BEAR WITNESS: From The Province Of The Cat
The first of November is Samhain. The beginning of Winter in the old Celtic calendar. It is a time when the dead rise up and mingle with the spirits of the living. The nights are drawing in. The clocks have gone back and the UK Tories have decided to return us all to the early days of the nineteenth century. So what can you do, in the middle of this pandemic, to hold onto your sanity clause? Despite what Chico Marx claimed in “A Night at the Opera” we all have one which gets us through our lives. Well, to hang onto you “sanity clause” you can make a list of the things which terrify you. You can make a list of the things which fill you with hope. Covid-19, Trump, Boris Johnson and the Brexit chicaneries, the melting permafrost and methane release in the Arctic all bear witness to the fact that we are living in a kind of slow-motion apocalypse. On the other hand there is a surge in support for Scottish independence, the possibility that in the US the lying narcissist might be replaced by the lying zombie (which is which?) and that daily, no matter what Bojo Johnson and his team of spad necromancers do, they just dig a bigger shit-hole for themselves. Don’t you just want to die laughing?
You don’t have to be a Jehovah’s Witness to believe, that in Scotland at least, we are reaching some kind of turning point. It may be an evangelical step too far for most of us to believe that the destruction of the present world system is at hand. Although the emptiness, cravenness and stupidity of politicians from Muckle Flugga to Sakhalin Island, their venal rhetoric and habitual duplicity ensure that if Armageddon was coming then there is nothing they can or will do to stop it. They are the producers of the heaps of rubbish which pile up behind the Angel of History as she is blown backwards into the future. Or eternity, if you are member of a millennialist denomination.
In 1956, in the opening of his poem “Lament For The Mechanical Digger” Pier Paolo Pasolini wrote,
“Only loving, only
living a burnt-out love brings
anguish. The souls stops growing.”
Winter is set to welcome us with her open cold arms. The pandemic shows no sign of abating. There are many more of us who are feeling “burnt-out”. Last March seems an awfully long adventure ago. In Scotland we have gone from the “elimination” of the virus (Scottish Government 20th June) back to its “containment” (Scottish Government, 21st October). In England the government has gone form not giving a damn much, to… well, not giving a damn much but making more loud noises that they do. All the while using the pandemic as an opportunity to make a few million quid for in-house Tory cronies, whether on dodgy contracts to even dodgier companies to supply bad needed and not forthcoming medical equipment. Or giving yet another set of PR wonks, with degrees in Philosophy, Politics and Economic from Russell Group universities, shed loads of cash in order to tell the Scots why being prevented from having the right to decide our own future is a good thing. Some £745 billion has been created in new money by the Bank of England since the start of the pandemic crisis, and has gone to such good causes as propping up the likes of G4S (£300 million) and EasyJet (£600 million).
In Bojoland cronyism counts for more than public interest, let alone health.
What we know as November nurses her rain is that the Tories will never stop rewarding their pals. It is the habit of corruption. They will never scrap their plans for Brexit and whatever these plans actually are they are not what they tell us via the media. They will also not give up on their underhand plan, through things like the UK Internal Market Bill 2019-21, to veto the powers of the Scottish Parliament and undo devolution and they will never, never contemplate allowing the Scottish people to determine their own future. Democracy has only ever been skin deep in the Tory Party. This has been the “long anguish” Pasolini described and the Scots have suffered politically from it since 1979. The Tories are hoping that our collective “soul stops growing”. It will not.
At the height of a world-wide pandemic the UK government, for which we did not vote, plans to bring Scotland out of the European Union despite the democratic mandate delivered by the Scottish people to remain, to end our membership of the Single Market and to terminate our important right as Europeans to freedom of movement. The Scots are effectively to be locked down and locked into the prison of the UK. These are the dysfunctional and dangerous games the UK Prime Minister and his Chief Advisor (who it seems to me has no soul, in anguish or otherwise) choose to play. They will not pay the consequences – well, not immediately – it will be the poor, the weak and the needful of Scotland who will pay. Literally with their lives. Our anticipation of political and constitutional independence and freedom currently lags well behind our experience of poverty, disease and misrepresentation. “Only loving, only knowing counts…” Well, these things we know. What counts is what we do next.
In this power-play we are all both actors and witnesses. Yet there is a line that separates one from the other. As an actor, which you can define as being an activist of some sort (yes, even a politician), we are stuck within the boundaries of the production, playing our part, over and over again. As a witness, and we all are one, those of us who look, we must be able to move as freely as possible out with the restrictions of the production, the power-play. A government can deal with actors because they themselves are players, equally trapped. For the actor/activist they ensure there is no escape. The more the actor/activist does, the deeper in they are sucked. What governments cannot control are witnesses. A person, a crowd, a nation, who sees exactly what is going on terrifies them. A witness who is not fooled by the sleight of hand when one thing is said and another is done. Governments are terrified of clear sighted witnesses because they give testimony and that is evidence, proof of the venal doings that all governments desire to conceal. With proof comes a judgement. A judgement demands justice and action. For the Scots that action is our political and constitutional freedom. Without either what we can achieve is limited. As Fredrick Douglas, the anti-slave campaigner of the 19th century, said
“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”
Is the Covid-19 pandemic the limit of our endurance? Or are we simply arguing about data and statistics, the difference between correlation and causation and who is or is not to blame for who died when, where and from what? As the “Discharges from NHS Scotland hospitals to care homes/Public Health Scotland” report (28th October) so drably puts it,
“These data are observational, meaning they can tell us what appeared to happen, but do not tell us what the direct cause was.”
Were there no witnesses as to the cause? Shades from the Underworld appear at Samhain. Do they also appear in Public Health Scotland’s data? The Covid-19 pandemic has engendered a civic and institutional crisis and laid bare the hidden in plain sight failings of the British state, as it has of states around the world. There are many individuals, bodies and institutions which will not survive this pandemic. On current evidence the British state may be one of them.
The reason I say this (I believe this) is because no-one believes in the British state anymore. They may say they do. But they don’t. To this I am a witness. 58% of Scots likewise bear witness and appear to likewise believe. Even if you think politics is a succession of temporary and partial remedies for permanent and recurring human evil, or if you believe it is about harnessing human potential to do the greatest good for the greatest number, ether way if you look within the deep recesses and portals of the UK government you will not see any remnants of real ideology. Instead of ideology what we witness is imagology. Ideology belongs to history in as much as it sits at the back of the stage on which the power-play is being produced like an enormous set of wheels. When they turn they set in motion the appearance of reforms and the actualities of revolutions and wars. Imagology has invisible wheels – a bit like the coronavirus – which, if they turn at all, have no effect on history. Ideologies fill generations with ideas and struggles which, over time, have been transformed for us now into images and slogans bereft of the logic of ideas. Imagology supplanted ideology and it begins where the present UK government would like witnessed history to end. The Scots, I would suggest, are beginning to act like citizens, not subjects. Citizens bear witness. Subjects see nothing.
The death of any state is problematic for those who live within its restrictive bounds. If we Scots are indeed witnessing the death of the British state and if we eulogise as we witness are we doing nothing more than composing our autobiography, painting our self-portrait? Whether we consider Boris Johnson or Donald Trump or Joe Biden to be a tyrant it is sobering to remember that the only thing the citizen has in common with the tyrant is death. It currently walks our streets looking for a home. For those who administer tyranny, such as a government, the death of their leader or their host is a time for plotting to preserve the status quo. Neither a dying tyrant or an active tyranny can distinguish between the present or history. They cannot relate to the common conception of “the future”, because they have none, and instead harbour notions of eternity. The UK Tories have convinced themselves that the British state will last forever. They will succumb, eventually, to what the Irish poet Eavan Boland called “the toxins of a whole history”. The more the UK Tories and their hapless government contemplate eternity the more they become the ally of their own gravediggers, as a certain well known 19th century ideologist noted. There are five and a half million of us here in the land of the living (if not the Leal), spades at the ready, to bear witness. Have we got the courage – now or eventually – to start digging?