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Being careful what you wish for

Lavinia Thompson ponders afresh

A couple of things have occurred to me in the past 36 hours, in the wake of the Scottish referendum result, its fall-out and the implications for the rest of the UK and indeed the Westminster-based form of parliament.

By way of introduction, I refer firstly to the fact that the Scottish referendum result has resolved the issue ‘for a generation’ (or is that forever, or indeed just a few years? … some of the warnings being issued by the protagonists seem to indicate the last of these if main three parties at Westminster fail to deliver upon their ‘pledge’ and/or timetable for devo-max).

Secondly, to the fact that – although the 55%-45% majority in favour of staying in the UK was larger than the ‘too close to call, statistical margin of error’ that the pollsters had been predicting on the day of the vote – the result does still mean that 1.6 million (45%) of the Scots entitled to vote were in favour of going independent despite all the warnings and potential implications that had been pointed out to them.

scotlandI suppose that’s blindingly obvious, but it is worth repeating, if only because it will have left virtually half the population of Scotland feeling that – if only events, prejudices, the in-built advantage enjoyed by ‘the Establishment’ and perhaps a lucky break or two had gone their way – the result could have been thrillingly different.

Thirdly, the ‘a plague upon all their houses’ (disconnected) attitude of the UK electorate – which first became really raw and nagging on the back of the 2008 MPs’ expenses scandal – is not going to go away.

For a long while yet the Westminster political elite, and the way it has run the business of politics for the past 75 years minimum, will continued to be distrusted, both on principle and on every sight in practice.

Fourthly, the emergence – as far as I personally am concerned – of the growing realisation that not just Scotland, but many parts of the United Kingdom, feels completely out of touch with London and the South-East … or should that be expressed the other way around? This is a different but parallel issue from my third point set out in the paragraph above.

When push comes to shove, even in this era of the internet, smartphones and rampant social media (when you’d think this would matter less and less) the further people live away from London the less they feel the political elite who run the country care about their interests or pay any attention to them.

That’s the background – now to my analysis and comments.

GreeceMy first comment is upon the weird nature of democracy, both in principle and as it is practiced. I’m not a student of politics but – as it was first invented in Ancient Greece – I believe that the concept was applied, not to all men (and/or women), but solely to property owners of a certain standing … and let’s leave the status of slaves out of it for the sake of this example.

In these days of universal suffrage it is both technically and theoretically possibly that one could have virtually every matter of policy and action decided by referenda. What better form of democracy could there be than that?

There would be many – and not just within the political elite – who might respond by pointing out the potential inefficiencies, delays, potential inconsistent and/or contrary outcomes that might result. They might promote the line that ‘democracy as we know it isn’t a perfect political system, with its five-year parliaments and so on, but it is the best there is’.

They would say that, wouldn’t they?

I could be saying this just to be controversial, but what’s so wonderful about democracy anyway?

Whatever version of it is applied, there’s always going to be a political class, a political elite, that inevitably doesn’t want to change the system. Why not? Because they themselves were attracted to it, got promoted within it, have been successful within it and therefore (as imperfect as it admittedly might be) can see no practical reason for wishing to change it. Furthermore, whatever different system you changed it to, it would only mean that they, and those like them, would then have to learn all the new rules – and the new ways in which you could circumvent or manipulate them – in order for them to get to where they are now, i.e. proud members of the political elite with the power to run the country.

I suppose that’s the advantage of living in a totalitarian state. The political elite are just as bad and/or corrupt, but at least they make no pretence of hiding it. Plus, as an ordinary member of the population, you know there’s nothing you can do about it. Therefore you can blame everything that goes wrong (or to your disadvantage) on the political elite without also having to endure that awful feeling of disappointment, disillusionment – but also the sense of personal involvement – that people in western democracies get when the party they voted for makes a massive cock-up.

Or indeed, when the party they didn’t vote for makes a massive cock-up.

Maybe I’m losing my marbles, but I’m beginning to see the plus-side of living in somewhere like Russia or China. Your political masters still probably make as many cock-ups as anyone else, but at least there’s nothing you can do (or could have done) about it. Therefore you can forget about what’s happening on a political level and just get on with living your life, which is actually what life all should be about anyway.

The other thing that came home to me with bells on during the past week is the naked resentment and prejudice widely held in the UK population against London and the South-East.

There are people walking the streets that honestly and sincerely believe that if only London and the South-East didn’t exist, the country would be much fairer, flow with endless milk and honey and allow us all to live in some form of miraculous Utopia in which everyone was equal, there were no winners or losers and life would be perfect.

The fundamental flaw in this view is that human beings – and yes, this applies as much to Marxists as it does to right-wing dictators – are inherently conservative. They regard their current position in life – including their dwelling, their income, their supplies of food, drink and all the other material comforts you can think of – as not only a given but an entitlement. The way that they view the prospect of going forward from this moment in time – thinking both of society as a whole, but most particularly their own situation – is exclusively in terms of ‘improvement’ of their position.

tradersPut at its starkest, where did those who voted “Yes” in the Scottish referendum think all the material benefits and comforts that they currently enjoy – still less the ones that they might be hoping to acquire in the future – ultimately come from?

Probably in large measure from the very hated ‘London and the South-East’ that they’d like to get rid of … that’s where!

Yes, the self-same one that has those ridiculously high salaries and bonus payments, the corruption, the fraud and the lack of accountability.

It seems to me that these were the key flaws in the romantic notion of independence that nearly overtook Scotland last week.

First, the delusion that money really does grow on trees and that if they went independent it would always be there as it is now.

And second, that if Scotland could actually control its own destiny, it would necessarily and automatically be better off.

That said, I suppose many of them wouldn’t see it that way.

They’d be the ones taking the attitude that, if Scotland did go independent but then straight down the tubes, at least they’d voted for it and – as Frank Sinatra once sang with such profundity and prescience – done it their way.

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About Lavinia Thompson

A university lecturer for many years, both at home and abroad, Lavinia Thompson retired in 2008 and has since taken up freelance journalism. She is currently studying for a distant learning degree in geo-political science and lives in Norwich with her partner. More Posts