THE LAST ELECTION: From the Province of the Cat
In June 2016 with the EU referendum we saw the first stage of the political coup the Tories are attempting to pull off in the UK. Now, one year later, we are witnessing the second stage of Theresa May’s power grab. Every time the Prime Minister stands up and talks about “Strong and stable government” the more she gets closer to wearing the brown shirt of authoritarianism the servants of her instincts seem to have hung up in her wardrobe.
What do we know: that Theresa May is putting her self-interests first, the Conservative and Unionist Part second, and her “country” last. That the Prime Minister’s “country” does not include Scotland. That there is no such thing as “strong and stable government”, no matter how often she repeats the phrase, because the capitalist system is inherently unstable and the actions of the Westminster government make it increasingly so as the gap between the rich and the poor increases. That the administration of inequality is not government. That this current British Prime Minister does not like discussion, opposition or dissent. That the Tories have created the mess which is Brexit and which Scotland voted against in the 2016 referendum but that doesn’t matter because the Scots are British. That within the constitutional settlement of the UK the Scottish democratic deficit is increasingly pulling the Treaty of Union of 1707 apart. That this election is about the English Tories killing off the English Labour Party. That the Tories are desperate to bury electoral fraud.
What are we told: that there is no public demand for a second independence referendum in Scotland no matter how many people vote for the SNP. That after June 8th there will be significant Tory gains in Scotland of as many as twelve seats. Even if there is a majority of SNP MP’s returned in Scotland this will not be a mandate for independence. That only the Conservative and Unionist Party with Theresa May at its head can lead Britain out of the European Union and steer us through increasingly chaotic political times which is all of other people’s making. That the Labour Party is unfit to govern Britain because they have a democratically elected leader most of their MP’s despise. That the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland is not under threat because of the short term political needs of te Conservative and Unionist Party even though it is. That only by having a deadly arsenal of first strike nuclear weapons of mass destruction on the Firth of Clyde can Britain defend itself against terrorism and remain secure.
Now may not be the right time for a referendum on Scottish independence, for all sorts of reasons including Brexit, but it is not up to the British Prime Minister to tell the Scottish people so if their democratically elected representatives put forward that proposition. Now is probably the wrong time for the British Prime Minister to call a General Election merely because she sees a political opportunity but it is most definitely a good time for the Conservative and Unionist Party to start digging its own political grave.
The Tories plan to abolish the welfare state in favour of a low wage service economy in which the poor and the weak will either scrape an existence through a thin mixture of health insurance and work for welfare, or not. The “insurance” and “welfare” will be made as stern a test as possible and as to what happens when an individual or family fail that test that will be ignored and will not register in the national statistics or Gers report except at the morgue. Those who do not exist cannot be present to do anything as tiresome as voting. If you would like a glimpse of what a brand new post-European Union Tory Britain may look like I suggest you go to the United Arab Emirates or Qatar.
By aiding the rich in becoming even richer the Conservatives in reality are condemning everyone else to becoming forever dependent in one way or another. The freedom the Conservatives cherish is merely the freedom to buy and sell and the free market they advocate is only free to those who can afford to benefit and the market is regulated to that end. This is the freedom to normalise wealth extraction and to regulate poverty. Their philosophy is dominated by the myths of the past and their political agenda is to return us all to that past whether we like it or not. This is what the Conservatives call our common culture and our shared values. They are not. They are a lie.
A party that fetishizes the family while at the same time is economically sanctioning the majority of families is a party that can easily whisper thin vapours about the hallowed benefits of education while eroding that possibility from all but the children of the wealthy. The legislation to limit child tax credits with its infamous and repulsive rape clause and Theresa May’s clay-pipe dream about the reintroduction of grammar schools is evidence to this. They will lead us back to a financialised Bronze Age where the elite live in fortified cities. In this future-past scenario the Scots will be like a legless child who has won a bicycle in a raffle. Once the Conservatives have covered the world with concrete we will be asked to cycle off to a corner of this tired old country called Britain and rejoice that feelings and compassion have been replaced by forms and zero hours’ contracts. We will be expected to be grateful to finally having a leader in Theresa May, or whoever follows her, who can conjure up totally convincing emotion about chaos or terrorism and then stand by, inexplicably indifferent to human suffering. We will be expected to believe them when they tell us injustice is preferable to disorder. If we do not we are unpatriotic.
“Rex Tillerson, the sideways stepping CEO of ExxonMobil and now the high stepping US Secretary of State, has recently called North Korea “A land of sorrow frozen in time.” This epithet could easily describe the reality of the imagined island of Britain after the newly secured Conservative perma-majority in England have found out the hard way just what Brexit really means.”
“Strong and stable government” is the same old political mood music which is rapidly turning into the psycho-pop babble of an increasingly arrogant clique. Rex Tillerson, the sideways stepping CEO of ExxonMobil and now the high stepping US Secretary of State, has recently called North Korea “A land of sorrow frozen in time.” This epithet could easily describe the reality of the imagined island of Britain after the newly secured Conservative perma-majority in England have found out the hard way just what Brexit really means. The people will experience it through increasing levels of poverty and failing social services and there will be no-one left to blame other than the poor themselves. It will certainly not be the Conservative and Unionist Party. The public information line to this inevitable reality will be redacted by a willing media because Conservative memory does not engage in narrative, as it is constructed from a set of highly selective photo-recalls and iconic images. It cannot sustain causal storytelling but instead prefers the episode which can be isolated and be used to sustain the myth: the myth that we live in a participatory democracy when increasingly we do not.
But in the meantime, we face two elections – the local elections on May 4th and the General Election on June 8th. For Scotland, at this point in our story, they are vital. Ruling elites, by their nature, hold the ordinary person in contempt: that is the cynical paradigm of power. You may ask how voting in a local election can contribute to the disambiguation of power, of breaking it down, making it less cynical and more inclusive? The immediate answer is that it hard to see how it can, but vote we must, or we too become our own gravediggers. Just because things are the way they are does not mean either that they were meant to be like this or that they cannot change.
Take, for example, my own home sweet homeland of Highland Region. Currently it is neither local not democratic. Thurso is 120 A9 miles from Inverness where the 80 councillors meet. There are 234,110 people living within the political area of Highland Council which makes it the seventh highest population of all Scotland’s councils. This has to be off-set against a physical area of 10,225 square miles, stretching from Durness to Nairn. This is bigger than many European countries. The biggest group on the Highland Council are not a group at all but 59 “independent” councillors who although they have a genuine concern for local issues have all the political clout of a deep-litter of hens. The result is that the Council officials run Highland Council. They are the real power. Ineffectual local representation means the people in the Highlands feel increasingly powerless to affect change to the things which impact on their lives.
One of the main industries in the Highlands is tourism but the way the rates are set and implemented would make you think that the government agencies want to shut every hotel, restaurant and café in the North of Scotland. Planning on everything from windfarms to fish farms, from housing development to school buildings and closures gives the impression that there is little actual planning, other than a reactive instinct and an all too ready capacity to cut services. The result is there is a level of dissatisfaction which is not healthy for genuine local democracy because people are looking for somebody to blame. We blame the wrong people. We criticise the wrong providers.
What is to blame for our falling living standard is the structure of Highland Council itself, which is far too big and remote and has to be broken down and power returned to communities whose elected politicians are answerable to their local electorate. Highland Council, at the moment, is a classic case of voting to give your power away. Let us vote on May 4th to give power to ourselves, the people, not officials and councillors who live in the margins of influence. We must vote for local representatives who understand that not only is the structure of local government in Scotland far too central and authoritarian but that the make-up of the British state has to change also, that one leads to the other. A local councillor who does not understand this is worse than useless.
So, as part of the ongoing Tory coup, we have the General Election on June 8th. Let us say to ourselves that this will be the last election of this kind. The next election in Scotland should be the first in a newly independent Scotland. To achieve that we may all have to be a lot more pro-active when it comes to the workings of the political process. We can describe our current democratic condition until we are scunnered but let the prescription that we write ourselves be that this General Election in 2017 will be the last of its kind.
This is not such a fanciful idea. The episodes so beloved of the Conservatives will not stay episodes forever. They cannot be contained because events dictate that they cannot. Despite the tyrannical management of the message eventually episodes break free and form, as is natural, into a story and stories are explosive: they can blow up in your face, which is why the Tories don’t like narrative. What is certain can change quickly into uncertainty. No matter that one side in an election will say “Time for a change” and the other “Don’t risk a change”, as happened in Scotland in 2014, change happens anyway.
The disdain the Tories have shown to Northern Ireland, which voted to Remain in the EU, could see the politcal calibration in the Six Counties alter which in turn could lead to Northern Ireland staying inside the EU as part of a united Ireland. Other than the hardcore Unionists it is feasible that a majority might see this as economically preferable to being part of a failing UK. Theresa May’s certainty about her hegemony in Conservative England (which is the point of this ongoing coup) could begin to dissolve. After Brexit and its sobering fallout Scotland will eventually become independent and become once more a member of the EU. Brexit makes this narrative a probability. Even isolated and overlooked Wales might manage to achieve special status within the European Single Market. Who is to say that it is impossible? What benefit then is a permanent Conservative government to the ordinary people of England?
“Strong and stable government” is the dream of every right-wing despot who has ever entered into politics. The only word Theresa May dare not add, but thinks, is “forever”. The reactionary dreams of Theresa May are consumed by the fire of their own tension like a hay barn too tightly packed, or the coal that spontaneously combusted on the Titanic. The Tories main weapon in their general repression is that they shame the poor and the weak from claiming what is their human right, which is the material and means to live a decent life. So, it is that the poor and the weak resist what they desire, which is freedom from oppression. That is one reason why this must be the last election, the last on Conservative British terms.
When we vote on June 8th we must vote for power to be controlled by the Scottish people, who are sovereign, not those who steal the purpose and function of a broken parliament on the river Thames. Let our ambition be our creativity because we are not weak and we are not passive. Tell the politicians that we have a new country to make before it is too late.