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Showing posts with label Allan Massie. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Allan Massie. Show all posts

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

The UK and the Lords – designed to limit democracy – now they want to do it to Scotland’s Parliament

The powerful are always seeking ways to limit and constrain the democratic voice of the people.

It is a source of constant frustration to the ‘great and the good’ and the professional and managerial classes that they either have to run for office, or remain at the mercy of the votes of ordinary people. It goes without saying that those who claim hereditary privileges are always uneasy about democracy.

The Scottish Parliament has not worked out as these people – and their political lackeys in the UK parties – had intended. Devolution and the d’Hondt method of proportional voting was specifically designed to stop any Scottish party, and especially the SNP, from having an overall majority and real power. but to their horror it hasn’t worked out that way.

Today in the Scotsman – where else – Allan Massie joins the fray – We need to take a second look at Holyrood

Allan Massie is worried about “politics gradually becoming a full-time professional activity”. I have a few worries on that score myself, mainly relating to direct entry to politics as a career by people who have never done anything else, and never will until they exit through the revolving door to consultancies, PR and the influence and access peddling known euphemistically as either lobbying or non-executive directorships, and Massie shares some of these concerns.

Massie, however, is no friend of the SNP or of Scotland’s independence, and his concerns unsurprisingly proved to be to limit the power of elected representatives whom the people – rightly in my view – expect to “devote all their time to their political work”. Massie’s answer is a second chamber, like the UK House of Lords.

Massie then tries to draw the teeth of critics and of pejorative perceptions of this institution – It is “strange and anomalous”, it is “not democratic”, it has a “small hereditary element”, and “most of its members have been appointed, not elected”.

But nonetheless, he wants a second chamber to display “an independence of mind, to revise legislation and hold the government to account”. In a sentence that is surprisingly badly constructed from a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, he justifies the need for it -

A second chamber is necessary because legislation needs revised, government held to account and the political class made subject to scrutiny and restraint.

Why should legislation, properly drafted and scrutinised by professional civil servants and the Parliament need revision?

Because somebody – political minority or unelected interest group – doesn’t like it and wants to neuter it.

The political class – i.e the elected representatives of the people – can be subject to scrutiny by their constituents, by the public at large and by a free press and media. It wasn’t the House of Lords that exposed the expenses scandal, or shone a spotlight on the crime that was the Iraq War – it was a free media. The House of Lords was the bolthole for the disgraced Speaker of the Commons after his resignation.

And what unelected apparatchiks are going to place restraints on elected representatives and the Parliament?

Allan Massie’s answer is a three element body -

“ …members appointed ex-officio – university principals, representatives of the churches, business organisations, the STUC, NFU, and arts bodies, for instance; members appointed by an independent commission because of their distinction in various walks of life; and an elected element with the requirement those who stand for election free from party affiliation.”

In other words, the usual suspects – the unelected, the ‘great and the good’  – anybody but the democratic choice of the people. A second chamber that contained the CBI, a trade union baron, a cardinal archbishop, a failed and clapped out former politician or two, a couple of retired military men, maybe a director or two from the booze and nuclear industries, a token figure from the Arts, and sundry gandy dancers and railroad men would chill my blood, and Scottish democracy would fly oot the windae.

The New Club and religious, trades union, military and commercial interests would be in the saddle, and would have the ability to paralyse the Parliament and frustrate the democratic mandate of the people.

You can shove the second chamber back in yer sporran, Allan  Massie – or better still, right up the back o’ yer kilt …

(I blogged on this way back in 2010 The Establishment versus Scotland's Independence and I recently had this to say about the UK second chamber, The House of Lords.)

EXTRACT

Here’s what www.parliament.uk says about the House of Lords -

The House of Lords is the second chamber of the UK Parliament. It is independent from, and complements the work of, the House of Commons. Members of the Lords play a vital role making laws and keeping a check on government.

Here’s what I say about the House of Lords – it is historical relic maintained to limit the power of elected democracy in the House of Commons – the choice of the people. It is comprised of the Lords Spiritual, who are there simply because they are unelected bishops of the Church of England, founded by Henry VIIIth to legitimise his dubious marital arrangements, by hereditary peers who are there because an ancestor either fought or bought his way into the favour of the ruling monarch of the time, and by life peers, who are unelected political appointment by one or other of the London parties, usually political hacks who once were MPs but for one reason or another were booted upstairs into the sinecure of the ermine, or former generals, admirals, etc. with a fair number of businessmen who have contributed a substantial amount to ??? - and a few figures from the arts and entertainment world.

As of 21 December 2011, this gang of gandy dancers and railroad men – and women – numbers 788, plus another 21 who are on leave of absence or otherwise unable to collect their generous attendance allowance. The elected representatives of the people in The House of Commons numbers 650 MPs. Endless rubbish is talked about reforming this pernicious, faintly ridiculous and undemocratic institution, but in the main, nothing happens because the system suits the London parties and the Establishment. (Something has been done about the hereditary peers, who never mattered much anyway, but it will be a cold day in August before the London political parties let go of their right to create new Lords.)

The Labour Party, the party of social equality, the party of the people, simply loves the House of Lords, and former horny handed Labour sons of toil can’t wait to get as far away as possible from the sordid realities of their crumbling constituencies and into the ermine and on to the red benches. Lord Martin of Springburn, the disgraced former Speaker of the House of Commons, forced to resign over the expenses scandal, was relieved to find the pain of his ignominious exit from the Commons effectively and speedily ameliorated in this way.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

The unionists share their identity crisis …

Billy Connolly may be an odd sort of Scot for a Scottish nationalist to quote, given his infamous “little pretendy Parliament” remark of yore, but I admire the man as a comic genius, with an ability to elevate the commonplaces of a Scottish working class life into high art.

Here is my recollection of one of his joke routines about his time in the shipyards, when the foremen were required to wear hard hats with their names on them. One such personage caught Billy and his mate skiving, and they gave him some cheek when he challenged them. “Do you know who I am?” asked the foreman, puffed up with self-importance.

Connolly and friend looked at each other in mock incredulity. “Here’s a guy wi’ his name oan his hat and he disnae know who he is!”

Much press and media coverage has been devoted since the Scottish Parliamentary election earthquake to the Scottish Labour Party’s loss of identity and confusion about who they are, and what they might do about it. The Scottish LibDems and Tories are regarded as already dead by the media, their corpses are therefore treated with patronising respect, and nobody wastes much time on thoughts of how they might be brought to life again. All that is asked of them is that they don’t smell too badly before being consigned to the flames of history.

The other dominant strand that has emerged from the profound emotional shock to the unionist mindset of the SNP's decisive electoral victory is an increasingly desperate attempt to define Britishness in the context of Scottishness. Only ‘British’ Scots appear to have this identity crisis, which they now want to foist on the rest of us: the English always knew that Britain meant England, and Britishness meant Englishness. And the English are right in this, and right to feel this way. Only in comparatively recent times has England feared to speak its name. Anyone who reads anything published before the Second World War (and quite a lot since) will realise that England was the Empire and Englishness was the nationality that defined it.

The kind of case being put for this, and for ‘Britain’ (for Britain read British Empire) is buried in gross sentimentality, as the vapourings of Rory Stewart and Michael Portillo on this week’s Newsnight Special so nauseatingly revealed.

Of course, sentimentality was the keynote of Empire while it was engaged in its worst colonial excesses: sentimentality is the cloying sugar coating on the deadly pill of exploitation and brutality, as history shows.

Heinrich Heine has devastatingly explored the link between sentimentality and brutality, as have others.

“Sentimentality is the emotional promiscuity of those who have no sentiment.”  Norman Mailer

"Think of the lamentable role of popular sentiment in wartime! Think of our so-called humanitarianism! The psychiatrist knows only too well how each of us becomes the helpless but not pitiable victim of his own sentiments. Sentimentality is the superstructure erected upon brutality…”  Carl Jung

THE SCOTSMAN NEWSPAPER

The Scotsman should,  in my view, change its title and its masthead to The Scotsman? or perhaps even to TheScotBrit, although that doesn’t really fit well with a quality newspaper, since the term Brit has come to be associated with the worst tabloid excesses, brutality, jingoism - and sentimentality.

The newspaper is all over the place politically these days, reflecting the same confusion of identity that has paralysed the Scottish Labour Party (insofar as such a thing exists) - and the Labour Party at Westminster, and it gives space regularly to commentators who exemplify this confusion - Allan Massie, Michael Kelly, John McTernan et al.

The first two on that list are featured today, and just in case the unionist message gets missed, we have an attack on the SNP by one Tom Miers, who is described as an independent public policy consultant, entitled ‘Fiddling while Scotland burns’, which in essence is the cry raised against the independence issue and the referendum before May 2011, that it was a deflection from managing the economy.

This of course rapidly changed to a demand that a referendum should be held immediately, after the unionists realised the scale of their defeat, while Alex Salmond calmly reiterated his manifesto commitment to a referendum mid-term so that he could concentrate on trying to limit the damage caused by the outgoing Labour Government and now being compounded by the shambolic ConLib Coalition.

To be fair, The Scotsman - or perhaps another title, The Occasional Scotsman but I’m also a Brit, does give regular space to Joan McAlpine, who is not at all confused about her identity and is an infinitely better journalist than any of the others, so there is some kind of balance, albeit a little lopsided.

Meanwhile, we must put up with articles such as Proud to Scottish … and English from John McTernan, former Labour Party adviser to Tony Blair, a Prime Minister easily moved to tears and deeply sentimental, one who launched an illegal and horrific war in Iraq, responsible for the violent death and mutilation of countless thousands of innocent men, women and children, and the involvement of the UK in the misconceived, decade-long and utterly pointless war in Afghanistan.

Or Allan Massie, with his article Labour must be bold and give Gray a second chance, with advice such as

“Instead Labour has to be true to itself, to assert that independence is unnecessary as well as undesirable, to say the Scottishness is compatible with Britishness, to insist that its values are shared by millions of people in other constituent parts of the United Kingdom. It should be unashamedly and indeed proudly Unionist, arguing that the continuation of the Union is in the best interests of the Scottish people, and defending the devolution arrangements as a settlement, not as a process of gradual disengagement.”

Wrong on every count, Allan Massie.

Independence is necessary, desirable and vital to Scotland.

There is no such things as ‘Britishness’, or ‘British values’ - they are false constructs designed to support an empire that has long since died.

The very reason that Labour is dying in Scotland is that it is “unashamedly and indeed proudly Unionist” and the Scottish electorate have recognised that at last, realised that it is incompatible with the interests of Scots, their ancient identity, their pride as a nation, and their common humanity.

That is why they rejected Labour and the other Unionist parties and embraced their ain folk on May 5th 2011.

No amount of jingoistic sentimentality, cloaking the essential amorality, corruption, brutality  and incompetence of the UK Establishment and its successive puppet governments, currently on blatant display in the News of the World debacle, and the deeply questionable links, at the highest levels, of successive governments and the police to an unscrupulous and possibly criminal newspaper and media monolith, News International, can conceal that something is rotten in the state of the UK, and has been for a very, very long time.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Allan Massie and patriotism - who are the scoundrels?

Allan Massie had a piece in The Scotsman yesterday entitled False patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.

His piece was inspired, if that’s the right word, by Ian Davidson’s description in the Commons of the SNP as neo-fascist. Massie appears to set out to defend the SNP against the charge. I waited for the ‘but’: it turned out to be a ‘nevertheless’, when he finally gets to his real agenda in the third column and the sixth paragraph.

“Nevertheless, there is one respect in which his accusation, however offensive, merits consideration.”

He focuses, not on SNP party officials, MSPs, MPs or commentators sympathetic to the SNP to support his charge, but on cybernats, a blanket term used pejoratively by unionists for any online commentator sympathetic to the nationalist cause. Since by definition online comment includes the spectrum of opinion from the moderate and considered to raving abuse, he will have no difficulty in finding such stuff, especially in The Scotsman’s online comment, which is ineptly and badly moderated by the newspaper itself, apparently using post moderation (and not much of that) rather than pre-moderation of comments. I stopped contributing online comment to The Scotsman for this very reason some time ago, after complaining unsuccessfully about this.

(The SNP government is bringing in a bill, the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications {Scotland} Bill, to create two new criminal offences, the second of which concerns the sending or posting on the web of threatening communications of a religious nature, just one pernicious aspect of online abuse.)

Massie manages to ignore the fact of equivalent raving abuse from supporters of the union in The Scotsman, not to mention that mouthpiece of the Union, The Telegraph, where it even invades the letters section of the print edition. He takes issue with one aspect of nationalist comment,  the questioning of the patriotism of non-nationalists, and the tendency of nationalists to describe unionists as quislings.

This ugly word  entered the language during and after the Second World War, derived from Vidkun Quisling, a Norwegian politician who collaborated with the Nazi occupation of Norway, ran the Quisling Regime on behalf of the Nazis, and was executed for high treason by his countrymen in 1945. The word now means a person cooperating with an occupying enemy, a collaborator, a traitor. It is certainly too extreme an appellation to give to a political opponent or to someone holding an office, such as Secretary of State for Scotland, that is perceived as having some parallels to the Quisling role.

I don’t think of myself as a cybernat, but I confess to having been tempted to draw such a comparison, and on occasion may have yielded to it, or come close, by loose use of the term.

For the comparison to be valid, the end of the Union and the independence of Scotland would have to be demonstrably the democratic wish of a majority of the Scottish people, that wish would have to have been denied or frustrated by the UK government, by either ignoring a democratic mandate or gerrymandering the political process, e.g. through the mechanics of a referendum, and the Secretary of State for Scotland would have had to be complicit in that process, something that hasn’t happened - yet.

So, I join with Allan Massie in condemning the indiscriminate use of the word quisling to describe the office of Secretary of State for Scotland, although I find nothing to admire or respect in that institution, the contemptible record of which has been documented in Diomhair and elsewhere. I have no respect whatsoever for Scots who choose to accept that office, and will rejoice when it disappears. Until that happens, I will continue to treat it and its incumbents with the contempt I feel they deserve.

I make an exception for the honourable memory of Tom Johnston, wartime Secretary of State for Scotland, the last and perhaps the only incumbent of that role to have acted totally in the interests of Scotland. A socialist, an internationalist and a great Scot by any measures, the things he achieved for his country - and he was never in doubt that it was Scotland - are beyond question.

Allan Massie manages in his piece to move seamlessly from appearing to condemn Ian Davidson’s unfortunate remark, as a Member of Parliament under privilege in the House of Commons, to conflating the most extreme remarks of sundry anonymous online posters to draw parallels between  some Scottish nationalists and Hitler’s Germany, anti-semitism, Franco’s Spain, and to describe them as “at least proto-fascists”.

I have something to offer Allan Massie that may assist him in understanding fascism, and identifying political behaviour that tends towards that ugly and, George Orwell notwithstanding, completely identifiable tendency.

Fascist states are obsessively militaristic in character, consuming a wholly disproportionate part of their national resources on armaments.

They appeal to a nostalgic and glorious past that has little to do with present social and economic realities.

They exalt the Head of State, whether monarch or dictator, and claim either a hereditary or nepotistic right to succession in key offices of state.

They maintain the semblance of a democracy, while effectively nullifying, or as they describe it, ‘balancing’ the democratic institutions with non-democratic, unelected bodies.

They have key linkages between the military and relevant sections of industry in a military/industrial complex. Defence procurement is perceived by the public as incompetent, when in fact it is mainly corrupt, and unfailingly enriches the politicians associated with it.

They claim a right to intervene by force in the affairs of other nation states, and occupy them, always with the claim that they are acting in the interests of the people of the occupied territories.

They have a cult of blood, death and sacrifice in which the Head of State plays a major role. They exalt the dead as heroes of the nation: the children of the governing elite are rarely if ever among the dead. They drape the coffins of the dead with flags.

They are given to militaristic displays at any and every opportunity. They blatantly use military contracts and jobs as a political lever to influence the vestiges of true democracy that remain in the state apparatus.

When the voice of the people is heard, either through popular protest or electoral success, a sustained attack is made by the fascist state on the legitimacy of such protest and electoral success, and the democratic mandate is challenged frontally. The fascist state exercise significant or total control over media.

The fascist state has an elaborate system of patronage, titles and honours to sustain its power and to limit the democratic mandate where it exists.

The fascist state will sacrifice any public service rather than contain its military ambitions or curtail the profits and privileged of the rich and powerful. It deeply distrusts the public services of the nation. It readily blames the poor and the vulnerable for the ills of the nation and holds them responsible for their own miseries.

All of the above characteristics are either currently present or developing in the state of the United Kingdom.

None of them are present in Scottish nationalism, the Scottish National Party, nor in the vast majority of its supporters.

Let me end by saying that I am in fundamental agreement with Allan Massie on one thing - false patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel, and I am clear on who the scoundrels are, even if he is not.