Profit by the Hours: From The Province of the Cat

The narrative line for Scotland has to move forwards. Scottish independence has to be an insurgency against the ruling British reactionary elite or it is nothing and true insurrection can only go forwards. What Boris Johnson and Jo Swinson represent is a backwards step to a mutiny against democracy argues George Gunn.

The “election” of Boris Bojo Johnson as the new Prime Minister by a small, selective elite marks the beginning of the end of days for the “precious” Union of the “fabulous foursome” of the UK. His hedge fund managers must be kicking their heels in glee and tripping over themselves to bow down upon the stage of heartlessness as the planned for and necessary chaos of the Premiership of Bojo releases at last the longed for opportunities for making unearned bundles of cash. As George Kerevan has shown in his informative essays making money for Boris and his boys on the wolf-fringes of market capitalism is the all and everything of what Boris and his boys are about. The very short morning of the very long knives when he cut the tendons of half the cabinet and replaced them with his own club of self-seekers shows us all, no matter how optimistic or cynical we may be, just how quickly Boris plans to build the stage and unleash the chaos. That he has created dangerous enemies in his own party does not bother him. That there may be a General Election in the Autumn does not bother him. That he may be the shortest lived PM in history does not bother him. That the Brexit Party may win the Autumn General Election does not bother him. That Scotland will become an independent country as a result of all of this does not bother him. The only thing that will bother him is if Boris does not profit.

However, so far, for Bojo Enterprises, it is mission accomplished. Whatever happens, Boris will profit. In marking the new PM’s love of Latin it is fitting to note that it was the Roman poet Quintus Horatius Flaccus (65 BC – 8 BC), known in the English-speaking world as Horace, who wrote of “lucrum per horas”, or “profit by the hours”. For Scotland this is a crucial time: every hour that passes is vital to our future. It is all very well, as the SNP seem to be doing, to take the Napoleonic advice, and to never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake. The dangerous thing about this new Tory regime is that they will not make mistakes in the generally accepted political and social sense; what they will make is chaotic political hay while the Sun of opportunity shines, and while standing back and watching them has a brief attraction it is extremely dangerous to both the short and long term concerns and welfare of the Scottish people. I am the first to admit that the Scottish Government are moving along the legislative procedure which will make the reality of a second independence referendum adopted into law and I think this is both a good and necessary thing. Yet we all know that no matter what procedures the Scottish Government propose and no matter how democratic the Scottish Government are in voting them on to the statute book Bojo, or his successor in Westminster, will say “no”. Then what?

Right now, as the heat boils our brains, as Trump gets increasingly manic, as October 31st approaches and Bojo’s hollow-neep Halloween yellows the mirk of his stated “no deal”, with his newly appointed ugsome guizers leading the dance, waiting and seeing and doing nothing is not an option. In Scotland, if our politics is to progress, if our people will have a nation to call their own, we must become shape-shifters and simultaneously more canny and forthright political operators. We like to tell ourselves that Scottish independence has many friends. In Europe and around the world that may be true. With the election of Jo Swinson as the leader of the Liberal Democrats it is clear that within the body politic of the British establishment we have none. In fact, if one was verging on paranoia, you might be forgiven for thinking they hate the idea of Scottish independence. Surely never?

But in many ways Jo Swinson is a more insidious enemy of Scottish democracy than Bojo, whose sole virtue is that his naked ambition, insincerity and greed is there for all to see. The new Liberal Democrat leader likes to present herself as reasonable, moderate and civil, which could mean practically anything. The reality is that it means nothing. Jo Swinson, like all arch-Unionists when it comes to Scotland, creates fake narratives and then flags them up as truth. To her the year 2014 in Scotland was a black time of media trolls and journalistic demons; when a mob mentality ran riot, unchecked, promoted by the SNP, who encouraged a climate of harshness and hostility which has become the new normal in British politics. Could it be that Jo Swinson has her referenda mixed up or could it be that she is just another opportunistic player wanting a slice of Bojo’s pie? Or is she what I think she is – an establishment placement, terrified of the people and the future?

Jo Swinson’s record in the Tory-Lib coalition government is grim. She voted to impose the Bedroom Tax and to cut vital benefits for the ill and the infirm while at the same time advocating a “bonfire of public services”. Zero hour contracts became common place whilst Jo Swinson was Employment Minister and she opposed any attempt to legislate for gender equality in the workplace. She supported the rights of the bankers over the rights of the poor and opposed any regulation of the financial sector, much to the chagrin of many of her fellow Liberals. She will hop into the governmental sack with Bojo if and when it is required, if that is the only way the Tories can hang onto power. In many ways Jo Swinson is more dangerous than Boris Johnson. The latter does not pretend, the former is all pretence.

The Liberal Party has been the curse of Highland politics since 1886, when the Gladstone government passed the Crofter’s Holding Act, which theoretically put an end to the evictions of cottars and crofters which led to the Highland Clearances. From that date until the rise of the SNP in the late 80’s and early 90’s Liberals of one form or another represented constituencies from Shetland down to Argyll and could expect do so at every election. From 1886 until now their record in the Highlands and Islands has been abysmal. Orkney, Shetland, Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross are still represented at Westminster by Liberal Democrats; as are Orkney and Shetland in Holyrood. Their record of managing dereliction and transforming it into dereliction speaks for itself. In the Highlands, if the Liberals were in power, either in Holyrood or Westminster, everything would be badly managed, nothing would fit with anything else, everything would be a mess, everything would be at odds and the whole place and population would be exasperated. There are many who will say it is like this now. Although progress is teeth-grindingly slow only a die-hard reactionary would decry that the SNP have made a significant difference to the better in the Highlands and Islands. As to the Liberal legacy in the Highlands I would argue that noting exceeds the ability of the Liberal Democrats when it is a matter of building things up by tearing everything down. Jo Swinson is just the latest in a long line of Liberal leaders who are eminently qualified in not knowing what to do about anything.

However, ideas – of which Johnson and Swinson have none – can no more run backwards than can a river. The narrative line for Scotland has to move forwards. Scottish independence has to be an insurgency against the ruling British reactionary elite or it is nothing and true insurrection can only go forwards. What Boris Johnson and Jo Swinson represent is a backwards step to a mutiny against democracy. Bojo may spout his blustering rhetoric but it only goes to prove what Victor Hugo noticed, “When talent is lacking anger writes poetry.”

That is why time is of the essence and why the Scottish people must profit from action by the Scottish government now, not at some future time of the government’s choosing. History proves, time and time again, that you do not have the luxury of choosing your moment: events choose you. But at the same time we have to be careful, and this is not a contradiction. A weak revolt, or the wrong actions, or an inappropriate strategy taken up by the independence movement now, from the point of view of those in power, is not undesirable: in principle any insurrection strengthens the government it fails to overthrow. It flexes the muscles of power and power feels revived after a failed or suppressed insurrection, like an athlete after a massage.

Yet the independence movement must insist upon the truth. We must continue to assert that stepping backwards into the past, either to some sentimental never -never land of lost Empire, or of the State turning on democracy when it denies the right of the people to a second referendum on independence, does injury to our humanity.

We better learn quickly, in this post-truth time, that when selfishness is made manifest then the denouncers must show themselves. We either profit politically by the hours given to us after this latest Tory coup, as Horace advised posterity, or Scotland will pay the price in years of decline.

Comments (2)

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  1. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    You have summarised well Ms Swinson’s approach to the leadership of the Liberal Democrats. She is seeking to fill the One Nation Tory gap that has appeared in the Conservative Party. In government 2010/5 she was a staunchly austerian as any.

  2. Margaret McNeil says:

    We also seem to have forgotten how she let down women in her own party when she was Minister for Women and Equalities in the coalition government 2012-15 by failing to support them when they consulted her about inappropriate behaviour from a senior male member of the Party.

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