From the Province of the Cat #41 – Ugly Thersites

CIBRmTyXAAA7SQXYou know the political ground has moved in Scottish political life when one of the most eye-catching banners to be seen at the recent anti-austerity demonstration in Glasgow’s George Square was the one displaying a quote from a Leonard Cohen song,

“Everybody knows, the fight is fixed, The poor stay poor, the rich get rich, That’s how it goes and everybody knows”.

Suddenly sweet old Leonard had been turned into ugly old Thersites, the common soldier in the Greek army at Troy who stood up and told King Agamemnon he was a “greedy bloody fool and a coward” and who was beaten for his honesty by no less a fool than Odysseus. Thersites is often described as ugly, bow legged, humpy backed with jagged tufts of hair sticking out of his pointed head. He appears like this, in various degrees, in the works of Plato, Lucian, Goethe, Sterne and in Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida where he is Ajax’s slave and insults him from the beginning of the play to its end. In other words Thersites as a character is a device that history has used to say out loud what everyone else is thinking. He is the ugly social critic. The truth teller.

Everybody knows that George Osborne’s fixation with “balancing the books” is an economic and political myth he uses to shrink the state, exploit the poor and to protect the rentiers in the City of London. Everybody knows that sooner or later the money extortionist’s in the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund will have to be reined in and the European Union will have to cancel or suspend Greece’s debts or the whole cartel of the EU is going to implode. Everybody knows the USA, NATO and the West in general have no idea what the hell is going on in Iraq, Syria or Yemen and other than using the area as a weapons testing ground have no intentions of doing anything even if they knew what that was, which they don’t. Everybody knows because ugly Thersites, which in this case is our own common sense, tells us so. That’s how it goes.

Independence for Scotland, it seems to me, has proved to be quite a hard sell to the Scottish people. The referendum campaign of 2014 was a brilliant time for debate and for political consciousness raising and the General Election result last May, in Scotland, was nothing short of sensational. Despite that if there was another independence referendum next week the Yes side would lose again. This despite yet another Tory government in Westminster and their savage programme of hammering the poor and the vulnerable and their open hostility to Scotland and their little-Englander chauvinism towards Europe.

This annoying conundrum likens me to how difficult it is to deal with “dying scenes” on stage in the theatre. No matter how well written the play is, how competent the director is or how highly charged the actor is none of us in the rehearsal room have actually died before so in actual fact we have nothing to go on. Of course we have all been born, fallen in love etc, experienced the trauma and grief of relations or friends who have died: but none of us actually know what dying is. So to avoid the scene being naff we either cut the lights or have it happen off-stage. Unfortunately you cannot cut the lights on a country nor have its independence happen off-stage. The conundrum continues: the SNP are both in government and in opposition. Unless I am mistaken this must be a first in politics anywhere within a so-called unitary state.

There are a few things happening here. None more so obvious than the growing, inevitable tension – monthly, weekly, daily – with England, or more exactly, with Westminster. Then we have, I think, three distinct realities. One is the singular body of Nicola Sturgeon as the unassailable leader of the nation, the “best” First Minister the country could have hoped for. The second is the Scottish people who, despite the hectoring and consternation of the media and the Tories, will prove next year at the Holyrood elections that they have no immediate intention of abandoning the SNP. The third thing is the SNP itself. It is in the political party I fear that there is a concern. When it stops being a movement and starts being a machine then there are dangers. The party could “gradualist” itself into its own strategic long grass.

One of the political problems for the SNP is the collapse of Labour South of the border. North of the border Labours mass extinction presents a different set of problems. One aspect of the disastrous legacy of “good” Ed Milliband is that in the House of Commons the 56 SNP MP’s can effect very little but they can be affected by the place and the process very much. In other words: how long can the SNP, even with Nicola Sturgeon as leader, keep it all together? Ugly Thersites is asking. He is asking because the Tories are getting very nasty very quickly and they intend to get very nasty indeed. What he is saying is that the recently announced £12 billion cuts to social security benefits are nothing to what they have planned and if they could abolish the Scottish Parliament they would.

One answer to all of this is to do what Nicola Sturgeon appears to be doing, which is to act as if Scotland is already an independent country. If that is the case then another problem arises: how can you effectively, positively “build a nation” when every fiscal and statutory agency is against you, when you simply do not have the power to implement the changes you desire and the nation needs? Does it just come down, in the end, to faith, of hope over expediency and that, eventually, the Scottish people will sicken completely of the complacent eternal self-rightness of the Tory world-view? What the experience of Barack Obama in the US has shown us is that “Yes we can” rather predictably turns into “Er, we didn’t”.

There are obvious popular measures the SNP government could take and they have made beginnings on some of these but not all: lowering the voting age so that if you can be taxed you can vote in every election or referendum; reorganising landownership so that the 19th century can be finally put to sleep and the real value of the land can add to the wealth of the nation; a restructuring of local government so that it is both local and democratic; admit Police Scotland is a mess and sort it out; have an open immigration policy because we need the people economically and to show to the world that Scotland possesses humanity – it is people we desire in our country not weapons of mass destruction; inject massive investment into the arts and realise that Ugly Thersites is more likely to be a poet or a painter than a soldier or a slave; ring fence and develop health and education and protect them with your lives. There are other things, of course, but if the Scottish Government were to do any, some or all of these and implement them whole heartedly then the Scottish people will stand by them.

If the SNP hesitate or lose their nerve now they are lost. All egos have to be put to one side. The stakes are too high for the self-seekers to prevail. As old sweet Leonard croaked and as the banner in George Square proclaimed loud and clear – “Everybody knows”.

Light does shine in, however. A couple of weeks ago Nicola Sturgeon visited Dublin to meet the Taoiseach and to set up a “Scottish Hub” at the British Embassy. Earlier in June the Irish writer Fintan O’Toole was in Edinburgh to give a lecture at the University titled, optimistically, “After Independence”. He said that Scotland was well-placed to avoid some of the mistakes made by Ireland after the formation of the Free State in 1922. But O’Toole also pointed out that both pro and anti-independence camps have to recognise how much would stay the same – institutions, structures – if Scotland were to become independent. He noted:

 “Ireland in very fundamental ways has remained British in its skeletal structures. We have to think of independence as one moment in a process rather than as a transformative moment. You need to know what you want to be independent for.”

The obvious answer is to produce a better society than the one we have now: one more fair and just, open and empowering. We need to be independent to build our nation for the people who are going to live in it. Ugly Thersites might say that Ireland as it is now is exactly the social and economic model we do not want to copy and however much it might delight Alex Salmond to misquote W.B. Yeats to announce that Britain, post-referendum, is “changed utterly” the reality is that the UK, as it is currently constituted, is changing for the worse. That Scotland has close cultural ties with Ireland, everybody knows. The kind of Scotland which interest me is the kind of Ireland envisaged by James Connolly, a figure rarely quoted by Alex Salmond, who wrote in The Irish Worker on the 8th of August, 1914:

“Ireland may yet set the torch to a European conflagration that will not burn out until the last throne and the last capitalist bond and debenture will be shrivelled on the funeral pyre of the last warlord.”

At least Connolly knew what he wanted to be independent for. Can Scotland, acting as if she is already an independent nation – which at the moment is our only alternative as we witness the Tories binding us closer to the union legally while at the same time pushing us out politically – produce a better society where the values of liberty, equality, human rights and popular sovereignty can prevail over greed, exclusivity and cynicism? Can we believe, as Thomas Paine in the 18th century believed, that “We have it in our power to begin the world over again.”

It is hard, I know, to hold on to that belief each time we witness George Osborne rise up from his front bench as Chancellor of the Exchequer to eat the very air of our existence and spit it back out to us as austerity, repression and poverty. Gideon knows “the fight is fixed” because he helped fix it. He also knows, deep within his baronet’s dark heart that the bubble of mythology he gives to us as economics is soon set to burst. As Ugly Thersites spewed so eloquently in “Troilus and Cressida”: “The plague of Greece upon thee, thou mongrel beef-witted lord!”



©George Gunn 2015

Comments (28)

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  1. Dan Huil says:

    “Despite that if there was another independence referendum next week the Yes side would lose again. This despite yet another Tory government in Westminster and their savage programme of hammering the poor and the vulnerable and their open hostility to Scotland and their little-Englander chauvinism towards Europe.”

    Next week is, of course, too soon. Even next year – not before the Holyrood election at least. The Tory government in Westminster is just beginning – give it a year of two to really sicken the majority of people in Scotland, then Holyrood – hopefully still with a SNP majority – can put the measures you list into law, but I hope it does behave as if it were already independent and debate and pass laws which are supposedly not devolved. In the interests of marine life in Scotland’s waters it could deliberately shipwreck two or three boats at, say, the mouth of the Gare Loch, in order to establish new reefs. If the submariners at Faslane are indisposed to welcome the new marine life, well…

  2. Derek Louden says:

    “Thersites is often described as ugly, bow legged, humpy backed with jagged tufts of hair sticking out of his pointed head”.
    Hmm, is he the new Partick Thistle mascot?

  3. IAB says:

    Give it two years and even the English will be baying for blood. The Tories are moving England into isolation and dragging Wales and NI with them. Let the process continue and hope that Sturgeon continues to move Scotland in the right direction whilst highlighting how hostile the Westminster system is to our country and our MPs. A 6% swing is all we need and they exhausted their threats with Project Fear. Only glitch is the currency – over to you SNP.

    1. catriona grigg says:

      It’s time we realised we must have our own currency. Look at Greece and see what being in the Eurozone is doing to it. If we stay in Sterling we won’t be independent.

    2. Jim Morris says:

      The Currency is a complete red herring. When the Bank of England was Nationalised in 1945, Scotland was about 20% of the population of the U.K. So, 20% of the Bank of England belongs to Scotland: 20% of assets as well as 20% of liabilities. Deny the assets to the Scottish people and thereby free them from the liabilities too? That was never going to happen!

  4. C Rober says:

    There has to be more devolution and more clarity first.

    Simply saying that the No voters decided indy is not good enough by those that voted yes , you have to find out what made the others vote no in the first place.

    We cant have a 10 percent majority to simply be listed in the pages of history as the masses have spoken , when actually 10 percent is but the population of Glasgow city , excluding the more affluent burbs.

    When we analyse forensically , the reason for no voting , one thing springs to mind after looking at the maths , fear decided for those people that ultimately swayed it , as much as those that were blindly brave enough to vote yes that had came so close.

    They , better together , did a blitzkreig on one voter type , those that have benefited the most from Socialism and the welfare state , todays pensioner , people that can remember pre 1950 and their parents hardships before State pensions , before the NHS , before DSS. We simply cant blame them for doing so , so can we instead persuade them that the future will not mean backwards?

    Sure we can say that perhaps pensioners could lose the vote that are over 75 , but the biggest rise in living pensioners has yet to hit.Scotland will be closing in on ironically 45 percent of pensioners sooner than you think.

    We can also choose to copy a recent Luxembourg referendum on banning non nationals from voting , which rules out near to 10 percent of English born alone , peaking at 13.1 percent in high income areas , with their statistically low unemployment rate.

    But when the bell dings its dong , at the end of the day , they think its all over – it is now type cliches , the dust has long settled… give the pensioner proof , as well as prevent bias in the media.

    Something that the SNP need to push for is national control over newspapers and media , NOW.

    Not media control like some eastern bloc state , or today’s Uk , but instead where retractions are punished for headline and front page lies effectively.Say a one week suspension in printing , full front page retractions for inside page errors and so on. Although given the failures on the convictions of editors involved in phone hacking recently it would of little difference.

    A forced and broken Union , compared to Ireland’s history of deaths for independence , well its showing our own “Fight” as somewhat pathetic , and should neve be called a fight again.All Scotland had to do was choose , it did , rightly or wrongly.It never had to bury its dead in its fight for independence.

    The problem now for me , a long time arguer for independence for Scotland , and red Clydeside Labour man and boy that grew up in the reign of Thatcher , is that the SNP perhaps orchestrated their own failure , deliberate or not , through their gerrymandering with stats and figures.

    Of course the fact that those elite that Mags tried to weed out from the Tories are returning again to politics , The lorded or landed gentry , is not helping voters choose.

    The gentry are back now with different ties and are still 1 per-centers is still escaping the electorate.The wealthy own and operate the media , even Blairite NuLabour had many links to the BBC and several papers through marriage or schooling.

    Voters for the most part are paranoiac fear factories concerned about Personal income and health etc , if their life’s are the least affected that’s all that matters.There is no selfless act within democracy using a pen on a box , in theory with revolution perhaps there is , but then again Mugabe , Russia , China , South America etc the only change has been the faces …. they still have 1 per-centers in power.

    As long as the benefit claimant is paraded as the cause of our fiscal problems , not the elite then change will never happen. Like the quote “if voting made any difference they would ban it”.

    Until the 3rd lost meal , a trigger for revolution , is felt by the Milngavie demo-graphic , thus experiencing the same as those relying on foodbanks today , then they will decide to keep the status quo.

    The minority , however large their numbers , will always suffer the most at one end of the scale , as the other much less in numbers minority increases their wealth , as seen since the financial crisis began.

    The SNP has to do something more now , they have a serious amount of foot soldiers in the vipers nests , yes I do include Hollyrood here.

    Simply complaining their hands are tied is not enough.

    Socialist Labour had an electoral powerbase until recently. The party did nothing but some walking about for the closed mines and ship yards , or lack of housing in their 13 years of office after 17 of complaining , just as the SNP have been doing since 2008.

    The SNP would be best served by not repeating other parties failures in the spoken word as a weapon , but instead to learn from it and better it , that is if they want to continue as a party , not to be remembered as one that has historically peaked.

    1. MBC says:

      I hate this kind of divisive talk. A bare majority of those under 55 did vote Yes, and that was slightly higher in younger age groups. But none of the Yes voting age groups ever achieved 60 per cent Yes. Never mind a 70 per cent Yes. Do the maths. The fact remains that if more Scots-born and those under 55 had voted Yes we would have defeated the naysayers. If 60+ per cent of Scots-born had voted Yes and not 52% we would have cleared it. If 60+ per cent of those under 55 had voted Yes we would have cleared it.

      There were were 4.3 million eligible voters, 1 million were aged over 65 and 0.4 milllion were born elsewhere in the UK. Not all of these voted No! If the rest of us had voted Yes in sufficiently large numbers and not in bare majorities in the low 50s we would have clinched it.

      The failing is as much ours as anybody else’s. There must be a lot of soft Noes out there that we have to win over. Those who voted No more in regret than in enthusiasm.

    2. Andy Collins says:

      My parents both died in the last few years almost 180 years old between them. Mum’s last SNP vote was her YES in the referendum. I think she knew it was probably her last chance to see it. My dad also voted SNP, though long ago he was once a member of the Labour party. He was a child the year a Liberal \Conservative coalition sent 10,000 troops with tanks to Glasgow.

      A few days after the referendum I was in a Cardiac ward after a heart attack. In a room full of people many like me with heart failure waiting for triple bypasses, stents, pacemakers etc one of the staff was trumpeting that they would do things for you only if you had voted no. I didn’t stand up to them because I was brave but because with one side of my heart barely working and with a clot in it I was terrified I’d have another heart attack. Surely you don’t need to have been there to get how vulnerable people who are sick or elderly or both are ?

      We win people where they are ready and able to find alternate sources of news. They have to be open to it though and at all ages some aren’t. Some never will be from self interest. We all know younger no voters. You won’t convince them by appearing to wish for their parents to depart the scene.

      This last point is unrelated but interesting. After reading someone saying we didn’t get 50% of the vote because it wasn’t 50% of registered electors I did some checking. By this measure in the UK even Labour + Conservative + Lib Dems combined got over49% but failed to get 50% and managed only 34% here.

    3. Mr T says:

      Welcome to democratic Scotland. A call to ban English born from voting.

      I understand that there are always a few idiots, but what really scares me is how few people on this site actually stand up and criticise that sort of nonsense.

      (BTW – born in England but have 2 x Scottish Grandparents. Please let me know if I that makes me sufficiently Scottish or whether I am untermensch. It would also help if you could tell me the sign I’m supposed to paint on my door and the correct colour paint to use).

      1. MBC says:

        Nobody is calling for English born not to be able to vote. Come off it. Again, you are indulging in divisive talk which will get us nowhere. Even if 45% of English born had voted Yes (and not 25%) it would have made no difference to the outcome.

  5. John Skinnider says:

    To act as if Scotland were an independent nation ? A fine ideal but what would help is the flesh on the independence bones, we have to show more actual policies that the working man can point to and say ” well independent Scotland’s minimum wage will be ……
    Benefits will be ….. Social housing will be…..
    It’s great to feed the many SNP supporters their failed amendments on FFA but at some point folk ( and I do mean charities welfare organisations et al) are going to ask right what’s your offer ?
    Because if we are to act like an independent country what you can’t be is the opposition all the time.

  6. James Davidson says:

    When we look at the current example of Greece moving Scottish ‘no’ voters over to ‘yes’ in another Scottish independence camapaign could be much more difficult than some people seem to think.
    The Greek people are suffering from what can only be described as ‘financial terrorism’ being inflicted by the unelected technocrats of the European Commission.
    Yet circa 50% of the Greek population, according to opinion polls, seem ready to accept more of the same.
    How bad do things need to get before the majority of the Greek people say enough is more than enough?

    1. MBC says:

      From my grasp of things, it seems like Greeks fear independence more than they fear dependence. They already import a lot. If they were to leave the euro and return to the drachma, then the drachma would have to devalue as it would be a very weak currency given their situation. That would be good for their exporting, Greek goods would be cheap, so would undercut competition, in the very long term that would benefit their economy, but meanwhile the costs of their imports would immediately rocket. Food, fuel, medicines, would all rocket if they had to be bought with drachmas not euros. There would be huge inflation. At the moment their salaries and pensions have been cut, taxes have risen, but their money is in euros so inflation is under control. A euro is a euro and is worth the same internationally whether it’s in Greece or Germany.

  7. Stevie Anderson says:

    What a cracking article and a wonderfully erudite analysis. Thersites has better vision than perhaps some of the comments might suggest. We are in the deepest and most dramatic crisis in capitalism for 80 or more years and the thing is we know it, we sense it, we see it every time Gideon grins his sweaty coke grin. We know it when we read about EVEL and changing the child poverty measure to decrease child poverty, instead of….well yanno.

    We don’t live in a bubble, no matter how much our current politics have become vibrantly self obsessed. We live in an EU and world that has five to ten years in front of it where we can make a better world or we can make barbarism. In an world where an avowed socialist is putting real pressure on the presidential hopes of the latest dynastic shoo in, there’s hope for more than our SNP aspire to. We must dream bigger, better and bolder, or else what’s the point in dreaming?

    Our mob with Thersites as its speaker can’t mutely watch while we collude in redressing the naked emperors of capitalism. At this “Troy” we need Kings telt that they are greedy bloody fools and cowards, but then together we resolve not to give them their raiments back, to re-dress them and take our beatings. There is no Odysseus in their ranks. We have nothing to fear but our own dimmed hopes and dreams.

  8. dougiestrang says:

    Thank you George.

    Great article. Points powerfully and poetically made, as ever.

  9. deewal says:

    “Next week is, of course, too soon. Even next year – not before the Holyrood election at least.”

    That is assuming that Holyrood and a Scottish Parliament will still be in existence.
    The Tory’s are moving faster and faster and that is they’re next most important objective.
    Who will lift a finger to stop them ? What will happen when they announce that Scotland as Nation no longer exists and that it’s Leader and Parliament are illegal ?

  10. kate says:

    how far is too far regarding westminister for the scottish public? when will someone make the call?

    If,following Clegg ‘s line,some people fear similarities to Greece post indy it is the union & permanent austerity that will bring that , not independence. The left & greens are right about as much national currency control as possible being best option, Greece shows this too.

    SNP & others further left could and should go into holyrood election like the Greek referendum
    “do accept this or not?”
    [ie. rule from westminister with no democratic input,permanent austerity& war on disabled,children,workers,poor]

    There needs to be a concerted campaign to convince the unionist stronghold amongst older people that they are trashing the rights, welfare, health & opportunities of children as well as the will of all younger generations by effecting supporting a tory govt in perpetuity for scotland as part of UK. Tell them they need to get out of the way if they can’t lend their hand
    right now

    Regarding Greece the right wing EU govts including of course the UK govt are prepared to let families starve and people suicide, have no health or income safety net at all, and in doing so promote nationalist fascism or other right wing military dictatorship. Equally the UK tories are willing to completely end the safety net & let people without means starve and die of untreated disease. The inhumanity to the Greeks is an indicator of how these governments view all people. People outside the upper/middle classes are in great danger in the longer term, as the article implies, & it is no time to pull your punches

  11. David Allan says:

    Those fortunate prosperous Pensioner’s the beneficiaries of 2/3 Index-linked Final Salary Schemes, Public Sector workers retiring at 60, beneficiaries of massive redundancy offers in their final years of employment, mortgages paid off, earlier beneficiaries of mortgage tax relief who purchased their first detached homes for £3000! who saw their grant funded children off to university. Who left school in the 60’s and turned up for work without completing a CV or filling in an application. Who didn’t have to commute as local jobs still existed then!

    Aye Westminster did them proud the generation who surfed the national debt wave reeping their many rewards, leaving the bill for the generations that follow their children and grand-children did they care did they take time to carefully study and consider the referendum choices?

    The minority who did and had the courage to vote YES have my admiration. I hope the remainder and not all will be affluent are being reminded at every opportunity what their NO vote achieved.

    Perhaps for them the penny has finally dropped!

    1. MBC says:

      Lay off the baby boomers. The problem is the media. The pensioners are not selfish they were vulnerable, misinformed, sold a pup. We should have appreciated that this million+ strong cohort of voters was a key target group that we should have made more attempts to engage with. But the hard fact remains that if enough of us under the age of 55 had voted Yes we would not have needed their votes anyway. A bare majority of those under 55 did vote Yes, but if this was a super majority above 60 or 70 per cent, we would not have needed the pensioner vote.

      1. Graeme Purves says:

        Spot on, MBC! The Yes campaign was magnificent in many ways, but one conspicuous weakness was its failure to engage convincingly with the elderly. We need to learn from that, not blame pensioners.

        1. Christine says:

          I am an ex public sector baby boomer. I am tired of people blaming us for benefits we have worked for.
          The problem is not that we have these benefits it is that others don’t.
          We are a rich country.
          The Tories are using the devide and rule tactic against the bulk of the population.
          Public sector workers against private sector.
          Workers against people on benefits.
          Until a socialist or ‘labour’ party gets its act together
          I will vote for the SNP in all elections.

          1. JBS says:

            “The problem is not that we have these benefits it is that others don’t.”

            And that hits the nail squarely on the head. Thank you.

  12. Sid says:

    I don’t believe the people at the food banks, the unemployed, skilled workers and god knows the amount of ‘economically inactive Scots’ who voted SNP would all agree to your ‘open immigration policy because we need the people economically and to show to the world that Scotland possesses humanity. We need reason here… charity begins at home and there’s a lot of really poor people here.

    1. catriona grigg says:

      We need immigrants who have the skills we lack. The dentists, the nurses and yes even the brickies. Our population is aging. Here in the north, young people are leaving. Immigrants are a blessing!

  13. MBC says:

    Acting like we were already independent… some practical blue sky thinking needed here.

    What is to stop the SNP government from establishing a National Development Bank to encourage patriotic Scots to invest in our future? It could become our central bank as we move towards independence and when we establish our own currency, pegged 1:1 with sterling. In the meantime its deposits could be used for building the infrastructure needed to create a fairer society such as building social housing, at affordable rents, or mortgages and loans for housing and housing projects. E.g., adaptations to homes for wheelchair users, loans to communities for buy outs, local authorities for building schools, roads, old folks homes, etc.

    Similar to the Norwegian Husbank after WW2 which was set up for building homes as part of the post-war reconstruction.

  14. Republicofscotland says:

    The problem of independence lies within the electorate, how can we convince enough folk to vote yes, what factors can and will change no voters to yes voters.

    We can’t truly develop Scotland, and harness its full potential without independence, Scotland is on a completely different course from England in politics alone, nevermind anything else.

    Thersites may have spoken the truth, and that’s a good thing, but for Scots and Scotland the truth is, we need to convert more noes to yes, or independence will never be obtained.

  15. Alba Woman says:

    An excellent article expressing and facing difficult realities. I agree that we need to invest heavily in our Creative arts. It is time for our artists of all types to please step forward and help Scotland express these realities. Hope and love need also to be on the artistic agenda.

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