The Solid Ground of Eternity
THE SOLID GROUND OF ETERNITY: From The Province Of The Cat by George Gunn.
On BBC Radio 4, Thought For The Day (9.9.22), the Archbishop of Canterbury said:
“Her Majesty showed us that when we build our lives on God’s faithfulness, we are on the solid ground of eternity that cannot be shaken.”
When they finally laid the old Queen to rest on Monday September 19th 2022, was it a dead monarch or old Britain and the Treaty of Union that was buried in the King George VI Memorial Chapel, Windsor, or was it democracy itself?
Trying to make sense of events is increasingly difficult as the population was whipped up into a nervous lachrymose froth to observe an acutely emotional state/media generated mourning, while those one might expect truly to be in mourning were engaged in cold, political calculation – i.e. the monarchy and the government. King Charles spanieled around the devolved governments like a bad tempered retriever barking out his importance, whilst the Unionists were allowed acres of air time to tell us all that it was Scottish independence that was dead. Whilst in Edinburgh the “British” TV commentators proved yet again that south of the border Scottish history and the make up of our civic institutions is a mystery. The “solid ground of eternity” was quickly turned into elysian quick-sand. On BBC Radio Scotland (22.9.22) a Highland councillor put it more accurately, if a little metaphysically, when she spoke of the most immediate problem facing her constituents was not getting over the death of a Queen but, “To get through the living crisis.”
The English novelist and essayist Samuel Butler (1835–1902) wrote,
“Our bondage will steal upon us noiselessly and by imperceptible approaches.”
In a recent J.L. Partners poll of 8,004 UK adults for @ukonward the % support for running the UK with “a strong leader who doesn’t have to bother with parliament/elections” was found to be,
All: 46%. 18-34s: 61%. 35-54s: 49%. Over-55s: 29%
So the majority of under 35’s polled would prefer a dictator. And who honestly can blame them when there is such a lack of a coherent alternative on offer? In Scotland at least we have the mercurial possibility of independence, but in times of great social stress and inequality fascism has always had its attractions. The longer independence stays as the Holy Grail rather than an a political actuality the greater the potential connectivity the hard right will have with the young.
The recent Tory “mini-budget” or “fiscal event” has only made that attraction greater. Every January, to coincide with the World Economic Forum in Davos, Oxfam tells us how much richer the world’s richest people have got. In 2016, their report showed that the wealthiest 62 individuals owned the same amount as the bottom half of the world’s population. This year, that number has dropped to 42: three-and-half-dozen people with as much stuff/wealth as three-and-a-half billion. The attractions of democracy fall away when faced with such gross inequality. Many young people will hold democracy responsible. They can vote – we have always voted – but it makes no difference.
The increased wealth of the uber elite gives them ever-greater control of our politics and of our media. Countries that were once democracies are becoming plutocracies; plutocracies are becoming oligarchies; oligarchies are becoming kleptocracies. Next step dictatorships. Russia is a case in point. How long before the UK finally (inevitably?) goes the same way? When you reward the rich and punish the poor there is, historically, only one outcome. And it is not good. The inner contradiction of our sham-democracy is being externalised.
The government fetishize the death of a monarch to disguise the cruelty of their policies. The inner contradiction of the BBC during those weird funeral days was also laid bare – there is no balance or impartiality left in the state broadcaster: only sycophancy to both government and state. Day after weary day, from noon to midnight, the message was: conform (or else). There is, after that abandonment, no getting back to “normal”. On the 19th of September the BBC was also buried. History shows us that all empires collapse under the weight of taxation and plunder. This is what is happening to the UK in 2022.
For the economist Daniela Gabor, the new financial shift means that “we are living through a revolution without revolutionaries … Central banks have quietly put in place a shadow monetary financing regime since the global financial crisis.”
The recent electoral successes of Giorgia Meloni and her proto-fascist party “Brothers of Italy” and the equally reactionary, although ironically named, Swedish Democrats and the strong showing of the Austrian Freedom party and in France Marine Le Pen’s National Rally, mark out the rise of the far right across Europe as a reality. “Shadow monetary financing regime(s)” are attracted to these movements. No amount of liberal counter arguments which will point out the various electoral defeats of far-right parties in other recent elections, including Germany, Norway and Slovenia, can undo the anxiety concerning the rise of modern fascism on our continental doorstep.
The real brother in arms of fascism, as in Italy, is corruption. Liz Truss’s new regime is jam-packed with former right-wing think-tank ideologues who care nothing for the common good of the people or the maintenance of human rights. Funded by dodgy donations and “dark money” they are steering a set of weak and intellectually challenged politicians and, by extension, the UK, to disaster. Ironically it was David Cameron, who in a speech in 2010, warned about secret corporate lobbying – in other words, corruption.
“It arouses people’s worst fears and suspicions about how the Westminster political system works, with money buying power, power fishing for money and a cosy club at the top making decisions in their own interest. It’s a reality that corrupted our politics for too long, that exposes the far-too-cosy relationship between politics, government, business and money.”
But as usual with David Cameron it was all hot air. Within two years of that speech, it was revealed that the Tory party co-treasurer Peter Cruddas was asking for up to £250,000 in donations to the Conservative party in return for access to the PM and the chancellor; at the time, it was enough of a scandal to force Cruddas’s resignation. The other, more recent scandals, are too many to list here.
The difference between 2022 and 2010 is that now Liz Truss’s government do not care what anyone thinks about what they do. They didn’t give a damn at the outrage generated when they abolished the ceiling on bankers bonuses (15.9.22), displaying that the current Chancellor of the Exchequer has forgotten or dismissed what happened in 2007/8 which led to the financial collapse. Their ears were deaf to the cries of woe when they increased the penalties inflicted on those trying to survive on Universal Income. The Angel of History, who flies backwards into the future, will point out that on one hand the Tories are merely rewarding the greed of their internal constituency and on the other they are punishing the weak and powerless, which is their delight. So it is that we enter the idioticon, that field of human endeavour where no thinking at all is the best policy, where callous disregard for suffering is seen as a virtue and where politics submits to “the market”. All that means, when translated, is that democracy must submit to the power of money and those who insist on voting are reduced to re-arranging the human debris the Angel of History pushes into the not so-solid ground of eternity.
Kwasi Kwarteng has said tax cuts worth more than £55,000 annually to someone earning £1m a year are part of a new direction for the economy and are designed to help boost growth to 2.5% a year. This is economics as mythology. The Treasury has admitted there were no forecasts for the impact of the measures on growth. You just say something often enough to enough people and it becomes “true”. The “facts” move out to the solid ground of eternity, that place where the old Queen sits on a cloud of faithfulness and the rest of us freeze and starve, the Angel of History waving like Captain Ahab as she passes.
On Friday 23rd September, Paul Johnson, the director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, said:
“Today, the chancellor announced the biggest package of tax cuts in 50 years without even a semblance of an effort to make the public finance numbers add up. Instead, the plan seems to be to borrow large sums at increasingly expensive rates, put government debt on an unsustainable rising path and hope that we get better growth. Mr Kwarteng is not just gambling on a new strategy; he is betting the house.”
The house, unfortunately, is about to fall down. Deliberately fracked. As Will Hutton pointed out in The Observer (11/10/22), “We are on an economic fairground ride led by fairies and fools.”
Anger is all very well – it is understandable and as Johnny Rotten sang, “Anger is an energy” – but it only gets you so far. The most pressing question for our democracy is how to connect the big issues with people’s lives and how to connect people to the big issues? Liz Truss’s answer seems to be to impoverish them or harass them into silence. We live in a world that has become intolerable as the subject of passive reflection. What is required now is active observation. The observer, every one of us, must say of our nation, “This is alive!” and feel the sensation of excitement that is life run through their touch. Then translate that into political action.
Independence for Scotland has to be about the protection and promotion of democracy. Scotland is far from immune to the rise of the far-right and the seeds of fascism can easily be planted here as well as in Italy or Sweden. We have to turn the structure of dominance, which is our current political model, upside down. Instead of continuity in relation to UK and global systems, as devolution demands, we should be working for rupture, for a new direction. Instead of an extended devolution we need to call out the UK non-constitution for the prison it is and declare self-rule. The Tories will gladly consign us to oblivion whatever we do or do not do. There is no point expecting this leadership to come from the SNP, instead the Yes movement has to ratchet up the pressure – more meetings, more marches, more strategies, more poetry, more optimism, more everything. The neo-liberal orthodoxy of Holyrood has to give way to a socialism from below, a true democracy that caters for all and leaves no-one suffering from hunger or want. That means we need to tax those things which oppress us, such as banks, land and inherited wealth and liberate through nationalisation or community ownership those things which we depend upon and which have been stolen from us, such as energy provision, transport and natural resources.
Newton’s Third Law of Motion, that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, applies to geopolitics as well. Which means that the UK government will try and suppress democracy in Scotland, even more than they are doing, because they are terrified that all of the above potential actions could become realities. All of this may appear to many as philosophy, not politics. Well, without philosophy there is no politics. Cicero tells us that philosophy is a “medical art for the soul”. Its compassionate task is to lead us from suffering towards a life lived well. Who in Scotland can argue against that? We do not need to seek out eternity to find solid ground. We have it here beneath our feet, from Muckle Flugga to the Mull of Galloway, and in the heart of every person who lives somewhere between the two. That is our certainty, and, as the man in the funny hat said, it “cannot be shaken”.