2007 - 2021

Sins Against Surrounding Reality: FROM THE PROVINCE OF THE CAT

img_0516“The art of losing isn’t hard to master;” wrote Elizabeth Bishop in her poem “One Art”, “so many things seem filled with the intent / to be lost that their loss is no disaster.” The pithy, gallows wisdom of this observation always worms its way into my head each time I think about all the referendi and nearly run elections the Scottish people have lost out on over the years: twice in 1979 with the devolution referendum and the election of Margaret Thatcher; the painful General Election result of 1992 when John Major, unbelievably, retained power and, of course, 2014 when Yes just failed to pip No. Whether these political events were a “disaster” (they were for me) history will illuminate. Every time I hear what comes out of David Cameron’s duplicitous mouth it translates into Elizabeth Bishop’s poem and I turn into a Caithnessian version of Edvard Munch’s painting “The Scream”. These are hard times.

The first days of February are the time of Imbolg which is the Celtic festival to mark the beginning of Spring, when the old Cailleach of Winter emerges to gather her firewood. The story is that if she wishes to make the Winter last longer she will make the day of Imbolg bright and sunny so that she can gather plenty of fuel. So it was that people hoped that Imbolg would be a day of bad weather as it meant that the Cailleach would still be asleep and Winter would almost be over. As I write this the North of Scotland is covered in snow. So I feel optimistic, despite having the worst Tory government in power in Westminster since 1979.

Yet Elizabeth Bishop and Edvard Munch follow me around especially when I watch the Scottish Parliament at First Minister’s questions or, even worse, whatever goes on at Westminster at any time. The latter represents the present edition of what Tom Paine called the “Old Corruption” and the former is the Munchian blood pressure inducing frustration of not turning initiative into action – “the art of losing isn’t hard to master”. If the SNP in general and the current Scottish government in particular think there will be a better time than 2016 to implement radical change in order to secure the independence of or our country then I think they are wrong. The Cailleach of Winter may just be biding her time when it comes to a better Spring but meanwhile the “Old Corruption” grows daily more corrupt.

As far as the Treaty of Union of 1707 is concerned it was corrupt from the start.When the 31 Scottish Commissioners and their 31 English counterparts assembled in The Cockpit Theatre in London in April 1706 and after the opening speeches from each side, the two sets of negotiators retired to separate rooms and then notes were passed from room to room.

This went on for four months. The “agreed text” was then sent to the Scottish and English parliaments who both passed Acts approving it which were subsequently translated into a treaty signed by Queen Anne, the monarch of the two countries. From that day onward the English Parliament acted as though the only difference to its affairs was that it now incorporated 16 Lords and 45 MP’s. In 2015 with the 56 new members crowded onto the Westminster benches like hens in a deep litter this sense of Scotland being absorbed into an alien legislature was reinforced.The historical shady dealings and subsequent serial reneging which has gone on via the Smith Commission since the infamous public “Vow” made by the Unionist leaders in September 2014 and the construction of the new Scotland Act have all the familiar hallmarks of 1707 and the “Old Corruption”. The lesson of the past 307 years for the Scottish people is this: you cannot hold trustworthy negotiations with a system of government which does not recognise anything other than its own interests and those of whom it represents: which is the rich and powerful.

For the “Old Corruption” read “New Corruption”. When former KGB and FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko was murdered by polonium-210 poisoning in London in 2006 the world was shocked. When Sir Robert Owen published the report into Litvinenko’s death late this January and was sent to the Home Secretary the reaction from the UK government was muted. Putin was to blame. Britain will consider sanctions against Russia. Blah blah blah. On the other hand David Cameron made it clear that “We will have to go on having a relationship with Russia.” The assassination of Alexander Litvinenko tells us more about the corruption of London property prices and the criminality at the heart of the London economy than it does about the corruption and criminality of Putin’sregime in Russia. For make no mistake money is at the heart of this unsavoury episode just as it was at the heart of the Treaty of Union in 1707.

The tiny amount of polonium-210 which killed Alexander Litvinenko in 2006 would have cost tens of millions of pounds on the open market. It is one of the most toxic and highly radioactive materials there is. The Home Office forensic pathologist Dr Nathaniel Cory said that the post-mortem examination carried out on Litvinenko’s body was the “most dangerous ever undertaken in the Western world”. He and his colleagues had to wear white radiation-proof suits,protective gloves and specialised hoods with air pumped into them through a filter during the process. No such protection or filter has ever been applied to the vast quantities of Russian cash which has poured in to the City of London and which helps to bolster its reputation as the money laundering capital of the world. Imagine, if you can, what the reaction would have been if nuclear material had been found to have been smuggled into London by someone from the Middle East?

When the Russian composer Dimitri Shostakovich premiered his “Prelude andFugue for piano in F minor” before the Union of Composers in Moscow in 1951 the reception was not good. The apparatchiks did not care for the “dissonance”of the piece (which, actually, is very serene) and one said that Shostakovich had committed “sins against surrounding reality”. When David Cameron and his Tory lave express moral outrage at something other governments have done, such as assassinations, bombings etc – (or on the other hand occasional acts of general human kindness – these also meet with Tory displeasure) – they too commit “sins against surrounding reality”. Shostakovich rose up above the corruption of his time. The government in London create corruption’s harbour.

Meanwhile back in Holyrood the cautious feet do slowly shuffle. In less than “a hundred days” we will have the Scottish Parliamentary elections. With history on their side and the stench of the “Old Corruption” wafting up from that place on the Thames the SNP are surely, obviously (hopefully) going to inspire the Scottish people to rise up and roar like lions after slumber? Of course they are not. What we will see instead is a policy which will be a defence of what we have got, constructed as an advance on what we had. The prime moments of history have, unfortunately, a consistently bad habit of slipping away from those who think they create them. The SNP will, if polls are to be believed, achieve another, bigger, landslide come May and Scotland will still remain a northern satellite province of the UK, block grant fed and devolution dependent, no matter what situation the tax gathering powers the Scotland Bill dog-dances us into. What hope for real taxes on land values and ownership? Where will be the fresh thinking on renewable energy so that we can actually use it to sustain our economy and create wealth for our nation, our people? How, if we remain so cautious, can we rescue the North Sea oil industry from the greedy fools in Westminster who have, according to Larry Eliot in the Guardian, “discovered,extracted (and) squandered” it? A $30.00 a barrel oil price today is only volatile because of the previous forty-five years of wasting resources.

So what is to be gained, exactly, from waiting for the xenophobic Tories to drag us kicking and screaming, Brit-exiting out of the EU? Shostakovich once said “I think slow but write fast.” There have to be good, robust answers to the questions of currency and banking, land ownership and broadcasting and they have to be bravely put to the Scottish people now. The SNP will win the next election and the one after that – and then what? Will they, in their turn, begin to commit “sins against surrounding reality”; will they become the “OldCorruption”?

Comments (16)

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  1. IzziL says:

    Had the referendum result been in favour of an Independent Scotland we would be looking at a very different forthcoming election scenario.

    Had it not been for the Vow perhaps more non SNP supporters might have voted differently.

    Had it not been for the way in which Westminster ride rough shod over the wishes of the majority of Scotland’s people ….. (Note I specifically say Scotland’s and not Scottish people as many people living in Scotland today have origins outwith the country, including many English), the SNP would not exist.

    Had the Thatcher government not destroyed the heavy industrial manufacturing base of the Central belt there might still be a flourishing Labour party, whose membership has gradually eroded since.

    There is a long list of “What Ifs”.

    Setting the past aside and looking to the future, were Scotland to gain Independence, the SNP would not become the Old Corruption, no chance, as a political entity whose main objective had been achieved, there would be opportunity for a fresh approach to politics involving more participation by other parties.

  2. Dougie Blackwood says:

    All too true. The SNP are the only route to independence but they are not bold enough.

    We should be taking actions now that set up the systems and mechanisms that will be needed when Independence does finally arrive. These include:
    Setting up a real “Bank for Scotland” that will administer our Scots pound; we should have bought the Clydesdale before it was floated off; enacting a real Land Reform Policy that enforces transparency and controls the sale and retention of land for the common good; bringing in a Land Value Tax with teeth that prevents deliberate dereliction of unused land for tax avoidance purposes and the creation of land banks to prevent others using it.

    I will continue to Vote SNP and to campaign for more radical actions within the party but, in the meantime, I will continue to call faults where I see them.

    1. Graham Ennis says:

      Well said Dougie Blackwood. my sentiments entirely. The grass roots are the core, and must push the SNP relentlessly to the left, on all issues.

  3. Graham Ennis says:

    The more I brood over the fate of the Celtic States, (Of which Scotland is only one) and the stark facts, which is that Ireland is only partly a free Republic, still in the North under UK Military occupation and administration by a poodle assembly, Wales is barely at the start of a very long road, which Scotland is already half travelled along, and essentially, they are all under the strong arm of the British Ruling elite, and allowed only limited autonomy, I weep.

    This latest struggle for national freedom has been seriously ongoing now since the 1800’s, in Ireland, kickstarted by the 1845 famine/genocide, in Wales it has been slow and muted, and in Scotland, it has been a series of false starts, rigged elections/Plebescites, , and much else besides, all dictated to by a British ruling clique, who, as we saw in the recent Referendum, will stop at nothing, and are interested in nothing and nobody but themselves. The one thing that really panicked the British Establishment, was the unexpected uprising of the extra-parliamentary opposition in Scotland as the YES grass roots campaign. This was something far too powerful for them to deal with, something new and dangerous, and it provoked “Vows” and much else in control efforts. Those efforts have now failed. The crude betrayal of the Vow has made even the depoliticised in Scotland confront reality, and their situation. It is not a good one. The SNP were almost as shocked by the sudden, massive emergence of the YES Movement as everyone else. By comparison, their campaign was formalistic, conventional, and not well thought out. The YES campaigners made the running. The SNP ran after them, slightly out of breath. So, the Brave-hearts were the Vanguard. Quite simply, YES demonstrated that Freedom for Scotland is not a formal political procedure, like an election. It is far more than that. It showed that supporting Scottish Freedom is a crusade, or it is nothing. Time for the SNP to take heed of that.

    The question is, how?….the answer is, YES, which is still very much in existence, a slumbering political giant in Scotland that could awake abruptly at the next political crisis. It is a standby army of the active and aware supporters of Independence. It is also considerably more radical than the SNP, is overwhelmingly left wing, and is clearly losing patience with the more conventional politics of the SNP Government. That was very clearly shown by the uproar over the very timid so-called “Land Reform bill”, where the SNP grass roots membership, made very clear, its anger over what was proposed, and what should have been.

    That is the key point. For electoral reasons, the SNP is steering a middle of the road course, but after the May elections, the gloves have got to come off. Right off. The SNP will then have a clear five year run to the next election, a strong majority, and can do much, if it were so inclined. There is no reason they should not. But the grass roots will end up being disillusioned, and angry, if there is, instead, more of the same old same. This could well lead to a defacto split of the nationalist movement, which would be near fatal. What needs to be done is for the YES grassroots to now prepare for five years of SNP rule, with a strong and active program of radical reform of the actual structure of the Scottish State, starting with absolutely key issues such as Land Reform, Environmental issues, and opposition to nuclear weapons. Trident is not a side issue. it is 650 nuclear warheads sitting upwind of Glasgow, and detonation of a single weapon would kill half of Scotland. This is the core program, that the YES community should now polarise around, and use as a campaign, to energise and empower the Scots, as an integral part of what Independence is about. YES has got to reactivate, restructure, and reform, along the lines of the Referendum campaign, but campaigning on the issues that will form the core of Independence. Let us call this: “Independence by stealth, bit by bit through vigerous and relentless campaigning, on the core issues, and action by the SNP Government to implement them. To be simple: Land REFORM DOES not REQUIRE THE PERMISSION OF lONDON. It can be implemented, bit by bit, relentlessly, establishing “Facts on the Ground”, and likewise, on the other key issues. Where the key issues then come up against opposition from the London Government, quite simply, a policy of confrontation with them has to be adopted. we can start the implementation of the independence process right now.

  4. Gillian Cummings says:

    I’m really glad I read your piece. I think…I know that I’m frustrated and I worry alot that the wakefulness of independence, and it’s influence, could be slipping. Particularly when the SNP’s presence in Westminster, and the habits they might bring back, means that they need this influence more than ever. Reading your article has increased that feeling…but that’s probably a good thing. Thanks…

    1. Graham Ennis says:

      Thanks Gillian…Graham

  5. Crubag says:

    Land reform is an example of where tge SNP is trying to please as many sides as possible, and perhaps not pleasing very many.

    Beaver is my own favourite example, where is is country landowners vs the general public, and the SNP STILL cannot bring themselves to call it. Maybe 18 months later, after the elections are out the way.

    But George is right on economics, it’s why the referendum was lost. If the SNP is still the independence party, rather than the Scottosh party, it should set up a working group to design the new economic arrangements, including currency. It will be a standard, north European capitalist approach however.

    Others might want to design their own models and we can see which one a resureected Yes campaign wants to take forward.

  6. Alf Baird says:

    Brilliant article, thanks.

    Profits and wealth is sucked out of Scotland via the privatised former utilities – ports, airports, and energy companies, most of which are now owned by offshore bankers. (see: http://reidfoundation.org/2016/01/sort-out-our-ports/. Then there is whisky and land ownership, also much of it offshore, with limited benefits for Scotland’s people. Wherever you look Scotland’s economic rents are being intercepted. The role of Government is to prevent such interception but I don’t think the SNP have a clue as to how to go about that.

    The other ‘half’ of what is left of Scotland’s economy relates to the hundreds of public and semi-public agencies which spend Swinney’s £30bn each year, most still run by a unionist elite. The SNP Government should have changed this by now; the Tories even with few MP’s under Rifkind, Lang and Forsyth never had any hesitation putting their ‘ane fowk’ in charge of anything and a’thing and the SNP should have done the same.

    George is right; the SNP may be in power, but thus far they have refused to use it.

  7. Douglas Robertson says:

    There is politics and power. The SNP is good at politics right now, but not at all good at dealing with power. George reveals this reality so ably.

  8. willie says:

    This piece certainly catalogues the tragedy of so many failed opportunities. But breaking free from what was at one time the world’s biggest empires was never going to be easy.
    Save for getting the guns and the bombs out, which strategy the UK military would just love, the only way forward is through the SNP.
    The referendum in the teeth of a firestorm of fear and negativity ran the establishment close. The subsequent landslide to the SNP and wipeout of the Unionists thereafter showed just how close the referendum was. A second referendum, if one be needed might not be that far off. The Scotland Bill could collapse, England could vote to exit the EU, there could be another economic collapse, austerity and falling living standards whilst continuing to wage expensive foreign wars are but a few of the dynamics on the horizon
    And I for one want to see an SNP government with the biggest possible electoral mandate back in Hollyrood ready and able to maximise the dynamics that will secure our independence. The SNP is that opportunity, indeed the only opportunity, and we throw this opportunity away at our peril by dividing before the job is done.

  9. willie says:

    And whilst we navel gaze about perfidious Albion let us not forget that now is our biggest opportunity in 300 years to exit the union. We have a Scottish Parliament which albeit limited, is seen as our parliament. We have 56 MPs in another parliament which is not seen as our parliament and a parliament ever more keen to show itself as an English Parliament. Yes we lost the referendum – just, but with majority electoral support manifesting for the SNP it is is clear that folk want change. The referendum and the subsequent treachery of the sacred vow has reinforced this. The dream has not died – and we are I believe nearer now than we were a eighteen months ago. So let us look forward in hope. Let us trust in the SNP to strike when best opportunity presents.

  10. Bibbit says:

    “There is a tide in the affairs of men.
    Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
    Omitted, all the voyage of their life
    Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
    On such a full sea are we now afloat,
    And we must take the current when it serves,
    Or lose our ventures”.

    Wonderful article. I hope the Scottish Cabinet are reading it.

  11. Thrawn says:

    The use of the Litvenenko affair as a stick to beat “perfidious Albion” is frankly pathetic. Given that the EU already has put in force sanctions (in the teeth of reluctance based on French aircraft carrier sales and German gas supplies but strongly supported by the UK) related to its annexation of Crimea and continued presence in eastern Ukraine, quite what else you propose UK should have done is unclear. We could expel everyone of Russian descent and confiscate their UK assets I suppose, although that Trumpian response (against many people who some yes tend to be very wealthy but who have chosen to live in London to escape Putin’s Russia) seems a tad unfair to this untutored eye. Or did you think we should have rounded up everyone of Pakistani origin after 7/7?

    And yes if it had been people of middle eastern descent smuggling in nuclear material our response against their sponsor country would have been very different. Probably because if we did decide to launch the bombers or put boots on the ground in response (which again I’m sure you would approve of in the face of such flagrant threat to our national security) we wouldn’t face a possible nuclear retaliation. Yes welcome to realpolitick…with the emphasis for your benefit on real. You better get used to it because if Scotland ever gets independence, as a small country our scope for grand gestures of moral outrage would be limited…or are you saying that if by chance Litveneko had been assassinated on the streets of Edinburgh, Sturgeon would have let slip the dogs of war and unleashed our fleet of coastguard helicopters against Moscow.

  12. George Gunn says:

    Dear Thrawn,

    the word s corruption. See above comments if you do not believe me.


  13. Thrawn says:

    The only thing corrupted I see is your sense of logic…corrupted and twisted by a paranoid hatred of England and Britain

  14. Fearghas MacFhionnlaigh says:

    Slightly stream of consciousness, but the short item (“Doc’s Last Cold Days”) linked to below draws some interesting connections between cold winters, Munch’s ‘Scream’, Krakatoa, and the OK Corral. I guess “blow-up”, “dust-up”, “fall-out” (various meanings, including of course that related to radioactive dust), “showdown” “sundown” etc etc might be at the back of my mind somewhere… –

    “The historically low temperatures were the aftermath of the cataclysmic eruption of Mount Krakatoa in Indonesia in 1883. The explosion was heard 3,000 miles away, with recorded shockwaves reaching around the globe seven times. The plumes of ash and sulfuric acid shot 50 miles into the atmosphere, obscuring the sun, and the sudden darkness dropped temperatures worldwide. The “Volcanic Winter” lasted for five years, with summer snowfalls in North America and blizzards in South America. On the Great Plains, thousands of head of cattle froze to death, decimating entire herds and hastening the end of the big cattle drives. The last winter of Doc’s life was also the coldest, especially in the snowy mountains of Colorado.

    (The Krakatoa eruption created flaming red sunsets in the Northern Hemisphere, and inspired artist Eduard Munch’s famous painting “The Scream” – he said the sound of the eruption felt like the earth groaning).

    Actor Val Kilmer likely didn’t know about the connection between Krakatoa and Doc Holliday’s last cold days in Colorado when he requested a bed of ice for his last scene in the movie, “Tombstone.” What he wanted was something to make him shiver and feel “weird,” and the trick worked. In a film filled with accurate depictions of clothing and firearms and entertainments, they got the temperature right, as well.”

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