Sometime in the early eighties, Scottish Football Supporters decided to be nice. In an era of testosterone and alcohol fuelled competition between footballing nations as to who could wreck the most pavement cafes, Scottish Football Supporters went all post-modern and dressed up as themselves in ginger wigs. “We’re the FUN country,” they seemed to say, improbably. “We don’t think we’re going to win anything, but if we do we’ll be really happy. of course. But we won’t hospitalise your policemen. Love us. Love our kilts.”
But let’s be honest, it wasn’t just the inherent benefits of popularity that accrued to being a cartoon that we embraced. A national healing was required. I mean, look what had happened to us last time we thought we were any good! We came, we saw, and we got cuffed three-one by Peru. And let’s be even MORE honest, we (or some of us) had made the imperialist mistake of thinking that just because we didn’t KNOW anything about Peru, that we didn’t have to take them seriously. (At least, I didn’t. I didn’t know anything…but I do remember the sense of shock, of disappointed entitlement.) I don’t think it occurred to Scotland fans to be so calculating as to think through the strategy of niceness to the point of articulating the expectation that other people, even policemen, would be friendly in return.
So are Scotland fans…Scottish people…inherently nicer, funnier, and friendlier than other people? Heavens no! I think Scottish football supporters put the bunnets on to piss off the English football supporters…to mock them for taking themselves so SERIOUSLY! It turning out to be a good thing in itself to be nice to people was just a bonus.
We had the cartoon impression, back then, that every time England failed to win the World or European football competitions, a bi-annual shock of shame and disbelief ran through the nation. “We invented football. We won the war. What’s gone wrong with the universe?” Jimmy Hill seemed to say, as another bit of Belgium got all its windows broken. Now there had been a time, not long before, when the fact that Scotland really were quite good in the seventies had tempted Arthur “Disaster for Scotland” Montford and Scotland fans in a similar direction…though we were more apt to trash stuff if we’d WON.
So I think, in our complicated way, we decided to break the rules of masculinity not out of some intrinsic collective moral worth, but from the somewhat more unworthy emotional territory of “That’ll Show Them!” I think that is exactly the spirit we should be exhibiting today when it comes to income tax and the rules of politics.
WHAT DO YOU DO WITH A TRAP YOU CAN’T AVOID? YOU JUMP IN WITH BOTH FEET.
It will become very clear next week that the Scotland Bill, in its committee stage, has only coincidently got anything to do with the good governance of Scotland or the UK as a whole. It is being pushed through parliament before the summer recess because no one actually takes it or Scotland seriously.
After all, 56 seats out of 59 is impressive. 56 out of 650 is sod all. The bill is going through now to “keep the vow” (yawn) but mainly to get it and Scotland out of way till September and the serious business of the European referendum will get going and the Labour Party elects Huey, Dewey or Lewey to carry on the onward march to oblivion. The raw parliamentary arithmetic overcomes the evident absurdity of Ian Murray on his tod “leading the opposition” to a bill he sort of supports, while the Tories are constrained to field David Mundell to lead on legislation that they wouldn’t give to a serious player even if a serious player were available.
Like football, legislation is only sort of about government. It is also used to embarrass the other guy. It is already very clear that the other guy, in this case, is not “Her Majesty’s Opposition” , it is those cute but inexplicable other people who have turned up when nobody wanted them. Next week, I promise, the amount of attention paid to the actual provisions of the hastily concocted sausage of the Scotland Bill will be heavily outweighed by its political purpose, which is, of course, as a trap for the SNP. Never will the word “progressive” have been sneered so often and superciliously as a taunt. “You people think you’re so NICE, “ will be the gist of it. “Go on, then, put your taxes up the month before the Holyrood election. Go on. Go on.”
Guess what. I think that’s exactly what the SNP should do. It is absolutely no accident that income tax is the only substantive money raiser on the table with the Scotland Bill. We are being “given” that power BECAUSE political wisdom says it’s unusable. It is no accident that George Osborne will ram through cuts to the Scottish budget which could be mitigated by raising Income Tax in Scotland by a penny in the pound. Make no mistake. We are being “dared.”
And I say “we” because this is not a matter of the managerial tactics of the SNP being tested. This is about the central assertion of cultural distinction that we in the whole Yes campaign kept going on about…that we voted for in the General Election. The Tories, with Labour, in apparent consensus with them that talking about Poor People at all is deeply wrong-headed and something they’ll never to again, are now daring the SNP to what they would never do, or dare to do themselves –to run the next Holyrood election on a promise to raise personal taxation in a way that the electorate might notice. To do what nobody has done since the seventies…which is the last time that an appeal to the collective good was deemed to have been anything other than laughable. “Put your money where your principles are…” is what they’re saying to us, never dreaming…never dreaming that we’ll say “fine.” Just to show them.
We have been accused of nostalgia for the good old days of the binary choice between Yes and No. Well guess what? Here it comes again. And I know it’s symbolic, I know perfectly well that a lot more financial and political levers are required to fix our economy for the benefit of everyone who lives here are required than a “Penny for Scotland.” But I would argue that despite the understandable reluctance of John Swinney et al to repeat a campaign that failed before, or to go against all political wisdom, the best response to being set a trap that you can’t avoid…especially when to avoid it, to defer the cuts till the next financial year would achieve nothing and get you nowhere..is to jump onto the trap with both feet.
(We’ll get to “Full Fiscal Autonomy” later. That will take an even deeper breath. And political courage and straight-forwardness from the SNP that, despite their bestriding the world at the moment, they haven’t exactly exemplified. What better chance than this to do better.)
But this is where you come in. This isn’t just about what “they” should do. It’s about what “we” should do. The strength of the Yes movement last year was the pepper that was put into the campaign by the involvement and invention of those from outside of the political box. It’s another of the benefits to democracy we keep going on about. Well, I think a positive popular demand to voluntarily raise our own taxes, to INSIST to our representatives that they raise our taxes…has again got to come from the counterintuitive place of the electorate in itself, as such, in the spirit of the Scotland Football Supporters who put on those kilts and bunnets long ago…”Fuck it…£100 out of every ten thousand I earn over the threshold? Why not?” And then, like we did last year, we should get out on the streets and internet and say so.
That’ll show ’em.