Hurtling Backwards

Watching Brexit unfold with all the predictability of a horror movie the phrase “hurtling backwards” has become a sort of mantra as we stare in astonishment at Britain – or parts of Britain – being gripped by a grotesque fantasy. The fantasy has coughed up various miscreants: Nigel Farage, Tommy Robinson, Dominic Cummings (making a comeback this week), Priti Patel and the incomparable wobbling priapic buffoon of a Prime Minister. The pantomime operates at such a level of absurdity that its comical nature masks the reality of it as a regime that is both radical and venal.

English popular and political culture has both driven this fantasy and become absorbed in it as ‘CoronaBrexit’ has boosted and amplified the worst aspects of a new reactionary movement. The window of ‘accepted’ language understanding and narrative has shifted as forces of the far-right have become mainstream. Now, realities like the treatment of immigrants and asylum-seekers, of peaceful protestors and activists, and of police and state violence have become normalised.

Up until now Scotland was seen to be largely immune from Brexitification – defending a commitment to values of civic nationalism: internationalism, openness and a broad consensus to aspire to be a progressive society and a progressive country. The extent to which this is true can be debated, but it is an aspiration, and aspiring helps. Added to this, the emergence of Boris & Co the Brexit fiasco has fueled a longing for independence  and given a boost to Yes for most of 2020. Clearly Scotland being dragged out of Europe against its wishes was a huge part of this but we must also consider the perception of Boris’s incompetence alongside Sturgeon’s quiet integrity. If anyone has successfully managed to articulate the need for independence it is Johnson. Sure we somehow managed to elect David Coburn, but until now we have somehow managed to avoid the worst expressions of Brexitmania.

Until now.

Watching George Galloway’s All for Unity election broadcast on Friday induced a collective jaw-drop moment across the country, but the laughter was tempered with the realisation that Galloway’s party represents a sliver of Scottish society. The permanent hat, the carefully-placed Churchill photograph, the RAF insignia – all symbols designed to evoke a bygone era.  Galloway’s strange contorted delivery referenced Britain’s glorious past, and Scotland’s shipbuilding era, before a strange assortment of candidates was paraded before us. The All for Unity tactic, of attempting to unite all of the Unionist voters together will flop and fail, but it’s a tactic that  takes a leaf from the Farage playbook.

This most dismal of election campaigns is manifesting strange new forces, and a rash of brand new parties and oddball candidates.

But if the Unionist Right emerges like a caricature of itself with its Spitfire Nationalism, union flags and rhetoric that hovers somewhere between Dad’s Army and Fawlty Towers, the Nationalist Right is its mirror.

The Alba Party’s ascent into a bundle of cliche’s regurgitated from Project Fear is unfortunate, but entirely predictable. With a party political broadcast channeling Robert the Bruce the party evoked an ethno-nationalism not seen in the Scottish independence movement for decades.  The idea of the ‘sma-folk’ was pure theft from the Brexit campaign.

If watching England “hurtling backwards” over the last few years has been a mixture of horror and comedy, it’s certainly not funny when it’s closer to home.

Maybe Galloway and Salmond’s parties will fail, but who really knows in this strangest of elections and with polls all over the place and turnout uncertain?

But they do emerge out of the political landscape that seems moribund, locked in a battle between the ruling SNP’s tepid supremacy and inertia – and the opposition’s dismal one-note constitutional nihilism.

Both the Unionist right and the Nationalist right emerge out of the political gloop of post-Brexit, mid-pandemic, pre-independence Scotland, and for me speak to the descent in standards and tone of public life. The idealism and dreamy-positivity that infected so many around 2014 seem to have evaporated.

Celebrating the SNP’s momentous victory in 2011 the Irish writer Peter Geoghegan wrote:

*” … here are a few chaotic impressions from the worse kind of emigrant, the indolent hack, on what yesterday – and tomorrow – might mean. First off, this could be a start – but not the end – of a victory for what Hardt and Negri would call ‘subaltern nationalism’ in Scotland, a vision of a society based not on exclusive notions of belonging and identity but on open-ended dialogues. A future Scotland based not on ethnicity, on romantic notions of Braveheart and Bannockburn, but on social justice and sustainability. A Scotland not of rabid Anti-Englishness but of myriad cultures and creeds. The ‘could’ at the start of this paragraph is intentional – yesterday’s stunning result, and even a successful independence referendum, are a sine qua non but not necessary and sufficient, to borrow the language of logic. This future Scotland is in no way inevitable, it will have to be fought for against the forces of conservatism, both within the SNP itself and across the Scottish political system. It will also need a credible, coherent vision that can unite all those who live in Scotland – and not just all Scots (again that’s the émigré talking) – to create a genuinely democratic, post-national space, separate and distinct from the increasingly lopsided pull of Westminster.”
Ten years on and everyone has fallen.
The Conservatives have swapped love-bombing for threats of constitutional imprisonment. Nationalists have switched from scoffing at ideas of woad and Bannockburn to smearing themselves in the stuff.
The offer from Britain then was “stay in a progressive union – a cosmopolitan multi-cultural polity at the heart of Europe.” The offer from Britain now is “stay in a Union that has ejected foreigners and withdrawn from Europe”. Or else.
As a society we face challenges we can barely imagine yet we are offered a political class that seems broken. If we are to recover let alone thrive we will need to build new and better institutions and systems as part of building towards self-determination. We will need to be future-focused and pay attention to our young people, our ecology and the way we conduct ourselves. We will need to amplify empathy and solidarity and delve deep into our collective creative imagination.  Ten years on the ‘indolent hack’s’ words echo:
“This future Scotland is in no way inevitable, it will have to be fought for against the forces of conservatism, both within the SNP itself and across the Scottish political system. It will also need a credible, coherent vision that can unite all those who live in Scotland.”


Comments (31)

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  1. Cathie Lloyd says:

    I think you’re unduly pessimistic fit once Mike. There’ve been some interesting ideas discussed in the campaign notably across the SNP/Greens. Will this lead to new political alliances? Polls are suggesting that the Greens may be benefiting from the debate about list votes – not what Alba and their like planned.
    There’s certainly new dividing lines opening up, particularly around the reemergence of ethnonationalism and we’ll need to keep a watchful brief on that.
    But the appearance of window posters in the last few days suggests that people are waking up to the importance of this election and there may be more debates behind our lockdown doors than commentators realise.

  2. Tom Ultuous says:

    Poor George. If he does win a seat at Holyrood they should make sure there’s a stank underneath it.

  3. Tom Ultuous says:

    On the subject of Brexit, on this morning’s edition of Andrew ‘Tory Compliant’ Marr he continually brought up the subject of a trade border between an independent Scotland and England when “interviewing” NS. 52% of our exports go to RUK but what percentage of that is NI? NI is in the single market so there would be no trade barrier there.

    He also started prattling on about export forms but it seemed to me that he was inverting the situation. It would be the English filling out those forms to export to Scotland, not the other way round. As yet imports from the EU to the UK are relatively unaffected. Food checks from EU to UK have yet to be implemented and might never be because of the possibility of empty supermarket shelves. The EU firms do have to collect that VAT on behalf of the “UK” govt but that’s not exactly excess paperwork.

    I was disappointed the first minister didn’t fire some of this back at Marr even if she did give him a bit of a shafting.

    1. As someone said on Twitter Tom:

      “I’m not sure where the latest media narrative of borders has arisen from. But we all remember what was said in

      2014: you can’t be independent because you won’t be in EU

      2021: you can’t be independent because you’ll be in the EU”

  4. James Morton says:

    Good lord, here was me thinking the Grand Duchy of Fenwick was fiction

  5. Colin Robinson says:

    I like George and his fedora. He’s good entertainment value. As such, he’d be a boon to the rather colourless Scottish parliament – if he ever deigned to turn up there.

    1. More Vaudeville than Holyrood I think Colin

    2. John Mooney says:

      Galloway really is nothing but a carpetbagger, he has been all his “political” life,the people of Dundee where glad to see the back of the poltroon,he has become a complete laughing stock along with his pathetic coterie of acolytes,Holyrood would have to be fumigated daily if this buffoon ever got near!

      1. Colin Robinson says:

        He was the secretary of the Dundee Labour Party in the 1970s when I lived there. The Dundonians were totally hacked off with the Palestinian flag that flew over the City Chambers, and the city was almost in open revolt when it woke up one morning and found itself twinned with Nablus. The fact that he was ‘ae paip fi Tipperary’ and a long-time supporter of Sinn Féin and Irish reunification, at a time when many young Dundonians were crapping themselves in the bandit country of South Armagh, also didn’t help his popularity much.

        Aye, the people of Dundee were indeed glad to see the back of the ignoble, mean-spirited wretch.

  6. Daniel Raphael says:

    Superb. Timely. On its way to an assortment of recipients.

  7. Alex Montrose says:

    aye, I mind the right wing National Front policies of the 70s, Leave Europe, no immigration, end foreign aid, all now at the heart of the Westminster Tory Government.

  8. gahetacicl says:

    For an ethno-nationalist party, Alba sure have a very pro-immigration manifesto and an ethnically diverse slate of candidates.

    It is clearly deeply taboo among the entrenched Scottish political class (which includes pro SNP Yes commentariat) to simply look at Alba as a thing-in-itself and not in terms of a “catalogue of tropes” (to nick a phrase from another commenter here) dismissing substance in terms of style or policy in terms of gaffes, smears and misrepresentation. Hm.. Let the show go on.

  9. florian albert says:

    ‘the offer from Britain then was “stay in a progressive union – a cosmopolitan multi-cultural polity at the heart of Europe”‘

    I assume this is a quotation. Who said it ?

    1. It’s a summary of their case – is it wrong? If so how is it wrong?

      1. florian albert says:

        If it is a summary, why bother with quotation marks ? It strikes me as an inaccurate summary in that – having paid some attention during the Brexit referendum – I do not recall much talk of a ‘cosmopolitan multi-cultural entity’ or anything similar.

        1. Wul says:

          PM David Cameron. 7th February 2014.

          “…And it’s not just a plan; it is a vision. The United Kingdom as the big European success story of this century –….And Scotland is right at the heart of that vision…

          …The UK is the soft power superpower. You get teenagers in Tokyo and Sydney listening to Emeli Sandé. You get people in Kazakhstan and Taiwan watching BBC exports like Sherlock; there’s a good example. Written by a Scot a hundred years ago, played by an Englishman today and created for TV by a Scotsman. The World Service, transmitting to hundreds of millions. Famously Aung San Suu Kyi has said it helped her through her long years of detention, saying, ‘Everywhere I’ve been, the BBC has been with me.’ And the BBC itself, founded by a Scotsman.

          …In this country, we don’t walk on by when people are sick, when people lose work, when people get old….it’s actually how we started our NHS, our welfare system, our state pension system. And these values, … they’re live. When the people of Benghazi were crying out for help, when a girl in Pakistan was shot for wanting an education, when children around the world are desperate for food or for aid, we don’t walk on by.

          …Our values are not just a source of pride for us; they are a source of hope for the world. In 1964, Nelson Mandela stood in the dock in the Pretoria Supreme Court. He was making the case for his life, against apartheid, and in that speech…He said, ‘I regard the British Parliament as the most democratic institution in the world.’

          …so often, down the centuries, the UK has given people hope. We’ve shown that democracy and prosperity can go hand in hand; that resolution is found not through the bullet, but the ballot box. Our values are of value to the world. In the darkest times in human history there has been, in the North Sea, a light that never goes out. And if this family of nations broke up, something very powerful and very precious the world over would go out forever.

          …however strongly we feel, we can be a reticent nation. It can seem vulgar to fly the flag.

          So to everyone in England, Wales and Northern Ireland,…I want to say this: you don’t have a vote, but you do have a voice. Those voting, they’re our friends, they’re our neighbours, they’re our family. ….let the message ring out from Manchester to Motherwell, from Pembrokeshire to Perth, from Belfast to Bute, from us to the people of Scotland. Let the message be this: we want you to stay. Think of what we’ve done together, what we can do together, what we stand for together.

          Team GB. The winning team in world history. Let us stick together for a winning future too. Thank you.”

  10. John McLeod says:

    The final two paragraphs of Mike’s article are a marvellous summing-up of the current situation. One statement in particular jumped out at me: “we are offered a political class that seems broken”. I agree with Cathie Lloyd below – that some interesting ideas have been discussed in the campaign. It is good that this is happening. But what seems to be missing is a capacity to turn these ideas into action. Even more – turning these ideas into action through mobilising the energy and creativity of the people of Scotland, rather than just through government policies. If we are to be able to address the “challenges we can barely imagine”, we need a government and political system that has the courage to face up to the sources of power that want to maintain the status quo in areas such as land ownership, transport, plastics use, media ownership, farming, etc etc. And has the humility and imagination to be an enabler and supprter of local initiatives.

    1. Cathie Lloyd says:

      If we look around there are examples of exemplary local initiatives. Near Ullapool there’s a hydroelectric scheme which has been run by the community for several years now, there must be many more. Some of the proceeds go into local groups. There are schemes for community gardens as on the Meadows in Edinburgh. Then there’s the food banks, sadly needed but nevertheless a great example of people organising. I think we need more reporting of these initiatives which might help them to be adopted more widely.

      1. Colin Robinson says:

        Yep, downscaling and community empowerment is the way ahead. Every community should assume responsibility for generating its own energy and processing its own waste. Not only would this result in more sustainable consumption by ensuring that the cost of each community’s consumption would need to be met by the community itself; it would also increase the degree of real independence those communities enjoy. A centralised government in Edinburgh, seeking to manage an economy of scale, just doesn’t cut it.

        More power to the folk near Ullapool!

        1. Cathie Lloyd says:

          I think you dismiss our government a bit too rapidly. The idea of a four day week for instance, would be a big boost to community developments. Its a huge commitment which not everyone can manage just now. But a shorter working week (on the same pay levels) would free up people to take these initiatives.

          1. Pub Bore says:

            Sure, this is a task that could be scaled-up by sovereign communities to a subsidiary EU-type syndicate of the same. Or each community could independently manage the general terms and conditions of employment within its own jurisdiction. Whichever arrangement the communities involved deemed the more acceptable.

  11. SleepingDog says:

    George Galloway’s Cambodian Genocide souvenir mug made me wonder if “All for Unity” was a Khmer Rouge slogan (along the lines of: death to plurality, democracy is treason), but the roundel seems to be in a different configuration. Apparently nowadays the Royal Cambodian Air Force display a tasteful icon of their Angkor temple in the centre of theirs: so AfU are missing a trick here. Some quick graphic hackwork could rectify this omission and whap a white Westminster (complete with clock tower) onto the red and blue.

  12. Tom Ultuous says:

    This is a link to a petition to give the English an independence referendum. If it reaches 100,000 it has to be debated in parliament. I think all Scottish independence supporters should sign it and forward the link to others.

    PS This is not my petition. My petition on the same subject was rejected by the site prior to the last general election.

  13. Wul says:

    “…If we are to recover let alone thrive we will need to build new and better institutions and systems…”

    I agree with this and we often hear about how we need to “build back better” etc.

    So where’s my invitation? Whose going to invite me and others to build these new institutions? Where exactly is this construction site and who is in charge?

    Seems to me that no-one (politically) is asking any of us what kind of country we actually want to live in.

    1. Colin Robinson says:

      Spot on, Wul!

      Mind you, it’s not the sort of question on which we’re likely to reach a consensus. There’s myriad different, competing visions of the kind of country we actually want to live in out there. The trick is to establish and maintain a regime of restrained dissonance; a regime in which a general peace can prevail despite diversity, dissensus, and dissonance among the plethora of groups and individuals that comprise the polis and their differences accommodated short of civil war. Such is the vision of the kind of country we actually want to live in to which I subscribe; not everyone will agree.

      The majority vision, though, is undoubtedly the current ‘bread and circuses’ one. That’s the one our electorates keep voting for.

  14. Wul says:

    I find that RAF logo superimposed onto political broadcasts quite terrifying.

    1. Colin Robinson says:

      Yes, I believe the Ministry of Defence is looking into All for Unity’s subversion of the RAF roundel. Quick a few folks who have feelings of fondness for the RAF are reported (e.g. by The National) to have found the remix offensive.

      Just the sort of impudence I find so endearing in George and enough of a reason to vote for him.

  15. Colin Robinson says:

    I’ve just read the following sentence in Philip Kerr’s Berlin noir novel, March Violets:

    “The bohemian’s fedora had become a Pickelhaube.”

    George would suit a Pickelhaube. Maybe he could wear one to Holyrood, just for a laugh, should he get elected.

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