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". 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Haters Gonna Hate

Now, you can consider me generally indifferent to any news involving

- Celebrity couples
- Who's headlining this year's Glastonbury, or
- That gosh-darned racket of a hippy-hop music with all the fucking cursing that y'all young 'uns are into these days

...But you know, it's not exactly a shock to discover that either old hippies or young-ish hipsters can often be, beneath their own distinctive veneers of radicalism, really very conservative indeed

My favourite versions of this old satirical stick are Viz's Modern Parents and the Critics but seriously, nothing about this is news, particularly not if you traded in your ridiculous ripped jeans for cheap suits and hard cash many years ago, as I did.  Haters gonna hate, yo.

I haven't got much interest in Kanye West either, but I will observe this - if you're married to Kim Kardashian, and lots of people feel sorry for her because you are embarrassingly vapid and self-involved, then you've probably fucked up somewhere along the line. 

I realise that this point won't go down well with some folk but I offer the following as consolation: if Mr West is especially grief-stricken about his unpopularity with a shower of Home Counties crusties, he can always commit suicide by jumping off his wallet.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Consequences

"Until now, Washington has always acted as Israel’s diplomatic protector, blocking hostile resolutions at the UN and the like. Now the White House, still smarting over Netanyahu's Republican address to a Republican Congress, wants to remind Netanyahu that such support is not unconditional. The core message, and it should not be delivered by the US alone, would be simple. It would say, of course the world has to respect the decision of the Israeli electorate. But if this is the path Israel is taking, there will be consequences".

- Jonathan Freedland, the Guardian, 21 March

I've always liked Jonathan, who seems nice and genuine in a very "Hey gang, let's stage a complete reinvigoration of social democracy right here in the church hall!" kind of way but really, I suspect that even he knows how wishful this kind of thinking is.  

Look, Washington's support simply is "unconditional", and barely even disapproving to boot.  For all the grumpy, unattributed grouching from Pennsylvania Avenue, you'll notice that money talks, and that the flow of cash and weapons hasn't so much as stalled for a second during any of the terrible events in the region, this last few decades.

The hard truth here is that when the Israelis turn up the violence and start blowing shit up, the US leaps immediately into action and mails them more missiles, just in case they run out.  That's been the situation for my entire life and I assure you that it's not going to change just because the Prime Minister rashly said exactly what he thinks, and has clearly always thought, in public.

Where Jonathan says "we cannot go back to mouthing the same old platitudes about two states", I respond - of course we can.  It was obvious a week ago that talk of two states amounted to platitudes, and "we" had no trouble pretending that it was otherwise then.  It's no different today and although the Obama administration is making sad faces and harrumphing noises, you'll notice that there's no talk of turning off the cash taps.

The only "consequence" that will ensue from Netanyahu plainly stating his goals will be this - it will now be a bit more difficult for people who generally back the Israeli government when it stomps on the Palestinians to pretend that it has some passing interest in not stomping the Palestinians.  Somehow, I imagine that those people will manage to overcome that particular obstacle.

I think that Jonathan's difficulty in grasping the reality of the situation here stems from a basic misunderstanding of his own role in this particular pantomime.  He seems to see himself as a reasonable, if critical, observer whose job it is to speak unpalatable truths to powerful people.  Bluntly, it is not so.

The role of western liberals in the continuing immiseration of the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank is to observe how very unpleasant it all is; to tut and cluck as required, and to rein in their more excitable comrades if they get a bit too uppity, by denouncing them as if they were Nazis.

And that's it. Nothing more required, thank you.

Jonathan and other earnest types who, I'd say, want nothing but the best for everyone involved in this ongoing travesty can continue to make as many boo-hoo noises as they like about it, and the only concrete "consequence" that they'll see for their painfully sensible and measured arguments will be the  avalanche of shitty, accusatory comments under their articles.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Confusion

Okay, so I don't understand how it can be possible to suborn public servants legally.

Perhaps this is some English thing that I've missed and to be fair, I live in Scotland, so the law could well be different.

The situation as it stands seems to be that if I, for instance, passed certain privileged information to a Sun journalist in exchange for a vast cash payment, I would be jailable for several years.

And yet, the journalist who arranged that vast cash payment specifically to entice me into committing what is most definitely a crime would not be, for some unfathomable reason that's clearly far beyond my comprehension, jailable.

I'm very confused here.  As far as I can tell, today's judgement - taken with previous ones - seems to indicate that it's illegal to take a massive bribe, but that it's perfectly legal to proffer one, so long as you work for a tabloid newspaper. 

I don't understand.  How can it be legal to deliberately pay another person very large sums of money to break the law?


Thursday, March 19, 2015

Feline-Containment Fail

Yes, yes, shameful 11th hour demagoguery, blah blah blah.

As has long been the case, the most painfully revealing outcome of any fresh bout of lunacy in the  interminable piss-fight between the Israelis and the Palestinians occurs not in the Middle East, but in the newsrooms of the United States.

Today, loud ululations resound.  Garments are rent and teeth are gnashed as the American pundit class awakes to the astounding revelation that Benjamin Netanyahu isn't at all interested in playing nice and making friends with his rowdy, rocket-hurling neighbours and, moreover, is popular precisely because he says so while flipping the finger to the planet generally and to the United States in particular. 

The American press dust off their deadliest descriptors - why, Mr Netanyahu is so "shrill"!  He's "cynical and calculating"!  He's "raised questions about his ability to heal Israel's internal wounds" and his desire to "better its standing in the world"!

Goodness, what a terrible shock to the system this must all be for those poor little darlings who so earnestly believed that nasty Mr Netanyahu was a true man of peace.

And yet out in the world beyond Washington, there can be barely a flicker of surprise.  God knows there are many accusations that you can hurl at Bibi but for real, "Constructing a convincing facade of genuine peace-desiring" has never been one of them.

I think we're long past the point where we can pretend that we're witnessing anything other than a bit of half-hearted choreography here.  Consider Netanyahu's varying yet thoroughly transparent stances on the peace process over the years:

He used to say that he was dead against a Palestinian state.
 
And then the US leaned on him to say that he wasn't against it, so he said that he was in favour of a Palestinian state that was no state at all, with practically none of the traits or powers that any modern state would take for granted.

And now when push has come to shove, he says again that he's dead against a Palestinian state, and is cheered to the rafters for it.

This, we are to understand, represents some terrible chicanery and duplicity on Netanyahu's part, going by the theatrical swoons of horror over his allegedly unexpected rejection of moderation and his supposedly sudden swerve towards racism and neverending militarism.

But to anyone who's been paying even the slightest bit of attention, it's so obvious that nothing at all has changed and that the situation is now as it has ever been, that it's simply comical.  Israelis themselves observe the contrived uproar and rightly ask - why the sudden outrage at facts that have been obvious to anyone who cared to look, for decades?

And the answer is - an Israeli leader openly stating that he won't accept a Palestinian state isn't a shock at all, but it is a terrible breach of decorum.

It makes it difficult for the US to continue the pretence of impartial arbitration.  It makes it more difficult for the New York Times to issue weepy editorials about how the entire situation is such a tragedy, with everyone and no-one to blame*.

This is the only reason why the American press are up in arms - not because Netanyahu is the same old vicious crank that he always was, but because he's a vicious crank and a low-class boor whose behaviour makes people who actually matter look bad.

He's rude and inconsiderate, in short. 

It's not so much that Netanyahu has let the cat out of the bag, as that he's on TV telling the world that there never was a bag in the first place...  Just a great big feral cat, hissing and pissing in the pot plants.

That being so, it's hardly surprising that America's feline-containment PR experts are a tad displeased. 

The tutting and clucking in the US press amounts to nothing more than demonstrative disapproval of Bibi's bad manners.  Nonetheless, I do kind of admire the giant, gleaming brass balls it takes to play out such a preposterous performance in public.


*Difficult but not impossible of course, as the coming months will most certainly prove.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

A Moment For Us To Say Thank You

A short post here, since it doesn't take long to summarise the issue.

When the nation hauls its ruling class into church to pretend that our dead soldiers from the Afghan War gave their lives for any reasons other than political expediency and the deranged idiocy of our lunatic former Prime Minister, we're not honouring anyone or anything.  What we're doing is lying to ourselves - imbuing our most terrible errors with a nobility that they absolutely do not merit and validating all future repeats of the same awful mistakes.

The urge to recognise great sacrifice is an understandable impulse and I'm fully in favour of people who have lost relatives commemorating their loved ones privately, however seems best to them.  Huge state memorials full of pomp and circumstance are another matter, however.  They have wider and less laudible aims.

We can honour our dead and wounded but as a nation, it's vital to our ability to come to terms with the reality around us that any public event relating to the occupation of Afghanistan prominently recognises that the entire operation was utterly needless and doomed before a single squaddie so much as set foot in the region.  The armed forces didn't protect the people of this nation from any threat in this enterprise, not because they failed, but because there was no serious threat in Afghanistan to protect us from, and no serious prospect that any action on their part could have made the world a noticeably safer place.

The men and women that we lost in Afghanistan were killed because we elected Tony Blair, a vainglorious fool who wrongly believed that he could impose the force of his own towering morality upon the world.  We owe these people a debt not because they defended us from danger, but because we hired a fantasist to command them.

I realise that some might feel that it's more complicated than that, but it is not more complicated than that.

I fully understand why people generally and the relatives of the dead in particular would like to think that it was otherwise, but it isn't and no stately pretence is going to make it so.