by George Gunn
Perhaps it’s a too little known fact that Ed Miliband’s mother survived the Holocaust and that he went to a comprehensive school? Oxford and the London School of economics came later. Why is it none of this stuff comes across when you see him on TV? Is it just that he has to create a persona in order to express himself as the leader of the Labour Party or is it the opposite: that he has to hide his brilliant father’s Marxism, his Jewishness, his mother’s bravery, his very self, in order to be what he considers, what the British media consider, to be real? Is he like the Portuguese poet Fernando Passoa in reverse? Passoa had, famously, seventy five pseudonyms. Are there seventy five versions of Ed Miliband? Or just one? Or none? It is almost impossible to know.
Despite his fascinating family history as I watched him mince his way through a spit-fest with Jeremy Paxman, or was it Clarkson, it is so difficult to tell them apart? I thought, “This person (Ed M) could be mistaken for a man with no culture.”
This is depressing because he so obviously has a deep and genuinely Jewish culture to draw on but because it is not packagaebly English it is deleted, which is a real pity and a mistake. I also find it troubling to hear someone who could easily be mistaken for a good man arguing about nothing. Cameron is so obviously insincere about everything that it is almost comforting. With Ed Miliband there is a kind of well-groomed tragic air which surrounds him; it follows him like some other Nordic nations weather. I would be heart sick if I was English and thought that this is the best the Labour Party can do. At least in Scotland they send in the clowns such as Murphy and Lamont and we can laugh at them because we have an alternative, however imperfect the SNP are. Just as a story is a narrative vehicle for truth the SNP will find that once this particular chapter ends, and Scotland finds itself somehow or other independent they, like an actor in a soap with too big a contract, will be ditched. If the English people ditch Eddie and the not so hot Labour-rods just what else have they got? As far as I can see, so far, they have nothing. When Scotland becomes independent just how are we going to deal with a rampant neo-fascist regime ruling over 53 million people to the south of us? Is that really the political direction England is heading?
Our culture is what gives us our humanity, whatever country we live in. In Scotland our cultural wealth will help us defeat poverty and powerlessness. We are, after all is said and done, a poetic nation and sympathy is the origin of poetry. But poetry and sympathy only get you so far. The increased education, the participation in and creation of culture is the only true guarantee of democracy. Why is it that Ed Miliband cannot say that he will guarantee every bairn in England an education even if their family have no money and more specifically because they have none? If he were to do that then I would feel more secure about the future of democracy in England. At the moment all I see is a drift towards an oligarchy and a plutocracy. Education is the organisation of passion. It is the vehicle for democracy. If you pay for education from another source other than general taxation you push your society towards inequality and oppression. Culture depends on education and without education there is no culture. That is the real tragic weather which surrounds Ed Miliband.
As the great Icelandic novelist and Nobel laureate Halldór Laxness noted of his own country, “Everything that helps to increase the nation’s cultural wealth is inexpensive, whether it costs a great deal or not.”
In Scotland, at the moment, unfortunately, both education and culture have a price tag. England’s future is a fear. Scotland’s future, on the other hand, is a reality. So how can we as Scots embrace and nurture that future reality if we commodify our culture and treat it as a product and financialise our education out of the reach of the poor who need it the most?
Why do we accept that English Labour and the English Tories are the same when they are obviously not? It is comforting for us in Scotland, especially for us on the left, to lump them all together and say “Well, what can you expect, they’re just red Tories” meaning the Labour Party. I have too much respect for the people who made the Labour Party, especially in Scotland, the political force it once was. You will note the past tense. Just as Miliband the younger denies, or his party managers do, his vibrant cultural roots, the Labour party have descended into the self-destructive trope of out doing the Tories on whatever homophobic-racist-anti this/anti-that Daily Mail headline grabber is popular in the goldfish brain of now at the ever present moment. This is their death. That tragedy is greater than the bad Hamlet of Ed Miliband as he goes on wall to wall television to express his deep convictions about nothing whatsoever. It is a betrayal of everything the English people need.
The referendum on Scottish independence in 2014 will be seen in the light of history as the day the music died for the Labour party in Scotland. Harold Wilson had the good sense to make the referendum on the Common Market in 1975 a non-party political affair. Wilson may have been many things but he was no fool. Likewise Jim Callaghan in 1979 made the Assembly referendum a non-party political affair even though it was blindingly obvious that Labour government of the day hated the very idea of any Scottish autonomy. They still do. That is also their death. Or part of it, because death is an on-going event and normally not pretty to behold. With the death of Labour the Scottish people have also lost something extremely valuable. In time we will have to reinvent it and if the SNP have any sense they will understand this. Nicola Sturgeon strikes me as a woman who understands history. If she doesn’t then, as ever, the SNP will go the way of Labour. We sculpt our politics from the winter of our need. A political summer will be, I suppose, when we shine the light of possibility on our own country, Scotland. To become a place in which we can develop our own democracy in a land where there is no poverty and where wealth, for once, can benefit all. That is not a dream, it is very much a possibility. It is also a necessity. In fact it is vital.
Scotland is a country where history walks like a grey dog over a midnight hill. Memory is merely a process of the conscious mind reinventing the past. Everybody does it. I am doing it now. Memory is edited history or even something we cherish other than actual history because it is easier. But what is history other than memory? It is how we define ourselves. To deny who we are, what we have been, is to deny our possible future. Our lives should not have a single dead moment because our lives are too short.
Part of the big problem is the names we give to things. Every time I hear Ed Miliband talk “passionately” about Britain I wonder where this Narnia-like place is. It sounds like an interesting place and I may want to go there on my holidays if I ever save up enough money to go nowhere. When David Cameron talks “passionately” of Britain the place I see is some distant but very familiar landscape populated by rich tweed suited me-lords shooting fat grouse on a cleared hill with womble like ghillies scuttling about denying their own existence. Is Ed Miliband a political ghillie?
The reason I am thinking about all of this rather than the price of oatmeal is that there is the large and annoying matter of a British general election in May and I suspect that this will be the last British general election we will see in its present form. When the British state does not get the result it likes they change the rules. If the SNP get the poll forecast landslide that is expected then they will change the rules. By accident we will become independent. All it takes is courage. Whether the current SNP leadership have both the wit and the courage remains to be seen. What is not in doubt is that the Scottish people require a mature political settlement but it is certain that they will not get it from either Ed the denier or Dave the toff. A mess is always damaging but it is mess we will have to deal with. It is also, always, expensive. But as Halldór Laxness has observed the increase of our cultural wealth is inexpensive, “whether it costs a great deal or not”. What we cannot afford to be are the dead moments of an edited history. Ed Miliband’s version of reality is a smirry rain drifting over an empty sea. His actual reality is much more interesting, human and real. Maybe it is the tragedy of all politicians that they start out as idealists and end up as travelling salesmen. Somebody should send Ed back to school.
© George Gunn 2015