2007 - 2021

Crony Britain versus real Change


Joyce McMillan’s one of the country’s best writers, finest cultural commentators and, as I experienced first hand with her on the stump in Comrie, a pretty effective public speaker too.

Most of what she writes here is spot-on: “Joyce McMillan: Yes or No, future is ours to write” – particularly this:

“What is important is that we make the inner journey; that we know ourselves, that we stop buying into definitions imposed from elsewhere, and that instead of emphasising the celebrity cult of political leadership, we start focusing on the people without whose grassroots support and involvement politicians are nothing but sounding brass and empty suits.”

…which chimes precisely with what I was arguing here.

Joyce is on a journey, with huge swathes of the country, some call it a move towards a heightened state of consciousness, others call it just giving yourself a good shake. Her belief in a social democratic British polity is touching, but increasingly unfathomable.

There’s a residual confusion. There’s still a remnant belief in the UK delivering in the future. There’s still a folk-memory operating which believes in Britain as a progressive possibility. I’m not sure if the title was hers or the Scotsman’s but it’s quite wrong. Vote No and we will not be writing our future anytime soon. Voting no is handing power and possibility over. Over and out.

The reality is that a centralised, hereditary system will be safe and secure from the hordes of Northern democrats.

Today the Electoral Reform Society reveals that the 22 newly appointed peers have donated nearly £7m to political parties, neatly exposing the myth that the House of the Lords is a chamber full of independent experts. Instead it appears to be a way for party political people to achieve high office without submitting themselves to elections.

16 of the 22 new peers have previously held political positions (either elected or employed).

This is just Crony Britain over and over. Gongs and favours for the favourite sons of Westminster. Ermine for the boys.

Commenting on the ‘super-sized’ House of Lords, Katie Ghose added:

“These appointments further cement the impression that to get into the House of Lords, all you have to do is write a fat cheque to a political party or be a party hack. The second chamber is a crucial part of our political system, with real legislative power. It cannot be right that people are effectively able to buy a seat at the highest level of politics. It is the founding principle of democracy that we should be able to choose those who govern us. Until we have an elected second chamber, as opposed to one full to the brim with favoured sons and daughters, we will not be getting the democracy we deserve.

At this rate it won’t be long before we have twice as many unelected Lords as we do elected MPs. That’s clearly an affront to democracy, but it also raises all sorts of practical problems. There simply isn’t enough room for them all. In fact, the only reason the Lords is still able to function at all is because so many don’t show up for work.”

This is a disgrace, but it also points to a problem of an analysis of Britain and t’s rosy democratic future. All parties have been promising reform of the House of Lords for about 100 years. It’s not going to happen. Britain is institutionally resistant to change. Not because anyone is better or worse – more right or more left than anyone else – it’s just that that’s how power works. It inoculates itself against change.

When Joyce concludes:

“…And when we have done all that, then let’s vote; not with fear of others or of ourselves, but with love, solidarity and hope, whether our choice is for a new Scotland, or for an old UK perhaps entering an unprecedented age of change” you have to ask yourself, is that actually feasible?

What unprecedented age of change will the UK be entering?

Comments (13)

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  1. Gordon says:

    Lord Hunningfield claims that ‘half the lords clock in just to claim their £300 daily expenses – and then go home again. Many were threatened with prosecution for claiming unwarranted expenses, like hotel bills. That’s the idea, boys. Roll into London on the chuff-chuff and sign in. Then roll out again on the next train. Nice little earner. Don’t even have to stand for election either. The sooner we get rid of this expensive bunch of freeloaders the better. At the latest estimate each costs £114,721/yr including office expenses. If they all clocked in – and there is approaching 900 of them – let’s say 880, it would cost the country nearly £101 million of which Scotland’s share would be about £10 million.

    Joyce McMillan is happy about this and expects things to get better soon. I am 75 and it has persisted for the last 50years. Does she live in the real world?

    1. Gordon,
      that is strictly not correct.
      Lots of them clock in and clock out and queue up for their £300 in the morning. However, quite a few of the old duffers will stay for a spot of free lunch and a few glasses of champagne and then have a wee snooze in one of the lounges.

      Then they go and claim their little envelope with £300 and toddle off home. Only to repeat the next day.

      UK democracy in action.

  2. JGedd says:

    I don’t get it either. I gave up on the Labour party two decades ago as I thought it beyond any hope of recovery. The last straw for me was the election of Tony Blair as leader and in every way he and the rest of the Labour party more than fulfilled my worst expectations. I have never had occasion to change my mind as the Labour party in Scotland and at Westminster lurched further to the right. In all that time and even now Joyce MacMillan still clings to the belief that change is imminent. Where are these signs pointing to a transformation?

    I am baffled when intelligent people cling on to a completely unfounded belief like this. It is proof, if one were needed, that even intelligent people will deny logical conclusions in order to protect a dearly held viewpoint.
    I really don’t get it. Perhaps she will explain to those of us who are sceptical about the vision of a great change that’s a-coming in the UK body politic and reveal the solid evidence apparently concealed from us non-believers.

    But in my experience this particular hymn has been sung for a long time now. We would be very foolish to wait for the second coming of the Great Socialist Redeemer of the Labour Party of Great Britain. The only change likely to come along to save any idea of social justice and a humane system is the vote for an independent Scotland. I’m not waiting for the Hallelujah train that never comes.

  3. bringiton says:

    Many people in Scotland delude themselves that the UK has been a force for good and a defender of human rights around the world.
    This only exists in the fantasies published by the London press.
    The UK has always been founded on “what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine”.
    The only place left where they can lay claim to the latter now is Scotland and they are doing all they can to hang onto us.
    I would like to think that Scotland will not be the same immoral rapacious self serving state that we have been shackled to for so long.
    Darling asked whether Scottish nationalists would vote against independence under any circumstances and my answer would be,if I thought people like him might get anywhere near the levers of power in Holyrood,I would be seriously tempted.
    We need to put the past behind us and consider who we are and what sort of country do we want to live in?
    UK Not OK.

  4. Morag says:

    Joyce was a real fan of Gordon Brown at one time. I used to read her column in the Herald, when I could get the paper in Sussex, and her idolisation of the Labour party was always worn on her sleeve.

    I suppose old habits die hard.

  5. Fay Kennedy. says:

    They certainly do Morag. That’s why we need to have a system of polity that will support us to build some moral fibre or ethics if we are to live with one another in some kind of dignity. Some common decency would go a long way. Living outside of Scotland with no vote I hope that it is a Yes for the start of a more decent country rather than the obscene greed and abuse from those who benefit most from old habits of thought which only serves the minority of the population.This privileged minority of the old aristocracy and the new breed of celebrity whose main purpose seems to be overdressing or undressing in the public or private domain make life for the mainstream media moguls and their sycophants easy for they don’t have to do their job which is to inform the people on important matters of governance There is minimum engagement in the public arena for the people to have a voice and the modern media is one of the biggest confidence tricks that has been inflicted on humanity since the birth of modernity. This will have to be addressed if Scotland wants to follow a genuine road to democracy for the media of the Murdoch mould is destroying any possibility of democracy.

  6. Dan Huil says:

    It’s sad to see such an intelligent journalist as Ms McMillan still desperately clinging on to the unionist raft, hoping that SS “united” kingdom will, by some miracle, rise up from the depths and save the Labour movement.
    The only thing that can save the Labour party in Scotland is the SS Independence. Frankly, it’s the only thing that can save the ruk Labour party.

  7. Barontorc says:

    I refuse to tell thoughtful people what they should do, I only urge them to objectively look to history and up to the present time.

    We need a nation of thinkers, communicators, those who will chose to urge for common decency to let this country flourish.

    To me Joyce would be such a one.

  8. florian albert says:

    The quotation from Joyce McMillan’s recent article is interesting.

    ‘What is important is that we make the inner journey; that we know ourselves, that we stop buying into definitions imposed from elsewhere.’

    Behind this is the assumption that ‘we’ do not know ourselves. Otherwise, why is the journey needed ? When did it occur to Joyce McMillan, who has been commenting on Scottish culture for decades, that ‘we’ need to make this inner journey ?
    This interpretation suggests we have been conned and have conned ourselves for a long time.
    I don’t think that most Scots accept this version of their recent past.

    Similarly, most people in Scotland are not on a journey. They are confronted with the most serious political decision in their lifetime.
    The choice is between a UK that looks to have run its course and an independent Scotland where the huge problems of undoing a three hundred year long union have not been thought out.

    The referendum could be won by the YES side. If, as appears certain, they fail to win it, the failure to provide a hard social democratic alternative will have contributed to their defeat.

  9. arthur thomson says:

    florian albert, I am intrigued by your comment that ‘the huge problems of undoing a three hundred year long union have not been thought out’. Not thought out by whom? It clarifies your point about not being on a journey. I sense that you prefer to leave the thinking to those who know about these things, it’s the British way. And of course you are comfortable with the British way: poverty, subsistence wages, nuclear weapons, foreign wars and all. This referendum must be a really irritating intrusion into your cosy lifestyle. If I’m off the mark don’t hesitate to respond.

  10. florian albert says:

    ‘Not thought out’ by the Scottish Government, which has organized the referendum.

    Your ‘sense’ is entirely wrong. I can see the logic of an independent Scotland. I can also see that it might go horribly wrong.
    The Greeks joined the euro is a spirit of optimism believing it would enhance their prosperity. It has been a disaster and has led to vastly more severe austerity than Scotland has experienced. Looking back, the Greeks should have listened to the minority telling them that joining the euro would end it tears.

    I have no liking for subsistence wages but – if you mess up your economy – as the Greeks have done by getting the currency wrong, you end up with 25% unemployment and your young people going to the UK, to work for subsistence wages.

    I do not find the referendum an ‘irritating intrusion.’ I find it fascinating. It tells me so much about Scotland today; a lot of it good, bits not so good.

  11. Gordon says:

    #Florian, you’ve said it all – ‘good bits and not so good’. That makes us an average north European country of about 5 million souls. We have the second best productivity/ head in the UK and a trade surplus. I think, even without the benefits of oil and the other natural resources, we could be as good as Denmark, Sweden, Latvia, Estonia, Finland etc, all of which countries have a better standard of living than the UK with growth rates of 4% or thereabouts. If we stay with austerity UK with its £1.5 trillion debt and deficit of £130 billion/yr, how many more years will we have to live like this. As a small country like the above, and an efficient and prudent government like the one we have had that has balanced the books on a shoestring, we could be out of austerity pdq. We need infrastructure – something that London has never lacked – to attract and build industry. Also, more people. From 1960 to 2012, Scotland saw an increase in population of only 2.6%, while England and Wales grew by 23.6% and Northern Ireland by 28.3%. We’ll be OK.

  12. Danilo Hustedt says:

    study you can sees there

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