New cans; old worms

Global or local, big or small picture, humans are politically riven with both justifiable and manufactured agendas. Whether as bolsters to old conflicts or newly perceived correlations, contemporary symptoms become the causes of tomorrow, especially when they are misunderstood and mishandled. There and here brews a god almighty convergence of violent complaint. New cans; old worms. History’s harvest.

Some people are still actively relishing the disturbing fragility of our times; they have waited so long, worked so hard for the potential of such days as these. They are the nihilists and the dispossessed, seeking retribution for the state of their lives, real, imagined and relative.

So they pour scorn and claim betrayal as a means to myriad, dissonant ends and invest in the cathartic revenge pictures and nebulous promises of restitution painted by charlatans and incompetents who take the righteous, justifiable indignation of the Commons and genetically modify it with conspiracies, ideological wishes and expedient scapegoats. Free-market patriotism.

Their default strategy is blanket blame by demographic whack-a-mole. They lump together all the characters, functions and effects of establishment, class and information in much the same paranoid, misinformed way as people who think that all drugs are all the same – just BAD, man. Their solution, the Brexit/Trump effect, is no better reasoned than cutting off your right arm because it might make the left one stronger. They turn creative destruction into throwing out, not just the proverbial baby, along with the scummy recycled bath water but also the actual bath.

They became those for whom no proof was either possible or necessary, even in the face of indisputable facts. Until, suddenly, it is. All that certainty was merely prologue to their next sense of betrayal, delivered, wholly predictably, by the capriciousness and ineptitude of their own brokers. And Hell on Earth hath no fury like a co-saboteur scorned.

The sane world watches, nervously, holding its breath.

But what is the UK to be, now?

The identity of the UK is in a crisis of much longer-standing than the disgusting populism that currently discerns it by such criteria as your socio-economic influence, what colour your skin is, whether you lean Left or Right, what religion you might practise or where your parents were born. Politically, that is as much about how certain people so badly need to mark or choose our personal identities for us as it is about how we might or might not identify ourselves – because finger-pointing and division serve their social comfort and agenda.

Also apparent, particularly since the first Scottish independence referendum, is the severity of the identity crisis of the UK, itself, which, post the Brexit result, is now a direct, overt and rather urgent matter. We should all care, whether petty tribalist or sincere patriot; scapegoated or scapegoater.

Unionists, Nationalists, Independents and Federalists; centralisation, devolution, globalism and localism; Brexit-Remain; Left-centrist-Right: somewheres and anywheres: we’re all being stitched up, in whichever part of the UK we live, howsoever we identify or have been categorised.

Conflict within and between our individual and collective identities are not recent phenomena. Anyone who reads history and/or literature, has lived long enough or just pays general attention to human nature knows there has always been friction and tension between the micro and macro. At this point in our timeline, though, when malice, mischievous tinkering and authoritarianism are determining the future at a confluence of circumstances, it behoves us to think more deeply, sensibly and bravely.

What and who and how is the UK to be, now?

One big country with one central government (beneficial democratic reforms notwithstanding)? Four separate countries joined in equal union? I said equal. Four co-dependent states under a mishmash of overlapping powers and inconsistent arbitration, secretly content in their mutual aggravation?

Or are we four ideologically disparate nations, who merely happen to share a lot of history, mostly by quirk of geographical proximity but who should just call time and separate? Or is it too easy and too terrible to think that? I hope so.

Whichever we are, we need to decide. And fast. If we can’t even negotiate and co-operate with each other – with ourselves – with mutual respect and for mutual benefit, then what of our prognosis, with the rest of the world?

Do do re-run

“Let’s not re-run the referendum campaign” – Those that say this might have a vaguely reasonable point if a rational and more honest campaign had been run. The reason that arguments still need to be had is because they were not actually had at the appropriate time; because politicians and journalists did not know or understand the substance requiring consideration nor their various consequences, any better than voters. And because some simply did not care. But the electorate needed to know all manner of what questions to ask and precious few people ever asked them.

If you think about it, every plebiscite re-runs arguments. It’s part of the messy, ongoing nature of Democracy. Politicians do it all the time – and social media, too, now. Hell, people are re-running arguments from decades, even centuries ago. Whether or not they are helpful or even relevant, still. This one is.

I don’t particularly want to want another referendum, either. Certainly not several (Scotland and Ireland.. Wales..?) You know I always thought the first EU ref was reckless and unnecessary and that the result was swung by a misdirected hissy fit. But, seriously, Brexit: what the heck did you expect? That Remain would cave and go quietly into catastrophic but preventable repercussions?

And it is foolish and weak to cry voter fatigue when, short of Parliament coming to its senses and riskily circumventing the People’s much-fêted Will, another public vote is the best available solution to settling something properly. Anyway, it serves ‘us’ right for not doing it properly, in the first place. We could have had a double majority. Cameron said no. We could have had a minimum differential. Cameron said no. We could have let 16/17ers vote on their futures. Cameron said no.

That cross in the box: it was just the start. Now comes the hard bit. A healthy democracy requires ongoing engagement and active participation. What a sorry lot we are if voters can’t take some responsibility for the “will of the people” and the downside of political choices and show keenness for a better understanding and a sharper attention to detail. After years of voters protesting that politicians don’t listen, it is surreal to imagine people preferring to make sure they don’t.

If all things now have a Brexity lens and if Brexit suddenly looks and sounds more complicated than sold, well, too bad. It always was going to be and if clarifying “the will of the people” sounds like too much effort, too threatening, too divisive or patience-testing, especially after having actively supplied the need, then, tough shit. Can’t willingly open cans of worms and then complain about the tangled fallout because “people are tired of elections”. Another tedious plebiscite is surely more sensible than simply rushing into a permanent mistake.

And it has to be a referendum rather than a general election, not just because the choice needs to be clear of party promises but because the latter option gives us no viable, electorally palatable alternative. No matter the demonstrable tunnel-vision and incompetence of the Tories, Labour offers a demonstrably incompetent ideologue. Both have bought into Brexit. Faced with yet another least-worst-option choice, the Conservatives would likely get another mandate. And then they will be Brexit on Viagra.

[PS: If any anti-Brexit moderates of the Conservative and Labour parties should conclude that their party is a democratic dud and decide to stand up for the best interests of a United Kingdom by giving their numbers to the Lib Dem benches – and voters a real choice, thereby – I reckon I could live with that.]

Little Kingdom of England

Little Kingdom of England
Too big for its boots‬
Shoots from the hip
As it limps in pursuit
Of the means to equip
For its own ill-repute

More slightly goes Blighty
Reduced to pipsqueak
By the hubris it conjures
With dumb overreach
Into each unforced blunder
And liturgy preached.

The rump of the islands
Small-minded in blue
Getting fancy-dressed up
In its great-aunt’s red shoes
But they’re too big to dance in
And stained with mildew.

Little England in stature
Gone large with its yapper
Gone charging in public parks
Mad like the clappers
Tail-chasing in neighbours’ yards
With larger snappers.

promises and piecemeal

Direct Democracy and Devolution sound so grown up, don’t they? Like no-brainers, especially in the 21st Century, where we think we’re all so miraculously connected and enlightened. We complain incessantly that we want more control; that we need it; deserve it. I’m sure we do, in a parallel universe. But, while it is clear that political and civic power are too concentrated in some places and persons, I suspect that most of us wouldn’t have a clue what best to do with more power if we got it. After all, we don’t use what we already have, that smartly.

The People do not always know best. We just don’t. In fact, sometimes we are downright stupid, no matter the consensus that it isn’t good or wise to say so, out loud. For instance: I live in a Cornish constituency where, in the last general election, my shortsighted, albeit understandable hissy fit at the Lib Dems of Coalition merely allowed the Tories to swan back in. It must be really difficult, sometimes, for politicians to feign their respect for the voters.

The human world is a frightened and frustrated place. We can all feel it, or at least see it. The world shook after 9/11 and shifted irrevocably on its axe when the financial crises came to light. Since then, the pace of consequence has accelerated and intensified under our cowardly, short-termist leadership. They – we – build on mistake after mistake. Nearly the whole world is doing the same, on some level. We’ve facilitated ideological hubris and complacency, compounding misery and instability. No wonder there are grassroots collectives pushing for individuals to gain more democratic control. No wonder those who can are keen, or keen to pretend to offer it.

But the People are too busy living, or trying to, to spend 24/7 digesting every connection and implication involved in even the simplest idea. A lot of people don’t even have time to properly absorb a primetime news broadcast, let alone have the inclination to connect the dots around a plethora of single (-seeming) issues and assume direct agency. To participate responsibly, you have to be actively engaged and prepared to contemplate more deeply than on catchy soundbites and echo chambers. In the last general election some people thought they wanted the Conservative Party’s welfare reforms until they realised they had voted for cuts in their own income. Parents opening and running schools sounded like a great idea to a chunk of the populace until they actually tried it and realised how much expertise and time most of them did not have.

We need managers. No matter our sovereignty as individuals, we need leaders and overseers and at least some hierarchical structure of accountable authority to make a Society run. As much as we might feel that ‘’for god’s sake, I’ll do it, myself/could do it better, myself’ impatience, in the face of such overt fecklessness, we are also half hoping that something, someone, will take it off our hands.

Negotiating even our own lives can be more than enough occupation. We want someone else to take care of the other stuff. We don’t all want to have to run schools, sit on every committee, attend every blasted meeting that might affect our lives, keep up with every minute amendment to vote on every policy, engage with every whim and crackpot suggestion, tick-box endless, simplistic questionnaires. Well, I don’t, anyway. It may sound good in the abstract but, in practice, well: observe the EU referendum. Or imagine every category of Labour member having policy input on behalf of the rest of the electorate.

To imagine that the incoherent mishmash of support for Brexit is a thing worthy of unquestionable respect or that, even if Trump’s supporters should not be called out as ‘deplorable’, so much of their motivation clearly is, or that the utopian fanaticism for Corbyn, as the only 21st-Century light around which all the Left must orbit: these are symptomatic of our neurotic times. It took us years to create this anti-intellectual mess. There is no simple fix that can be also universally palatable.

But people tend to cling to hope where they think they have found it. We like to imagine that there must be a magic fix, if only someone would discover it or if we could just make a certain person, the whole country, the whole of humanity see it our way. If only x would happen then everything would be solved. It’s little wonder that idealists and charismatics are popular. They tell us what we should be worried about and who and what to fear and they offer simple yet dramatic fixes with casual and confident ease. This is attractive, particularly to those who think they have nothing left to lose and to those seeking the short-lived catharsis of vitriol.

Still, our leaders are the People, too, despite the quite concerted efforts of some to convey or perceive otherwise. Whether we see those currently charged with shaping our present and future as heroes or villains and all in between, they are merely a reflection of the human spectrum that they claim to serve: weak, sincere, ignorant, greedy, perceptive, compassionate, arrogant, clever, paranoid…

I don’t want ‘Brexit’ but, if we must have it, I obviously want the best achievable version, not an appeasement model for its bulldog fantasists. I want mature democratic reforms but not to serve some partisan agenda and not as a superficial sop to pacify a confused and frustrated populace. The fallout discussions around the Scottish Indyref and Brexit show how the promises and piecemeal of panic and short-term politicking, are downright disrespectful of both the electorate and our constitution.

The awful consequences of decades of causes are threatening, again, to become the new causes for decades of even more dreadful consequences. Unfortunately, a significant number of the electorate does not care and tragically, some have not even noticed.

Live long enough, though and you can feel like you’ve lived it all before. Be careful what you wish for.

Campaign Leapfrog

A two world wars and one World Cup brigade
And an old boys who cry wolf network
Play crazy campaign leapfrog
And troops of twerking groupies meme
And the confused are busy getting lost
And trapped between, the horrified are keening
At the vaults that share a cheapness with its cost

Here lies truth

Why vie for facts:
The very stuff
All answers lack,
No matter how you kid.
Ply your realities instead –
There’s loads on show,
Although, you know
That’s all you ever did.

The spoof you back
Is proof you hedge
A hunch that sows
Inside your head –
Synaptic slack
That grows to rid
The evidence
Whence truth has fled.

Who is Britain, now?

Apparently Nicola Sturgeon is ‘the most dangerous woman in’ the country/election/Britain/world.., depending on the hysteria level of your regular news platform of choice. I want to say that this is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard but you and I know that that would be just as ridiculous since we are hearing an abundance of insultingly imbecilic election-related comments every day.

It seems as though every frit and hypocrite politician and his partner/advisor/journalist wants rUK to be terrified of Scotland and the Scots. Did those same people not just spend the last year hyperventilating about how silly the Scots were to think they could go it alone and how the rest of us would be bereft because of how dreadful it would be if Scotland left us and broke up the Union? And now that she has decided to stay and has become more influential, Scots are suddenly being called a threat to the Union? Give me strength…

Really, as if it’s not cheap and nasty enough the way immigration is being framed, now we have to listen to all manner of villains and fools talking about the Scots as though they were some invading and usurping horde. Well, maybe they are, if you’re a Thatcherite but, to me, the Scots are my fellow and equal citizens and always will be until and unless the day should come when they choose to be only my dear neighbours. Last time I checked, though, back in September, 2014, Scotland was as much a part of the United Kingdom and thus, part of my country, as are England, Wales and Northern Ireland. How pathetic the political-media-business complex sounded back then and how desperate they sound now.

Personally, I find rather attractive the idea of a Labour minority government with support, prodding and blocking, as necessary and appropriate, from the Greens, the SNP and Plaid Cymru. I rather wish I could actually see that ‘progressive bloc’ option on my ballot slip and vote for it rather than having to hope for it to be the outcome by happy accident.

But then, good grief and dear gods, Ed call me resilient, call me progressive Miliband goes and spoils it all with denials so persistent and so overtly unrealistic as to be risible and succeeds, mostly, in dancing to the mischief tune of a self-inflated Media and the short-termist, increasingly nationalistic (à la Ukip) Cons who are terrified of an organised Left. And I greatly resent the way politicos are acting as though it were up to them; as if the voters’ wishes, yet to be expressed, were mere garnish. And I despair at Labour’s seeming ignorance of those to the left of it and the Party’s tragic failure to see all the opportunities in leading a larger progressive Left. It’s infuriating…

The UK’s collective population is around 63 million of which Scotland’s portion is less than 6 million. With a UK Parliament of 650 seats (irrespective of the Speaker and Sinn Fein), how on earth does the SNP, even if it wins every single one of its 59 constituency seats in Scotland, seriously threaten the unity of the Kingdom or effect any irreversible change all by herself except by the consent or indifference of a good majority of the Houses and indeed, the citizens of our country/countries. Of course the SNP is going to fight for its interests, probably shrewdly. Like every other party. Go figure! But Scotland would need one heck of a bionic tail to wag the whole dog and the dog would need to be in a drugged sleep. To be sure, her representatives could make Parliament very lively; give the government a hellish term and the electorate many kittens over the passions and potentials of the debates. But, isn’t that what a thriving democracy looks like in times of portentous issues and events? And isn’t robust challenge to the smug comfort of a corrosive status quo exactly what so many wanted Labour to do for the last five years? Isn’t that what those blasted Kippers have been and hope to continue doing? Bring on that SNP agitation, I say.

There are those Scots for whom Independence will probably always be the goal, simply as a matter of principle and there are others for whom it may forever be anathema. There are, though, many Scots for whom Independence came to be seen as the best solution to their despair at decades of Neoliberal economics and foreign policy, Westminster bubblethink and arrogant Little Englishism. So, whether by Coalition, confidence and supply or vote-by-vote, I wonder: if the progressive Left can positively influence the socio-economic direction of all four nations – how can it not – and we all start to feel that our Society is Just and benevolent – wherever we live – might not Independence recede in the minds and hearts of all but the die hardests..? Maybe a strong SNP force (et al, of course) working with a willing Labour Party is actually the best way to heal all the harm caused by Tory and Labour neoliberalism and keep the United Kingdom a United Kingdom – in nature, as well as name.

But who, even, is Britain, now? It’s clearly not the once and for all settled argument that the establishment and the No voters keep trying to insist that it is. I’m unnerved and sick already of the ad hoc superficial quick fix, bit of this and a bit of that, placate your personal voter base approach. Unionists, Independents and Federalists (please, gods, no to the latter); decentralisation, home rule, devolution and localism: I reckon we’re all being stitched up, wherever we live. And the longer I watch this farce play out, the more complex the matter of our democratic settlement reveals itself to be. The more tribal the political argument becomes; the more bile and paranoia is expressed; the more I see the electorate being made secondary to the decision making and the wisdom of having a constitutional convention being conveniently dismissed, the more I believe we need to go back a few steps and address the question we haven’t asked ourselves from either side of the Scottish Indyref, not as a whole nor as all of its national parts.

Who is Britain? Is she to be a mere quirk of geography and history, four nations united and governed as one State (notwithstanding other beneficial democratic reforms) or four nations that should just be sovereign, separate and independent of each other? I think this fundamental question should not have been so easily overlooked and that it will become increasingly pertinent in the near to medium term. Answering it would focus minds as to what we all think we want and need and what we actually want and need and thus, better inform our next moves. So, before we go making a veritable constitutional, economic and civil mess, awarding powers willy-nilly, here and there, out of reactionary panic and short-sighted party political expedience, can we please make up our minds?

Britain expects

To continue from yesterday’s ‘All for one and one for all..?

The Cameron, Miliband and Clegg trio rush to Scotland at the last minute, the subsequent intervention of Gordon Brown and the ensuing hasty vow has produced a veritable mess.

Those that say if Scotland has a devolved parliament, so should England, are right. I had expected that this would naturally happen anyway: if Scotland had voted ‘yes’ then we would have moved towards our own parliament by default; as Scotland has voted ‘no’ (this time) that we would get an English parliament by political and general public demand. Add to that the calls from Northern Ireland and Wales for more devolved powers and Westminster’s acceptance that this is reasonable, then an English parliament seems inevitable. In this light, the West Lothian question is finite and a bit of a false controversy being used as a distraction.

However, if the Scottish settlement does come first and, bearing in mind that the English, Welsh and Northern Irish positions are not going to be resolved particularly easily or quickly and, if the proposed constitutional convention is to take place with serious intent, the West Lothian question will continue to loom large for some time, yet, won’t it?

I understand Cameron’s intention/desire to sort England out in tandem with Scotland. I get that this complicates things and why Scotland should now suspect the predicted delaying tactics and a possible dilution of what she’s been promised. Perhaps she was promised too much. I’m not sure, largely because I don’t know what the rest of us are going to be promised in the counterbalance. And I understand why Labour is accused of panicking about the loss of constituency MPs and indeed, the chilling fear creeping into those of us who see and feel an urgent need to be rid of the Tories now coming under further threat. Nevertheless, however it ends up being achieved, English voters for English (only) laws is a democratic no-brainer in a United Kingdom composed of country-centric devolved governments.

Obviously, the West Lothian question suits Cameron and his party very well. Of course he is being a political opportunist. I would expect him to put his party’s interests first if he could and to shaft Labour – it’s his MO, after all and could be said to be his best shot at a second term in Government.

However, Miliband, although he can be accused of dithering for fear of his majority, (though whether the WL issue actually guarantees Labour’s loss is much contested and besides, if people want shot of the Tories, they could always get off their arses and vote) he is still correct to say that making isolated changes is not a good idea and that we have to first look at the whole picture to work out the implications to cohesion, fairness and democratic integrity.

The political expediency and the evident complexity involved in the constitutional and democratic reform of four countries are being revealed daily. Some politicians claim we cannot have a link between the Scottish deal and English-centric issues but, how can we not? We cannot afford to be bestowing privilege to one country over another any more than one region over another. And yes, that is shit for Scotland but have not the acts of arbitrary privilege and badly weighted power deals been major, long-term parts of our current social destruction? However, Scotland has been promised certain powers within a certain time and to break this vow, either by detail or timetable, is simply disastrous to issues of trust, irrespective of whether it’s fair or reasonable. What a bloody farce!

And now, Federalists and devolutionaries who advocate extra tiers of autonomous governance as the vehicle of greater people power are pushing their ‘solutions’ into the mix. Such ideas as they express are a vital part of a wider discussion but blithely adding them to the Scottish timetable is unhelpful. Either deal with the Scottish settlement separately or throw everything back into the mix but don’t conflate in selective half measures.

The three main party leaders and peripheral actors look to be stitching us all right up, not just Scotland. I’m sure that many politicos are approaching or think they are approaching this whole conundrum with good intent. Others, I’m just as sure, are merely relishing the opportunity to settle scores and create mischief. Whichever end of the spectrum our leaders and media started from, be it singular career, tribal or ‘national’ interests, they mostly appear either naive or wilfully ignorant of the number and correlation of constitutional and democratic implications and have defaulted to their own win-win over that of the Commons’ benefit.

Really, though: did anyone actually believe political promises made in panicked haste would not be messed about with or broken altogether? But what is Britain, now? It’s clearly not the once and for all settled argument that the establishment would have us believe it is. Is it just a geographical abbreviation, one big country, four separate countries joined in equal union, or four countries who should separate? To be honest, I reckon we could eventually adjust to any of those with broad public consent and that reaching a concord over the choice is a priority that should mark the direction of reform and empowerment. Uncomfortable, frustrating and daunting as that may be for many, it is the heart of a push that has finally come to shove under a dawn of rising realities.