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

Why a strong identity tells a lot about courage

Courage is about doing it in spite of what others say... Allowing an angel playing the bagpipe instead of a harp, for example. ©Maria Pakura

Courage is about doing it in spite of what others say… Allowing an angel playing the bagpipe instead of a harp, for example. ©Maria Pakura

Identity. What a powerful word. Just a word in the first place, to be filled with attitude. Many discussions in Scotland are meandering around that topic these days. Scots chew through an issue which is of global significance when they quarrel over how important their identity is, should be, need to be, must be, is allowed to be, and probably they are not even aware of it funnily. Of course, it’s now mainly about their identity and how similar to or different from their neighbours’ identity it is. I think, recent and even old questions on nationality are probably not so much about the borders of a country though, rather about the search for a stable identity in a community. And this is certainly not an exclusively Scottish quest.

I want to have a look at the personal nature of identity today. Oversimplified there are three big bricks which build the basement of an individual’s identity: self-perception, how other perceive the person, communication. Self-perception is a weird thing. We always tend to think we are not manipulable, but our self-perception depends extremely on what feedback we get from outside. Standing in front of a mirror singing “I feel pretty” after someone contradicted is much harder than doing it after flattery, for example. Of course, we have a kind of inner image of ourselves. We have our preferences, experience, ideas, emotions, reactions. But we always adjust them due to external input and feedback.

There’s where communication comes into play. The most important instrument is language, of course, so speaking, writing, reading have the biggest influence. Talking of face-to-face-communication, it’s more than that, of course, but we can neglect that when talking of the current discussions on nationalism in Scotland which take place on social media platforms and virtually therefore foremost. That’s not a surprise btw, only few people have the courage to stand for their opinions and beliefs with their face and their voice when the subject is contradictory, problematic potentially on top. Social media is a good way to give a new kind of courage a trial without risking too much, and it’s a democratic mean, empowering everyone to be heard or read rather. But that’s another topic.

Back to communication. We read or hear something, and if it’s close enough to our self-perception, it will catch our attention. Inner mechanisms make us ask in what way it has to do with us and what we think of it. If we get involved inwardly, we usually show reactions: a smile, a comment, a reply. Doing this, we adjust or establish our self-perception. And we take influence on how others see us which mainly builds on our reactions and how we represent our image. We get a feedback on this – ignorance is a feedback as well btw – and that’s where the circle gets round.

So what is identity about? It’s about how we see us, how others see us, how we communicate, and doubtlessly it’s much easier for us and the feedback is much more positive if we are surrounded by people who are not too different from us. Why so? Well, let’s imagine you are a person with pale skin and red hair and a fierce attitude, and you are living in a village where most people have dark skin, dark hair and a very reluctant attitude. This is nothing about nationality or culture or ethnicity, but you will naturally stand out because you look different and your behaviour is different. Correspondently arguable will the communication and the feedback be. You probably will speak out what you think and get the feedback that’s not okay, too much, cheeky, inappropriate. You will adapt your behaviour bit by bit and feel an inner tension because you cannot be yourself. And so on. Again: This is not about nationality or culture. It’s about differentness and (mis)understanding.

Knowing all that, it is evident that the closer and less different a group is, the easier it is to live one’s identity without huge adjustments. A national group is less problematic in that context than a heterogenic union of several states, yes. But honestly, a regional group is less problematic than a national all the same. Would you say people in Perthshire are very similar to people on Orkney? Or people in Edinburgh are very similar to people in Portree? That’s not comparable, you say, big city versus small town, rural region versus isolated islands? You are right, it is not comparable. And there is no homogenic Scottish nationality or identity, the units have to be much smaller if a joint identity is the aim, same elsewhere as well for that matter, be it Germany or Spain or Italy or China or Brasil. I cannot think of a homogenic nation as such.

If nationalism is an effort of clinging together I’d never judge it, but I actually do not think what many – not all, but many – people in Scotland are longing for is a stronger national identity, it’s rather about their own identity and how to find and strengthen it. But the wee world of an individual can be so stormy and scary, think of money troubles, a bossy boss, rebelling kids, failing relationships, life-threatening illnesses. The microuniverse gets too small then, and stability is provided by the bigger group. It’s about balance. It’s about courage as well. The courage of doing things in spite of what others say and think. A strong identity would be revealed if you, as a pale straightforward redhead, stuck to your personality no matter where you are and who you have to deal with. It might help some to say “I am Scottish, that’s the way we are” to establish their individual way. The courageous, though, don’t need a nationality or regionality to refer to. They are the way they are. They have found their identity and know that there are people who hate it – and others who love it.

©Maria Pakura