The Heavy Bear and the Jellyfish
“After the General Election in 2017, and sometime distant, will future political historians be asking “Is there is such a thing anymore as a Tory, or a nationalist, or a socialist?” Or have we all morphed into the “nerve net” of gloop that is the first past the post parliamentary system?” asks George Gunn, From The Province of the Cat.
What is happening to our little country? Every time I see our “beloved leader”, our “national treasure”, Nicola Sturgeon on TV now, these lines from the American poet Delmore Schwartz come into my mind
“The heavy bear who goes with me…
Stumbles, flounders, and strives to be fed
Dragging me with him in his mouthing care,
Amid the hundred million of his kind,
The scrimmage of appetite everywhere.”
That “heavy bear”, for Nicola Sturgeon, is the dilemma of the SNP in government in Scotland when they do not, cannot, really govern because such a block-granted body is not actually a “government” as they do not raise and spend taxes, or write or adhere to or amend a constitution of the nation’s design. What every “government” in Holyrood is, up to this point in history, is an administration. They can shuffle things around fiscally until they are tartan in the face and declare that they have a different set of priorities to the masters of cruelty South of the border, which are all to the benefit of the Scottish people, but at the end of the day the structure the politicians in Edinburgh operate in has been set up by politicians in London and what the keepers of the keys in Westminster desire more than anything else is control.
Devolution is not, obviously, independence. Nor is it Home Rule either. It is not realistic, as last month’s election proved, to expect that devolution can lead to independence. The Holyrood assembly was set up to be a “parliament” which trapped the Scots into the British State and so far, with a peedie wobble in 2014, it has served the British state well.
The “heavy bear” that goes with Nicola Sturgeon is also called reality. It is the sticky paradigm of containment. Last week the Fraser of Allander Institute warned that the Scottish economy, in terms of Gross Domestic Product, fell 0.2% from last October to December and, if trends continue this way, is heading for recession. In other words, we are flat-lining, guddling along at the bottom of the economic tank like a weakened monkfish. This is a result (or manifestation?) of the British dystopia that deliberately, as policy, allows something as potentially dynamic as Scotland to decline, while at the same time continuing to pull our monetary strings.
The reason the Scottish economy is dysfunctional is that it is a branch economy of the of the UK where the economy central is in London and the South East of England. Scotland has few surviving centres of industry anymore and even fewer industrial or corporate headquarters. The infrastructure we have is so under invested in that it barely manages to chug along. Anyone who steps onto a Stagecoach bus or a Scot Rail train out with Edinburgh and Glasgow could be forgiven for thinking that they were in a third world country, or that they had gone back to the future, beyond the Berlin Wall pre-1989.
From where I write this in Caithness there are unspecified millions being spent on the decommissioning of Dounreay. “Unspecified” because there is the official published budget and then there is the reality that the process of dealing with this highly radioactive mess will take far longer than the declared time-line in the Nuclear Decommissioning Authorities plan. Anyone who tells you nuclear power is cheap then send them to go to Dounreay and let them see the genuine cost of nuclear energy. That is if they get to see anything and don’t get lifted by either the MOD police or the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, all gunned up to their counter-terroristic back teeth. This will remind you, if you didn’t already know, that every nuclear site in Britain is a military installation. Every month in Caithness the evidence of this passes our doors on trucks, trains, and on boats from Scrabster and on US military planes from Wick airport. Trucks, trains, boats and planes: it is as if every-day life in Atomic City (Thurso) is now conducted to a musical soundtrack of Cher and The Mammas and the Pappas mixed by the DJ Lucifer.
Meanwhile off our coast in the Pentland Firth is enough tidal power to keep the entire country of Scotland going indefinitely. If ever there was an instance of the branch economy and of a policy of non-investment then here it is. What can a devolved administration in Edinburgh do about that? The answer, so far, is very little. The media, of course, refuse to look this far North for news stories, let alone energy or political solutions. Instead they harp on about the down-turn in the North Sea oil field (which very few journalists know anything about) as if the price of a barrel of oil is the result of some act of divine providence which we will have to live with, instead of pointing out that it is the direct result of a crazy trade war between Saudi Arabia and Iran which drags in both the USA and Russia This is the one in which the Saudi’s pump oil and gas into an already over-supplied market in order to destabilise their enemies. This proxy war with Iran fuels the madness in Syria where all four powers get to shoot guns at each other. That, I am afraid, is “the heavy bear” who goes with all of us.
The other spectre which haunts Nicola Sturgeon is that of Jeremy Corbyn. A lot of the 500,000 lost votes went to him. I say “him” as opposed to the Labour Party because, in Scotland, just what is that? I know that arithmetically 13 Scottish Tory and 7 Labour MP’s were elected to Westminster, but because Jeremy Corbyn decided to take on the Tories and put forward many policies which appeared to the young to be radical, even though they were, historically quite modest, some even borrowed from the SNP, the result was that most first-time voters in Scotland voted Labour. A lot of the older generation and the middle class voted Tory and whether that was entirely down to Brexit or the new sectarianism of union v independence is debatable.
One anomaly of the first past the post system is that the Lib Dems managed to return an MP for Caithness and Sutherland and Easter Ross with only a 0.7% increase in their vote and that was still a good two thousand votes ahead of the SNP. In the Far North we will learn, yet again, that having a Liberal Democrat laughing gnome as an MP is an expensive business. Prior to Paul Monaghan (SNP) we had a King (Lord Thurso), now we have his fool.
Yet another other “heavy bear” who goes with Nicola Sturgeon, and with all of us on these islands, are the Tories. The despicable deal Theresa May has done with the DUP is to prove that the Tories do not have friends. They treat everyone as enemies. The people of Northern Ireland, I suspect, already now this. The DUP are in it for the bung and they will keep returning, gangster-like, as long as the need is there and cash is forthcoming. With “money trees” in such lucrative gardens as the Virgin and Cayman Islands this harvesting could go on for a long time. The question is: what are the Scot’s “in it” for, exactly? We get no bung but we are obviously seen as enemies.
As the political crisis of the UK deepens and turns into an economic one, and as London’s relationship with the EU disintegrates and everything else they touch either turns sour or comes off the rails, it will be up to every area of civic society and every individual in Scotland to develop a coping mechanism. So far, for the SNP, it is clinging to the myth of being a competent government. Each successive SNP minister puts forth the narrative of the golden thread of competency which they claim runs through everything they do. This “golden thread” could as easily hang them, even if, to mere mortals, it is invisible. My way of retaining a sense of humour, never mind a sense of proportion, is that when I see any Tory politician on TV or blethering non-sequiturs in the papers, I think of jellyfish.
Jellyfish don’t have what is commonly understood as a central nervous system, but rather something called a “nerve net”, by which the creature feels its way about the ocean. So, you can reasonably say that technically jellyfish don’t have brains. But jellyfish can also clone themselves so that when one is cut into two the pieces can regenerate and create two new organisms. Some jellyfish are also immortal in that certain species can return to the polyp stage in times of stress. It could be that jellyfish are much smarter than the Conservative and Unionist Party? In the past decade, unlike the Tories, jellyfish blooms have been responsible for shutting down nuclear reactors which often rely on ocean water intakes. The jellyfish swarms can clog the intake pipes, forcing facilities to stop operating temporarily. It hasn’t happened yet, as far as I know, at Dounreay. But it has happened at Torness, in 2011.
According to the Treehugger website,
“Jellyfish and jelly-like sea creatures come in an immensely diverse range of forms. Animals that are typically called jellyfish belong to the phylum Cnidaria, which includes over 10,000 species. However, some jelly-like animals, like the comb jelly, belong to the phylum Ctenophora. This taxonomic difficulty has lead marine biologists to ask if there’s even such a thing as a jellyfish?”
After the General Election in 2017, and sometime distant, will future political historians be asking “Is there is such a thing anymore as a Tory, or a nationalist, or a socialist?” Or have we all morphed into the “nerve net” of gloop that is the first past the post parliamentary system, with “The scrimmage of appetite everywhere”, as Delmore Schwartz put it? There is a wild theory, presently under research, that jellyfish could take over the ocean.
The biggest “heavy bear” who goes with Nicola Sturgeon is the drastic need for radicalisation and change. Standing up or being strong for Scotland and variations on the theme has proved to be useless, even as a slogan You can stand as long as you like but if you are powerless to implement radical policies such as a land tax or put into practise radical change, for example in lowering the vote to include sixteen year olds, then “standing strong” is not only pointless, it’s an illusion. Parliamentary politics is like a church, and as Mark Twain has pointed out :
“A man is admitted into a church for what he believes, and is turned out for what he knows.”
If there is to be a second referendum on independence for Scotland then what “strives to be fed” in Scotland, to quote Delmore Schwartz again, is cultural education. A people without a cultural consciousness are a people without a political future.