2007 - 2021

Vanilla Politics

bigben_677896nBy Mike Small

Since Nixon got hit with the description in 1960 as a man you wouldn’t want to buy a second-hand car from he was tainted, whilst George Bush Senior was seen by Conservative Texans as “the sort of man who steps out of the shower to take a piss”.

How you are perceived matters in politics.

Jim Murphy’s unctuous mewing about fracking and ‘nationalising Scotland’s railways’ with one face whilst attacking ‘populism’ and spewing Blairite orthodoxy with the others might make you squeamish, but it’s less important than the UK operatives. Murphy doesn’t matter. Let’s not focus on him or his personality, it’s a sideshow.

I was reminded of this by Douglas Roberston commenting on the Thatcher Museum piece – that people get confused by personality and miss the politics. He’s right in the sense that a lot of anger was allowed to boil on for decades about ‘that woman’ while people quietly embraced her economics.

In the same way David Cameron and his boiled-ham-face and Ed Miliband and his geeky-dork look are less relevant than the politics they share. It was the same with the arguments from people who said: “I’m not voting for self-government because I don’t like Alex Salmond.” It’s difficult (but essential) to heed Douglas’s warning and avoid character-analysis. Instead let’s look at the bigger picture of shifting sands in UK politics in the run-up to the general election.

One of the problems we have is we’ve stepped from the relative positivity of the independence referendum, shaped by endless possibility and mass-idealism to the closed and cloistered world of Westminster.

We’re entering the countdown to an election to a parliament we’d almost forgotten about. Now, having spent eighteen months imagining a better democracy we’ve got the dreary prospect of focusing on the one we’ve actually got.

If the terms for the indyref were ‘why do we do things like this?’ and ‘who holds power here and why?’ The terms at a UK General Election are ‘which of these hopelessly compromised political tribes do you hate the least’?

The Anglo-British Right is a coalition of billionaires and white van man stitched together by cultural anger. Whilst the rich focus on economic self-interest the rest of us are re-directed inwards to Benefits Street or outwards to Jihad. Like a Brittanic version of Bitter Lake – the right have been cultivating and festering cultural anger – a Tory Wahhabism – for years. Who knows when this harvest will be reaped? There’s more than a little hinting at institutional violence by the shrill voices speaking out after the Ashcroft Polls.

A Bankrupt Politics

Lord Fink’s inadvertent honesty about the fact they’re all on the fiddle is wonderful (‘Lord Fink backs away from Miliband threats: I’ve taken vanilla measures to reduce my liabilities), as an example of the sort of ingrained assumed casual fraudulence of the political elite. Ed Miliband’s milksop response is cheered as if he’s some sort of crazed Red Loon for pointing out the obvious immorality of the Tory donor’s actions.

It’s like we’ve entered a completely different sort of politics with a completely different set of standards and aspirations. Because we have. This is a two-horse race and they’re both donkeys.

But the venal unionist politics isn’t just about the Tories.

News yesterday that Sir David Garrard, who was embroiled in the “cash for honours” scandal under the previous government, is preparing to make a big donation to Jim Murphy in coming weeks.

The millionaire said he had not decided upon how much to donate, but said: “We’re talking tens of thousands”. He said he has “great faith” in Mr Murphy, and: “If I can’t help him, who is going to help him? He is very well known to me and I like to think of him as a friend and he needs all the support he can get.”

Is this the sort of doors that open when you have John McTernan on your team? Eight years ago, readers will recall, McTernan was interviewed by the police (‘Blair aide re-interviewed under caution’) as part of the cash for honours ‘crisis’.

Lucy Fisher in The Times reports: “Sir David was nominated for a peerage in 2005, but later asked for his name to be withdrawn from the list after he was engulfed in a “cash for peerages” row. The House of Lords appointments commission barred his ennoblement after it emerged that he was among 12 wealthy businessman who secretly lent Labour the collective sum of £14 million before the 2005 election.”

Whatever the truth of it, in the murky world of Westminster nobody’s an innocent.

So how do SNP and Greens and radicals operate in the underworld?

Second Class Citizens

The botched shambles of Cameron’s post-referendum constitutional settlement, sadly colluded with by both the SNP and the Greens, leaves little option for Scottish MPS. Having already moved the goalposts for naked self-interest dressed-up as ‘sticking up for England’, William Hague has rushed policies through that undermine the role and purpose of having equal MPs.

Having bawled their eyes out about the integrity of the union, they’re now breaking it further apart. It’s this half way house which offers minimal economic powers with a loss of voting rights that will turn the General Election from a farce into a debacle. ‘Here’s Devo Nano but you are now impotent in Westminster’ – it’s hardy an invitation to stay, is it?

More recently Michael Gove’s recent comments seem to be suggesting that any coalition between Labour and the SNP is ‘illegitimate’.

Speaking at the centre-right Policy Exchange thinktank, Gove said: “A Miliband-led administration reliant on the support of minority parties risks creating not a zombie parliament but a Frankenstein administration – a stitched-together creation capable of causing great harm.”

This is very dangerous territory. Who’s to say that the nascent UKIP rage coupled with the ridiculous EVEL posturing couldn’t erupt in an effort to threaten UK ‘democracy’?

Anyone who paid attention to the 70s Wilson Plots might not disregard this as too far-fetched. Scots and Scottish MPs have been put in a very difficult situation.

If polling is in any way reliable we can expect a slew of SNP MPs elected on the back of the wave of anger and energy still rolling out six months after the referendum failure.

These MPs are raring to go, but there’s a strong argument that what they should really do is stay at home, working in their constituencies and contributing to their communities. The tactic, adopted by Sinn Fein for many years, is one worth exploring. What, exactly are they going to achieve propping up a Miliband government or playing games with an already rigged Westminster? What would be the true benefit of propping up a listless Labour government lacking guile, policy or vision?

If we’re not careful we’ll give legitimacy to a Westminster politics that’s steeped in corruption, closed minds and a narrow vindictive economic outlook. The Irish party have long refused to sit in the Commons on the grounds that this would legitimate a constitutional settlement they oppose and require them to swear an oath of allegiance to the Queen. It’s something Scottish MPs should strongly consider or we are in danger of giving succour to the unreformable, the cosy consensus between business and politics that runs Westminster.

Let’s not inoculate a system that needs put down.

Comments (33)

Leave a Reply to oldbattle Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. bringiton says:

    SNP MPs will be at Westminster to represent Scottish interests and not that of a London based political party e.g. British Labour.
    They should be prepared to use all and any legal measures within the London establishment to further Scottish aspirations for democratic change.
    Failure to do so would be letting both themselves and their electorate down.
    Without doubt,the London based parties along with the “British” press and broadcasters will do whatever it takes to thwart these ambitions and make sure that Scotland continues as a vassal state to England.
    There is now no excuse for the lack of democracy in Scotland.
    Cameron ackowledged that Scotland is a country and has the right to self determination should Scots decide and trying to continue the pretence of a unitary one nation state will no longer wash.
    However,we Scots have to acknowledge that most of us voted for a continuation of these arrangements and will have to tread carefully through the constitutional minefield that is the United Kingdom state.
    Deconstruction will be a tricky business.

    1. bearinorkney says:

      “However,we Scots have to acknowledge that most of us voted for a continuation of these arrangements”


      1. david agnew says:

        I think he means those who voted No to independence.

  2. Gordie says:

    The SNP need a hand Honest voices from beyond this party need to help Scotland in terms of representation at holyrood. We need to put forward a consensus the does not bail out banks. The SNP have fought the fight and are have been the target and because of this there are places they could not go in the referendum(how many republicans are there in the SNP??). Give them a hand. They are on the right side of most of the arguments and have been fighting the fight for decades. How many of you were advocating scottish nationhood when the SNP as a truly radical party (anti empire, anti nato, anti monarchy) were being ridiculed for threatening a future that removed scotland as a possession of the state?

  3. Gordie says:

    Where were you? rally round and be radical go beyond the SNP. That means they can go further as a government despite the forces set against it

  4. bringiton says:

    Thanks Mike

  5. tartanfever says:

    Thoughtful article Mike,

    The idea of personality over substance reminded me of the BBC coverage of the 2010 election night proceedings. The corporation decided that the best use of licence payers money would be to hire a boat on the Thames and invite along a host of ‘celebrities’ for a free drink and give their opinion on who would win.

    The place was packed. For me the most telling comment came from that well known political pundit, Joan Collins, who, when asked who she thought should be PM, declared her support for Cameron.

    ‘He looks presidential, kind of like Kennedy’

    That was her pathetic insight.

    That idea of ‘celebrity mixed with politics’ has become a theme and a handy diversion away from political realities as you mention. It’s successfully played out across all TV stations when you analyse it – politicians face very little tough questioning, news reports are purposively curtailed so that in depth enquiry doesn’t exist. Galloway on Big Brother, Dorries on I’m a Celebrity take centre stage. The mad, outspoken misfits get more air time and the thrust of political speeches in Scotland in the last two years have been directed against the personality of Alex Salmond than Independence – (‘Mugabe’ from the BBC, ‘a Dictator’ from Westminster politicians, ‘ Liar, Childless’ from Johann Lamont have all been repeated) – these were the main factors that created the ‘I just don’t like Salmond’ scenario you describe.

    Ultimately, most TV coverage of current affairs is mere diversion.

  6. Jacqueline Gallacher says:

    “one of the problems we have is we’ve stepped from the relative positivity of the independence referendum, shaped by endless possibility and mass-idealism to the closed and cloistered world of Westminster.

    We’re entering the countdown to an election to a parliament we’d almost forgotten about. Now, having spent eighteen months imagining a better democracy we’ve got the dreary prospect of focusing on the one we’ve actually got.”

    Couldn’t agree more, it’s difficult to feel inspired.

    1. The only thing inspiring me is the possibility that representation of Scots by Westminster parties may possibly be all but extinguished in May. It would give me enormous pleasure to see SLAB routed and humiliated in Scotland by the biggest Karma Bomb ever to land on a political party. Beyond that, I would hope that a largely SNP Scottish contingent at Westminster would cause as much obstruction and disruption to the whole crooked body that it would render the UK ungovernable as a homogenous entity!

  7. Fay Kennedy. says:

    No wonder more people are on anti depressants and other substances when this is the daily fare of our glorious democracy. Both near and far it’s like an increasing plague and probably even more devastating than in the past. Have some pity on us poor expats in the land down under where the media and the cretins play out their malfeasance every day and not a thing the ordinary citizen can do to counteract it. At least in Scotland there are outlets like Bella and others. Keep up the good work Mike and all of you who work so hard informing your community.

  8. kate says:

    I can see your point about scottish MPS staying away from WM for the same reasons as sinn fein.

    i agree SNP & Greens colluded with Smith commission, they themselves helped create a consensus offering little real power that should never have been reached. Consequently their responses to its report could only be very tame – otherwise they were criticizing themselves! Maybe the SSP was lucky to be excluded and not tainted by Smith – though hopefully they would have refused collusion.

    however i think sturgeon’s positioning of Scotland & SNP as a party that will help defend UK wide against austerity,& attempt to protect public services, esp NHS, may help in a future indyref . sturgeon’s strategy may result in solidarity with scotland from some sections of english politics & public. More importantly No indyref voters who are open to turning Yes are probably best swayed by further evidence that participation in WM system does not work. If SNP stays away how can that be demonstrated?

    But more seriously if SNP can protect scotland’s poor via intervention in WM on health or welfare system it should, because when is independence coming? Only those who are not poor have the luxury of not being too concerned about short term mortality rates. Even if SNP is powerless at WM, even more than before indyref in some ways, it needs to fully demonstrate to Scotland that it is powerless. From that position there is only one move to give scottish electoral representatives power to represent scottish voters, independence.

    1. ronald alexander mcdonald says:

      Completely agree with you Kate. The best way of converting NO voters is to take an inclusive stance and change things for the better. i.e. actions rather than words.

      In addition, how would poor folk who are shit poor and desperate react if they thought the SNP could have improved things, but chose not to? There is of course no guarantee that Labour would agree, but that would be their decision.

  9. Kangaroo says:

    I don’t think the SNP had any choice but to participate in the Smith Commission. It would have been seen as sour grapes if they didn’t. They could have put the whole applecart of demands on the table, blind freddy knew they would not get what was offered pre referedum. Now they have little choice but to accept what is offered and then demand more. The electorate know it was a stitch up otherwise the SNP vote and membership would probably not be increasing. To not participate at westminster would leave scotland totally vulnerable to more rape and pillage, they have to at least make some form of attempt at preventing such a scenario.

    1. jacquescoleman says:

      While I agree the SNP had to participate in Smith. They should have been much more circumspect in the actual committees than they appear to have been. They should have demanded that the ‘VOW’ be honoured and should have leaked regularly to the Media what was actually happening. Instead they meekly surrendered, kept quiet and accepted the result that came out.

      They should NOT have accepted the result and should have produced a minority Report setting out their minimum demands. But maybe the thought of being able to play with even the meagre powers proposed went to their heads…like all politicians.

  10. I think it was a “second-hand car” rather than a “second class car”, but you should always look under the bonnet. Check “Auto Trader” in June for a low-mileage pink minibus – one careful owner, only used for going to the shops.

  11. Barontorc says:

    Thanks Mike Small, an interesting view of the real effect of UK playground political chicanery – but another constitutional point is also made for Scottish MPs required to swear an oath of allegiance to the Queen; do the give their allegiance to QE 11 of England, or QE 1 of Scots?

    When we see EVEL taking shape, when we look at the ‘temporary sticking plaster, that is the Barnett formula, when we see Westminster spending income generated by Scotland in an overheated south east frenzy, when we’re implicated in illegal wars demanded by dishonest motives, when we cannot even rely on QE 1 of Scots to protect us her loyal Scots in the face of democratic thuggery, just what the hell are we doing in Westminster anyway?

    The whole business is a sham and it’s being shown up for what it has always been. Scottish stomachs have had enough of it.

  12. Dawn Macfarlane says:

    I think most people in Scotland hated M Thatcher BECAUSE of her economics not her personality.

  13. Pam McMahon says:

    Thank you for this well-argued article. One of the constitutional dilemmas of the Sinn Fein position is that it leaves it’s electorate without any democratic representation in the ruling body. I believe that it would have been more honest and acceptable if Sinn Fein had included in it’s manifesto that it did not intend that any of it’s elected members would attend Westminster. The SNP would also have make this position axiomatic in their pre-election stance, which would render them unelectable.
    Westminster is the wee scrapings at the bottom of the soup tin, but it is all we currently have so our SNP MPs have to be there, stirring up the sad dregs..

    1. jacquescoleman says:

      “I believe that it would have been more honest and acceptable if Sinn Fein had included in it’s manifesto that it did not intend that any of it’s elected members would attend Westminster.”

      C’mon?! Don’t be naive. Every man and his dog in NI knew Sinn Fein’s position vis a vis UK Parliament before every election.

    2. joseph O Luain says:

      Sinn Fein has been a political presence in Irish politics since around 1908, Pam. I seriously doubt whether anyone voting for that party, at this point in the game, would be either surprised or disappointed on realising that no seats had been occupied by SF at Westminster.

  14. Hugo says:

    A very informative article indeed. I have already posted my thoughts on any coalition, be that with Labour or the Tories. I personally would think twice about this, since aligning with the Tories has all but destroyed the Lib Dems, and I fear that following any coalition, the credibility of both Nicola and the SNP would rapidly diminish. I understand the motive behind a coalition and can see the influence that it can offer, but surely not at any price. I would fear that we could be making a rod for our collective backs, simply playing into the hands of our opponents and all the rhetoric which would follow. The Sinn Fein model appeals more but will it satisfy political ambition ?

  15. Tina Feedgie says:

    The Scottish MP’s have to go and play the game down in Westminster, but how about they just do the right thing i.e. represent the best interests of the majority of people in their constituencies. Nicola Sturgeon’s speech in London the other day provides a good place to start from (how refreshing was that to hear from a country’s leader?). The mainstream press will vilify them whatever they do but if they maintain the moral high ground the truth will out (eventually). At the very least they’ll maintain the respect of the Scottish electorate and win a few admirers down South.

    As for swearing an oath to Brenda, do they have to if they don’t want to? Tsipras in Athens recently refused to follow protocol regarding the religious part of the ceremony, can our MP’s do the same regarding the monarchy?

    There’ll be so many new MP’s swearing in they could just substitute their own choice in place of “Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, her heirs and successors” and/or “god” e.g.“ I [SNP MP] swear by almighty Thor that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to who may just be queen and lives in Bath, her hair and accessories, according to law. So help me Thor”.

    No-one will ever know if they say it quickly enough.

  16. Lollysmum says:

    Excellent revision of the oath of allegiance
    Kate & Pam McMahon-I agree

  17. oldbattle says:

    Br Mike I beat you to it!oldbattle
    February 5, 2015 • 22:56
    Question? Has any Bella family member asked “Why are we fighting to send pro-Independence warriors to warm seats at Westminster?” Could there be a movement to say FO WEstminster we don’t recognise your rule over us?
    If the SNP MUST go to London let them go to disrupt and not cooperate with a Unionist Gov that is the enemy of the people of Scotland. Am I an auld radical?
    In Bella comments Feb 5th!!

  18. Ken says:

    The difference with NI is they do not have to go to Westminster. Their Unionism is generously rewarded. NI 1.8million raises £14Billion in taxes and receives £8Billion = £22Billion. Sin Fein reps even receive. £1Million expenses for not even attending. NI is getting a much more generous settlement. Rewarded for Unionism and bigotry.

    Scotland 5.2million raises £53Billion in taxes and gets back £53Billion. £35Billion + £15Billion pension. £3Billion Defence. £2Billlion Defict whch could easily be adjusted by a tax on ‘loss lending’ drink, cutting Trident. £10Billion of rest of the UK debt is loading on to the Scottish account of money it doesn’t borrow or spend.

    ( Pro rata) NI raises £42Billion but gets £66Billion. NI 1/3 of Scottish pop. (Pro rata) Scotland would be getting £80Billion – not £53Billion.


  19. Brian says:

    What have Sinn Fein achieved by not turning up to a Parliament their constituents voted them into?

  20. Gordon says:

    You’re right about the current thinking about a parliament we had almost forgotten. It’s difficult to think of them down there in the Westminster village as the Parliament representing our country. Few of the leaders get out of the M25 circle to visit the rest of the country, least of all Scotland. The posse that came north to dissuade us from voting YES looked shifty, sweaty and bemused as if in an alien environment. Most Scots see the competent government here in Scotland as their government.

    In truth, they do come from a totally different environment from Scotland. They come from a land and background of privilege and vast wealth. Furthermore, they consider that maximising that wealth is a noble pursuit, regardless of the morality of the method. They even knight and ennoble the greediest. One only has to go back to the parliamentary expenses scandal – cash for questions, flipping houses to maximise expenses, claims for duck ponds – to understand the culture. “It’s within the rules”, they said. As is tax avoidance. But these are their values – ones that are completely unfamiliar and even unavailable to most Scots.

    The NO voters from the independence referendum will soon realise that there is no position for Scottish MPs in That Place and they will call for another.

  21. Paul Newton says:

    Interesting piece, just thought I might fill in a few Scots on shinner history.
    a) In 1918, Constance Markievicz was the first female ever elected to westmonster, and did not take her seat as per party policy.
    b) in 1970 there was a major falling out on whether to take seats or not, those advocating taking seats lost and became official (stickies) and the rest became provisional sinn fein.
    c) In 1981 Bobby Sands was elected in Fermanagh / South Tyrone, I think most of us knew Bobby would not be taking his seat.
    d) As of today the much maligned party (I joined in 1981) are polled as the most popular party in the free state. http://www.independent.ie/irish-news/politics/revealed-sinn-fein-the-most-popular-party-in-ireland-30992727.html

    My involvement in the YES campaign was inspired by Markievicz and the hero from Edinburgh James Connolly, I will strategically support the SNP in this election and hope they take the seats but am still worried that they may become infected and lose the centre left ethos that has been so effective over the last 20 years.

    The major enemy to the YES campaign for a healthier, wealthier, fairer Scotland is apathy, and the splitting up into 237 smaller campaigns.

    The establishment have been using the simple tactic of divide et impera for thousands of years, and it will defeat us again if we allow it to, the most important thing now is to stick together and continue to drive a wedge through the establishment and a truck through the lies and propoganda (bread and circuses).

    (and if you live in Edinburgh south give Neil Hay a hand, and encourage people to lend us your vote).

  22. Ben Donald says:

    An interesting piece, but please let’s not, for the love of God, take Irish politics at any level as a pattern for our own.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      It wasn’t so much Irish politics per se as the concept of abstention as a tactic

  23. Cai McMahon says:

    SNP can sit in Westminster and NOT go into coalition with anyone, you get a Tory majority then that will be unable to pass any kind of austerity bill…..you grind the government to a halt and ultimately you get independence as they finally decide that the only way for the UK(r) to survive is without Scotland. You will probably see s slew of quick general elections in the process because of anyone’s inability to govern.

  24. James Baird says:

    Jeezo….’The Anglo-British Right is a coalition of billionaires and white van man stitched together by cultural anger. Whilst the rich focus on economic self-interest the rest of us are re-directed inwards to Benefits Street or outwards to Jihad. Like a Brittanic version of Bitter Lake – the right have been cultivating and festering cultural anger – a Tory Wahhabism – for years.’….Tory Wahhabism??’

    And with that cutting insight, Mike Small and Bella Claedonia lose all credibility. Mike I think I can hear your mother shouting for you to get to bed. Your Higher English prelim is tommorrow, put that Chomsky book down!!!! And remember you get extra marks for calm considered ananlysis, not for absurd hyperbole …lol.

Help keep our journalism independent

We don’t take any advertising, we don’t hide behind a pay wall and we don’t keep harassing you for crowd-funding. We’re entirely dependent on our readers to support us.

Subscribe to regular bella in your inbox

Don’t miss a single article. Enter your email address on our subscribe page by clicking the button below. It is completely free and you can easily unsubscribe at any time.