Everything is Possible
We are in a world closed down but also opening up, a world full of contradictions, pain and joy. Our mood and our energy loops and crashes as we try and endure the lockdown and the prospect of life with covid and with capitalism. Responses to the current crisis have exposed both the fragility of our structures and our institutions and peoples remarkable resilience. While we moan about other peoples behaviour and our (various) governments, you can’t help also be amazed by the hard work and care that is being put into supporting each other. If you view the world through the prism of social media it can look like a grim dystopia of deaths captured by dashcams and the worlds tyrants and bigots at play. But viewing the world through a child’s eye, or a friends or someone special and the world can look very different, full of wonder, full of possibility. This is the lens the Situationists were using when they daubed their graffiti on Paris streets in 1968 declaring: “soyez réalistes, demandez l’impossible” (“be realistic, demand the impossible”) and it’s worth remembering if the weight of the world is lying heavy on you.
In this weirdest of years everything is possible: home-schooling, the mass extension of university places, UBI, radical experiments in active travel, bikes, e-scooters, streets closed to traffic to make space for people, the appreciation of nature and ecology, the regulation of short-term lets that distort housing. We’ve even had a 9.3% reduction in humanity’s ecological footprint compared with the same period last year. David Lin, who lead the research team behind something called ‘Earth Overshoot Day’, found that there was a major drop in CO2 emissions (down 14.5% compared with the same period in the previous year), and in commercial forestry (down 8.4% on 2019). All of these gains are fragile and likely to be lost if the politicians (and us) race back to normal with unseemly glee and unity in our commitment to our deathwish.
Constitutionally too what a month ago seemed impossible now seems inevitable. For the last six months or more the Scottish democracy movement has been racked with self-doubt and doom with a self-fulfilling analysis that we are and would be forever powerless under the mighty yoke of the British state and its accompanying tentrils of broadcast propaganda. Yet this week, suddenly, this seems all less credible. As Boris holidays in some obscured part of Scotland, his new advisors have apparently began to abandon the idea that the plan should be to forever resist and refuse a Section 30 Order. Someone somewhere came to their senses and realised this was an indefensible position.
As polling begins to rise and rise month after month predicting a huge twenty-seven seat pro-indy majority at Holyrood and the inexorable rise of support for independence, something looking very like blind panic has set in at No 10.
So we’re told that Michael Gove has held private talks with senior figures from across the political spectrum in an attempt to find a way to save the Union in the face of rising support for independence. The Times tells us that: “Discussions have taken place with a wide range of notable names including Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale, the former Scottish Labour first minister, and Danny Alexander, the former Liberal Democrat chief secretary to the Treasury. George Galloway, the socialist firebrand who is planning to run for Holyrood, has also been sounded out. It is understood that Mr Gove has contacted a range of unionist politicians over the past six months after being given greater control over Westminster’s strategy for keeping the UK together.”
I think “senior figures” may be a bit of a stretch here, but you can see the thinking: triangulate a non-Tory triumverate to spearhead and advise – the dashing rhetoric of Galloway, the resolute solidity of McConnell and, er, whatever Danny Alexander’s good at. The news filtered out with the caveat that the cunning plan would be accompanied by a bid to alter the franchise to either extend the vote to any Scot living anywhere in the UK, and/or, make the vote unavailable to sixteen and seventeen year-olds.
But while there are multiple problems with this, it didn’t prevent people who enjoy lathering themselves in doom from declaring that all was still dire and we were indeed never going to see the light of a referendum ever ever again. The problem for those addicted to doom and for Gove’s unlikely trio, is that this has already been legislated for. The Referendums (Scotland) Act 2020 (section 4), states:
Those who are entitled to vote:
A person is entitled to vote in the referendum if, on the date on which the poll at the referendum is held, the person is—
(a) aged 16 or over,
(b) registered in the register of local government electors maintained under section 9(1)(b) of the Representation of the People Act 1983 for any area in Scotland,
(c) not subject to any legal incapacity to vote (age apart) (see section 5), and
(d) a Commonwealth citizen, a citizen of the Republic of Ireland or a relevant citizen of the European Union.
They can’t change that.
This is a non-starter from political and media activists who don’t know what they are doing.
But as they say, don’t interrupt your enemy when they’re making a mistake. If Gove and Co really think that the the loquacious George Galloway is the answer to their terminal constitutional decline, then all is well. One of the many delights of the coming political battle will be seeing Galloway working closely with the Conservatives far-right. Another is seeing Ruth Davidson and Boris Johnson sharing a stage.
Galloway last stood for election in December 2019, when he ran in the West Bromwich East parliamentary seat. He came sixth with 489 votes. When he stood in Glasgow in 2011 under a Unionist “anti-cuts banner”, he mustered only 3.3% and lost his deposit. He is not the titan they think he is, and his influence is so diminished their faith in him and his political acumen is an amusement more than a threat.
The problem for the Conservatives (and Unionists) is that gerrymandering the vote (in whatever way they can) will look like what it is – a grubby attempt to cling on to power and to resist democratic change.
A solution for the Unionist Bloc would be to create a vision of the future that could engage and unite Scots in sufficient numbers to (re) commit to the project. If that seemed elusive in 2014 it seems other-worldy in 2020. The vision of a ‘Nation of Equals’ has been obliterated by the process and contempt of Brexit, and the idea of Britain as a financially sound source of stability is wrecked as we experience the UK’s worst recorded recession and UK Govt debt has topped £2 trillion for the first time and now stands at 100.5 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP). The idea of Britain as a gateway to – and a guarantor of – our place in Europe was slam-shut by the delirium of Brexit. This reality has faded in the sheer horror of the virus but will be re-awakened at the turn of the year as the economic reality of No Deal looms large. That this was all an entirely self-inflicted act of self-harm – culturally, geopolitically and economically – will provide an indefensible backdrop to both the Holyrood election and the coming referendum. The Unionist forces prepare for those battles with not only their personnel significantly diminished and discredited but their key arguments in tatters.
The democracy movement should in these circumstances do the following. First of all take nothing for granted in terms of our expectations of how dirty and deceptive this campaign will be. Given the players back-story and what we know of their modus operandi we can expect more of the same: dark money, black ops and propaganda. Second we need to avoid re-running the 2014 campaign at all costs. Third we have holes in our arguments that need mended and mended quickly. Repeating endlessly that all of this should have done years ago takes us nowhere. Fourth we need to “step in” and “step up”. We have given our opponents too much respect and ceded too much power. It’s time to start winning. Everything is possible.