damn the separatists. They’re trying to destroy the country I love. They want to put up borders and divide us from our friends and neighbours. Isolationism is a backward step when the world is globalised. We’re too small to go it alone and we need the strength of being bound to our partners. I want to stay part of the civilised world, not shut myself off because of some parochial knee-jerk reaction and rejection of different people.

Yes. I want to stay in the EU.

Interesting, isn’t it, how the arguments against national independence for Scotland echo in the debate over Brexit. I’m begining to understand how the Unionists feel.

My sense is that I’m losing my country, that in some ways it’s already gone because I never believed that the British way was to turn on foreigners. I saw the signs from the State and the pandering to hate by government, but it’s always sensible to uncouple that from the instincts of Mr and Mrs John Smith. In the 60’s for instance it was the Tories who limited Commonwealth immigration, an act described by Gaitskell as ‘cruel and brutal anti-colour legislation’. But I am wrong. England now has lost its marbles. And it’s dignity.

Where are the radicals? When Scotland was claiming its right to self-government, David Aaronovitch in the Times rubbished our references to the Declaration of Arbroath as one of the earliest expressions of people’s sovereignty. In reply he offered Magna Carta, the Levellers and probably the Tolpuddle Martyrs. In response I accepted that fine English tradition but asked: Where are those radicals today? Answer came there none.

The same point stands now. All English progressives cower in awe of a flawed referendum fought on bogus terms with a result based on ignorance of the workings and advantages of EU membership. The vote was staged as a way of cauterising a wound in the Tory Party whose extremists were simultaneously terrified of, and attracted to, UKIP.

Whatever criticism you can make of Scotland’s campaign, you can’t say it wasn’t prolonged, exhaustive, engaging and informed. As I wrote at the time, if you hadn’t computed the basic information by voting day, you didn’t deserve the right to vote.

The basis of the quick and brutal EU referendum on the other hand was racism, plain and simple, minus the compensatory evidence of migration’s economic contribution (let alone the – to me – equally important element of cultural diversity). People may well have felt shut out of decision-making and marginalised in the economy but the root message of the Leavers was it could all be solved by getting rid of foreigners. And the public bought it.

May’s speech today makes it clear. The priority isn’t re-calibrating the economic order to deliver more to Solihull and Sunderland. It isn’t to make us more prosperous. It is to get rid of people who aren’t British. Let’s refine that. It isn’t just to stop people coming in. As it stands, it is to eject those already here. (They’re already receiving letters advising them of their precarious status). It will of course, mean we can’t go abroad to live and work either with the same ease we can today. This issue may be resolved in negotiations in time but that’s where we stand – with hundreds of thousands of worried people, our international reputation damaged and the clear message going out that you’re not wanted here.

It’s worth remembering that just over half of immigrants are from the EU – in other words countries whose citizens have automatic rights to come. Forty-four per cent come from the rest of the world, countries whose citizens Britain has a legal right to limit or prevent if it chooses depending on the agreements it has. The point here is that the UK Parliament can enact laws to restrict their access in a way it can’t with EU citizens. So Britain does have border control over roughly half of all those coming in. It chooses not to use it.

One of the biggest groups coming to the UK for more than a year are students who bring in over £4 billion a year to the economy. When looked at as an export industry, education and training brings in a staggering £14 billion. Why would a government jeopardise that kind of revenue stream?

Another of the large groups is of those who have a job lined up. They haven’t come to speculate or live on welfare, but specifically to earn and pay tax having been recruited by a British employer.

Those who arrive to join a family member has halved from the nineties to 12 per cent now. And, to cap it all, 45 per cent of all incomers plan to stay only for up to two years.

The racist UKIP and the white supremacists of the National Front before them have turned a benefit to the country into a deficit and successfully blamed other human beings for it. A net contribution to the economy has been ignored in favour of a xenophobia which beings shame on working people, never mind the national broadcaster’s obsession with the overwhelmingly unelected UKIP and its fetish with Farage.

Even those who voted out of some principle against the EU can only look on and weep at how their vote has been twisted by the Brexiteers into a justification for Little Englander parochialism.

I’d like to think that Theresa May would consult Alex Salmond before she crawls on her knees before the madman Donald Trump. The lesson surely from the relationship between the two men is instructive about Trump’s house of cards mentality. One minute Salmond was a great Scot and a hero – as he appeared to be helping his business plans. The next, he was a crazy man destroying his own country – when he appeared to be defying him. The friendship collapsed overnight when Trump didn’t get his way. He is more volatile than the oil price.

Can a deal be done with the USA? You bet it can.

You take our narcotic beef, our expensive drugs, you follow our quality standards instead of Europe’s, and let our corporations buy up the NHS. We take some of your strawberry jam.

America will own Britain and Britain will do as it’s told, just as we do on defence by keeping thousands of Americans in jobs while bleeding the accounts dry with Trident and just as we do by letting British citizens be hauled before American courts on doubtful evidence without any reciprocity. How do you imagine you negotiate with Trump? Does he strike you as a generous opponent, overwhelmed by goodwill, ready to surrender meekly? He wrote a book about it and chapters called Use Your Leverage and Fight Back don’t give that impression.

Britain isn’t taking back control. Britain is on its knees. And like Dolores Ibarruri, La Pasionaria, I say it’s better to die on your feet than live forever on your knees. The EU and the Single Market may not be exactly classic material for a socialist cause but then, these day, what is? We have to mobilise around something as the wreckers light their torches. Detaching ourselves from the madness down south before it’s too late and reaching out to the people of Europe sounds as good a start as any. Who are the separatists now?

 

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The Last Redoubt

The BBC news at 5.30 this morning started with an item about Boris Johnson burrowing away to wheedle promises about trade deals from Trump Republicans and ended with news that researchers had observed chimps fashioning crude tools to retrieve water from holes in tree branches. Unconsciously, the two coalesced in my mind…at least the chimps have opposable thumbs.

I find Johnson amusing, but not as a politician or public servant. I regard him as flaky and completely without principle. He is a user of people in his one great cause – the elevation of Boris. He is also mostly a media creation. (A media currently doing the same promotion job on Jacob Rees-Mogg). The best word for him is probably narcissist because everything he does is self-regarding. There is nothing I know of him which speaks to altruism or sacrifice.

Sound familiar? I think he’s a posh version of Trump, and they are men for whom the world is a toy and its people as meaningful as Lego. No one has feelings but them. The world has to be adjusted to suit. Both have captured the nature of modern human experience – unending vacuity in need of relief via counter shock. And a starburst of bigotry will do.

Trump as President. Johnson as Foreign Secretary. And, of course, Theresa May as national leader.

Breathy and posh as Penelope Keith, she is going through the same wash programme as Cameron to show she cares by removing all dried-in stains. You know – mass electronic surveillance of citizens, breaking up families through minimum income visas, Go Home Immigrant vans, refusing to be part of refugee dispersal plans, helping withdraw naval rescue of immigrants in the Med, counting overseas students in immigration numbers, withdrawal from the ECHR. Never mind years in Cabinet endorsing brutal austerity, destroying the lifestyle and mobility of the disabled, knowingly creating child poverty, Dickensian benefits sanctions leading to suicides, the worst income disparity in the EU, infatuation with nuclear weapons. Oh, and naked contempt for parliamentary democracy over Brexit.

You’d think this would present an opportunity for the Scottish Tories to differentiate themselves in order to appeal to a different electorate. It’s obviously tricky when the mother party is a parade of political grotesques and incompetents but, on the bright side, it’s definitely easier to show how you’re different. It needn’t be with words at all, a smile would suffice.

‘Do you support Boris Johnson?’

‘I’m sure he’s doing a fine job, Glenn’.

Indeed not long ago Ruth Davidson was doing just that having gone head to head with Johnson during the EU referendum. All that has been thrown away with her brass neck of a U-turn on Brexit and a total failure to distance herself from the Spitting Image puppets in Westminster. But then they know where the votes are coming from.

Every anti-Nat in Scotland, every anti-European, every immigrant hater, every cringe-mongering Unionist now invests in Davidson’s No Surrender British Unionist Project. They’ve deserted Labour like escaping rodents, clambering over themselves in the rush to the safe Tory home. UKIP doesn’t cut it in Scotland, so the Tories double up as the hard-line party of dogmatic loyalty to Britain.

Do Conservatives stand for anything else now? Or have they become what they always tried to insist the SNP were – a one-trick pony? Can you name a Tory policy? What would they do with schools? Would they invest more in health? Does that square with cutting taxes? Do they back renewables? How would they energise Scottish business? Do they have any policy at all on the constitution?

All I hear is No Second Referendum. Get Back to the Day Job.

We were ‘promised’ effective opposition. Will it turn up soon or must we endure years of student politics with relentless nay-saying backed by Ian Paisley-like repetition of simplistic messages? (Shouted in fanatical style by the histrionic Davidson).

I’m being harsh here. In a radical departure from normal politics the Tories asked not to be elected to government at all. Seriously, they didn’t. Please elect us to be the opposition, was their rallying cry. Perhaps they know more about their own competence than we do. All they said they’d do was hold the SNP to account and resist indryref2.

This is where our politics stands today. People voted for a party that doesn’t want to govern. It wants to shout at those who do. To be fair, it’s so much easier to stand and moan, point and scoff, which is what Davidson is good at. But this is the equation of diminishing returns. If you portray yourself as the party of opposition, that’s what the public will regard you as – the also-rans, the failures who give up without a fight, the people with no ideas except saying No. And what happens if the polls turn firmly against the SNP and in a year’s time Scots tell Yougov they don’t want independence regardless of the Brexit outcome? What do the Tories say if it’s clear independence is dead and there’s a clamour for a vote to prove it? Well then, she’ll U-turn again. Like Trump, she’ll deliver any message the public craves.

I do wish the Scottish Tories would start developing policy ideas again and reclaim what I regard as the weakest point in the political all-party programme – business generation. There is a crying need for a fresh approach to business to encourage and sustain start-ups, to take away the burden of onerous legal responsibilities from companies until they have established themselves. Risk-taking has to be encouraged, new models created, disused premises brought into operation. Successful companies can buddy start-ups, the state development agency can stop taking an arm and a leg from new companies’ assets. We can foster a business culture that rejects the jaded men-in-suits mentality.

But when you discover that the Tory spokesman on technology, connectivity and the digital economy doesn’t know that telecoms is reserved, you realize that this new Scottish intake is full of the same bluster as their leader. On which point, it is an epic lack of self-awareness that leads Adam Tomkins to tweet that Sturgeon must get back to the day job…a man literally with two jobs himself, both publicly funded. These are the sentiments of a classic trougher like the Tories at Westminster with outside earnings voting to cut benefits for the disabled. Adam has a big brain and sometimes leaves it at home charging overnight.

And what is Sturgeon’s day job? I’d say protecting Scotland. In a normal government the first responsibility is defending the nation. In our case we’re not allowed that role but protecting from anything that threatens our security, peace and economy will do. And what is the biggest threat? You may say Brexit but I’d bracket that right alongside a Tory government, one we sure didn’t vote for. That is the First Minister’s main task. That is the day job so I suppose you can understand Tory fears about her concentrating on it so much since they themselves pose the biggest threat and caused the Brexit catastrophe.

But if we count everything else as the Day Job to suit the Tories, what is the SNP doing all day? Let me check my timeline.

This is from today’s mail: The Scottish Government has set out 20 proposals for revamping the planning system, which will support economic growth, delivery of houses and increase community involvement in planning decisions. They form a consultation which will pave the way for a planning bill to be brought forward this year.

The proposals build on recommendations of an independent review carried out by a panel of experts last year. Key changes include zoning more land for housing, promoting self-build and removing the need to apply for planning permission for more types of development. The consultation also seeks views on new rights for communities to produce their own plans for their local area. Sounds to me like a good Tory policy right there.

Then this: Construction of the new Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary has resulted in 215 new jobs – 55 more than planned – for people from the region, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed today.

At the project’s outset, contractors Laing O’Rourke pledged to create 160 new jobs, training opportunities and apprenticeships on top of the 800-strong workforce already employed for the build. So far, the hospital’s construction has created 215 new jobs.

The new hospital received £200 million from the Scottish Government’s NPD (Non-profit Distributing) programme. The programme, valued at £3.5 billion, is being used to fund projects in further education, health and transport.

The hospital will provide 344 single-bed en-suite rooms, and will also house a combined assessment unit to manage emergency cases and bed allocation, theatres complex, critical care unit, women’s and children’s unit and outpatients department. It is expected to open, on time, in December this year. Oh dear, so not so busy after all. Tut tut.

Also from yesterday: An extra £107 million that will ensure more people are able to be cared for safely in their own homes and avoid preventable admissions to hospital is set to transform patient care in Scotland.

The money will be invested into health and social care partnerships which bring together NHS and local council care services for patients, in particular the elderly, and reduce the need for them to go into hospital for treatment.

This new investment means NHS spending on social care and investment will increase to almost half a billion pounds in the coming year, and will go towards delivering our living wage commitment to adult social care worker. The lazy SNP bastards!

Meanwhile I can’t see what actual work Ruth Davidson is doing apart from her team posting remarks on Facebook. When I clicked on the link for ruthdavidson.co.uk I was directed straight to the UK Conservative Party site which has no reference to Scotland at all on the front page…

It looks like the Day Job mantra is pure deflection. Which brings me to the question I really would like answered by Davidson – and by the hysterical Dugdale who has joined the UKOK club. It is this: If Scotland faces economic catastrophe as a result of the Brexit talks, will you resist any move to disengage from the UK?

That is: Is there any circumstance in which you would consider independence an option if the relevant facts are presented or must we in all circumstances stick with the UK even to our own impoverishment?

I believe that moment is approaching when absolutes collide. It could be only a year away and those still-to-be-convinced Scots must look first at the prospect of isolation, trade tariffs, job losses, wage cuts, rising prices and long-term right wing government or look left to liberal, supportive, European integrated independence alongside Ireland, Denmark and Holland…one an eighteenth century caricature of mercantile freebooting and cut-throat exploitation, the other a door into the modern digital connected world of European partnership where rights are respected. This used to be Tory territory before the Little Englanders took over and it was the Labour Left who struggled with integration (poor old Corbyn’s at it again today as the light goes out on radical Labour). The Tories have abandoned the Churchillian dream of peace in Europe in preference for xenophobia, ending the consensus built by Heath. In Scotland the party is in the hands of self-publicists and opportunists. But then they never promised us anything else…and, if that’s the Day Job, I have to say they’re rather good at it.

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Double or Drop

Hello Darkness, my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again…

Yes, it certainly is a murky view ahead with darkening clouds billowing under Brexit skies and storm warnings from across the Atlantic. But don’t give us your doom and gloom here in Bonnie Scotland where we’re forever laughing at the world. Oh yes, we are.

We’ve already started off with a sweetie bag of delights, just like on Crackerjack!

Labour is going to form a ‘progressive alliance’ with other non-Tory parties…devout Baptist John Mason becomes our own Katie Hopkins and Labour managed to get themselves on the wrong side of helping to save babies’ lives. It’s like Double or Drop. Give them a cabbage, Eamonn.

Poor old John. As a man of conviction he finds himself out of the loop in permissive society, questioning on abortion, querulous about homosexuality, he’s now ducking razor-edged ninja throwing stars from the monstrous regiment of ladies (as he calls them). Implying a girl doesn’t always say Yes first time unleashed the rage of the language guardians who in two sentences turned him into a rape apologist. Yet surely he was only giving us an insight into his own life? ‘Hello, I’m John. I’m an accountant. Are you interested in creationism? Did you know I won the Shettleston by-election with a swing of 22 per cent? What? You don’t want to go on a date?’

That this tripe made ‘news’ in our so-called national media showed how diminishing resources have hollowed out the Press, destroyed judgment and trivialised the role of journalism. Cod outrage is now the currency of our national debate.

I’m not outraged by Labour’s response to the baby boxes but I am as ever astonished at the acidity of their incompetence which could strip the paint from a Victorian pillar box.

Picture, if youse will, ladies and gentlemen…a poor wee baby at Christmas time born to a shilpit mammy struggling on her own, when arrives the saintly Nicola bearing all the basics for the bairn in a box bed found to prevent cot death – totally free. Opening it, the desperate mother turns on her. ‘Whaur’s the breast-feeding booklet, ya numpty?’ She glares. ‘A poem by the Makar? Could you no’ lift one from a real poet like Auden or Rupert Brooke? Typical Nationalists.’

Labour’s unerring capacity to misjudge and misread has rendered them ineffective. Nothing they say carries weight as a result and they can never escape their marginalisation. It isn’t that criticism of a good idea is impossible. It just takes strategy. To avoid opinion thinking you’re against the boxes, it is key that you first give them unequivocal support. You say this is a great idea backed by Labour.

When they are produced you express surprise that breastfeeding doesn’t appear a priority so you suggest that future boxes emphasise it more. Labour would make them even better, becomes your line. It will, in my view, still sound churlish (they do contain nursing pads and information on breastfeeding) but so long as you get the tone right you can instil the idea that the SNP idea isn’t perfect. You can map out a little bit of baby box territory for yourself.

What you don’t do is say this is just a PR exercise and a wasted opportunity which goes against the grain. Nobody but a die-hard would say the SNP are using this purely and alone for political marketing. It is a tested idea with a measureable success record. And it’s popular. Why fight it? Yet now the public thinks Labour is against a winning initiative which is aimed at families. And when we read of Labour politicians in England hoping to replicate it themselves, it leaves the branch office looking small-minded, grudging and tribal. What was the point? And who is advising this shambolic operation?

As for progressive alliances…I can think of many Scottish nationalists who will breathe a sigh of relief that the idea has been scotched. Destroying Labour is the motivation for far too many Yes campaigners who conflate it with independence into the twin aims of the movement. Labour’s antics have contributed massively to the Yes side’s recruitment with the sentiment of being betrayed perhaps the most salient mantra of a substantial number of indy supporters. Too many on either side simply could not countenance working together, however distantly. This is the true underlying reason for rejection rather than the mock horror of Labour claiming to be socialists. This is another Labour failed attack. Does anyone describe either the Labour Party they have known for the last 25 years as socialist or the SNP they have known as not progressive?

As Labour shrinks, so their message reduces. The socialism claim seems to be based solely on one point – a declared intention to raise the income tax rate by 1p. To the barricades, comrades…the revolution is here! Meanwhile, they will spend the people’s money on modernising the nuclear deterrent. They will abstain when social justice is on the line. They will surrender on leaving the EU. They will send people to the House of Lords. They will restrict immigration. They will contest the people’s right to self-determination.

Meanwhile the ‘non-progressive’ SNP gives out baby boxes, takes more in tax from higher earners, keeps further education free along with prescriptions, has a Welfare Fund for poorer families buying essentials, refuses to privatise water, extends childcare, gets 80 per cent of Scots on the living wage, ameliorates the Bedroom Tax, stands against nuclear weapons and nuclear power, reforms land ownership, works with the STUC against the Trades Union Bill, tackles climate change and takes on big business to curtail alcoholism. Why would a progressive party want to endorse that?

The reality of Labour is that it is forming an alliance with the SNP – by its members defecting to join the Nationalists. The laughable hysteria from Socialist Anas, the millionaire’s son with kids in private school, was identified years ago as the play- acting it is. He is one of a breed who thinks that saying simple things clearly wins over opinion, like Brits speaking l-e-n-t-e-m-e-n-t to foreigners. And it isn’t it telling that a quarter of former Labour voters can switch straight to the Conservatives in Scotland? What kind of socialists were they that they could swap Kezia for Ruth? It seems Labour harbours a lot of people who are very far from socialism in their beliefs.

I don’t see an alliance emerging here or in Westminster because Labour are now pulled in two directions at once. Anas’ socialists in England are now courting UKIP voters by backing Brexit and bringing down the shutters in immigration – surely an awkward fact for a second generation immigrant politician? The real question is why would other progressives work with Labour when it is itself split on the key issues of the day and no sign of which way it eventually take?

The Tory hegemony is set to continue and could be endorsed by a massive election victory in the coming months if the gap between them and Labour widens. Whatever does happen, it looks as if Scotland is going to be hit with the meteor of independence in the next two years, a kind of galactic collision between isolationist right-wing Tory Britain and progressive, internationalist Scotland. That’s how the dinosaurs disappeared and the same could happen to Labour.

 

 

 

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