Make-your-mind-up time

 

From leftfootforward.org

 

“What is the basis for removing our EU citizenship?  Voting yes.”  So warned a tweet on September 2nd, 2014, a fortnight before the Scottish electorate voted on whether or not their country should become independent of the United Kingdom, sent by the anti-independence, pro-UK campaign group Better Together.

 

Better Together wasn’t the only entity to try to frighten Scots who might be thinking of voting for independence with the prospect of a newly-independent Scotland getting kicked out of the European Union.  Plenty of pro-British newspapers were happy to splash big scary headlines across their front pages every time a senior EU official – such as then European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso – hinted darkly about the Scots losing their EU membership if they opted to shed their UK one.

 

Well, the Scots duly did what the British establishment urged them to do.  They voted to stay in the UK by a majority of 55% to 45%.  Which also preserved their status as citizens of the European Union.  Right?  Wrong of course.  Less than two years later, by a narrow majority, the British electorate followed the advice of Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and sundry other right-wing nincompoops and voted for Brexit, i.e. leaving the EU.

 

Actually, nearly two-thirds of the turn-out in Scotland was in favour of remaining.  But the Scots are heavily outnumbered by the more Brexit-enthused English and so they’ve ended up being dragged out of the EU against their will.  What they were told two years earlier about staying in the UK in order to stay in the EU too has proved to be so much flannel.

 

Predictably, the same right-wing newspapers who played up the threat of an independent Scotland getting booted out of the EU were among the noisiest campaigners for a ‘leave’ vote in the run-up to this June’s EU referendum.  And they’ve been in seventh heaven since their side pipped it, enraptured by a vision of a future Britain free of EU labour, environmental and financial regulations (and free of ghastly, smelly foreigners): a vision of Britain as Airstrip One, Sweatshop Two and Tax Haven Three.

 

For a telling insight into the mind of the British right-wing press regarding Brexit, you should look at a video released by the Daily Telegraph on September 30th called 100 Reasons Why Brexit was a Good Thing.  To the strains of William Blake and Sir Hubert Parry’s Jerusalem, that paean to England’s (not Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland’s) ‘green and pleasant land’, it reels off such heart-warming reasons for leaving Europe as NO CLINICAL TRIALS RED TAPE, END WORKING TIME DIRECTIVE and NO EU HUMAN RIGHTS LAW.  Yes, Britons should give thanks that they’ve been freed from such horrible injustices as new drugs getting stringent safety checks, employers being restrained from working their employees into the ground and – shudder! – human rights.

 

Meanwhile, if the environment-related reasons for which the Telegraph is applauding Brexit come to pass – NO MORE WIND FARMS, NO EU LANDFILL RULES, PROPER WEEDKILLER, FEWER CHEMICALS RESTRICTIONS, OLD FASHIONED LIGHT BULBS and DROP GREEN TARGETS – it’s debatable for how much longer England’s, and indeed Britain’s, green and pleasant land will actually be green and pleasant.

 

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/09/30/100-reasons-to-embrace-brexit/

 

This past weekend, at the beginning of the 2016 Conservative Party conference, those newspapers had a collective right-wing orgasm when Prime Minister Theresa May vowed to trigger Article 50, the clause necessary for starting the Brexit process, by the end of March 2017.  A typical reaction was that of Margaret Thatcher’s old hatchet-man Norman Tebbit (now looking more than ever like Mr Barlow, the chief vampire in the 1979 TV adaptation of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot), who gushed about it in a Sunday Telegraph article headed REJOICE, FOR THERESA MAY HAS STARTED THE AVALANCHE WHICH WILL SET BRITAIN FREE.

 

From thesteepletimes.com

 

One of the first things May did on becoming prime minister after Brexit and the resignation of her predecessor, the pig-penetrating David Cameron, was to visit Scotland, meet with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and assure her that she wanted “the Scottish government to be fully engaged in our discussions and our considerations” and would “listen to any options that they bring forward.”  Her comments about the Scottish government at the Tory Party conference have been slightly different in tone: “There is no opt-out from Brexit and I will never allow divisive nationalists to undermine the precious union of the four nations of our United Kingdom.”  Which is rich coming from someone heading a party of divisive British nationalists who’ve undermined the union of the 28 nations of the EU.

 

The past months have been uncomfortable for those Scots who voted ‘no’ to independence in 2014 but voted ‘remain’ in this year’s EU referendum.  “But,” they protest, “we want to be Scottish, and British, and European!”  For example, Scottish Labour Party leader Keiza Dugdale told the Guardian on July 11th: “We just don’t know whether Scotland can remain part of Europe and part of the United Kingdom.  I, like the vast majority of Scots, want to be part of both.  That’s what I want to fight for.”  To Dugdale, 55% apparently counts as a ‘vast majority’.

 

Then there’s the columnist, broadcaster and author Muriel Gray, who tweeted on June 29th: “So Scots who don’t want tribalism.  Want to remain part of everything: UK, EU, libertarian world, humanity in general.  Who’s their champion?”  Her fellow author Irvine Welsh nailed it when he tweeted back, “Santa Claus.”

 

Well, I sympathise with anyone wishing to be Scottish, British and European.  Even though I supported Scottish independence in 2014, I still feel British myself, at least in the way people in a politically independent Sweden or Norway can still have a cultural and geographical affinity with the larger entity of ‘Scandinavia’.  And I can understand their dismay at what happened on June 24th, even though they’d allowed themselves to be sold a pup about the EU two years earlier.

 

But now they can’t have it both ways.  With a second referendum on Scottish independence looking likely, they’ll soon have to decide between the ‘British’ bit and the ‘European’ bit.  This is especially so given the sympathetic noises Europe has made towards Scotland since the EU vote.  For instance, former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, appointed as the European Parliament’s lead negotiator in the forthcoming Brexit talks, has said: “If Scotland decides to leave the UK, to be an independent state, and they decide to be part of the EU, I think there is no big obstacle to that.”  Incidentally, the odious and hysterical wee right-wing tabloid the Daily Express has dubbed Verhofstadt ‘the most dangerous man in the EU.’  Its odious and hysterical wee right-wing Siamese twin the Daily Mail had previously dubbed Nicola Sturgeon ‘the most dangerous woman in Britain’, so it all has a nice symmetry.

 

Like it or not, Keiza Dugdale, Muriel Gray and co. will soon have to decide between sticking with an increasingly insular, increasingly stunted Britain where, with Jeremy Corbyn’s British Labour Party tearing itself to pieces, the Conservatives look likely to reign in perpetuity and the political and cultural agenda will be set by the likes of the Daily Telegraph, Express and Mail; and taking a deep breath, going for the Scottish independence option and being part of something new and hopefully better.

 

Yes, folks, it’s make-your-mind-up time.

 

(c) BBC

 

The Great British horror show

 

(c) International Business Times

 

I’m a big fan of horror movies but I can’t say I’ve been enjoying this new horror movie that stars the entire population of Britain and that’s been playing endlessly since last Thursday morning.  What’s it called again?  I Know What EU Did Last SummerThe BrexorcistHalloween 4: The Return of Michael Gove?

 

Actually, these past days of epic-scale tragedy and farce, which have followed Britain’s decision in the referendum-vote of June 23rd to leave the European Union, put me in mind of several horror films.  These are the films I’m reminded of and why.

 

(c) Daily Telegraph

(c) British Lion Films

 

When I see Nigel Farage and his supporters in those rural provinces of the UK that voted to quit the EU despite them being heavily dependent on EU subsidies, I think of The Wicker Man (1973).  In this, a posh aristocrat convinces his simple-minded countryside followers that the bountifulness of their harvests and the richness of their coffers depends, not very logically, on them occasionally sacrificing a virgin.  In Farage’s case, he persuaded them to sacrifice their EU membership.  The film ends with the latest sacrifice, played by Edward Woodward, predicting that the next time the harvests fail and the coffers are empty, the countryside folk will be sticking the aristocrat himself into a wicker man and setting it alight.  So if this analogy holds, things may end unhappily for Nigel (but happily for the rest of us).

 

(c) Warner Brothers / Transatlantic Pictures

 

When I see Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, I think of Alfred’s Hitchcock’s dark psychological thriller Rope (1948).  This begins with two vain aesthetes, Brandon and Phillip, committing a murder to show their intellectual superiority.  Then they spend the rest of the film unravelling through guilt at what they’ve done and fear of being found out.  Since the referendum result, our very own Brandon and Philip have been looking increasingly sweaty and twitchy while, no doubt, the thought “Oh my God, what the f**k have we done?” grows ever shriller in their heads,

 

When I don’t see George Osbourne – he seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth since the vote, despite the fact that he’s Chancellor of the Exchequer and despite the fact that the pound and markets generally have gone into freefall – I obviously think of The Invisible Man (1933).

 

(c) Universal Pictures

 

When I see the Labour Party currently tearing itself apart over the issue of the leadership, or non-leadership, of Jeremy Corbyn during the referendum campaign – the last time I’d checked, there’d been eleven resignations from Corbyn’s shadow cabinet – I think of the virus in Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later (2002) that instantly transforms its victims into red-eyed, slavering, vomiting, hyperactive and very bitey zombies.  Though if the somnolent Corbyn himself got infected he’d probably just dribble a little bit onto his cardigan.

 

When I see Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister and the only leader in the past few days to actually display qualities of leadership, I think of Sigourney Weaver in Aliens (1986).  From her base in Edinburgh, peering south towards the madness that’s engulfed Westminster, Sturgeon must feel like Weaver in her spaceship while it circles the space-colony planet where hideous and slimy things have happened.  (Though ‘nuking them from orbit’ isn’t an option here.)

 

When I see close-ups of Michael Gove’s face, I think of the baby in David Lynch’s Eraserhead (1977).

 

(c) Daily Telegraph

(c) Libra Films International

 

Whereas when I see Boris Johnson, I think of the midget blonde monsters spawned by Samantha Eggar in David Cronenberg’s The Brood (1980).

 

(c) Evening Standard

(c) New World Pictures

 

Mind you, that’s when I’m not thinking of the creepy kids in Village of the Damned (1960).

 

(c) MGM

 

And when I see the whole sorry mess, with the triumphant leaders of the Brexit campaign now admitting that – duh! – they didn’t actually have a plan about what to do in the event of them winning, I think of the Final Destination series.  In those movies, it’s never quite clear what the final destination is.  But you have a pretty good idea that everyone involved is going to die horribly.

 

Wings versus wizardry

 

From harrypotter.wikea.com

From wingsoverscotland.com

 

Some time ago I had a good friend who moved into a charming little cottage in a charming little village perched on an estuary-mouth on the English coast.  The village was known locally as ‘The Ferry’ and she found its inhabitants warm and welcoming.  There was one topic, however, that caused their countenances to darken and their voices to grow ominous.  “Whatever you do,” they’d say to my friend in a warning tone, whilst glancing fearfully towards a hall in the village centre that hosted, among other things, the meetings of the local residents’ committee, “whatever you do, don’t get involved in Ferry politics!”

 

I sometimes wonder if J.K. Rowling, the English-born bestselling author of the Harry Potter novels, has questioned the wisdom of getting involved in the politics of the charming little place to which she moved, back in 1993: Scotland, which is on the English coast too – right up on top of it – and also has a local residents’ committee, which holds meetings in the Scottish Parliament Building in Edinburgh.

 

Ever since she announced that she was donating a million pounds of her money to Better Together, the organisation that campaigned successfully for a ‘no’ vote in the referendum on Scottish independence last September, it seems J.K. has rarely been out of the newspapers.  Often this is because she’s been in unseemly twitter spats with supporters of Scottish independence who’re narked about her intervention in the referendum.

 

There was another spat two days ago when the author attended the Rugby World Cup match between Scotland and Australia – which, against all expectations, Scotland came within a hair of winning.  Indeed, Scotland would have won it if the South African referee Craig Joubert hadn’t made an error in the final minute and awarded a match-winning penalty kick to Australia.  By the way, I’m not saying that because I’m biased towards Scotland.  The sport’s governing body, World Rugby, have since said Joubert was wrong to give Australia the penalty.

 

In the midst of the excitement and eventual heartbreak, J.K. was exchanging tweets with the Glaswegian journalist, novelist and TV presenter Muriel Gray.  Like J.K., Ms Gray is no friend of the Scottish-independence cause.  Their musings about Scotland’s heroic but ultimately doomed rugby performance were interrupted by the arrival of a tweet from one Stuart Campbell, who calls himself ‘the Reverend’ Stuart Campbell to differentiate him from the football player Stuart Campbell.  His Tweet told J.K. and Muriel bluntly: “You two can both f*** off.  You don’t think we’re a nation at all.”

 

The Reverend Stuart Campbell is a former games designer and journalist and these days he runs a political website called Wings over Scotland.  This is devoted to Scottish independence and to uncovering errors, inconsistencies and contradictions in the coverage that the mainstream British media gives to Scotland, to the independence cause and to its main proponent, the Scottish National Party.  Nearly all the established media outlets north and south of the border hate the idea that Scotland might one day leave the United Kingdom and their Scottish coverage is pretty one-sided.  The Reverend felt that someone had to challenge them on this coverage.  He was, he said, “fed up of shouting at the TV when Newsnight Scotland was on.”

 

(c) STV

 

Wings over Scotland has a busy and lively twitter feed, but after the Reverend sent that particular tweet it got very busy.  And lively.  He groused that “Rowling’s set a million bed-wetters after me,” for soon he was being accused of being “vile”, “bitter and twisted”, “everything that’s wrong with Scotland”, “everything that’s wrong in a human,” a “narrow-minded tosspot”, “a bitter wank”, a “Neanderthal demagogue”, “the biggest fascist on twitter / planet”, “a dysfunctional f***wit” who eats “bile for breakfast”, etc.

 

At least there was one upside.  “J.K.’s wee troll army,” he tweeted later, “have taken my mind off that clown Joubert.”

 

J.K. Rowling herself responded: “I know Scotland’s a nation.  I live there, you see.  I pay tax there and contribute more than bile there.”  And it wasn’t long before Scottish National Party leader and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted herself: “Note to my fellow independence supporters.  People who disagree are not anti-Scottish.  Does our cause no good to hurl abuse (and it’s wrong).”

 

Predictably, the story was soon all over the media – starting in the UK edition of the Huffington Post, which ran the headline: J.K. ROWLING JUST PERFECTLY HANDLED A SCOTTISH RUGBY FAN’S MISDIRECTED ANGER.  The Huffington Post headline was a fair indication of whose side subsequent newspaper articles would take: J.K. is lovely, the Reverend is ghastly.  Poor old Muriel Gray’s role in the affair, incidentally, was soon forgotten.

 

Well, I like Wings over Scotland, which admittedly can be brutal but is no more brutal than the political and journalistic worlds that it scrutinises.  And I also like J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels.  Though not so much the later ones and definitely not Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  (I mean, what was going on there?  All those horcruxes to destroy and all those sacred objects to track down…  And Neville Longbottom producing the Sword of Gryffindor out of the Sorting Hat at the end – how did that happen?  Jesus, J.K.!)  So where do I stand regarding this stramash between the two?

 

I agree with Nicola Sturgeon.  People are entitled to cheer on Scotland in a sports match if they want to.  Even if they voted ‘no’ in the referendum to stop Scotland becoming independent.  Yes, which is illogical because, strictly speaking, Scotland shouldn’t be participating in the Rugby World Cup at all because it isn’t an independent country like Australia or Japan or Italy are.  But…  What the hell?  It’s only a game.  (Not that it felt like only a game the other day, when Craig bloody Joubert blew his final whistle.)  And I think the Reverend made an arse of himself when he sent that abusive tweet.  To be fair, he did so at a traumatic moment and I suspect he’d consumed a few beverages by that point too.  As I know only too well from personal experience, people say stupid things when they’re ‘tired and emotional’.

 

At the same time, though, the media coverage of this has been pretty hypocritical.  For instance, J.K. has been cheered and the Reverend booed by journalists like Chris Deerin and Alex Massie, both of whom have taken the shilling from the Daily Mail, a newspaper that’s caused J.K. much distress in the past.  In 2013 the Mail had to apologise to her and pay her damages after it misreported some comments she’d made about the congregation of a Scottish church where she’d worked part-time in the 1990s.  She also hates the negativity with which the Mail portrays single mothers – as she was once – so much so that she made it the favourite reading matter of the Dursleys, the reactionary and oafish human family whom Harry Potter has to live with when he isn’t at Hogwarts.

 

From aidanmoher.com

 

One wonders how Britain’s mainly right-wing newspapers would treat J.K. these days if she hadn’t thrown her hat into the ring during the Scottish independence debate and come out as an opponent of the Scottish nationalists – because her previous political activity had been in support of another of those newspapers’ bête noirs.  In 2008, she donated a million pounds to the Labour Party, run at the time by her friend and then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown.  Much of the British press, which had been busy deriding, ridiculing and tormenting the hapless Brown, sneered at her for this.  HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF DOWNING STREET was a typical headline.  If J.K. had never opened her mouth about Scottish independence but had remained vocal in support of the Labour Party, I suspect many journalists now wouldn’t be treating her as a cool and courageous slayer of Scottish-independence trolls but as a demented old socialist bag-lady.

 

These days J.K. still supports Labour, though quietly.  After this year’s general election, which saw the Scottish branch of the Labour Party – led by the inept Jim Murphy – lose 40 of its 41 previously-held seats in Scotland, she tried to console Murphy by making him an honorary member of the House of Gryffindor at Hogwarts.  Hmmm.  If Jim Murphy had been there at the time of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and had applied his talents to the climactic Battle of Hogwarts, I suspect Lord Voldemort would have won and would now be ruling the universe.

 

This might seem sacrilegious to those millions of pubescent schoolkids the world over who worship her as the creator of Harry Potter, but I don’t think J.K. is as sweet, pure and fluffy as her reputation suggests.  She’s a shrewd and calculating operator, I reckon.  When she entered the Scottish independence debate, she was quick to invoke her world-conquering franchise.  She wrote about “a fringe of nationalists who like to demonise anyone who is not blindly and unquestionably pro-independence and I suspect, notwithstanding the fact that I’ve lived in Scotland for twenty-one years and plan to remain here for the rest of my life, that they might judge me ‘insufficiently’ Scottish to have a valid view…  However, when people try to make this debate about the purity of your lineage, things start getting a little Death Eaterish for my taste.” 

 

She didn’t say all supporters of independence were like Death Eaters – the fascistic cult of wizards in her Harry Potter novels, led by Voldemort, who promote the purity of the wizard race and despise other breeds, such as humans – but the press were only too happy to report that she had, with headlines like J.K. ROWLING CALLS THE SNP DEATH EATERS.  And I’m sure that Rowling, with her past experiences of being misquoted by newspapers, knew what would happen when she used such loaded language.

 

J.K. also knows how to weaponise herself on behalf of the Labour Party.  A few days before this year’s general election, when the polls were predicting that the Labour Party would suffer an absolute humping from the SNP in Scotland, J.K. happened to speak to the press about the twitter abuse she’d had from pro-independence supporters during the referendum campaign.  Thus, a rash of J.K. ROWLING TALKS OF ABUSE FROM SNP TROLLS-type headlines appeared in the newspapers just before the Scottish public, a good proportion of whom were thinking about voting SNP rather than Labour, headed down to the polling stations.  Perfect timing, I’d say.

 

To conclude.  The Reverend should be sorry for behaving like a knob and next time, after a traumatic sporting event, he should think before he tweets.  Apart from reasons of basic human civility, it’s in his own interests.  The journalists of the British media loathe Wings over Scotland because it has the temerity to subject their pronouncements to forensic scrutiny.  They’ll do anything for an opportunity to give its founder a kicking.  And on this occasion, he certainly gave them an opportunity.

 

At the same time, I don’t think J.K. is as saintly as the newspapers make her out to be – and they only say she’s saintly when it suits their purposes.  I’m not claiming that under her cuddly exterior she’s mean and ruthless, but I do think she has the guile to make a bloody formidable politician one day.  Though by saying she has the makings of a good politician, I’m in danger of implying that she is mean and ruthless.

 

Incidentally, J.K., should you ever stumble across this blog-post and feel I’ve been unnecessarily harsh on your character, don’t worry.  You can always chastise me by making me an honorary member of the House of Slytherin.  Come to think of it, I’d like to be a member of the House of Slytherin.  The kids in Slytherin are cool.  They get to dress stylishly in black, and strut around, and sneer imperiously, and snarl things like, “You’re a dickhead, Ron Weasley!”

 

Yes, they’re far groovier than those wretched goody-two-shoes diddies in the House of Gryffindor.  I mean, that’s where Jim Murphy hangs out, for Christ’s sake.

 

(c) Warner Bros / Heyday Films

 

A tyrannical, brainwashed one-party state… but that’s enough about Scotland

 

From www.roarforscotland.com

 

Scotland’s political and media landscapes are weirdly juxtaposed these days.  On one hand, since the arrival of Yáng Guāng and Tián Tián at Edinburgh Zoo in 2011, it’s become a common, indeed, a tiresome joke that Scotland now has more panda bears than it has Conservative Party Members of Parliament.  On the other hand, when it comes to having conservative journalists, Scotland is indeed blessed – or cursed, depending on your point of view.  For in Scotland, right-wing newspaper scribes seem to outnumber the midges.

 

(c) BBC

 

For example, there’s Gerald Warner, whose last Scottish-related musings were sighted on the right-wing website www.capx.co, which “brings you the best thinking on popular capitalism from around the web.”  These concerned the Scottish government’s Land Reform Bill, or as Warner puts it in his even-handed, non-partisan way, “another retrograde initiative by doctrinaire Scottish socialists”.

 

Then there’s Alan Cochrane, the Daily Telegraph’s Scottish editor, who late last year published some scribblings he’d made during the run-up to the referendum on Scottish independence under the title of Alex Salmond: My Part in his Downfall – The Cochrane Diaries.  The resulting book attracted breathless, if possibly not 100%-serious reviews on Amazon.  (It “shines a light on the dark and twisted mind of one of the most narcissistic individuals in Britain today.  Also has a few mentions of Alex Salmond.”)

 

And let’s not forget Cochrane’s missus and fellow-journalist, Jenny Hjul, who’s contributed to the Telegraph, Herald, Scotsman and Sunday Times.  During the referendum campaign, Cochrane and Hjul seemed to see themselves less as journalists and more as a crusading husband-and-wife propaganda team dedicated to keeping Scotland British: a sort of Union Jack-bedecked Hart to Hart.

 

There’s also the strangely bitter Tom Gallagher, columnist and Professor Emeritus of History at Bradford University, who once wrote a Telegraph item slamming Scotland for its antipathy towards the Conservative Party.  It was a “Scottish hate-fest”, he claimed, which could be likened to “the fear and detestation of papists in John Knox’s Scotland which delayed the arrival of the 1829 Catholic Emancipation Act by a good number of years.”  So that’s you told, Scotland.  Not voting Conservative – that’s as evil as hating Roman Catholics.

 

And there’s Daily Mail journalist Chris Deerin, who recently announced his withdrawal from Twitter.  Tweeting “was fun,” he wrote the other day, “until the trolls took over.”  These trolls weren’t only horrible Scottish nationalist cybernats, whom Deerin once described as “repellent individuals… who roam the Internet in search of unionists to duff up”.  No, he also got abuse from another tribe of trolls, newer but equally ghastly, the Corbynistas – supporters of the left-wing Islington MP Jeremy Corbyn, who looks set to become the Labour Party’s next leader.  I’ve been trolled myself occasionally but I don’t feel an iota of sympathy for Deerin.  After all, he works for the Daily Mail, a newspaper that’s elevated the trolling of everyone non-white, non-Conservative, non-middle-class and non-English-Home-Counties into an art-form.

 

Also deserving mention is Andrew Neil, now something of a TV star thanks to shows like The Daily Politics and This Week, who served as editor-in-chief with Scotsman Publications from 1996 to 2005.  During this time he managed to transform the once-formidable Scotsman newspaper into the cantankerously-conservative and moribund wee rag it is today.  And there’s the Caledonian clique currently running the Spectator magazine: Fraser Nelson, Hugo Rifkind and Alex Massie.  Young and unfashionably right-wing, Nelson, Rifkind and Massie were once defended on Twitter against charges of anti-Scottish prejudice by the comedian Brian Limond, who pointed out: “They’re Scots.  The ashamed Lulu-voiced kind, but still.”  Hugo Rifkind is son of former Tory Secretary of State for Scotland and disgraced former MP Sir Malcolm Rifkind; while Alex Massie’s Dad is Alan Massie, a novelist of some repute and – yes! – another conservative Scottish journalist.  Massie Senior writes columns for the likes of the Scotsman and Daily Mail.

 

I have tried to list these Scottish right-wing journos in order – going from out-and-out dingbats like Gerald Warner, who basically lives on a planet of his own, to ones whom I think show vestiges of civility and rationality, like the two Massies.  Mind you, both of the latter have blotted their copy books recently – particularly Massie Senior with a ridiculous (and unpleasant) piece for the Mail on Sunday prior to the last general election, which predicted that the River Thames could run red with blood if the Labour Party and Scottish National Party formed a coalition government.  Meanwhile, his sprog, Alex, recently earned my ire not for his political opinions but for his musical ones.  He slagged off Nirvana’s seminal 1991 album Nevermind at the site Ruth and Martin’s Album Club, calling it “the sound of bored teenagers trapped in a garage waiting for the rain to stop…  They should shut up and do something useful.  Like, read a book.”  Memo to Massie Junior: It’s possible to like Nirvana and read books.  I’m proof.

 

http://ramalbumclub.com/post/126672151584/week-32-nevermind-by-nirvana

 

(c) STV

(c) DGC

 

Anyway, what happens when you have so many people of a certain political outlook scribbling away in the organs of the mainstream media?  You get the emergence of narratives.  These narratives may not bear any relation to the facts, or to how things look to the ordinary man or woman on the street.  But fashioned within the cosy – if these days beleaguered – bubble of Scottish conservativism, they are bounced back and forth, refined and fleshed out as one right-wing hack echoes what another right-wing hack said a few days earlier, in turn echoing what a third right-wing hack said the week before.  And as these narratives are served up to the reading public, they’re treated as givens, never to be questioned.

 

One such narrative that’s surfaced recently that Scotland is now a one-party state.  Typical of the hyperbole is a piece Tom Gallagher wrote for another right-wing site, www.thecommentator.com, warning that Scotland was falling prey to a Russian-style ‘creeping tyranny’.  The Scottish National Party have a majority in the Scottish Parliament and, according to opinion polls, look likely to clean up at the next Scottish parliamentary elections in 2016.  And they hold 56 of Scotland’s 59 seats in the UK Parliament.

 

They’re everywhere.  They control everything – well, everything apart from the many areas of sovereignty that haven’t been devolved to Edinburgh from London.  Any institutions that retain a vestige of independence in Scotland, like the BBC, are subjected to their bullying.  At the Edinburgh Book Festival last month, didn’t the BBC’s political editor Nick Robinson accuse the SNP of sending 4000 supporters to picket the BBC’s offices in Glasgow because they didn’t like the corporation’s coverage of the referendum campaign?

 

(c) The Spectator

 

Small wonder that Alex Salmond has been likened to Benito Mussolini (by Alan Cochrane), Joseph Stalin (by Cochrane again), Robert Mugabe (by the BBC’s Jeremy Paxman), Adolf Hitler (by barking mad right-wing historian David Starkey), Slobodan Milosevic (by former Labour MP and former convict Denis McShane) and Vladimir Putin (by Nick Robinson, who compared the BBC protests to something that’d happen in ‘Putin’s Russia’).  And don’t be fooled by the fact that last September Salmond resigned as Scottish First Minister after defeat in the independence referendum and handed the reins of power over to his deputy, Nicola Sturgeon.  That was dynastic stuff, which happens in one-party states too.  Power passed from the Great Leader, Kim Jong Eck, to the Dear Leader, Kim Jong Nic.

 

(c) Daily Telegraph 

 

The North Korean parallel is apt since another narrative has emerged – that the SNP is a cult that’s brainwashed the Scottish electorate into voting for it.  The SNP is offering a “millenarian, hallucinatory vision… mystical Gnosis… the catechism of shared faith…” wrote Gerald Warner at www.capx.com.  The SNP is “bluntly dumb, faith-based and irrational,” wrote Chris Deerin in the Mail.  “If Nicola Sturgeon claimed the moon’s made of green cheese,” opined Alex Massie in the Times, “a plurality of Scots would, at the present moment, be inclined to agree with her.”  Yip, those Scots who support the SNP are as deluded as the North Korean public who’ve been force-fed all those propaganda stories about the Kims, such as the one where Kim Jong Il managed eleven holes-in-one the first time he ever picked up a club at the Pyongyang Golf Course.

 

So dreadful are these narratives that it’s a shock to recall that Scotland is actually a democracy.  Its turnout at the last general election was 71%, five percent more than that for the UK as a whole.  The SNP are in the ascendancy because people, you know, voted for them.  Oddly, I don’t remember hearing many complaints about Scotland being a one-party state a few years ago when the place seemed to belong, body and soul, to the Labour Party.  At one point, from 1999 until 2007, the Labour Party ruled Scotland from London under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown; and it ran the Scottish government in Edinburgh as senior partner in a coalition with the Liberal Democrats; and it’d wielded power at council level in places like Glasgow since, it seemed, the dawn of time.  The lion’s share of Scotland’s MPs were Labour ones and it was another well-worn joke that in Glasgow you could stick a Labour Party red rosette onto a monkey and it would get elected.

 

And the Labour Party’s links with the Scottish media were extensive.  These ranged from Scotland’s (then) most popular tabloid the Daily Record acting as unofficial in-house journal for the Scottish Labour Party; to a Scottish journalist as respected and influential as the BBC’s Kirsty Wark going on holiday with former Labour First Minister Jack McConnell.

 

No, nobody seemed bothered by Labour’s long supremacy in Scotland – not even during those periods when the Conservatives ruled in London.  The assumption seemed to be that it didn’t matter if the Jocks were dominated by Labour because Labour’s Scottish branch was never going to rock the boat in Westminster, where real power resided.

 

From www.scoopnest.com 

 

Also, I find it odd that Scotland is described as a one-party state when not only are Warner, Deerin, the Massies and co. free to criticise the party in government but the overwhelming majority of daily and weekly newspapers there are anti-that-party too.  Only the National, the Sunday Herald and – when it suits them – the Scottish Sun will give them the time of day.  I have to say that the government of a one-party state must be a bit wimpish when more than 90% of the one-party state’s mainstream media doesn’t actually support it.

 

Incidentally, a quick reminder to Nick Robinson.  For full-on, destructive bullying of the BBC, look no further than 2003’s Hutton Inquiry.  This absolved – many would say whitewashed – Tony Blair’s Labour government of responsibility for the death of biological warfare expert / weapons inspector David Kelly following the alleged ‘sexing up’ of the government’s dossier on WMDs possessed by Saddam Hussein.  At the same time it castigated the BBC for inaccurate reporting and caused the resignations of BBC Chairman Gavyn Davies and Director General Greg Dyke.  Oh, and the demonstration Robinson alluded to at the BBC’s Glasgow headquarters wasn’t organised by the SNP.

 

Perhaps the unpalatable truth for Scotland’s many right-wing newspaper hacks is that: (1) many voters have decided, after decades of disagreeing with the Tories and being taken for granted by Labour, that they rather like the cut of Nicola Sturgeon’s jib (especially her anti-austerity rhetoric); and (2) they’ve had to put up with so much biased crap from the mainstream media that they’ve decided it’s not to be trusted.  That, indeed, the more it tells them that one thing is the case, the more inclined they are to believe that, no, it’s the opposite that’s really the case.

 

From wingsoverscotland.com

 

Jockalypse now

 

From derekbateman.com

 

As the British general election approaches – 20 days and counting – I’ve tried to avoid the UK’s mainly right-wing press.  Tried to, but not succeeded.  I can’t understand why I should want to peruse the Sun, Daily Express, Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail, seeing as the opinions expressed therein usually induce in me a feeling of alarming numbness that’s attributable either to the onset of a stroke or to my will-to-live exiting my body.  Yet peruse them I do.

 

Maybe the reason for this is similar to the reason why motorists, approaching a serious accident-scene, unconsciously slow down and peek out of their side-windows in the hope of glimpsing some horribly mangled bodies.  It’s because of a primordial and morbid fascination with the hideous.  However, I prefer a different analogy for my inability to stop reading Britain’s right-wing newspapers.  It’s like how small boys will cluster around the edges of an open sewer, a sewer awash with rancid effluent, curious to sample its glorious yucky stinkiness.

 

A notable feature of this election campaign is that, so far at least, the Scottish National Party has had a substantial lead in opinion polls in Scotland.  It looks capable of usurping the Labour Party as the main political force north of the border and could win a pile of new seats in Westminster.  This raises the possibility of the SNP having a major say over who gets to form the next government of the UK as a whole – especially since UK-wide polls show the Conservative and the Labour Parties bobbing along neck-and-neck with a hung parliament being the likely consequence.  The SNP, under their new leader Nicola Sturgeon, has said her party won’t do a deal to ensure a Conservative government; but they are willing to prop up a government run by Ed Miliband’s Labour Party – provided Ed rediscovers a little of the socialism that’s supposedly in his party’s DNA and tailors his policies so that they better fit the SNP’s (and traditional Labour’s) left-of-centre sensibilities.

 

Speculation that a Labour government might be put in power – and drawn leftward – by the SNP has not gone down well with the scribes of the Sun, Express, Telegraph and so on.  In fact, the newspapers have treated the prospect as something so apocalyptic that if there was a nuclear holocaust tomorrow and the start of the ensuing nuclear winter was marked by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse riding around sowing the landscape with biblical plagues of frogs, flies, boils, locusts, etc., it wouldn’t be half as ghastly.

 

From the Daily Record

 

The Sun – whose proprietor Rupert Murdoch, as they say, needs no introduction from me – got its scare story about the potential Labour-SNP socialist nightmare in early.  On March 10th the tabloid published a piece, written by Kevin Schofield, entitled TARTAN BARMY / ‘WRECKING BALL’ PLANS OF ED (sic) SNP PALS.  This was accompanied by a picture of Miley Cyrus from her 2013 Wrecking Ball video straddling the titular big steel ball, but with Nicola Sturgeon’s head and a tartan bikini superimposed on it, courtesy of Photoshop.  Presumably, this symbolises how Sturgeon and the SNP would induce Ed Miliband to demolish all the sensible policies of Conservative Britain — policies such as fiscally flaying the poorest and weakest in society with a welfare-slashing cat-o’-nine-tails whilst spending £100 billion on renewing a Trident nuclear missile system that, because of its massively destructive nature, can never be used.  (Unless we suddenly decide to take out Boko Haram by nuking Nigeria.)

 

The timing of the Sun’s Nicola-in-a-tartan-bikini picture was impeccable.  It appeared just two days after International Women’s Day, the theme of which this year was, according to the UN, ‘empowering women’.

 

Where the Sun leads, the Daily Express is sure to follow.  (The Express is owned by soft-porn magnate Richard Desmond, who in 2010 was said to be worth £950 million – although as he recently donated a million to Nigel Farage’s right-wing-loony / fruitcake United Kingdom Independence Party, he’s presumably now only worth £949 million.)  March 18th’s Express featured a piece by Chris Roycroft-Davis with the headline LABOUR PLUS SNP WOULD PRESIDE OVER ECONOMIC DISASTER.  This warned of SNP-inspired doom and devastation, of “ultra-Left bampots and crankies” dictating “how the United Kingdom is governed”.  Even Scottish people who don’t support the SNP – and there are quite a few – may have objected to the following assertion: “Many of us are already sick of the excessive subsidies English taxpayers send over the border.  Is it part of Cameron’s foreign aid policy to let Jockistan have even more?”

 

Now on to the pantomime villain of the British mainstream media, the Daily Mail – Hiss! Boo! – which is owned by the 4th Viscount Rothermere.  (He’s worth £720 million and is handily in possession of non-domicile tax status, which according to his Wikipedia entry means he pays “almost no UK tax on his income, investments or wealth”.)  On March 6th, historian and former newspaper editor Max Hastings penned a Mail article entitled THE TERRIFYING PROSPECT OF THE SCOTS RULING ENGLAND IS NOW ALL TOO REAL.  Max accuses the Scots of sinking to a new low – they’ve started to resemble French people.  And Greek ones.  The horror!  “Like the French and the Greeks, the Scots seem immune to rational argument about their circumstances and prospects.  They simply challenge the Westminster parties to declare who will pay most for their support… it is deeply dismaying that a substantial part of the population of this island seem eager to endorse the fantasy economics which have become the policies of the SNP and of Labour.”

 

Interestingly, the articles by Schofield and Hastings didn’t appear in the Scottish editions of the Sun or Mail, only in the newspapers’ English editions.  Evidently, people in Scotland – or Jockistan – are too poor and primitive to have access to the Internet and social media, so nobody there will ever find out what the English versions of the Scottish Sun and Scottish Daily Mail are saying about them.

 

Max Hastings described Nicola Sturgeon as “red in tooth and claw”, which is almost gentlemanly compared to what columnist Bruce Anderson has written about her: “It is less a question of a splinter of ice in her heart, as a few scraps of heart tissue clinging to an icicle.  She has all the human warmth of a tricoteuse waiting for a tumbril.”  Anderson is the author of two recent pieces about Scotland in the Daily Telegraph – one on March 21st entitled HOW TO CRUSH THE NATS’ HOPES FOR SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE and the other on April 4th entitled NEVER BEFORE HAS SCOTLAND BEEN QUITE THIS DELUDED – and his view of what is happening north of the border is not an optimistic one.  Not only are Scottish politics dominated by a harridan who sits knitting Liberty caps next to a guillotine (presumably set up outside Bute House in Edinburgh’s Charlotte Square), but Scotland’s mood, writes Anderson, “is extraordinary.  Over the past few months, millions of Scots have been baying at the moon…  Not since the thirties has a once great nation been in the grip of so many delusions.”

 

From www.nvcc.libguides.com

 

The rabidly anti-Scottish independence, pro-United Kingdom Daily Telegraph is owned by David and Frederick Barclay, tax-avoiding billionaires who are holed up in the Channel Islands – more precisely on Brecqhou, which is the smaller sister-island of Sark.  Fascinatingly, their Wikipedia entry claims that, after feuding with the Sark government, the brothers have “expressed a desire to make Brecqhou independent from Sark – building on the research of William Toplis, the painter, and others, who argued that Brecqhou was not a part of the fief of Sark.”  So the Barclay brothers’ love of unity and hatred of separation apparently don’t extend to their own backyard.

 

Up until now the journalists I’ve quoted have been English (or in Anderson’s case, Northern Irish) ones.  However, plenty of right-wing Scottish commentators have been equally, if not more, determined lately to stick the boot into Scotland for its current enthusiasm for Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP.   I suspect this is because if you’re right-wing and Conservative in modern Scotland, like these journalists are, you’re likely to feel very lonely at times.  And loneliness breeds bitterness.  Also, I’m sure they’re encouraged by their editors to be as anti-Scottish as possible.  Because the resultant articles are penned by Scots, the publications in which they appear can’t then be accused of anti-Scottish xenophobia.

 

For example, the right-wing website www.capx.co  published on April 7th an article by Scotsman Chris Deerin entitled SCOTLAND HAS GONE MAD.  Deerin accused his native land of being “a soft and sappy nation, intellectually listless, coddled, a land of received wisdom and one-track minds, narrow parameters and mass groupthink.”  The “viewpoint that dominates our polity and media”, he claimed, is “an unholy alliance of nationalists, Greens and socialists.”  And he wailed about Scotland being populated with paranoid crackpots: “We have become a land peppered with conspiracy theorists who believe in secret oil fields and MI5 plots and rigged polls…”

 

Incidentally, I find claims – advanced by the likes of former MP Jim Sillars and former ambassador Craig Brown – that MI5 is meddling maliciously in Scottish politics far-fetched.  But then again, in the run-up to last September’s referendum on Scottish independence, some big establishment figures like UK Home Secretary Theresa May and Lord George Robertson of Port Ellon made dire warnings about the threat an independent Scotland would pose to national and international security.  If these warnings were true, wouldn’t MI5 be failing in its duty not to interfere in Scottish politics and thwart the SNP in its objective of making Scotland independent?

 

(c) AFP / Getty Images

 

Deerin’s article was illustrated with a photograph of a stripped-to-the-waist bloke with Pictish-style tattoos and a Scottish saltire painted on his chest.  This photo and this particular bloke seem to have adorned every Daily Telegraph article about Scotland during the year leading up to the independence referendum.  Presumably, the figure’s embodiment of the irrational – if not animalistic – aspects of Scottish nationalism was intended to terrify genteel, pension-age Telegraph readers and make them choke on their tea and crumpets in the English Home Counties.  Now the bloody thing has migrated over to www.capx.co.  Find a new photo for your articles, guys, please!

 

I don’t want to, but I suppose I should mention Glasgow-born Tom Gallagher, Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Bradford, who’s had a bee in his bonnet, a chip on his shoulder and a stick up his arse about the SNP for as long as I can remember.  On the creepy, right-wing, Muslim-baiting, trade union-bashing, UKIP-loving website www.thecommentator.com, two Gallagher-authored articles about Scotland have appeared lately.  One went up on March 3rd and was entitled SEEDS OF TYRANNY BEING SOWN IN SCOTLAND?  It likened Scotland to Russia – “once briefly… free” but threatened by “creeping tyranny”.  I have to say that since there are nearly 40 national and daily newspapers in Scotland and only one of them – the National – openly supports the SNP and its goal of independence, I suspect tyranny in Scotland will have to creep a hell of a lot further before Nicola Sturgeon is able to cow the media and run the place like Vladimir Putin runs Russia now.

 

The second Gallagher piece came on April 13th.  Entitled SCOTLAND 2015: TOTAL ELECTORAL POLARISATION, it announced ominously that “Scotland is convulsed by confrontation as the SNP and its supporters intimidate opponents.  Democratic civility is treated with contempt, and prejudice and disdain are the order of the day.”  Like Bruce Anderson, Gallagher sees parallels between modern-day Scotland and decapitation-crazy France just over two centuries ago: “Perhaps Nicola Sturgeon is a lawyer with a finely-tuned sense of history: Robespierre, the lawyer who led the French Revolution at its most crazily radical stage, ended up on the guillotine.”

 

Incidentally, look who’s pictured above Gallagher’s article on March 3rd.  Yes, it’s that stripped-to-the-waist / Pictish tattoos / saltire-on-his-chest bloke again!

 

I was disappointed to find the Scottish-Borders-based author and columnist Allan Massie, whom I’d considered to be an affable, reasonable and sensible Unionist, putting his name on March 8th to an article in the Mail on Sunday with a holocaustic headline: …IF SCOTLAND RULES ENGLAND, I CAN SEE THE THAMES FOAMING WITH MUCH BLOOD.  Massie, who’d evidently taken a few too many sherries at the time, warned that “the Scots do very well out of the English taxpayer and give nothing in exchange.”  To have the SNP calling the shots at Westminster, then, would spark such consternation in England that there could be trouble.  Big trouble.  Anarchy.  Slaughter.  The Thames awash with blood!

 

From wingsoverscotland.com 

 

Well, in the article itself, Massie doesn’t quite predict the apocalyptic scenario described in the headline.  “…I don’t say the rivers Thames and Mersey will literally foam with blood – but they might well do so metaphorically.  For the English regard a government dependent on the SNP as undemocratic and an insult to democracy itself.”  Actually, I don’t see how Massie’s image of rivers foaming with blood can only be a metaphor.  It’s so extreme that it suggests bad things really will happen – things like mass violence and loss of life.  Also, I’m sceptical that, in the event of the SNP ushering in a left-wing Labour government at Westminster, the River Mersey would foam with blood.  I’ve met a few Liverpool folk in my time and from their political opinions I reckon the Mersey is much more likely to run red if the Conservatives win another five years in office.

 

Finally, in case you ever wondered what’d happened to Gerald Warner, who for many years was right-wing-ranter-in-chief at Scotsman Publications, I can announce that…  He’s back!  He resurfaced on 15th April at www.capx.co with a feature entitled SOCIALIST SCOTLAND IS SLEEPWALKING TO BANKRUPTCY.  Even by the right-wing-loony standards of right-wing loonies, Warner is in a right-wing-loony class of his own.  He seems to hanker for the good old days before Clement Atlee ushered in the beastly Welfare State, when everybody knew their place – when the wealthy lived in big houses, went to church on Sunday and spent the rest of their time grouse-shooting, and the working class stayed in their slums, with their tuberculosis and rickets, and were grateful for it.

 

In his most recent missive, Warner gives us a handy summary of 20th century Scottish history.  “From the advent of the Labour government of 1945, Scotland became marinated in socialist dependency.  The land of Adam Smith and Andrew Carnegie, a nation of thrifty, proud, self-sufficient wealth creators, rejected capitalism and embraced socialism…  When Margaret Thatcher came into office, Scotland had the largest percentage of population living in municipal housing of any nation in Europe, except the then East Germany…  The Berlin Wall came down – but not in Scotland.  While other countries embraced the free market, often enduring much initial pain in the process, Scots defiantly carried the Red Flag into the 21st century…  By 2009, Scotland enjoyed the dubious distinction of being the third-most state-dependent country in the world, after Communist Cuba and war-torn Iraq.  Welcome to Alba-bania.”

 

Be aware, though, that this is history Gerald Warner-style.  So it might be slightly biased.

 

There are other articles I could mention – Andrew Gilligan recently wrote a piece for the Daily Telegraph that stopped just short of claiming SNP supporters in Glasgow East were murdering their political opponents and eating their entrails – but I’ll stop here.  At the start of this entry, I likened reading this stuff to standing at a sewer’s edge and inhaling its toxic fumes.  But having written about it in detail, I now feel like I’ve been swimming in that sewer.

 

A few final observations.  For many British people, the past five years of David Cameron and Conservative Party government have not been edifying.  They’ll remember 2010-2015 as an era of zero-hour contracts, welfare cuts, food-banks, the Bedroom tax, a crumbling NHS, exorbitant student fees, unpaid internships, tax avoidance, bankers’ bonuses, corrupt politicians, rumours of paedophile rings in Westminster, the rich getting richer and the poor getting evermore helpless.  That a coterie of journalists, like those I’ve mentioned above, can’t only get their heads around the fact that many people don’t want to be a part of modern British society as the Conservatives have fashioned it, but also go out of their way to mock such people as being “soft and sappy” and “baying at the moon”, suggests how far removed from reality much of Britain’s journalistic establishment is.  It’s locked inside its own bubble of privilege.  In fact, it’s as out of touch as most of Britain’s political establishment is these days.

 

Secondly, in the opinion polls Cameron’s Conservative Party is struggling to win the support of more than a third of the UK population.  Even if you factor in support for UKIP, still less than half of British people want to see a right-wing government in Westminster.  The Scots only account for 8% of the UK population, so why pick on them?  Why single them out for maligning as left-wing nutcases and fantasists?  Surely there are plenty of folk in England and Wales guilty of the same sin — if you’re blinkered enough to consider wanting to see the back of the Conservatives a sin?

 

And finally, this guff is self-defeating.  The more that commentators in the Sun, Express, Telegraph, Mail and so on fulminate about all things Scottish and chuck insults around about Jockistan and Alba-bania, the more likely Scottish people are to say in response: “F**k them.”  And then go off and vote for the SNP.

 

(c) The Scotsman

 

A toast to the lassies

 

From walesonline.co.uk

 (c) BBC

From decanter.com

 

I can safely say that, until very recently, I was not looking forward to the televised leaders’ debates planned during the run-up to May’s general election.

 

You may remember the leaders’ debates before the last general election, back in 2010, which had three participants.  Two of these were the smooth, slick and vacuous David Cameron, Tory leader, and the similarly smooth, slick and vacuous Nick Clegg, Liberal Democrat leader; who, if they hadn’t been cloned using genetic material scraped off Tony Blair’s bum, had certainly been grown in vats in a scientific laboratory according to the same Blair recipe.  The third was the hapless then-Prime Minister and then-Labour leader, Gordon Brown, who by that point was so rumpled and exhausted-looking that the comedian Frankie Boyle was prompted to compare Brown’s face to a testicle.

 

Clegg, incidentally, was acclaimed as the star of those debates.  So impressive was his performance that that bastion of left-wing thought in Britain, the Guardian newspaper, was moved to endorse his Liberal Democrat party just before the general election.  And what happened?  Clegg promptly formed a coalition with Cameron and for the five years since has kept the latter’s nasty, unemployed-bashing, immigrant-baiting party in power.  Happily, though, it looks like Clegg will pay belatedly for his sins.  All decent-minded people who voted for his party last time have been so disgusted by his crawling into bed with the Tories that the Liberal Democrats are likely to be decimated at the forthcoming election.

 

Do you hear that, you Liberal Democrats out there?  You’re all going to die.  Ha-ha!

 

Anyway, election fever is in the air again.  And so politicians, broadcasters and political pundits have been speculating about the format of the next televised leaders’ debates.  For a long time, it looked like there’d be four participants.  Those two slick, smooth, etc. Tony-bots, Cameron and Clegg, would be back of course, making excuses for the all the right-wing evil they’ve perpetrated over the last half-decade.  Representing the Labour Party this time would be the gimpy Ed Miliband, a man for whom even the very basics of human behaviour – e.g. looking normal whilst eating a bacon sandwich – do not come easily.  And as a bonus, we’d have the presence of the United Kingdom Independence Party leader, that extremist pint-swigging, fag-puffing barroom-bore bawbag, Nigel Farage.

 

The prospect of this filled me with no excitement whatever.  I’m sure it caused no excitement either amongst millions of other members of the British public.  All four leaders are cut from the same drearily-predictable cloth.  All are inclined towards right-wing policies; ranging from Farage’s loony far-right ones to Miliband’s right-of-centre ones.  (Miliband’s Labour Party is terrified both of losing voters to UKIP and of being portrayed by the Tories as ‘weak on the economy’; with the result that much of its modern rhetoric is far removed from the policies that the traditional ‘People’s Party’ was supposed to be about.)

 

All four are white, male, middle-aged, middle-to-upper class and from the southeast of England (Berkshire, Camden, Buckinghamshire, Kent).  All four are from privileged backgrounds and three of them were educated at Oxford University (Cameron, Miliband) or Cambridge University (Clegg).  What experience of working life Cameron, Miliband and Clegg have is limited to the political world and / or to its symbiotic professions (lobbying, policy research, speech-writing and, in Miliband’s case, teaching a course called What’s Left?  The Politics of Social Justice at Harvard University).

 

Meanwhile, Farage, with his pint, fag, etc., likes to bang on about being a man of the people.  But before and after helping to found UKIP he worked in the City, first with the brokerage firm Drexel Burnham Lambert, and then with Credit Lyonnais Rouse, Refco and Natexis Metals.  If that makes him anti-establishment…  Well, then, I’m going to be the next Pope.

 

However, the broadcasters have just announced – to the astonishment, bemusement and scorn of many politicians and journalists operating within the London-based ‘Westminster Bubble’ – that two of the three debates will be opened out.  There won’t be four leaders participating in these two debates, but seven.  In addition to Cameron, Milliband, Clegg and Farage, Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood, Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon – who is coincidentally the current First Minister of Scotland – and Green Party of England and Wales leader Natalie Bennett will be invited.

 

While there’s been a lot of discussion about how the logistics of a seven-leader debate would work, there hasn’t been – in mainstream media outlets, at least – much mention of the most appealing feature of such a set-up: the introduction of some variety to the proceedings.  Instead of an all-male line-up there’ll be almost a fifty-fifty split between males and females.  And now there’ll be people presenting a slightly different political narrative – left-wing or left-of-centre policies as well as right-wing ones.

 

And the stenches of privilege and political careerism will be slightly less overwhelming.  Leanne Wood was educated at Tonypandy Comprehensive School and the University of Glamorgan,  Afterwards she worked as a probation officer and later as a support worker for Cwn Cynon Women’s Aid.  Nicola Sturgeon attended another state school, Greenwood Academy, and then the University of Glasgow.  Although she served as a lawyer for a time, her beat was hardly a comfy middle-class one: she worked in Drumchapel in Glasgow.  Bennett is from Sydney and has spent years knocking around the world as a journalist, including spending a stint at the Bangkok Post.  Plus it’ll be nice to hear those well-to-do south-eastern accents interspersed with some other ones: Welsh, Scottish and Australian.

 

The arrival of Wood, Sturgeon and Bennett has potentially saved those leaders’ debates from tedium.  If variety is the spice of life, then the debates in their originally-touted four-leader format sounded like they’d be as spicy as a dollop of cold porridge.

 

Actually, they sounded like they’d be as appetising as a dollop of cold vomit.