Back in the 1960s when I was a wean, if you were bright enough you could go to uni for free, there was an NHS that was safe and secure, there were nationalised blue trains that were the height of modernity, and when you left school you could get a job for life. My parents enjoyed opportunities that had been denied to their parents.
It wasn’t a paradise. It was very far from that. There were evil Tories aplenty, and they enjoyed a significant support in Scotland from the big drum banging brigade. Sectarianism and racism were rampant and socially acceptable, the dread question what school did you go to was asked at job interviews. Homophobia wasn’t just commonplace, it was obligatory. But there was a Labour party to act a bulwark, a defence against the worst excesses of the establishment and the bosses. We felt that Labour stood on our side, that we had a powerful ally that could look the establishment in the eye and say No. We felt safe.
People looked down on furren lands with their generals and their coups and their coalition governments that crashed as frequently as a Fiat with no brakes. Scandals and corruption were things that happened in far away places, and we could watch from afar and feel smugly superior. For all its faults, Britain was the gold standard of democracy. Or so we thought.
We were naive, childlike in our trust. We knew nothing of the sex abuse, the cover ups, the corruption and the sleaze. These were things that happened elsewhere, in those foreign lands we were taught to look down on. Not here. We were better than that. We had the British state to save us. We had the safety blanket of social security, and for all the many faults of Britain for the most part we felt safe.
And then came Thatcher, and the British state ate itself. It consumed Scotland and the North to build glittering towers where bankers could worship money. The rich got rich and the poor got kicked in guts that they have nothing to fill. In the towns and cities that formed the powerhouse that drove the Industrial Revolution there were once factories but now there are only food banks. The safety net is a tattered tissue of begrudgement called welfare on which no one fares well, given only to those deemed deserving by the arbitrary tick of a box on a form. We’ve got a state that offers nothing, but demands ever more, becomes ever more intrusive. It snoops and it pries and demands that we hide nothing from it. But it hides away its own secrets. If you’ve got nothing to hide you’ve got nothing to fear, say the powerful people who keep their sins secret with a Jimmy Savile smile.
Britain protects the rich and powerful. It covers up their vile crimes against children. In Britain, protecting the reputations of members of the establishment is more important than the life of your child. Britain robs from the poor to enrich the wealthy. It exists in a network of connection and nods and handshakes and mutual backslapping that exclude the majority. They have power but no accountability. The higher your paygrade, the less likely you are to carry the can. Only the little people have to resign for their failures. This is Britain.
Britain bombs and blasts the fabric of other countries, and calls in the army when the shattered citizens of states Britain has made fail come seeking refuge. Demonising and dehumanising, human suffering becomes a swarm. Compassion is a weakness. Care is privatised. Charity only for a hand picked few. The only jobs for life are the jobs the rich and powerful give to themselves and their children, while the rest of us scramble for coins in the dust they throw up in their haste to avoid paying tax. We now live in the furren land we once looked down on. This state is alien to the likes of you and me.
And the Tories are still Tories but now Labour has joined them. Evil twin dark stars orbiting around the black hole that swallows all hope, devours all that is good, reduces and shackles all that is progress.
Tony Blair promised to reform the House of Lords, a chamber composed of hereditary peers who had the right to affect our laws because of who their dad was. It was an insult to democracy and had no place in a modern society. True to his word, Tony reformed the Lords. He replaced it with the only thing worse. Tony replaced the lottery of genes and birth order with political patronage, appointees who get their privilege as a reward for services rendered.
Now we have a Labour party whose leading lights struggle with the very concept of democracy. John McTernan, the former spin doctor to Tony Blair, thinks that ordinary party members should do as they’re told. They should vote for the candidate that their betters tell them to vote for, and if they don’t then the person the little people elect should be summarily evicted from office.
There are those who cling on to past glories and old stories like dried up chewing gum on a broken pavement. What they love is the image of a Britain that never really existed, the surface gloss not the rot underneath. But the truth is that you can’t really love something that is kept hidden from you. If you don’t know the truth, you live and love in a lie.
And I think of all those who cling on to the comfort blanket of myths and still believe that Scotland shouldn’t stand on its own feet. I feel sorry for them, living in the cotton wool of lies. Blind to reality, deaf to truth, living on hopes of change that will never be delivered. The only hope is in our own hands, in the changes we make ourselves. We can be agents of that change. It only takes faith in yourself. Trust yourself, or trust the McTernans of this world. That’s the only choice remaining.
Look on the wreckage of the British state. Smell the rot. Inhale the heady gases of decay. Then look to the north and see the green shoots of a thistle, growing and thriving in the rubble.
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