Beyond the Pantomime

Returning from holiday to survey the British and Scottish political landscape is to look across a weird space where little of value or hope or integrity shines through. Every day Sir Keir Starmer seems to abandon any redeeming policies and fold to England’s tabloid Overton Window. Today – in  a pitiful excuse for Starmer abandoning the Tories two-child benefit policy the Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar explained that there were fears of repeating the financial mismanagement imposed by Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng, which saw inflation rise, the pound collapse and a hike to mortgage interest rates. To public jaw-dropping Sarwar said that scrapping the controversial benefit limit on parents with more than two children could “spook the markets”. The ‘Market’ as a God and a force in and of itself is an essentially Tory idea. As this report from the Nuffield Trust (‘Needs and entitlements Welfare reform and larger families’) outlines the two-child limit is a social policy disaster in every possible sense, driving hundreds of thousands of children into extreme hardship and deprivation. Read it here.

Such is the abandonment of even the most basic progressive policy that commentators are beginning to ask what social forces will Labour’s pre-announced failure unleash? John Harris writes: “Labour is emphasising two contradictory ideas. With one voice, it tells us that we cannot go on like this; but it then changes register, and suggests that is exactly what we are going to have to do. The howling tension between the two brings to mind a celebrated quotation from the Welsh thinker and writer Raymond Williams: “To be truly radical is to make hope possible, rather than despair convincing.”

The unfolding ideological agenda of Britain’s supposed ‘government in waiting’ causes problems for those Unionist scribes who argue stoically (and relentlessly) that the reason to stick with Britain is because ‘only together’ can we end poverty / build houses / create an equal society (etc etc you get the drift). Just as they are about to pen another great article denouncing nationalism (Scottish) up pops another Labour leader explaining how they will – literally – change nothing at all. It’s all very embarrassing.

James Butler has written (‘Radiant Ambiguity‘): “Starmer’s political statements rarely add up to much or endure for long: the ten moderately left-wing pledges made in the leadership campaign (abandoned); announcements on green spending, rent control, taxes on tech giants and universal childcare (euthanised, forgotten or diluted); a 12,000-word Fabian Society pamphlet, The Road Ahead (insubstantial, bromidic). In the past year he has outlined five ‘missions’: to achieve the highest growth in the G7; build an NHS fit for the future; make Britain a clean energy superpower; make the streets safe; and break down barriers to opportunity. Only the clean energy commitment might worry a liberal Tory.”

Elsewhere is not much better.

Over at the Times Iain MacWhirter writes an oddly gushing article in praise of Alex Salmond (‘Salmond lording it again as Sturgeon seethes‘) in which he claims (among a great many other things) that Salmond has been “restored to the SNP pantheon”. MacWhirter is of the old school who believe in the Great Men of History theory.

He writes, quite rightly that a number of SNP MPs are abandoning their seats, including Angus MacNeil, the SNP member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar, the former Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, and the recently appointed deputy leader, Mhairi Black. There is a palpable sense of failure and collapse in the SNP it’s true. But what MacWhirter fails to grasp in his tribute to Salmond is that Angus MacNeil who has publicly basically left the SNP – will not be joining Alba. There’s a reason for this.

While MacNeil is quite right to say that the Scottish Government was “utterly clueless about independence” when it went to the Supreme Court last year and still “utterly clueless” about it afterwards, he has very little alternative. His analysis of the political situation is basically correct: “I’m in despair about our utter fear to do anything,” he told Kevin McKenna and “Humza Yousaf is saying it’s a majority of seats that’s required in a de facto referendum, but it’s not. A de facto referendum is won on votes not seats.”

He is of course quite right.

He will not be joining Alba because Alba is a dead political project and he knows it. Despite the gushing praise from MacWhirter and colleagues – the simple unavoidable reality is that Salmond is the reason Alba can’t and won’t work, and the reason why they are parading around the backrooms of pubs speaking to the converted.

Everywhere you look there is political failure. It is a cross-party phenomenon and suggests a systemic problem.

As the world burns very very few political parties have anything credible to say about it. Very few admit the scale of the crises we face and virtually none have a pathway to the sort of radical change required to rebuild society, protect the most vulnerable and prepare for the coming change. Instead of facing the reality of climate breakdown we gossip and chatter in the moron culture about Philip Schofield and Huw Edwards.

The Scottish political landscape is changing rapidly – but the assumption that Labour is the inheritor of the SNP’s collapse looks a lot less credible than ever before as Sarwar flounders under Starmer’s daily announcements. Britain is utterly broken. It is a fundamentally dysfunctional place to live ruled by a bizarre caste. The political commentary and media coverage is a performative act which colludes with a strange set of assumptions and is ushering in a new political party to preside over the chaos as if it is actual change.

The predicament suggests that real change will come from outwith the political system and beyond the pantomime.


Comments (15)

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  1. Michelle Shortt says:

    Hard to disagree with anything you said there.

  2. Alan C says:

    I believe ALBA are an important part of Scotland united, the SNP not so much.

    1. How does that relate to polling hovering between 0.24 and 2% support?

  3. Alex McCulloch says:

    The only way to achieve change is to to support, build and resource Scotland’s National Party which offers a new system and policies regularly endorsed by the majority of people
    In turn Scotland’s National Party has to reach out in every community to listen to,understand and involve people in shaping and enabling the change people require/desire in their own area.

    Most of the change the many people aspire to is already described in Social Justice and Fairmess Commission and Citizen’s Assembly.
    Every line written, word spoken, ounce of energy used to undermine rather than grow Scotlands National Party achieves the opposite of change.

    1. Jake Solo says:

      Scotland’s National Party had chance after chance and decided to betray Scotland.

      There is no hope in or for that party. It’s mooing and rocking side to side just waiting for the hammer to the head.

      Alba can’t supplant it and it can’t and won’t reform or purge itself – it doesn’t think it needs to even now.

      Indy is a generational thing again, thanks to SNP betrayal. I’m 50 and I’m 100% confident I won’t see it.

      1. Alex McCulloch says:

        The SNP has led continued, uninterrupted growth in support for Independence whilst becoming the preferred party of governance nationally and locally , the final step is to campaign to involve inform and inspire people that Independence can deliver the change they want to see in their own lives and areas…if you support that campaign then you can see the change in your lifetime.

  4. SleepingDog says:

    Indeed, party politics is an anti-pattern. The solution is not one or another party.

    A comment in a report on the recent European Parliament vote sums up the required role for life scientists in our polycrisis:
    “Guy Pe’er, a conservation biologist at the Helmholtz-Centre for Environmental Research, who was first author of the letter. ‘Lobby organisations can generate as much misinformation as they want. But when policymakers are going against the science, we need to step in.'”

    These ideas of governing by taking Nature’s lead are not new, and should be familiar. For example, I noticed that the gardeners in Shakespeare’s Richard II Act 3 scene 4 espouse biocracy, the ideal model for governance. A form of governance that could be set up and followed without the permission of Crown or Parliament (though technically probably as treasonous as Bolingbroke’s alternative to Richard, yet maybe as popular).

    1. Kel says:

      That’s really interesting, thanks for sharing.

  5. Dan says:

    alex salmond is a total jonah, the best thing scotland can do is deport him immediately, if he had a conscience at all he’d have emigrated rather than putting scotland firmly in nato’s pocket

  6. Dan says:

    while he’s at it why not take the rest of the suit and tie pen pushing backstabbing two faced self serving lickspittle servants of vested interest with him, less telly, mair tunes, and less never ending coin tossing via the twitter sphere, back tae the croft is the only sensible answer for this current malaise

  7. Tom Ultuous says:

    [While MacNeil is quite right to say that the Scottish Government was “utterly clueless about independence” when it went to the Supreme Court last year and still “utterly clueless” about it afterwards, he has very little alternative.]

    Nobody does so I put forward my idea again.

    We need to get people marching.
    The Scottish govt should arrange a wildcat independence referendum.
    If the yoons organise a boycott, the Scottish govt should state that the referendum will go ahead anyway, and if the YES vote amounts to what would’ve been a majority in the 2014 referendum (42.3% of eligible voters) then it’s assumed that independence is the wish of the Scottish people.
    If the yoons continue to advise a boycott that means they won’t be campaigning, which in turn makes it easier to achieve the equivalent of that 2014 majority.
    If you were Douglas Ross, what would you recommend?
    Following a YES vote the Scottish govt should seek the support of the UN who generally take a dim view of colonies being held against their will.

    The compensation money for the police’s collaboration in the Very British Coup should go towards this referendum.

  8. Tom Ultuous says:

    While Starmer stands by the two child benefit limit (and rape clause) why do we never see the likes of this highlighted?

    [Scotland’s tax and benefits system is now considerably more progressive than elsewhere in Britain, a report has said. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) think tank said that by April, the poorest 10% of Scottish households are set to have incomes £580 (4.6%) per year higher than they would under the system in England and Wales.
    Tax and benefit measures introduced in Scotland since 2017 have reduced average household incomes by £210 (0.5%). But the IFS said policies introduced since 2017, such as changes to the benefits system, have particularly increased the incomes of poorer families with children. Amongst the poorest 30%, Scottish reforms are set to raise the incomes of households with children by around £2,000 per year on average, the IFS said.]

  9. John S Warren says:

    Bravo, Mike.

  10. Collie Dog says:

    I am not, nor reckon I ever will be, a member of any political party, although I did once consider becoming an SNP member towards the end of the 2007 minority administration only because the fantastic gains made in that time seemed too fragile and too important to lose in the event of a setback in the 2011 election, such was my pessimism about how Britain does politics (and actually where we are today kind of demonstrates that pessimism might even then have been justified notwithstanding the unexpectedly groundchanging result in 2011); so believe me, this is not a party political comment: Perhaps one reason why Alba is failing to gain traction is precisely because, whether fruitfully or no, it is attempting to come from outwith “the pantomime”.

  11. John says:

    The argument promulgated by KS, Labour frontbenchers, Tony Blair and supported by columnists in Guardian is essentially the only way for Labour to be elected in UK (under FPTP effectively means England) is to disown policies trying to remedy poverty and social inequality because this will lead to ‘leftists’ attacking Labour which will make Labour more electable for electorate in England.
    What we are seeing with refusal to commit to repeal 2 child benefit cap is where this strategy eventually leads too – the willingness to accept increased child poverty because Labour lacks self confidence and is willing to appeal to small minded intolerance rather than explain to public the inequality and harm that this policy promotes on children who are entirely innocent (not having chosen to be born in such circumstances) regardless of fecklessness of parents. It is not beyond the wit of these politicians to come up with another policy that would protect the children but target the adults eg promoting these parents to consider some form of sterilisation through financial inducements which would reduce the burden of additional children on themselves and state and give them additional cash to spend on their existing children (hopefully). I am sure there are plenty of other alternatives but god forbid that Labour should upset the Daily Mail/Express/Telegraph/Sun who promote small minded vindictiveness to their readers.
    You never know appealing over the head of the tabloids basing your arguments on child welfare might just appeal to a substantial section of electorate.

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