The People’s Flagging

The post truth agenda majors on Brexit and Trump of course, but omits one of the crazier aspects of the last wee while…the rise of Corbyn. It is turning into one of the more puzzling conundrums of our times. A mass membership party chooses a leader without leadership skills and gorges itself on a struggle to get rid of him before eventually re-electing him with an increased majority. Meanwhile effective opposition is dissolved in the democratic acid.

Yet curiouser and curiouser…the radical politics Corbyn represents have been muted to the point of a whisper and compromise has blunted any cutting edge. Now we hear that Labour will not oppose Brexit and wants to make it work – just like the Tories and UKIP. They may be giving up on globalised trade as represented by Brussels but are they also surrendering on workers’ rights? With the Tories in the ascendency do Jeremy and John McDonnell really think they will influence decisions on employment and markets?

And they may have truly sold the pass on Europe now because May’s announcement to business leaders that she seeks a transitional arrangement to avoid hard Brexit opens up a soft underbelly ready for a killer thrust. The Prime Minister is effectively saying she wants the 27 to agree an overlapping period beyond the exit date in which the UK’s right of access to the single market will continue, allowing business to relax and plan longer term. But that is tantamount to saying Britain won’t be leaving at all as market entry is in reality a key part of membership, requires payment of subscriptions to Brussels, compliance with its regulations and standards and, erm, immigration. To any Leave voter in a barren northern city, that is not Brexit.

In any case, her declaration omitted a telling caveat – any transitional arrangement will need the agreement of the 27. In typically British manner, she has assumed she can get whatever she wants without first testing her plan with the only people who can deliver it. No wonder European leaders can sometimes sound hostile. So far all the signs are that Brussels is sticking to a hard line of following Article 50 precisely – that means negotiating a UK exit, not redrawing a new arrangement to stay in. Every official word thus far has made clear there is a process of extrication and disaggregation that must be completed before subsequent talks on any new deal can proceed.

And why should the leaders of the continental project make life easy for a country that has spent the last decades sniffing at every reform and threatening to leave if it doesn’t get its way, then putting Tory Party obsession before solidarity and misjudging its own people so it falls out unintentionally? The UK’s departure destabilises the bloc when it faces the largest existential threat in its history – the rise of the far right. The way to face down the extremists is to unite and celebrate shared values, offering a clear vision of hope to those seduced by fear mongering and bogus claims to take back control. This is already happening as support for the EU climbs in the wake of the British vote and possible European fears of a buccaneering America under Trump. Le Pen must be stopped next year and Merkel re-elected giving a new impetus to the original founding principles of the EU. It is in nobody’s interests in European capitals to allow the Brits to wheedle a soft deal by voting to come out. The opposite is true – showing how much pain life outside the bloc entails is the best corrective. Britain’s imperial bleat that we are somehow essential to the world community and have automatic rights to trade is easily answered: Member states must choose between trading with a market of 50 million or one with 500 million.

So May’s admission that she is seeking a non-exit or at least a heavily compromised one that keeps us in the EU for an unspecified period against the wishes of the voters, is a soft touch for Labour were they in a position to seize it. They are not.

Odd too that McDonnell has backed the spending of hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ money on refurbishment of Buckingham Palace. I too favour protecting important buildings and believe public cash should be used but when the inhabitant is as wealthy as the Queen, merely signing off on £350m without any element of personal contribution from those who are allowed to live there is preferential treatment. That’s not how the benefits system works for example. Someone I know has been out of work for six months so has Jobseekers Allowance stopped because she has a partner who earns. If you have £6000 in savings, it affects how much Housing Benefit you get and if you have £16,000 you get nothing. Want to take your employer to a tribunal? You have to pay £1200 up front. That’s how the state works – you get nothing for nothing. Except if you’re already housed free in castles and country homes from Windsor to Sandringham to, of course, Balmoral which she owns privately. We are preached to about austerity and how it is essential to make the poorest carry the biggest burden but we reverse the whole philosophy when bending the knee to the Royals. Why would Labour support that when it appears to be a slap in the face of working and non-working families?

Now we also hear the Corbyn leadership supports Tory plans to cut the tax bill of higher earners. If you earn £43,000 today you pay the higher rate of 40 per cent and the Tories are increasing the threshold to £50,000. That’s the amount you can earn without paying more tax, so you’ll get to keep another £1300 a year. (Poorer families will lose £2400 from benefit cuts and Brexit fall-out).

This is the same threshold that Nicola Sturgeon was attacked over. When she refused to raise the tax levels she nevertheless said she wouldn’t pass on George Osborne’s raising of the 40 per cent tax for higher earners. Labour scoffed yet here is their own leadership doing the Tories’ job for them by putting more money in higher earners’ pockets through the higher threshold. At the same time Corbyn himself says he would re-introduce a 50 per cent tax rate. Radical, eh?

I thought Jeremy’s election would precipitate a genuine debate about Labour values and aims. It didn’t. Labour has shown it is incapable of such a dialogue. Instead it fell into internecine warring. Now it is stuck with a weak leadership, confused policies and disillusioned voters. That’s before we take account of the Scottish wing. And what has it spawned? Nothing less than the re-emergence of Tony Blair as the centrist avenger, aided by Jim Murphy (with McTernan touting for work).

The People’s Flag is Deepest Red;

From Shame at Where New Labour Led…

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Sadness in his Eyes…

The idea of a post truth era helps explain a lot. Today for example Labour front man and unrepentant Unionist Duncan Hothersall tweets: Can anyone seriously deny that Our People First is a shared value between Trump and Sturgeon? Horribly uncomfortable though it makes you?

Now Hothersall has been Labour clickbait since pre indyref and still has only got 7000 followers despite being editor of Labourhame and chair of Edinburgh South CLP and running a programme of relentless self-promotion. Tells you something. But Duncan’s real gig is winding up the Nats and that’s fair enough albeit desperately shallow. However I am playing his game today because that little tweet is, for once, entirely relevant to part of today’s debate and symptomatic of where the rump of Unionism now stands.

First, to the question he asks…my reply is: Can you name a politician in any country on earth and in history who hasn’t been elected to put his country first? Try this on a Glasgow doorstep – Hello, I’m from Labour. We’re the party that doesn’t put you first.

Then ask Duncan his own question: Who do YOU put first? Who are your people?

How is it possible to engage in elective politics without committing yourself to defending the people you represent? Does Duncan have an answer? Indeed, since I had to, I saw on his timeline references to eradicating poverty in Scotland and improving transport. Whose poverty and whose transport? That’s right, the Scots.

So on a political level Duncan is deeply concerned about the issues facing the Scots but when it comes to making those shallow observations on Twitter he implies he has a nobler constituency in mind. Who? Does he mean British voters outside Scotland? Could that be Labour’s real problem – that they have failed consistently to give the impression of caring enough about the Scots individually and as a nation? And, indeed that’s exactly the finding of the post-2007 election research – Scots no longer believed Labour represented them or stood up for their interests. So by playing rhetorical games, he does in a way reveal the deeper truth, that his default position is not defence of Scottish interests at all. In reality Labour is ready to run in the other direction if the Scots need their help…horribly uncomfortable though it makes you.

Oh, come on, it’s only Twitter. And that’s true, it is. But that’s where so many of our random thoughts now emerge and this little emission suggests that Duncan is desperately trying to align the excesses and unpleasant impulses of volatile right wing Trump with Sturgeon with the SNP – a party that Trump has made his sworn enemy. Why would anyone honestly engage in serious political discourse do such a thing? Or is it a joke? If not, it tells us Duncan has some profound issues over understanding. Put aside tribalism in so far as any of us can and ask yourself if left-leaning, socially conscious, EU-supporting, anti-Trident Sturgeon who entered the Forbes List of the world’s top 50 most powerful women this week – at number TWO in the UK – is on any level remotely similar to Trump. Ah, but he only meant in one respect. And so he did and of course the reason is that there is no other basis for a comparison except on the weasely rhetorical point he concocts. Even that is paper-thin because Sturgeon constantly references other nationalities in her remarks, she welcomes immigration, she engages with Muslims, her internationalism is clear and has European cooperation at its heart. Those are her people – all of us in Scotland, irrespective. And Trump’s concept of putting people first…?

There is no rational connection between the two – she’s even publicly criticised the President elect. But when truth, or even serious discourse, is deemed irrelevant it’s a field day for pedlars of distortion and innuendo. It is so nakedly contrived that, far from challenging Sturgeon, it tells us more about Hothersall himself. As I’ve argued often here, the desperation evident in this kind of infantile barb demonstrates the failure of their arguments. Nobody with a serious and respectable case to put to the people or with the remotest chance of opposition, let alone government, would engage in such pointless tactics. It’s now commonplace for oafish and maladroit remarks to emerge for example from the once solid Murdo Fraser who had a strong claim on leadership of a rebranded party of the right, but is now reduced to joke tweets. These are the gambits of the defeated who see no prospect for improvement, the argument having been lost. They become careless with fact and generous with contempt.

How much more respect would you have for a Labour front man who decried Trump’s xenophobia and thanked our lucky stars it wasn’t shared by our leaders and our nation. To be fair, that’s what Kezia has been doing. Get on message, Duncan. Or it won’t just be a post truth era – it will be post Labour.

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Simply the Best

Isn’t it a pleasure amid the relentless media-led gloom about Scotland to celebrate an unalloyed triumph by one of our own? We’re so used to being told how laughably incapable we are that you can almost hear the grudging acceptance… ‘Oh, sure, we’ve got Andy Murray but only because he trained in Spain. Anyway Novak’s off form and Roger’s past it.’

The corrupted national psyche that is trained to fail struggles to believe that someone without privileges can be as good as anybody else and even, at times, better. And you have to whisper that bit. The idea that Scotland or the Scots might actually utter a claim to be the best at anything sparks a mass Shhhh as if someone who really does know best hears us and laughs at the presumption.

We’re allowed to be world champion boozers and record-breaking obesity kings but Scotland forgets its place if it imagines there might be a guaranteed place in the global order for a tiny, bankrupt basket case. *Even if the mad Nats get their way and we go it alone, imagine the catastrophe of our debt, the drastic cuts in services, the hike in living costs, the exit of companies. Nobody’s ever done it before and succeeded. Except for Ireland, obviously. Losing people and jobs at the time of independence, with a rural economy, only patchy native industry and few natural resources – not to mention a civil war – the Republic nevertheless today is forecast to end the year as Europe’s fastest growing economy.

Or New Zealand, clearly. When the UK joined the EEC, it ended the lucrative trade deal between the nations which, although ameliorated by temporary arrangements, forced New Zealand into diversification and a search for new markets – all at the time of a huge oil price rise when NZ imported all its oil. It’s now one of the happiest and well-run countries on the global index.

But, you see, they’re not Scottish. So Irish and Kiwi can do…Scottish not much. That’s why I love Andy Murray. He refuses to be an also-ran. That’s what we did in the indyref – declared ourselves also-rans – people who regard ourselves as unworthy. Just not good enough to run ourselves and to forge functioning, friendly relations with our near neighbours that would reassure those who value strong British ties.

Ach, I know you can’t take one person’s story and extrapolate to the whole nation but, come on, I’m a journalist. It’s what we do…And there is something elemental about Murray that speaks of the Scotland we know. I don’t care where he was born. That isn’t what makes him a Scot. It’s in his attitude and demeanour, in his fragile confidence, his trembling emotion, his spasms of frustration. And it’s in his unflinching honesty about his failures and shortcomings. Any PR adviser would work night and day to make him sound sparkier and upbeat but he remains doggedly dour, proudly thrawn, even turning his reputation into humourous self-deprecation.

There is an attitude bred in us that is suspicious of the contrived. I don’t know anywhere else where people who have manifestly motored through the social mobility barriers with degrees, position and wealth still insist on calling themselves working class. Even when we know we’ve escaped from the manual labour family and the council estate, it remains a badge of pride to have that background. It says that some part of us will never change, that there is no desire to desert our roots and that social advancement never weakens our origins. It’s a form of solidarity and it’s held out to another generation like a rescue ladder. This way, son. Take my hand…

I like that the Murrays are in most ways an ordinary family – state school, even split family – when so many of the success stories in Britain revolve around posh schools and Oxbridge. I like that Andy manages to look awkward and a bit embarrassed in his kilt. And I like that his mum is still there beside him. I used to fear that there was something unnatural about a pushy parent never letting her son be himself (as I would have felt). I just didn’t know how they really were – a family. And as time has gone on, my respect grows for Judy Murray as single mother, family helmsman, constant supporter and, well…as woman. She brought them up, believed in the boys and backed them. There was no Tim Henman Oxforshire childhood with tennis court in the back garden and family connections. Their story is really an old one – if you want it, you can have it. But only if you believe.

Of course, the reality is we can’t all succeed but they make us feel we might. If they can, so can we. The Murrays provide the inspiration that allows the rest of us to dream. And I bet there are Scots out there today touched by an air of defiance because of Murray’s achievement, privately savouring and sharing the success. Scottish success.

*Isn’t it amazing how every warning of disaster we were given during the indyref is now being reversed in headlines before our eyes?

UK economy heads for £100b black hole.

Ordinary families will lose £2400 a year.

Brexit to force up cost of living.

Companies prepare to leave London.

Social care faces breakdown.

Britain to suffer hard Brexit from EU.

Britain’s naval defences woeful.

Britain’s spy security threatened by Brexit.

Clyde naval orders reduced.

UK loses triple A credit rating.

Pound tumbles.

The list goes on…

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We’re all having to rethink our position these days to respond to fast-changing events. We try to hold on to our principal aims as long-term objectives while readjusting to the here and now. To me that means I yearn for independence but accept that remains on the horizon while I deal with immediate Brexit concerns.

One way I changed my own mindset was in admiring the bold pro-EU stance taken by Tim Farron who is the only UK leader talking my language about the need to stay inside the European family of nations, not just for trade purposes but for humanitarian ones of mutual support and social solidarity. It means standing against public opinion as expressed in the referendum because it is a point of principle, one that can’t just be dropped because of a short, dishonest campaign based on xenophobia. That’s not easy when the ‘people have spoken’. So there I was adjusting all my partisan dials to accommodate the Lib Dems whom I’ve previously written off as dishonest and untrustworthy, when the Scottish branch actually vote against single market membership being protected. Against the single market. It not only destroys my touching faith in Liberals, it confirms their place back at the bottom of the trust rankings. Good night, Tim.

What possesses our representatives when it comes to protecting the national interest? For Liberals who have been in my lifetime the most pro-European lot of all to perform a U-turn at the very moment their country needs them is pretty shocking. Did they really consider their constitutional role to represent and defend the Scots or did they only look at their narrow and short-term self-interest…

Yesterday’s vote I find hard to take. My Liberals were people like Russell Johnson, Charles Kennedy, David Steel with solid European credentials. When they merged, none other than the former European commission president Roy Jenkins joined them.

The group Liberal Scotland in Europe wrote: This period of political history may prove to be the most significant for our constitution in 300 of years. It is for the Scottish Liberal Democrats membership to decide what role the party will play and what route we will choose. But if we are to secure the best future for Scotland and the strongest relationship with both the UK and EU, we will need to leave no possibility unexplored. If we fail to do that our children and grandchildren will not forgive us.

That’s the basis on which the autumn conference debated options including independence – and threw it out, even as a theoretical possibility if it became clear it was in Scotland’s interest. The one-eyed, one-way approach was perpetuated at Holyrood yesterday and taken to the extreme. Voting effectively against Scotland in the single market contradicts everything Liberal Democrats have said for 25 years and renders their pro-European credentials nothing more than weasel words. As soon as Farron stands up to say he’ll vote against Article 50 or will campaign in the next election calling for an end to Brexit, his critics will simply demand to know how that squares with his Scottish branch voting against market membership.

I’m puzzled too by the Tories voting the same way. It was their party under Margaret Thatcher and guided by Lord Cockfield that brought about the single market which remains British Conservatism’s greatest contribution to the EU. To abandon it now – in favour of what, exactly – is revisionism. It sounded at first as if Davidson’s Tories were anti Brexit, explicitly backing Remain and the single market. Even after the vote as she slithered and dithered into an accommodating stance, she was at pains to welcome free movement. Then, come the crunch, she and her party defect…all ideals in tatters. I suppose this is what she calls effective opposition – opposing the government irrespective of logic or principle even if it means contradicting her own party’s history. What a kick in the teeth for Thatcher’s legacy.

I leave the mangy old cur of Scottish Labour to last – the pathetic, cowed runt of a political movement devoid of impetus or idea. Like a doe-eyed bag of bones curled up beside the fire and good for nothing, it somehow pleads to be treated gently, as if this sorry pass is not its own fault. ‘I used to be something, you know’, it seems to say but those days are lost in the mists of time. If the questions were worth asking they would be of the fundamental kind – what are you for? Who do you represent? What is your policy programme? What is your objective? How will you attain it?

Labour can’t hold a policy position for more than 24 hours, its message fleeting, incoherent and irrelevant. Brexit threatens to be the most important strategic change in direction the UK has taken in 50 years with clear warnings of economic destruction for hundreds of thousands, company closures, rising living costs, a currency slump, literally unknown future trading arrangements, with doors slammed in the face of essential immigration with our global relationships and image harmed. When the call came for decisive action and unity in the face of such catastrophe, Labour, the people’s party, collapsed. With no position worth sustaining, they opted out and abstained. Truly Dugdale leads a pitiful mob.

I know the get-out: Access is different from membership and membership implies sovereignty. Well, tell that to any of the 300,000 Scots whose jobs depend on it. Tell that to the hard-pressed families whose household bills tip them over the credit limit and tell that to the overseas students whose fees keep our universities thriving. How does it look to the public? I’d guess it fits perfectly in the wee box marked Hypocrites that cynical voters keep their prejudices in. Smug politicians on £60,000 play games with my job, my mortgage and my future…

Nobody was being asked about independence in this vote. Nobody was being asked to abandon principled positions, not pro-Union nor pro-independence. They were in effect being asked for unity – to put Scotland first, the Scotland that voted clearly to Remain. The opposition instead said: ‘Nah. You’re alright. I’ll pass.’

What they have done of course is undermine Scotland’s long-term chances of getting a hearing in Brussels for any kind of exceptionalism, never mind a deal. That may depend not on Nicola Sturgeon and her skills but on a country united and imploring the 27 to look kindly on us as fellow travellers. A country that can unite across parties and with everything else, including independence, put in second place, presents a case that’s hard to dismiss. When roughly half the voters are represented by voices that are seen to be actively against membership or couldn’t care less, the entire case is weakened.

It is perhaps understandable that Labour, Lib Dems and Tories in Wales have an anti-EU stance despite its crippling implications for the local economy. They can argue the people are with them. Not so in Scotland where, in Labour’s case, the idea of party ‘autonomy’ could have been used to support a position different from that of the London leadership based on the referendum result.

It seems nothing, not even economic meltdown, can persuade Unionist politicians to utter any word – even ‘membership’ – that just might imply a sovereign Scotland some way down the line. The Liberals of course have thrown the idea out irrespective at their conference. It allows the elected members again to trade on the Tory and other anti-independence votes that elected them last time but it raises a question: If it comes to it and the only option is hard Brexit and a poor deal for the UK outside the single market and facing years of tariffs while new trade deals are negotiated, is it still Union or bust? What if there is an offer from Brussels for Scotland to inherit the UK membership, if it demonstrates a desire for independence? As it stands the Liberals won’t even consider it – the people can go to Hell. Is Labour far behind? Will the outright resistance to self-determination withstand even economic catastrophe, turning a Brexit Union into a suicide mission? Is the self-loathing they project on to Scotland so extreme that it overrides rational thought?

These are complex and fluid times when flexibility and manoeuvrability are called for. Closing off any option is clod-hopping politics at the best of times. To do so today is against national interest. We can celebrate the common sense that delivered the vote to protect our place in the market – along with the Greens – because it really matters. But for the Union, it was a day to be ashamed of our parliament.

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Draining the Swamp

Oh lighten up…how bad can it be? Really? OK, a narcissistic sociopath with the petulance of a five-year-old and no governing experience wins the White House. But what can he do? OK, he can do a hell of a lot. But will he? And, as importantly, will he be allowed to?

Think about it. He wants to round up and forcibly deport 11 million illegal individuals, a feat on a scale not attempted since the Nazis targeted European Jewry. He’ll need a force the size of an army – at what cost to the nation? They are illegals. By definition, they are loose in the system, mobile and unrecorded. How do they survive in the US? By working mostly as low-paid easily hired and fired sweat slaves who are the backbone of American seasonal agriculture, the building trade, hospitality, cleaning and every other casual work across the nation – including the home helps and nannies to the professionals. Just as vegetable growers in East Anglia warned that Brexit would destroy their business or force it abroad, so American business will lobby to stop the harassment of illegals without whom profits would nosedive. A roundup of these numbers will take years, if it’s actually possible to locate them, hold them and transport them, and to where – the Mexican border? From there they can return.

No, because he’ll build a wall. Of course he will (with illegal Mexican labour perhaps?) The border with Mexico is 2000 miles long. It would be like building the pyramids. The Berlin Wall was less than 100 miles and from original wire to stone completion took nearly 15 years. This is a child’s fantasy of a policy which appeals to simplistic desires for retaliation against perceived enemies. He will laugh it off in office. Anyway it would be denounced by the UN (which doesn’t guarantee anything as Israel will tell you).

Right, well The Don will repatriate American jobs from China to the Rustbelt. Presumably he’s invented a money tree then because since 2001 an estimated 3.2 million jobs have gone oriental. He will need to instruct the owners of literally thousands of American corporations that they must withdraw from China – which won’t cause the merest ripple of protest from Beijing, of course. He will provide them with new factories and facilities at astronomical cost, help them hire US citizens who can be trained to standard, subsidise the entire move back stateside and, obviously help pay the living wages the companies wanted to escape from in the first place. Total cost? Probably equivalent to the American military.

At least he’ll stop muslims entering the country. No, he’s already reneged on this. It can’t be done. Who is a muslim? A woman in a headscarf? Any of us can convert to a religion without any outward sign of our devotion. So what he means is checking out people from countries with Islamic cultures – that is, one massive passport and visa checking ritual for half the world in addition to the security hold-ups at airports. Sounds like a plan that will start and quickly disintegrate under the strain of making it work. Imagine the reaction from around the world at such heavy-handed discrimination – which can work both ways if countries retaliate. He calls it extreme vetting- or maybe he said heavy petting.

He’ll govern for every American. Mmm, to do that in reality you’d need to introduce communism in order to treat everybody the same and that’s not what he means. So he’ll govern for the little guy? That implies a massive transfer of public money to the have-nots from a man who boasts about not paying his own taxes.

He’ll jail Hillary. No. No he won’t. An abuse of executive power would outrage America. No, once inaugurated Trump will step back from saying the mad things that got him elected. It isn’t that he isn’t capable of executive madness – there’s no doubt his reaction to being thwarted is Putin-esque – but Trump has been performing like a trooper to tap into the mind of angry America in order to get elected. In office is a different thing, surrounded by political advisers, yes, but also circumscribed by civil servants in security, military and economic affairs. Now he has won, he will find it convenient in burnishing his reputation to be magnanimous, as he was to Hillary in his victory speech – no mention of crooks or nasty women. In the same mode there will be draining of the DC swamp since he will enter fully into its warm, velvet-lined embrace where he will be endlessly flattered and courted.

He will henceforth be the model of discretion with all women and turn on the charm as he lives out the fantasy of being the new century’s Kennedy or whichever later ego his narcissism chooses.

There will be terrible decisions for sure but I think he will moderate his outpourings dramatically in office and will fail the test the voters set – to protect the middle class and the forgotten millions. They were his passport to power but there is nothing of the real rebel about Trump, he simply denounced the establishment as a campaign slogan. He is of them, just as Hillary is. That’s the real danger he poses – that he lets down the redneck rebels who cheered his angry invective. Once they realise he lied and either will do nothing for them or simply can’t…well, that’s when the trouble really starts.



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