When the Dykes Held Firm: the Dutch withstand the onslaught of the Alt-Right Tidal Wave from the West…this time

There is a narrative about the last 12 months in western politics, whereby (without going into the realms of tinfoil-hatted conspiracy theories), BrExit and Trump’s election are part of a global phenomenon – a wave across the world, a rise of right wing politics. (Indeed, within Scottish politics, many of us in Yes, would add the ‘No’ vote in the 2014 referendum to this trend, as it bears the same hallmarks of support and funding by the same groups that delivered the Leave vote as well as Trump’s victory – see here and here). Under the terms of this narrative, Trump’s victory sweeps east across the Atlantic like an Alt-Tsunami, sweeping BrExit to the hard right, and thunders towards mainland continental Europe, where a series of right wing parties are poised with forthcoming elections to sweep back civil rights, demonise immigrants and generally move towards the door out of the European Union. Graphic image, isn’t it? I can almost see Roland Emmerich applying for the right to make the movie.

Within the narrative of this political catastrophe, March 15th 2017 was the first real test of how the wave was going to strike, with the parliamentary elections in the Netherlands, followed by France in just under two weeks time in April, and Germany in September. And in February, it seemed that the rumoured apocalypse was going to happen: the far right PVV (Partij voor de Vrijheid, or Party for Freedom) was on course to become the largest political party in the new Dutch parliament, standing to win 35 seats in a parliament with a 75 majority. In the wake of a coalition between the conservative People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie – VVD) and the Labour Party (Partij van de Arbeid – PvdA), in which the Labour Party was disappearing in the polls (as did the LibDems in the UK, after their similarly disastrous coalition with the Conservatives), this was a significant problem, with the PVV led by Geert Wilders (who is, indeed the only member of this party) looking to take much of VVD’s political support. All the political parties that were running for the Dutch Parliament vowed not to work with Wilders even if he was successful…but many are the political parties who have espoused fine values until the ballot stations are closed, then will do a deal with whomever is necessary, in order to be a part of government.

The conservative VVD had been less outspokenly xenophobic in its rhetoric than the PVV – and opposed PVV’s advocacy of the Netherlands leaving the EU (‘Auf Niedersehen’ – or ‘NExit’ – as it was less imaginatively dubbed) – but in the final run-up to the vote, the VVD’s leader, the Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte looked to try to take the fight to the PVV…by beginning to ape their language. This is a similar scenario to the recent one faced by London’s Conservative Party, who in late 2014-early 2015 moved to disempower UKIP by occupying a similar anti-EU and anti-immigration position. (And we all know how that brilliant strategy is currently working out.) Rutte launched an advertising campaign touting supposedly ‘Dutch values’, with ‘Doe normaal of Ga weg’ (‘Act normal or Go home’, reminiscent of Theresa May’s advertising campaign during her time as Home Secretary) as the strapline. Then, as a further move to triangulate on PVV’s electoral support in the week running up to the election, he engineered a confrontation with Turkish government officials visiting the Netherlands to speak to Turkish voters there. In the high-profile statements and expulsions of diplomats from the country, Wilders was all but absent, only able to stand by while Prime Minister Rutte used his position in government to ‘act tough on foreigners’, clearly positioning himself as a crypto-Wilders to the PVV’s would-be supporters. By this final week, the polls were already showing a slide from the PVV’s high water mark the previous month, but after the confrontation between Rutte and Erdogan,  it seemed that the VVD had consolidated their position to be the largest party.

I was watching the election coverage with an apprehensive group of Dutch academics at Munich University on the night (the picture above shows the whiteboard in the common room, with predictions and the exit poll figures in black), and sure enough, the exit polls came through as the polling stations were closing (a few had to remain open as they had had an unexpectedly high demand and so had run out of ballot papers), and PVV were projected to be equal second with two other parties (Democrats 66 and the Christian Democrats) on 19 (only gaining 4 new seats, instead of the previously predicted 20), and the VVD remaining the largest party on 31 (losing 10 seats). There was some relief…but over the next couple of days, the final tallies came through, and VVD finished on 33 seats, with Wilders’ Party on 20 – the second largest in the Dutch Parliament.

Tom – a friend in Amsterdam – had made a schoolboy error, arguing that everyone in his extended family should vote for the VVD to keep Wilders out (the VVD were weak in Amsterdam, so it is debatable how much this strategy would have worked anyway – at a time when the Greens were in the ascendancy, a vote for them would have been a more effective use of his franchise). But more than a wasted vote, the approach of voting for the VVD as an attempt to undermine the PVV, is of course counter-productive – it reinforces the support for a party espousing overtly right wing mantras – effectively borrowing PVV’s political ‘clothes’ – and thus validating that rhetoric and keeping the ground free politically for the continued expansion of the VVD to the right. Such a vote validates VVD’s xenophobic approach (ironically, Tom has a Polish wife, so this may well lead to a problematic position for his family if the VVD goes further down the PVV or UK Conservative Party’s path, in terms of foreign residence and right to remain), and sets their agenda: the existence of Wilders’ political support means that they know that they always have room to expand to the right to consolidate their power – and the moment they start to look ‘weaker’ on xenophobic policies than PVV’s hectoring, they know that that same support will return to Wilders, so they are unlikely to abandon their rhetoric. It depends how much of an influence the final coalition (which currently looks to contain the more left of centre Democrat 66 and the Greens) can devise to keep the most right wing of VVD under control. In a political system where coalition is the norm (rather than the UK’s first past the post, where coalition is an unusual anomaly), there is not a single party of government (as the UK Conservatives had, making their EU referendum obligatory), so less opportunity for the government to be forced to move to the right to disempower the far right, thus legitimising far right xenophobic viewpoints as mainstream Dutch politics. In addition to giving the far right more prominence, the VVD’s climate change denial agenda is liable to pressurise any of the Green policies that they wish to enact.

So, is that it? Emergency over, Fortress Europe’s western seaboard flood defences held, everyone stand down? Well, not really – there is still a bloc of 33 seats of the right wing VVD, whose leader Mark Rutte (likely to continue as PM, regardless of the final coalition agreement), had recently talked about people who were not ‘normal-acting Dutch’ that should leave the country (even if they were born in the Netherlands). Then there is the second largest party with 20 seats, the anti-EU membership PVV.  The PVV drove the VVD to the right, making the right wing perspectives normalised, and sustains the problem presented by the PVV. Unless the VVD can work back from their current position, they are in danger of being nudged further each time by the presence of a farther right group such as the PVV.

In terms of the broader European question, perhaps there is cause for more hope: the expected boost to Marine Le Pen in advance of April 23rd’s first round of the French Presidential elections that would have come from Wilders having the largest party in the Dutch parliament, has not happened.  The day after the Dutch election, the IFOP survey indicated that public support for the EU had increased by double digits in Germany (18%), France (19%) and Belgium (11%), having seen the mess that the UK was making of leaving the European Union. But Marine may yet succeed politically through expressing anti-immigration sentiments, even if not (yet) advocating a French exit from the EU. She is, after all, the second most influential MEP after Martin Schulz, and under her leadership the Front National won 24.9% of the vote in the European elections in France – personally winning over 33% of the vote in her own constituency: she is clever – more so than her father (the previous Front National leader) or Wilders, and may win office without the right wing wave of xenophobia from the Netherlands that she might have been hoping for.

Under Angela Merkel, Germany currently looks unlikely to fall prey to the far right or anti-EU movements – as indeed its neighbour Austria rebuffed such approaches from Norbert Hofer in its October 2016 presidential election.

The results for the Dutch Parliament – however the coalition turns out – still shows that there has been an accommodation towards a ‘normalisation’ of immigrant-hatred, which is close-kin to a more general hatred of foreigners, and its affiliated suspicion of all things ‘European’. There will not be grounds to feel safer until that tide of the right starts to recede from mainstream politics.

So, yes, this time the flood defences held, but the move of Dutch politics to the right means that there may yet come a ‘NExit’ time.

 

“Nobody in their right minds has faith in [the PM getting ‘the right deal’ for the UK] as the Conservative government stumble and stagger towards negotiations in a European community now strengthened by the Dutch election results.” (Mike Small, ‘Citizens of Nowhere’, 16/3/2017)

 

[For a more in-depth review of the political background to the Dutch election, I commend you to Bella Caledonia’s article on the Dutch election result: http://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2017/03/20/dutch-elections-curb-your-enthusiasm/ ]

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The ‘Once in a Generation’ Game: 12 Referenda for ‘No’ Monkeys

A reviewer took me to task recently, over my use of the word ‘generation’: in the paper that I had submitted, I was comparing two historically separated figures variously engaged with Enlightenment science, and had said that there was a generation between them. A furious note was scribbled on the manuscript when it came back from review: ‘a generation is 25 years’. I had to confess that I had never before heard anyone say that there was a specific mathematical figure for how many years a ‘generation’ constituted, and thus considered myself duly enlightened.

‘Generations’ are topical right now: there has recently been an upswell in what is colloquially referred to as the ‘YoonStream’ (the Unionist social media bubble), regarding the recurrence of an independence referendum. The prospect of a second independence referendum is taken as perhaps the equivalent of the notorious ‘Vow’ made by the Westminster parties a few days before the 2014 vote, wherein large-scale, wide-ranging new powers would come to Scotland’s Parliament if we only voted ‘No’ to independence. It would be (Scotland was told) the same as Home Rule, the abiding aim of the de facto Labour Party’s founder, Keir Hardie – effectively a federal UK. (If any of this sounds familiar, that is because a couple of Saturdays ago you might have heard similar promises by Gordon Brown, the same architect as last time. What is interesting is that he was wheeled out in the final week of the campaign in 2014, as the polls showed Yes was ahead – perhaps his early appearance now, before the campaign has even started, is a similar reflection of recent polling showing that ‘Yes’ is again ahead…although it may equally have been an attempt to divert attention away from Nicola Sturgeon’s keynote SNP spring party conference speech to former ‘No’ voters, on the same day.) This ‘Vow’ naturally failed to materialise once the No vote had been secured – but the ‘vow’ equivalent that Yes is accused of, is that there was a ‘promise’ that this referendum was a ‘once in a generation’ or once in a lifetime event – ergo there should be decades before there was even the possibility of it happening again.

However, the whole premise is rot, relying as it does on the wilful misrepresentation of comments made by Alex Salmond in the run-up to the vote on 18th September 2014.

I remember seeing the reports in 2014, with him being asked about the referendum by somewhat hostile journalists, in terms of the frequency of such things. Alex swerved the question neatly, choosing to emphasise the rarity of having the chance to have such a vote for independence. “It is a once in a generation opportunity”, he replied. I understood exactly what he meant: it was a warning. He did not want anyone to be relaxed that this plebiscite might commonly recur in the future, that it was a question that could easily be regularly revisited, so no pressure to go with it this time. He did not want such an impression to spread, making the electorate complacent and feel that they could casually vote ‘No’ (or not vote at all) without serious consideration, as there would be ‘another independence referendum along soon’, like a number 11 bus. There had been no vote – or even token gesture of consultation – on the Act of Union in 1707 (to be fair, the closest that regular non-land-owning people had to free expression back then was the series of riots that took place in virtually every Scottish town and city in protest at the idea of the Union coming in to being), or at any point in the ensuing three centuries plus. So to say that the opportunity to have such a say was rare (or even once every twenty five years) is a significant understatement.

It seems fairly safe to say that a major reason for the 2014 plebiscite being agreed to by Westminster was that David Cameron was confident that he could use it to destroy the SNP as a political force.

There was no largesse here, or great love of democracy – he felt he could use it against his political opponents (in much the same way that he disastrously initiated the EU referendum purely to resolve the Conservative Party ascendancy) to his own ends. If Cameron had not seen an opportunity for himself, then that referendum would most likely have been denied – of course, not by being as foolhardy as to say ‘no’, but probably under the guise of ‘now not being the right time’, as Theresa May tried last week: hitting it into the long grass, as the political golfing metaphor goes. In short, it was a fluke of Conservative arrogance and caprice that the first independence referendum happened – Salmond was never, ever in any way shape or form saying ‘fair dos, if you win this, we will not ever mention it again’ – he was saying ‘they have never been so daft as to let the question be asked before, and this will probably be our one shot at it’. You cannot misrepresent the act of encouraging someone to vote because it is a rare chance that may well not come again, as equating to making a promise or vow – such as Cameron, Clegg and Milliband did in that last week of the campaign, in trying to make the referendum seem to be about ‘independence or more powers’, instead of In or Out of the UK. (You can read elsewhere about how that intervention undermined what the referendum was actually asking, as commented on by political scientist Professor Tony Carty, at https://50daysofyes.wordpress.com/2014/12/12/beyond-conditional-nos-the-ongoing-political-uncertainty-of-what-the-no-vote-actually-meant .) The two simply do not equate – but perhaps it says more about a certain kind of Unionist mindset that they would hear Salmond’s words as those of someone coming cap-in-hand to beg a favour, rather than a warning to the Scottish electorate against being complacent, because the state might well block any future calls for Scottish self-determination in perpetuity. Instead, they prefer to play the Once-in-a-Generation Game.

Of course, the issue of self-determination is not evenly spread throughout time, and becomes more of an issue at times when the colonial or ‘parental’ government becomes more obviously incompetent or unwilling to represent broader interests and concerns. This has the effect of reminding people of the state that they are in, and how brazenly unresponsive it can be to their needs. At other times, this is not so obvious – although having come through the crucible of 2014, the Scottish electorate look more forensically at Westminster’s performance than ever before. As hard as it was to battle through to the end of the September 2014 referendum and see it end in a failure, the more sanguine among us had been considering that it was an exercise in waking ourselves up – ready for the next time. Like Morpheus in the Nebuchadnezzar, unplugging as many individuals from the mainstream media Matrix as we could, so that they looked more critically at the political world around them, and what it really means to be Scotland in Britain. (Given the recent Panelbase media survey, whereby only 32% of Scots expressed confidence in the BBC as a balanced news-provider regarding constitutional issues, I think we can say that we have had some significant success in that regard.) That has meant the awakening of critical political thinking in Scotland – with political parties judged harshly, and rewarded richly, according to how well they stood up to public scrutiny. The political landscape of Scotland has been transformed – and, some might argue, this has had a knock-on effect in England. It also means that the electorate are a lot more questioning of the media that they more passively consumed in the past.

The ‘Yes’ Movement suffered last time from failing to criticise how Scotland faired as a component within the UK, instead focussing on the many possibilities and opportunities that would come with becoming an independent state. (One of Cameron’s purported reasons for refusing to debate Salmond during that campaign, was to avoid turning it into a referendum on Westminster’s ‘custodianship’ of Scotland within the Union.) Ian Bell wrote that he felt the main reason that ‘Yes’ lost, was in its failure to address why one might not wish to be considered British – in truth, Westminster has stage-managed exposure of precisely why one might not wish to be considered that since the result in 2014, running from English Votes for English Laws, the failure of the Smith Commission, the watering down of those insipid proposals, and the implosion of the EU Referendum and the sudden xenophobic leap towards a hard BrExit. And, so, we find ourselves once more looking at a Scottish Independence Referendum – perhaps more as an indication of the need to call Westminster’s performance over the last three years in the wake of 18th September 2014 to account, than anything else.

It is fair to say that the British state has not favoured the Scottish question being asked, and has relied on a series of unlikely-to-be-surmounted obstacles to prevent that from happening. But how ‘precious’ is that long-lasting union, if the countries of the UK are only in it because none of them are allowed to leave? As one commentator noted, it is the difference between parliamentary democracy and political capture – are we really being treated as though we are nothing more than a 19th century colony, in this ‘union of equal partners’?

For example, it is worth noting that, prior to devolution, there was no consideration of a referendum as the mechanism for Scotland attaining independence – all the SNP had to do was secure a majority of the MPs representing Scotland at Westminster, to automatically gain the right to declare independence. That was, of course, seen to be astronomically unlikely…but Westminster could not have foreseen the degree to which people in Scotland would become so utterly disillusioned with first the Conservatives (primarily from Thatcher), then Labour (through Blair in Iraq), and finally the Liberal Democrats (through coalition with Cameron’s aggressive government). Suddenly, the SNP were the only credible party of government left in Scotland. Today, those old Westminster guidelines seem laughable, with 56 out of 59 MPs elected to represent Scotland in Westminster being Scottish National Party members: never mind a simple ‘majority’ of Scottish Westminster seats as a requisite for declaring independence, they were close to getting ALL of the seats. That could easily be taken as a mandate – but the SNP have even more than that to underpin their right to hold a further independence referendum.

As I write this, the Scottish Parliament is debating the motion to pass a request for a Section 30 Order from Westminster, to make an independence referendum legal and binding. That same Scottish Parliament is governed by the SNP, who were elected explicitly on a manifesto that said that if Scotland voted to stay in the EU but the UK voted to Leave, then this would constitute grounds for a new independence referendum on Scottish independence (especially given that continued membership of the EU was supposedly one of the major reasons to vote ‘No’ in 2014 – although that argument was hotly disputed by ‘Yes’). Although the SNP dropped their absolute majority of the previous Scottish Parliament (which was supposed to be mathematically well-nigh impossible to achieve), the SNP have enough members to pass the motion against united Conservative, Labour and LibDem opposition in Holyrood, and they also have the support of the Scottish Greens for an independent Scotland. The SNP have a clear mandate for an independence referendum from their manifesto for the Scottish Parliament elections last year, which described the specific EU vote circumstances that transpired – never mind what would have been a pre-devolution mandate from their near unanimous occupation of the Scottish benches at Westminster. But as you once more hear the desperate unionist howl of ‘but you PROMISED it was only once in a generation!’, remember that there was never any undertaking to Unionists, by either politicians or by the Scottish people, that there would not be another one – it was a warning to the Scottish electorate that, with the paucity of opportunities during the lifetime of the Union for Scots to assess whether the Union should be dismantled, that another chance might well never come again. Not an undertaking, but an expectation – and who could have expected that the Conservatives would press such a self-destructive button on their relationship with the EU, less than two years after citing it as the main reason for Scotland to stay in the UK?

It is interesting to note that Alex Salmond’s explanation to Andrew Marr (see quote below) of the sort of timescale that he imagined for a political generation is not so far from the literary one mentioned at the start of this article – the gap between the Scottish Assembly vote in 1979 (won on the same 52:48 majority as the UK’s EU referendum, incidentally) and the 1997 vote for the Scottish Parliament with tax-raising powers, is one of 18 years – and between that and the independence referendum, 17 years. This time, the gap will be much smaller, because circumstances have changed catastrophically over an incredibly short timeframe…and it is hard to envisage another change as cataclysmic (Conservatives take UK out of the UN? Offer to join with Russia as an appeasement to Trump for a better trade deal to circumvent US protectionism? Yeah, I know…as unlikely as hard BrExit was 18 months ago) as to once more demonstrate a clear need to reassess the viability of the Union again. But – as much as Westminster might like to pretend that this is all a ‘plot’ of the SNP, or whomever is in charge of the party at any given time (because they always like to personalise it as an individual’s ‘obsession’, rather than the electoral preference of the electorate…although that is arguably far far more true of Theresa May’s premiership than Nicola Sturgeon’s), it is ultimately the people of Scotland that have that power – and who make the choice of when and if any given political party is given a mandate for an independence referendum. And if the people say it shall be so, then so it shall be.

But if the Unionists want it to be once in a generation, then we have quite a backlog of overdue independence referenda to get through – if it is twelve (for each unassessed batch of 25 years since 1707), then by my reckoning that leaves nine still outstanding, after 1979, 1997 and 2014 are taken into account. The sooner Scotland starts on getting through that backlog of referenda, the better.

Either way, it is coming.

 

“If you remember that previous constitutional referendum in Scotland – there was one in 1979 and then the next one was 1997. That’s what I mean by a political generation…In my opinion, and it is just my opinion, this is a once in a generation opportunity for Scotland.” (Alex Salmond to Andrew Marr, 14/9/2014)

 

 

Tales from BrExitWorld: Laughing at the Holocaust

I had trouble sleeping last night – woke up about 4am, then just couldn’t get back to sleep. While I lay there, my mind drifting, it seemed to me that I could hear laughing…in some way at the holocaust. Well…give me 1,500 words, and let’s see if I can explain it any better than that.

Today, the 18th November, is Alan Moore’s 63rd birthday. Perhaps unsurprisingly this week I found myself drawn back to watch the film version of his classic ‘V for Vendetta’ ten years since it was released. As much as I was devouring the very different comic when it was being issued by DC Comics, I always found the film, written by the Wachowskis, to be nonetheless very powerful and appealing in its own right. One of Moore’s many criticisms of the film’s script, was that it translated the story of anarchy versus fascism into a US political debate (albeit staying in the setting of London). I can remember the promotional material when the comic came out– the slogan ‘Welcome to Fascist Britain, 1997’ seemed prophetic then, living through Thatcher’s government, as much as I would argue that, after this past year, the film now seems prophetic. The vision of a Fascist Britain, governed by a thuggish breakaway from the Conservative Party (Norsefire), requiring swearing of Articles of Allegiance, with High Chancellor Adam Suttler (beautifully played by John Hurt) strikes a chord with both BrExit England and President-Elect Trump’s New America.

The reports of racist attacks in the US (and elsewhere) may not be as quantifiable as the post-BrExit vote spike in violence observed in Britain (at least not until August 2017, when the figures are annually released by the US Government) and therefore dissembling by Trump supporters that the incidents are all hoaxes sadly gains some traction in the absence of official collated data, but it does now seem that this type of aggressive behaviour has in the minds of some been given a legitimacy due to the poor quality of candidate about to enter the White House on January 20th. Already the protesters are appearing with rhythmic placards: ‘No Trump, No KKK, No Fascist USA’. But there are deniers spreading across social media, saying ‘it ain’t so’ – questioning whether stories are hoaxes (Breitbart News being particularly keen to push that angle, of course, as they have been one of the most incendiary outlets for support for Trump since the start), unfortunately fed by a component of the population that either wishes to defend its decision or can’t bring themselves to believe the horror of what has come to take up residence in Washington D.C.: from ‘oh now, it can’t be so bad, he’ll be held in check’ to the mind-numbing and naively destructive ‘it can’t be bad, change is a good thing – right?’. By doing so, they are helping lay a foundation of skepticism to greet any future reports of abuses or other incidents – and inadvertently become apologists for white supremacists.

In a recent post I drew attention to the similarity of the wins by Trump, BrExit and the No campaign against Scottish independence, and others have been drawing other connections. A week ago, we all noted the photo of Trump with Farage in the foyer of Trump Towers with the gauche golden lift in the background, looking fresh as though plucked from a luxury hotel in China. Trump had even had Farage at one of his rallies, and referred to his prospective win of the White House as being “BrExit plus plus plus” – so the link between the two was clear. But a recent article (https://wildernessofpeace.wordpress.com/2016/11/15/cresting-the-rising-tide/#more-4060 – screen grab above from Wings Over Scotland’s repost) had another image from the same golden lift photoshoot, with a mob of other BrExit steerers surrounding the two, all with pedigrees for opposing the Scottish independence vote, as well. Take a long look at them: that group got three for three, and – mostly in this year – have between them made the world unrecognisable.

Farage seems to have upset the bumbling Conservative Government by being far higher up Trump’s speed-dial list than them, to such an extent that not only is he being asked if he will rejoin the Conservative Party (which he left in 1992 after Major signed the Maastricht Treaty), but there is also a suggestion that he may be made a Lord. On the one hand, it might seem like he is being shunted sideways, patted on the head and told to be quiet by Theresa – but then again he would provide a strong pro-BrExit voice in the House of Lords, where the Conservatives do not have a majority. Theresa May would need such an advocate for a hard BrExit in that house…and might feel that it would finally be getting him to do some work to deal with the consequences of the BrExit campaign that he had been building towards for years and finally won in June this year. Farage – like Trump – was always difficult to take seriously, although the media (in particular the BBC) seemed dangerously entranced by him long before he had an elected MP for his party. But, as Carolyn Leckie’s piece ‘Beware the rise of Fascism in UK and US’ noted the day before Trump’s election, fascism does not come wearing its trappings on its sleeve, with obvious monsters at its head – it is presented by amiable harmless-looking buffoons, it lulls, befriends, and acts as the only friend for the poor and frustrated…even if it is plainly clothed in wealth and elitist privilege.

Amongst the voices denying that BrExit and Trump’s election are a dangerous surge to the right (nicely labelled with the inoffensive ‘alt right’ caption), I can’t help but hear a laughter of derision at the comparison: ‘why no, that’s not us, dear boy, of course not…!!’ That psychology that makes people believe that bad things only happen to (or are done by) ‘other people’ can turn a standard that everyone should be measuring themselves against, into a standard that is just for ‘those other people’ to keep themselves in check with.

‘It happens to other people – not us.’ That passive racism so well-exhibited by Generation WW (who were taught it as part of wartime propaganda) that it was somehow exclusively ‘a German thing’, blinds us to such threats coming from anywhere else – especially close to home. Certainly Generation WW was willingly blind to just how keen a population the Third Reich would have found in Britain to exercise some of those racial purity laws – and if THAT generation could be in denial, given their proximity to those events, what about more recent generations, that have been so distanced in time from the entire experience of that war? They may not laugh at the thought of the holocaust being homegrown as easily in Britain after a banking collapse (as it was in Germany 80 years earlier), but they still desperately need to not see the commonality. And it is hard not to see it in the context of the holocaust, for what is to come.

In Germany, at least, they teach the horrors of that war and why totalitarianism must never take hold there again – elsewhere, where countries don’t feel they have to take responsibility for their anti-semitism or racism at the same time in history (because, you know, it wasn’t ‘their’ racism that was causing all the problems of the war, right?) a smug complacency develops – ‘their’ racial intolerance is Ok – they’ve got it under control – its just a bit of ‘banter’, right? All the usual excuses that apologists for intolerance deploy to deflect criticism, happening on a national level: ‘it doesn’t happen here – it happens to other people – it simply wouldn’t happen here, you know – because, of course, we’re BETTER than that other country that started the war…’ and the hypocrisy of that simplistic justification is completely lost on them, as they slowly start to move back to the dangerous mindset that sets all the wheels back in motion again.

Of course, it is hysterical and unreasonable to leap to Nazi Germany as a comparison for Trump or Farage – of course it is. Unfortunately, history gives us absolutely no better comparator. Those people who warned us about not learning the lessons of history – particularly with reference to the Third Reich – have sadly been vindicated.  In this context, I thought Farage’s suggestion that Trump restore the bust of Winston Churchill to the White House to be somewhat inappropriate: as much as it was symbolic of a link and that mythical ‘special relationship’ between the UK and the US, I’m not really sure that Churchill would approve of Farage himself, given that he represents the rise of the same political threat that Churchill spent so much of his energy fighting against during the war, but hey ho…irony sleeps for noone.

For myself, I am just starting to find it funny – almost as funny as BrExit – because the whole thing of such a dark, hideous disaster, underpinned by such base stupidity and denial is preposterous. Especially with the war of words between those saying ‘No…it can’t be THAT bad…change is good, right?’ and the others going ‘You have no IDEA how bad this really really is!!!’ – that is – in and of itself, funny.

The holocaust is very much the ‘poster boy’ event for mass atrocities resulting from such racial (and other) discrimination – the sheer scale of its numbers meant to intone immediate solemn agreement from all that ‘IT’ should never happen again. And yet…it seems that in practice it is not having that effect on a significant number of the global population. I mean, if 6 million dead were not enough to get the lesson learned last time…then what is? How much more death do we need the next time – how high the mountains of bodies to be digitally recorded in colour, so superior to those old black and white Pathe wartime newsreels – to have a chance of the lesson sticking? If THAT many people dying isn’t enough of a warning to tell you that this is the way things go (so don’t even start on that path by voting in leaders advocating such racist policies) then what is the magic magic number that will be? What is the magic number that does the trick, so people realise that the lesson from history is not a restricted ‘discriminate even more against people in other countries called Germany’ but a very simple and encompassing ‘do not go there ever again – because anybody can do that’?

And its not like there were not the accounts to bring the point home – Pastor Niemoller, for one – although perhaps today he would instead be saying “first they came for the Muslims, then they came for the women…” Yet it was not enough to give enough people pause to think. And of course – as long as people can externalise those uncomfortable parts of the narrative to apply to others, and not them, then the lessons from history will continue to go unheeded – and voters will still be exploited by smiling right wing politicians who know they can easily take advantage of them to gain power.

The pictures outside the golden lift in NYC are naked triumphalism from those who do not care to sit back in the shadows anymore – they’ve won, and as far as they are concerned, they have remade the world in their image – what can anyone do against them now? In the coming years they will drive the US’s media to follow Breitbart News as a legitimised model, and slowly start to dumb down the nation’s attitudes into bestial savagery.

Happy Birthday, Alan – as Bart Simpson recently noted on his blackboard, ‘Being Right Sucks’.

 

“Immigrants. Muslims. Homosexuals. Terrorists. Disease-ridden degenerates. They had to go. Strength through Unity, Unity through Faith. I’m a god-fearing Englishman and I’m goddamn proud of it.” (Lewis Prothero, the Voice of London, V for Vendetta, 2006 motion picture – or maybe also the Daily Mail editorial, any day of the week)

Tales from BrExitLand: Repucalypse Now – An Ill Wind and a Little Local Trouble in the Colonies

The son of an illegal Scottish immigrant to the US (Mary Ann MacLeod from Lewis, see May 21st 2016 article in The National  http://www.thenational.scot/news/the-mysterious-mary-trump-the-full-untold-story-of-how-a-young-scotswoman-escaped-to-new-york-and-raised-a-us-presidential-candidate.17824 ) won the US election this morning and is scheduled to become the 45th President of the USA on January 20th 2017, the oldest (at 70) first term president that the country has ever had.

Springburn-born Craig Ferguson (now a naturalised US citizen during his ten year stint presenting The Late Late Show on CBS) apparently made much political capital on his show out of pointing out that to ‘trump’ in Scots meant to fart. This was a surprise to me, as I had only come across the expression in some districts in England during my life (and a search on Google reveals only references to its use in Wales, Norfolk and the north of England). And it is indeed hard not to see his election as a wind of ill omen for the world.

Like the Scottish Independence Referendum of September 2014 and the June 2016 EU Referendum, this was an essentially binary vote, with only two real choices. Perhaps another similarity between the two other political choices was that the two main options were not the choice that many people wanted to have – the unusually high number of 6 million ‘Other’ votes that did not go the way of Trump or Clinton would seem to testify to that. At the end, Hillary emphatically won all the ethnic demographics – except for the white one, which formed 70% of the voters, where she only had 37% support. Was it perhaps an unjustifiable fear of feminism and female leaders (see http://wp.me/p4SdYV-6Y ) that drove this section of the electorate, especially when one sees that Trump won 7 out of every 10 non-college-educated male white vote. Exit polls also indicated that women voted Democrat in much higher numbers than they voted Republican…as one might expect, given the prevalence of Trump’s misogyny the last weeks of the campaign.

All three of these binary votes in as many years were negative votes, against openness, inclusion, hope and progressives, the decisive mass vote of the over 45s overwhelming the wishes of the younger electorate. All three were also characterised by a remarkable disregard for checking facts – or more a disinterest, either by the media or the majority of the voting public, in those same facts.

The Scottish Independence Referendum had a barrage of unchecked facts – but in a very polarised sense: Better Together’s howlers went almost universally ignored, as they were in keeping with the narrative that the press wished to present, whereas the Scottish Government’s 670 page White Paper ‘Scotland’s Future’ was attacked in microscopic (and ludicrous) detail. (Yet note the contrast in level of detail offered between the Yes campaign for an independent Scotland and the Leave campaign to exit the EU, where they did not even have a Plan ‘A’.)

Interestingly, the media’s polarity did have the unexpected effect of triggering a rapid drift away of its clients, as members of the public became increasingly disillusioned by what they were being told by the mainstream news outlets: the subsequent engagement of people in Scotland with online and independent news media to get an alternative perspective that felt (a little) less biased, resulted in a plunge in newspaper sales (except for the Sunday Herald, which doubled its previous year’s sales, in the 4 months after it declared for Scottish independence) in parallel with an emergence of online sources as the most-trusted sources of news. [This dimension will be explored separately within the forthcoming instalment of the review of modern Scotland’s Thrie/Four Estaits ‘The Death of Scotland’s Post-War Dream, Part 3’.]

The two plebiscites of 2016 effectively went to the core of the identity of former imperial powers (see Gore Vidal if you want to contest that), they harken to the power of a bygone mythical age of greatness, and a garden of plenty which the advocates can restore you to. Well…that’s not exactly unusual in politics. But with BrExit and the US election, there was more of a rejection of analysis of any fact-checking (whether by TV stations or other media sources) in favour of empty jingoistic slogans – no matter how much Trump was fact-checked and shown to be lying on a grand scale with his fragments of sentences, his fatuously dismissive behaviour and salvation slogans carried greater force. BrExit’s ‘Leave’ campaign leaders went further, resorting to casual dismissal of expert opinions in the face of their absurd claims: “People in this country have had enough of experts” quoth Michael Gove (somewhat ironically, given that as a former education secretary, he should have had some faith in the products of the education system that he was overseeing…unless he felt that the EU were in some magical way forcing his education system to produce unreliable experts, perhaps?).

This dismissal is an insidious one of anti-intellectualism, whereby instinct and anecdote is endowed with greater (inevitably mystical) power than facts, data, or authorities that have the education and specialist training in a field that allows them to consider it objectively – so that you don’t have to go through all that training to do that for yourself. Stephen Colbert went so far as to coin the term ‘truthiness’ – Wikipedia defines this as “a quality characterising a ‘truth’ that a person making an argument or assertion claims to know intuitively ‘from the gut’ or because it ‘feels right’ without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts.” In other words, it presents you with a legitimate licence to disregard everything you wish – spirituality and religion sweep away facts: the final triumph of Magic over Science. It brooks no argument against it – because it does not come from reason.

Fear is invariably invoked in politics – which is rarely helpful, as it leads to irrational decisions, and that is one of the reasons that the Yes campaign avoided utilising it even in the face of their opponents relentless use of nothing else. But fear multiplied by nonsense just creates chaos which is socially destabilising – it creates a level of frustration which (as Yoda might point out in sentences Trump can only listen to with envy for their coherence) leads to hate, and then violence. England in particular has seen the rise of this phenomenon in the wake of the BrExit result seemingly ‘legitimising’ racism as part of mainstream political discourse.

Will misogyny similarly rise in the USA in response to the role model that has been elected to their highest political office? One can only hope not – but with much less certainty than yesterday morning.

 

“…it’s an ill wind blaws naebody gude.” (Rob Roy, Sir Walter Scott)