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If it’s broke – fix it.

June 7, 2017

I have scarcely blogged politically since the Independence Referendum because, to be honest, I don’t much like the online atmosphere.

This isn’t really to do with the ad hominem attacks from people who think name calling proves a political point – all areas of  life have  individuals seeking attention through poor behaviour. It is rather more to do with a political attitude that  has developed round the UK’s electoral and political system.

Much of the political landscape seems to have been cornered by folk who look at elections as if they were football matches – a goal for us, a penalty against you, a biased referee. There is much cheering and shouting and whataboutery, in the wake of which, the real essential of the political system – to make life better for the majority – can sometimes seem forgotten.

This week’s election in Scotland is a case in point. You can bet your bottom dollar that, should the SNP return 40 MPs, there will be gleeful shouts of “Peak SNP”, “No Indy2” etc.

In fact, in electoral terms, SNP will be still more than comfortably the majority party from Scotland in Westminster, and will still be able to continue its opposition just as it did with 50+ MPs. Electorally, at Westminster, little will have changed for Scotland – unless you think of seats as goals in a game of electoral football.

Ironically, many of the frustrations that lead to a demand for Independence have been highlighted in this election campaign. Not only have issues which are important in Scotland, notably, of course, Brexit, been trivialised or minimalised, but the unionist parties, aided and abetted by parts of the media, have sought to make this General Election about the SNP’s record at Holyrood. This may be due to the fact that many neutral observers have been impressed by the work rate and opposition of the SNP Group at Westminster, or it may be a refusal to tackle genuine Westminster issues. Either way, the voters are being short changed.

While the SNP have focused, as is only correct, on Westminster issues such as WASPI, the Rape clause, austerity measures, welfare cuts, the other parties have tried, ironically, to make the election about Independence. Indeed the Scots Tories campaign literature has been almost exclusively about Indy Ref 2 with scarcely a mention of their party’s elitist agenda. It is this difficulty in squaring Scottish representation with the focus of politics at Westminster which highlights the need for autonomy: it is quite simply – as EVEL and the Brexit vote differential demonstrate – a system which doesn’t work – neither for England – which is dominated by the needs of London and the City, nor for Scotland and Wales, who are dominated by the needs of England.

This is the inevitable consequence of a state composed of countries with different needs and often conflicting geopolitcal views. The way to rid ourselves of internal division is to loosen the exterior, constricting,  bonds and allow each country to make its own relationship with the other, and with the rest of Europe. It’s not a case of “hating” anyone or “disrespecting a shared past”, merely acknowledging a broken system, and espousing a desire to move forward in a way which gives each of the countries of the UK the best form of Government to reflect its needs and people’s wishes.

To those who suggest that the UK provides the “best form of government”, the current election campaign proves challenging.

The “Better Together” catchphrase in the Independence Referendum was “Lead don’t leave”. Even before the votes had all been counted, David Cameron was gleefully announcing the move towards EVEL, making it patently clear that the Westminster parliament was not composed of “equals”.

After the Brexit “remain” vote in Scotland, of 62%, an assurance was given that the views of Scotland would be taken into account in negotiations. Although the Scottish Government was  the only British institution to put forward a detailed plan for negotiations, especially in regards to the single market, this was demonstrably ignored by the UK Government.

Whilst the “Yes” campaign in 2014 faced constant demands for “accurate” extrapolations of what would happen after independence as proof that they should be supported, the Brexit campaign before the Euro Referendum, and the Westminster Government prior to Leave negotiations,  refuse to give the slightest idea of plans or outcomes.

The “Vow” of stronger devolved powers for Scotland after a “No” vote, has actually been replaced by veiled threats that power will  be taken away from the Scottish Parliament.

These are, of course, points you would expect me to make as a supporter of independence, but, in fact, their effect is wider than just party political. All these issues weaken public trust in government from the centre; they demonstrate that the elite in Westminster feel no need to listen to Scotland or its voters, and, when voters feel they are not being listened to, they either disengage from the political process, or they vote with a knee jerk contempt for the status quo in all its guises – leading to votes for UKIP or Trump, as we have recently seen. Both these reactions are worrying for the democratic process.

In vox pops, in America and the UK, we  see numbers of voters admitting that they were either uninformed, ill informed, or just plain pissed off when they voted, and weren’t sure for what they were voting. Many of the 38% who still approve of Donald Trump are happy to admit he is failing to deliver on his promises, or that his policies are bad for the US, but are still supporting him “because he’s Trump and not Clinton, or the political elite.” Similarly, Leave voters, informed of the ill effects of such a vote on the country’s and their personal futures, are often unrepentant, seeing their vote as giving the fingers to the system.

In the current election campaign in the UK, we are seeing the inevitable apotheosis of developments over the past thirty years or so.

Thatcher was the first to establish a cult which said: “I don’t agree with her, but she sticks to her guns, so I’ll vote for her.”: an attitude which is manna from heaven to political operatives – you don’t have to convince people of your policies, just convince them you mean it.

We travelled farther down the highway to political marketing with New Labour and “Cool Britannia” in which political principles could be dumped in order to secure election, and then policies could be decided according to influential backers or focus groups composed of swing voters. This was a development which led to short term gain for Labour but, ultimately,  left them with a party whose policies were unclear to most voters, and many members.

The disengagement from politics, or its cousin, “dog whistle” voting, has been hastened by a media controlled by a narrow elite of oligarchs – each with their own money making philosophy and their access to senior politicians,  and an approach to reporting politics which, generally, is tailored round opinion rather than reportage and sound bites rather than analysis. The self fulfilling prophesy that “politics is boring” has led to a political coverage in our media which is often superficial, biased, agenda led, or misinformed. Voters are not engaged by reporters who operate with an obvious bias, nor by political pieces which are obviously based on a party’s press releases.

The agreed approach in many cases seems to be: “Tell them as little as possible, keep it short and snappy, get a sound bite, and a memorable picture.” The unspoken assumption is that the average voter is incapable or unwilling to assimilate anything more complicated or nuanced. Like a tube of Pringles, this approach goes down well at first but ultimately leaves you feeling sick.

Of course, for the career politicos, the situation is brilliant. Whilst the mass of voters  issue their own sound bites along the lines of: “They’re all the same” “I just ignore them” “They are all out for themselves”, the Campaign Manager and his team have a dream scenario. There are no awkward questions from members of the public, no public meetings to arrange, no challenging hustings, and, ultimately in Theresa May’s case, no contact with the public at all, not even by proxy in a televised debate.

Even better, pesky policies,  which might come back to bite you on the bum, can be eschewed entirely, and replaced by meaningless phrases: “We’re working on it” “The other lot can’t be trusted” “Brexit means Brexit” “Enough is enough” “Strong and Stable” “Do the day job”  “No to Indy 2”.

When I first became active in politics in the 1970s, the days of multiple local hustings were fast disappearing, but to suggest you could campaign without policies, without public meetings, without television debate and on a platform of “they are bad people” would have been laughed to scorn.

Now, when the UK Prime Minister “campaigns in Scotland” in a remote village hall or with a hundred activists in a shabby removal warehouse, hardly a media eye is blinked. You could call it CGI campaigning: it’s false, the public know it’s false, but they accept it because it’s supposed to look good.

All of this is to the ruination of the political system and its worth to the people it is supposed to serve. A Prime MInister who won’t debate, parties replacing policy justification with negativity, a media of limited resources and elitist owners – all of these things pervert democracy’s true aims of public service and community enhancement. A political system which, by rights, should serve the public in the common good, has become a plaything for the rich and a means of silencing the voice of the vulnerable. The fact that a Prime Minsiter can end an election campaign calling for the abandonment of human rights is a strong statement about where we have reached in the political process.

So I will be voting SNP because I want independence: the independence to institute a political system which serves the people.  The party’s continuing popularity after ten years of Holyrood Government suggests not that they are perfect or without blemish, but that people prefer their positivity to the negativity of the unionist parties, that they prefer a party which talks up Scotland’s potential rather than denigrating the country’s achievements, and which can take decisions in the interests of the people who live in Scotland, rather than making constant reference to what is good for the population south of the border,  or for UK election prospects.

In the terms by which this campaign has operated, I suppose you could say they prefer the party of a First Minister who is spontaneously hugged by children to that of a Prime MInister who is afraid to meet the public and campaigns in sheds, or party leaders whose day job appears to be angrily shouting at the Scottish Government while defending or abstaining on Westminster policies which have attacked women, the sick, public services, the poor, and  the most vulnerable in our society.

I have no idea what party will form the first Scottish Government after independence. What I do know is that it will have the opportunity to be responsive to the needs and wishes of the people it serves, it will have the responsibility for spending and prioritising all of the revenue it raises in Scotland in the interests of the country’s residents, its leaders will be accountable to the people in Scotland, rather than party organisations in London, and it will be able to present a Scotland internationally which is freed from the post imperial need to aspire to “world  power status” with all the consequent disadvantages to our social welfare capacities.

I find it hard to believe how anyone could not prefer this future to the current state of UK politics and its major players. Basically, the message to Scotland is: come and be part of a political system which is responsive to your needs and views, or maintain the status quo – of a country treated as a region, lucky to get even the 8% of attention it is entitled to demographically in the UK State, and prevented from forging an identity in Europe or the world.

Increasingly it seems that those who cling to the broken system in these islands are those members of the elite who have ordered things to their advantage – economically, socially, or politically.

I think people – in all the countries of these islands – deserve better.

Indeed, I know they do.

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