by George Gunn
The future of Scottish politics, the future of our little country, is like an un-spliced rope blowing flayed in the wind. It would take a rope worker of exceptional skill to make sense of all the waving strands, all seemingly acting independently of each other and yet if our political mooring line is to have any strength they have to come together. Not in the “shut up and do as yer telt” way of the authoritarian, anti-referendum Unionism of the “Better Together” campaign, but in a particularly Scottish co-joining which allows us the freedom to solve our own problems. Looking down the pier of Scotland I can see no sign that this necessary splicing – you can call it political expediency if you like, or even a “common cause” – is likely to be achieved. If the ship of Scotland is to set sail into the sea of the future then the political rope-work has to be in good order.
We are already lashed against our will to the big robber galleon of England. Increasingly the desperate grappling irons of the Union are thrown on board – witness the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the on-going Olympics with Danny Boyle’s much discussed atavistic manifestation of nostalgia for a place that doesn’t exist. Unlike the Russian poet Osip Mandelstam’s “nostalgia for a world culture”, which at least was optimistic, if the opening ceremony for the Olympics had any relationship with reality then it was a reality which depends upon paranoia, corporate franchise, militarisation and the suspension of civil liberties and not on the celebrated civic institutions, cultural traditions, collective behaviour, social facilities and services, all of which the present Tory government in London are determined to destroy.
It was Benito Mussolini, the Italian dictator, who pointed out in one of his more lucid rambles that “Fascism should be rightly called Corporatism, as it is the merger of corporate and government power”. Craig Murray, the ex-diplomat, has also noted that if visitors from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain or any other dictatorship, came to London to enjoy the democratic freedoms of the West as signified by the 2012 Olympics what they would find is a situation much like home – special access avenues for the elite, helicopters patrolling the skies, missile launchers on the top of tower blocks, warships on the Thames, soldiers and police everywhere and everyone who moves security checked, scrutinised, intimidated. This is the “reality” of the Olympic cash-fest where everything exists in a temporary permanence of now where each thing you eat, drink and experience has a sponsors logo on it and if you, for whatever reason, do not comply with this consumerist credo when you are within the Olympic areas you are –would you believe it? – breaking the law and can be fined.
Mussolini would be very happy with all of this.
It appears that Prime Minister David Cameron is also delighted with the Olympic Games but if he thinks – and who is to say if he actually thinks about very much – that this 2012 London extravaganza and its weird opening Boyle-in-a-bag ceremony will somehow make us recalcitrant Scots all feel more British then he may have to re-consider his delight. Even the much trumpeted economic bonanza is fading as the reality sinks in that the over-zealous security measures which have turned the centre of London into a ghost town have emptied it of much of its people, both native and tourist. The economic myth is beginning to unravel. The future for the very expensive London Olympic stadia might be imagined if we consider the present sorry state of the Olympic Stadium built in Athens for the 2004 games. Eight years of lies and neglect grows an awful lot of derelict concrete, steel and glass.
What the Jubilee and the Olympics actually highlight is Scotland’s political inarticulacy. The two big cats which roam the province, Labour and the SNP, in different ways, display the same confusion as to what they actually want or how they are going to achieve their goals, even if they knew what they were. Witness the SNP’s stuttering and stumbling in regard to the Bill to normalise same sex marriages. These were hesitant steps by the Scottish government in the right direction to create a modern society based of freedom and equality. So why the nervousness; why was there a reluctance; a lack of confidence even? The SNP almost botched it. This uncertainty is growing within the majority party at Holyrood. It is as if the business of government itself is corrupting the party. The longer the association with power is maintained then, it would appear, the further the executive gets from the pulse of the people. The so-called “real-politick” of re-thinking on such issues as NATO, Trident, the army, the Queen, the Bank of England, fiscal policy and even the nature of independence itself will be defended by the SNP cabinet as instances of political maturity but are seen by many as a lack of nerve and a loss of direction.
Can it really be that the SNP has become too populist too soon in as much that it responds to events rather than deciding them? The fact that the party is dominated, in the media eyes at least, by a single personality does tend to lend weight to the notion that the other “real-politick”, that of collective leadership, is being sacrificed. Could it also be the case that a significant minority at the top end of the SNP has become over fond of the business of government at the expense of the time experienced desires of the people who have put them in power? They show all the signs of having listened to the Siren Songs of the corporate world and their oligarchs. This, unfortunately, is the way of all flesh in parliamentary democracy. Mussolini thought that democracy was “beautiful in theory; in practice it is a fallacy”. Not that crazy old Benito gave the theory much practice. It is almost too terrifying to think that he may have been right.
So, what of the other big cat roaming the political province of Scotland – “Scottish” Labour? The truth is that the Labour party in Scotland has demonstrated little initiative that could make the SNP’s procedural dilemma work to their advantage. Instead they have wrapped themselves up in the Butcher’s Apron, the banner of the Jubilee and the sponsored bunting of the Olympics, in order to assert their British-ness. This in reality offers little to the majority of the Scottish people because it is not social policy, it is an anthem and is a corruption of intent and drives those within the Labour movement in Scotland seeking change to despair and thwarts any attempt at creating a genuine Scottish Labour Party which could come to terms with independence. By turning their fire against any possibility of an independent Scottish nation the Labour Party have damaged the role they could play in the possible future.
Any political party which presents to the people a vision of the future which is a version of the present based entirely on the past is going nowhere. What the Labour myth of Britain in reality offers the people of Scotland is a continuation of corruption in politics, the press, in banking, the stock market, the police and the justice system and law, the public utilities and energy companies, in social security, in health provision, public housing and transport. In fact corruption in everything which can be privatised, rationalised, reformed, deformed, deregulated and decommissioned.
One way to avert political apathy due to cynicism on the part of the common people when they see their rights eroded is for the SNP to draw up and publish a draft constitution so that all Scots can have a better idea of what the future of our country will, potentially, look like and so that we will not be sold a pig in a poke. The participatory drafting of the new Icelandic constitution through the internet and by consulting the entire Icelandic population – admittedly small – has given Iceland a radical new Althing with the majority of representatives being both young and female. The British state is infamous for having no written constitution to base itself upon. There is of course, the Magna Carta but this dates back to 1215 and the time of King John and although forced upon a reluctant monarch by jealous barons does contain the germ of the idea of human rights as opposed to property but it is too far distant in time and culture to be of much use to modern Scotland.
Indeed the English establishment have always been happy to ignore it. When the first scholarly English language edition of the Magna Carta was published in 1759 by the Tory law Lord, William Blackstone, he complained that the task was more difficult than he had foreseen because “the body of the charter has been unfortunately gnawn by rats”. For all those who currently work towards liberty this comment has a pertinent dark similitude. When the English Parliamentarian and staunch supporter of Oliver Cromwell, Henry Vane, was beheaded in 1662 his speech to the crowd on Tower Hill about his sentence being a violation of the Magna Carta, his words were drowned out, literally, by Royalist restoration trumpets. What else is the 2012 London Olympics but a similar racket to drown out the voices of dissent? The Scottish people need a modern declaration of what we can be, not of what we have been and are not.
When the corporate interests of McDonalds and Coca Cola are more important to government than the rights of individuals then that is the time to worry. That time is now. Why then is the present Scottish government stumbling into the future like a drunk man avoiding the thistle? Is there no Scottish politician able to splice the rope of the future? If not then the shade of Benito Mussolini stalks more than the exclusive avenues of Boris Johnson’s mad three ring circus, his ghost is in our democracy.
© George Gunn, 2012