By George Gunn
Sometime between the Referendum result and now, as if in a dream, I saw or imagined I saw Ed Miliband standing on a platform saying something like, or to the effect of, “I want to make it absolutely clear that the core Labour message is ‘What is the best deal for me and my family?’” Maybe I had spent too long on a northbound train or perhaps the two year referendum campaign was overly extended and intense as I could have sworn I heard him say “What is the best deal for me and my monkey?”
Fatigue does tend to translate, in my feeble mind at least, everything obnoxious or inane into a lyric by John Lennon: at least then it has the potential to be beautiful and witty. This, I readily accept, is not a great system but if anyone else has got a better way of dealing with the mytherings of Ed the Red Tory then I would really like to know what it is. “Me and my family”, “Me and my monkey” – what actually is the difference when the party you “lead” has abandoned every principle which formed it, gave it life and purpose and now only believes in “Labour values” and winning elections?
The “family” is the prison where Ed, Dave and Nick, the trinity cops of the centre-ground, have banged up politics. Whether they be “hardworking” “close knit”, even “nuclear” the “family” is the new Cheka of the Middle-English middle class. They stalk the land in tight formations arresting anyone or anything who does not “know what’s best”. They are the marching Jack Russell puppy boots of the New British right and they will be yapping and slobbering their meaningless mush into and out of the media from now until the General Election next May. It will sound like they are preparing for a thousand years of sorrow. Reader, they are.
We must never underestimate the power-desire of this ruling elite and we must neglect nothing in our struggle against them. What they are planning is nothing small. The heist of resources and suppression of representation is not trivial. In the nineteenth century democracy resided in the rights of property. Now those who hoard the wealth assume that democracy is their property. As active citizens in a functioning democracy we should be reminding those who democratically represent us that neither we the electorate or democracy itself are their “monkey”. We can remind them, we will – but they will not listen, they never do, unless they panic – and they have been panicking of late.
When Marx undertook his critique of capitalism the system was in its infancy. He examined its origins, its means of production and from that showed what could be expected in the future. He got many things right. The increasing exploitation of working people (of “hard working families”, of all “monkeys” in fact) is there, tragically, for all to see. He also predicted that capitalism would create conditions which would make it possible for it to abolish itself; or at least what Marx called the “superstructure”. The Tory government and their overlords in the City of London preside over our local “substructure” and within that are merrily extracting wealth and consolidating it with the few – themselves – while the “superstructure” as imagined by Marx has now extended to encompass the entire planet and capitalism is, day by day, transforming that superstructure into an empty lifeless husk.
Politically, systematically, democracy is also being emptied out and the policy holograms postulated by Westminster are being hi-jacked, spray painted in the red top colours of reaction and spewed out of the bilious mouths of UKIP representatives, none more so than by the MEP for the South West of Scotland. The civil war at the heart of Scottish Labour is further evidence of this hollowing of political substance. Labour’s expended energy went into creating a state at the expense of creating community. The Tories, on the other hand, are dismantling the state and creating a nightmare. In both Labour and the Tory parties the deep need for power has made for a superficial grasp of powers consequences. The SNP, ironically, is a party which was born out of a cause and has witnessed the cause move ahead of it in ambition, urging the party to keep up. Labour has become a party which has quite simply abandoned its core cause which is its human constituency and their advocacy.
The Tories may view the future and believe that it belongs to them by divine right but at the heart of the project is an ancient fear. This fear the people of Scotland witnessed at first hand during the referendum campaign. We were told that the sky would fall on us if we dared to vote “Yes” or indeed, not so long ago, if we voted at all, or talked back to the laird. The right to vote, the right to any kind of representation, has been historically chiselled out of the unforgiving stone of the British State by brave hands and fearless hearts over the centuries. These achievements are the things the Tories wish to undo. Their problem is they don’t really know how to manage the social deterioration – not from a humanitarian point of view (they have never worried about that) but rather from a societal consequence: dead people on the street, rioting, mass thieving and mansion burning, that sort of thing. Jolly bad PR. Fear, however, has a deep echo.
Next year, 2015, will mark the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. No doubt there will be a certain amount of red, white and blue cheering about this famous victory over a foreign tyrant. We will be presented, I imagine, with the usual image of our doughty island nation standing up to the threat of foreign invasion and as a metaphor it will play straight into the hands of the Tories and their political hell-puppies of UKIP. The truth, as we are currently seeing in the political fallout from the referendum result, is a very different thing.
If you go to the ruined township of Badbea on the east coast of Caithness you will find a monument there, raised in 1911 by their descendants from New Zealand, to the people who were cleared from the nearby inner straths such as Langwell and Berriedale in the early1790’s by Sir John Sinclair of Ulbster to make way for Cheviot sheep. One name on the stone is that of Donald Sutherland, “killed at Waterloo”. The question I constantly ask myself when I look at his name is, “Donald, oh Donald, what on earth were you doing at Waterloo in the first place?” The evidence of history suggests that Donald Sutherland had little to fight for in 1815.
1792 was the “Year of the Sheep”, or “Bliadhna nan Caorach”, when the frustrated people of Sutherland and Ross drove the sheep from their traditional summer grazing’s only to have the Black Watch march into their straths to protect the landowners “property”. 1814, the year before Waterloo, was the “Year of the Burnings”, or “Bliadhna an Losgaidh”, when the factors acting on behalf of the Duke and the Countess of Sutherland burned hundreds of homes in Kildonan and Strathnaver, pushing the remnant population to the hard northern coast to exposure and starvation. Dysentery, typhus, typhoid and cholera were experienced for the first time by a people who could trace their ancestry in Strathnaver back over a thousand years. Many emigrated as a result.
One of the reasons there is healthy rural population in most western European countries is the Napoleonic law code of 1804 which regulated, amongst many things, the use and ownership of agricultural land and of estate inheritance. Many countries have the Napoleonic code as the base of their modern legal system. This “code” had its precursor in the French Revolution which had, as one of its central tenets, the removal of land as the property of aristocrats and its redistribution to the peasants. In post-Enlightenment Scotland the opposite was the case. This is why a Dane, for example, cannot buy and own 20,000 acres of Denmark but can easily buy and own a similar amount of north-west Sutherland.
The land enclosures of the 1770’s in the Highlands made thousands landless, homeless and vagrant and a few individuals, such as Sir John Sinclair, very rich. Many of the dispossessed poured into the emerging industrial centres such as Glasgow to work and die in the factories and mines. It was in these harsh conditions where the people developed, according to Henry Brougham, “the evil spirit… of liberty.” At the back of the present Tory governments mind, at the core of its inherited belief system almost as an ancient memory, is a deep fear of an armed peasant wearing the red cap of the sans culottes. This was exactly the fear of the British State at the beginning of the 19th century. This anxiety is with us now. It ran amok through the mainstream media in the months and weeks running up to September 2014. It is why Donald Sutherland was on the wrong side at Waterloo. It is why it is a mistake to assume that the British state will ever be reasonable or rational when it comes to dealing with Scotland.
With the dead on the Waterloo battlefield still glistening in the moonlight the chief apparatus of empire – the Royal Navy – broke off its blockade of Europe and set about conquering the rest of the world to create the Empire on which the sun never set. What we see now in Scotland is that sun going down. Defrauding the nation of its wealth, fleecing people willy-nilly, through banks and hedge funds and “austerity measures”, what the feral rump of the empire’s elite have demonstrated is that this historical sunset will be a rough social affair. They have retreated to London, the last city of the empire, and there they expect to remain, in ascendency, forever they hope, to lord it over the rest of us like modern medieval barons with the aid of hi-tech market trading and ever increasing vials of lubricating corruption.
But the Angel of History for them has other plans. They will be piled up with all the other catastrophic debris of progress and the Angel will look back indifferently at them, moving as she does relentlessly backwards into the future, her mouth open in a silent scream, her arms thrown back by the force of the wind from Paradise. No-one will mourn.
At Badbea the people had to tether both their animals and children to stop them from blowing away over the cliff. As the 18th century turned into the 19th the wind of history indeed was fierce. What will it take, I wonder, to blow Ed the Red Tory and his monkey away? Will that be when we have cut down the last tree?
© George Gunn 2014