I’ve hesitated to write much about Brexit: there is so much uncertainty, so much chaos. But we on the left need to get ourselves organised, if we want to prevent this chaotic uncertainty from blighting our future for generations to come. I want us to work together to stop Brexit from happening.
Scotland voted remain by a clear majority. As a nation, we understand the importance of being part of something bigger … not in a ‘being shackled to’ sense, but in a sense that while our own small country is beautiful there is a bigger world out there that we want to look out to, not close ourselves down from. I am, unapologetically, an internationalist.
I can’t not mention the disdain with which the UK treats Scotland: SNP parliamentarians being told that suicide was the best option open to them when they were not given a say in changes made to Scotland’s devolution settlement; the wishes of the Scottish Parliament being completely ignored. Westminster is a farce, and it has been for some time. But it is a symbol of just how broken British democracy, is. Without respect for democracy, the UK is well and truly broken.
And this should matter to us. The 2016 EU referendum was called in order to hold the Tory party together. But there was then NO attempt to explain what it would actually mean. We were sold a completely false prospectus by the leave campaigns (still waiting for the £350 million a week for the NHS). There was no attempt to articulate what was good about the EU. No one talked about what sovereignty or “take back control” actually mean. And there was no real opposition to Brexit in Westminster. The Labour Party failed to argue either that that the EU was worth fighting for (given it has secured workers’, women’s, LGBT, environmental and so many other rights, freedom of movement, and a consolidated economic force) or that Brexit was a good idea because the EU is an anti-democratic structure that needs to be defeated in the interests of human and environmental rights.
In Scotland, we have an opportunity to offer something a little bit different to the debate. We are used to talking about politics, about how decisions should be made. We understand, here, that local power and local decision-making matters. So let’s lead the charge against a British Empire 2.0 Brexit!
Because none of the three prospects for Brexit that I think are possible is very palatable.
First, we have Brexit in name only, or BINO. This looks like an EEA sort of relationship that brings with it contributions to the EU budget, requirements to abide by Commission decisions, access to the single market, freedom of movement of people. However, it also means no say in EU policy development and implementation. And it brings with it the very real – and quite terrifying – risk of a right wing rebellion at Brexit denied. I am sure that none of us wants to see the fascism of the far right gain any purchase in our politics … we certainly don’t want a deeply racist anti-immigrant, racist backlash.
Second, we have what we might call Tory Brexiteer Brexit – “Global Britain” – signing trade deals, reorientation away from the EU and towards other markets. But this brings with it a period of deep economic reorganisation once we’ve moved to WTO rules and before we’ve negotiated any other trade deals or relationships. The economy in this context will be low wage, low regulation, no worker protection, increasing inequality (the removal of all social protections) – privatisation and full charging of NHS like US model, privatised education, road user charging, marketisation of all local government services (rubbish collections, environmental wardens, etc.). This is the Jacob Rees Mogg model. If you disliked TTIP, this brings a TTIP with every trade deal, only with even more loss of sovereignty because our negotiating weight is substantially less than that of the EU.
And thirdly, we have what we could call the Jeremy Corbyn model – Britain insulated from the global economy, much less access to global goods, the replacement of some of those with domestic industries, but the move away from having as many consumer goods, because they’ll become much more expensive. This is a much poorer country, but probably more equal and more solidaristic. But, it requires a massive reorientation of what people’s life expectations are. It’s also not really clear that it is deliverable, possible, desirable, or what anyone wanted.
I don’t want any of these futures for Scotland, or the UK, for that matter. The reason the UK government is making such heavy going of Brexit, though, is that none of these scenarios is desirable to anyone other than small groups of people. It is very hard to derive a national interest out of all of this.
So where does all of this leave us?
The truth of the matter is this. We need immigrants. We need reforms within the EU (because it is obviously far from perfect as it is). We need to make the case across Europe that the Brexit experiment is one that has failed and should not be repeated. We need to make the case that it is the idea that is bad, not simply the execution of the idea.
We are in an awkward position, however. If the question is “how do we get to where we want to be?”, the most accurate answer is “I wouldn’t start from here”. But we are here. We are here because of decades of an ideology that destroys community and creates a political elite that seeks to strip power from the people it is supposed to serve.
These are the same reasons that I argued, and still do so, for Independence for Scotland. The case for independence is stronger than ever; not because of Brexit, but because of the things that caused Brexit. Brexit is, I believe, the culmination of three important, and completely intertwined, crises: a crisis of the British state, a crisis around the collapse of a political consensus, and a deep industrial crisis.
And I firmly believe that a solution to these crises lie in transforming our democracy. We need a radical shake up of our representative democratic structures. AND we must have a new and invigorated participatory democratic society. So that is where we must focus our energies: in getting people involved, in making a noise, in demanding democracy. The fight back must be of our making, because it is our movement holds the key to a better future.
Reading Time: 7 minutes“Brexit is yet another indication that Scottish self-determination within the British Union is meaningless”
Sam Hamad talks Brexit, Scottish Independence, the EU and ‘Norway style’ deals…
There is absolutely no doubt that the UK’s relationship with the EU was overwhelmingly positive. If you were to add up all the areas where the EU influenced and determined UK policy, the result would be a very easy net gain for our societies in their totality.
But Scottish separatists ought to consider the bigger question of what Brexit means regarding the place of Scotland and Scots within the British Union. Even if the British government gets a ‘good deal’ or a ‘soft Brexit’, should we then celebrate the ‘soft’ disregarding of Scottish self-determination? Should we be thankful to the British government for ‘softly’ and ‘pragmatically’ discarding, as is the very nature of the political set up of the British Union, the self-determination of Scotland to remain in the UK?
It goes without saying that the British government striking a good deal that averts a hard Brexit or an IMF crash out would be better not just for the citizens, unwilling or not, of the UK, but for Europe in general and the whole world. However, even if Theresa May defied the racist will of her own party base and that of the wider Leave movement to end freedom of movement at all costs, allowing the UK to stay in the ESM and the Customs Union, all of this would have been done despite the will of the Scottish people.
To put it as starkly as possible: to Scots, Brexit is yet another indication that Scottish self-determination within the British Union is meaningless regarding happenings that have huge implications on the every day life of Scots. The home counties of England have more power over the life of Scots than Scots do. This is the reality of Brexit for Scots, regardless of its final form.
It’s part of the wider problem of the democratic deficit that exists within the British Union between British rule and Scottish self-determination. Though we take and make the best of what Britain gives us, Brexit simply is a particularly egregious example of the fact that we ultimately must take what we’re given and are expected to simply accept it.
Indeed, it’s of note that the one solid thing we know about the consequences of any Brexit deal on Scotland will be the rescinding of the powers that Scottish parliament are granted by the British state. They’re not really our powers at all. They don’t belong to us. They belong to a Prime Minister who has scant support in Scotland and a government comprised of one Scottish MP, while the legislative body that has ultimate domain over them is comprised by a huge majority English MPs.
Brexit is the Bedroom Tax on steroids. It’s the array of vicious welfare ‘reforms’ and fiscal austerity that the Tories, and the Tory-Liberal coalition before them, have forced upon the people of Scotland, ‘reforms’ that punish the poorest and most vulnerable people in our society despite the overwhelming majority of Scots opposing and voting against such ‘reforms’. Devolution, in this respect, doesn’t work. We don’t have the power in Holyrood to undo these devastating socioeconomic policies, so we must go further. We must have proper and unrestrained self-determination in Scotland.
If we had the self-determination that any nation deserves, we wouldn’t be living under the gathering storm clouds of Brexit – storm clouds that not only could lead to logistical nightmares in terms of the economic ramifications, but ones that are interwoven with the ideological bonanza of the far-right that Brexit represents. Or, alternatively, the ideological bonanza it represents for a Labour dominated by a racist, conspiracy theorist alt-left, who, more often than not, agree with hard Brexiteers – agree with the alt-right – over the bare bones of Brexit. Corbyn has done everything in his power to ensure that no singular progressive movement against Brexit can be formed in England.
This is the way Brexit should be utilised in any potential independence campaign: whether you’re a Scottish separatist who supports Remain or Leave, you can’t argue against the fact that Brexit validates the already obvious fact that Scottish self-determination is stunted within the British Union. If you’re a separatist who is ideologically committed to opposing the EU, you could say that if it wasn’t Brexit, it would be something else. It already has been so much else.
But this gets to another major point about the question of Scottish independence and Brexit. I understand people who actively love or support the EU only slightly more than I understand those who are pathologically opposed to it. Don’t misunderstand me, I voted Remain and would do so again without any hesitation, but I find the idea of being an active fan of the EU rather bewildering for any progressive.
On a personal level, I hold no more of a ‘European’ identity as I do a British one. I understand a European identity might mean something to people in England, as a cosmopolitan counter to the intrinsically racist British and English nationalism, but as a Scottish-Egyptian, the EU or ‘Europe’ as a geopolitical zone of power has no influence on my identity, political or otherwise.
Moreover, I’ve always considered the EU in its totality to be a cold, unaccountable hierarchical entity that is dominated by an assortment of toothless centrist and increasingly far-right-dominated governments. These can be uncomfortable arguments to make as a Remainer, given the dominance of the absurd British nationalist arguments about the ‘EUSSR’ eroding British sovereignty or the Lexit equivalent of the EU bosses club that curtails some vague idea of British ‘socialism’ (both of these absurd arguments from right and left meet each other in the middle and the end result is them both agreeing to support a Hard Brexit – Neil Findlay and Jacob Rees-Mogg are as one).
But the EU is far from a bastion of liberty and progress. Its own collective policy on immigration, asylum and refugees, referred to aptly as ‘Fortress Europe’, has been responsible for genocidal levels of death in the Mediterranean. The EU, ever more dominated by the right or centrists who embrace xenophobia in a foolish attempt to curtail the right, has overseen the deaths of tens of thousands of refugees, with their policies forcing them to take the perilous journeys across the sea. This is genocidal and the ongoing nature of the crime, while people seem to just accept it, makes it doubly monstrous. To rub salt in the wounds of this great injustice, the number of fatalities was further increased when the EU, with callous indifference, cut the number of rescue services available in the Med. In addition to this, we’ve seen the EU allow the use of brutal tactics of rounding up, detaining and deterring refugees as they try to make it to safety. Refugees fleeing Assad’s genocide or ISIS’ horrors or the permanent war in Afghanistan, have mostly been met in Europe by governments that want to get them out of the continent as quickly as possible – the mostly Muslim refugees are considered a threat to the alleged Christian values and underpinnings of Europe. This is the ever more formal consensus of the EU. The industrial deportation of refugees undertaken by Orban’s semi-fascist regime in Hungary has become normalised by the EU, while the concentration camp-esque ‘detention centres’ used by countries across Europe, particularly bad in the Balkans and Central Europe, are now being normalised and expanded as EU policy.
The use of these ‘detention camps’ might even extend to the fascist tyrannies in the Middle East and North Africa who police the walls of Fortress Europe. Think of Egypt’s Scorpius Prison with EU funding? That ought to be a good idea of what the EU’s agenda, ever more set by the far-right, will look like for refugees trying to reach Europe.
These same tyrannies that the EU outsource so much of their dirty work to, such as Sisi’s Egypt, which is one of the most brutal in the world, manages to get sweetheart deals with the EU that, though sold as ‘cracking down on human trafficking’, actually amount to imprisoning refugees, most of whom are Syrian, Sudanese, Eritrean and Ethiopian, in Egypt, where they cannot work and are left vulnerable to everything from virtual slave labour and racist attacks to endemic sexual assault. For this, they receive lucrative economic deals with EU countries (including the sale of weapons, Germany and France’s finest, used against innocent Egyptians.
As an Egyptian, as a human being, it’s thus often extremely hard to listen to people talking about a progressive Europe, but in the UK they are usually doing so in the face of the British right and its absurd Euroscepticism. And this is a major point – all the above, all the negative things about Europe, are fully supported by the British government. When Merkel had a progressive turn and allowed an open-door safe-haven for Syrian refugees, the UK was grudgingly agreeing to let in a mere 10,000 Syrian refugees over the course of several years, compared to 700,000 in Germany.
The major caveat then is that Brexit, with its anti-immigrant, anti-refugee, Islamophobic core, represents no kind of progressive drift from Europe. The Brexiters want to extend their racist policy towards refugees and non-European migrants to the untermenschen of Eastern and Southern Europe – the ‘Romanians’ that Nigel Farage warned us all about.
Thus, the question of the EU when it comes to an independent Scotland is a simple one – a question that the huge majority, a growing majority if you take recent polls, agree on: Scotland ought to remain in the European single market and Customs Union. In the days of the Celtic Tiger, the Euro used to be the Scottish independence movement’s get out of jail free card, when it came to the currency question but this is no longer realistic.
In the post-financial crisis era, in the wake of witnessing the ruthless devastation of the EU’s punitive austerity on economically ‘weak’ countries such as Greece in the Eurozone, the idea of joining the Euro is a completely non-starter. To join the Euro would be to surrender the self-determination of Scots to Brussels. In fact, Scots need not join the EU at all. A Norway option, where we remain in the ESM and CU, accepting freedom of movement and all the associated rules, without being an EU member state, is an option that could easily be available. I would personally advocate a continuation of the status quo if possible, as it’s a huge net gain for Scotland and, contrary to the foolish line of Scottish Eurosceptics, it would allow us with full political and economic self-determination.
Outside of the British Union and inside the European Union, we could design our own welfare state, our own tax system and our economic policies and strategies – our own social programmes and projects, our own scientific research and arts and sports bodies, all with additional EU support.
We could design our own immigration, asylum and refugee system – neither ‘Fortress Europe’ or ‘Fortress Britain’.
Scottish independence is an act of creativity and vitality, while Brexit is an act of self-destruction. This dynamic ought to extrapolated – Britain is hellbent on moving inwards: cutting, dismantling and stripping, while Scotland has been for the past decade or so been moving in a direction of creating a more egalitarian society. Nothing, of course guarantees this, and there will be many complications and challenges, but Scottish independence gives us the tools to build society in whatever way we see fit. The Eurosceptics talk about ‘Taking Back Control’, but they were already in control – Scots, on the other hand, have no control over our own futures while we remain in the British Union. Even the very process of legislating and sealing a independence referendum is in the hands of the British parliament and government.
Brexit simultaneously reminds us that England is not only moving in a newly destructive direction, while the old routine of Scottish self-determination being completely meaningless is getting worse and not better in the British Union.
We live in an age where senior SNP politicians are openly expressing worry about the rise of a far-right figure in England. Alyn Smith, MEP, said that the situation in England is so precarious that one wrong move, so to speak, could lead to the emergence of the far-right. Smyth cites Tommy Robinson, and the associated campaign to free him after he was rightfully locked up for contempt, while attempting to exploit trials involving child abuse to smear Muslims. Smith’s conjuring of Robinson of course hints at the way all these causes of the right intersect with Brexit. Many people, mostly Labourites and Unionists, might make the charge that Smith’s comments are some attempt by the SNP to fearmonger, but those people don’t know Alyn Smith. He doesn’t do hyperbole. He can just sense the political mood, as many of us who have seen the grand catastrophe of Brexit can.
I often cast my mind back to those early debates I had with some Lexiteers, including one with Corbyn’s now economic advisor. While they said Brexit would pave the way for a veritable anti-neoliberal utopia of the left, one of our warnings was that Brexit would radicalise everything to the right. Well, we were 100% right.
UKIP have always been a party of racists, including literal Neo-Nazis (the fact the disintegration of the BNP accompanied UKIP’s rise is no coincidence in terms of activists, members and electoral forces), but they always maintained a kind of right-wing Tory leadership. Norman Tebbit-like people who would maintain decorum while tolerating loathsome extremes in private. The mask of plausibility in an age of multiculturalism and anti-racism (derided by the right under that vague spectrum of ‘political correctness’) – well, in today’s England, Brexit England, there’s no longer a need for the mask.
Now UKIP have a leader who is openly supporting the fascist, Islamophobic pogromist Tommy Robinson. Everything is being dragged rightwards in England, while the conditions of a ‘no deal’ Brexit might very well put all of us across these islands in uncharted political territory – I’m thinking of Weimar Germany in October 1929, when the Great Depression hit Europe like a tonne of bricks, and overnight revamped the at that point rapidly disintegrating NSDAP (the overall radical right, the Volkisch right, as they were called, were still alive and kicking in Germany, but the NSDAP were like a dying fish, following the Beer Hall putsch of November 1923 until the Great Depression). Brexit could have similar consequences, especially the consequences of a ‘no deal’ scenario, which would splinter the British economy and lead to a social and economic crisis on par with World War 2, with potential food shortages and the possibility of a return of rationing. Progressive politics rarely ever do well out of crisis –societies facing crisis almost always turn inwards and towards the most bestial instincts of such societies. In England, we can now see the kind of beasts of the far-right who could potentially capitalise on a Brexit dystopia. Such a dystopia would’ve been unthinkable even 5 years ago, but now government departments are planning for it.
I don’t foresee a fascist party emerging as a serious force in the UK any time soon. But if you look at the balance of political forces in England, it’s more bleak than I’ve ever see – more bleak than I could ever have imagined when I first became politically aware during the Major years, when we were told, so famously, by a certain Mr Blair, that things could only get better. My own view on the ascendant alt-left, namely Corbyn’s Labour, is that it would be a huge catastrophe, given the relation of their kind of pro-Putin politics, dressed up in the phony languages and symbols of the ‘anti-war’ movement and superficial notions of ‘anti-imperialism’, to wider global happenings that have a direct effect, a boomerang effect, on domestic politics.
But the rise of the alt-right in a similar fashion would represent something altogether more immediately sinister. It’s perfectly true that the only two political leaders to call for triggering Article 50 on the night of the Brexit victory were UKIP’s Nigel Farage and Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn. It’s also true that Corbyn espouses a ‘left-wing’ anti-immigration message regarding freedom of movement – he dresses up the old far-right slogan of ‘British jobs for British workers’ and the idea that immigrants drive down the wages of ‘indigenous’ workers in the language of immigrants being exploited by EU bosses. No matter the spin of Corbyn’s supporters, it’s simply a form of racism associated with the conservative left that simultaneously reflects their conservative core, as well as acting as a device of populism, appealing to the reservoir of racism that lies behind our entire current predicament. However, to reiterate, the alt-left represent one kind of threat, the alt-right have these things at their political core and they represent the tip of an iceberg of concrete fascism.
Thus far the alt-right have been confined to the fringes. However, the Tommy Robinson affair, and UKIP’s embracing of it, as well as its connivance with fascist conspiracists like Paul Joseph Watson (the leader of the English wing of Alex Jones’ fascistic pro-Trump conspiracy media outlet ‘Infowars), are symptomatic of the radicalisation of the right. In fully mainstream terms, we see the rise of old school League of Empire Loyalist type Tories like Jacob Rees-Mogg, who has direct links with people like Steve Bannon and British fascists. Both of these elements of the spectrum of the emergent alt-right grimly demonstrate that there is the bones of a genuine threat from the right that could capitalise on their political ground zero, their political point d’honneur, Brexit.
It’s not just an English phenomenon, or a peculiarity of British nationalism – these kind of politics, the politics of neo-fascism, are being revived across the world, with Europe sliding rightwards against the liberal democratic grain. We’ve seen a host of European countries experience either the alt-right gaining political power, such as in Italy, Austria, Poland and, of course, Orban’s Hungary – minorities are increasingly unsafe, with Muslims and Roma most in jeopardy. But the rightward slide of the UK also has a direct and astounding international component – If someone told me almost 10 years ago that the Islamophobic fascist football hooligan, Tommy Robinson, he who started the EDL, and who is an almost comical caricature of a typical English racist, would essentially have backing from people serving in the administration of the President of the United States, I’d have considered the person to be having some kind of nervous breakdown.
It’s not quite Darkness at Noon here yet , but I remember reading the astoundingly brave anti-Nazi writer Fritz Gerlich (murdered in Dachau, after being arrested during the Night of the Long Knives – all that remained of him was his broken glasses, callously sent to his grieving widow) writing about how Nazism had come upon Germany like ‘a smouldering fire that in the blink of an eye turned into a terrifying blaze’.
I can really understand it. I can now understand how quickly you find that ‘civilisation’ is like a thin layer of ice over a sea of barbarism. We can now see the cracks. I genuinely wonder not if but when it will fully shatter.
After the shock of the Leave victory in the Brexit vote, I used to joke that the next stop was ‘Norsefire’, referring to the fictitious fascist party that rules England in Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta. It’s becoming less and less of a joke every day. Do I see Norsefire on the horizon? No, but I see the kind of people who would make up Norsefire stepping out of the shadows.
Disunity, disloyalty and hundred-foot-high turnstiles on the Irish Border
The inside scoop on what really happened at that fateful meeting at Chequers
BREXIT DEBATE. CHEQUERS. FRIDAY 6th JULY 2018
(There is general hubbub and conversation around the table)
PM Yes thank you everyone, thank you for coming.
(The conversation and hubbub continues unabated)
PM: If we could just….
(The conversation continues)
PM: For the sake of the country I think it is imperative that we get this meeting underway
(The Ministers continue chatting)
(Everyone abruptly stops talking and turns to Boris. Boris points to the PRIME MINISTER)
PM: Thank you Boris. — (Clears her throat) Now if we can begin…. Firstly we thought it would be a good idea to put everyone into little factions.
LIZ TRUSS interjects
AR ‘Factions’ Prime Minister?
LT Groups. I meant to say groups. Thank you Liz.
GAVIN WILLIAMSON interjects
GW (adopting a mock-creepy voice) Oooh yes, thank-you Liz.
LT: Oh piss off Gavin.
LIAM FOX turns to GW
LF: Maybe the right honourable minister for South Staffordshire should (adopting a high-pitched child-voice) ‘Just shut up and go away’.
GW folds his arms, sulkily.
PM: Please, I have called this meeting for purposes of unity. So if we can just-
BJ: Prime Minister before we …. before we no doubt commence with um… with great enthusiasm armed with a fiery commitment toward this, toward this absolutely vital, vital matter in hand … as it were … I do have one question I’d like to ask. If you would be … if you would be good enough – nay kind, kind enough to indulge me on this one interjection. As it were.
PM: – Are you saying you’d like to ask a question Boris? …
BJ I am indeed Prime Minister.
PM Well, I was hoping to push on with the exercises, but providing it doesn’t delay us for too long –
BJ I am indebted to you, as always
THERESA MAY smiles thinly.
BJ And in that spirit, the question I would like to ask, indeed I think we would all like to ask at this crucial time, is this.
(He stands, and with his hands resting on the table, he looks around at his colleagues, with a Churchillian bearing)
— When so few among us have given so much….
The question – nay the burning question. Is this ….
-Where the hell is David Davis’s trifle?
PM …‘trifle’ Boris?
BJ Indeed, trifle. The agreement was that David Davis was going to bring a trifle. -Am I wrong on that? Was I somehow misinformed?
Amidst much shaking of heads, all heads turn to DAVID DAVIS
PM (Sighing) – David would you mind -briefly, and succinctly explaining to Boris the ‘trifle situation’. -And then, hopefully we can push on with somewhat urgent affairs of state.
DD: No, that’s a fair question, the Foreign Secretary makes a very fair and valid point. And indeed, as my honourable colleague has made clear, at the Downing Street briefing it was agreed that I was – indeed – allocated the task of bringing along a trifle – just as Govey would fetch the finger sandwiches – which if I may say, are delicious as usual by the way, Michael.
MICHAEL nods demurely.
DD To that end, the ingredients were purchased and the original recipe was initially agreed upon (in principle) with my, as I like to call her, better half – but as the execution of the recipe proceeded, there arose – how best to put it — some disagreement over a few – shall we say ‘trifling’ issues
DD chuckles to himself and looks around at the stone-faces of the unsympathetic gathering.
He clears his throat and hurriedly removes, then chews upon the arm of his glasses
DD: To clarify: the sticking point, as far I see it was – at the negotiating stage – the age-old sherry problem. Essentially, Prime Minister, it boils down to two options, and the options are these: sherry or no sherry; there was a clear division of opinion on this. One that couldn’t be bridged. Unfortunately.
MICHAEL GOVE interjects.
MG It’s just a bloody trifle David, we don’t need impact assessments.
LIAM FOX: (Mutters) – Neither did he, apparently.
BJ: This is precisely the point. -Why is it everything *sooo* bloody torturous with you Davis? – I mean, Gove made the sandwiches: I supplied the Eton Mess without any undue fuss or hullabaloo.
DOMINIC RAAB mutters under his breath
DR: BorisSupplied an Eton mess. – No change there then.
BJ: Fuck you Dom, I heard that
The PRIME MINISTER, THERESA MAY climbs to her feet.
PM: Now, now – please! This is exactly what I’m talking about. We need a unified, collective face.
BORIS: That’s a grotesque image.
PM – All this bickering and back-biting is getting us nowhere…
MICHAEL GOVE stands up
MG I would like to add another question Prime Minister
PM (Sitting back down, issuing forth and exasperated sigh) — Yes, alright. -Go on Michael.
MG Will we be claiming back the ingredients and associated travel on expenses?
(There is unanimous and enthusiastic roar of encouragement upon this point)
PM: As always Michael, all food and transport is claimable on expenses.
(A good natured cheer erupts from the assembled ministers)
PM: (Under her breath) We await your Fortnum and Mason bill…
(The Cheering eventually dies down)
PM: — Now, moving on to matters at hand if we may. -David, I believe you have been exploring options for the Irish border..
(Some groans and eye-rolling from various ministers)
DD Well as you know Prime Minister – we have of course prioritised the ‘Irish question’ -for want of a better term – and have actioned this prioritisation by immediately putting – what I believe is a workable solution – out to consultation.
(There is a pause as The PM and Ministers await further elaboration.
DD takes off his glasses, folds them up and places them in his breast pocket. He sits back, hands behind head)
PM –And this workable solution is — ?
DD looks around at his colleagues, before realising it is he who is expected to respond.
DD Oh I beg your pardon I didn’t realise you expected a full-analysis….
PM: I think that would be rather helpful at this stage, yes.
He replaces his glasses and lifts a briefcase onto the table. After some struggling with the combination he opens the case and takes out a sheath of papers. He immediately sets them to one side
DD Ignore those, they’re bollocks…
DAVID DAVIS scrabbles around in the case. He pulls out a aluminium-foil wrapped sandwich….
DD: …That needs throwing.
There are impatient sighs and groans from around the table as he continues scrambling around in the case. He removes an FHM magazine, followed by a flask…
DD I’m very sorry about this Prime Minister, I know for certain it’s in here. I distinctly recall putting it in here myself .….
BORIS JOHNSON lets forth with an exaggerated yawn. There is some giggling.
Eventually DD pulls out a napkin and carefully unfolds it
DD –And, voila! (To BJ) – You see! – Have faith Boris, have faith.
PM -A napkin, David?
DD –Prime Minister, discussions went on deep into the night, culminating in a late supper, at an all-night Salsa bar in Ladbroke Grove ….. Let’s put it this way, as morning loomed, things got a little – shall we say, ‘interesting’
DAVID DAVIS winks at a visibly unamused ANDREA LEADSOM
BJ Cut to the fucking chase David -.
MG: -That would make a refreshing change.
DD OK, sure. -Well, we were throwing a few ideas around – batting to and forth so to speak – seeing what stuck… the drink was flowing, and the music became frightfully loud … they started removing all the tables for the dancing, so I ended up scribbling the conclusions on a napkin. Well, conclusion, singular, to be exact.
PM (Sighing audibly) – And the conclusion was?
DD Yes, i’m just trying to decipher what was written… but there seems to be a slight sauce stain on here – maybe red wine – hard to determine ….
(He leans in close to scrutinise) ….. bear with me a moment….. I’m having a little trouble making that particular word out –
DAVIS shows the napkin to SAJID JAVID.
DD Have a look at that Saj, does that say ‘turntables’?
SJ (Leaning in close to read it) It says ‘turnstiles’.
DD Oh yes, of course, yes, well that makes sense in the context of – er – of determining the – er – the Irish border question, as it were.
PM O for God’s sake David what does it bloody say?
DD …Well …..
SAJID JAVID impatiently interjects.
SJ It says, and I quote: “100 foot-high turnstiles shall be manned by dwarves”
DAVIS takes off his glasses and chews upon the arm.
DD That’s pretty much the gist.
-At this early stage.
(There is a protracted and stunned silence).
PM ….. ‘Dwarves’ – David?
DD nods. The PRIME MINISTER sinks back down into her chair and sighs loudly.
DD ……. Yes. (He chews nervously on an imaginary toffee) — dwarves. Not necessarily dwarves obviously – I rather think the MJB guys were using -er – artistic licence there… We like to call it ‘blue-sky-thinking’… the consultation process will refine it further, obviously.
DD looks around at the shocked, open-mouthed expressions of his colleagues. Some shake their heads pitifully.
DD I’m sorry …, is ‘dwarves’ not the correct term these days? –
There is a few moments of hostile silence – until BORIS JOHNSON leans across the table.
BJ Have you completely lost the plot David? — Or, maybe you tumbled into a sodding Lewis Carroll novel?
MICHAEL GOVE interjects
MG Actually I’m beginning to think a hookah-smoking caterpillar would be preferable as Brexit Secretary
SAJID JAVID interjects
SJ – How would that even work David? – A hundred foot-high-turnstiles on the Irish border? —Just on a practical level, you’d need giants to guard those surely, not dwarves.
GAVIN WILLIAMSON interjects
GW Davis is *such* a twanger!
DOMINIC RAAB interjects
DR I think prick is the word you’re looking for Gav. -. You’re an absolute prick Davis.
DD Leaps to his feet, he bunches up the napkin and throws it at Raab
DD Tell you what ‘Mr Workhouses-for-the-poor’ – why don’t you spend up to 2 hours a day, 3 days a week trying to unravel the shit we’re in?
DR Is that an offer?
DD I’d like to see you trying to please both factions of this bloody party
DR Just say the word Mr. Impact Assessment.
PM Now come on David, why don’t you sit down …
DD No, sod it. In fact, bugger it. I’ve had enough of all this snickering and name-calling and – this, this – endless whining about trifles … and hard-borders and impact assessments and all the endless, relentless SHIT.
BJ: Getting very red-faced isn’t he?
MG: Positively puce I’d say.
DD: Give the job to that smug fucker (POINTS TO DOMINIC RAAB) – see how well he does. Tell you what, I tell you what Prime Minister, you can deny him his own private jet as well. -See how he likes travelling to Brussels by train.
PM Your objections have been noted David, now if you will just take a seat.
DD No. No Prime Minister I will not. On point of principle, I resign.
Much eye-rolling and groaning around the table
BJ: God spare us, he’s threatening to resign again
MG: Quelle surprise.
DD: I mean it. You will have my resignation letter in the morning.
He leans across and picks up the screwed-up napkin, puts it in his case.
MG: Golly, I think he actually means it this time.
BJ: Bugger it: he’s pushed the button
MG: The nuclear option
PM Are you saying you are actually resigning David?
DD I am Prime Minister. I’m afraid I am left with no other option but to resign.
PM This could trigger a general election David, please consider your position
BJ: (whispers to MG) -Or a leadership election (MG nods sagely)
DD I understand that, but my position is untenable. I could handle the trifle gags and all that public school silliness, but the level of abuse I have had to suffer
PM Please David, wait. We’ll …. We’ll have a reshuffle — (Hurriedly) you can have Boris’s job.
PM No, not Boris’s job, sorry – I’m a bit ….
BJ If someone takes my job it’ll be on my say-so
PM I meant to say, Andrea’s job, you can have Andrea Leadsom’s job.
AL (Looks up from her phone) Wait…what? —
DD I don’t want her shitty job. (POINTS AT JOHNSON) I don’t want his shitty job, (POINTS AT JAVID) or his shitty job, I don’t even want your shitty job Prime Minister, respectfully – which I can tell you makes me a rare beast amongst this … nest of vipers. No – that’s it, I’m done. -I’m out of here (DD GATHERS UP HIS CASE AND PAPERS) — Thank you for everything
DOMINIC RAAB sitting back, smiling, calls after him –
DR Don’t let the door hit your arse on the way out David!
DAVID DAVIS pauses at the door and walks back in.
DD Before I go – I’d just like to wish you the very best of luck in your new position Dom
DD angrily gives DOMINIC RAAB the finger, right up to his face, before turning on his heel and heading to the door
The door slams behind him as DAVID DAVIS exits the room.
A stunned silence fills the room.
In disbelief Ministers look around at each other.
THE PRIME MINISTER lets out a low protracted moan; rests her elbows on the table; cradles her head in her hands.
ANDREA LEADSOM appears to be weeping.
BORIS JOHNSON stands and casually walks to the corner of the room. Seemingly unconcerned, he piles finger sandwiches onto his plate.
Eventually MICHAEL GOVE speaks:
As laughter fills the room, amidst the collective jollity, unnoticed, Gove’s smile slowly fades, his gerbil-eyes gradually narrow as he sets his steely gaze upon the Prime Minister’s bowed head.
Standing beside the food- table BORIS JOHNSON chews on a finger-sandwich, and narrows his eyes as he fixes his steely gaze upon MICHAEL GOVE.
-Outside a big black cloud passes over the sun and the room momentarily darkens.
When I started writing this on 05/02/2018 the idea of a hard Brexit, an exit with no withdrawal agreement seemed possible but remote. In the light of the UK’s insistence this week that the UK will leave both the Single Market and the Customs Union and Michael Barnier’s insistence today (09/02/2018) that an open UK/Irish border must be written into the withdrawal agreement then the odds of it happening have dropped. The UK/Irish border can’t be open if the UK is not in the Customs Union and the Single Market and the DUP, whom the Tories depend on to survive in the Commons, will never allow an internal trade border in the Irish Sea. However there is a solution. The UK can solve the problem of a Brexit withdrawal agreement which is impossible under their Brexit plan by the simple trick of not having a withdrawal agreement. In which case there will be a hard Brexit where the UK leaves abruptly with no transition and no trade deal on the 29th of March 2019.
If the UK leaves with no withdrawal agreement then there will be no transition period or framework for future trade deals and in fact it may lead to no vote in the House of Commons on a withdrawal deal because there will be no deal to vote on.
The withdrawal vote scenario I’ve written about below may not come to pass. But assuming there will be an agreement here goes.
When politicians talk about voting in Parliament on the final Brexit deal what is that they will vote on? From the press the impression given is that the parliamentary vote will be on the details of the UK’s new trade deal with the EU after Brexit but in fact they will be voting on something very different when it comes to a vote in Parliament.
In the Brexit Bill it says this:
“A Minister of the Crown may by regulations make such provision as the Minister considers appropriate for the purposes of implementing the withdrawal agreement if the Minister considers that such provision should be in force on or before exit day, subject to the prior enactment of a statute by Parliament approving the final terms of withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union.”
That key phrase is “final terms of withdrawal” in the last sentence. It’s not a trade deal which will be voted on in Parliament, it’s how the UK exits the EU under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. Under Article 50 the EU and the UK sign up to a negotiated exit from the EU, dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s, taking into account items such as the settlement of budget accounts, withdrawal from EU institutions, rights of EU citizens in the UK (and vice versa) and the transition arrangements to smooth out the UK leaving the EU. It also provides in Article 50 that all the negotiated items of withdrawal will take into account the framework for the UK’s future relationship with the EU. However a framework is not a trade deal or anything like it and it can be likened to an agreed agenda. It’s the agenda of trade areas where the UK and EU are willing to negotiate once the UK has left the EU and where the UK is treated as a third party outside the EU and almost certainly outside the Single Market and the Customs Union.
So the UK Parliament will be voting on one package which contains three things, the withdrawal agreement, the transitional arrangements and the agenda for future negotiations once Brexit has been completed, aka the framework.
This ensures that it will be a Hobson’s Choice vote. To vote Yes legitimises the Government’s Brexit vision of a UK outside the Single Market and Customs Union but to vote No throws out not only the agenda for a future trade deal but also the withdrawal agreement and the transitional arrangements which means a very hard exit indeed unless the EU can be persuaded to extend Article 50 and the UK Government can be persuaded to change their Brexit stance in new negotiations. Just because the UK doesn’t accept the withdrawal deal doesn’t stop the Article 50 clock.
That’s the way the Government has set up the vote as David Jones, Minister of State for the Department for Exiting the European Union said in the House of Commons on 7th of February 2017.
“I think that I have already answered that extremely clearly. There will be a meaningful vote. The vote will be either to accept the deal that the Government will have achieved—I repeat that the process of negotiation will not be without frequent reports to the House—or for there to be no deal. Frankly, that is the choice that the House will have to make. That will be the most meaningful vote that one could imagine.”
So can’t the UK go back and re-negotiate if it rejects the withdrawal arrangements or even stop Brexit if by some chance the agreement gets rejected? Things get tricky here. First of all there’s no time left to renegotiate under the Article 50 time limit. The final withdrawal arrangements are planned to be completed by October 2018 giving time for the European Parliament and the European council to consider and approve them before March 2019 when the two years allowed under Article 50 run out. The whole point of the time-limit on Article 50 was to stop endless negotiations with their accompanying disruptions and uncertainty. Article 50 can be extended but it would need the unanimous agreement of all 27 EU member states to do it.
Rejecting the final withdrawal agreement would need the EU to be willing to extend the Article 50 time-limit and renegotiate but that would be pointless unless the anti-Single Market and anti-Customs Union UK Government could be persuaded to change their negotiating stance or simply to give up on Brexit. However there is no guarantee the Conservative Government will do either or if stopping Brexit can be done unilaterally.
The proposed solution coming from groups like the one lead by Labour MP Chuka Umunna is to bypass the vote in the UK Parliament and hold another EU referendum where the UK electorate vote on whether the UK Brexits on the negotiated withdrawal, transition and trade framework, (again, remember the framework is just an agenda for negotiation), or just forgets it all and stays in the EU.
A very simple, clean idea and potentially very bad for Scotland.
Now coming from someone who voted remain and believes that Scotland is better off in the EU that sounds very odd, however there are some very good reasons to say it is a bad idea.
The chance of a second EU referendum happening is very low as it would need enough Labour and Tory rebels to win a vote in Westminster and both Tory and Labour are Brexit parties. However, even if just the idea got traction and especially if it got SNP backing, then the idea that you hold a first referendum on the principle of a proposal and then a second referendum on the detail would become mainstream whether it happens or not.
This isn’t the first time the idea of a first referendum on the principle and then a second referendum on the detail has been proposed. When the Scottish independence referendum was held in Scotland the idea of two referendums was floated in 2011 by Professor Vernon Bogdanor,
“Therefore, in my opinion, a referendum giving the Scottish government authority to start negotiations needs to be complemented by a referendum at the end of the negotiations to confirm that Scots want independence on the terms achieved.”
“If we have an advisory referendum set up by the Scottish government, I think it is a strong likelihood, and it is certainly my personal view, that you would need a second referendum on the formalities of agreeing what has been sorted out between the governments.”
The idea that any Scottish independence referendum should be followed by a referendum on the settlement between Scotland and the rUK would be very dangerous to the independence cause and if the SNP support a second EU referendum very difficult for them to reject. A two referendum scenario would require the unionists to win only once but the nationalists would have to win twice to achieve victory. If Yes won the first referendum then the pressure on the rUK side of the negotiating team to create the worst possible separation agreement would be immense in order to ensure that No would win the second referendum on the deal.
Independence with full membership of the EU is Scotland’s best option and promoting a second EU referendum makes that much more difficult to achieve. Even if there were calls for one there’s no guarantee that a second EU referendum would happen or that given the current polling of the Tory party that the remainers would win it and even the proposal would certainly fuel the demands for a two referendum decision on Scottish independence. If Parliament feels that staying in the EU is the best option then they should call a snap General Election and the parties should fight it out on platforms of Leave or Remain.
Brexit has given impetus to a second independence referendum much sooner than many people thought possible but how will it affect the way people vote? To be brutally honest it won’t, not until the effects of Brexit really start to hit after March 2019. For most of the No vote in 2014 nothing has really changed, it’s Brexit on the telly, pound up and down, the UK and the rest of the EU facing off as usual in the press, squabbles in the Government, almost the usual mundane, background noise of politics in the UK.
At the moment it’s a phony war where the UK is still in the EU with all the trade and free movement perks that brings and although the political geeks like me talk and speculate about the future effects of Brexit they haven’t happened yet. There are forerunners, lack of migrant agricultural workers, corporations planning moves to inside the EU, corporations holding back on investment, universities finding that nobody in the rest of the EU wants them as research partners as the deadline to Brexit approaches but it’s just smoke in the wind for most of the population. The problems of travel, having to get and pay for visas to travel to Europe, customs duties on goods, perishable export goods piling up at jam-packed ports, companies leaving, price increases, job losses, no CAP payments for agriculture and import quotas on seafood into the EU haven’t hit yet because despite all the Brexit talk we’re still inside the EU.
Brexit will have a big effect on the next Scottish independence referendum but not until Brexit happens and its effects become real. (Effects which will happen very quickly if there is no withdrawal agreement and no transition.) Once it becomes apparent what’s been lost with Brexit then for the No voters of 2014 who believe in EU membership independence for Scotland becomes the only route back into the EU. There is a big danger that the second independence referendum becomes in effect a second EU referendum in Scotland when it must be much larger in scope than that, looking at all the possibilities in social, industrial and cultural change that independence will bring. However the Better Together fearmongering about loss of EU membership and being isolated will not be possible this time and the choice for Scotland will be to stay as a region in single isolated state or to become an independent state in the world’s biggest trading bloc. In 2014 the EU feared the breakup of a member state and kept out of it, in a second independence referendum they will be looking approvingly at regaining a chunk of what they’ve lost. Brexit has been a blow to the confidence of the EU but regaining an independent Scotland would be for them a recovery of both territory and pride. They will be very encouraging about membership.
Shafi starts off from a very promising declaration:
“In the abstract, the transnationality of the single market fits with left-wing ideals”.
This is good and very true, but the question is: what does Shafi understand as the distinction between abstract and concrete? Not a great deal it seems, judging by his next sentence:
“Every mass social movement that has laid a national democratic challenge has found itself confronted by the infrastructure of the EU”.
Whilst this is an indisputable fact, it’s not a progression from abstract to concrete in theory (the method of Marx). It’s a juxtaposition of abstract thought with material object. That’s the vulgar distinction of abstract and concrete, which is a legacy of medieval thinking. Under that sort of rationale, the abstract is the musings of mind and concrete is the hard surface of stuff. Two worlds nicely separated from each other, worlds that never meet.
This is not the method of Marx. For Marx, ideas in heads were just as real as physical objects outside those heads, he had no truck with either vulgar materialists or idealists. For Marx, material conditions preceded thought and ultimately dominated it, but the concrete and abstract are not distinct, two world states of existence. For Marx, as was the case in classical Greece, the abstract is abstraction (a sample) and the concrete was the totality of what is real whether this is inert matter or living biological matter, or the products of human labour, either by hand or by brain.
So let’s proceed. You can’t easily raise a polemic against Shafi on the basis of what he says because it isn’t much, but let me try. He cites Yanis Varoufakis which is interesting. Now Varoufakis let me say, is just as much muddled as Shafi is, but in a different way. Y V has direct experience of being on the front line in relation to the EU, in the trenches as it were. Shafi hasn’t as far as I know. I give greater weight therefore to the analysis provided by Y V. Shafi falls down by his abstract concepts, Varoufakis on the other hand, falls down by his abstract solutions.
The key to understanding the EU, lies in its political economy and not in its potential to invoke moral outrage. Beneath the surface appearance of neo-liberal ideology, lurks the essence of finance capital, in its leading historical role in modernity. This is something that Y V gets and that Shafi either doesn’t get or ignores. Where I despair with the former Greek Finance minister, is his popular front remedy. Does he know nothing of Spain in the 1930’s? A transnational problem requires a transnational solution. But it has to be built on a class basis, it has to be based on working people across the continent. The ideological fellow travellers from the liberal bourgeoisie and celebrities of conscience will stab such a movement in the back and in the front when the going gets rough.
So what are the perspectives?
Perspectives should be about short term forecasts of future events, based on probability, there are no genuine clairvoyants. The EU referendum was of course, propagated by the remain side to include dire predictions. In reality what happened was that the pound fell in relation to other currencies, significantly but not disastrously, though it has to be said the significance was felt more acutely by the poor rather than the rich. The value of the pound of course, is a speculative matter. The casino nature of capitalism is abstract, by which I mean it’s part of the totality, even though this has concrete repercussions in some people’s lives.
A paper produced by a group calling itself Open Britain, makes interesting reading (2). Of course to be generous, this is a left reformist take on these matters, a business as usual take with a Neo-Keynsian economic bent. But to me it’s a serious consideration of the facts. It’s by no means Blairite bullshit, unless you think all this sort of stuff is conscious conspiracy and everyone we disagree with is a deliberate liar. To me, that’s not a Marxist approach at all. People do lie and people do conspire but the very best lies and the very best conspiracies tend to be closer to the truth or closer to accepted truth, than conspiracy theorists abstractly imagine. The acid test is always to see how concrete (in a Marxist sense) the propositions are.
Frederich Engels gave weight to the importance of the transformation of quantity into quantity and vice versa. In the concrete concept of Brexit, this transition has many answers but the qualitative change is in most instances, significantly negative in a quantitative result. In other words, Brexit will have a negative economic impact under any scenario, at least in the short term. I don’t think that is really a controversial point, what is controversial concerns what happens next.
In the Brexit version of events, British exceptionalism, the abandoned project of empire and commonwealth will be restored to its former glory. The Lexit version of events is of course distinct but abstractly distinct. It’s in heads not connected to bodies and by this I mean there is no plan of action. Its only concrete expression would be in the framework of accelerationism and I’ve heard this articulated. Brexit will bring about the collapse of the EU and shit will get so bad in the UK that workers in their millions will flock to the red flag. This in a sense is a more concrete position than the moral outrage saga of Brussels bad, London good. It is however bad concrete because by analogy it’s the equivalent of throwing shit and sand into the cement mixer rather than sand and cement.
Marx’s idea of accelerationism was to advocate free trade, remove the feudal barriers to the development of capitalism so that the grave diggers of capitalism, the proletariat would grow in strength and numbers. Anything else is just a fantasy of pure idealism. This is well illustrated by Marx’s critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. (3) and his 11th Thesis on Feuerbach (4). Socialism, scientific socialism is not a matter of lighting the blue touch paper and stepping back in the expectation of fireworks, it’s about plotting the course of history and making calculated informed interventions with a coherent strategy, employing the living brain against the dead weight of past generations. This is what Marx means when he says reality must strive towards thought. There is nothing in the Lexit narrative which points to any practical measures that can be taken for the proletariat to benefit from Brexit.
Corbyn to the rescue?
The situation has developed of course since 2016, when I wrote my article on Bosses clubs, left wing communism and the fantasy of left exit from the EU (5). Cameron resigned and the Tory party shifted to the right under new leadership. The toffs are out and a new layer of not so posh but the rather more radical, petit bourgeois front line arrived with talk of bringing back grammar schools and of May being the new Maggie Thatcher. The UKIP vote collapsed but ostensibly I think kippers feel that their people are now in charge. Rees-Mogg of course (tipped as a possible future leader and bookies favourite at 9:2) is posh but an arch reactionary who once suggested a pact with the Kippers.
The Blairites and various Brownites immediately moved against Corbyn with the backing of most of the PLP but failed to oust him. ‘Maggie’ May, strong and stable, called a surprise election, throwing the SNP strategy into chaos and labour published the most radical manifesto since the seventies. But does this mean we can declare the Brexit referendum a victory for the left? There’s nothing in labour’s 2017 election manifesto that would be impossible under EU rules or under rules which would apply by membership of EFTA.
Labour came a respectable second with the new Tory government, propped up by the reactionary DUP. Had there been no EU referendum, my guess is that labour would have won. Class issues have been subsumed to a significant extent because of the great debate over the relationship with Europe. The Tories themselves have been so engrossed in the EU question that they themselves have little energy to devote to domestic issues, so we haven’t really yet seen just how bad for working people this Tory government can become.
Labour also has a long hard journey to significantly shift the public consciousness, after decades of Thatcherism and Blairism. Of course class consciousness has its own momentum but the Labour party is now trying to restore itself as the mass party of the working class. Brexit gets in the way of this, especially as the NHS and social care, rely on significant numbers of EU migrants. The ones that the Tory right and the Kippers feel so passionately about excluding.
If the outcome of negotiations is WTO rules, which is the way that it’s looking, the there will be economic decline and this will be self-inflicted. This is never a problem for the rich because they simply pass the burden on to the poor. If you own capital, then you can move it to any part of the world that gives you a better return. The much maligned freedom of movement is always available to those with wealth.
If a Labour government comes to power on or before 2022, they will have a huge task on their hands and the worse the ultimate settlement with the EU is, the harder that task will become. No Labour government in the UK has ever put forward a full blooded socialist programme and any future Labour government would need to be pushed by events to even contemplate that. Whilst they may be pushed by events they will also be restrained by their own inertia. Not just their faith in Keynesian economics but the careerists and renegades in their own midst.
An election of a Labour government in the UK would be a positive development, not so much because it would be bound to deliver socialism which it almost certainly would not, but because it shifts the social narrative and puts socialism back on the agenda of possible futures.
Perhaps the accelerationists are right and I am wrong. Perhaps the whip of reaction, falling living standards and brutal nineteenth century capitalism is what we need to wake us all up but my answer to that is that turning class consciousness into political consciousness and revolutionary praxis, is what is possible when a class is moving forward with renewed confidence, not what happens when a class is in retreat, blaming the immigrant or the bureaucrats of Brussels, for what is really a global international class question, concerning the mode of production and its given property relations.
The two major parties in contemporary Northern Ireland politics are the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Féin. The DUP are now running England, and Sinn Féin are the main Opposition party in the Republic of Ireland.
Neither are in government in Northern Ireland.
In terms of introduction to the bizarre world of politics in the North, the four dozen words above would probably suffice on their own.
Casual observers of Northern Ireland politics would quite possibly come away with the belief that the DUP’s bitterest enemies in the game are Sinn Féin, and Sinn Féin’s nemeses in politics are the DUP.
But they couldn’t be further from the truth. The great game in the North isn’t to try and convert Unionists into Nationalists or Republicans, or vice-versa, but to dominate one’s own community.
Thus, the hated rival of the DUP is the “weak and cowardly” Ulster Unionist Party, whilst Sinn Féin retain their most withering contempt for the Social Democratic and Labour Party (“west-Brits”, or the “Stoop Down Low party”).
The UUP – for generations the establishment, and government, in Northern Ireland -is now dead and buried. When Northern politics was a straight Nationalist/Unionist fight, Northern Unionists rallied to its flag – it was led by (relatively and by the standards of the place and day) liberal gentry and governed northern Ireland in a patrician – and openly sectarian – fashion. Its MPs took the Conservative whip at Westminster. Its relationship to the Tory party wasn’t entirely unlike the relationship Ruth Davidson envisages for her MPs. In the latter days of its influence in the early part of this century, it liberalised enough to elect a Catholic member of the Northern assembly, and severed its official links with the fascist Orange Order.
Crucially, the UUP backed every move towards a more peaceful and collegiate Northern Ireland. When the Northern Ireland parliament was abolished in the 1970s, it supported the Sunningdale Agreement and the establishment of the new Northern Ireland assembly. In the 1990s, it supported the Belfast Agreement and the establishment of the new Northern Ireland assembly (you may notice that Northern Ireland politics tends to be somewhat repetitive that Northern Ireland politics tends to be somewhat repetitive).
Understanding the history of the UUP (and, let’s be frank, the entire party is now history) is crucial to understanding the emergence of the DUP. In 2010, the UUP and the Conservatives fought on a joint – and unsuccessul – ticket in the North, the catchily-monikered Ulster Conservatives and Unionists – New Force (Scottish readers may note a pang of recognition here). In 2011, the Conservative leadership proposed a merger of the Conservatives and UUP. The two parties have deep and longstanding links – links that run longer than Northern Ireland, in fact, has existed.
It is these links which has led to Theresa May’s crucial, and catastrophic, misunderstanding of the DUP.
The result of peace and powersharing in Northern Ireland was the entrenchment of the UUP as the moderate Unionist party, forever retaining a place in the heart of a grateful Unionist population.
No – wait. The other thing. They were unceremoniously dumped in favour of a party which would “stand up to Themmuns”
The DUP was formed during the Northern troubles, by Ian Paisley. Dr Paisley was not a politician who could thrive in any other part of Europe. A rabble-rousing religious extremist, he was far closer in terms of his Biblical fundamentalism to Islamic State than he was to mainstream Protestant teaching.
Paisley saw his job as opposing the Unionist government’s “wets”, representing the Protestant working class and conditioning them to see their fellow workers in the Catholic communities as their enemy, instead of the landowning, patrician Unionist leadership.
As late as 1981, Dr Paisley sought to create an Afrikaner Weerstanbeweging-style Loyalist militia to fight with the Royal Ulster Constabulary, British army, and British militias in northern Ireland against the Irish Republican Army. At one notorious rally, thousands of Loyalists gathered in front of the international media brandishing their firearm permits.
At every step of the way to peace in the North, Dr Paisley and his DUP – and it was his DUP undoubtedly, with no opposition to his leadership – opposed it. They opposed Sunningdale. They opposed Margaret Thatcher’s Anglo-Irish Agreement with Charles Haughey. They physically occupied the northern Ireland assembly, halting its deliberations, and the same month occupied an entire town in northern Ireland with a 4000-strong armed militia. The militia invaded the Republic of Ireland and fought pitched battles with An Garda Síochána, the Irish police force. Loyalist spies in a Northern Ireland armaments firm attempted to swap missile blueprints for arms from Apartheid South Africa as Nelson Mandela lay in prison.
In the 1990s, they called for ethnic cleansing in Northern Ireland, with the Catholic population to be expelled or interned to create a wholly Protestant Northern Ireland.
Almost inevitably, they opposed the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 that led to the permanent and irrevocable establishment of peace and powersharing for as long as northern Ireland remained. Although they participated in the Northern election, they came third and – in a surprise development – refused to participate in the powersharing Executive.
Even in 2001, they were a bit-part political player in grown-up politics. At that year’s election, the UUP won five times as many seats as them.
But just two years later, the DUP was the biggest party in Northern Ireland, winning thirty seats to the UUP’s 27. At the 2005 UK election, the realignment of northern Unionist politics completed, with the DUP winning nine Unionist seats to the UUP’s solitary effort – David Trimble, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Unionist leader lost his seat to David Simpson, a DUP man who believes dinosaurs are a hoax sent by God to test our faith.
The ratchet continued. 2007, the DUP won twice the number of Assembly seats as the UUP. 2010, the UUP were wiped out at Westminster (between 2015 and 2017, they had two seats before being wiped out again last week). In 2011, the DUP again took twice the number of Assembly seats as the UUP, and in 2015, completed their hat-trick. In the 2017 snap Assembly election, they lost ten seats, but finished on almost three times as many seats as the UUP.
The Democratic Unionist Party of 2017 is the undisputed master of the Unionist community in northern Ireland. They are the Protestant/Unionist community’s chosen representatives to face Britain and the world – just as the UUP were for so many generations.
But they are not a normal political party in the British sense of things.
While the UUP were effectively the northern Ireland wing of the Conservative party, with perhaps a soupcon of entrenched anti-Catholicism, the DUP are no such thing.
The DUP regard the Conservatives as dangerous, socially-radical dilletantes who are bringing the wrath of God down on the people of the United Kingdom with their wackily modern ideas like womens’ rights (that they have a woman leader neither obviates nor mitigates this fact in the way that having black friends does not constitute an immunity to being racist).
The DUP stand for ideas which, in Britain, ceased to exist as an effective political force in the 18th century, and are, in fact, closer to those of fundamentalist Islam than reformed Christianity, far less modern democratic politics.
They believe that women are inferior beings to men; teach that women should dress modestly; and demand that women not enjoy the little luxuries in life such as access to medical care. Abortion is prohibited in Northern Ireland, with several women awaiting trial in the Magistrates’ Court accused of “procuring an abortion”.
The DUP does not believe in gay rights. Iris Robinson has condemned gay people as being “[viler] than child abusers”, and believes in gay cure. (The rather aptly-named Mrs Robinson resigned from her position as an MLA, MP and councillor after being caught engaging in an enjoyable interlude with a 19-year-old to whom she had illegally funnelled public money). While there is a majority in the Northern assembly in favour of equal marriage, the DUP has repeatedly abused the Petition Of Concern mechanism designed as a veto to ensure neither community can damage the civil rights of the other to veto equal marriage legislation.
It appointed – as Northern environment minister – Sammy Wilson, who does not believe in climate change. Oh, or evolution. He believes that the Gaelic Athletic Association is the “sporting wing of the IRA”, and that breastfeeding in public is “voyeuristic”. As environment minister, he banned climate change advertisements from appearing on television in the North. Mr Wilson is MP for East Antrim.
You may remember David Simpson, who took David Trimble’s seat. Mr Simpson is a member of the Orange Order, which prohibits Catholics from joining. He does not believe in evolution, but does believe that God can heal the sick, rather than medicine. He is MP for Upper Bann.
The party has appointed as Northern culture minister one Gregory Campbell. Mr Campbell has called homosexuality “an evil, wicked, abhorrent practice”, and has denounced the television cartoon The Simpsons as an IRA front. He has also denounced the singer Dido as an IRA supporter. He put forward a motion in the House of Commons denouncing the car manufacturer Kia after it called one of its cars “Provo”, Italian for “test”. Mr Campbell is against the use of the Irish language, and for state executions. He is MP for East Derry.
Emma Little-Pengelly and Gavin Robinson are probably the most inoffensive of the DUP’s MPs. Made junior minister in the North just a month after being elected, Pengelly has managed not to disgrace herself. The daughter of convicted Loyalist terrorist Noel Little, she is MP for South Belfast. Gavin Robinson (no relation) is MP for East Belfast.
Jim Shannon, a member of the Orange Order, was once voted “least sexiest MP”, and is a former member of the UDR. In 2015, he claimed the highest expenses of any MP. He is MP for Iris Robinson’s old Strangford constituency.
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson is an Orangeman who, before entering politics, worked for the infamous racist MP Enoch Powell. A former member of the Ulster Defence Regiment, Sir Jeffrey believes that Catholics are traitors who owe their allegiance to the Pope, rather than their country. He is MP for the Lagan Valley.
Former Lord Mayor of Belfast, Nigel Dodds has served as finance minister in the Northern executive. A friend of Ulster Volunteer Force terrorist leader John Bingham, Mr Dodds waked Bingham at his funeral. Almost inevitably, Mr Dodds is chair of the All Party Parliamentary Flag Group. Mr Dodds wants to ban other EU nationals from claiming social security payments in the United Kingdom. He is MP for North Belfast.
Paul Girvan has called for scrap metal dealers to be armed with firearms to “protect themselves from gypsies”, and has supported burning the Irish national flag atop Loyalist bonfires during the summer Loyalist marching season. He is MP for South Antrim.
Ian Paisley is “pretty repulsed by gay [sic] and lesbianism”, and has called for Irish republicans to be “shot on sight”. The son of the late Rev. Dr. Ian Paisley, Mr Paisley is MP for North Antrim (you must remind me never to go to Co. Antrim).
So, you’ve met the ten people who are now governing the United Kingom. A fairly motley crew of terrorists, psychopaths, fascists and bigots.
Theresa May has chosen to save her political skin by bringing these people into government. People who don’t believe in dinosaurs. People who would rather see a woman bleed to death rather than “defy God’s will” than provide her with medical care. Anti-Irish bigots; homophobic bigots; racist bigots. Sometimes all in the one person.
Mrs May is a scared, sick old woman. She is making the mistake of thinking that Northern Ireland’s Unionists are the gentleman Unionists of her youth. They are not. And the worst thing of all is this: how can a Northern Ireland minister who owes his position to the continued support of the DUP ever be seen as an honest broker between the North’s two polarised communities?
By bringing the DUP into government, Mrs May does not just plunge politics into reaction and bigotry, nor does she risk the Northern peace process – she risks alienating the government in Dublin, just one of 27 governments which can veto her Brexit deal.
Mrs May should put country before party, and forego an arrangement with the Democratic Unionist Party.
Before I start there is something I have to explain, which is that ‘Spin Cycle, Part 1’ was written, and recorded for the podcast, on the 22 May, mere hours before the Manchester bombing. Obviously a great deal has happened in the campaign since then. I think it’s only fair that I reproduce that part, as originally written, so that you can see what I said at the time and compare it to how things have panned out since. I’ll put it at the bottom. I will have to update it of course, but I’ll do that by adding observations now, rather than changing anything I wrote then. Now, to business.
In part 2 we’re going to look at it from the Labour point of view. Or perhaps I should say points of view. Those guys were not expecting this. They were in the middle of a civil war. They had a leader with great support amongst the membership, and bugger all from the parliamentary party. That was a situation that they were always going to have to sort out, but it’s not at all obvious how. But at least, they thought, they had three years to work on it. It was a reasonable assumption. There was no election due, and no obvious reason (as discussed in Part 1) for an early one.
They did have one advantage though. When you have a new leader following an election loss, it is standard for that leader to institute a full scale policy review. Given that Corbyn took over, give or take, a year and a half ago, that review would have been well advanced. That has become obvious. When challenged to produce a manifesto with no notice, they came up with a suite of policies that had been costed and, I believe, focus-grouped. This was in stark contrast to the Tories, and one in the eye for those conspiracy theorists who initially suspected this election was part of some sort of master plan. Nuh. Their manifesto was a hastily cobbled together mish mash of half-formed ideas and spite, none of it even costed. They had clearly done no policy work whatsoever. They were not expecting this either.
That half-arsed manifesto gave us our first glimpse of what was to come. Having attacked just about every other vulnerable group in society without suffering much electoral disadvantage by it, presumably because members of disadvantaged groups don’t tend to vote Tory anyway, this time around they came up with a policy that targeted the elderly. As the elderly tend to vote Tory in disproportionate numbers this was effectively an attack on their own base. It went down like the proverbial lead balloon, and May was forced into an embarrassing climb down*, which she compounded by denying that it had even happened. Completely self-inflicted injury. Corbyn’s team had one job, which they absolutely nailed (respect!), and that was to come up with a pithy, memorable way of describing the policy. Dementia Tax. Perfect.
Now, at the start of the campaign Labour were 20-odd points behind, and when I wrote Part 1 the polls hadn’t yet shifted much. Even so, I said there were reasons for the Tory campaigners to be concerned. Since then a couple of things have happened to underscore those concerns. Firstly, Jeremy Corbyn has turned out to be pretty good on the stump. He seems to genuinely relish campaigning, and he has come over well. Secondly, and I think far more tellingly, the Tory campaign has been spectacularly incompetent. Every move they’ve made has played into Corbyn’s hands, and May herself has proved to be a dreadful candidate. She has come across as brittle, anxious, deeply flawed and simply not across the detail of her own policies.
These impressions are important. Many of my readers, discerning lot that you are, would find them quite superficial. However, the mere fact that you are reading this suggests that you think more about your politics than most people. The majority will make up their minds based on vague impressions and ‘gut feelings.’ The strategists know this, and in that knowledge May’s team chose a presidential campaign. They didn’t have to do that. They obviously thought they were on a winner. Early in the campaign all the branding was about May, the party scarcely got a look in. It was all ‘Strong and Stable.’
You don’t often get to see a governing party drop its main slogan mid-campaign out of sheer embarrassment. Let’s just take a moment to let that sink in. They went with ‘Strong and Stable’ but their candidate looked so weak and vacillating, and so far from stable, that sticking her in front of that slogan only served to draw attention to her inadequacies. Her micro-expressions have been the gift that keeps on giving for purveyors of GIFs (if you’ll pardon the pun) and memes, in much the same way as Ed Milliband’s were two years ago.
I do seem to be talking a lot about the Tory campaign, when this section was supposed to be about Labour’s. There is a very simple reason for this. The Corbyn strategists are familiar with the maxim, attributed to Napoleon, “Never interfere with your enemy when he is making a mistake.” That has been the case for most of this campaign, and has produced a very unusual outcome for Corbyn’s people. They’ve been able to have a genuinely ambitious manifesto, with lots of big ticket items and proposals for major change, and yet run what is essentially a ‘small target’ campaign. They have been able to simply send their candidate out to do his thing, and seem far more competent and credible doing it then the opponent who chose to make this a contest of personalities.
They did have a wobble early on of course, and it led to what is arguably the most interesting part of the whole campaign. I alluded to it in Part 1, and at the start of Part 2 I mentioned that Corbyn and his team were in the middle of a civil war when the election was called. Somebody, and it seems all but certain that it was somebody in the shadow cabinet, leaked major details of the manifesto a week early in an apparent sabotage attempt. Corbyn’s team must have been hanging their heads in despair. For a couple of days. The Blairite faction presumably believed, as Blair did, that Thatcher was right, the ground of political debate had permanently shifted, and that left wing policies, such as renationalisation of the railways, had been successfully painted as ‘loony’ ideas, and were effectively unsellable. They were dead wrong.
It turns out they are in fact really popular. As soon as the leak happened pollsters started canvassing opinion on the policies, and discovered that they had really strong support. Some of them even gained majority support amongst Tory voters. This, I believe, will be this campaign’s most enduring legacy. It may finally lay to rest the ghosts of 1983. That was Labour’s worst result (28%) of modern times. I argued, in an earlier piece for Ungagged called ‘Left, Right and Centre,’ that contrary to the conventional wisdom that Labour lost that election by being too left wing, it really had far more to do with the Falklands War and Michael Foot’s duffel coat. I have held that view for 34 years, and I may be about to be spectacularly vindicated. Watch this space.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the two dreadful terrorist attacks which punctuated the campaign. Here at Ungagged, our thoughts are with all of the family and friends of the victims of these terrible events. But we must also consider what impact they may have had on this campaign. Conventional wisdom says such events normally favour incumbents, especially if they are conservative incumbents. But there’s a problem. Two attacks in the last three weeks looks a bit like an attempt to influence the election** but that makes three in three months, and that is starting to look like a pattern. A deficiency. Somebody, somewhere has screwed up. I wouldn’t want to blame the police or the security services, they are limited by the resources they are given, and the leadership they receive. The buck stops with the person in charge, and with the police (in England and Wales) and MI5, that is the Home Secretary.
So when, on Monday morning, Theresa May came out to take advantage of the attacks (yes, that’s what she was doing) with her ‘Enough is enough’ speech (is there some kind of rule these days that all political slogans must be either oxymorons – ‘Continuity with change’ – or tautologies – ‘Brexit means Brexit, Enough is enough’?)*** she was also taking a very strange decision indeed – she would run against her own record as Home Secretary. Because if we haven’t been handling this right, if mistakes have been made, they are her mistakes! She was in the job for six years before becoming Prime Minister! Sir Humphrey Appleby would have considered that more than ‘courageous.’ Or, as Malcolm Tucker once said, “I mean I know politicians and hot air are supposed to go together, but I’ve never actually seen one vaporise!”
*The ‘climb down’ itself warrants a further mention, because in some ways it wasn’t really a climb down at all. You see, the problem as I see it was never the height of the ceiling, or even the lack of one, it was the low level of the floor. Putting a ceiling on the amount that can be recovered from the person’s deceased estate only protects those whose assets exceed that amount. To put that in plain English, it protects millionaires. But the floor, at just £100,000, means that unless your assets do exceed the ceiling, you’re going to lose the house. Even in Clydebank (which is hardly Mayfair) you can’t find a house worth less than £100,000 these days. Not even a flat. Even the house I grew up in, a simple two up, two down terraced house my parents purchased in 1966 for the princely sum of £1,800, went for over £200,000 the last time it was sold (amazing what you can find out online these days).
**Interesting, don’t you think, that IS clearly favours a Tory win? A subject we may have to return to after the electoral dust settles.
***One more slogan I have to mention: ‘No deal is better than a bad deal.’ We’ve all heard it, in relation to Brexit negotiations. Sounds reasonable enough, until you think about it for a moment and realise that it’s utter nonsense! In this context, ‘no deal’ has a very specific meaning. It means we fall back on WTO rules. You may want to google that to find out exactly what it means, but the point is, as a former trade union negotiator I can tell you that if the deal on the table would leave you in a worse position than not making a deal at all, then you are not going to take that deal, are you? You’d be a pretty bloody useless negotiator if you did. It is yet another completely meaningless statement.
Spin Cycle, Part 3
There’s a what now? An election? Are you sure?
In Part 3 we will look at this from the SNP point of view. Don’t worry, this won’t take long. The biggest problem facing the SNP strategists is really how well they did last time. 56 out of 59 seats is obviously a high water mark. It demands a mostly defensive campaign. The delicate part of it was to avoid making it all about either Brexit or IndyRef2. They seem to have done a reasonable job of advancing two propositions.
1. We (the SNP) are best placed to look after the interests of the Scottish people, regardless of the outcome of the election in the UK as a whole, and
2. Even if you have a positive view of Jeremy Corbyn and his manifesto, a vote for Labour in Scotland is far more likely to contribute to the election of a Tory MP than a Labour one.
It’s not rocket science. It’s Tactical Voting 101. If you do not wish to see May and the Tories returned (which I’m assuming most Ungagged readers don’t), then vote for the non-Tory candidate who has the best chance of winning in your seat. In Scotland that means the SNP, in England and Wales it means mostly Labour, with the exception of those seats where a Green, LibDem or Plaid Cymru candidate has a better chance of winning. That’s it. First Past The Post (FPTP) is the simplest voting system there is. There will be much to discuss when this is over, but for now the message couldn’t be simpler: Get out and vote, and vote the Tories out!
Hi, this is Derek Stewart Macpherson, from the Babel Fish Blog. I’ve been thinking about a new regular segment for the blog, looking not at what politicians are saying, but what’s going on behind the scenes. What the political strategists, campaign managers, communications directors, spin doctors, advisers and practitioners of the dark arts are thinking. So I thought I’d give Ungagged listeners a preview. So welcome to:
Spin Cycle, Part 1
Why Are We Having An Election?
In part 1 we’re going to look at it from the Tories’ point of view. It was Theresa May’s decision to have an election. So, why? I take it that it goes without saying that it’s not for the stated reasons? A mandate? A mandate for what? She’s two years into a five year term. She has a working majority. No, she wasn’t the PM who was elected, but that’s just a function of the fact that we don’t elect PMs, we elect MPs. They can change their leader if they like, it happens. In 1976 Harold Wilson retired two years in and Jim Callaghan served out almost the full term.
Oh, that’s right, it’s was a mandate to negotiate Brexit. Well how many mandates do you need Theresa? You’ve had a referendum and two Commons votes already! And this sudden ‘road to Damascus’ revelation walking in the Welsh hills – I don’t buy it. The only revelation I’ve ever had walking in the Welsh hills was along the lines of, “This was really not a good idea,” and the only decision I’ve made was whether it was by that point easier to go on or to turn back.
No, somebody on her staff has decided an early election was a good idea, persuaded some of their colleagues to their point of view, and then they’ve persuaded Teresa. So what were they thinking? Well this is why you’ve got me, a some time political strategist, campaign manager and candidate. A lefty who thinks Machiavelli has had a really bad press. I know how these people think! And one of the things they tend to think is that you don’t call an early election unless you have a really good reason.
And this is really early too. You see the reason why you wouldn’t generally do it is that it tends to appear cynical and opportunistic. Because it is. Why would you call a completely unnecessary election unless you saw some advantage in it? And the voters don’t tend to like cynical and opportunistic. If they catch a whiff of it, they tend to punish it at the polls. It rarely works out well for the government concerned. Now obviously this time they feel like they’ve got this mandate excuse, but why do they need an excuse? What’s the angle?
Well, I know what a lot of people think it is, which is the opportunity to kick Labour while they’re down, and maybe get a really big majority. Which would, yes, be tempting, but it wouldn’t be enough to tip it for me. Not this early. Because if they believe what they appear to believe, that the electorate is more right wing than it actually is, and that therefore Corbyn’s leadership and policies are what’s destroying the Labour Party, then logic says leave him there. As long as possible. His leadership looks pretty secure under the Labour electoral system, why wouldn’t you let that play out?
I’ll tell you why. Because there’s another factor those advisers must always take into consideration – the future. They know the type of news that helps or hurts a government. So what’s coming down the track? You might, for instance, have access to information the voters don’t have, suggesting there’s a nasty surprise coming in the unemployment figures a couple of months out from an election. So you call the election on early, in order to dodge the bad news. Or if the bad news is happening now, you hold off as long as possible, in the hope that things might get better.
So consider this: How bad do things have to look to May’s advisers to persuade them to go to an election three years early? Sure, the polling figures looked good, but Labour’s appeared to be still falling, so that means they don’t see anything good happening in the next three years! And you know what? I think they’re right! Once the Brexit negotiations get going in earnest, and the leaks begin, it’s going to be nothing but bad news for Theresa. And the kind of bad news that will not only lose votes, it’ll rattle the markets. Then, if Trump’s budget gets through, which it looks like it will, because Republican Congressmen and Senators don’t realise their own economic illiteracy, it will drive the US economy off a fiscal cliff. If that happens, expect a crash this year. I don’t know exactly when of course, but if you twisted my arm I’d guess September or October.
So, taking all that into consideration, maybe they were right to tell Theresa to go now? Well perhaps, but if I was one of them there are a couple of things I’d be worried about. The first thing is the council elections we just had. Despite the predictably favourable media coverage, the results weren’t really that encouraging for the Tories. In England, overall, the Tory gains came entirely from the collapse of the UKIP vote. Labour was only a couple of points down from last time, and the Greens probably took some of that. In Scotland, a lack of understanding of the STV system led to some essentially random outcomes. Some of those random outcomes threw up Tory councillors in surprising places, which of course they claimed as some sort of resurgence, but the numbers simply don’t bear that out.
The other thing that would worry me is that when the Labour manifesto was leaked a week early, in an obvious attempt at internal sabotage, many of the policies turned out to be extremely popular with voters. Too left wing, eh? Doesn’t look that way. Combine that with voters’ natural inclination to smell a cynical, opportunistic rat and Theresa might yet be in for a rude shock. Remember, she started this campaign expecting to win a significantly bigger majority. If she doesn’t deliver that it will be seen as a loss. In campaigning terms, anything less than the position you were in at the start of the campaign is a loss. But in this case, if she doesn’t increase her majority, and by more than a handful, it will be perceived by the public as a loss too.
So let’s not be disheartened. Let’s not make it easy for her. We have got ample material to work with here, let’s make her fight for every vote and every seat. This is not a lost cause. It could yet backfire badly for Theresa May. Let’s do everything we can to make that happen.
And so Theresa May has made yet another u-turn, calling a snap general election just 7 weeks from now, despite promising not to just 4 weeks ago.
There has been much speculation over the timing of her announcement, with many saying she has chosen this moment because she is ahead in the polls, and believes she could win. On the surface, this would seem like a reasonable explanation, however, a closer look quickly makes this narrative collapse.
Just hours after the announcement, the CPS told Channel 4 news that they are considering pressing charges against more than 30 individuals regarding election fraud. The allegations were passed on by the Electoral Commission, after they fined the Tories £70k, and, if proven, may result in criminal charges and even jail time.
Any investigation would have triggered a wave of by-elections which could have seen May’s already slim majority drastically reduced. The CPS has said a snap election will not halt their investigation, but May has today refused to say, when pushed by Denis Skinner MP during PMQs, whether MPs currently standing are implicated in the fraud scandal. So much for her assertion that the electorate have a right to know what they are voting for, her reasons for denying Scotland an Independence referendum just a few short weeks ago.
May has found it nigh on impossible to control the dissent from her back benches, facing constant back-biting for being unelected – even by her own party – despite criticising Brown for not calling a GE as soon as he took over leadership of the Labour party. As she loses control over her own party in regards to her hard Brexit, the income based child cap that sees rape victims forced to name and shame their children as being the result of non-consensual sex for a pittance (as low as £13 per week, depending on circumstances) and traps vulnerable parents and their children in abusive homes. Her own party forced her into u-turns on NI contributions, leaving a budget black hole she has yet to bridge. It seems increasingly likely May had to jump into a snap GE, or be pushed out of the leadership.
The Tories are doing their best to present a strong and confident face to the electorate, but less than 24 hours after the GE was announced, the wheels already came off the their campaign. Despite crowing about Labour being weak and the SNP being a single issue party, May has refused to debate the other party leaders on TV. If Corbyn is so weak and the SNP are so ineffectual, why wouldn’t a strong, confident PM want to debate them? It’d be the ideal opportunity for May to showcase her Debating skills, which will ultimately underpin what kind of deal a post-brexit UK will achieve. If May is too afraid to debate party leaders she has spent months disparaging as weak and incapable, what does that say about her leadership? Or her ability to debate with and persuade all 27 member states of the EU?
It says she knows she is weak on schools, housing, poverty, inequality. It shows she is not up to the task of doing the day job. During May’s time in office we have seen the income based child cap come into force, seen £30 per week taken from disabled peoples pockets, zero hours contracts rise by 1/5th, doctors cancelling babies heart operations because there are no recovery beds in the whole country, they’ve even started stealing people’s wheelchairs. May knows that all of these points, every single Tory failing, would be brought to light and scrutinised. She knows her only chance of forming a government is to keep the conversation firmly centred on brexit. She is hoping that by keeping the campaign as short as possible, all of her many, many failures will be kicked under the carpet.
May is clearly hoping that holding a general election at such short notice will allow her to avoid scrutiny. The Conservatives even said they won’t participate in the televised debates because “The choice at this election is already clear.” It’s clear to me the Tories think they are entitled to your vote. That they can mercilessly crush the poor and vulnerable as long as they keep brexit red, white and blue. They think that will be enough to get them a majority. Maybe they are right. But I don’t think the electorate are that stupid, or that apathetic.
Screeching “Brexit means Brexit” and having tantrums because the opposition are opposing you, and our legal and political safeguards are keeping you in check is just not good enough, Mrs May.
We deserve a government that will respect our laws and look after the vulnerable. That’s the day job. Trying to dangle Brexit like a shiny bauble to distract from the appalling human rights record of the Tories is not going to work.
We’ve never had a PM with such breathtaking arrogance. We’ve never had a PM show such open disregard for the poor, the sick, and the vulnerable. We have a chance to pull back from the brink. We can end the Mayhem now. Let’s make June the end of May.
I think the reason the percentages in Scotland flipped from indyref 2014 to the referendum on Brexit vs. Remain is that suddenly the stark prospect of being completely at the mercy of the central government in London was inescapably before the country. In 2014, long before Cameron’s idiotic attempt at undercutting UKIP began, the 55% didn’t have to face that prospect, thinking that their evils were then sufferable and therefore saw no reason to dissolve the bands which connect them with another. As much as I could from the western side of the Atlantic, I supported the Remain effort, signing petitions, posting and reposting opinion articles on Facebook, tweeting and retweeting relevant materials.
Since the Brexit vote, the European Commission has granted €4.4 million to Scotland’s Tidal Turbine Power Take-off Project, which is being jointly conducted by University of Edinburgh, Aachen University in Germany, and Delft Technical University, north of Rotterdam. The project is expected to last three years, well past the farthest date for the UK’s exit from the EU. So apparently the EU is not holding the votes of Scotland’s neighbors to the south against the country being dragged out against its will. This bodes well for Scotland’s possible reentry after its independence should it choose to pursue that path.
Up until the Brexit/Remain campaign, I had had a fairly negative view of the EU on several points. First, the way in which that collective body treated one of its own members, Greece, in 2010, as well as Cyprus the same year, followed by Spain, Portugal, Ireland, and, to some degree, Italy. The imposition of austerity upon those nations, Greece most of all, punished the working and poor citizens of those countries for the sins of the rich. The fact that the EU’s most powerful economy, Germany under Angela Merkel, was able to overrule those who sought to mitigate the damage to the welfare of those nations’ less fortunate demonstrates that it is not in America alone that money equals speech.
A recent article by Amir Fleischmann for Jacobin, “The Myth of the Fiscal Conservative”, carried the subtitle, “Austerity measures don’t actually save money. But they do disempower workers. Which is why governments pursue them in the first place”. Like the benefit sanctions against which SNP MP at Westminster Mairi Black recently spoke in a video for The Guardian. Further down his article, Fleischmann states that, “Fiscal conservatism is a myth, because cutting government programs doesn’t actually reduce government spending”. Which says as much about the current governments in both the UK and the USA as it does that of the EU and what it has imposed upon its members in need.
The other major bone to pick that I have with the EU is its treatment of refugees, most of whom are fleeing wars and other conditions created by some of its member states. Besides making a questionable deal with a country it won’t admit to its ranks because of the authoritarian nature of its current government. I mean, of course, its agreement with Turkey for the latter to hold back as many as possible from reaching the borders of its member states. It has also bullied some of its smaller members into holding those who do manage to arrive in what amount to concentration camps in poor conditions to prevent them from getting into bigger and more wealthy countries in the north.
That last phrase, “in the north”, is key, though perhaps “core” might be better. Because all of the victims of adverse consequences imposed by the EU, with the exception of Ireland, lie in Europe’s south, and the latter, which once played a major part in saving Europe’s civilization, is on its periphery. The nature of this discrimination against weaker nations and outsiders seeking refugee from war-torn countries showed forth brightly in the recent decision of the European Court of Justice that permits employers to discriminate against Muslim, Sikhs, and other minorities by forbidding them to wear turbans, hijabs, and other articles of religious clothing at their jobs and firing them if they insist on doing so. Chancellor Merkel, head of the government of the EU’s most powerful nation politically and economically compounded that atrocious decision with a call for a ban on hijab in every place in Europe where that would be legal. And, as I mentioned above, in the EU just as much as in America, money is speech.
Once upon a time, the EU may have intended to be primarily a means of social and cultural exchange for its constituent members, but what it has become is the primary agent for the sprread and enforcement of the ideology of neoliberalism on behalf of its wealthiest states and their wealthy citizens, along with Northern, and to some degree Western, European racism. It has, in effect, moved power from the polling station to the marketplace, from the ballot to the wallet, as have the governments in both the UK and the USA.
Former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover once stated that the greatest threat to the internal security of the United States from the Black Panther Party was not their guns but their Free Breakfast Program for Children. Old Labour stalwart Tony Benn explained the real motives behind this mentality, not directly speaking of Hoover of course, in his interview with Michael Moore for the latter’s documentary SiCKO. Tony’s coffee cup next to him read, “Old Labour and Proud of It”. The “Old Labour” which actually struggled on behalf of working and poor people, as opposed to the “New Labour” of Clinton-allied Tony Blair and his cronies and acolytes.
I think the best way to discuss Tony Benn’s comments is to quote them directly. He said, at first answering how the NHS came to be, that,
“If you go back, I think it all began with democracy. Before we had the vote, all the power’s in the hands of rich people. If you had money, you could get healthcare, education, look after yourself when you’re old. And what democracy did was to give poor people the vote, and it moved power from the marketplace to the polling station, from the wallet to the ballot. And what people said after the war was very simple. They said, ‘If we can have full employment by killing Germans, why can’t we have full employment by building hospitals, building schools, recruiting nurses, recruiting teachers. If you can find money to kill people, you can find money to help people’.
“I think democracy is the most revolutionary thing in the world, because if you have power, you use it to meet the needs of you and your community. And this idea of choice which capital talks about all the time, choice depends on the freedom to choose and if you are shackled with debt you don’t have the freedom to choose.
“People in debt become hopeless and hopeless people don’t vote. They always say that everyone should vote, but I think that if the poor in Britain or the United States turned out and voted for people that represented their interests there would be a real democratic revolution. So they don’t want that to happen, keeping people hopeless and pessimistic. See, I think there are two ways in which people are controlled. First of all frighten people, and secondly, demoralize them. An educated, healthy, and confident nation is harder to govern. And I think there’s an element in the thinking of some people: we don’t want people to be educated, healthy, and confident because they would get out of control.
“The top 1% of the world’s population own 80% of the world’s wealth. It’s incredible that people put up with it, but they’re poor, they’re demoralized, they’re frightened, and they think perhaps the safest thing to do is to take orders and hope for the best.”
Upon independence, Scotland will have a chance to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form as shall seem most likely to effect the safety and happiness of all its people. In the movie The Patriot, starred in by the same actor who played William Wallace in Braveheart (Mel Gibson, in case you didn’t know), the film’s protagonist, Ben Martin, asks fellow South Carolina assembly members why he should trade one tyrant three thousand miles away for three thousand tyrants one mile away. A free and independent Scotland will be also be able to decide a new direction, one all its own choice, for international and trade relations.
Along with people such as Robin McAlpine of Common Weal, Icelandic legal scholar Katrin Oddsdóttir, and others, I would suggest the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), currently composed of Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein. Once admitted, Scotland would immediately have access to all its markets gained through its twenty-seven trade agreements, including the EU, without the compulsory conditions imposed by the latter association. For example, as pointed out by McAlpine in a recent article for CommonSpace, Scottish fishers would not be bound by the dictates of the EU’s Common Agriculture and Fisheries Policies.
As for intra-European travel, the UK, nor Ireland for that matter, has never opted into the Schengen travel area anyway, and as an independent state, Scotland will be free to do so. Three members of the EFTA have opted in, while the fourth, Switzerland, has dealt with that matter through bilateral agreements.
If you can find money to kill people, you can find money to help people, because the needs of the many should outweigh the greed of the few. And people shouldn’t be afraid of their governments, governments should be afraid of their people.
Alba gu brath. Thig ar latha, our day will come. Keep the faith. Peace out.