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

Who’s the crackpot now?

Some call Scottish Yessers – now better known as the45 or the45pluscrackpots who are losing their touch with reality. Some had obviously expected that 1.6 millions of people who stood by their desire for independence with their vote would shrug their shoulders after the majority No, would say “well, it wasn’t meant to be”, step back into the shadow of the individual’s meaninglessness and would give politicians and opinion leaders their head. Far wrong. Nicola Sturgeon, Deputy First Minister of Scotland and probably future First Minister of Scotland, announced an hour ago that the SNP (Scottish National Party) has more than 60.000 members now. SNP’s chief executive Peter Murrell wrote via Twitter almost at the same time:

“Shaka Laka Boom!! Everybody on your feet, we’ve added new @theSNPmember 34,358. Total is now 60,000.”

I have to repeat that because it’s unbelievable: Since Scotland said No just five days ago, more than 34.000 people decided to join the SNP to strengthen Scotland’s quest for more powers and a sharper national identity. 34.000 people. In five days. The party is now almost twice as big as it was before. And it’s not ebbing away yet from what I read and hear. That’s nothing about shrugging shoulders and remaining silent, right?

On top of it, there are serious efforts to push (at times: crazy) changes forward in Scotland. For example, there’s a crowdfunding project called Freedom TV which aims to creating an independent broadcaster which is meant to provide people freely with unbiased news from around their country. Honestly, I love the idea, as I know, being a journalist, that it is almost impossible to work completely without any influence. It’s not easy to explain why since objectivity is journalism’s virtue, but I will try: If I was employed by a paper or broadcaster, I would have a contract of employment as everyone else which contained specifications about my monthly salary. This salary would be paid by the publisher who usually wants his editors to be as objective as possible, but where does this money come from? The publisher earns money by selling papers or by getting licence fees (btw: public broadcasters would lose fees if the country became smaller, right?) and in particular by selling advertisement slots, be they printed or telecasted. Advertisers and fees make up the biggest share of imcoming money, no doubt about that. So they effectively pay the biggest share of employed journalists’ salaries. And those of freelancers as well, because the budget to buy reports from outside has to be paid as well, of course.

And now imagine, no matter what topic, what kind of balancing act it is when journalists write or speak about something when they very well know that it might not please their money sources. On the one hand, the reliability of the press depends on how unbiased and critical they do report, and that is still a good argument to tell advertisers and sponsors when they complain about certain topics. On the other hand, if those money sources got really angry and decided to quit all cooperations with that paper or broadcaster, it might mean that people get unemployed because there’s less money than before, simple like that. So true, journalists are not completely independent as long as they have to pay their bills and as long as they have to get paid therefore.

Now, a crowdfunded broadcaster seems to be the perfect alternative, at first sight. But there are four problems in my opinion:

  1. The project mentioned above has a kick-off aim of only 6.000 pounds. What exactly do you guys want to do with 6.000 bucks? Seriously, that’s not even enough to buy the equipment you need, means, camera, object lenses, microphone, computer programs, webspace. And who will pay the journalists, at least one? Or let’s put it like that: Who will feed the person’s children if you find someone who’s idealistic enough to work without payment?
  2. Following point one: People who will work for that independent broadcaster are needed, right? Let’s imagine they won’t be journalists: How will you make sure they do research with care and accuracy? How will you make sure that they express facts, issues, opinions in a precise, understandable, non-manipulative way, that they check first if it’s true what they wanna report? How will you make sure that they respect press law, copyright, press ethics and the like? I don’t stress all that because I’m egocentric, but journalists are usually not people who think it’s cool to sit somewhere with a writing pad and a pen or ask people weird questions, good journalists are highly educated. We know how to find out things, we know how many people from both sides plus experts we have to ask in order to deliver an objective view, we know how to express things. It’s not that easy.
  3. Crowdfunding is a nice thing, really. But I’m not sure about crowdfunding for media. There is a crowdfunded project in Germany called krautreporter, but firstly it’s made by journalists, secondly it gets attention particularly from journalists. Journalists know about the influence thingy, see above. But the ordinary recipient does not care as long as it’s for free or cheap. But a serious journalistic project cannot be cheap. The higher the quality and reliability of the content should be, the more expensive it gets, due to equipment and due to manpower. Just a wee example: If I had paid myself for the working time and expertise I’ve spent to realize my SIR-blog, the site would be worth around maybe 20.000 Euro or more. An independent broadcaster would be possible, yes, but only if every single Scot would spend at least 1 pound a month. Would be 5,4 millions a month, and you would get a proper news channel. Online though, not enough to get on-air.
  4. Let’s imagine you had the people and the money to realize it: Do you really think it would be resistant against influence? Sure, there would be no advertisers, but effectively each single Scot would own a part of it by giving money for it. And as we’ve learnt past Friday, Scotland is split: (Almost) one half would thump topics targeting more devolution, a possible future independence, more nationalism and the like, (a bit more than) the other half would thump topics targeting union, better cooperation, borderless thinking and the like. And both halfs would be quite angry if the broadcaster did reports against their attitude. What’s biased then?

That’s a long explanation, sorry for that, but it shows that it’s not that easy to change things. On the other hand, the effort to change things is good, and the idea to free the press from influences is good as well, many journalists would cheer if it was possible, I’m convinced they would as I’d be the first to be grateful. Apart from impossilities, there’s still and even increasingly much activity in Scotland. The immense amount of new SNP members are one proof, many non-commercial commentaries are another. There are blogs from both sides – for example, Effie Deans is writing pro union here, the Butterfly Rebellion members (who are rejecting the referendum’s decision) are writing pro independence here – which are commenting on happenings, opinions, press reactions and much more. Which is a good thing as long as the reader doesn’t blindly believe everything he or she reads but tries to read a lot from both sides to make an own opinion. An unbiased opinion.

And looking beyond your own backyard, it should become clear quickly that there are crackpots on both sides, but no side is the crackpot. Being critical, questioning things, demanding answers, finding new ways, bringing ideas forward in order to change things can never be bad. If there was no change, we would still wear animal furs sitting by a fire in a cave. Change is the first step into a future, that’s for sure. But it’s bad to dig in one’s heels and ignore the other side’s arguments. Only crackpots do so.

©Maria Pakura