#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.