2007 - 2021

Time for Scottish Sardines?

Damian Killeen argues that alongside brains and hope Scotland needs a parallel No movement that channels the nation’s anger mirroring the Italian anti-Salvini ‘Sardine’ movement.

11.00 pm on Thursday the 31st of January (midnight in mainland Europe) found me, with only four other customers, two of them my friends, in a small local cinema in Taranto in the south of Italy, watching the story of ‘Judy’. Only the fact that I attended one of Judy Garland’s final concerts at the Talk of the Town in London in 1969 and sang a line of ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ with her on stage (I like people to know this) – only this was enough to sustain my interest in this miserabilist movie. However, as the UK sets off down the Yellow Brick Road towards its colourful and promising future, it is reasonable to wonder whether mobilising our hearts and brains and screwing up our British courage will be enough to enable us to retrieve some at least of what we think of as our EU home. Will the man behind the curtain with a big megaphone, who has promised to unite us in our common Kansas actually deliver, or will he turn out, as seems likely, to be a ‘humbug’ and disappear in his private air balloon along with his sidekick, Dominic, leaving us looking for another fairy godmother

The advance of the populist right appears to have been halted to some degree here in Italy in the course of recent Regional elections in Emilia-Romagna, an area that includes traditionally communist cities, such as Bologna. The Lega party, with its leader Matteo Salvini had hoped to overturn the left wing majority and, indeed succeeded in several towns in the Region and is polling well for the next national election, whenever that comes.

However, the loss in Emilia-Romagna is being attributed not to the Partito Democratico (PD) that won but to the activities of the Sardine movement who have brought large numbers on to the streets to protest every time Salvini has been scheduled to appear. Despite not standing for election themselves, the Sardine have been credited with an increase in voter participation in the Region from 37% to 67%. Essentially, many people voted for the PD with the principal intention of keeping Salvini out.

The PD also benefited from the implosion of the Five Star Movement. The MS5 polled 33% in the 2018 general election and is in government with the PD as the largest party in the national parliament but took only 3.5% of the recent vote in Emilia-Romagna. The MS5 leader, Luigi Di Maio, resigned  his post days before the election and the party is currently rudderless. The PD is now claiming that it should be recognized as the major party of government in Italy and has proposed the cancellation of the notorious ‘security decree’, passed by the previous MS5/Lega government, that has criminalised NGOs and individuals who aid refugees. This is a move that the Sardine movement, that has no general policy platform, has specifically supported.

My observation is that the Five Star Movement, that has strong values, policies and actions supporting public participation in political activity, including online referenda and internal elections, has seemingly failed to transform this into support for its political agenda. The PD and Lega, the party of Salvini, have stuck with the traditional method of holding public meetings but limiting active public participation to the polls without any apparent impact on their popularity. It is the Sardine, dreamt up we are told by a few students in a café one evening, with no party structure and no manifesto, that have brought the people on to the streets and, apparently, into the polling booths.

Hearts, brains and courage and the fact that we already have them inside us if we choose to use them was not only the theme of The Wizard of Oz but was also reflected in Nicola Sturgeon’s recent statement on ‘Scotland’s Future’. the First Minister appeals to the heart, ‘Hope’; to the brain,’ the “New Scotland” series of papers will seek to provide the information and answers people want’; and calls for courage, ‘We must stay the course – even if it sometimes feels difficult.’ Now, I am not suggesting that Nicola Sturgeon should be compared with Dorothy and that we are all involved in some kind of fairy story but the observation points up some basic aspects of human social and political behavior, particularly about engaging peoples’ hearts and activating their courage.

I am not a natural street protestor. I am not keen on crowds and I don’t like shouting things out. But I joined the poll tax protests and the anti Iraq war events in Edinburgh. What moved me was that, rather like the Sardine and their anti-Salvini mobilization, I wanted to express my opposition to Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair at a very personal level. It was a case of my individual, physical presence as part of a group against their abuse of power. ‘Not in my Name’ was a perfect expression of what I wanted to say. Hope was somewhere in the mix of my emotions but anger was there as well and a little bit of courage, as I was prepared to leave my comfort zone in the interests of a bigger cause. I am an optimistic type and want to be able to say Yes to many things but I am learning that it is sometimes necessary to say No and to say it loud and clear.

Boris Johnson may or may not believe himself to be the Wizard of Oz but he has personalized his opposition to a further referendum on Scottish Independence. Perhaps, alongside the policy brains of the SNP and the hopefulness of the Yes movement, there needs to be a parallel No movement that channels the nation’s anger and is willing to highlight and challenge publicly those, including the Prime Minister, who want to stand in the way of the will of a majority of the Scottish people. The Sardine are so called because they want to fill public spaces like sardines in a can. Perhaps a Scottish No movement could be called Kippers because we want to smoke out the architects of the injustice that is being imposed on us, or, maybe, the Red Herrings…or, well, the competition for a name is now open.

I saw another film this week, ‘Jo Jo Rabbit’ in which a ten year old boy who has an interior, personal Hitler, tries to retain his integrity when the new normal in the life around him becomes a fascist regime. Hilarious and shocking this film is a call to everyone to remove the blindfold of received wisdom and to have the courage and the heart to use your own brains to analyse and recognize what is really going on in the world around you. Dorothy, the great ‘Returner’, would have loved it.





Comments (7)

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  1. Robert Logan says:

    Red Hand Herrings

    That is all.

  2. Dougie Blackwood says:

    An interesting analagy. We maybe do need to galvanise opinion against some of the selfish and right wing policies we are being forced to swallow.

    Our young people, other than a few of the smartest, are left behind in the conservation of comfort and income for those of us that are older and comfortable. The result is that the young do not feel able to start families and then only have , on average. Less than 2 children.
    We then wonder why the population is aging but we will not allow the resources to shift in support of increasing the birth rate.

    Time for a radical rethink.

  3. Tom Parkhill says:

    The Sardine movement seems to be succeeding because it des not belong to any party. The enthusiasm generated by the M5S was always going to collapse due to the internal contradictions in the movement (with defections to the opposite polls of the PD and the Lega), and the realities of what to do when in power, but it did show that a non-party movement has a place at the right time. There are a lot of people who just don’t trust the more established parties. This seems to be repeating itself with the Sardines to some extent, although they are very different beasts (the M5S had, and still has, the Casaleggio organisation directing it, despite presenting itself as totally grassroots).

    Personally, I think that Indyref1 managed to gather momentum in part because of the wider Yes movement, so you could be associated with Yes but not the SNP. There are a lot of people, perhaps mainly on the left, who have never really got over the idea that the SNP is a party not to be trusted, and a wider movement – such as AUOB succeeds partially because of that. But it needs to move on at the right time.

    It is interesting nonetheless that one of the founders of the Sardines, Matteo Santori, said “There are people who are convinced that you can beat Salvini just by gathering in the Piazza; unfortunately it doesn’t work that way” (New York Times, as covered by Internazionale in Italy 20 December). So even the Sardines recognise that they will need to evolve their so far successful methods. Certainly, Salvini’s understanding of social media is impressive, and I think that the Sardines see that needs to be challenged.

    A very positive movement however.

  4. Alasdair Macdonald. says:

    Thanks for this, Mr Killeen, and, thanks to Mr Small for publishing it.

    What often disappoints me about so much comment in the self-proclaimed ‘progressive’ media is that they seem to focus on the ‘pessimism of the intellect’, part of Gramsci’s aphorism, while neglecting the ‘optimism of the will’ aspect. So much of the reporting amounts to little more than hand-wringing about the policies of the ‘right’ and the seeming acceptance that this is ‘inevitable’.

    It is justified by the argument that these articles are alerting people to the dangers, and, undoubtedly, this is worthy and justified, but, what is usually missing is a sense of context and perspective. For example, I read today about President Trump’s ‘acquittal’ by the Senate and the fact that his support amongst Republicans has reached around 90%. There is no context, that only a small proportion of Americans are actually registered Republicans and that the Republicans are smaller in number than Democrats, that the Republican Party has lost many ‘traditional’ Republican supporters and that it has recruited new supporters who are attracted by Mr Trump’s bombast. In the UK, the Conservative Party demographic has been changing quite markedly since the days of Mrs Thatcher and, increasingly, since Mr Johnson became PM.

    By focussing on and repeating such things, the impression is being created that this represents a majority view rather than a narrowly partisan view fostered by the narrow ownership of the mainstream media. The few ‘progressive’ organs of such media, like the Guardian tend to emphasise the warning aspect.

    But, there are alternatives. There are more constructive things happening amongst different groups, such as those involved in ‘green’ movement, women’s groups, LGBTI+ groups, BAME groups, a wide range of community groups, etc. While they might not all see eye-to-eye, in total, they represent a far larger group than those whose views are promulgated in our mainstream media.

    There are viable alternatives, but, sadly, in their warning and hand-wringing, much of the ‘progressive’ media omit to describe what things can be done and are being done successfully.

    There is also the narrow mindedness of many of the radical groups, whose sincerity and commitment can scarcely be doubted, but whose zeal blinds them to the possibility of alternatives. This has been exemplified recently by some of the intemperate and abusive language directed by some pro-independence commentators following the First Minister’s recent speech. It is almost as if tacitly, they expect to fail and the FM has become the focus of blame for this anticipated failure.

    Change is not easy. It involves risk and risk implies there will be some failures. Circumstances will change in unexpected and unforeseen ways. So, we have to be open-minded and adapt our tactics and strategies.

    The Civil Rights advocates in the US in the 1950s and 1960s had it right, when despite some of the murders and beatings suffered, despite setbacks and betrayals, they said, “Keep your eyes on the prize”. For those of us who want Scotland to be an independent country, we have to accept that while debate is the life-blood of change, we also need to remain ‘solid’ with regard to independence.

    PS I rather enjoyed the film, “Judy” and thought Renee Zellwenger gave a great performance and I was an adult when Judy’s children, were still children.

  5. David McGill says:

    ‘Herrings’ sounds right for Scotland. Once the staple food of the nation, herrings moving in shoals.

    1. “Scotland gets its brains from the Herring” – Ivor Cutler

      1. Alasdair Macdonald says:

        My grandfather, when dealing with his picky eating brood would say, “Fish gie’s you brains.” By fish he meant herring salted, fried in oatmeal, pickled…..

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