While I tend to agree with the anti-Salmond Facebook sentiments quoted from Gordon Harmer’s letter Detestable and devisive (SN, 12/04/14), I can’t really see much point in their ‘mud-slinging’ because I tend to view jumped-up whippersnapper politicians of Salmond’s ilk as a symptom of what’s gradually gone wrong (I mean ‘has deliberately been made to go wrong’) with the UK’s version of parliamentary democracy, and not its cause.
The working principle I have in mind is that bad systems always give rise to abuse – witness the social security system and the way it ‘works’ in England – while allowing and encouraging all sorts of excrescences to crawl out of the woodwork and behave like leeches.
The underlying cause of the problem (as I see it) is the extent to which the vote has been bought by successive Westminster governments (most notably and recently that of New Labour between 1997 to 2010; in their case, largely by means of an over-generous and thoroughly unwise system of welfare benefits, and not just to our own indigenous people).
The effect of buying the vote – as far back as the general election of 1945 in fact, when ‘cradle to grave’ welfare state support was first offered – has been to lock-in one form of government or the other – left-wing or right-wing – by means of a landslide election result, which installs one style of government or other for increasingly longer periods of time, while effectively disabling the opposition’s ability to act as a moderator of its decisions and activities.
In other words, we’ve lost the ‘checks and balances’ that used to make English parliamentary democracy work quite well – and without them, it doesn’t work at all, as we can see.
The bought vote reached the pinnacle of its success in 2010, when the result of a general election that should have consigned the party in government of that time to the dustbin of history for dropping the country into a depression (and not just to the opposition benches, where it ended up) – resulted in a hung parliament, and the emergence of a Con-Dem coalition which lacks enough of a joint majority to govern the country effectively.
We’ve now reached what I see as being the ludicrous situation of the coalition appearing to be its own self-contained opposition. Time and time again, we’ve seen one coalition party or the other offer a sensible course of action, only to have the other party block it out of hand or shoot it down in flames. The overall result has been that of ‘nothing achieved today, as usual’. We are then treated to the unedifying and futile spectacle of both halves of the coalition (along with the national press) pointing the finger at each other and cat-calling ‘U-Turn!!!’ at the tops of their voices, while both halves of the coalition also have to suffer the moronic cackling from the opposition benches of the very people who deliberately dropped this country into the meat-grinder.
That, as far as I’m concerned, is about as neat a definition and model of utter futility as I can possibly imagine … it may sell newspapers and give all the TV and online news media something to fill up their airtime and bandwidth with, and gravely pretend to be concerned about as ‘elder statesmen’ in their editorials; but in my view it’s simply ‘our taxes continuing to be wasted’ by people whose main job could fairly be described as ‘making pin-money out of expenses, house-flipping, and capital gains tax evasion’.
You, the reader, may be happy with that situation – but I’m not, because I don’t enjoy the feeling of being milked by grinning chancers; and especially not when I can see that 340+ of them, not a mere five, should have done prison time and been stripped of their assets and pension rights over the expenses scandal – and that yet another one of them has just got the chop for exactly that carefully-calculated crime.
So – what to do about it all; with our one measly vote apiece? Can we afford to wait for a constitutional or political crisis to emerge that finally forces a radical electoral reform of voting rights, while at the same time disabling the bought vote that’s crippling the democratic process in this country?
Can we afford to wait and let things trail on that long, while this country still has to borrow £160bn a year just to stay afloat? Can we afford to wait until the UK finally has to declare bankruptcy, at which point we’ll all learn (no doubt to our considerable discomfiture) who actually owns our debt, our land and our buildings, and how those creditors will go about foreclosing on it all?
Or do we start to consider thinking for ourselves, deciding on which party to vote for on the basis of the content and clarity of its manifesto and what kind of people support and stand for them as their demonstrators and candidates, if we can find that information out?
And should we not all push hard right now for a ‘none of the above’ box to tick on a Ballot paper so that a ‘contempt vote’ is given equal validity with all of the rest? If that’s the only way to ensure a 100% turnout at every election, so that everybody involved can make his or her feelings known, then my perception is that it needs to be put in hand as soon as possible.
We have until September – five months – in which to make up our minds about what to do to protect ourselves, should the result of the independence referendum that justifies Salmond’s existence cause the destabilisation of Scotland’s economy.
That would have to include: what to do about hanging on to our money, should a run on the banks ensue; what to do about obtaining and paying for our food, fuel and other services, should the banks all close their doors (i.e. close their counters and shut down our online banking, credit/debit card and direct debit facilities – because as soon as DD and card-swiping stops, so will paying for a lot of things that we rely on. We’ll be straight back to a cash-based economy, and it’ll be ‘no pay cash, no get here’).
It may all seem a bit apocalyptic and unlikely – but the precedent of funds seizure was set in Cyprus not very long ago; and the only ones who got away with it were the ones who saw it coming from afar, fully understood the idea that ‘if it ain’t there, it can’t be stolen’ and accordingly, withdrew their money and got out before the hammer came down.
We in Shetland, where we can’t grow enough food to support ourselves and don’t create the food sources either that our livestock and fish farms depend on (which leaves us utterly dependent on the various supply boats), may have an additional problem: which is that the Scottish pound we use for all of our face-to-face transactions is in fact a sub-currency, an imaginary currency, that exists solely by permission of (and connection with) the English pound.
If Scotland’s sub-economy were to be decoupled suddenly from the UK main economy by a Yes vote in September, the Scottish pound could, in theory, suddenly become non-viable and unacceptable as a means of exchange, both here and in Scotland.
If that were to happen, all trade supplies to Scotland would immediately cease to flow – and in Shetland’s case, survival would then be down to a matter of days as the limited stockpiles of supplies of everything we rely on were consumed. It would also mean that anyone who’d been ‘smart’ enough to get their money out of the reach of the Scottish banks would actually find themselves with nothing but waste paper in their fire safes, or under their mattresses.
All of the academic posturing and flimflam in the world would not save this place from starvation under those circumstances – because, with local stocks of what we need to survive on limited to no more than a week’s-worth at the very most, and with no obligation at all on England’s part to lend assistance to a section of the country that’s decided to secede from the United Kingdom, even if by proxy, there would be no time in which to take effective action to prevent a catastrophe.
I may be completely wrong in considering this scenario – but if I’m not, and if such a thing were to happen in September of this year, we’d only have ourselves to blame for not seeing it coming, and arranging beforehand to do whatever we could about it.
The bottom line for the UK is that Salmond and his kind can make us all the flowery, glowing promises they like – but none of those promises are backed by legal accountability and a guarantee of financial penalties if they are unfulfilled; and until they are backed by such penalties (including prison time for deliberately telling lies in order to garner votes), they aren’t worth the paper (or cyberspace) they’re printed on, or the warmth of the hot air that carries them to our ears.
In short, we still can’t safely afford to allow ourselves to believe what we’re being promised – so we have to make our own shift in the matter of personal survival, and that of our country.
My final question in that case would have to be: ‘What do our politicians actually do for a living, and on whose behalf, if we even have to consider duplicating their function for our individual survival?’