Synchronicity and Chaos

So we have crept forward overnight, curiously in sync with the Americans, towards the time I’ve already forecast when the rational, sensible people will emerge from their long hibernation and re-assert the values of the Age of Reason in a way reminiscent of the way one of the New York Public Library staff in The Day After Tomorrow does when he clutches the Gutenberg Bible and refuses to let the others burn it to keep warm.

I am cautiously pleased, both by the UK election result and by the fact that someone is standing up to Trump. The election result is doubly pleasing, not just because it seems to demonstrate that at least some people have come to their senses at last, either by voting differently this time or by making the effort to vote at all, but also because it has produced a result that suggests we don’t even need a Scottish referendum to bring chaos to the Brexit process. And indeed that we don’t need proportional representation to create a minority government, although I think our politicians had better start beefing up their negotiating skills for when someone does give in and introduce it.

I haven’t the faintest idea how this will all develop – not sure another election would help – so I will just enjoy this moment of uncertainty while it lasts.

Losing Faith

I don’t really believe in anything much, so it was a bit of a shock to find I had given up believing in something. I only realised this when I decided I would have to register for a postal vote for the local Council elections this year as I will be away from home on that date. It looked as if it should be easy enough to do this online so naturally I left it to the last minute. However, for reasons too complicated to go into except to say that they involve an upgraded internet router and a printer that stopped working as a result, this has proved to be impossible.

At first I was quite indignant about having been effectively disenfranchised, and in other circumstances I might have moved mountains to find a way round it. My grandmother’s sister was a suffragette and I have always felt I had to vote, mostly to justify the trouble she and others went to in order to get me the vote in the first place. However, after some thought I realised I didn’t care about the result anyway.

This isn’t exactly earth-shattering in itself, as I don’t expect there is going to be a huge amount of difference in the running of the City of Edinburgh Council whoever wins control this time – council tax will keep going up and up, and the state of the roads and bin collections down and down

What is earth-shattering (for me) is that I no longer have any belief in the democratic process itself. I can only realistically attribute this to the result of the EU referendum, which was so completely wrong that it defies all reason, and from which I don’t see how we (the so-called United Kingdom) can ever recover. The knock-on effects in terms of how various politicians have handled it, and once again I’m looking at you, Jeremy Corbyn, have meant that as far as I am concerned there is now no political party worth voting for. Thank you and good night, democracy.

Anarchist Tendencies

Now that I’ve finally sent in my resignation from the Labour Party after a bit of procrastination to give them a last chance to come to their senses (they haven’t), this seems like a good time to review the complete shambles the voters have made of UK, European and US politics. Who would have thought populist fervour would have such destructive results? she enquired modestly.

It seems to be unfashionable to blame the voters for their terminal stupidity, and of course it wasn’t entirely their fault, but there were elements of ignorance involved in some of their choices or, in the case of the older voters, forgetfulness, which I suppose comes to the same thing in the end. I don’t know what can be done about this, and it’s too late anyway, but personally I think a case could be made for people having to pass some sort of test of reasoning skills before being allowed to cast a vote. I was going to suggest testing people on historical and scientific facts too, but I am aware that there can often be a lot of debate about what constitutes a fact. I don’t mean this in the alternative facts sort of sense but actual scholarly debate among experts.

Apart from the voters, I blame David Cameron more than anyone else for holding the EU referendum, although he wouldn’t have had the chance to do so if the Lib Dem vote hadn’t collapsed due to Nick Clegg’s betrayal of decades of Liberal values, so the latter is almost equally to blame.

Where do we go from here? Well, it goes against the grain for me to say this, because my favoured outcome is still for Scotland to remain in the UK and for the UK to remain in Europe, but some anarchist tendency that seems to be lurking at the back of my brain is urging me towards the conclusion that we should hold another Scottish independence referendum while the UK is still embroiled in Brexit chaos, just to see if we can make things so bad that Theresa May succumbs to the nervous breakdown she seems to be hovering on the brink of, the government disintegrates and some of the sensible reasonable people whose existence only becomes evident when they occasionally peep shyly out of their woodland hiding-places have to step up and run things.

Thatcher, the Internet and Populist Fervour

As if it wasn’t dark and threatening enough already, the EU referendum campaign has taken a much darker turn this past week. I don’t want to comment specifically on what has happened, but to have a quick look at what the sources of this darkness might be in general.

Sometimes I am reminded of the comedy programme ‘Two Point Four Children’ in which, under certain circumstances, one of the main characters would exclaim ‘It’s bloody Thatcher!’ and go into a rant about the many and varied ways in which it was all Margaret Thatcher’s fault. I often feel like doing this too. Part of our national darkness, surely, stems from the fact that all the traditional industries have been dismantled and there are large sections of the population who would in the past have worked in them who are now unable to find work anywhere.

Even where there is still some employment, the drive everywhere has been for efficiency savings, so that one person is doing work that several people would have done in the past. This is particularly evident in areas such as transport, where, for instance, one person wheels the refreshment trolley, makes all the announcements and checks all the tickets on the train whereas in the past there would have been several people doing this. Stations too are run either by no-one or by one person part-time. Even on buses, one person usually drives as well as selling tickets, where there would once have been a driver and a conductor.

When I was still at primary school we all thought that increased automation would result in everyone working much shorter hours, but in fact it has resulted in certain people working harder and longer, and others not working at all. Thatcher’s rule also contributed to greater inequalities in the distribution of wealth, so that there are people with more money than they know what to do with, and others trying to exist on benefits and/or the so-called ‘living wage’. The resentment about all this has been building up for quite a long time.

In sync with this, the internet has allowed people to express all sort of feelings, including irrational and violent ones, in an open way that in some cases has given them a spurious validity. A gulf has opened up between the restricted, defined way in which people can express their political views via the ballot paper and the flexible, random, irresponsible way in which they can express them in newspaper comments, in blog posts and online forums. They have begun to expect to have these random, irrational views treated as seriously as those of politicians and political pundits. In some ways this is a positive thing, encouraging engagement with politics and democracy and challenging accepted values. But it is also potentially very dangerous. There seems to be an increasing disrespect for authority and expertise. I am not personally all that fond of authority as such, having had one or two run-ins with it in the past, but I do think expertise and intelligence should be valued in a civilised society.

The internet is also a good way to spread half-truths and downright lies and to have them believed by lots of people, especially if the people spreading them make more noise and fuss than the people struggling to have the truth listened to. It’s a sad reflection on the education system across the UK that many of the opinions to be found in comments sections and on social media demonstrate a lack of general knowledge, particularly in the area of history, and of basic logic. These happen to be the two things I probably value more than anything else, so I find this extremely worrying.

And what this all adds up to, I’m afraid, is populist fervour, which, as I have already mentioned elsewhere on this blog, can culminate in violent revolution. Whether or not anyone consciously wants that.

Alarm bells ring again

I’ve been too depressed about politics for some time to write anything on this blog. As a fairly recently joined Labour Party member who didn’t vote for Jeremy Corbyn as leader, I am still not convinced he is the right person for the monumental task he has in front of him, and I am not keen on some of his associates either. However, any concerns of mine about domestic politics have now dwindled into insignificance compared with the potential disaster waiting to happen internationally if we actually withdraw from the EU. David Mitchell wrote an excellent article in The Observer a week or so ago about why we shouldn’t be deciding this by referendum, and oddly enough I had already given my rather similar opinion some time ago in one sentence here on this very blog:

‘I don’t know much about how government works but I am sure most of the decisions taken there are too complicated to be decided by a simple yes/no ballot among people who don’t know or understand all the facts.’

But, as I decided after the fiasco of the Scottish referendum, on matters as important as this if you have to have a referendum – perhaps because you’ve foolishly promised one as part of your election manifesto – then it is asking for trouble to have one in which a good bit less than half the population potentially decide something of international significance. There should be some stipulation about a two-thirds majority, or a majority of the whole electorate,  in favour of any change to the status quo.

By some weird synchronicity both US and UK politics now appear to  be in a state of dramatic change. On either side of the Atlantic, people are abandoning older political divisions and separating into two camps: Rational, Sensible People (RSP) and Fanatical Extremists (FE). Because the FEs seem to be better at  selling themselves, there is a serious danger that they will come out on top one way or another. This afternoon I have found myself re-tweeting quotes first from John Major and then from Jeremy Corbyn. Anyone who has read other posts on this blog will know that I don’t really have much time for either of these men in general. However on this occasion they have both (after a bit of apparent reluctance on JC’s part) come down firmly on the side of the RSPs. Yes, it is as serious as that.

Here we go again…

This seems like a good time to confess that in a fit of post-election guilt that I hadn’t done anything to prevent the Tories winning the general election – except for not voting for them, which suddenly didn’t seem enough – I joined the Labour Party.

I hadn’t really thought this would be such a big deal when I joined, but my membership has resulted in me having a vote, or rather several votes, in the leadership/deputy leadership elections in Scotland and the UK. For a while my email inbox was full of pleas from all the candidates to go to their meetings or tell all my friends to vote for them. I am quite looking forward to the end of all this, which is now in sight. I’ve just received leaflets through the post as well from the UK party leadership candidates. Soon it will all be decided and I will be able to stop feeling guilty about not going to any of their meetings. I didn’t actually join the party to go to meetings or evangelise about them to my friends and acquaintances. It was more of a gesture of solidarity at a dark time when just arguing with people in the comments section of ‘The Guardian’ wasn’t assuaging my guilt any more.

I decided quite early on that I would vote for women candidates where possible, but I’m now slightly concerned about the direction things are heading in, with populist fervour building up around Jeremy Corbyn in a way that, as one reporter on the Scottish news commented excitedly, hasn’t been seen since the independence referendum. If you read the previous posts on this blog you may be able to work out that I am not a big fan of populist fervour. It reminds me of historical events such as the French and Russian Revolutions, which although they may have started out with good intentions, inevitably WENT TOO FAR fairly quickly. In cases like that the victims are not usually the bad people these movements initially target, but the most vulnerable people in society, for whom political instability can mean the difference between just clinging on to life in the hope of better times, and starving to death. This is also why, incidentally, I am so much against the drive for Scottish independence, or secession as I prefer to call it.

It isn’t just the populist fervour that worries me about Jeremy Corbyn. It’s the doubt over his ability to unite the Labour Party behind him, which must surely be the essential first step towards uniting the country, and the fear that he wants to try and turn the clock back in many respects instead of assessing where we are at the moment and moving on from there in a better way. Someone who commented in ‘The Guardian’ the other day praised him for sticking to his principles regardless of outside events, but personally I do not find this entirely praiseworthy, if it’s true. I think if he ever did get into power as Prime Minister, he would find it impossible to do this. I also don’t think he has a clue about Scottish politics, but hardly anyone does at the moment so that isn’t exactly a deal-breaker I suppose.

On the other hand, if I, a long-standing Labour sympathiser and someone who in any case has run out of other parties to vote for, am doubtful whether I could vote for a party led by an ancient* sandal-wearing, bike-riding, bearded, wrinkled man, then there must be other people out there who won’t be able to bring themselves to do so either.

*To justify this ageist comment I will admit that in fact JC is slightly younger than me.

In meltdown

I wish fervently that my feeling of impending doom as we approached last week’s general election hadn’t proved to be right. I think in a sense the independence referendum lulled me into a sense of false security, because there was impending doom but there wasn’t any actual doom. That time I woke up at 2.30 a.m. and only had to check my Twitter feed to find out everything was going to be all right. This time I had already seen the exit poll before going to sleep, and I woke up at 2.30 with an even stronger feeling that things would be all wrong.

So now we are facing the distinct possibility that there will be an in/out EU referendum and possibly another independence referendum within the next few years. However, I suppose things could be even worse, as the Conservatives have won UK-wide with rather a small percentage of the vote, and the SNP have won almost 100% of the seats in Scotland with only around half the votes. So there are quite a lot of people around who didn’t vote for either party, as I didn’t, and who might be prepared to vote sensibly another time too.

As anyone who read my last post before the election will be aware, I was optimistic that the bullying of certain Labour figures in the official and unofficial media would turn out to be counter-productive, but sadly this doesn’t seem to have been the case after all. I am still at a loss to understand the visceral hatred of Jim Murphy that has been expressed by many SNP supporters. It’s the kind of hatred I would only feel for someone whom I knew personally and who had done something unforgiveable, like running over a cat. I’m sure there are other SNP voters and perhaps even party members who are quiet and sane, but by definition they don’t make so much noise or attract so much attention as the ones who shout in people’s faces or follow people around accusing them of being mass murderers, as happened to Ed Miliband in Edinburgh during the referendum campaign.

I am not at all happy about living in a one-party state, although I am hoping it won’t last too long as I can imagine the SNP fracturing into its component parts (tartan Tories, Scottish Socialists etc) at some point once Nicola Sturgeon relaxes her iron grip on the new MPs for a moment. Currently I am ‘represented’ by an SNP MP, an SNP MSP, an SNP city councillor and (thank goodness) MEPs from a variety of parties as Scotland is all one constituency for the European elections.

Mentioning an iron grip reminds me of two things. One is that it has crossed my mind to wonder if the admiration of non-Scots for Nicola Sturgeon is partly because she reminds them of Margaret Thatcher. The second, which is a glance towards the future, is that I have read that one possible candidate for the Labour leadership (which I don’t think Ed Miliband should have relinquished just yet, by the way) has been described as a ‘steely eyed messenger of death’. I mustn’t say I think he’d be a good choice as that could jinx him, but if there’s any sign of the SNP/Jacobites marching on Derby then he sounds like a good person to have on your side.