#OneNorthernUKAdministrativeRegion

I start writing this one week out from Scotland’s independence referendum, where as you may have heard Scotland narrowly decided to remain in its dysfunctional co-dependant relationship with the rest of the only-accurate-by-five-percent “United Kingdom”. As you can probably gather from the outpouring of bitterness, I was on the 45% side of that decision, and the scant consolation of the next few years of “telt ye so” helps very little with the inescapable feeling that we’ve voted to go down with the ship.

No matter what poll you look at, the takeaway was that the fears of the old outweighed the hopes of the young, as the cynical juggernaut of Project Fear and its wildly inaccurate claims were allowed to go unchallenged by a lop-sided, “No” dominated media. It’s difficult to see the repeated refrain of “don’t risk your pensions” as anything other than an attempt to intimidate the elderly, and it’s especially disappointing that no outlet challenged the basis for this – given that by the Department for Work and Pensions’ own admission, they’d be obligated to pay out pensions exactly as they would have done. It has, after all, already been paid for by a lifetime of work. I’m sure there’s an articulate case for remaining tethered to Westminster’s system, but the most repeated ones were all nonsense.

Anyway, if the “Yes” camp’s reaction has been a sense of sadness and disappointment, you’d expect the “No” supporters to be jubilant. I suppose they were, in their way, as the scum of the earth descended on George Square, starting running battles around Glasgow and, with a keen sense of situational irony, giving Nazi salutes from in front of a war memorial. Classy stuff, and all from behind a “No Thanks” banner.

We shouldn’t tar everyone with the same shitty brush, of course. There are some “No” supporters that aren’t the biggest fuck-knuckles to walk this Earth’s face, but you can’t dodge the fact that they’re on your team. UKIP are on your team. The BNP are on your team. The National Front are on your team. The Orange Order are on your team. Very marginally less disgustingly, the Tories and the Lib Dems are on your team. All of the daily mass media are on your team. The bankers are on your team. The Chinese government are on your team. Does that sound like a team you want to be part of? Does that sound like a team that’s got the same interests and aspirations as you do? Does that sound like a group of people, to use the term loosely, that has your best interests at heart? Hey, I’m as libertarian as the next guy. You can hop into bed with whomever you feel like, but you’re the person that has to look at themselves in the mirror the morning after.

An altogether more boring but no less disturbing reaction occurred in the politisphere, as the much lauded “vow” to deliver more powers to Scotland immediately started to fly apart, with the various parties fracturing off over the scope of what’s to be done. It’s almost as if, rather than being a comprehensive, detailed plan of action, this was merely a last ditch attempt at placation from an opposition backbench MP who’s so disinterested in government that he’s appeared at a mere 13% of House votes. It’s perhaps too early to say that the vow that, we have to assume, steadied some wavering voters is going to tear itself apart in subcommittees and then get voted down by angry Tory backbenchers, but I’m not going to be in the least bit surprised at dropping another “telt ye” bomb.

Meanwhile, it looks very much like we’re about to start dropping actual bombs as we start Yet Another Iraq War, but this time also with bits of Syria, which means we can soon add Bashar al-Assad to the list of people on our team. Yay, us. So glad we’re still punching above our weight on the international stage, killing off more people with armaments that cost enough to keep one of our burgeoning number of food banks running for a year. This is the direction that 55% of Scotland voted for. It’s a minor tragedy for us, and a soon to be pretty major one for those soon to be declared “militants”.

The final battlefront is, of course, by far the least important, as the cauldron of Twitter stirs up the usual amount of shite. Twitter has long been the single best place for the poorly informed to sling reckon-bytes at each other in 140 characters, guaranteeing the maximal amount of misunderstanding and upset on all sides of the argument. This is why every topic on Twitter, regardless of importance, devolves into Youtube comments.

The latest attempt at hashtag clicktivism, or whatever buzz-worthy slogan is being used today to describe digital time-wasting, is a One Scotland campaign, where a generous interpretation would be an attempt to move forward with the issues facing Scotland. A rather more grounded interpretation would be that they’d rather we weren’t talking about referendums at all.

This will, of course, fail miserably. Independence has been on the Scottish political agenda since 1707, and it’s not likely to be removed soon. This is many people’s lifetime political goal. Not the same person since 1707, of course, but suggesting that we ignore what’s just happened is madness.

It’s also a highly undemocratic way to attempt to stifle political opinions, and the rationale for it is transparently false. People can work together without having to homogenise opinion, and there’s simply no need to do so. After all, despite the political landscape being dominated by the referendum for the past few years, Scotland appears to have avoided burning down, almost as if Holyrood can chew on more than one policy at a time. Who’d have thunk it, etc.

We need to talk about this result, probably for years. It’s huge. And hugely divisive, by it’s very nature. The fourth biggest city in the U.K. doesn’t want to be in U.K. That’s a thing we’ve found out. We have to think about what that means for everyone, and it’s much too complex a topic to move on from, or indeed capture your thoughts on in a snarky tweet.

Frankly, I’m not even going to touch on the other side of the this pulling together business, which would mean working with people who’ve been demonising us for past two years, with such constructive arguments as you’re liars, you’re cybernats, you’re bullies, you smell of wee, and such like. To an extent that’s just the internet talking, dragging everyone down into the filth, but it’s not the sort of behaviour that makes reconciliation a particularly attractive option.

The biggest loser in all of this is difficult to predict – there’s a great many people who will be losing. There’s a solid argument that it’s Scottish Labour, though. It’s widely acknowledged that they’ve led a hopeless campaign, continuing under the hopeless leadership of Johann Lamont. Clearly, they’re now refusing to learn from their supposed-to-be-unachievable crushing at the last Holyrood election and are locked into their blinkered path of focusing squarely on bashing the SNP. They have been rewarded for this laser-like focus by losing traditional support base in areas such as Glasgow, and by vastly increasing the SNP’s membership.

This is just another step in the continual lurch to the right that’s removed the Labour party from anything that would be remotely familiar to its founders, a party of austerity and cutting child benefit. Their continued tone deaf approach to their support will, I predict, leave them facing real problems at next year’s election. They have already alienated enough of their support that the phrase “anyone but Labour” is starting to be heard. That’s the real reason for the One Scotland campaign, to attempt to ameliorate the coming maelstrom. There’s quite a lot of people who aren’t likely to allow that to happen.

It’s crazy what you could’ve had.

How do you solve a problem like Falkirk?

(I wrote this a few weeks back for an apparently aborted current affairs satire podcast pilot, born of an excess of enthusiasm and vodka. The somewhat embarrassing dropping of any charges against the union brought it to mind, so I figured I’d promote it out of my ‘scraps’ pile.)

I am, of course, uniquely placed amongst the commentariat on Labour’s ongoing issues in the Falkirk West constituency, given my status as an escapee from the stifling confines of smallish Central Belt town to the stifling confines of Glasgow, giving me a differently stifled perspective on the political infighting that’s somewhere between a storm in a teacup and a battle for the very heart and soul of the Labour party. Which implies that the heart and soul of the Labour party can fit in a teacup, I suppose. I don’t have any paperwork to back that up. Let’s say “allegedly” and hope that’s weasly enough.

For those who, understandably, pay little attention to Falkirk, Central Scotland’s answer to Iowa, a recap may be in order. Let us introduce you to then Labour MP Eric Joyce, taking over the Westminster constituency after the respected MP (of which there used to be a few, surprising as that may seem to youngsters) Dennis Canavan chose to move to the Scottish Parliament, and was booted out of Labour as result, which does not seem to have proven much of a career impediment.

Joyce, although born in Perth, chose to represent Falkirk like a native, fighting for the interests of the people, particularly the segment of the people named “Eric Joyce”. He proved to be the top claiming member of the House of Commons between 2005 and 2006. A disappointing slide in form say him drop to 11th in the 2006-2007 grifter’s league, but some intense profiteering saw him back on top in 2008-2009 – including a spectacularly reasoned £180 expenditure on three oil paintings. When asked why he had used taxpayers’ funds in such a way he replied, “because they look nice.” Your tax pounds at work, there. All this hard effort paid off spectacularly, for Joyce at least, becoming the first MP to claim more than £1 million cumulatively in expenses.

It’s vital that we get value for money from our public officials, of course, and Joyce has chosen to help out with this country’s dire employment situation by ensuring that the Police are kept busy. Starting his criminal record with a comparitively boring six month driving ban for racking up 12 points on his licence, he moved on to more challenging offences, arrested in 2010 for failing to provide a breath test after another vehicular escapade.

Looking to up the ante, he was again arrested in February 2012 for assault, having been described as “going berserk, Falkirk-style”, headbutting a Tory MP and clocking his own party’s whip in what we in Falkirk would call “a normal Wednesday night”. Hot on the heels of this came a Daily Record article claiming the then 49 year old MP had “relations” with a 17 year old schoolgirl working for his campaign in 2010. That proved to be one straw too many, and Joyce soon tendered his resignation to the Labour party, presumably about ten seconds before he’d have been fired anyway.

However, like a particularly tenacious dollop of shite Joyce refused to be flushed from the system, choosing instead to merely not seek re-election in 2015. Despite now being out of Labour’s league table of nutballs, Joyce has proven to keep match-fit in the interim, bothering the po-po twice in the intervening year or so, once for cutting off the electronic tag awarded for his previous triumphs and again for another boozed up, taxpayer subsidised Parliamentary bar brawl.

It’s said that you get the government you deserve, but even at its very worst Falkirk’s not this horrible.

At any rate, the matter now at hand concerns picking the replacement candidate for the next election, normally a matter for the constituency Labour party. I’m left with the impression that this process wan’t thought about too deeply, as the now redrawn seat of Falkirk is now a so safe a Labour seat that it could be won by a tub of lard with a red rosette on it.

Following allegations that Unite chairman Stephen Deans had been on a recruiting spree at the local refinery, offering to pay their Labour party membership fees, which by itself doesn’t seem like much of an incentive, to be honest with you, questions have been raised at the national level of the extent to which Unite and other unions influence the Labour Party.

From a legal standpoint it appears the membership drive / ballot stuffing isn’t illegal, presumably more in a “technically not illegal” sense that politics is so good at finding, but it certainly looks suspect to most outsiders, particularly those already minded to think that those evil unions already ruined Blairite revenge fantasy by picking the wrong Miliband brother – not the anointed one, David, but the annoying one, Ed. Well, okay, they’re both annoying, I concede.

The investigation resulted in the National Labour Party taking over the selection process, and the suspension of Stephen Deans and provisional candidate Karie Murphy, which angered Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey. However Red Len McCluskey does rather give the impression of someone who’s always the merest slight away from fuming, incandescent rage. Heaven forbid a Starbucks barista mistakenly scribble “Ben” on the side of his machiatto, in the admittedly unlikely event he’d be allowed from a PR persepctive to order coffee from anywhere other than a burger van, or maybe Greggs on special occasions.

The more concrete, non-Unite word-slinging fallout may be more problematic for the Labour party, as Karie Murphy turns out to have been MP Tom Watson’s office manager prior to this fofferall. Tom Watson, I’d argue, is the closest thing the Labour party has to a respected, opinionated politician that can get results thanks to his involvement in the investigations into just how shitty the U.K. tabloid press is. If you don’t want to know the results, look away now: they are really, really shitty.

At any rate, Watson, incidentally Len McCluskey’s old flatmate, has resigned from his role as Campaign Co-ordinator in the wake of all of this nonsense, which is hard to see as anything other than a blow for a Labour party that’s struggling to look even remotely electable. At this rate it’s going to take Cameron and Osbourne campaigning on a platform of “firstborn children to be slaughtered” to move the needle towards the beleaguered Miliband camp, and even then it’s not a slam-dunk for the reds.

If this fiasco does result in the now mooted breaking of the bonds between Labour and the union movement, which lest we forget was the reason it was formed in the first place, it’s bound to be even more trouble for a party already decried as the Diet Tories. By stripping themselves of their founding and defining characteristic, they’re in danger of winding up as characterless and unappealing as their present leader.

And it all began in Falkirk. We’re so very sorry.

Unbalanced

mixer jacks

On the other side of the Atlantic, Democratic congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords has been shot in the head.

The event itself is of course a tragedy for the Giffords family and a sad day for American politics. From a, and I say this with no ill-will meant, relatively disinterested viewpoint, the outstanding aspect of this case is that it seems to mark the start of a complete meltdown in the American political process.

While I appreciate sitting on the other side of an ocean isn’t the ideal vantage point on the system, I’ve kept up enough to know that as long as I’ve been aware of American politics, the right-leaning side of the debate is moving steadily to positions and opinions more commonly associated with people in mental institutions rather than political institutions.

As far back as the hounding of Bill Clinton over his illicit blowie, right wing commentators have been amping up the rhetoric to unprecedented degrees that would not be acceptable in normal conversation, but apparently cannot be challenged in the political arena. The current crop of  right leaning commentators represents the nadir of this trend.

After Washington Post journalist Dana Milbank criticised Fox News’ coverage of the recent election, Bill O’Reilly ‘jokes’, “does sharia law say we can behead Dana Milbank?”. Ha ha. Glenn Beck fantasises on air about strangling Michael Moore. Modest health care reform is met with screams of socialism, communism and bizarre comments on ‘death panels’. Not from some fringe nutter, but from someone who was close to becoming vice-president of the USA.

Notably, the response from Sarah Palin, who recently urged her supporters “Don’t Retreat, Instead – RELOAD!”, after this shooting was to pull down an image from her website with gunsights over Giffords’ state. Very thoughtful and sensitive.

Almost immediately the noise machine kicks in, slamming anyone for “politicising” an, as I write this, thankfully only an attempted assassination, act that’s political by its very nature, and then saying that both sides are guilty of this hateful rhetoric, and anyway responsibility for the act lies only with the gunman.

Of course, there’s no examples of notable left wing commentators or politicians calling for the murder of their opponents. The best they trot out is third party website comments, claiming that all comments are officially endorsed by the website they appear on. Which is a convenient lie. The truth is that the violent rhetoric comes only from notable commentators on the right.

Ultimate responsibility for pulling the trigger comes from the man who pulled the trigger. Initial reports are that this was clearly a disturbed young man who may not be playing with a full deck. It would, however, be completely disingenuous to say that he was not effected by society around him. We all are. We are human. We are social creatures. We are all, unless you’re a hermit, part of society and society become a part of you. The truth is that framing discourse in language couched in violence leads to a society in which violence is encouraged and implicitly condoned. Unavoidably.

There’s a lot of bluster covering up some very guilty consciences on the part of many commentators, of that I have little doubt. There’s a lot of bluster from those without consciences as well, of that I have even less doubt.

We’ve seen this before in the Christian Right Fruitbats, with polemics about the evils of abortions and so forth leading to violence and murder of doctors, indefensibly by people who would consider themselves ‘good’ Christians.

Sadly, the main surprise in the case of Gabrielle Giffords is not that it happened, but that it has taken so long to happen.