The battle for Scottish democracy is reviving some unlikely demons from the past. Hot on the heels of the anniversary of Tiananmen Square up pops China to lecture you on what kind of political democracy you should live in. Now John Major, a figure you’d thought you’d left behind in the long-1980s reappears, with this:
“I shall campaign very hard, albeit subliminally, because that is probably the best way for me to do it for a United Kingdom.”
Will John be appearing subliminally or is this a state of mind from within? Are we to expect cones flashed onto our consciousness during tv adverts? Apart from the touching self-consciousness about his toxic failure, there’s also the memory hole of why these people were crushed at elections long gone.
It’s worth remembering that even as Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, John McTernan, John Reid and Brian Wilson refuse to countenance the reality of their appalling foreign misadventures and the incomparable human loss, and as the fantastic irony of Iran’s gruesome rehabilitation comes to fruition, there was a pre-Blairite history to the tragedy of what we are seeing, and poor, ineffectual Major was at the heart of it.
While it’s easy to mock him as the man with the cone, the almost cartoonishly ordinary PM, he pre-empted Tony’s Cronies with his own catalogue of political misdemeanors that contributed to the collapse of faith in Westminster rule.
From Neil Hamilton’s ‘Cash for Questions’ to Defence Minister’ s Jonathan Aitken imprisonment for perjury for dealings with Saudi Princes – Major’s reign was to become known for a previously unprecedented scale of political corruption, even before it was engulfed with sexual scandals and the rank hypocrisy of ‘back to basics’.
Much more important than the sexual scandals though were the exposure of political-military corruption at the heart of the British State. When we talk about the need for Scottish independence, it is not just the lack of legitimacy of rule by a government we didn’t elect, it is to break with the military-industrial complex at the heart of Britain.
Before Blair’s Wars (famously recounted by John Kampfner as five wars in six years) John Major scandals included “Arms to Iraq” – the inquiry into how government ministers including Alan Clark had encouraged businesses to supply arms to Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, in breach of the official arms embargo, and how senior ministers had attempted to withhold evidence of this official connivance when directors of Matrix Churchill were put trial for breaking the embargo.
The Scott Report lays out in brutal tedious detail this pre-history to Blair and Browns Middle Eastern tragedy.
It was ‘Subliminal John’s’ dreadful corrupt time in office that allowed Blair to surf into office promising ‘things can only get better’. They did not and the continuity can be mapped from Jonathan Aitken to the dodgy dossier via Labour’s hasty abandonment of their ‘ethical foreign policy’ and Blair’s brutal dispatching of Robin Cook.
Today the reality of the appalling consequences of the British Foreign Policy are being played out before our eyes, and the pliant media pretend that the front line of Better Together are somehow far removed.
As Richard Seymour writes: “Tony Blair cuts a pitiable figure as he denies the self-evident connection between his violent occupation of Iraq and the barbarism being unleashed today.”
The apologists and revisionists for the Iraq debacle need to be held to account for Iraq in the court of public opinion, even if they seem immune from public prosecution (though late in the day impeachment cannot be ruled out).
As Isis forces circle Baghdad, the scale of the crisis is staggering, prompting veteran Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk to wonder (‘The old partition of the Middle East is dead. I dread to think what will follow‘):
Perhaps only today’s Arabs (and Israelis) fully understand the profound historical changes – and deep political significance – that the extraordinary battles of this past week have wrought on the old colonial map of the Middle East.
If John Major is being put forward as a figure of authority to defend the Union, then this back-story needs re-telling. The immense hypocrisy of the ex PM who became responsible for the United Kingdom’s exit from the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) after Black Wednesday on 16 September 1992 lecturing people about financial stability is beyond belief.
As Nicola Sturgeon outlines the prospect of a written constitution for a new Scotland, it’s easy to trivialise this as an abstraction.
It’s not some game-playing but to enshrine sovereignty so that our government cannot go to war without legitimate reason and cannot act against the people’s wishes. We won’t have to march in vane or declare ‘not in our name’ if we create the democratic structures to control war-crazed leaders.
Nothing displays the engrained institutionalised problems of power in Britain than the parliamentary failure to control Blair. Cook’s ‘ethical foreign policy’ was a naive attempt to reform the un-reformable and if we can now see backward to the roots of this crisis in the corruption of John Major’s regime, we should also see forwards to a way-out from this post-imperial hangover and its tragic consequences.
This is a crisis that can’t be allowed to fade into past-history. It remains a fundamental crisis for the Labour Party, and the individuals on the very front line of the Better Together campaign. It has been an unprecedented catastrophe. As Seamus Milne writes:
“…much of the western debate of the past week has glossed over the scale of the human and social catastrophe unleashed by the US-led war. The most recent US academic estimate of the death toll is at least half a million, while Iraq Body Count has recorded a minimum of 190,100 violent deaths as a result of the invasion – 4 million became refugees.”
Nor is it, as it is being portrayed some act of fate, or the laying out of some inevitable dynamic within Iraq. Milne again:
“That wasn’t a “tragic error”, as some claim, or a problem of post-invasion planning. It was a barbarous crime whose predicted consequences Iraqis are living with today. The idea that Tony Blair – who helped launch the war on a false pretext and now says we need to “liberate ourselves from the notion that ‘we’ have caused this” – remains Middle East peace envoy is beyond parody.”
The subliminal message in all this is clear: Vote Yes for peace and sanity to prevail, vote Yes for a Defence policy that is actually about defending your country not creating widespread instability and chaos at an unimaginable scale.