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.

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.

Success comes from Success

Had an interesting conversation a couple of days ago with an undecided voter. He was behind the counter when I went in to get my monthly top-up of gut-rot spicy proteins, in the shop that his father, a Muslim from Pakistan, set up twenty or thirty years ago, with a strong unique selling proposition that has turned it into a Glasgow landmark. Spotting the SNP badge that’s welded to my left shoulder, he said, “Can I ask you about independence?”

“Absolutely! In fact, I can overwhelm you with opinionated bludgeoning before you’ve even got to your first pause!” I said. Or rather, thought. I didn’t say that. But I gave a sort of indication.

“Breaking up a country is a really serious thing to do,” he said.

“Heard that one before,” I suggested, disappointed that he’d swallowed whole the toxic Yoon slogan of “breaking up the country”.

“We’ve been in the UK now for three hundred years,” he went on, “and it’s always better to be together than to be apart. We should co-operate, and seek a common solution to the problem. Co-operative solutions are what we Muslims always look for.”

Oh, bugger, that’s all too sensible, I thought. The triconsonantal Arabic root s-l-m (all Arabic roots are made up of three consonants) means ‘peace’, so ‘iSLaM’ (in Arabic, you sprinkle vowels about like aniseed) is ‘the religion of peace’, ‘SaLaM aleykum’ means ‘peace be with you’, and ‘mu-SLiM’ means ‘one who pursues peace’ (‘mu-‘ meaning ‘pursuer of’, as in ‘mu-jihad-in’: ‘-in’ is the plural suffix, and J-H-D is ‘jihad’). So yes, there’s a strong Muslim tradition that disputes are best settled by negotiation, leading to an agreed solution. All this I thought. I also thought, “Don’t go there.”

“The flaws in the union are too serious to be fixed by negotiation,” I said. “Scotland’s population is one-tenth that of England – Scotland will never have power, or be an equal partner.”

“It’s still a risk,” he said. “Are we economically secure enough to survive alone in a hostile and fragmented world?” What a question! – look at agriculture, food and drink, renewables – wind and wave power – tourism, whiskey – and we still have the best-educated workforce in the western world. I forgot to mention the five Scottish universities in the world’s top 200: Scotland has more world-class universities per head of population than any other country worldwide. But I seemed to have said enough to de-fuse the objection. He nodded, and moved the debate on.

“Politics is changing,” he said, “radically. The Labour party under Corbyn has broken the mould. All his support comes from younger people, and that’s going to change the way politics works. So we have a good chance, by supporting Labour, of reaching a co-operative solution.”

I indicated scepticism. The Union of 1707 had been greeted with riots in Glasgow and Edinburgh and the imposition of martial law; according to the spy Daniel Defoe, nine out of ten Scots opposed it. After the defeat of the ’45 rebellion, the English needed to maintain a garrison of 13,500 soldiers across Scotland. Yes, the Union brought great prosperity to Scotland in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but it also brought the Highland Clearances, in which up to 100,000 people were summarily evicted and saw their houses and possessions burned behind them, and a sucking out of resources and population. You can’t negotiate with the English, I said. The entire history of the Empire shows that the English don’t understand negotiation, they only understand winning.

“Well, that may be one view of the English, but Toryism isn’t necessarily like that,” he said. He’d been to hear the philosopher Roger Scruton recently. Scruton said you must look behind conservative policies to the real meaning of conservatism. It was left unclear what the real meaning of conservatism is – presumably it means changing only what is necessary, and only with a specific goal in mind – but the policies we’re now subjected to (I said) – austerity, demonisation of the poor and, of course Brexit – are not to be tolerated, and we have no way of changing them except through independence.

“But if we do go for it,” he said, “we could bring very ugly scenes upon ourselves. Soldiers in the streets, civil war. The same as the Troubles in Northern Ireland, here in Scotland.” I agreed. We need to be careful, and above all we need to be disciplined. But that doesn’t mean we can’t succeed.

And then he made a surprisingly positive move. “Are you a member of the SNP?” he said. “Are you an activist? Can you recommend any books, and how can I get more involved in this?” Gosh, easy-peasy! “The local SNP branch meets two streets away from where we are, you join on the internet for £3 per month and turn up at meetings and just talk. They’ll give you things to do if you simply open your mouth a bit!”

Looking back, I don’t think I brought about about a change in his thinking: I think he had already set out in his mind the quick sight-seeing tour of the reasons against independence so as to settle his fears and reassure himself. What he really wanted to know was just how to get more involved. Still, another saved soul is another saved soul, and the more we talk to one another, the more we can get successs to beget success.

Cracks in the ice…?

RECENT CONVERSATIONS and internet posts have left me with the feeling that the independence argument is in fact won, and the ice-sheet of No that’s been stifling the hopes of younger generations is beginning to crack and break up. First up is the dog-walker, whom I reported on earlier, who had a visceral hatred of nationalists because of what they were doing to the country he loved. Leaving aside the question of why loving one’s country isn’t nationalism, this man is trapped in circular, content-free thinking:

– I love my country.

– How do we know you love your country?

– Because I want it to stay in the UK. That’s where it belongs.

– How do you know it belongs there?

– Because it does. And I love my country.

This isn’t political or social thinking, this is emotional masturbation. And the problem for these people at the high end of the No scale is that, when faced with facts or concrete thinking, they have nowhere to go: they can only retreat into vitriol. There’s a glorious instance of this in the comments to an article by Lesley Riddoch – surely the least vituperative of commentators – in today’s Scotsman , where the level of vilification is beyond belief, and is a disgrace to any society claiming to have a tradition of constructive debate. We should take heart from this. When the campaign gets going, the No side’s only resource will be evidence-free fervour, and that’s not going to withstand the well-argued set of benefits that the Yes side is going to be promoting.

Overall, the more closely the more you look at the Unionist output, the less content you find. Chokka Blog’s latest post (to take an example) rests its case on “the bonds of moral solidarity that bind us”, but he doesn’t tell us what they are: for that we have to wait for Part II, and it’s now three months since Chokka Blog posted anything. Perhaps he lost confidence in the bonds of moral solidarity when he saw the UK Conservative Government hounding immigrants, sanctioning benefits, murdering spies with nerve-gas, bombing Yemenis, and breaking up families by deporting foreign wives and mothers. The Scottish popular press has taken a different approach, inexorably trivialising the debate, with attacks on minimum alcohol pricing, the baby box, and the cost of the First Minister’s temporary accommodation – all stories that were deconstructed by the independence website Wings Over Scotland. Wings has time and again shown how empty the Unionist anti-SNP claims are, and for this is of course vilified daily – “vicious underbelly to the independence campaign”, “scum”, “bastard”. But the only substantive accusation made against the site is that the blogger, Stuart Campbell (it’s a one-man show) lives in Bath. These are not arguments, and none of this is a threat to the case for independence. You would expect Unionists to start rebutting the main planks of the independence case – you’d expect them to say what’s wrong with using our own resources to deliver prosperity, with having our own immigration policy, with creating a fairer society embodying social democratic values, with deciding for ourselves whether to leave the EU or to keep Trident, and with not being the submerged one-tenth of a voice in the all-UK Parliament. But none of these gets an airing.

Of course, to say the argument is won doesn’t mean the vote is won, and there will be varied opinions on how best to do that. It will be unpleasant on the personal level, because the Unionists will scream and have tantrums. It may also become unpleasant on the political level, if the UK Government starts removing devolved powers and abolishes the Scottish Parliament. But there’s nothing like knowing how good your case is to keep you engaged and moving forward.

Fairness and Accountability

Let’s make no bones about quoting and requoting these words of Wee Ginger Dug:

The lesson from Catalonia is that independence is about the big issues, the big story. It’s about justice and democracy. It’s about representation and political accountability. It’s about what kind of society we want to live in. It’s about fairness, equality, and giving every citizen an equal stake in the country. These are the stories we need to tell in Scotland if we are to achieve our own dream of an independent country.

Tweet and retweet far and wide.