Are you sitting comfortably? This past week has given us a few significant news stories. There’s the Royal Navy whistle-blower who has revealed that weapons designed to blow up half the planet and turn the other half into a radioactive wasteland are a disaster waiting to happen. In another example of rank insanity the Labour party in Scotland continues on its descent into self obsessed madness, although it had snapped the elastic band of nutjobbery quite some time ago. Now it’s twanging the ends on its forehead thinking that Ken Macintosh is the great new idea. Meanwhile the Tories are about to embark on an all out assault on our civil and human rights, introduce a snoopers’ charter and cut off the legs of the unemployed in order to teach them to stand on their own two feet. What passes for business as usual in this Great British northern province then.
So what’s the big story that has got the metrocommentariat appalled and disgusted? Dennis Skinner had to get an SNP person to budge along a bench. It’s an outrage. He’s a pensioner. The SNP upset an old man. The basterts, setting their beach towels on House of Commons benches like German tourists. Uppity Scottish people demanding front row seats and wanting to be noticed. Where do they think they are? They should stand at the back of the chambers in reverent silence while the lizard aliens who are in charge make all the decisions. It’s always worked like that before.
Mind you, if Davie Cameron really is a lizard alien you do have to wonder why he chose that face for his human form. He should have gone for something less shiny and smug and more believably human. Although to be fair, he was comparing himself to Boris Johnson and the dead fish eyes of George Osborne, and by those standards he’s really done rather well.
But back to seating arrangements. Dennis Skinner is 83 and still sits as an MP. The only other people who continue in their jobs at that age are popes and African dictators. No one could ever accuse Labour MPs of infallibility, although many have accused them of kleptocracy – but never, it must be pointed out, Dennis Skinner. Dennis is a good man, but he’s condemned himself to a fate worse than political death. He thought he was breaking the rules, but the establishment just rewrote the rules so that Dennis and his toothless yelled protests became a part of them.
A long time ago, back when there was still a Labour party in Scotland, Dennis used to be a real radical and a proper rebel with a yell. Then he became a Labour MP and over the course of the decades evolved into a tame pet of the British establishment. Dennis has taken upon himself the invaluable task of representing a peculiarly British safely contained and institutionalised awkwardsoddery. He has become the kind of revolutionary that revolves nothing except a children’s roundabout of ritualised protest, it goes nowhere and serves only to amuse those who think they’re the grown ups.
Dennis sits on a front bench in the House of Commons and shouts out protests which allow the establishment to feel like they’re really democrats and that freedom of speech is alive and well in the United Magic Kingdom of austerity. But everyone knows that Dennis has no sparkly wand and that nothing ever changes. That’s how he can be described as a national treasure. He’s become a faded red thread in the fabric of the cloth he once wanted to rip up. When a rebel has his own recognised place in the institution he’s rebelling against he’s no longer a rebel at all, he’s just a species of court jester with worse jokes. He becomes the subject of the cruellest taunt you can make at an auld rebel: “The sowel, he means well.”
It’s because Dennis is a token rebel who changes nothing that he’s now the darling of the British right wing press. When the Daily Mail is leaping to his defence you know he’s no real threat to the established order but instead is a part of it. The British establishment is using Dennis as a stick to beat up on a group of MPs who really do threaten to change things. That’s a bit of a come down – from the Beast of Bolsover to the neutered pet of the Tory press.
Dennis Skinner sits on his front seat bench as a warning to the 56 SNP MPs. Dennis in his special place railing against the institution that has institutionalised him should act as a permanent reminder of the fate the SNP’s 56 need to avoid. They must not become co-opted and their protests ritualised and neutered. They must avoid becoming the tartan trimming in a Great British pageant. Westminster subverts those who seek to subvert it by demanding adherence to its rituals and its ancient traditions which were for the most part invented by Victorians in a fit of archaistic window dressing.
The SNP’s MPs should sit wherever they damn well please, they should clap and cheer and have no regard for the childish and silly social rituals that underpin Westminster, because otherwise they become co-opted by them. They become Dennis Skinners, a part of an institution that isn’t fit for government and a justification for things remaining as they are. They must never forget that they are not there to become a part of the Westminster furniture, they are there to act as a Scottish noise up in a cosy British establishment old boys club. They are they to annoy, to upset, to be a permanent thorn in the pink and flabby flesh of the lizard people.
But far more importantly Scotland’s MPs must never allow the real issues to be swept under the Great British tapestry. Things which, it shouldn’t need to be pointed out, are far more important than fox hunting or seating arrangements. They are there to shout and scream that the fabric is rotten and is woven out of the threat the Tories pose to our human rights, the demonisation of the poor, the axe that’s being taken to the benefits of the vulnerable, the dangers of a nuclear missile programme mismanaged by muppets, the permausterity of government by the bankers for the bankers.
Scotland’s MPs are there to resist and to point out that alternatives are possible. They are there to weave a new story. They are there to make sure that none of the representatives in that parliament are ever sitting comfortably.
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