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From The Province Of The Cat #39 – The Lambs Lie Down on Downing Street

Pericles... a Greek Nicola Sturgeon?

Pericles… a Greek Nicola Sturgeon?

by George Gunn

The beginning of May is the time for change. The first of May is Beltane, the beginning of the Summer in the Celtic calendar: a time for fire and celebration. It is also the day of international socialism, a time to mark solidarity and the common cause of the people. It is a time for renewal, for new beginnings, for undertaking journeys: in other words it is a time to be brave.

We also have a Westminster election to contend with which promises to be the most significant, for Scotland, since the end of World War Two and the Labour landslide. Political tectonics are at work here and no matter how much the British political establishment will deny it the Scottish people will speak and only fools and London bankers will ignore them. The mechanics of parliamentary democracy are relentless and there is little to be gained, other than in suspending it, that the Westminster mandarins can do about it, no matter how much they would like to. It would suit the City of London financiers and the politicians who keep them in power to judge first past the post democracy a failed experiment or a system which is past its sell by date. They are unlikely to replace it with an improvement.

There is nothing new in all of this, even though we in Scotland are excited by the prospect – somehow or other and no one is too sure how – of getting out country back as some kind of spin-off from a British political meltdown. In 480 BC the city state of Athens emerged from a seemingly unwinnable war – suicidal many suggested – against the mighty Persian Empire. Despite everything the Athenians emerged victorious from the struggle and then proceeded to create their golden age with democracy emerging in its earliest form and art forms such as theatre and philosophy thriving and, indeed, even history in the form of the writings of Thucydides and Herodotus entered into a societal narrative by which we try to understand ourselves, and have continued to try to ever since.

Not for one moment am I trying to compare Nicola Sturgeon with Pericles nor am I trying to belittle the importance of what is going on, or of what will happen in several days’ time when the votes are counted and the world changes, but there has to be some kind of perspective on it and other than the disbelief and hyperbole there doesn’t seem to be a lot of common sense going around in the heads of our southern politicians.

What I am concerned about, other than independence, is corruption and how we can manage to haul ourselves out of it, even if that is possible considering that it is a deep and corrosive financial and political corruption which has got us to this point. I personally have no interest in replacing one set of lying shysters with another set no matter what they call themselves. I support the  SNP, at the moment, because it is the only way I can see to get a political system in place which offers the people of Scotland a future. I am quite confident that the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland are equally capable of jailing their own thieves. When the Scottish National Party starts to be the problem, and acts like Athens and become hawkish, chauvinist and corrupt then they will have me as an enemy. I can just see them shivering in their boots about that. Better brains than I and with sharper pencils can explain to them about the nature and meaning of hubris.

All that flannel aside I do think Nicola Sturgeon is the woman of the moment. Each age and society throws up its own version of Pericles, give or take a set of vine leaves or two. I thought Ian Bell got to the heart of our current First Minister when he described her as being someone able “to be polite without taking any lip.” How many of us, I wonder, can say the same?

But I foresee a problem. What happens if the lambs do not lie down on Downing Street come Friday May 8th? What are we going to do, or how reasonable are we going to be, if the British establishment just don’t accept the General Election result? Oh, but they will have to. I can hear myself saying that. I don’t believe me either. How valuable is democracy, exactly, in a society when a thousand people have a combined wealth in excess of £547 billion? What does democracy actually mean then? The ancient Athenians, however imperfect they were, at least had the welfare of the poor as one of the central principles of their democracy and they saw the value in giving land to those who were dispossessed, unlike our current landowners. The Athenians saw this as an investment in stability. Am I suggesting that just because Scotland may or may not become independent that wealth, some way or other, is going to be redistributed? No I am not, even though I advocate it as a way of maintaining stability. Corruption has a deep sea-anchor.

What I see is a depressing unregulated confusion not just in wealth appropriated by the few but in how we live generally. To disentangle ourselves from the mess of compromise, chicanery and cynicism which passes as a working society is going to be a long a long a complicated process, if not for the simple reason that London will never willingly let us go. How can we empower our communities in the Far North Highlands, for example, when such things as wind farm developments have us at each other’s throats in a four square stand-off between the power companies, the land owners, the environmental bodies and the local people themselves? There is nothing more unedifying than witnessing bald men fighting over a comb. As reported in The National on Monday 27th April how insane is it that any government can construct a system whereby “ghost hydropower plants” that will never be built are still counted by the Department of Climate Change as being active and producing? As Richard Howarth of the company Glen Hydro wryly reflect “The way DECC operates the subsidy means that we are being penalised for something that is not going to happen and is going to stop a lot of schemes being built.”

Come Thursday 7th May 2015 the Scottish people could well be penalised for something that has actually happened: democracy in action. I was not alone, I am certain, in noticing that during the Referendum campaign of last year the British state had all but got fed up with “democracy”; and as the top one thousand increase their riches to double what it was in 2005 you can see the threat that this kind of “democracy” poses to that little equation.

Being poor, I can assure you, is bloody exhausting so it is no wonder that the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that an attainment gap between children from poorer families and those from wealthier backgrounds exists before the children even start school. It is easier to be “out-performed” if you are hungry and unhappy by someone who is well fed and content. Many well-meaning and well performing people may tell the press in earnest tones that they are “astonished” by this but I am not astonished: I am hacked off because I think it is immoral.

However the British ruling elite might like to separate us off from ourselves, to disconnect the majority of us from wealth and from possibility, by explaining to us that education, hydro schemes, wind farms, parliamentary democracy and constitutional change are all separate issues and not to be confused one with the other; the fact is they are all the part of the big thing called existence: they are all manifestations of our energy, whether that be kinetic, mechanical, human, creative or political energy. They are integral components in our song of life. In Scotland now, I think we have to attempt what Walt Whitman suggested, which is to “Re-examine all that you have been told. Dismiss that which insults your soul.” Or even if we need heed it – and we do – then let us heed the words of William Blake: “What is now proved was once only imagined.”

It makes my heart heavy but I have to admit that there seems to be little love for the Scots in Downing Street. But we are not “ghost hydro-power plants” nor is our political, social and cultural future just a rammy about mere money. The snow may have come late to the broad fields of Caithness and the lambs may be shivering, temporarily, in the lee of the flagstone dykes, but we are not lambs to lie down and die. Those that are desperate for this union to stay together seem hell bent on tearing it apart and those people, like me, who want Scotland to be an independent country, now seem reasonable. Who would have thought it?

Who also would have predicted the complete destruction of Athens when she first went to war with the Spartans in 431BC?

© George Gunn 2015

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  1. David says:

    The Athenian democracy was a representative people’s democracy as opposed to a parliamentary democracy. In a ancient Athens the people did have a say.

    1. JBS says:

      No, David, ancient Athenian democracy was participatory. Our present parliamentary democracy is representative; in Scotland, voters elect MPs to Westminster, and MSPs to Holyrood, to represent them.

      Even in ancient Athens, however, participation was strictly limited. This may help:


  2. Mike Cullen says:

    I love this, George, thanks.

  3. emilytom67 says:

    With a population of only circa 5mil everything possible should be open to public scrutiny no lies no corruption,all inclusive.

    1. Saor Alba says:

      I think that this is an excellent point emilytom67.

  4. chicthomson says:

    Indeed, in a world where we can check 50 million lottery tickets and verify that result in 20 minutes, why not have true participatory democracy, where everyone, and not their representatives, contributes to decisions?

  5. Frederick Robinson says:

    Because, chichthomson, checking enumerated, identical (but for the numbers) lottery tickets is rather less complicated than co-ordinating the multiple individual wishes, needs, requirements of 60 million persons – male, female, and otherwise, adult and otherwise, Scottish and otherwise; their familial, social, generational, local, national, international, political, spiritual, philosophical, emotional, psychological, etc., etc., variants as permutationally-complex within a small group as the entirety of the lottery; then muyiply that by several million, and don’t forget mood-swings, senses of loyalty and betrayal to smaller and larger groups….’The list’, as they say, ‘is literally endless….’

  6. Frederick Robinson says:

    .(./.) *multiply (typo, sorry)

  7. deewal says:

    Thank you George. I loved that. Now does seem reasonable.

  8. Alistair Davidson says:

    This piece is a really rare and beautiful thing even in this blossoming time of fine writing analysis and commentary. I’m going to read it again now, and then again just for the pure pleasure of it. Thank you.

  9. Calum says:

    A very good article. Thanks George.

    Yes Thatcher abolished May Day, and Labour never tried to reinstate it, on their long road to the right.

    Now they are cutting Scotland loose, after decades of Scots doggedly staying in the Union, which for many was solidarity with an English working class who turned out to be deaf or indifferent.

    I never though I’d see recent events in my lifetime.

  10. Jim Fraser says:

    With Evel being announced on September 19th last year we have already been punished for democracy in action. We’re in the long(er) game now, in which any contrast between the undemocratic behaviour of reactionary Westminster and what the people here would prefer will help change the hearts and minds of No voters.

  11. Darien says:

    We are a peaceful people. We don’t desire much, only what is ours, and to do things our way, in our own nation. That’s not much to ask our colonial masters, is it?

    1. Fed up with the Lies and Propaganda of the London Media Industrial Complex says:

      ”That’s not much to ask our colonial masters, is it?”

      No Bwana,

  12. DR says:

    There’s a danger here, I think, in confusing the system by which the bread-and-circuses is allocated (Westminster and the media) and the structure of power (the Establishment). The former are only a minor subset of the latter, kept separate so that they can be ‘reformed’ (or jettisoned) at need. Parliament is the equivalent of the Court that always surrounds power, and yes, its moods matter. But they do not determine. Members certainly perform the having-of-power, but then that’s their job – as spokespersons, Cameron/ Osborne (or whoever) are closer to being Fools than Kings. To think that they actually ‘run the country’ in any practical sense is to conform to a peculiarly 1950s fiction, that predates neoliberalism in significant ways.

    All that to say it’s in the interests of Parliament that voters believe it *is* entrenched power and so to be feared, rather than a distraction from the actual location and operation of that power. (Which is not, now, in any way ‘British’.) The remit handed down is to deliver short-term profit, long-term stability and invisibility to those pulling the strings: in terms of reform, it’s important to note that *any* way of doing so is acceptable, whatever our courtiers and their aspirant ‘kings of misrule’ might imagine. And unlike their parliamentary courtiers, one thing oligarchs do tend to understand is the need not to kill the golden goose that is a compliant citizenry. A degree of division is diversionary: mismanaging it, as has been done over the past year, is clear evidence of incompetence, and will not be infinitely tolerated by either oligarchs or citizens.

    In short, Westminster are the tax-farmers, not the senators, and we were *never* Athens. We were always Rome.

    1. Darien says:

      Scots should not fiddle while Rome burns. The British state’s scorched earth policy for Scotland is already under way. They know Scotland is ‘lost’, but the longer they hold it, the more diminished it will be.

  13. douglas clark says:

    There is a genuine lyricism in George Gunns piece.

    I could point out that Athens was a slave owning state? That slaves were not permitted entry into the democracy?

    It matters not.

    For the model that we think of as Athenian democracy is, perhaps, better than what it actually was. An ideal, if you like.

    We need these dreams.

    We need to see a better place than the strangely Spartan House of Commons – who’s motto is probably not:

    “to those that survive , we salute you, the rest, who died last night on the open hill in the freezing cold, without any welfare, well, you were not meant to be, and you are the bricks Sparta is built upon. We salute you!”

    So, moving forward a few thousand years, they attack in a very Spartan way, anyone who is not living their idealised life.

    Their idealised lives for us are perhaps not precisely our idealised lives for ourselves.

    It is as if, somewhere along the track, we allowed the very worst of politicians to define happieness. And they decided that it should be defined as their own and most certainly not ours. And we agreed.

    1. Alastair McIntosh says:

      Plato, The Republic, II:372-374

  14. douglas clark says:


    Genuine question.

    When you say:

    “We were always Rome.”

    Who is this ‘we’ of which you speak?

  15. Lochside says:

    ‘this is Sparta !!!!…..’

  16. Saor Alba says:

    A very fine piece of work George. Quite poetic in parts and thoroughly interesting.
    Like Alistair, I will re-visit it for inspiration.
    Well done, Sir.

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