Why I lost my sense of Scottish politics

I was asked by plenty of people why I stopped blogging on Scotland, and in particular Scotland’s political turmoils. Maybe the night before extraordinary General Elections in Great Britain is the best point of time to answer this question. There are three reasons of relevance. First of all, I didn’t feel entitled any longer. Funnily, it was never a “Nat” who pointed to the fact that neither do I live in Scotland nor do I have Scottish ancestry, it was Unionists and Brexiteers who told me “it” was none of my business. The same people who assumed I were showing a nearness to Scottish nationalism, what’s utterly illogical. Anyhow, I didn’t fancy tilting at windmills, so I kept my thoughts private for quite a while.

Second, it got harder to investigate in a journalistic sense what’s fact and what’s propaganda. The public exposition has changed a lot since indyref in 2014. No matter what topic, there always seem to be two contradicting truths (is there even a pluralistic form of truth?) linked to it. Sure, things can be seen from different perspectives, but whether it’s education or women’s rights, health care or security: one side pushes forward, the other side demonises. And stupidly even the sources of information impact the reception meanwhile. To be precise (with fictive examples): When the BBC analyses health care spendings, it’s “look, I told you, we have it good” on the one side and “fxxk media bias, they whitewash the numbers anyway” on the other side. When The National analyses how official statements on Scottish oil reserves can differ remarkably before and after elections, it’s “damn, I knew they lie to us” on the one side and “they are SNP barkers and totally biased anyway” on the other side. “Bias” is what’s used as a knockout argument from both sides equally and therefore one of the most popular words on social media these days as it seems. Although for me, as a journalist, it’s clear: If I can track the sources and if the writer considered opposing positions and asked all the intruding questions, it’s a neutral point of view and reliable, no matter what’s written on the name label of the paper or broadcaster. We cannot chose what’s true due to our beliefs, we have to elicit truth by looking at the facts and the sources. This, regrettably, has become quite a challenge when observing Scottish events while living in Germany.

Third, my understanding has a tough time with reactions and decisions (not only) in Scotland. Don’t get me wrong, I do know how politics work, I do understand coherences and causal effects, I see essential overlaps of politics and economics. Ideals, cultural as well as social ones, such as equal rights and opportunities, poverty reduction etc., are noble aims, and I, for one, do believe in them, too. But a country needs money to implement aims like these, and money depends on a vital economic system which flourishes and grows, so it would be rather naive to exclude capitalistic attempts. So yes, I can understand why the Tories, being the British party with the best visible economic direction, sail in a tailwind during times of insecurities of different types. What I do not understand is how a PM can propose a vote of confidence – and that’s the bottom line of what is going to happen tomorrow with the new GE – but miss to offer a transparent programme. What is the definition of „mainstream“, talking of the „mainstream government for mainstream Britain“ statement placed in Halifax? What if the „if“ in „if we get Brexit right, we can use this moment…“ turns out to be a „but all the others don’t want to play by our rules“? These are just two wee examples of many, I’ve read the manifesto here, maybe you should do the same, and I ask you to tell me if you find what I did not find: concrete plans, arguments and facts instead of future visions, beautiful words and ifs. So without taking sides, I personally don’t understand the Why when I read there’s no real alternative to a conservative majority, as I don’t think that a party can rest on the sad fact the other parties provide even less substance and even more nonsense. So I don’t understand the arguments for “strategic votes” or “resistance votes” which aren’t worth the term “argument”, ergo I don’t understand the going ons any more.

But I’m going to have my eyes and my attention in Britain and especially Scotland tomorrow. Maybe the outcome and what the country makes of it help me to get over these three obstacles, and maybe I’m more motivated hereafter to rant on about my favourite topic: Scotland.


GE: Truth is what you make of it

Tomorrow is the day: General Election (GE) 2015 in Great Britain. British people vote for their representatives in the parliament and lay down the political tracks for the following years. Being part of Europe and having several standards such as human rights, democracy, a social security system, general education and health care etc., the most important basics are safeguarded, no matter what the GE outcome might be. So the question is effectively about political details: demilitarisation vs. armament, energy transition vs. further use of nuclear powers (for arms but also power supply), profit maximization vs. support of disadvantaged people and small businesses, limiting the immigration vs. using it against skill shortage and demographic change. But reading and hearing what the parties’ campaigns and their supporters’ ideas are about, the voting pretends to be about some different things. Scottish independence, for example, or the end of austerity, or the end of the world even by conjuring a second Third Reich. Let’s see.

I won’t recite party manifestoes here (and eat them alive…). I am neither affiliated with a party or a political idea therefore, nor activist/mouthpiece for a single political view, and there are enough sites and blogs on all the programmes online yet. My concern is to encourage all the loud and the silent voters as well as all unconcerned Non-UK readers to think about some facts without getting influenced by the growing number of manipulators. What I’ve observed lately, reading blogs and tweets foremost, was worrying. There are people in the anonymity of the internet, hiding themselves behind fake names and fake or comic or avatar pics, telling their recipients in the chest voice of a prophet that they represent the real truth and the only right view, accusing dissidents of bad things and insulting them with abusive names only and solely because they don’t share their view. That’s not what the main idea of democracy is about. In particular if democracy is mopped-up in addition when the same people who fire against dissidents start whining about getting abused as soon as their dissidents fire back. Remember, no matter what your view is, every other person has the freedom to have an own view which might differ, and that’s perfectly okay. That’s freedom.

Some facts which possibly don’t have anything to do with the GE but might influence voters’ decisions if they don’t think about them reasonably:

  • GE 2015 and the past Scottish Independence Referendum (September 18th 2014) are two completely different things and have nothing in common, so both shouldn’t give direction to each other. It’s nonsense to “penalise” the SNP by voting “tactically” against it in the GE if the only reason is a No-support during the indyref. Indyref is over, Scotland said No, full stop. If former indyref-No-voters support SNP aims now and decide to vote for it, it’s not a decision against the British union, because the question is not separation now, the question is about political details and setting the course; see above. Equally, if independence-supporters tick most of their boxes when reading the Tory programme, they should vote for what they believe in. Indyref wasn’t about parties and political ideas, it was about separation. GE isn’t about separation, it’s about voting for representatives of one’s own political attitude.
  • Austerity is a strong word and can be used for all and nothing. Austerity means: going without something for a certain period of time, it means shortage. But that’s not necessarily bad. A fictive example: Imagine you get 1000 bucks per month and after paying for all running costs you have 100 for your free disposal. But you know that there’s a payment of tax arrears ahead in the amount of 600 for the year. There’s this dress though, and you desperately want to buy it – for 200. But that’s the money you have for yourself in two months = negative balance for one month, austerity for two months, right? No, not right. Because you cannot count with money which is not yours. Effectively you have a free disposal of only 50/month, not 100, because half of your 100/month are owned by the fiscal authority. That’s hurtful, yes, but it’s not your money although you get it. So 200 for a dress are what you have in four months, means you cannot go to cinema or for cocktails in four months if you buy it. It feels like austerity, but actually it’s the price you pay for the dress. You cannot blame the fiscal authority then, it’s not to blame for your inability to afford any expenses. You are to blame for your decision. But it’s not a bad thing, it doesn’t mean you’re generally poor, it only means you’ve treated yourself with a dress which was too expensive for your budget. It’s quite the same with the kind of austerity which is discussed everywhere these days: There is a budget, there are demands which cause costs, if more money than the budget implies gets spent there’s a gap, and this gap has to be filled, so expenses have to be saved somewhere = austerity. It’s necessary to refrain from amenities in order to satisfy needs – if the needs are more important than the amenities, and that’s the relevant point, not the result (= causing vs. avoiding austerity).
  • Poverty is another strong word and often misused in a manipulative way. Again the same example as above: It doesn’t mean that you’re poor if your budget doesn’t allow you to buy the 200-bucks-dress. You have clothes, you live in a dry place with a toilet and fresh water around, you get meals – in the worst case by making use of food banks. So you are not poor. Scotland – or Britain, that is – is not the only country in the world with food banks, Germany has them as well and many others, too. But fact is that no one really has to starve in European countries, we all pay for backstops for people who are socially and financially disadvantaged, and that’s good. So the actual problem is not about poverty in the literal meaning of the word – think of Third World issues with children starving to death, sleeping in the dirt without a warm place and fresh water even – but about equality. European people are not content with essential basics any more, they want to have a certain standard, based on self-determination (of nutricion, housing, clothing, consumption etc.). But some of these things – consumer goods in the first place – should be considered a kind of reward, not a taken-for-grantedness. People should take efforts to get it therefore. So helping the poor should mean helping people to be able to work for a better living standard, not just giving them more money. Politics against “poverty” do invest in education in the first place and is not about lowering taxes and the like.
  • Nationalism is a misused and misunderstood word. Like every other label of political tendencies it’s just a word in the first place and has to be filled with meaning by using it to describe a particular attitude and acting. If nationalism is about the idea that a community of people consider themselves “better”, about isolation, about devaluating everyone who’s not part of that community, it’s doubtlessly a bad thing; see Third Reich Germany, the preferred example of many #SNPout shouters webwide. If what the people of a community make of the word nationalism is about supporting all their fellow citizens (yes, also the ones who were born elsewhere and migrated), boost equal rights and opportunities, encourage the citizens to strengthen their economy by working hard and preferring products made in their home country without judging or deningrating “outsiders”, it can be a good thing. Nationalism is a word. Words are neutral. What people make of them makes them good or bad.
  • Celebrities earn their money with being popular. Sounds trivial, but it’s true. If they get involved into campaigns or support parties, their conviction can be but don’t need to be the reason. Other reasons can be publicity/image buildung/identification. So it’s never a good idea to vote for or against a party only because an idol speaks for or against it. Honestly, I’ve never thought about celebrities’ political views before, they didn’t play a role in election contexts in Germany during the past 30 years at least as far as I know from my own experience. But I’ve observed that they do play a role in GB, suprisingly enough. For example, JK Rowling was reported to stand firm against “cybernat abuse” here just two days before GE. It’s not okay to abuse anyone in any way, sure. But I was abused as well and not by nats, why aren’t the papers writing on that just before GE? Because I’m irrelevant? Why is JK Rowling relevant for the GE, in what way is she “more” than just an individual person with an individual view? But she has fans, many fans, and these fans might think “aw, poor JK, how could I possibly vote for nationalists if supporters abuse her”, right? That’s why articles like that shortly before voting day are manipulative, in my honest opinion, and that’s why I want to raise awareness for the fact that it’s not reasonable to melt fanship and voting decisions.

Enough. Voting day is just hours ahead. I don’t think the turnout will be much higher than 60% (61,4% in 2005, 65,1% in 2010, see here, but campaigns with a negative basic mood cause political apathy, I’d foretell), and I don’t think there will be big surprises concerning the outcome. It’s just a result, it’s neither good or bad. Important is what people will make of it. Truth will show itself in future.

©Maria Pakura