Friday, May 22, 2015

Humping The Shark





This guy, talking about the latest Game Of Thrones uproar*, is both spot on and spectacularly unfair, I think.

To a certain extent, he's right to call the show basically pornographic, in that it's filled with hilariously gratuitous sex, nudity and cartoonish violence.  The show is ludicrously over-the-top even by comparison with the famously fighty-fucky book series that it's based upon, and that's a big part of why it's popular.  If the tone is perpetually adolescent then, well, I'd say that's not always a bad thing.

This isn't to say that the show doesn't feature some cracking drama, because it really does.  It usually attracts comparisons with The Lord of the Rings but I'd say it's the closest thing to I, Claudius** that I've seen in a long time.

From the outset, it established a huge ensemble cast of intriguingly flawed characters who each have clear aims and interests, then sent them off smashing into one another, causing chaos.  For a show that features dragons and magic, it's admirable how organic some of the plot and characterisation feels, and even the bloody cull of the cast towards the end of the third season didn't feel like shock for its own sake.  It felt like it could never have turned out any other way. 

And without dorking out entirely, I'll add that the most gripping scenes in it are quiet and conversational, as characters say their piece against a placid backdrop of unchewed scenery. Consider Charles Dance's first scene, which succinctly and effectively lays out Tywin Lannister's entire character and his domineering relationship with his children.  Or the compelling moment that can be summarised as blandly as - Jaime explains how he acquired his nickname.  Everyone could see Daenerys's Crowning Moment Of Awesome on the funeral pyre coming a mile off, but we all loved it anyway as a great payoff for everything that had come before.

Much of the cast is exemplary.  Peter Dinkelage has been rightly deluged with big-money film offers off the back of his performance, and Diana Rigg quietly steals every episode that she appears in.

Nonetheless, as the show has gone on, the interpersonal drama has waned and it's now relying on shock value and viciousness to keep the punters in their seats, with diminishing returns.  I'm seeing a few people now wondering why that is, and have a couple of ideas on that score...

- The first four seasons were based upon the best of George Martin's novels, back when his writing was relatively compact and his plots comparatively opaque and straightforward.

This season however is based upon the point where the series takes a sudden and baffling nosedive into what is, unfortunately, utter navelgazing bollocks.  Where once the plot was propelled forward by its own internal logic, now it stands around like it's waiting for a bus, scratching its testicles and thinking about what it wants for dinner.

Seriously, here's a brief, non-spoilery summary of A Feast For Crows and A Dance With Dragons:

- Cersei stands around a lot thinking about how pissed off and frustrated she is.
- Jaime wanders around a lot thinking about how pissed off and frustrated he is.
- Tyrion sails down a river getting pissed-up and thinking about how frustrated he is.
- Jon - pissed off, frustrated, wanders about.
- Sam - frightened, confused, wanders about.
- Arya - confused, frustrated, wanders about.
- Daenerys - frustrated, pissed off, wanders about.
- Boring new characters - frustrated, pissed off, wandering about.
- Most of the other interesting characters - Dead.

Etc etc.  I could go on, but you get the idea.  When all of your main characters are pissed off, frustrated and aimless, you can imagine the effect that this has on the reader.  These two books together must clock in at about three thousand pages and contain between them maybe four or five moments of actual conflict or drama.

Personally, I think this happened because Martin realised that the logic of his own premise meant he'd soon have to write massive battle scenes in which a beautiful silver-haired princess flies around on a dragon burning up ice zombies, and recoiled in horror at the prospect.  I think he decided instead that he'd have a bash at writing the Great American Novel, vastly broadening his scope and turning his entertainingly hokey swords-and-tits action series into an extended meditation on power, war and man's eternal inhumanity to man***.


And this is how we've wound up with e.g. last week's gratuitous rape scene.  Even cutting out enormous chunks of the dull source material, the writers are left with only a few dramatic moments to play with.  Rather than use their imaginations a little, it looks like they've decided to stick with what they have and milk it for shock effect.

This is pretty bad news, and doesn't bode well.

- And let's face it, the elephant in the room here is HBO, the production company.  Recall that when HBO writers were asked to depict Cleopatra in Rome, they decided that the best thing to do would be to make the famed Queen of Egypt an opium-sucking nymphomaniac, with predictable results.

All that needs to be said here is that if HBO were going to remake Every Which Way But Loose, the Clint character would definitely fuck the orangutan in the first episode.


 ---

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that, if you ever find yourself asking Why did event (x) happen in Game of Thrones, the answer is probably that the writers couldn't think of anything better to do.

I don't doubt that the show will still be entertaining and exciting in future but really, I think its best days are behind it...  Although they really were very good days, at the time. 


*The current controversy is basically the same as the last i.e. the delight that the show's writers seem to take in having their characters sadistically rape and abuse each other, and whether it's acceptable for such things to be used for shock effect in what is, ultimately, just entertainment.

As always happens in such situations, the public's response can be divided into (mainly but not entirely female) outrage;  thick lads honking on about how Bitches Be Crazy LOL, and the majority of viewers who think it's just a TV show and aren't arsed to think on it further.  

The ladies are in the right on this one as it happens, although being right won't do them much good.  A quick Google search will turn up plenty of clever people explaining why, far more concisely than I could.

**Seriously - would a scene like this look much out of place in Westeros?  Would Caligula, Livia, Tiberius or Sejanus clash with the overall tone?  And even if most of the depravity and mayhem is offpage in both the Graves book and the BBC drama, I doubt there's anyone who didn't take vicarious pleasure in Uncle Claudius executing some sense into the Roman aristocracy. 

***And, as you'll have gathered, man's inhumanity to woman.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Why (x) Means That We Should Support My Politics - Part Two

And so to Scotland, where Tony Blair is probably right to say that Labour, or anyone else for that matter, will never win the electorate back by being "more Scottish" or "more left".

The ludicrous irony is that in many ways*, Labour are "more left" than the Nats and my new Scottish National Party MP is an Australian.  Seriously, she once had a bit-part in Home & Away

Nonetheless, this is irrelevant.  It makes no difference at all whether e.g. the few actually redistributionist measures in the SNP manifesto were copied and pasted from the Labour one.

What matters here is that the SNP have retained the entire 45% of those who voted Yes in the referendum, and added to them.  Barring a series of catastrophic SNP mistakes, they're never coming back to the parties that they once voted for.  Once Scottish voters decide that they fancy independence, it's almost impossible to convince them otherwise. 

The brief explanation for all this is that most of the Scottish electorate have finally tired of waiting for the Labour/Lib Dem/Whatever Parties that they've always wanted, and have decided instead that they can make a better fist of it themselves.  Possibly, the surprising thing here is that it took this long to happen.

God knows, I find their patter annoying, but I urge anyone who can to speak to the new SNP voters and to ask them why they think the Nationalists are a good choice.

None of them are much arsed about e.g. Ed Miliband, but almost all of them will raise the Iraq War and the various porkies it was sold with; Labour's intense relaxation about the filthy rich, and the party's craven fellation of Tory/Ukip voters throughout England.

They believe that they'll never, ever get the policies that they want, if they have to wait around for Labour or any other UK party to deliver them.

Even I think they're right about this** but really, it makes no difference whether they're right or wrong.  They believe it and they're going to continue voting like they believe it, for decades at least. 

And it's not like this has snuck up on us unexpectedly, but it looks like it still needs spelling out.  If Labour members want the current political situation up here summarised in one sentence, it goes like this:   

The New Labour project has just cost you Scotland, your most reliable core support, probably forever.  

Which is precisely why Tony Blair and his ilk should all drink a tall glass of shut-the-fuck-up right about now, rather than offering us their views on how best to win back voters north of the Border.

Because none of this is news - all of this is exactly what Yes voters were telling pollsters last year, and what they said consistently right up until election day.  And as best I can tell, few of the other parties seem to have believed that it was actually true.

And it showed, this last couple of months.  It's difficult to overstate the shambolic nature of Scottish Labour's campaign, but you can get an insight here.  The first big point to note is that its leader Jim Murphy started out with the criminally insane strategy of trying to out-Scottish the Scottish National Party.

In short, this amounted to wandering around making a big song and dance about representing the interests of the Scottish people of Scotland and the Scottish services that Scottish people wanted to see in Scotland and Scotland and Scotland.

And - amazingly, astoundingly! - it turned out that none of the new SNP voters wanted to buy Jim Murphy's low-alcohol lager version of what they could get tastier and sexier by doing Jagermeister shots round at Nicola Sturgeon's house.

This is, in part, because Jim Murphy is almost the perfect avatar of the New Labour machine.  Watching him work is like a chapter from a second-rate Neil Gaiman novel, in which somebody crams the abstract concept of Insincerity into a grey suit, pins a red rosette on it and has it wander the streets shaking hands and smiling like a hungry velociraptor.

Never mind failing to connect with voters, or getting across the message that you're all Scottish, eh no.  Murphy seemed to struggle with the basic task of impersonating an actual real human being.

But to repeat myself, the larger problem is this.  These SNP voters don't want Labour or anyone else to come up with new ways to defend Scottish public services.  They don't want "a new relationship with the UK".

What they want is for those parties to fuck off

Scotland already has a nationalist party.  If voters are telling you that they want an independent Scotland and you have no intention of giving them that, then why in the name of sanity would you think that they'll prefer your jibber-jabber to a party that actually will try to deliver them what they want?

Labour, the Lib Dems et al see Scotland as just one part of the United Kingdom.  They find the idea that someone in Edinburgh obviously has more interests in common with, say, an Aberdonian than they do with another person who lives 45 miles away in Berwick-Upon-Tweed, absolutely ridiculous.

And that's fine!  It is fucking ridiculous!  But if you want anyone to even half-respect you for saying so, you can't also lard it up with a lot of argle-bargle about how you're totally going to stick up for Scotland against the party that you yourself are campaigning on behalf of.

50% of the electorate is obviously unassailable, so it's going to be a long, long time before anyone else wins a major election in Scotland.  In the main, this is because most of the country believes that the non-nationalist parties are a shower of liars and frauds.

The best way to change this situation is to stop pandering by telling voters what you think they want to hear, and to start telling them what you actually think***.

The other option is to dig in your heels and stand around repeating yourself, hoping that your foes will eventually crush themselves under the weight of their own considerable contradictions.  Good luck with that strategy, folks.

---

*Although in some other ways, they definitely aren't, depending on how we're defining "left".

**I also think they're entirely wrong that throwing their lot in with the SNP will get them the better, more humane country that they want and have said so repeatedly, but it doesn't matter shit what I think about it.

***Step one, to be taken immediately, today - for the love of Christ, fire Jim Murphy.  Labour doesn't need to give Murphy more time to recalibrate his message.  It needs to give him a bottle of whisky and a revolver.

Why (x) Means That We Should Support My Politics - Part One


So, a slim Tory majority it is, and it's impossible to see this as anything other than a mandate for five years of greatly increased viciousness, legislative insanity and crackdowns on phantom problems.  

Assuming that you support policies that are at least mildly humane and would prefer to make Britain a more pleasant place to live, rather than nudging it closer to becoming a series of Croesus-rich gated communities surrounded by a churning ocean of mutual suspicion and recrimination...  Well, it's a screaming disaster.  

It's such a screaming disaster, in fact, that it's going to take two posts for me to make a case for Why Everyone Should Now Agree That It's Time To Support My Politics. 

To England and Wales first of all, where it's long been obvious that a substantial section of the electorate isn't at all interested in programmes that will make their own lives better, but are very keen indeed on vows to smash everyone else into jammy paste. 

Even up here in our supposedly socialist, humanitarian Scottish enclave, there are hundreds of thousands of people who think like this, drawn from every class and creed.  

I've met numerous single mothers and low-wage workers who go to the polls to ask for more violent beatdowns on workshy neds, only to receive even shittier treatment themselves as a direct result, and then return five years later to ask for even more violent beatdowns on workshy neds. Scotland is full of towns and villages where you'll hardly see a non-white face, and yet their inhabitants will regale you for hours about the tidal wave of immigrants blighting their lives.  

And let's not get into a rammy about how this is the fault of, like, the media, innit.  Nobody's forcing anyone to visit the Mail's website every day or to watch Benefits Street, yo.  

People who keep telling you that they want spiteful, resentful policies are going to vote for the most spiteful and resentful candidates that they can find.  And that's in Scotland, where we're all repeatedly told how garrulous and fucking friendly we are, rather than down south where fewer people bother to pretend.

These people don't want Labour or the Lib Dems or the Greens or anyone else, for that matter, to offer a fairer benefits system or to tackle crime* more aggressively.   They don't want to hear those parties' plans for "new controls on immigration", or for anything else. 

What they want is to elect the meanest, most sadistic motherfuckers that they can find, and for all of the touchy-feely parties to fuck off.  

I can't say this strongly enough - if certain voters keep telling you that they want you to turn the DWP into the Gestapo and seal the borders, and you have no intention of doing either, then why in the name of God would you imagine that those voters will prefer your proposals to those of the parties that will beat the poor and shut out all the immigrants? 

Even worse, when you try to court these voters by going on TV and vowing to personally behead seven Romanian benefits claimants a day or whatever, you are alienating your own core voters, potentially forever.  

The viciousness voters will never believe that you're serious, and your own voters always will.  Whatever you gain on the swings of Robust Policies For Hard-Working Families, you immediately lose on the roundabouts of basic human decency.  

Which tells me that the best thing to do is much like that hackneyed piece of advice for getting girls to like you - be yourself, act natural, don't try too hard by faking it.  It's easier to convince people that you're being truthful if you're telling the truth, you see?  

And I'm not even talking about, oh, renationalising the universe here.  I'm saying that you should do what you think is right, and not just what you think people will want to hear.  Sales jobs are a lot easier if you believe that you're selling a good product and - call me hopelessly naive, if you will - I've always found that sincerity has a way of selling itself.

When most people can spot a fraud, putting on an act becomes counter-productive.  I'd say that it's better to just be what you are and to do your best to try to bring the electorate to you.   And if they never come on board, well, at least you'd be able to look at yourself in the mirror.**

Which brings me to yesterday's statement by Tony Blair in which, if I can do great violence to his argument, he is basically saying - if Labour wants to win again, it must stand around noisily advocating for a more polished version of Thatcherism-lite and threatening to kill the workshy, in the hope that sooner or later, the Tories will make an arse of governing.  

And you know, he's probably correct about that, but it calls to mind one of the best descriptions of Littlefinger in Game of Thrones - He would see this country burn, if he could but be king of the ashes.  

It may be true that the quickest, easiest path to power is by triangulating and modernising and all of those other funky-sounding strategies that basically mean "doing the very opposite of what your party is supposed to do".

Whether there will be anything worth governing left at the end of it, that's the question I'm more interested in. 

Next up - Scotland, where the scale of this disaster is actually worse, if anything.

--- 

*One of the strangest things about this election, and possibly the last one too - crime was barely an issue.  As you'll recall, crime used to be front and centre, but no longer.  I suspect that this is because the electorate have been fapping so hard, for so long, at the far more hardcore issues of immigration and terrorism that frankly, even the most erotic of stories about serial burglars and muggers and so on are now too vanilla for most folk to work up even a semi-rager.

**Note here that I'm not a member of any political party and I'll probably never be one.  If you are one yourself, then feel free to take my advice, or to immediately bin it.  I'm usually surprised when anyone listens to me for five seconds, and I don't expect any of my suggestions to ever catch on.

Monday, May 04, 2015

I, For One, Welcome Our New Nationalist Overlords

With a likely Nationalist wipe-out of all their foes on the way, it's probable that Scotland's constituency map will soon look less like a General Election result than it will like somebody asked a bunch of nine-year-olds whether the Ninja Turtles are cool.

But who are these blushing political ingenues who are lining up to save Scotland from the decrepit, dictatorial Westminster regime bent upon crushing Scotland's spirit?  Let's take a look at the men and women who are going to spend the next five years freeing the nation from its bonds of slavery...


Alex Salmond, Banff & Buchan 

Having first won a seat at Westminster in 1987, the former First Minister is just the fresh face that's needed to take on the entrenched political establishment. 

With his record of repeatedly attacking the BBC as an alien auslander conspiracy against Scotland, constantly cuddling up for kissy-kiss chats with Rupert Murdoch and agreeing to lobby the UK Government on Murdoch's behalf, we can be sure that Alex is just the new broom that Scotland needs to sweep away the corrupt London media-political nexus preying upon the nation. 

Roger Mullin, Cowdenbeath & Kirkcaldy 

The very man to revolutionise a Scottish education system that's been under SNP control for eight years.  Roger has already been the target of vile attacks by the Unionist media, who shamefully implied that his uncontested appointment as an adviser on college reform might have been in some way politically-motivated.

Now, he's hoping to leave these scurrilous accusations behind by standing as an SNP candidate.

Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, Ochil & South Perthshire

Nobody knows better how devious the Tories and Labour can be than Tasmina, a former Tory candidate and Labour Party member.    Once paraded as the bright new face of conservatism, you can be sure that this is one prospective MP who will hold Parliament to account, no matter which of her former political parties are in power. 

Angus MacNeill, Nah h-Eileanan an Iar

Whether you remember Angus for his fierce commitment to anti-corruption at Parliament or just for stories like "Sleaze MP: My shame at 3-in-bed teen sex scandal" and its "pregnant wife" coda, Angus is just the man to bring a bit of common decency to Westminster for the ordinary punter.

Stuart Donaldson, West Aberdeenshire & Kincardine 

As the 23-year-old son of a former government minister, Stuart is a dead-cert to stand firm against the Westminster system of insider-dealing and patronage.

Iain Blackford, Ross, Skye & Lochaber 

Once suspended as party treasurer for "incompetence", Iain is surely the man to bring a bit of fiscal sanity to our profligate government. 

Neil Hay, Edinburgh South 

Having previously called citizens who voted against Scottish independence "Quislings" and dismissed elderly No voters for "barely know(ing) their own name", seniors can rest assured that Neil will represent their interests and isn't at all pleased by the thought that they'll die soon and won't be able to vote any more.

Angus Robertson, Moray 

An MP for 14 years, this fresh-faced firebrand knows how to play the Westminster system to his constituents' benefit, as proven by his role in the expenses scandal.

----

I could go on*, but I imagine that you're now appreciating the full scale of the upcoming Westminster revolution.  And, given that these prospective MPs have been expressly forbidden to criticise party policy, the party leadership or even each other, we can be certain that we're about to enter a new era of openness and honesty. 

*Seriously, there's more than enough material here to triple the length of this post.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

The New/Old Boss

So I've spent a fair bit of time recently waving my arms and screeching about how the impending Nationalist triumph is really bad news for Scotland, and I'll probably to continue to do so after they sweep the boards.

This is largely because I don't have any illusions about what the SNP is; because it's currently the dominant political power in Scotland and it's about to exterminate the last vestiges of any opposition to it, and - ironically and hypocritically - because I'm really averse to being badgered about politics by half of the people I meet in the average day.

So there's no need to reiterate the various reasons why I think the SNP are a bunch of godawful hacks, but it's worth pausing at this point to wonder why, exactly, the party that has ruled Scotland for eight years is about to sweep the entire country on vague promises of "change" as if this time, they're really going to hold themselves to account.

As I've said before, it's certainly true that much of the Nationalist surge is driven by angrily clueless, bellyfeel ballbaggery about the bastard Westminster Parliament with its alien, English culture that preys upon the wide-eyed people and blah blah.  There are thousands upon thousands of these folk working hard in their own way to make the nation a less pleasant place to live, and it's this tendency that I'm usually talking about when I make my wild, overheated generalisations about the godawfulness of Scottish nationalism.

But the tragedy here is that if you speak to most of the SNP's new-found supporters, the changes they want aren't crazy, Ukippish zoomery.  They're entirely reasonable and decent: basically, just a yearning for a much less offensive political culture in which our representatives work for their constituents rather than for their constituents' bosses, and for a state that treats its most unfortunate citizens with compassion rather than viciousness.

Neither of these are particularly objectionable demands nor, I think, would they be especially difficult for, say, the Labour Party or the Lib Dems to meet.  And the new Nats are also absolutely correct in assessing that these parties and others, for various reasons that should be obvious, are never going to meet them. 

Most of the new SNP supporters really do think that Scottish nationalism is the vehicle that will drive them towards these goals.  I'll keep this brief and just say - it definitely isn't and it absolutely won't.

The really terrible thing here though is that most of the electorate have spent decades making perfectly reasonable requests and receiving precious little in return.  You don't have to travel far in Scotland to find towns and cities that have been pumped and dumped by successive UK administrations, each of whom once offered their residents a bit of hope and humanity and delivered only further arse-kickings.

So now, Scots are joyfully turning to yet another gang of politicians with ulterior motives who promise them a more humane and less carnivorous politics, and will instead serve them up an even more offensively stupid version of the same old shite.

That's really heartbreaking and while I think it's vitally important to begin the spadework now on shovelling away the fresh layer of bullshit that the SNP have dumped on our collective lawn, it's the reason why you won't find me or many other Scots ardently pimping for any of the UK parties either.

Because the truth is that those parties have had endless time and opportunity to give the public what it wants and, had they done their jobs with even the most basic level of competence, we'd never have found ourselves in this situation.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

This Week's Golden Bullshitter Award

Surprising as it may seem, I'm afraid that the Golden Bullshitter award from this week's election campaign must go to Ed Miliband for his speech "The Libya Disaster is Totally David Cameron's Fault and Definitely Not Mine".

The short version of his point is that because the Prime Minister and the leaders of allied nations didn't commit a billion Ponies of Democracy to Tripoli following the fall of Gaddafi's regime, the current catastrophic state of affairs there is largely their fault.

While this contains elements of truth it is, to put it mildly, a politically convenient reading of the situation.  A more accurate one would go like this:

March 2011 - Presented with Colonel Gaddafi's attempts to brutally crush an uprising in eastern Libya,  Parliament takes a major gamble on deposing the Gaddafi regime in the hope that what follows it will be better, for Libyans and for everyone else.  Ed Miliband votes in favour of this gamble and supports it throughout.

From the start, the UK Government is aware that the British public are very wary of attacking the Libyan regime, fearing a repeat of the Iraq War debacle.  For public relations reasons, the operation is thus proclaimed to be all about enforcing a "No-Fly Zone" to "protect civilians". 

Privately however, it's understood that the Libyan campaign will be a straightforward regime change operation, with Nato providing close air support for the Libyan rebels.  Ed knows this full well, and continues to back it.

It's already clear at this point that the Libyan rebels Nato is supporting include a worrying number of crazy Jihadists.  Acknowledging this would be politically inconvenient however, and so Britain ignores it, gambling that after the war ends, any new government will be able to deal effectively with whatever threat these crazy Jihadists may pose.  Ed is fully aware of this, and says nothing about it in the hope that the gamble will pay off.

The war drags on until a sudden regime collapse hands victory to the rebels.  In Sirte, Nato forces are now providing air support for the Libyan rebels as they engage in precisely the kind of artillery bombardment of civilian areas and close-quarters, house-to-house fighting that the operation was theoretically intended to prevent.  Ed has nothing negative to say at this point, either.

Meanwhile, rebel forces have spent months engaged in activities that would certainly be described as "ethnic cleansing", "war crimes" and "persecution of minorities", if they weren't being perpetrated by the people that the UK were supporting.  Not so much as a tut from the Parliamentary Labour Party.

And then the war ends, with the new Libyan government greeting half-hearted offers of "support" with a polite "thanks, but no thanks".  Chaos soon ensues as the UK Government's gamble of a better, non-Jihadist government fails spectularly, with the Jihadists recruiting from former rebel fighters to form the core of the faction now calling itself Islamic State in Libya.

Which brings us bang up to date, with Ed Miliband this week denouncing David Cameron for taking precisely the same gamble on a Jihadi-free democratic Libya that Ed himself did, on the thin pretext that Ed would've mopped up afterwards a little bit more thoroughly.

Frankly, this contention should be greeted with precisely the same level of credulity as previous claims that the Iraq War would've all been fine, if we'd spent a few billion more on it or invaded on a Sunday instead.

Ed and Dave both gambled on Libya and lost.  Whether you thought the initial gamble was a good or bad idea, the only thing left to do now is to accept that the results of that rash bet are now streaming across the Mediterranean on hundreds of rickety boats, and to take responsibility for the consequences of your actions.

What Ed did this week was a bit of calculated political theatre, and he got away with it because everyone who might otherwise criticise him for it would have to admit that they too were nuts-deep in the Libya disaster...  And those people are still far too enamoured of their own nonsense to contemplate anything so damaging as admitting that they might have been wrong.

Still, that doesn't stop Ed's speech being solid gold-plated political bullshit, and so this week's Golden Bullshitter Award goes to him.

Well done, sir! 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Oor Election - Scotland Edition

What's your problem with the SNP? a family member asked this week.  She thought it was odd that I'd be consistently more annoyed by the Nationalists' pronouncements than by those of the other parties, especially since I've been equally scathing about most of the others at one point or another.

I've been giving this some thought, in case some unexamined prejudices are tainting my view of the party that's sweeping all before it in Scotland and now stands on the verge of a crushing, total victory.

(Note - if long, rambling essays filled with unverifiable anecdotes on the general topic of "Why I don't like this thing because blah" don't interest you, then now would be a good time to stop reading). 

Having thought this over, I think I can nail down a few basics:

I admit it - I really am a bit of a dick & I put quite a lot of time & effort into being one

I don't mean this in a jokey, self-deprecating way - I mean that if the opportunity arises for me to annoy people about some current issue or other, there's a good chance that I'll take it.   It just seems to be in my nature.

This means that whenever lots of people start bending my ear in unison about this grand idea or that, I'll most probably disagree, out of sheer contrariness if nothing else.

This isn't so good for my mental health, but it's an advantage whenever much of the populace is bedazzled by some shiny, mental new enterprise - banning things, bombing countries, radically altering the constitution on the promise of infinite ponies for all, or similar...  And the more fervently a wacky idea is pushed, the more arsey I'm likely to be in response.

This tendency towards dickishness about popular phenomena is relevant here because

Hardly anyone is falling over themselves to tell me how fucking awesome e.g. the Tories are

By and large, I can usually get through a day's work or a few drinks at the pub without anyone telling me that they find David Cameron's policies very appealing indeed, and how they can't understand people who don't.

I almost never meet strangers who ask me friendly yet probing questions about my view of Ed Miliband, and it's generally possible to visit e.g. a football chat forum without being bombarded with Ukip banners or people insisting that only unpatriotic arseholes would disagree with Nick Clegg.

Unfortunately, the same can't be said in the face of the very large numbers of born-again SNP types currently cajoling their countrymen throughout the land.  I've seen many party-political campaigns come and go and I can't recall any that resulted in quite so many people parrotting each morning's newspaper headlines back to me, unsolicited.

Nationalists appear to regard this very annoying trend towards legions of people habitually mouthing party-approved slogans as "democratic engagement", an entirely natural and desirable development.

To me, it's every bit as natural and desirable as it would be if people constantly struck up conversations, then suddenly produced trays of apple pies and announced that Mr Kipling makes exceedingly good cakes in earnest tones, because

No matter how realistic robotics are, they're always a wee bit freaky

If lots and lots of people unexpectedly started informing you that Mr Muscle loves the jobs you hate or that Lilt has a totally tropical taste, you'd probably begin to wonder whether you should stop drinking tapwater and sleeping in proximity to creepy alien seed-pods.

It's no less bizarre to witness people who have never shown the slightest interest in, say, nuclear warheads, suddenly launching into blazing tirades about Bairns Not Bombs, or to see people shoehorning the word "Scotland" into sentences where it would never previously have belonged - the people of Scotland, the economy of Scotland, more jobs for Scotland.

And this is especially odd because


It seems to be worryingly difficult for some people to distinguish advertising from reality

The most stark example I've come across recently: on three occasions in the past fortnight, I've tried and failed to convince new SNP fans to admit that Nicola Sturgeon is a politician who makes political promises based upon political polling, to further political aims that may or may not be in tune with the political message that she's signalling.

I don't think that this is a particularly controversial statement, given that the First Minister undeniably is a politician, who demonstrably issues particular messages based upon political calculation...  And I've found it absolutely impossible to elicit anything more than a vague admission that yes, she's a politician, but what about that Jim Murphy, eh?

This kind of thing isn't a problem at all, if we're talking about movie stars or footballers.  I find it a bit weird and alarming in a political movement, because 

I wasn't born yesterday  

I'm in my late thirties and I've seen a few election campaigns play out in a lot of different countries, so I'm aware that there's usually a substantial difference between What politicians say they will do and What politicians actually do.

Further, because I wasn't born yesterday, I'm aware that the SNP has been in business for quite a long time and that its track-record is broadly comparable to those of other political parties - and worse, in some respects. 

So when I now see the party rowing back its pronouncements on Full Fiscal Autonomy like it's just spotted a waterfall up ahead, I'm reminded that until very recently it was enthusiastically in favour of - to pick only a couple of examples - low corporation tax to mimic Ireland's Celtic Tiger economy; leaving NATO and introducing an alternative to the council tax.

All of these policies were once said to be core values upon which the party would not compromise...  And they were all dropped like shitty sticks, at the very second that they began to detract from the party's main goal of Scottish independence.

Because I wasn't born yesterday, I'm aware that the SNP are primarily nationalists.  They'd like to gain Scottish independence with a thumping majority in a referendum, but they'd gladly accept independence with fifty percent of the electorate, plus one vote. 

This means that, when I hear SNP politicians talking about their commitment to, say, equality or education or opportunity, I'm also aware that it's very unlikely that any of these issues would survive a moment's conflict with the party's core aim.

Or, to put it another way: I don't know how the Burberry clothing company would act if it ever won a substantial number of seats at a UK election, but I'm fairly sure that it'd be against foodbanks and unemployment, and in favour of equality and opportunity.

And I'd also hazard a guess that, given any power at all, the Burberry Party's policies would probably focus on people wearing more checked shirts and hats.

This strikes me as fairly obvious stuff, but it clearly isn't to SNP supporters because 

Staggering numbers of people seem to be spectacularly cynical about all politics and politicians, except for their own

In my lifetime, a variety of once-promising political figures and phenomena have come and gone around the globe, each offering a bright new dawn - Reaganomics, New Labour, Boris Yeltsin, to name but a few.  After a while, you start to get a feel for the general trend.

So I can fully understand why much of Scotland is currently up in arms over corruption at Westminster, with its array of co-opted parties and its fixedly deranged view of everything from benefits to immigration.  It's a shite state of affairs, and it has been for decades.

On the other hand, I'm fairly confident that Parliament won't be much improved by sending forty angry nationalist ragers there with a mandate to pick fights over the most politically expedient issues that they can find.

Remember, the Nats want independence, and sooner rather than later.  From their standpoint, a well-functioning Westminster Parliament delivering a popular, fair and mutually-profitable programme for Scotland and the UK, would be about as welcome as compulsory amputations or the Bubonic Plague.

So just as it once struck me as insane to send UKIP hacks to the European Parliament - an institution that they hate and wish to destroy - I'm unconvinced that sending a pack of cranks to Westminster with instructions to be as much of a bunch of dicks about everything as they can, is as good an idea as is being advertised*.

But this doesn't ultimately matter because

There's no telling some motherfuckers different

I know that there's pretty much no point in insisting on any of these ideas with SNP voters, because they just fundamentally don't believe that their politicians, once elected, will act like politicians.  Westminster politics may be an open sewer of filth and depravity but their politicians will be honest and true, unsullied by all the slime.


No doubt you'll find this attitude with other parties too, but it's absolutely dominant up here.  It seems ridiculously fanciful to me, and calls to mind something that a friend once told me, when describing her own social circle.

She said that most women learn early that men are usually compulsive bullshitters.  They learn it well and they remember it constantly, right up until they meet a man that they like.

And boy, do a lot of Scots not love their particular new flame.


*A short addendum here -  I neglected to note that plainly, quite a lot of people explicitly want SNP candidates to spend the next five years trolling hell out of Westminster and really, why shouldn't they want that?  

If people want to send lots of representatives to stand around ostentatiously taking offence at the most slender of excuses, or to make a series of demands that are explicitly designed to be impossible to meet, or to just generally kick up shit about how Parliament is corrupt and horribly biased against Scotland, then it's absolutely their right to do so.  

On the other hand, I notice that this isn't what the party are promising that their candidates will do, even though it's fairly plain that this is exactly what they'll do.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

SNP conference opens to rapturous applause 
BBC News, 28 March 2015

Nicola Sturgeon wowed an enraptured Glasgow crowd at the SNP's annual conference today by re-announcing all of the party's policy.

"I believe that things would be lots better if Scotland were an independent country", the First Minister told delegates "And further, I believe that people who disagree with me are bawbags".

The crowd greeted the announcement with cheers and chants of "We believe things would be lots better if Scotland were an independent country" and "People who disagree with us are bawbags".

"Some of our fellow Scots don't believe that things would be lots better if Scotland were an independent country", Sturgeon said. "To those people, I say - things would be a lot better if Scotland were an independent country, because they would".  

The First Minister's speech to the conference ended a day of surprise policy announcements after  Scotland's Cabinet Secretary for Health vowed to shore up the nation's elderly care provisions by enacting a new Belief In The Betterment Of Things If Scotland Were Independent Bill.

Delegates welcomed the party's new strategy on encouraging inward investment by believing that things would be lots better if Scotland were an independent country, and applauded repeated declarations that people who disagree are bawbags.

Speaking after Nicola Sturgeon's speech, SNP member Morag, 23, of Inverness said "I believe that things would be lots better if Scotland were an independent country".

"People might say that things wouldn't be lots better if Scotland were an independent country but I think we've proven that we really believe that things would be lots better". 

"And that people who disagree with us are bawbags".

Her sentiments appeared to reflect the views of her fellow delegates.  "Things would be better if Scotland were an independent country" said Duncan, 37, of Glasgow.  "Things would be lots better".

The conference concludes tomorrow with a reading of the traditional poem "Things would be lots better if Scotland were an independent country" and a rendition of the folk song "People who disagree with us are bawbags".