Theatre of the Absurd


By Mike Small

Today, in a glorious piece of botched political theatre, three representatives of the Austerity Union who are now joined at the hip on issues of the constitution and economics  – are travelling north as we speak to ‘save the Union’. They’re a bit late to the party, the neighbours have been complaining about the noise, a lot of people have already left and most of the sausage rolls are gone, but welcome!

They are obviously not readers of the Times which yesterday gave sage advice from Hugo Rifkind ‘Are you English and want to keep the Union? Here’s what you mustn’t say’. His top three hints?

1) Don’t Mention Braveheart

2) Don’t suggest that David Cameron should go up there and start trying to persuade people in person Him? Wandering around Glasgow? Shouting at people? Please. No. You might as well set off a dirty bomb.

3) Don’t suggest that Ed Miliband should, either.

So they’ve neglected Hugo’s advice. Good good. What are they actually going to say and do?

We’re told that their unity doesn’t stretch to campaigning together, instead they’re going to spread their love around. Even better.

Public meetings? Don’t be daft, there will be a series of earnest and well managed ‘events’ and photo calls with top security and invited media.

But to say what exactly? Well now we’re all clear that there are NO NEW POWERS, it’s just going to be a lovefest with some diary dates.

They have only three choices:


This is a certainty, though certain to fail.

This is three men in suites – male, stale and pale – coming to utter empty emotional soundbites to people who have spent the last decade discussing this throughout civil society. It’s not about emotions. It’s not about ‘relationships’. I think this will be Just Call Me Dave’s territory. From Hug a Hoodie to Kiss a Sweaty. Expect furrowed brows and every diner, every fibre of his being to be strained to its utmost. Look out for the backdrop. It will be somewhere historic.

Quick memo to whoever replaced Andy Coulson (temporarily indisposed), the Daily Mail readers are already voting No, foaming at the mouth and generally apoplectic anyway. Sorry.


This will probably be Ed’s area, combined with some random Heir Hardie references and maybe the odd John Smith dropped in for good measure. It hasn’t worked so far. There’s no reason to think it will now.


There’s legal limitations to this, but they may try it. There’s nothing else.

As George Kerevan writes:

“For three years, the Westminster parties have berated the Yes camp in Scotland for (allegedly) failing to think through in detail the cost, mechanics and repercussions of creating an independent Scotland. Yet with breath-taking insouciance, these same critics claim they can reshape not just the constitution but the entire UK taxation and welfare system, between 19 September and January 2015 – when the so-called “iron timetable” promises a draft bill to enact what Gordon Brown dubs a de facto federal state.”

These are the top echelon of Westminster’s failed elite. One who has lost all credibility a long time ago. One who we never voted for and never will, who comes as a leader with no mandate to rule us. One who has disavowed his party’s heritage and is a continuity candidate of the Blairite economic experiment with nothing original to contribute to public discourse.

So what will it be? Whatever it is it’s an odd trio. Who will meet them? What can they possibly say?

In a sense these three are irrelevant. Although they will be given saturation coverage as if they are dignitaries from a foreign land – they are not really culpable for their predicament. That honour goes to Tony Blair and his aide-de-camp, Mr Brown, who pops up and disappears in this campaign. He is the guilty party in all this and the one likely to be MIA today.

As George Monbiot wrote yesterday with devastating accuracy:

“…now Better Together has brought in Gordon Brown, scattering bribes in a desperate, last-ditch effort at containment. They must hope the Scots have forgotten that he boasted of setting “the lowest rate in the history of British corporation tax, the lowest rate of any major country in Europe and the lowest rate of any major industrialised country anywhere”. That he pledged to the City of London “in budget after budget, I want us to do even more to encourage the risk takers”. That, after 13 years of Labour government, the UK had higher levels of inequality than after 18 years of Tory government. That his government colluded in kidnapping and torture. That he helped cause the deaths of hundreds of thousands through his support for the illegal war on Iraq.

He roams through Scotland, still badged with blood, promising what he never delivered when he had the chance, this man who helped unravel the social safety net his predecessors wove; who marketised and dismembered public services; who enriched the wealthy and shafted the poor; who pledged money for Trident but failed to reverse the loss of social housing; whose private finance initiative planted a series of timebombs now exploding throughout the NHS and other public services; who greased and wheedled and slavered his way into the company of bankers and oligarchs while trampling over the working people he was elected to represent.”

If this is political theatre we are way past the interval now. I think we’re in the final act.


Categories: Commentary

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19 replies

  1. I am in total agreement with you and can only mention my surprise at what George Monbiot wrote yesterday as it was a flashback to what the Guardian used to be.

  2. Act five scene six. A field somewhere near Stirling….

  3. Sorry to burst the john smith bubble, but he was instrumental in labour’ capitulation to the city of London corporation…

  4. Let’s just ignore them, the Orange Order, the BNP, Brittania , we’ll be well shot of them soon enough

  5. Three donkeys bearing carrots and sticks…; )

  6. I waited & waited for Monbiot to comment on what’s happening up here- then in the space of a few weeks he can’t stop talking about it all in such wonderful excoriatingly clear prose. Monbiot is a rare man in such mediocre days- a true giant, a British colossus surrounded by pygmies. A true breath of fresh air, in comparison to the other 99% of UK commentary by the Fleet Street chattering classes. What this alliance of the three main parties has demonstrated, in a concrete visual form, for ordinary voters, is just how in thrall to Neo-Liberalism Westminster actually is. This is an ideological war: on one side the Westminster defenders of Market fundamentalism, on the other the rest of us, the Yes Movement, seeking an alternative- but as the hard stance on currency union has shown this kind of “alternative” cannot be tolerated, for it’s viewed as an attack on laissez faire orthodoxy. We’ve tried this experiment for forty years- it don’t work. Even if it does “create wealth” it’s doomed as the social costs are a bill society can no longer pay, the “externalities” will ultimately bankrupt us all ( hence austerity as a backdoor measure to minimize the “costs” of inequality). An alternative is possible, & now the defenders of the status quo know it’s coming.

  7. Finally, our esteemed leaders are united in travelling separately to campaign separately for the union and against separation. BT will now be called Better Together But Not On The Same Plane.

    Joking aside, I think the union was theirs to lose not Yes side’s to win. Perhaps if they’d gone north 2 years ago and listened to ordinary people the union would be in the bag by now. There’s a lack of personal skills if they can’t talk to ordinary people and take a bit of heat.

  8. I’m a fan of Ionesco’s ‘Bald Prima Donna’, and this piece of theatre of the absurd unravelling at the moment seems to have reached the stage where the characters in the play just open their mouths and let random sounds, rather than words with meaning, flow out. It’s pretty good!

  9. Don’t you love farce?
    My fault, I fear.
    I thought that you’d want what I want –
    Sorry, my dear.
    But where are the clowns?
    Quick, send in the clowns.
    Don’t bother, they’re here.

    • Send in the clowns, ha thats jsut whats happening…

      Its like those three woke up one morning, a few days ago, and realised that there is a place called Scotland thats not just a tourist destination somewhere north. Do they really expect Scots to think that suddenly England have been making decisions in Westminster that have been taking into consideration what is right for Scotland?

      As an English person living in England, its embarrassing. Could someone please send them back. We dont need them here either, but they are wandering too far away from their comfort zone.

  10. The reduction ad absurdum goes even further. You may have missed the earlier warm up act out on the theatre steps where the noble Lord Prescott was rolled out in his regular ‘I’m a prole’ role. (c.11:30 Sky News)
    After bluiterin on about the Scots always being in the van of revolutionary thought (this from the birkie coof telling us to just stay put and say ‘Naw’!), the insightful John then made a masterly switch of political discourse to the required level for the Glasgow masses and shared his own ‘revolutionary thought’ in relation to retaining the Union in the context of football:
    “If we stay ‘Better Together’, Scotland could join with England and as the one team ‘Britain’ then we could win against ‘the Germans!” (cue ‘Dambusters’).
    Say nae mair.

  11. Loved the “male, stale and pale” description. But here’s another naming suggestion for the be-suited triplets – “Fail, Fail and Fail”.

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