‘The Non-Life and Death of Scandinavian Scotland’ and Other Tales From #SP16

In 2014 I wrote an article entitled ‘Heroes of a Deferred Nation in which I opined that far from having the potential of a Nordic social-democratic economy, an independent Scotland was better placed to remain a rainy small C conservative outpost – not dissimilar to the one it would have recently left. I feel that last week’s Holyrood elections proved I and many others correct in this regard. You may thank me later, but here is why:

Blue is the colour
Scotland has always had Tories. I see them walking their nonsensically named dogs through the park, clad in tartan jackets for that Walter Scott feel you need when dressing a Yorkshire Terrier. Occasionally you will also see them on the news postulating social cynicism and economic mania, but in that guise they are more likely to say they are SNP or Labour. That works as follows:

David Cameron: “We need to make savings in public expenditure to secure the future prosperity of Britain”

Reaction: “Booooo, bloody Tory filth. Go back to London and shag a pig”

Nicola Sturgeon: “We cannot increase tax, it will make high earners flee Scotland”

Reaction: “Goan yersel Nicola! One of us, one of us, one of us!”

It’s a simple yet effective equation.

For a great deal of time this hedging brought many a traditional Tory voter to the door of Labour or the SNP, and as long as taxes remained relatively low, and petrol was reasonable at the pump – all was well. That is of course until the constitutional issue became precipitous. Once the prospect of independence barged down the door of sedantry Edinburgh politics, many true blues decided simply trading off their vote to the most steady handed of the two dominant parties would not cut it. The churn of this rising vote has its origins in a number of as yet ill defined demographics, and it is fair to say it was not simply a matter of a Labour to Tory swing. If we strip away the party clothes and poke at the naked flesh of ruddy political policy there is a clear swing towards economic conservatism, the final destination of which usually depends on your position on independence.

Labour seemed to be ashamed to say they are avowedly unionist (secret sources have told me they very much are), and the SNP for all their middle ground omertà cannot go a day without scaring the flock with talk of another referendum. There are a great many people who genuinely do not wish to leave the United Kingdom, there was a big vote on this and everything – you might be surprised. It is therefore not shocking that a party running on a platform of ‘we are going to oppose the dangerous separatists at the gates’ did quite well with those who go in for all that.

A short addendum to this: it is nothing new that parties seen to be competent often do well, and regularly win. Can anyone honestly say that any party in Scotland at the moment looks competent outside the SNP and Conservatives? The Tories knew this and tailored their election materials around competence and their inexplicably popular leader Ruth Davidson.

A lot of people are tight

If we take a very base analysis of what defines the social-democratic ‘Nordic’ economies it has to pivot on the fact they are much more willing to pay higher rates of tax. This assumes a modicum of affectless cynicism about the complex and varied contributory factors, so you will have to bear with me.

Denmark (61.12%) , Sweden (56.8%) both have average top rates of income tax between 1995-2015 well above our own current top rate of 45%. That should be the jumping off point for any comparison. Scotland belly flops in the first round here without any help from Gordon Strachan.

We should not only focus on income tax however, the Scandinavian welfare apparatus germinates from a wide range of personal taxes and employer contributions, many of which are higher than what we pay here. A better overview is how much tax constitutes the various countries’ overall GDP. For this purpose we will also include Finland, which may not strictly be ‘Scandinavian’, yet does follow a very similar socio-economic model:

UK – 37.5%
Scotland – 37.7%
Denmark – 49%
Finland – 43.6%
Norway – 43.6%
Sweden – 45.8%

It would be heart-warming to assume that there is swelling desire within Scotland for greater taxation which might emulate the Nordic economies, but last week 68.5% of voters in the constituency ballot, and 64.6% on the regional list voted for either the SNP or Conservative parties…both of whom promised a 45p top rate of tax. If philosophy is the discovery of the obvious, you may cry EUREKA.

The SNP are an economically conservative party, and their supporters like them that way. If you have convinced yourself otherwise may I interest you in a timeshare in Bulgaria?

Dominic Hinde posits this more effectively when he writes:

High basic wages, free education and good housing were the  foundation of the Nordic model from the 30s onwards, and in time environmental responsibility and greater gender equality were added to the mix. To the wealthy these things are prosaic details, to those less well-off they create a life worth living.

Look through the SNP manifesto though and it is very difficult to find anything that would make Scotland more Nordic in the immediate future.

The two parties proposing a 60p top rate of tax (something I personally agree with) the Scottish Green Party and RISE managed 7.1% on the regional lists between them. Tommy Sheridan’s, Solidarity, may have also proposed this but every time I seek to uncover this information I find myself lost in Tommy’s treacherous gaze.

Parties positing such ‘radical’ policies are regularly forming governments and oppositions in the aforementioned Nordic countries. This is not the case perpetually, many softer conservative governments have attempted to draw back the social-democratic consensus (Swedish Moderates 0614, Danish Venstre 0111), but few have lasted long enough or commanded the majority needed to overhaul it entirely.

Perhaps we can sustain a cognitive dissonance that sees this disparity as a by-product of a British political tradition during cross-party referendum campaigns, yet when manifestos are printed and Ponsonby deployed, it becomes evident that the predators in this ecosystem closely resemble their southern genus.

Leave them kids alone’

It is reasonable to wonder if this election had any big issues whatsoever (Buzzfeed tells me Willie Rennie and a slide was an ‘unforgettable’ moment). At a cursory glance around Glasgow I would guess that Nicola Sturgeon’s face was atop the agenda quite a lot, otherwise why would I need to look at it as I approach Ibrox? I don’t need another reason to avoid Ibrox after all.

For all the posturing from parties across the spectrum, education only briefly appeared in any meaningful sense during recent months, most notably when Calamity Constance got her face on television.

Education requires fundamental reform in Scotland. Whether it needs to abandon the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) as seemed to be hailed by Sturgeon’s desire to bring back standardised testing for primary school pupils, is another matter.

Continuously saying that the cuts threaten educational attainment is important, honest, and true…..but it does not actually say a great deal about what any of the parties wanted to do to improve teaching and schools. Here are some of the manifesto examples that I would put in the ‘non-policy’ category:

SNP:

Oversee a “revolution in transparency” about school performance

Ensure that every child in early education in the most deprived communities will have access to an additional teacher or childcare graduate by 2018

Scottish Labour:

Bridge the gap between “the richest and the rest” in classrooms

Give every primary school the opportunity to establish a breakfast club

Scottish Conservatives:

New measures should be put in place to ensure the best possible teachers are recruited

The Scottish government should be “far bolder” in measuring progress in the education system

Scottish Greens:

Help for all pupils experiencing poverty

Fair funding for college and university students

I suppose I was not alone in thinking ‘and how are you going to do that?’ when reading these pledges. Of course each party had other policies which were more cohesive. I would particularly welcome the plans from Labour and the Greens to considerably increase apprenticeships. Despite this there seemed to be no other area quite as mottled with pecuniary detail as that of education. A trend I dare say will continue in Scotland for some time to come.

The unending appearance and disappearance of SNP education policies has oft left me wondering if these are to follow the purpose of Dewar’s ‘Pied Wagtail Preservation Order of 1968’ – existing only to distract or delay some inevitable banality. Yet what rankles with greater torment is how soft, and I mean ‘Carry On…Up the Khyber’ soft, the press in this country are in regards to these half steps and mistruths. If the mainstream press have at any point questioned continuously the obscene gaps in attainment between rich and poorer areas in Scotland, I simply have not seen it.

As you were

To conclude, not much went on, not much at all. Scottish politics remains dominated by the question of sovereignty – and divvies will continue to write books and think pieces claiming there is a ‘rennaissance’ of activism and political debate north of Carlisle.

There really isn’t.

No one cares.

They care so little they reelected the government for the third term running.

Scotland? Bit boring really.

Until next time.

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The Blunt Sword of Anti-Semitism

This week Ken Livingstone, ex-Mayor of London and long-time campaigner for those at the sharper end of capitalism’s rusty knife said the following in reference to comments by suspended MP Naz Shah – it was stupid and wrong, and he should apologise:

“It’s completely over the top but it’s not anti-semitism. Let’s remember when Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism – this before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.”

Ken said other things that are apparently offensive in the interview, largely about Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, but they are so blatantly factual that any one finding themselves offended by them is clearly Islamophobic (see what I did there? Read on to see the divine logic).

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Ken Livingstone, a very bad lad

Livingstone’s comments were a one day front page story at best – especially given the decades awaited verdict this week apportioning blame to South Yorkshire Police in the case pertaining to the Hillsborough disaster.

How this could possibly have garnered more attention than the race baiting Zac Goldsmith has attempted in his London mayoral campaign requires contortions the likes of which only the British media can manage. This however, I expect. After all – it is the very same media that decided 96 deaths at an FA Cup semi-final were most probably the fault of drunken hooligans.

What disappoints me so much more is to see Labour members, and supposed Labour advocates in the press (special mention must go to Owen Jones here), helping virulently hostile media machines to keep the story going throughout the week. Further continuation of this thread – that bonds together the alleged Labourite anti-Semitism conspiracy – serves only those who seek to destroy Labour and working class representation in this country. These people should really know better. I suppose there are not many column inches in saying ‘calm down and be serious’.

Ken was suspended, and rightfully so. Corbyn has set up an inquiry into anti-semitism and racism in the party, again rightfully so. What more is required here? The media have decided in unison that Labour is now a hotbed of anti-semites before a moment of investigation has taken place, and by extension Jeremy Corbyn must also be an anti-semite, yes? Well as you are likely beginning to understand it is not particularly important wherther he is or not. What is important to his detractors is that he falls on that sword, even if most of the reported incidents occurred before his leadership began.

Here I would like to ask the question, what does it mean to be anti-semitic in the context that someone like John Mann means it, by which I mean a very narrow political-media context? How sharp is the sword destined for the leader of Labour Party’s knape when the term anti-semitism is so carelessly stapled on the backs of those who dissent from the UK line on Israel?

With this territory comes a certain inevitability. Observers may read my subsequent words, and those of others simply seeking to balance out the torrential attack, and think – “he’s clearly trying to mask obvious anti-semitism”. In the face of charges of that ilk no satisfactory justification will ever be provided. I have attended meetings packed with relatively representative cross sections of society on the issue of Israel/Palestine for years, meetings that largely displayed no philosophy more radical than simple peace advocacy. Very few of the attendees felt Israel had ‘no right to exist’ at all – as is often claimed. I was called an anti-Semite for attending those. After the fifth or sixth occasion I stopped hearing it. I believe something similar is happening in our political culture.

But let me say, I am not interested in winning some moralistic debate about the correct terms and accordance for various treaties and myopic 20th century decisions in a contested land more foreign to me than the Arctic circle. I just want to prevent people from being murdered and having their homes stolen because we have so internalised the idea that anti-Zionism is the same as anti-semitism to a point at which we cannot reasonably criticise these actions. I am not interested in winning the approval of such catastrophically pathetic individuals as Wes Streeting and Luke Akehurst. They would appear as tadpoles in a teaspoon of water. So please call myself and others what you like, I am not the sensitive type.

I see a great deal of evidence both anecdotally and in the current media hyperbole, that attacks such as those laid at the door of Labour this week have served to nullify the term ‘anti-semite’ to the point of near redundancy.

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John Mann. King of the gobshites

There will be few who may describe themselves as pro-Palestinian activists who will not have been called an anti-semite on numerous occasions. At this point trying to decipher between those who are principled peace activists, and the tiny minority who are ‘THE ROTHSCHILDS ARE RUNNING THE WORLD’ delusionists is utterly impossible. For decades the tarpaulin of shame has been cast over each and every one of them, unsuccessfully. If you want a serious discussion about this issue then let us have some respect and admit that pro-Palestinian activism is a legitimate and worthy cause, and allow for some media reflection on the imperialism club that is Labour Friends of Israel. Until that day your claims are beyond hypocrisy, they are ashes in the mouths of lemmings.

So when I am told that you can be anti-Zionist, and not be an anti-Semite – I wonder why it is so many people who are the former are referred to as the latter? I can only conclude therefore that an anti-semite, at least in one variety, is someone who critcises the current borders of Israel. If I am wrong then there is hope yet.

Livingstone is most definitely a buffoon. There is little of intellectual merit or even contemporary relevance about discussing whether or not Hitler had Zionist sympathies (for my own money I see no evidence of this, only the fact Hitler was happy to utilise it as an apparatus of manipulation), no matter what you say you are going to end up discussing Hitler in some sort of revisionist light. Ken should know better both as a seasoned politician, and as a man of principle that this would not end well for him, or the party, and would undoubtedly upset a constituency of people who demand respect on this issue. Gladly the Jewish Socialist’s Group  and a number of concerned and prominent Jewish members of Labour have written to express a more balanced approach in recent days.

There is one big aspect missing from all of these balanced accounts however, and that is how the media seek to report this entire debate. Stories such as those detailing the air assaults on Gaza hospitals in 2014  received only cursory attention in the British press in comparison to this week’s pantomime (thankfully Channel 4 were a rare exception), while the moralistic chieftains of ‘sensible’ Labour so vocal this week could not have been quieter in their opposition at the time. Where it did exist, it was meek and cautionary.

Is it fair to take these two events, anti-semitism in British politics and Israeli aggression, and draw indicative comparisons? I would say yes, it most definitely is. The reason I do so is simple. The same individuals today chaining themselves to the fences of social media in opposition at the evil that is Ken Livingstone, were tacitly justifying this barbarity as ‘self-defence’ but two summers ago.

Where lies the moral compass of these individuals? The Nick Cohen’s and Tim Stanley’s of this world? Do they expect us to believe that a foolish statement from a politician is tantamount to the collapse of credibility on the left, yet tangential support for child murder is significant of political maturity? I am no pacifist, far from it, yet I would have to witness irrefutable evidence not seen since Bernadette bumped into the Virgin Mary at Lourdes before you could get me into a conversation about the strategic and moral legitimacy of firing missiles at hospitals.

If those of us seeking balance are justifying anti-semitism, then the logic that defending Israel justifies such egregious attacks, holds true also. You simply cannot have it both ways.

The reason Ken Livingstone will be dragged out for the next year or more for summary tar and feathering, is the exact same reason the bombing of hospitals is swept under the carpet. That reason is the oldest of all, power.

Muslim bashing is de rigueur in this country, it’s almost an entire media sub-industry. Very few people, beyond those with some sense of consistency, find this troublesome whatsoever it seems. Naturally many will opine that each subsequent attack has ‘gone a bit far’, but you will never see a week long media circus and resignations aplenty over it. Let us take the case of Zac Goldsmith’s race baiting in London again, where he claimed the Labour candidate and Muslim Sadiq Khan did not want to talk about Tamils when in government and expressed a desire to tax jewellery and heirlooms in leaflets directed at Hindus. Policies one onlooker stated “seemed as though he picked the brains of an adviser and has played on the anxieties of the south Asian community.” I have neither the time nor inclination to quantify the relative column inches, tweets, and television minutes the two tales received in comparison – but I am willing to make a healthy bet that the one which gave succour to those wishing to dethrone Corbyn received a great deal more.

These power dynamics, and resulting slavish devotion to ignoring them from our pensmiths and politicians, create perverse situations such as Saudi Arabia, a despicably anti-Semitic country, being treated as friends and welcomed with open arms. It’s the same reason Hillsborough will finally reach some sort of conclusion in the coming years, yet those murdered by the state in Northern Ireland will die without answers.

Power and politics, that’s all it is. Keep your eyes away from the petrol being poured on the fire, it’s the flames that are important…..nothing more. There are people holding anti-Semitic views who are members of the Labour Party. No one can deny that. There are also members of the SNP and Conservatives who have publicly exhibited such inclinations, facts that appear fundamentally disinteresting when not coupled with an emerging coup opportunity.

As long as we focus on Livingstone’s peculiar understanding of history, not the junior doctors leaving the country because they are being overworked and understaffed this perpetual idiocy will continue, and with it so too the intelligence vacuum that is Tory rule will continue.

After all, it makes for a better headline – and that’s what really matters…

Addendum: I did not have time to comment on the actions of John Mann here.