Mozart on Debates

The memory-failing spouse and I attended a dementia-friendly performance of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, by Scottish Opera, a few days ago. It was a matinee, sparsely attended, disappointing no doubt for the singers, but for the audience it meant that there was no audience-intrusion to distract us from the top-notch performance, and the unpretentious simplicity of the occasion was overwhelming.

Readers will remember that there are three strands to this opera – the heroic couple Tamino and Pamina, who undergo ordeals, and summon up their courage by playing a magic flute; the nasty flim-flammerie of the Queen Night, whose aim is to plunge all other characters into such despair that they kill themselves; and the earthy clowns Papageno and Papagena, who just want to shack up together and have a million kids.

It’s all underpinned by a fourth strand in the person of the sorcerer Sarastro, who runs what can only be called a think-tank. This is an institution that promotes the same equality-and-brotherhood ideals as those of Robert Burns’ “A Man’s a Man for A’ That”, and more broadly those of the French Revolution (the opera premiered in 1791, two years after the storming of the Bastille). Sarastro’s think-tank holds everything together, brings about the happy ending, and gives us to understand that the other three strands are nothing more than a top-dressing of frivolity.

Sarastro’ aria, “In diesen heil’gen Hallen” is the crunch-point in this fourth strand: the lyrics say, more or less, that in these holy halls we think clearly, and respect each other’s views, and do not turn our opponents into enemies. In this performance our Sarastro delivered the aria with no stage-business, standing more or less still. (You can see a similarly understated performance of it here.) As the melody unfolded, I found myself gasping and snuffling, unable to catch my breath, choking, with surprising tears running down my cheeks. The ideals that you believe in can be complete buggers when they catch you unawares.

Think about that.

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Soldiers of the Queen

If you think this post is going to be a rant about unredeemable bigotry among those that fought under the butcher’s apron, think again. We need to be more nuanced than that.

My wife and I had an encounter with a non-indy person after the march, two Saturdays ago, as we were coming out of the Mitchell Library (ah, the arcane leisure pursuits of the Byres Road glitterati!). He’d been leaning on the balustrade by the kerb opposite the outside door, smoking, and walked across the pavement to speak to us, a bearded and tidily turned-out man in his twenties. “See this march,” he said, making eye contact. No doubt he’d noticed the SNP badge throbbing yellow on my lapel. “Ah don’t haud wi’ a’ that.”

We raised an eyebrow.

“See me, Ah’m a soldier,” he said. “Ah wiz sent by Blair and Bush to Iraq, and when I came back, there was no help of any kind for me. Naethin, not from the British Government nor from the Scottish Government. So these politicians, Ah don’t believe anything they say. That’s why I think this Home Rule is a’ mince.”

Home Rule is an endearingly old-fashioned way of describing what we campaign for (is that really what the British Army calls it?), but this wasn’t the moment to take up that point.

“They should have helped you,” I said. “Whether they’re Scottish or British, they’re the government, and they should have helped you.”

“Helped me!… Helped me!!!…..” He roasted them for their failure by producing a content-free stream of expletives, sullying the ears of my public-school-educated octogenarian partner. And with each expletive he reached out and touched her, apologetically, reassuringly, on the arm. “Sorry…sorry…” He really was contrite; they teach you manners in the British Army, and deference towards the posh elderly. “See, Ah fought for Britain. And this Union – it ain’t broke, so don’t fix it.”

My answer needed some thought. This Union is broken – England has exploited Scotland for more than 300 years, sucked the lifeblood out of it, and is still sucking benefit from the husk. But being a soldier is no joke, and someone who’s shown that level of commitment is not going to react positively when told they’re talking nonsense by some toffee-nosed tosser with an Oxford accent. So I discarded, “We never get the government we voted for,” and, “They’ve stolen all our oil,” and settled for, “This is a rich country. We have renewables, oil, water, agriculture. We could be much more prosperous that we are.”

He didn’t look convinced.

“It’s England that’s holding us back,” I went on, “because we don’t have the powers to develop our potential.”

That sounded vague and unconvincing to me even while I was saying it, and not surprisingly he still looked sceptical. But he hadn’t interrupted, so I went for the jugular. “Norway has a one-trillion-dollar oil fund. We could have had that.”

There was a lot of harrumphing, and objections I didn’t quite get, and more streams of expletives – all with the obligatory apologetic touches to the arm, of course. When it subsided, out came his summing-up. “See this SNP.” he said, “If we did this, would they be a good government?”

Gobsmacked, I tried to show no emotion. “Yes, of course.”

We parted on good terms.

A Message from Mac

Reblogged from Wings Over Scotland, 8th May 2019.

Mac says:

Just had my account banned at the Guardian for this posting… I am wondering whats wrong with it. Any clues?

My country has sucked the good years from my bones and rewarded me with a brittle poverty in retirement.

I paid for bishops and lords I didn’t elect and illegal wars that I didn’t support. I fired expensive missiles at foreign families in a rich man’s oil war. I paid for duck moats for dick wads to control me, and bonuses for bankers to break the fabric of our financial system. I bailed banks that were resold at a loss to me.

I watched our political system lord over decades of financial and cultural incompetence. A system not fit for the purposes and needs of a modern world, hampered by ancient tradition, debilitated by class stricture and structure. A system choked by nationalistic pomp and circumstance and run by an ossified establishment. It’s a heavy burden for an ordinary man.

As I struggled to secure a roof and education for my sons, and lived honestly and frugally through each economic crisis, I watched the rich become richer and the poor eke an existence in a corrupt democracy of cash for questions, cronyism, expense scandals, and skimming politicians.

They sold my railways, energy companies, water and hospitals and I paid tax to private companies to keep them running. They devalued my currency four times, while propping up their cronies in the City.

All the money I generated over the decades, my personal GDP, was wasted in government ineptitude and inefficiency. My pensions were decimated. The taxes and cost of living crippled me.

My sons left for London and New Zealand. I don’t blame them; I blame the UK class system. A lifetime of yoke and boot. A lifetime of housing, heating, eating and education, necessities that were costed like luxuries. Democratic rights sold as privilege. And thus the continuation of the extreme Scottish economic immigration that is a great shame on the UK.

And through these decades, I have had the misfortune to suffer the false promises and prophecies of Scottish Labour. The party that adds insult to injury. The party that are simply a more incompetent version of the Tories, nothing more.

I had to listen to the lies of Project Fear and currently endure the blitz and bombardment of Westminster propaganda against the slightest ambition in Scotland to change the status quo.

With Brexit, I voted to Remain, along with the vast majority of my countrymen. The EU is better for the North. There are economic, political and cultural differences between Scotland and England.

But we are dragged along by this undemocratic, hegemonic Tory & Labour duopoly, into an embarrassing mess that demonstrates the incompetence and unsuitability of a huge number of MPs for any type of leadership. And confirms again that Westminster is no longer fit for purpose.

And in ten years, little has changed:

The parliamentary expenses watchdog tried to cover up data showing 377 MPs, including nine cabinet ministers, have had their credit cards suspended for wrong, incomplete or late claims. The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa), set up in the wake of the expenses scandal 10 years ago, initially tried to claim the information should not be released because it could hinder the operation of the expenses system. – Guardian Today

For forty years I travelled and worked freely across Europe. Proud of my heritage and respectful of other countries. And now I am ashamed by a Brexit that is about Southern populist xenophobia and the British Establishment clawing back power and control, both in the mistaken belief in an Empire that collapsed a long time ago.

And the cherry on the cake? The new Royal Baby has been given the title of the Earl of Dumbarton. A big rock on the Clyde where I was born. Aye, right.

I am deeply ashamed of this United Kingdom in its current state.

A Quiet Word about the Debate

Last Sunday, on the day after the AUOB march in Glasgow, the Herald gathered and published comments by three SNP politicians about the conduct of the independence debate. This was a remarkably unprincipled piece of journalism. A four-page front spread, it did two things: it crowded out any mention in that day’s Herald of the joyous and sensationally good-natured 100,000-strong march, and it manipulated the three politicans’ comments into a narrative where Yes-supporters were portrayed as vigorous abusers of their own side. It’s also thrown commentators on Wings Over Scotland (the seriously outspoken pro-independence blog, which Unionists hate and fear in equal measure) into a fury. Fantastic smack in the eye for indy! Herald’s job done!

However, under the fury with and the contempt for the various participants, there’s a serious point which indy-supporters need to consider, namely that our goal is to win the coming referendum. It’s true that our goal is independence, but, as we stand now, we’re not going to reach that goal by declaring UDI, or using the entrails of Michael Gove to strangle Boris Johnson, or by telling the UN that we really, really want it: the only way we’re going to get independence is by winning a referendum. And that means winning over to our side a proportion — a small and manageable proportion — of those who voted No last time. (Even if we went UDI, we’d still have to ratify it by a vote, so that goal would still be there – we’d still have to persuade enough people that it was the right decision.) Think about that for a moment, and think about how you would persuade someone who disagrees with you to change their view. Clearly you wouldn’t shout at them that they’re a lying fascist scum-bag, or a piece of zombiefied Unionist maggot-feed; you’d suggest to them – gently – that Scotland could be more prosperous if England had less say in its development, and you’d do this in a quiet, friendly one-to-one conversation. That’s how we’re going to win the referendum – by a million such conversations.

Wings Over Scotland would be a more effective promoter of such conversations if its comment forums were less strident. At the moment, the forums are unpersuasive – they’re talking only to the Yes side, and participants shout and holler. My guess is that the only non-Yessers who read the forums are Unionist trolls wanting to undermine them, and that Undecideds won’t bother to brave the onslaught of violent opinions. This is a pity, because the Rev Stu Campbell, who runs the site, has created a runaway success in terms of visibility – his readership is awesome, and the sheer quantity of comments on his forums is to die for. More than that, with his political acumen and his formidable research skills, he exposes on a daily basis the untruths spread about by the lying toads who oppose us. The Rev Stu is cantankerous and outspoken, and not easily deflected from his chosen path. But could he be gently nudged to move the forums in a more positive direction, so that they influence more people?

Stu already has form on this – his Wee Blue Book, published one month before the 2014 vote, looks as though it shifted opinion by about 10 percentage points, and it was (as one would expect) abuse-free. So he’ll readily understand how an abuse-free forum could positively influence the debate. The steps that he could take towards this are, shall we say, (KLAXON: PUN AHEAD!) fairly pedestrian: establish a ‘play the ball, not the person’ rule (contravening posts get bombed), ditto for foul language, ditto for posts without substance, spread the workload among a team of moderators, close comments after 24 hours, etc., etc. – and these could be implemented incrementally, so as to make the workload manageable, and to gently nudge the participants towards a more productive engagement.

This is what we need to do to win. Could you give it some thought, Stu?

Can-kicking.

It’s disappointing, for three reasons, to see that the EU has extended the Brexit deadline to October 31st. The three reasons are:

  • It’s a compromise between those EU leaders who called for an extension of a year, and those who called for no extension. What do you do when you have opposing extreme viewpoints? You agree at a half-way point. However, that doesn’t deal with the underlying issues, which are that one side thinks the UK can get its act together if given time (Donald Tusk), and that the other side thinks that EU should cut its losses and terminate the Brexit process in short order (Emmanuel Macron). The ‘half-way’ compromise doesn’t settle that point (it doesn’t even come near to acknowledging it), and the underlying issue bubbles on, underlyingly.
  • The second reason it’s disappointing is that the EU, in my view, has misjudged the UK’s ability to come to a consensus. The UK – and that means England – doesn’t do consensus: it’s the only European country, and one of only one-third of countries worldwide, to use First Past The Post in national elections. Its record of consensus-building since the EU referendum is beyond non-existent. So if we can guess at the future by looking at the past, the UK Parliament is not going to agree any deal before the October 31st deadline. (And how does the end-of-June review change that prospect? Not at all. “They’re not ready. – Oh, dear, we must tell them again.”) The EU has bottled it. The April 12th deadline was firm and final, and the October 31st deadline is equally firm and final, which means that the EU will bottle it again then.
  • The third reason it’s disappointing is that it kicks not only the Brexit can down the road, but also the IndyRef2 can. Nicola Sturgeon’s constant promise had been that she will lay out the IndyRef2 strategy “when the terms of Brexit are known”, and they won’t be known now until maybe six months hence, and possibly not even then. This leaves the SNP open the charge that it’s not really serious about independence, a charge that’s difficult to refute without revealing prematurely your strategy, and it demands from supporters more trust than many feel comfortable with. On the other hand, it’s entirely possible that the SNP is playing a very long hand indeed, keeping the independence démarche under wraps until most voters give it their engaged support. That (as Ian Blackford has said) is the kind of IndyRef2 we need, where we convince doubters by the merits of the argument.

We live in interesting times.

 

Hands full of Aces?

What is going to happen with the indy ref? And why did Theresa May call the 2017 general election?

Theresa May didn’t call the 2017 general election to strengthen her majority – she already had a working majority of 17 seats. And she didn’t call it to weaken Labour – Labour was weak enough. In fact, that was the problem. Labour’s job – from the Conservative perspective – was to contain the SNP in Scotland, and Labour wasn’t doing that. But Scottish independence on the back of Brexit would be a disaster for the Conservatives, since the loss of Scottish resources could lead to the annihilation of the neo-liberal dream. So they needed to get into Scotland, win the seats that Labour wasn’t defending, demolish the SNP, and squash the independence movement for ever. They threw at it money and data: data to identify target voters, and money to inundate them with leaflets. And they nearly succeeded: the SNP lost more than one-third of its seats (21 out of 56), its vote-share went from one-half down to one-third (50% to 36%), and Alex Salmond was out. They didn’t reach their goal – the didn’t quash the SNP, or demolish the independence movement, and polls show that support for independence continues to hold up – but they sowed misery and dismay through the upper echelons of the party. They even left some prominent party members brainwashed into believing May’s mantra that “now is not the time”.

I’m indebted to the blogger at A Wilderness of Peace for the above analysis of this election, which I find convincing. But what has it to do with the indy ref? The answer is that it gives us a pointer to the UK government’s likely attitude to the first port of call in the independence journey, namely Section 30 permission to hold an indyref. Other things we need to factor in are what to do if permission is refused, and the SNP’s constant prediction stating that “Scotland will not be taken out of Europe against its will”.

So this is where I think we are now:

  • The UK government will not grant a Section 30 order. David Cameron agreed to one in 2014 because he thought indy would lose, and that that would remove independence from the agenda. That’s no longer the case. The 2017 general election didn’t demolish the indy movement, and the UK government isn’t fool enough to believe the mainstream media’s constant burble that the people of Scotland don’t want another indyref (they jolly well do). No way will they now see a Section 30 order as a risk worth taking.
  • The First Minister has said, pretty well unequivocally, that she won’t mount a referendum without UK agreement. There are obvious tactical risks in doing so (the opposition will make hay with the Scottish Government for allegedly exceeding its powers, an anti-indy boycott could deprive the result of authority, a challenge in the Supreme Court could delay the whole thing), but surely the real point is that it wouldn’t achieve the independence movement’s, and more particularly Nicola Sturgeon’s, overriding strategic priority. This is that independence, when it comes, must be with the consent of the whole country; the last thing we need is a vicious campaign like the EU referendum, that leaves a country irreconcilably divided and bitter. There’ll always be a hard core of bigots, of course, and for some the consent will be grudging, but we must leave every voter in no doubt that the issues have been fully and fairly debated, and that this is what we’ve agreed to do as a nation. That can take time. Phantom Power’s recent report on Norway set out how Norwegians reach consensus by debate before doing anything at all, and “it took us forty years to build an airport”. Let alone a new country.
  • If a Section 30 order is off the table, and the Scottish Government will not mount an independence referendum without one, that looks like the end of the road. It leaves only the option of UDI (which can be dressed up in various ways, but is still UDI). Given that we need to build a consensus, however, UDI would be catastrophic. So it really is the end of the road, isn’t it? Well, no, if we listen to what our politicians have been saying, and perhaps it isn’t.
  • “Scotland will not be taken out of Europe against its will”, they say constantly, turning the issue into one of EU membership, rather than one of Scottish independence. So the next Scottish referendum will not be solely about independence, it will also be about the EU, and the two issues will be bundled together. “Should Scotland join the EU?” would be a good first shot at a question. We all know that Scotland can’t join the EU without first becoming independent, so the question is a proxy for that. And it’s difficult for the UK government to forbid us to ask that question, since they asked it themselves in 2016. Also, there are further factors that make it attractive to bundle the two issues together:
    •  It acknowledges both the conditions set out in the 2016 mandate: “clear and sustained preference for independence” and “material change of circumstances”;
    • It makes victory wholly attainable: 62% voted to Remain in 2016, and that figure has almost certainly increased since then;
    • If the 38% Leavers boycotted the referendum, that still wouldn’t be enough to cast doubt on the result.

The clincher, of course, is that if we can run the campaign like we did in 2014 – that is, as a largely straight campaign that engages people with the issues, rather than like the EU referendum, which was based on all sorts of make-you-boak nastiness and lies – then we place anti-indy in a deep cleft stick. The only argument they have for keeping the Union together is that England needs Scotland’s wealth, and that’s the one thing they can never admit. So it looks like our hands are full of aces here.

 

Game, Set and Match to the Indy Challengers

Had to get this up as soon as possible – stunning performance by Ian Blackford. (Ignore the wrong video for the first 20secs – IB can still be heard as voice-over.) The interviewers’ questions are pedestrian, poorly researched, and out of date with any current realities – pretty much the same as the UK government’s handling of the Brexit negotiations, really – but IB’s responses are pithy, informative and challenging. Share widely. Do it now!