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.