392B63C400000578-0-Mr_Woolfe_was_pictured_lying_flat_out_on_the_ground_after_collap-a-54_1476022959108It’s difficult not to be smug when looking across the pond at the depths that US politics has sunk to. Gone are the days when we thought Republican Vice-Presidential candidate Dan Quayle not being able to spell ‘potato’ was a low-point. Now we have a sexual predator seeking office. But we shouldn’t sneer. If American political life is in the cesspit we are in the circus ring with the Killer Clowns ‘taking back control’ across the country.

If British politics pre-Brexit looks and feels like the Day to Day on high-speed loop, it’s not going to get any better any time soon. It’s Harvest Thanksgiving in 2016 and people are collecting for food banks and the pound is tanking.

Philip Bowring points out that this circus-act is already hitting home in the economy before anyone has even got Article 50 out of the holster (‘In Little England, the conceit of Brexit is on full display’):

“The scorn with which Brexit advocates treat other EU members is in stunning contrast to the actual facts about relative conditions. The economics is disturbing. The UK is now running a current account deficit equal to 6 per cent of its gross domestic product. That is the highest of any major country and would be cause for panic in a developing country. It is sustained by a mix of the sale of domestic assets and bonds to foreigners (the latest its £24 billion [HK$232 billion] sale of chip company ARM to Japan), and flow of Chinese and other funk money into property and football teams. Not long ago, the UK had large net overseas assets. Now, debt and dividend service adds to the deficit.”

Ct0-4K9WAAAvQWASome have reported the pound now being sold at less than a euro at airports now. But there’s another more sinister and potentially more long-lasting source of damage that’s going on beyond economic failure and financial insecurity.

English culture and political re-emergence is a phenomena almost completely over-looked by commentators north and south of the border, hiding behind either our own obsession with Scotland or the fast-disapearring entity known as ‘Britain’. England is somewhere at the back of the fridge lurking behind the sausages. As John Harris writes:

“This time it is all about England. As the UK continues to fracture and Scotland goes its own way, England is the country that media people and politicians might still rarely mention by name, but which completely dominates the post-referendum foreground. In this context, England is the nation for which Theresa May claims to speak, and which preoccupies many Labour politicians: a country of hardcore Brexit supporters, St George’s flags hung out on Kent housing estates – and, to paraphrase Blair, immigration, immigration, immigration.”

The new toxicity – whether it’s clowns or the ‘foreign student clampdown’ – or the latest revelations that the list of foreign workers will be ‘secret’ and not public – is a step to the far-right that’s being given no cultural context. As Dani Garvelli writes in the Scotsman: “fascism doesn’t start with yellow stars and death camps; it starts with a subtle process of dehumanisation.”

A Journalism of Violence

CaUqpNxWQAAk8UPBut what’s really fascinating, and should be deeply alarming too, is the way the two referendums we’ve experienced are now being portrayed and re-framed. After the extraordinary ruling of Ipso this week – which fundamentally underscores any deep pessimism about press regulation – the Scottish independence referendum is being re-cast as one characterised by routine violence. At the same time the Brexit referendum, which unleashed real-world racism across the country, emboldening unprecedented levels of violence from Jo Cox’s murder to spikes in xenophobic attacks, is being celebrated as some kind of glorious democratic revival, a re-awakening of grassroots populism and a snub to the political elite.

If journalism is the first draft of history, then the Ipso ruling is doing us all a disservice. It’s not just the Yes movement that is being smeared it is the entire referendum process. This is the Memory Hole. Those are the Memory Thieves.

And right at the heart, the very heart of this myth-making is the Express and the Mail dynasties. Harris again:

“We are in a bad place, but we didn’t get there overnight. Over the past 10 years or so, a small set of English people and organisations have led the toxic recasting of their country. Nigel Farage and his de facto English nationalist party didn’t just push the EU to the top of the political agenda, they also created the impression that they spoke for a forgotten nation. And then there were the English grassroots Conservatives, most of whom raged against David Cameron’s modernisation drive, such as it was. A big role has also been played by the great minds at those self-consciously English media outlets, the Mail and the Express. Witness the Mail’s “Who will speak for England?” front page, used this year to open its campaigning against the EU.”

This shadow England isn’t a new thing, and the idea that it has emerged from nowhere should be resisted. As John Cooper Clark pointed out way back in 1976 the stark hypocrisy between the veneer of respectability and the lynch-mob baiting of the tabloids is age-old:

I’ve seen the poison letters of the horrible hacks
About the yellow peril and the reds and the blacks
And the TUC and its treacherous acts
Kremlin money – All right Jack
I’ve seen how democracy is under duress
But I’ve never seen a nipple in the Daily Express

I’ve seen the suede jack boot the verbal cosh
Whitehouse Whitelaw whitewash
Blood uptown where the vandals rule
Classroom mafia scandal school
They accuse – I confess
I’ve never seen a nipple in the Daily Express

Angry columns scream in pain
Love in vain domestic strain
Divorce disease it eats away
The family structure day by day
In the grim pursuit of happiness
I’ve never seen a nipple in the Daily Express

This paper’s boring mindless mean
Full of pornography the kind that’s clean
Where William Hickey meets Michael Caine
Again and again and again and again
I’ve seen millionaires on the DHSS
But I’ve never seen a nipple in the Daily Express

It’s deeply ironic that a tabloid media that has incited hatred and violence against anything they perceive as ‘other’ for thirty years and more should be tarring the independence movement as one of violence and discord.

It’s democracy they’re scared of.

316709BF00000578-3461844-image-a-6_1456312670977Broken Promises come from Broken Politics run by Broken People

This is a Clown Country where Nigel Farage can describe Donald Trump in the Presidential tv debates: “He was like a Silverback Gorilla prowling the studio” who “dominated her”.

The language of racism and suppressed sexual expression isn’t a coincidence. It’s about the public loss of power as the sureties of status and role fare exposed and the patriarchy falters conveying about as much credibility as the authenticity of the Silverback Gorillas hair.

The danger is that the re-writing of history and the lack of real outlets for political voice gives rise to a new apathy to sit alongside the new fascism. A derisory sense of gawping disbelief is in the air. What we will need is to have concrete and practical policies of openness and internationalism, celebrate our multi-cultural Scotland, and to confront and challenge the rampant racism on our streets and in the highest echelons of government.

Rejecting the tabloid agenda and re-claiming our own very recent history is a key part of that process. Because, despite the desperate re-writing, as Iain Macwhirter has written:

“The UK is now a very different country: one that has suffered something like a rightwing coup d’etat albeit without the bullets.”

But if we are to clamber out of the gutter we’ll have to take some tough challenges too. Clinton is a necessary vote, but a difficult one to get excited about. She represents a new low-bar and goes against the zeitgeist of popular politics. Over here in Clown Country we’re not exactly over-brimming with inspiring competent and visionary politicians either. We’ll need to do it any way and stop looking out for political heroes to cling to. Part of the facing-up to new realities is finding agency and inspiration outside the corridors of parliaments and the broken politics. We shouldn’t get too smug about the dire state of American politics when ours is in such a mess too. And if we are complacent in our northern stronghold we should remember this is what we voted to be part of.