Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Scots 'want an independence vote'

We do, apparently - although I'd have to say that no-one asked me...
"An opinion poll commissioned by BBC Scotland has shown a clear majority (58%) of Scots want a referendum on independence next year.

The poll also suggests support for the Union outstrips that for independence from the UK."
If they had, on this evidence I'd say: what's the fucking point? Obviously I'm missing something...
"However, the poll found the percentage of people saying they support independence varies widely depending on how the question is phrased."
Yeah, you tend to find that. Alex Salmond was quick to pick up on this...
"Using the example of the poll suggesting most Scots wanted defence and foreign affairs to be left to Westminster, Mr Salmond said: "If you asked: 'Should we decide whether or not Scottish troops are sent to an illegal war in Iraq', most people would say we should take that decision in Scotland."
Yes, I think we can all agree that's a question set in an impeccably impartial way. If I might be allowed to join in this fantasy multi-option referendums game, could I suggest a question like, "Do you want to be as boring as Belgium?", be included?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The BNP and liberal angst

Apparently Nick Griffin wept when he addressed the fascist faithful following their capture of two seats in the European Parliament. Ah, the sentimentality that always accompanies brutality. I expect thoughts of his mother or the idea of harm coming to defenceless fluffy animals evokes a similar response in this vicious fuck. It's always with same with these gangster types, don't you find?

Another rather incongruous response is that from sections of the 'liberal-left' when confronted with this repulsive man and his fascist gang. Take the egg-pelting business. Just from the top of my head I can recall Michael Heseltine being sprayed with red paint; John Major being hit with an egg with such force it drew blood; Prescott having a bucket of water chucked over him by some one-hit wonders at the Brit Awards and then being hit with an egg on a later occasion; and most recently there was Mandelson having some green goo chucked over him.

Unremarkable, one would have thought, in a country that has a long tradition of dairy products and other sundry items being lobbed at the proud and the powerful - but when this happens to Griffin, all of a sudden it's an outrage, it's illegal, it's playing into the hands of the fascists, behaving like the fascists? This is ignorant, masochistic - and strangely fastidious, coming as it sometimes does from those who spend much of the rest of their time striking a Jacobinesque pose.

We see the same sort of thing in relation to the issue of BNP teachers. The NASWUT have called for the teaching profession to follow both the prison service and the police in banning members of the BNP from serving. Ed Balls is giving it serious consideration, apparently. Some fear this may cause the ceiling of our liberty to collapse. Brett, for example, asks, "Are civil liberties only for nice people?" Um, no - but joining a particular profession isn't the same thing as being a member of civil society. Anyway, BNP members are delinquent members of civil society and certainly are not suited to the teaching profession. Neil Robertson's post on LC is more intelligent but the thread below displays the same strange phenomenon - this solicitude for the civil liberties of fascists.

The proposal to ban the BNP is probably just a piece of political posturing and almost certainly a waste of time - a large hammer to crack an almost imperceptible nut. Apparently only around 13 teachers were found on the leaked BNP membership list - and I bet most of them were PE teachers.* But it would have been nice if the masochistic liberals could have spared a thought for the children. Would you be relaxed about a BNP member teaching your child history, perhaps covering the unpleasantness between 1939-45? If so, I would hazard a guess that your child is an imaginary one. As for myself, in the unlikely event that I discovered my corporeal child was being taught by a BNP member, I'd be up at the school gate with a basket of eggs.

*When I was at school, PE teachers were all fascists who enjoyed humiliating fat people. When I joined the profession, they'd transmogrified into caring, sharing 'pastoral care' teachers. Who do they think they're kidding? Nazis in highly-flammable clothing is what they are.

People with too much goddamn time on their hands #1

Came across this via the Scottish Unionist:
"The battle for independence has moved into the fruit and veg aisles. A Nationalist politician has written to supermarkets demanding that they translate the English names of fresh produce into their Scots equivalents, such as "tatties", "neeps" and "brambles".

Bill Wilson, the MSP for the West of Scotland, says stores should label goods in their stores according to the most commonly used Scots phrases north of the border.

Wilson says few people use the English names potato, turnip or blackberry, so the big stores should change their labels."
In the Scots tongue, people like Bill Wilson are usually called Time-Wasting Arseholes. In my view, he should be made to wear a label clearly identifying him as such so the rest of us can avoid him.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Iran and the power of democracy

The turmoil in Iran demonstrates the power of democracy. I appreciate there are a number of good reasons to treat this proposition with scepticism.

The first, and most important, is that the Iranian electoral system seems to fail the most rudimentary democratic test in that it doesn't even serve as a mechanism for choosing the people who actually rule the country.

Furthermore, the electoral game that elects a President and a parliament with theocratically circumscribed powers is itself somewhat limited. The last time this was achieved was by barring candidates with reformist credentials. In this case it seems that the counting of votes itself was the subject of fraud.

Then there is the point that Mir-Hossein Mousavi is not a worthy repository for dissent against the regime. His previous political form was not distinguished by its liberalism nor its toleration of dissent and there was little in his election platform to suggest that a Mousavi Presidency would have meant anything more than cosmetic changes to the face that the Islamic Republic presented to both its citizens and the rest of the world.

I would agree with all of these yet still maintain that the recent events in Iran illustrate the power of democracy. The first reason is that I think all the talk of 'sham-elections' that provide a facade for dictatorship omits an important question: why do dictatorships feel the need to provide such a cloak of legitimacy to their rule in the first place? This in and of itself is a testimony to the historic success of representative democracy as well as an indictment of the alternatives. Fans of relativism - most recently Peter Beaumont with his use of the 'western-style' dismissive - never seem to consider what alternative forms of regime-legitimisation exist in this world of ours, what they look like, how effective are they, how just are they.

We could put non-representative regimes into three broad categories: there are dictatorships that base their legitimacy on hereditary; there are still those that base it on a revolutionary ideology; and there are those that use sheer brute force to maintain rule. Obviously two or more of these overlap in a number of regimes throughout the world and if you want an example of one where all three are mixed together in one demented pazzy-package, there's always North Korea as a beacon of 'non-Western' regime legitimisation.

All three exist in the Islamic Republic of Iran too - and this is what makes it an interesting case. Eric Hobsbawm remarked that the Iranian revolution of 1979 was the first since the 18th century that did not have Enlightenment principles at the core of its revolutionary ideology. It created a regime with profound internal contradications: one where a theocracy has to be seen, in some measure at least, to be built on popular consent. Hence the need for elections, however superficial and ritualistic.

But this is my second reason for arguing for the power of democracy. Sham elections and emasculated parliaments have a habit of gaining a life and assuming a role that exceeds the intention of their creators. Consider the Duma, created as a fig-leaf for Romanov imperial power but which outlived not only them but the USSR itself.

Something like this is happening in Iran today. But I'd predict that this will end more like Tiananmen than any 'Velvet revolution' for the simple reason that for the latter to happen, regimes have to lose either the will, ability or technological superiority to inflict extreme violence on their subjects. I don't see any sign of this happening in Iran yet. (All these 'leftists' talking about how the opposition shouldn't be supported because it only represents a 'split amongst the ruling classes' - as if there was ever a revolution where this didn't take place!) I would, however, argue that the routinisation of democratic practice in Iran has created a dynamic that the regime cannot hope to control in the long run. I'd also argue that this is likely to end in only two ways: revolution or war. Surely not only those on the left would wish it to be the former rather than the latter - and sooner rather than later?

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Ask not for whom the bell tolls...

You'll have noticed HM Government has been having a spot of bother? I liked David Clark's piece on the limits of loyalty:
"All political parties owe their leaders a debt of loyalty. Without it, politics as a collective democratic endeavour would be virtually impossible. That loyalty necessarily involves a degree of compromise and sacrifice, but it can never be unconditional and cannot therefore include an obligation to charge headlong into the electoral equivalent of the valley of death. That is effectively what Gordon Brown will be asking Labour to do if he tries to stick it out as prime minister after yesterday's drubbing at the polls."
Yep - the loyalty being shown to Brown by Milliband and the rest looks about as rational as shackling yourself to a corpse. Clark also make the point that just because Purnell is a slimy git (I paraphrase), this doesn't mean his analysis is wrong. One could add that Brown demanding loyalty rather grates, given the egregious disloyalty he showed towards Blair.

Blairites understandably trace the origins of Brown's slow torturous political death to this - but I reckon this is in turn a symptom of something else. Prediction is unwise given how fast events are unfolding but I reckon Brown will decline David Clark's invitation to 'fall on his sword' for as long a humanly possible - and perhaps even longer. For it is superhuman obstinacy our Prime Minister seems to possess. The question is: why would anyone want to do this to themselves, never mind their party or their country? Matthew Parris says Brown is propelled solely by "anger and pride", which may well be psychologically correct but is, again, a symptom rather than a cause.

Brown combines a belief in his right to rule with an aversion to elections. This is an obvious contradiction to contain within the one political personality and hitherto only managed to exist without exploding because it has been sheltered from democratic normality within the world of the Scottish Labour party. This, it goes without saying, has nothing to do with the 'Scottish character' but everything to do with the fact that Labour has governed Scotland uninterrupted since the 1950s until the last Holyrood election. This history left the Labour party dominated by a generation of politicians who were both used to power and unaccustomed to competitive elections. Brown is simply the exemplar of this political culture - Scottish Labour incarnate. But in the context of genuinely competitive politics, these dispositions and assumptions must by definition collide. The result is not, I think everyone now agrees, a very pretty sight.

So the question now for Labour is this: not who leads the Labour party so much as how will it govern itself? It is a problem they will almost certainly have to work out in opposition. One hopes that in the inevitable autopsy, members will argue less about whether the party is left-wing enough or 'modernising' enough but rather is it democratic enough? The answer is no and resolving this requires the party to dispense with its present culture of networks of patronage and loyalty surrounding personalities that have no ideological differences - having none for the simple reason that they dispensed with them at a point too long ago for anyone to recall. It tolls for Scottish Labour.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Apologies for lack of posting...

There's been a warm yellow thing in the sky for several days now. All the inhabitants of this fair city have been out on the streets and in the parks marvelling at this strange phenomenon.

If it was like this a lot here, I reckon Glasgow could go one of two ways:

1) We would become more chilled out, like the Spanish or the Greeks or something.

2) We'd be like Iraq.

Option two is more likely, I would have thought...
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