Writing about British politics these days has basically become an exercise in finding different ways to say how screwed we are. Well now we have a new baseline measurement. British politics is so screwed that former Ayrshire Labour MP Brian Donohoe has been awarded a knighthood for his services to politics. Presumably what that really means is for his services to telling his former constituents to fuck off, because those were indeed his exact words after he lost his seat to the estimable Philippa Whitford.
There is hope for us all now. No matter how crap you are, no matter how disappointing, no matter how inadequate, you too could get an honour because if Brian can do it so can anyone. Or at least there would be hope for us all if we all had pals in powerful places, because this award demonstrates the essential truth about the British state and the British establishment. It’s not what you know, it’s who you know that really counts. Twas ever thus, and ever will be.
During his 23 years as an MP, first for Cunninghame South and then after boundary changes for Central Ayrshire, Brian achieved the square root of hee-haw. Deeply opposed to equal marriage, Brian’s parliamentary career was notable only for permiting him to display himself as the kind of Scottish Labour dinosaur who made velociraptors seem like caring and compassionate individuals. Although he consistently voted down equality, he was equally consistent in voting in favour of every increase in income for MPs that was going. But it’s not just gay people that Brian holds in contempt. It has been reported that as the Glasgow result in the 2014 independence referendum was being announced, the Rangers mad Brian remarked to his pals, “Let’s see how the kafflicks voted.” Charming.
The truly surprising thing is that there are still people who are prepared to defend this ridiculous system which rewards mediocrity. And then they wonder why British politics is so mediocre. The depths of despair are currently being plumbed with the Tory leadership contest. There are people in Scotland who sincerely believe that any one of this bunch of social misfits, inadequates, drug addled hacks, liars, opportunists, careerists, or narcissists would make a better set of choices for Scotland than a government elected by and directly responsible to the people of Scotland.
Assorted candidates for the Tory leadership and wannabe Prime Ministers are queueing up to give us their thoughts on how they will secure that mythical beast, a brexit that works. A Brexit that works is rather like a multiple car crash on the motorway during rush hour that improves traffic flow, by its very definition it is a contradiction in terms, but that doesn’t stop Tory leadership candidates banging on about it. We’ve long since crossed the rubicon into a mythical land where politics has become the pursuit of natural phenomena which if you screw your eyes up and ignore most of the evidence could be taken as proof that aliens visited the Earth. British politics has turned into one of those pseudo-documentaries on the Discovery Channel.
There are various strategies on offer for achieving this contradiction in terms and a starring role in Nazi Alien Ghosthunting Bigfoot Megastructure Brexit, however most of them boil down to the same thing. That would be the strategy traditionally adopted by English speaking tourists all over the globe when dealing with local people who wilfully refuse to speak English. If the locals don’t understand you the first time round, THEN SHOUT LOUDLY WHILE SPEAKING SLOWLY. And if that fails you can always try sticking an -o onto the end of random nouns. That will get the message through to Michel Barnier.
At the moment, the candidates are lining up to admit to drug taking in their younger years, possibly in the vain hope that this will make them appear more relatable and human. That said, the only possible way in which Michael Gove could be any more obnoxious is for him to present us with the image of a coked up Michael Gove. He oozes oleaginous entitlement as it is. He certainly doesn’t need it boosted by a drug whose most significant effect is to make you think that you’re God’s gift.
When he stabbed Boris Johnson in the back and announced that he was standing for Tory leadership in 2016, Michael Gove gave the following justification: “I compare it to a group of people standing outside a collapsing building, wondering who is going to rescue a child inside. I thought: well, I don’t think I’ve got either the strength or the speed for this, but as I looked around, I thought, God, I’m at least as strong and at least as fast as the others. I’ve got to try to save the child.” Gove is so lacking in self-awareness that in his imagination he likens himself to a hero trying to save a child, utterly oblivious to the fact that he and Boris Johnson were the two wrecking balls who demolished the building in the first place. This is a degree of narcissism that even Donald Trump would find immodest.
Those candidates who do have ideas which they hope will set them apart from the pack possess notions which are only notable for their batshittery. There’s Dominic Raab, the white van man of the Conservative party, permanently locked into road rage. Dominic wants to avoid any of this democratic accountability nonsense. He wants to prorogue parliament so that it can’t block a no deal Brexit, even though there is no mandate for a no-deal crashing out of the EU. Brexit is really about restoring the divine right of the executive.
Meanwhile Rory the Tory Stewart has decided to take a break from being the sensible one in the contest and has proposed a great wheeze of his own. This is to introduce a new form of national service for 16 and 17 year olds. Not military service, he was keen to stress. What he’s got in mind is more inspired the scouting movement. That’s really how to counter young people’s fears about their future, Rory, making them spend time doing stuff that they don’t want to do. Never mind providing them with affordable education, decent jobs, or the opportunity for affordable housing. No, what’s really needed is a compulsory form of the boy scouts and girl guides. A sort of gin gang gulag.
Then there’s Matt Hancock. Matt thinks that the reason that so many people in Scotland want independence is because we don’t have enough union flegs plastered on things. Clearly he doesn’t shop in Tesco. Perhaps he could team up with Rory and insist that all 16 and 17 year olds get tattooed with union flegs and WATP.
For those of us who aren’t actually the clowns in the ring, the entire show is a circus of despair, a carnival of inconsequence. The Tories fiddle while the future burns. The Brexit clock is ticking down, time is running out, and we’re wasting it all on a beauty parade of ugly personalities who know nothing, have no ideas, and have no solutions.
But what we can be sure of is that in a few years time, all these Tory candidates, these mongers of mediocrity, will also be granted gongs, titles, and honours for services to politics. They’ll get rewarded for their failures, it’s the rest of us who will have to suffer the consequences. With Brexit and the Tory party, we are witnessing the eventual outcome of what you get when you consistently reward political third raters and ensure that they can never be held to account because of their connections. It’s the British way. It doesn’t have to be the Scottish way.
My new book has just been published by Vagabond Voices. Containing the best articles from The National from 2016 to date. Weighing in at over 350 pages, this is the biggest and best anthology of Wee Gingerisms yet. This collection of pieces covers the increasingly demented Brexit years, and the continuing presence and strength of Scotland’s independence movement.
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