From the Province of the Cat 5: The Darling of Fear by George Gunn

by George Gunn

The idea of the man who as Chancellor of the Exchequer oversaw the financial collapse of 2008 trying to scare the people of Scotland into voting “No” in the 2014 referendum is, frankly, ridiculous. Alistair Darling, along with Gordon Brown and the rest of the New Labour gang, sanctioned the largest transfer of wealth from the public purse to the private sector that the UK has ever seen. All this in the name of financial stability: stability for the financial industry equals poverty for the taxpayer. This wealth transfer has consolidated a programme of fiscal oppression and infrastructure budget slashing unprecedented since the end of World War Two. The incoming Tory regime could hardly believe their luck. Destroy every civil liberty and social benefit generations have fought and struggled for and blame it on Labour. And no one goes to jail, naturally, except the poor who fall into so much poverty that they resort to crime or do away with themselves.

It has the same political smell as the mid 1970’s when the Arabs realised that the Americans, when it came to oil, were a bunch of lying, cheating snake-oil salesmen and subsequently hiked-up the price of crude. The Scottish people are not the simple minded, forgetful, short sighted children Alistair Darling and the political establishment imagine them to be. Far from it: the Scots are shrewd, compassionate, sophisticated if somewhat judgemental and with long memories. The Scots, for example, have not forgotten 1979 and as much as Alistair Darling and his Tory chums may like to think this episode can go the same way as that rigged referendum with its 40% clause the proposed referendum in 2014 will be a different affair. There is also the business of 2008 and the banking bail-out. Now we have evidence of major fraud within the banking system itself which will come as no surprise to many. If this rotten business is what the British state is passing off as economics then the Scots may well decide that we are better off in our own state where we can attempt, at least, to create a fair and productive economic system with the welfare of our people at its heart.

But I don’t think independence has ever been about economics: it is far more important than that. It is about the future and the UK is, as everyone suspects, broke and heading for the dustbin of history. That is not a glib thing to write for the signs are there for anyone to interpret if they have the eyes to see. The beginning of the UK, for Scotland, was a shotgun wedding and there was no popular vote on the Treaty of Union – the people of Scotland did not have a say. The London government has, ever since, been hostile to any inklings of Scottish independence. The power mongers have tried to stifle it on every occasion it has raised its head. They only embraced devolution because it was about retaining power and it was politically expedient to do so. To call the late Donald Dewar “the father of the nation”, as is now the lazy fashion, is to do his true memory no service. If we are to remember him then let it be for his core Unionism and human compassion and not some invented desire for Scottish self-determination.

Despite what the political pundits say I think the argument for independence is a cultural one, because no-one in Scotland believes a word any politician says about economics. The current collective party confusion and political reluctance to do very much about Barclays, RBS and the gangsters in the banks is a case in point. They talk about bringing criminal charges but then they would have to arrest themselves much as the Metropolitan police had to do over the phone hacking scandal. At the centre of it all is wealth inequality: that great social divergence where the rich are getting richer and everybody else gets poorer with no voices articulating the essential dialectical kink at the heart of capitalism. They are all complicit in the corruption. Which raises the question: why are the SNP so bad at culture?

Time and time again Alex Salmond has proven that he prefers populism to poetry which I think is a huge mistake, because the Scots, like the Russians for example, are at heart a poetic people. Disney “isnae” going to do it for us. Successful actors who live in America are not going to do it either. Delighting in the success of the NTS production of “Black Watch” as “being worth a hundred trade fairs” does not display a disposition to understanding what Scottish culture is and the role of the arts in expressing that culture. Managing the imagination of a country – which is what Creative Scotland are doing and what the ongoing stooshie over funding is all about – will reduce our poetry to pixels and turn our talent into tabloids. Our culture is one of the true measures of our credibility as a nation and it is how we are known internationally. It is also the most reliable means of understanding ourselves. It is the honest indicator of our identity as Scots, Europeans and our right to enjoy what Mike Scott of The Waterboys has called “the world party”.

Whether it is Alex Salmond on one side or Alistair Darling on the other what these men desire is power: power established in Edinburgh or power retained in London. But to put Hamlet in front of the mirror yet again for a moment: that is not the question. The real question is: how are we to live in this new country we must create if we are to live at all?

The important role in the 1980’s and 90’s of writers in particular and artists in general in stirring the public energy towards the establishment of the Holyrood parliament has somehow been forgotten by both the political establishment and the artistic community. The politicians usually take the view that there are no votes in culture so now it is a case of what the arts can do for government rather than the other way around. For the artistic community, increasingly, the promotion of the self has driven out the greater consciousness which concerns itself with art in relation to the society which produces it. The children of Thatcher’s children take it as natural that marketing is the form which frames the content. Recently I read of a young theatre maker who said that their job was to concentrate on “creativity” as opposed to the “political”. That somehow for an artist, especially a theatre maker, the creative act and political awareness are separate; that the social and economic conditions of the time have little bearing on what the creative process produces, that they are not linked. This is plainly absurd. Yet it is the normal position for those who are starting out on their journey in what is now called “creative industries”.

The result of all of this is that most young writers and artists are terrified of saying anything at all. They know that the financial consequences will be severe. Instead of looking at the modern world and seeing the greed and cynicism of Tory Britain as something abhorrent they perceive it as a role model. Money is the measure. This is why Darling and the No campaign have nothing to talk about in relation to Scotland’s future other than money. It is how they measure out fear, the same fear of failure which makes marketeers out of our young artists and passive receivers and consumers out of the rest of us. It is why we live in an inarticulate age.

In drama dialogue is how information is passed on. If there is no real dialogue in the public theatre of political interaction then the majority will receive no meaningful information and therefore be unable to form sound judgements or make brave decisions and will seek solace in the material world and in looking after number one. This is also how our civil rights and social securities fall from us like leaves off a tree. Poor housing is as much a product of fear as bad art.

So there is currently no optimistic balance, just a flat-line of pessimism. If as a nation we cannot create poetry that challenges the “this is the way it is” school of normalists – as MacDiarmid challenged them in the 1920’s and 30’s – those who fill the media with their dismal orthodoxy, then what can we actually make? Alternative art and alternative energy both require cultural confidence. If our writers and artists are not asking the questions the politicians and media will not ask then where is our confidence to come from?

The hell-comic notion of Alistair Darling using the fear of the future as a reason to stay in the United Kingdom, when the do-lally casino capitalism he helped create will ensure that any future, any relationship with London bankerism is going to be bleak: this is the Mistero Buffo world of Dario Fo. If Scotland had a Dario Fo he would have great difficulty getting his play put on in any theatre in Scotland at this time because decisions are taken by managers not by dreamers with a passion for the truth. Fear runs deep.

Instilling courage, some radicalism, into our artists (is this impossible?) would, I believe, be transmitted to our people. Is this the true meaning of devolution? Just how far away from revolution is devolution? Is it just one letter? No amount of cynically generated fear can prevent the inevitable from happening. In the end it is the people of Scotland who will decide what is “inevitable”. If our artistic community does not embrace the true meaning of the word “brave” – and reject Walt Disney – then they might find themselves pixelated out of the political and historical process. Do I contradict myself? Then let me plead mitigation and quote Walt Whitman,

“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”

All I contain is questions. The former Chancellor of the Exchequer, that Darling of fear, wants us all to feel tiny. He has no answers.

© George Gunn 2012



Categories: Arts & Culture, Banking Crisis, New Labour, Politics, Referendum on Independence, Scottish Culture, Uncategorized, YesScot

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9 replies

  1. On the economic / political arguement, I think I’d rather model our future on the new Iceland than the old ways.

  2. Good article but I think Paragraphs 5-10 should have been on their own article as they didnt really fit in with the economic sections.

    Economics isnt working… but art will fix it?

    Nope. Art will inspire us, but economics needs fixed and the best way to do that is to start with a clean sheet.

    You say that no-one trusts politicians with economics, well that may be true, but we should at least give the Scottish Parties a try in an independent Scotland before we write them off.

  3. It is difficult to mix politics/economics and art, I agree, but they are all part of the human experience and shouldn’t be compartmentalised. Alex Salmond is keen on “culture” when it suits him. My point is that the artistic community articulated the argument for devolution in the 80’s and 90’s and that it has fallen silent and that Darlings negative narrative has to be challenged creatively – not by bandying back and forth arguments about money. What’s happening in international banking is symptomatic of capitalism melting into thin air. The people of Scotland need more than this. I agree what is happening in Iceland right now is a good example of what can be done.

  4. The most successful in commercial terms of the artistic community – those embraced by the media and commanding unduly public attention are few and far between really, but with disproportionate influence thanks to their being such media darlings, dare not rock the boat or bite the hand that feed them thus far, some are doing very well thank you very much, keeping mum and making all the right noises to maintain the turbulent status quo that serves their short term material and egotistical addictions. In better independent times, when London rule is just the stuff of nightmares, they might not come up to the mark and their star will wane as their anglo-centric fawning and worship meets with new found wannabees who’ve sensed which way the wind is blowing; obscurity and mockery as they are eclipsed by new talents, in drama, writing, poetry, visual and new media arts that will inspire the Scots and be ‘must see’ for all, as uniquely compelling authentically 21st Century Scottish and accessible and offering something for all, powerful, emotive matter, divisive issues in Scottish life laid bare with a sort of ‘truth and reconciliation’ element that affects the people in positive ways and in turn makes us – the Scots – closer and better amongst ourselves and in relations with international peoples and issues, other perhaps yoked yet by neo-colonial external extractive economic serfdom. Change for the better in governance is desired so many peoples, ours should inspire others to re-take or obtain as a first, local democratic control of their affairs than trust in dysfunctional, corrupt remote administration and malign indifferent control, whether from London, Washington, the EU or UN, each a pack of dangerous insatiable rabid dogs, unfit for purpose. I don’t think artists who have previously powerfully backed independence for many a year have fallen silent they’re being mis-represented as unionist or squelched. Art is an indulgence and luxury of the rich, the aristocracy and middle-class aspirants, searching for meaning in their empty materialist lives. The masses starved of art relevant to their existence, and are exposed unwittingly to patronising inspection and portrayal of their lot, seen as specimens through some rose tinted microscope, have no need for art, the natural world is art for all, seen firsthand, that plus, food, warmth, and shelter and community worth is all that we might desire or need.

  5. Great article! Glad I’m not the only one who thinks the argument is far too focused on economics at the moment. Of-course we can and should win these arguments but this isn’t a business decision, this is the future of our land and our people. One of the things I really want to see come with independence is for us to shake off our embarrassment about our own culture and really find ourselves again, to be proud of and to reinvigorate our culture. But this should be a key part of winning our freedom to run our own land, not a benefit we hope for after we win.

    We can still rise now and be the nation again….

  6. Excellent article although I think we need to focus on both culture and the economic case. You hit the nail on the head re Darling and economic uncertainty.

  7. Good article. Art by its very nature political. Capitalism tries to convince us otherwise, treating art as mere entertainment, while using it to advance its own ideology. (Yes, I have been at the Raymond Williams) I agree that the SNP’s cultural policy leaves a lot to be desired. The Public Licensing Act and Creative Scotland’s decision to cut core funding suggest the powers that be have little idea of what it takes to sustain a grassroots culture. This neo-liberal, managerialist logic has plagued arts funding everywhere. Perhaps Scotland has resisted it longer than some countries, but compared to France or Scandinavia, say, our provision for the arts is poor. So I’d be wary of making generalisations about the Scots being ‘a poetic people’. These kind of exceptionalist, self-congratulatory myths are an obstacle to understanding the the place of culture in a dynamic and diverse society.
    I’d also argue that there is plenty of politically engaged art coming out of Scotland, it just isn’t as explicit or didactic as that of MacDiarmid. Considering how problematic MacDiarmid’s politics were, perhaps that’s not such a bad thing. Tom Leonard remains a righteous force, speaking truth to power through his interrogation of language, and there are a number of younger writers who share his radicalism. Some of the most interesting, and inspiring work is being done by Alec Finlay, son of Ian Hamilton Finlay. His projects, which combine poetry, art, walking and making, focus on the landscape as something which belongs to all Scots (and I mean that in civic, not ethnic terms) and through an artistic engagement with it we can gain a richer understanding of the past and envision a better future. There’s a powerful engagement with ecological issues there, as well as a socialist critique of land ownership.
    Even if contemporary artists’ work is not explicitly political in content, they can set good examples through their practice, recognising their responsibility to society and the environment, and creating alternatives to commercialisation.

  8. Was a good article until I came to the bits where special pleading for the ‘Arts’ kicked in then my eyes glazed over. So, rhetorical question … If the ‘Arts’ are so good and so important why can’t they be funded by the people who keep chuntering on about them?

    • James

      Your understanding of the economics of arts and culture is woeful. The arts are worth £3.2 billion to the Scottish economy. Hold that figure in your head next time you think “the arts should be funded by the people who keep chuntering on about them.”

      From The Herald, 29th June 2012:

      “The report, for Creative Scotland and Scottish Enterprise, also says between 84,000 and 130,000 people work in the cultural sphere north of the Border.

      The report shows the arts and creative industries are of greater value to Scotland’s economy than life sciences, worth £3.1bn, and not far behind tourism, on £4bn. However, its contribution to the total is less than half that of financial services, which is worth £7bn.

      The study, by DCResearch, Cogentsi and Pirnie, shows software and electronic publishing is the largest employer in the creative sphere, followed by the writing and publishing industries and the heritage sector.

      Glasgow and Edinburgh account for 40% of the total employment in the arts and creative industries, and there are around 12,000 businesses in total, although a third of these are in computer games and software and are often micro- enterprises.

      The study estimates the arts also generate an additional £3bn in “indirect impacts”, specifically in the benefits to various businesses that supply and service the cultural sector.”

      Full article here:

      http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/arts-sector-is-worth-32bn-to-economy.18001224

      KW

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