It’s not easy to keep your head above water in these politically turbulent times, but do we have a choice? I’d say that we don’t. The future is not ours to give up on. We all have our low points though and for me the world really shifted on its axis on 7th November 2016, less than six months after the EU referendum. I know, Trump won the US elections on the 8th November, but still reeling from the death of Leonard Cohen the day before, I found myself hopelessly drifting through cyberspace looking for a grown up to make some sense of it all. Cohen out Trump in. Unfair exchange. I don’t know how many times I read it; “There is a crack, a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in”. No sorry guys, it’s not a crack, it’s broken, shattered. A chasm.
How we laughed at that Boris/Trump split meme around at that time.
The two outrageous muppets with the wacky blond hair, for US President and UK PM. Few are laughing now as that nightmare scenario looks increasingly possible, if not likely. The joke is on us, too, while UK politicians across the board play fast and loose with democracy. For the past three years party leaders have wrestled with the possibilities and pitfalls of second referendums. It really does depend who is asking, and why. Carolyn Leckie writes about the hypocrisy of the Scottish Labour Branch Office; “The erratic acrobatics of the party over Brexit stands in revealing contrast to its iron-clad obstinacy over Scottish self-determination”.
The Scottish Lib Dem Leader Willie Rennie, by contrast, has tirelessly supported an EU Remain and second referendum position, but a second chance for Scotland? “that’s different…”. One thing that has become increasingly obvious from the efforts of the SNP group in Westminster, and the ever compromising position of the First Minister, is that there is a democratic deficit when it comes to Scotland’s position within the UK.
We seem to have run out of clichés: “You couldn’t make it up, Orwellian doublespeak, things can’t get any worse.” You’d think. Then along came the landmark report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in October 2018. Around Twelve years left to make a serious dent in emissions, and suddenly Westminster and Holyrood are mere bit players on the global survival scene. Trump, who had already pulled out of the Paris Climate agreement in 2017, believes it’s all just fake news, as fake as the mass protests to his recent UK visit. A sense of overwhelming powerlessness and hopelessness pervades.
Enter stage left Greta Thunberg, and note that she is not a grown up. The search for responsible grown ups ceases further with the examples of the school children, who, feeling essentially betrayed, and without a viable future unless significant and immediate changes occur, act to wrest the power from the adults, and strike for climate change.
If we raise our head and look away for a moment from the darkness, the greed and the purely bizarre, there is hope and energy. It’s essential that we harness some of that to fuel us through these difficult and ominous times.
Essentially the politicians, the adults in charge, are failing us. If you’re taking direct action, as Extinction Rebellion activists did last week, by chaining themselves to Holyrood railings, don’t expect Ruth Davidson to unchain you, and engage in meaningful discussion about emissions. No useful photo ops there for self-publicist Ruth. However, last month, a court battle was won to clear the founder of Extinction Rebellion and another activist, of vandalism relating to the spray painting of “Divest from oil and gas” on property within Kings college London.
This is progress. The movement is no longer dismissed as an obstruction, and hopefully the court ruling will act as a precedent in similar circumstances.
Direct action and protest works, and as I write Greenpeace are occupying an oil rig in Cromarty, successfully drawing attention to the devastation caused by continued drilling. Whether your political focus is on the local, National or the global, we only need to look at the ongoing commitment of organisations like Living Rent, Extinction Rebellion, and the anti-fracking community, to name but a few of the many active movements. Some will argue that the huge anti-war protests of 2003 did nothing to stop Blair’s illegal war in Iraq, and that we should have stayed at home, saving our energy, or spend it on…insert own preferred cause.
Similarly there is a view that Trump’s visits should be marked with a cold shoulder, and that protest only feeds his massive ego. I’d say that visibility has a significantly more powerful impact than silence and isolation. Take your lead from the Trade Unions there. Trump’s ego is so fragile that he has to imagine streets lined only with those who love him. I’m convinced that the ridicule and humour of the best of the placards won’t pass this Twitter addict by.
The appearance of the far right on our streets has always been met with resistance. While throwing milkshakes at fascists is not for the feint hearted, it caught on as a more direct means of ridicule and resistance. It won’t stop an avalanche of hatred and bigotry, and I’m not suggesting that we, on the left don’t need to really strengthen our resolve and find more common ground for ongoing resistance. It’s an extremely messy message for now. Don’t worry about Nigel’s dry cleaning bill. He can afford it. Incidentally, the gathering of any crowd who are resistant to unwelcome change, whether it’s the recent teacher’s pay dispute, or the huge carnival-like anti-Trump rallies, are a means of standing shoulder to shoulder across the constitutional divide in Scotland.
This is one way to transcend the petty splits over minor areas of detail and sometimes dogma, that are so prevalent in the smaller parties of the Left. The far right groups are not encumbered by principles, and may find ways of working together. It’s essential that the Left find our common ground.
Politically, we live in strange times of protracted phony war. Groundhog day is not too strong a cliché for these times. Brexit has not (yet) happened. The timing and structure of a second independence referendum is still to emerge, and it’s hard to envisage the battles ahead. There is a case for keeping your powder dry if you’re reeling from years of activism from your particular focus. I see it like a relay event to some extent. Pass the baton, or lay it down for a while. Turn off the TV or radio when it gets too much. Just don’t let the current diet of far right bigotry and strongman leaders live in your head or your home.
Pick your fights. Don’t let a barrage of whataboutery drag you into inertia. Nobody can put their energy into every cause. If our goal is to transform the system behind the need for foodbanks, given that this is the day to day reality for an increasing number of people, and you can afford a tin of soup for a foodbank, don’t feel guilty. If we need to tackle the huge multi nationals who own the industries and create the conditions that are driving us to extinction, don’t feel guilty if you’re recycling.
Just don’t be the person who told me recently that food banks would be abolished if the poor would learn to cook and stop drinking and smoking. It’s not time to give up yet.
By Val Waldron