The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'scotland'
As of Friday morning, all hell has broken loose in the UK.
As nobody predicted*, the British voting public voted to leave the EU, 52% to 48%. Well, the English and Welsh voting public, mostly; Scotland and Northern Ireland voted strongly to remain. Immediately, things started going tits-up. The pound cratered, experiencing its largest drop in value since the Major government's withdrawal from the European exchange rate mechanism. Meanwhile, Google reported a surge in searches for “what is the EU” and “what happens if we leave the EU”, and the media began filling with reports of sheepish voters saying that they voted Leave because they expected Remain to win and just wanted to show their anger at the political class. Meanwhile, as soon as the result was safely in, the anti-EU politicians who backed the Leave campaign started to walk back their promises. There would be no £350 million for the NHS, no sudden end to the rights of foreigners to breathe our precious British air, no abolition of the VAT on power bills. Cornwall, which voted strongly to leave, nervously demanded reassurance that the hefty EU funding it gets would be replaced, pound for pound, from all the money not being sent to the garlic-eating crooks in Brussels; the silence with which its inquiries were answered must have done little to reassure it. A petition to have a second referendum (which, it turns out ironically, had been started before the result by a Leave supporter wanting to keep his anti-EU crusade alive in the event of a defeat) has, to date, received three and a half million signatures; this figure is still climbing.
The only people who did well out of this were the far right, who found themselves legitimised and emboldened. No longer was xenophobia something to deny, or tenuously rationalise, but a natural part of the order of Man; loathing and disgust for those unlike ourselves are nothing to be ashamed of, the message said, but perfectly natural and normal; indeed, perhaps it's those who don't feel visceral revulsion of the Other that are abnormal or sick. The far right and various bigots lost no time in taking this lesson to heart and intimidating foreign-looking people; all over Britain, Polish families found threatening letters in their letterboxes, a community centre was vandalised, and dark-skinned people found themselves being told by strangers (who, presumably, lacked the intellectual nous to know that they were probably not EU passport holders) that they're next. Even Laurie Penny, the (white, London-born) cyber-Rosa Luxembourg of this age, was told to go home by a man wearing a St. George's flag as a cape, because she looked like an art student, and thus wasn't, in his opinion, really English. I must say that, to an Australian, all this sounds uncomfortably familiar, right down to the wearing of flags as capes and/or markers of belligerent idiocy. (Incidentally, Penny's analysis of Brexit is well worth reading.)
Having realised that they had set the country on a course for economic, if not political, devastation, politicians in Westminster started to panic. A defeated David Cameron resigned tearfully, undoubtedly freighted with the complicatedly mixed feelings that he'd no longer be remembered primarily for having sexually interfered with a pig's head, but for something far, far worse. In doing so, he stated that it would not be him but his successor on whom the responsibility for pushing down the detonator and starting Britain's irrevocable exit from the EU would fall. All the obvious candidates in the Conservative Party hastily demurred; now now, they said, there's no need to be hasty. Britain had climbed out onto the ledge and announced its intention to jump, but upon seeing the distance to the hard ground below, was having second thoughts. This wasn't good enough for EU officials, who insisted that Britain had chosen to jump, and must now jump quickly, before the uncertainty upsets their markets (and also, so that the big gory splat serves as a warning to their own domestic Euro-refuseniks, now agitating for the chance to leave), and if it doesn't, they'll consult with lawyers to see if they can give it a helpful push.
Meanwhile, in staunchly pro-EU Scotland and Northern Ireland, things started to get interesting. Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon wasted no time, announcing that legislation for a second Scottish independence referendum was being drawn up, and that EU consuls would be invited to a summit in Edinburgh within two weeks to discuss ways of keeping Scotland in the EU. There was also the possibility that Scotland and Northern Ireland's legislatures may be able to veto the process of secession; this is disputed by some constitutional experts, though given the labyrinthine complexity of Britain's constitution (which is actually a collection of many documents), it may inject some doubt into the equation, or at least compel Whitehall to let Scotland have its referendum and leave. (After the last Scottish referendum, the issue was declared resolved for all time; theoretically, if Whitehall forbade a second referendum and the Scottish government went ahead with it, those involved could possibly be charged with treason. Much as the rebels of the Irish Easter Rising, a hundred years ago, were; that, of course, didn't end well for the unity of the Kingdom.)
So the pound is tanking, financial companies based in London (who comprise a big part of Britain's economy) are scoping out office space in Frankfurt and Dublin, and our elected leaders are falling on their swords, knifing each other in the back, or playing hot-potato with a live grenade, whilst those who pulled the pin out wonder whether it would be possible to, somehow, find it and put it back in; meanwhile, neo-Nazis are using this as official sanction to attack anyone they regard as not belonging. Welcome to Britain, 2016.
Oh, and in the time it took to write this article, an additional 18,000 or so people have signed the petition.
* YouGov came closest to predicting it, but got the sides the other way around, predicting a 52% win for Remain.
Well, that all turned dark pretty quickly.
The Tories achieved a surprise upset in the general election, not only getting vastly more votes than Labour but confounding expectations of an inevitable hung parliament and winning an outright majority, their first since 1992. The Lib Dems, as expected, suffered heavy losses, not only losing dozens of seats but forfeiting hundreds of thousands of pounds' worth of electoral deposits when candidates failed to reach the magic 5% mark, and Labour lost all its seats in Scotland. What's more surprising is Labour falling flat south of the border; this was undoubtedly helped by the entire press (save for the Grauniad) throwing their weight behind the Tories and stoking fears about those awful Scots and their unreasonable demands. The UKIP surge also failed to happen, though that's partly because the Tories moved into their ideological turf (a strategy echoing the Australian Tories' appropriation of the xenophobic One Nation party in the 1990s).
The upshot of this is that, for the next five years, Britain will have a Tory government unrestrained by either more squeamish coalition partners (the all-but-extinct Lib Dems, who were, as Charlie Brooker so memorably put it, “the lube on the broom handle”) nor by any considerations of being seen as “modernisers”, “moderates” or “compassionate conservatives”. The raw, atavistic, Murdochian id of the public has spoken, and revealed that it responds to fear and outrage: that it believes some proportion of the people they
share compete for space with on this damp island are, to put it bluntly, scum, and demands that they be punished, harder, and Cameron has shown that he is listening. The gloves are off, and the night is about to become much darker. The next legislative programme is already known to include ever harsher austerity, more severe cutbacks to what remains of the social-democratic safety net, the forced sell-off of housing association housing to the for-profit private sector, the abolition of the Human Rights Act and warrantless mass surveillance of all electronic communications (all the better for dealing with the “enemy within”). The dismantling of the NHS as we know it will continue apace, with the result being an underfunded veterinary service for peasants who can't afford private health insurance. The Murdoch papers and Daily Mail are likely to get off scot-free, with the Leveson press reforms being scrapped or watered down to the point of ineffectuality. Which will come in handy for swinging a vote for leaving the EU when the promised referendum comes around.
So, in short: if you're a non-dom tax exile, a buy-to-let landlord or merely asset-rich, the next five years will be just fine, thank you very much. For everybody else, struggling on exploitative zero-hours contracts, eating expired baked beans from the food bank, not complaining about breathing in mould spores for fear of (perfectly legal) revenge eviction and hoping that you don't become sick or disabled, ever, life will suck more. But at least you can blame the Romanians. Or the Scots. In short, in a few years' time, people will genuinely miss the Lib Dems.
Labour, meanwhile, seem to be in a bind. With Miliband (branded “Red Ed” by the right-wing tabloids due to making vague noises about social justice and inequality rather than just preaching from the Blairite trickle-down prosperity gospel) gone, the temptation might be to triangulate rightward again, choosing a slick Blairite leader (or perhaps manufacturing their own Farage-style jolly reactionary bigot-whisperer) and hope that the punters buy it; though the problem with this would be (as Channel 4's Paul Mason pointed out) that this could trigger the largest union, Unite, cutting its ties with Labour and using its funds and resources to set up a hard-left party along the lines of Syriza/Podemos, and eclipsing a Labour who, after the loss of Scotland, no longer have any ideological base or coherence. Or Labour could bite the bullet and become the aforementioned hard-left party, alienating all the big-business donors they have so carefully built up connections with, and losing credibility with the mainstream before earning the trust of the angry precariat, though that won't happen.
Scotland, meanwhile, is drifting away from the Westminster settlement. The Westminster parties are all but extinct north of the border, with Labour joining the Tories in oblivion; currently, as far as the Westminster parliament is concerned, Scotland is almost a one-party state governed by the SNP. This, of course, is hardly a sustainable state of affairs, and at some point there will (hopefully) be a vigorous opposition. It's not a safe bet that this will be a reinvigorated Labour Party. If Britain does leave the EU, the SNP is likely to vociferously demand a rerun of the referendum; of course, as far as Westminster is concerned, the matter of Scotland's place in the UK has been settled once and for all, though they said similar things about Irish Home Rule. (Speaking of which, if Scotland does, sooner or later, break away, the knock-on effects on the status of Northern Ireland will also be interesting.)
There are a few minor glimmers of sunshine in the gloom: Nigel Farage failed to win Thanet (but mostly because the Tories ran a UKIP-alike, pandering to the electorate's perceived xenophobia) and promptly fell on his sword; this, incidentally, should free him up to host Top Gear. The Greens' Caroline Lucas has held Brighton Pavilion with a greatly increased majority (despite predictions that the unpopularity of a Green local council would damage her chances), and though the Greens have not claimed any additional seats, they did make back their deposits in a few. And George Galloway has lost the seat of Bradford West after a dirty campaign; Galloway blamed the loss on “racists and Zionists”; the candidate who beat him, Labour's Naz Shah, is a Muslim woman of Asian heritage.
In two days, the United Kingdom will go to the polls to elect a new parliament. It is all but certain that this will result in a hung parliament, the exact nature and composition of the next government will not be known for weeks afterward, and the government will be a fractious and unstable one.
The last general election, in 2010, also produced a hung parliament. The Conservatives won more seats than Labour, though nowhere near enough to govern in their own right; the cards were held by the Liberal Democrats, then seen as a modern centre-left party, free of both the patrician hauteur and residual Thatcherite toxicity of the Tories and the oily Blairite triangulation, Blunkettian authoritarianism and half-buried old-school socialism of the Labour Party; consequently, throughout the campaign, they were vilified pitilessly by the (then dominant) Murdoch press and right-wing tabloids. After the election, the tone changed rapidly, and both parties courted the Lib Dems as a governing partner. The Lib Dems ended up going with the Tories, promising to moderate their nastier extremes, and promptly betrayed their electoral manifesto by voting for a sharp increase in university tuition fees, in return for a Tory promise to back a referendum on electoral reform. The Tories won that one through sheer cunning; by the time the referendum came around, the sting of the Lib Dems' betrayal was still sharp in the minds of the progressive end of the electorate, and the Lib Dems' electoral reforms were voted down two to one, mostly because people really wanted to give them a good kicking. And it looks like they still do; in the upcoming election, they are staring at a massive parliamentary wipe-out; indeed, the only thing protecting their moderately right-leaning leader, Nick Clegg, from losing his own seat (in the student-populated seat of Sheffield Hallam) is Tory voters in his electorate tactically backing him, presumably as he's a known quantity with whom they can do a deal.
The elephant in the room is, of course, what Charles Stross has termed the Scottish Political Singularity; in a nutshell, politics in Scotland has become detached from the rest of the United Kingdom in a way that looks unlikely to be reversed. This process began when Margaret Thatcher, in her characteristic measured wisdom, decided to use Scotland as a testbed for her unpopular and regressive poll tax; as a result, the Conservative Party (which, at its height, had enjoyed wide support north of the border, what with the Protestant work ethic and all that) declined to a desultory rump. In the past several parliaments, the Tories had merely one MP north of the border, which, as is widely reported, is one fewer than the number of giant pandas in Scotland. Of course, Labour made hay from this, packing their Blair-era cabinets with Scottish MPs, elected by the Tory-loathing descendants of Glaswegian shipworkers and Aberdonian oil riggers, safe in the knowledge that they could triangulate rightward as far as tactics demanded without losing support for at least a generation. But then, the independence referendum happened, and while the No side won comfortably, the sight of Labour joining with the Tories in vociferously opposing independence did it for them. If the polls are to be believed, Labour (or, as they're known in Scotland, the Red Tories) are facing all but electoral annihilation north of the border, and the Scottish National Party—once a single-issue pro-independence party, now the seemingly natural party of Scotland's own devolved government, promoting itself as a broad centre-left social-democratic party, with a few sops to religious conservatism—looks set to take an overwhelming majority of Scottish seats in Westminster. The result of this is that, even though the Tories and Lib Dems are set to fall short of a majority (or even the Tories, Lib Dems and the hard-right reactionary party UKIP, if the three could somehow stomach each other for long enough), Labour will also fall short, and the SNP look set to be kingmakers.
This is, of course, a massive problem for both major parties. The SNP have ruled out forming a coalition with the Tories, for obvious reasons, though have extended an offer of mutual support to Labour, suggesting that they could help Labour be bolder (i.e., move away from the Blairite centre-right and sharply to the left). Of course, the tabloids had a field day with the prospect of the Northern barbarians dictating policy, and the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, ruled out any sort of deal with the SNP, saying that if Labour cannot govern without them, there will not be a Labour government, full stop. The presumable tactical goal of this is to scare Scottish voters into flocking back into the Labour fold, in the hope that enough Labour MPs will be returned to get a majority. This is the sort of thing that the Americans call a “Hail Mary pass”; a desperate last-ditch attempt to snatch a highly improbable victory from the jaws of almost certain defeat.
What will happen if (as polls predict) there is a hung parliament, but Labour plus the SNP would have a majority, is uncertain. Miliband could stick to his word, fall on his sword, and let Cameron assemble a fractious minority government (attempting to get the handful of surviving Lib Dems and the triumphant UKIPpers singing from the same hymn sheet), having the luxury of toying with it from the opposition benches as a cat does with a dying mouse; the downside of this would be that the Tories would still be the government, and even if the government does fall long before the end of its five-year term, there's no guarantee of which way the next election would go (and the Tories, it must be said, have the advantage in campaign fund raising). Or he could swallow his words and do a deal with the SNP, undoubtedly coming up with some lawyerly rationalisation for why he is not actually doing a deal with the SNP but instead doing something entirely different. (Whether Labour and the SNP could come to an agreement is another matter; the SNP seem less likely to fold on their red-line issues, such as the scrapping of the Trident nuclear missile system, than the Lib Dems were; and, indeed, a noble defeat hastening the breakup of the United Kingdom may be what the SNP want.) Or the result could be the formerly unthinkable: a Conservative-Labour rainbow coalition, a “government of national unity” of a kind unheard of in peacetime, with everybody else (the rebellious Scots nationalists, the cranky English nationalists, the convalescing Lib Dems, and Brighton's Green MP, Caroline Lucas) forming a somewhat chaotic opposition. Such a government would have very little in the way of representation north of the border, and would probably do little to dampen down the still smouldering embers of the secessionist mood. (If the Tories deliver on their promise of a referendum on leaving the EU, all bets are off; Scotland favours EU membership a lot more strongly than England does.)
To add to this, there is another wildcard: Her Royal Highness Princess Charlotte Elizabeth Diana of Cambridge, Saviour Of The Union, also known as the newly-born Royal Baby. Announced in the weeks before the Scottish independence referendum, the Royal Baby, whilst still a mere zygote, may have saved the Kingdom (for now, at least); and now, whilst yet functionally little more than a digestive tract, there is the prospect that she may do the same for David Cameron's Prime Ministership. The theory goes that the groundswell of uncritical patriotism, taking the form of an acceptance of the deep, ineffable rightness of deference to an archaic, ceremonial system of nobility, should rub off to some extent on the patrician Cameron (who is, after all, Queen Elizabeth II's fifth cousin once removed); and if not, surely the omnipresent Union Jack bunting and spontaneous Royal Baby tea parties in every street, where everyone—the Morrises and MacLeods, the Khans and Kowalczyks—come together to sing God Save The Queen in unison, should take the edge off dissatisfaction with the government of the day by polling day. Or perhaps not; the Guardian's Zoe Williams thinks that the Royal Baby may have the opposite effect (by virtue of being a baby, rather than being royal).
The upshot of all this is: we live in interesting times, and it'll take a long time for the dust to settle. At this stage, it is not at all clear who will be Prime Minister after the next election.
In just over three days, Scotland will vote on whether to leave the United Kingdom and go it alone.
The Scottish independence debate, in its present incarnation, has been going on for over a year, though through most of its course, it has had an air of phony war about it. While there was always a possibility of Scotland voting to secede, it was classified somewhere alongside the theoretical possibility of Scotland winning the World Cup, or perhaps one of the fantastic catastrophes in Hollywood action flicks, as something remote enough to be a mildly entertaining diversion worthy of a few minutes of hypothetical conversation. Were the debate a film, it would have borne a sticker reading “Rated 12A for mild peril”; as with a family movie, there was the assumption that, when the adventure was over, everyone would make it home (having learned a life lesson but being none the worse for it) and everything would be as it was before. So much so that the Treasury admitted to not having actually made any contingency plans for Scotland actually seceding.
The polls had been narrowing for a while, as the “Better Together” campaign against independence lumbered on uncharismatically, slowly being bled by Yes’s guerrilla tactics, though it did look as if No had time on their side; at the present rate of attrition, there was little hope of the Yes campaign making it over the line. But then came last weekend’s YouGov poll, showing the Yes campaign in the lead (albeit well within the margin of error), and subsequent polls showing similarly close results, sending the defenders of the status quo scrambling like headless chickens. The three parties made the undignified spectacle of climbing over themselves to promise Scotland the moon and stars if only it would stay, often getting the details of their actual promises mixed up. A second Royal Baby was hurriedly conceived. Banks and supermarkets were discreetly urged to warn their Scottish customers that prices would go up and jobs would move to London. A trainload of Labour party workers made its way from London to Scotland. People in England were urged to obtain Scottish saltire flags and fly them, in the hope of love-bombing the Scots into taking the sassenach back. There was even discussion over whether the Queen, serene and impartial unlike her son, should break her silence (and centuries of protocol) and urge her subjects to vote No. (Her Royal Highness demurred, instead gnomically imploring her Scottish subjects to think carefully about their future.) And, of course, the volume of the scare stories went up.
It seemed to have an effect, with polls showing No having regained the lead, and Labour grandees scenting victory and trying hard not to gloat prematurely. (Not all polls, though; some have shown the result being evenly split; a Sunday Telegraph poll showed Yes ahead by 8 points.) Of course, things are still close, and there are three days left to run. And while things could go either way, at this stage it looks like the more likely outcome is that No will win (by a narrow margin, unless the polling is off). The question of Scottish independence will be deemed to have been settled in the negative, once and for all, with the United Kingdom remaining one nation, united under the axioms of Hayek-Friedman Thought, administered in perpetuity from the City of London, and quite being dragged kicking and screaming out of the EU by PM Boris Johnson and deputy PM Nigel Farage in a few years’ time.
Of course, there are all those promises that the Scots have been offered in return for voting no: greater powers for setting tax rates, more financial and legislative autonomy, and everything up to a Hong Kong-style “one country, two systems” settlement. Of course, these promises were made in the heat of the campaign (often feverishly blurted out by politicians on the campaign trail), their very existence contingent on Scotland’s ability to make good on its threats to leave. Come 19 September, once that window is closed for the foreseeable future, showering the Scots with gifts will no longer be a priority; and, in fact, the English electorate may not be happy about rewarding what could be seen to be a tantrum. The boot will be on the other foot, and how gracious the victor would be to the vanquished remains to be seen. At one extreme, a Tory-UKIP coalition government would have in its power the ability to dissolve the Scottish parliament (which can be done by a vote in Westminster), and crush the rebellious Scots; perhaps using Scotland for punitively testing new austerity policies (as Thatcher did with the poll tax, which effectively annihilated the once influential Scottish Tories and propelling the idea of secession from the UK, once seen as bordering on lunatical, into the mainstream).
What if, however, Yes wins? Well, that would only be the start of a long process of negotiation, with both sides honing threats and promises into compromises. There’d be points of contention about everything from shared use of the pound to the basing of nuclear weapons and reconciling Scotland’s intention to increase immigration with its intention to maintain a common travel area with the UK. One way or another, these would all get resolved within a decade or so. Perhaps prices would go up, or go down, somewhat; businesses serving a largely UK market may relocate to south of the border (or may not, given how many companies trade with their British clients from Ireland or the Channel Islands). Though it’s unlikely that the Scots would be reduced to abject penury as some of the naysayers have been predicting. For the most part, things would remain the same, though a process of divergence would begin, as Scotland and the rest of the UK make their own ways. (Whether Scotland becomes a Scandinavian-style Jante-law market-socialist state while England remains wedded to neoliberalism (possibly shading into some kind of neoreactionary oligarchy) is by no means certain; it’s quite plausible that Scottish politics will grow its own right wing, one that is not beholden to London.)
The Scottish Herald has a piece by Fintan O’Toole, editor of the Irish Times, looking at the issue through the perspective of the history of Ireland (which got its independence from the UK some 90 years earlier). Of course, that is not the only possible precedent; another one is Norway, which gained independence from Sweden in 1905. Meanwhile, Charles Stross (who is firmly in the Yes camp) brings his usually deep perspective to bear on the issue; in his opinion, Scotland should be independent, because the post-Treaty of Westphalia idea of the sovereign nation-state is no longer fit for purpose (due to technological changes), and smaller states have less catastrophic failure modes than larger ones.
I, of course, don't get a vote, though if I lived in Scotland, I would vote Yes. For all the risks, it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Scotland to redefine its destiny and what sort of nation it wishes to be. If Yes succeeds (and perhaps even if it fails), the results will be interesting to watch.
For a while, Scotland famously had more pandas than Tory MPs; now, Germany has as many Scottish Tory parliamentarians as Scotland:
Many German politicians try to play down their roots if they have a hint of anything un-German about them. Not so McAllister, whose Scottishness – his father was born in Glasgow – has only served to boost the CDU's re-election chances on Sunday in the state of Lower Saxony, where he has been prime minister since 2010.
McAllister retains ties with relatives in Newton Mearns, and speaks English to his two daughters at home in Hanover. He refuses to be drawn on the issue of Scottish independence though, as a potential future leader of Germany, he may well one day find himself having to take a decision on Scottish membership of the European Union.It's interesting that, in Germany, a politician who has a foreign name, holds dual citizenship and speaks English to his children is not only eligible, in the public eye, for office, but heading for probable electoral victory soundtracked by a bagpipe-backed, heavily Scottish-themed campaign anthem, and believed to be future Chancellor material. I can't imagine a similarly exotic candidate being as successful in Britain.
As the details of the Scottish independence referendum, to be held in 2014 and consist of only one yes/no question, have been agreed, the Independent looks at how an independent Scotland might look; it's, as one might imagine, somewhat of a mixed bag, where defiantly un-Anglocapitalist social democracy meets restrictions on abortion as favoured by the hardline Presbyterian sects of the highlands, and the promise of Norwegian-style oil wealth comes up against the SNP's promises of a green economy run on wind power:
In February David Cameron said that independence would have “consequences for the NHS”, but the SNP were quick to point out that Scotland already has an independent NHS. An independent Scotland would have new powers over abortion law. Scottish Health Secretary Alex Neil has indicated he would like to see the 24-week limit reduced.
Independent Scotland would keep the Queen as head of state and remain part of the Commonwealth. However, some SNP members have said they would like another referendum on keeping the monarchy in its present form, in the event of a Yes vote in 2014
Home Secretary Theresa May has said that border checks may be necessary between the UK and an independent Scotland. However, the SNP is intent for an independent Scotland to join the EU, so the Schengen Agreement would guarantee free cross-border movement. Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said there will be Scottish passports.Surely, though, if an independent Scotland accedes to the Schengen agreement (which Britain is outside of, and will remain so as long as the Daily Mail is printed on these isles), it'd mean passport-free travel from continental Europe, whilst having to show one's passport when crossing over from England or flying in from Ireland.
Alex Salmond has declared his intention to replace the BBC with a new public service broadcaster for Scotland, which may be partly funded by advertising. Salmond assures voters that shows produced in England but popular north of the border, such as Eastenders and Top Gear, would still be available.A weaker, advertising-funded BBC substitute? Perhaps that's one of the reasons Murdoch is sympathetic to Scottish independence.
Of course, another possible consequence of independence is said to be a permanent shift to the right in what remains of the UK once the sizeable contingent of Labour MPs is gone, with more shifts towards a US-style devil-take-the-hindmost neoliberalism.
Something to read: Momus speaks to The Quietus, on topics ranging from his past career and future projects to the role of the artist and the value of art in the digital age, and the question of Scottish independence:
I think a common theme is "aggression against normality", from the left wing terrorists in The Happy Family album through the Maoist intellectuals and fake homosexuals of Tender Pervert, the baby-hating, doppelganger-haunted narrators of Ping Pong, right up to the eccentric 'Thunderclown' on the new album, my characters don't accept the world as it is. The corollary is that they respect otherness, and try to model other ways of living: parallel worlds. I think of this as basically a (post-Christian) Calvinist mindset.
While I'm happy to see the Postcard era recognised - it was genuinely a very exciting and magical time - I think the whole problem for pop music now is that it's become paralysed with respect for its past. We're crushed by the archive, and every edition of Mojo magazine (a sad catalogue of the achievements of the geriatric and the dead) makes it harder for the young to break away and create genuinely new forms of popular music. I don't have strong feelings about The Happy Family archive. We weren't as good as Josef K.
I identify as a Scot, very much. When I'm in Japan and they ask where I'm from, I always say "Scotland", not "Britain". I'd like to see Scotland independent, because we have different politics and a different culture from the English. I wouldn't like to see it become twee, navel-gazing and trivial, though. I hope an independent Scotland would really respect its artists. I'd like to see a cosmopolitanism, an orientation towards Europe and Asia rather than the States, and a kind of new Scottish Enlightenment like the one we had in the 18th Century. Adopt the euro, become a republic, dump the royals, embrace socialism fearlessly!In other news, Momus is tutoring an online course in songwriting, starting in April. At £55, it looks like a steal.
The BBC interviews Gerald Casale of US new-wave band DEVO on the Scottish independence referendum, and in particular, of the suggested middle option of maximum devolution within the UK, popularly known as "Devo Max". Casale appears to have been following the debate, and even suggests a rewrite of one of DEVO's songs for the campaign.
Police emergency phone lines in Manchester are being tied up by a nuisance caller who "chants, raps, sings, preaches and plays loud music" at the call handlers, often for five minutes at a time. The handlers are not allowed to hang up on a caller. The Greater Manchester Police have already blocked about 60 SIM cards he has called from, which has little effect; with cheap prepaid SIM cards, the mystery nuisance rapper seems to be making his way through the pool of unallocated mobile numbers:
During many of the calls, the operator answers the phone to be met with a barrage of music and rants. His rapping is difficult to decipher but during one call he started shouting about his citizen's rights.Greater Manchester Police have taken the unusual step of releasing a recording of one of his raps, in an attempt to track him down. Which could have unintended consequences; if that became standard practice, nuisance calls to emergency services could become the next bootleg grimetape distribution channel after MP3 blogs—you get your rap out, and are acknowledged as a police-certified badass at the same time.
Meanwhile, there's a small mystery of a less antisocial sort in Aberdeen, where the Google Street View van photographed a man with a horse's head.
With the Tories being almost a dead certainty to win the next election (New Labour have thoroughly spent their lesser-evil capital, and, thanks to the first-past-the-post system, the Lib Dems have next to no chance), some are speculating that the UK may soon elect its last ever Prime Minister. Basically, the Scots, having borne the brunt of Thatcherism, despise the Tories and are unlikely to vote for them while anyone still alive remembers the 1980s, and a Tory government in London is likely to further strengthen the Scottish National Party (which govern's Scotland's limited domestic government) and embolden those calling for independence. Given that the Scots are more pro-European than the English, and particularly more so than the Tories (a significant proportion of whose demographic have always wanted to pull out of the EU), it looks like things may get interesting:
As Cameron, William Hague and the others get into a battle over the constitution and the future of Europe, the Scottish government will be offering itself as a pro-European bastion, just as the Irish did – and nobody knows better than Salmond what a huge financial benefit that once won for Dublin. Many Tories will say, of course, that all this is absolutely fine. According to them, the Scots have been a revenue-sapping bunch of whingers for years, whose main export to England seems to have been politicians and journalists. An independent Scotland means a Tory majority in England way into the distant future. And it makes standing up to the EU easier, in many ways, because Eurosceptic opinion is particularly strong in England. What's the problem?
Cameron is surely right to be concerned. If the prospect of an all-out confrontation with the rest of the EU is unsettling to middle of the road opinion, the end of the UK is much more so. What do you call the country that remains? It isn't England, quite, because there is also Wales. Does it stay a Diminished Britain, a Little Britain, whose flag is a simple spider of red lines on white? Trident, of course, goes because the naval bases in Scotland go. What about the currency? If the euro is circulating just north of Newcastle and Carlisle, the pound will feel more embattled.
Senior Catholics in Scotland are claiming that the old song Hokey Cokey was written to mock the Catholic mass, and singing it could fall foul of hate crime laws:
Peter Kearney, a spokesman for Cardinal Keith O’Brien, leader of the Catholic church in Scotland, said: “This song, although apparently innocuous, was devised as an attack on and a parody of the Catholic mass.”
According to the church, the song’s title derives from “hocus pocus”. The phrase is said to be a Puritan satire on the Latin “hoc est enim corpus meum”, or “this is my body”, used by Catholic priests to accompany the transubstantiation during mass.
Japan now has its own tartan. The Sakura tartan (after the Japanese word for cherry blossom) is believed to be the first design to include the colour pink, and was influenced by Thomas Glover, a 19th-century Scotsman who moved to Japan, was involved in its industrialisation and became known as the "Scottish Samurai". It is expected to be included in a national tartan register being planned by the Scottish government.
Apparently the UK and Scottish governments are in discussion on building a high-speed railway line from Scotland to England. The details of the line aren't known, though it'd be built to Eurostar specifications, and would connect London to Glasgow. It would take a decade or so to build, and
prices costs start at £9bn.
Where in London it would terminate is another question; one high-speed rail proposal involves making Heathrow the national high-speed rail hub, with Eurostar trains and trains going elsewhere in Britain terminating there. Which sends the message that, if you're travelling from, say, Glasgow to the continent, you're going to be changing at Heathrow anyway, so you may as well fly; not exactly encouraging environmental responsibility. (Of course, this is assuming that flying remains affordable; if not, then siting a major rail terminus at a site with an airport and not much else is just stupid planning.)
I just read Christopher Brookmyre's most recently published novel, A Tale Etched In Blood And Hard Black Pencil. It took me a while to get around to it, because I found his previous book, All Fun And Games Until Someone Loses An Eye, somewhat disappointing; it seemed almost as if someone replaced the wickedly dark satirist who wrote Quite Ugly One Morning and A Big Boy Did It And Ran Away (whom some have called the Bill Hicks of Scottish crime fiction) with a committee of Hollywood script-doctoring hacks; virtually all the bite was gone (with the exception of a few token bampots and numpties and a dash of rote Old Firm sectarianism), and replaced with a schmaltzy wish-fulfilment story. This was centre-of-goodness plotting at its most formulaic and uninspired. As such, I only picked this book up when it was half-price from Amazon and I needed to pad out an order.
I am pleased to report, then, that A Tale Etched In Blood And Hard Black Pencil is a return to form. The plot involves various people who went to school in the early 1980s in (you guessed it) greater Glasgow, and their lives in the present day; more specifically, one of them has apparently been murdered, and two others look like the suspects. The characters' school days, in all their petty viciousness, brutality and moments of levity, are fleshed out quite realistically (one can empathise with the children in their schoolyard conflicts as much as with their grown-up selves), and the way the characters grow, gaining perspective and no small amount of regret. Needless to say, dark secrets are revealed and some people turn out to not be what they initially seem, in various ways. And Brookmyre, perhaps acknowledging the shortcomings of his previous book, sets up an obvious wish-fulfilment plot line, and then proceeds to swerve well wide of it.
More in news on railways of the future: there are plans in Scotland for building a 300mph Maglev rail link between Edinburgh and Glasgow. The link would, in theory, cut travel times between the two Scottish cities to 15 minutes, effectively combining them into one conurbation. The proposal has received support from the head of the Strathclyde Partnership for Transport, which operates public transport in greater Glasgow.
The Scottish parliamentary election is due in just over a month, and the Scottish Nationalist Party looks set to take the lead, with Labour being decimated:
Opinion polls show the SNP could take up to 51 of the 129 places in the devolved parliament, up from 25 seats at present, leaving Labour trailing with as few as 40 seats, losing 20% of its strength at Holyrood. That result would put the nationalists in a dominant position and the most likely party to form a ruling coalition with the Liberal Democrats, just before Gordon Brown, a Scottish MP, is expected to become prime minister in London.A SNP-led government would make things interesting, as one of their policies is to hold a referendum on ending Scotland's union with England, a union which began 300 years ago. Could we see Scotland joining the EU as a separate nation, with a similar status to Ireland (outside of the Schengen treaty, but with no border controls with England)? If so, would an independent Scotland be likely to dump the pound for the euro?
As the 300th anniversary of the Act of Union, that forged the state of Great Britain out of Englandandwales and Scotland, approaches, a narrow majority of Scots support Scotland gaining independence from the UK, for the first time after devolution.
The survey for The Scotsman newspaper, six months before Scottish Parliament elections, will make Scottish Labour nervous, especially since it confirms recent polls showing the Scottish Nationalists making gains from Labour. If the Nationalists win power, they say that they will hold a referendum on independence within four years.Whether or not independence will happen is another matter; the fact that Scotland's oil/gas reserves are in decline means that Scottish independence would not be as severe an economic blow to the UK as it would have been a decade ago.
The question arises of what would happen were Scotland to vote for, and gain, its independence. Would England, Wales and Northern Ireland call themselves "the UK" (much in the way that Serbia and Montenegro called themselves "Yugoslavia")? What if Northern Ireland went its own way (breaking the union after which the UK was named)? I suppose Englandandwales could be referred to as "Great Britain" (the name of the island it's on), much in the way that the United States is known as "America", though as an official name it sounds unwieldy.
Of course, it's quite likely that Scottish independence may not happen and that it may be an ambit claim. Perhaps the separatists could be bought off by replacing the asymmetric, London-centric UK with a German/Australian-style federal system, in which England, Wales and Scotland are member states. The question is: where would the new British Parliament be sited?
Discovery of the day: there is a Scots edition of Wikipedia (or "Wikipædia", as it's known in Scots). That's written in the Scots language, which is descended from Middle English, and is just about comprehensible to English speakers. (Though while it may look like English with funny spellings and odd words, it should not be mistaken for Scotched English; not only that but one should be wary of artificial attempts to make it more English-like, such as the nefarious apologetic apostrophe). In it you will find 1,573 articles about various subjects, including (naturally) Scotland, the "Unitit Kinrick" and Europe, the "mathematical an naitral sciences", "airt an cultur", "applee'd sciences an industry", "daily life an leisur" and "ither", as well as on written Scots and a Scots-English dictionary. Also, the Scots for "search" is "rake" (though "Edit" appears to be the same as in English; either that or MediaWiki doesn't let one change this), and some articles begin with the disclaimer:
The "Scots" that wis uised in this airticle wisna written by a native speaker. Gin ye can, please sort it.
An Essex insurance company has cancelled what may have been the most bizarre insurance policy in Britain. In the policy, three sisters in the Scottish highlands, who apparently were members of a "Christian group" of some sort, had insured their virginity for £1 million, against the event of any of them immaculately conceiving the second coming of Jesus Christ:
Mr Burgess said: "The people were concerned about having sufficient funds if they immaculately conceived. It was for caring and bringing up the Christ. "We sometimes get weird requests and this is the weirdest we have had."
The burden of proof that it was Christ had rested with the women and any premium on the insurance was donated to charity, said Mr Burgess.
The siblings had paid £100 annually since 2000. If they had secured a payout, they stood to receive £1m.The policy was apparently cancelled partly because of complaints from the Catholic Church, which doesn't look kindly on unauthorised immaculate conceptions.
As football mania sweeps England and one scarcely sees a white van or large shaven-headed geezer without a dozen St. George's flags, England's neighbours are reacting to the conflagration of jingoism in different ways. In North Wales, the heartland of Welsh nationalism, a police chief has warned England fans to avoid flying the flag for fear of antagonising Welsh fans. Meanwhile, up in Scotland (a nation which usually supports whoever's playing against England; it's not uncommon to see Scots declaring themselves as honorary Bosnians or Ghanaians or whatever for the duration of a football match), schoolchildren who say bad things about the sassenach will be excluded from classrooms.
Scotland and the Australian state of Victoria have just signed an agreement declaring themselves as "sister states", citing common history and successful multiculturalism as reasons:
Scotland's First Minister, Jack McConnell, says Victoria's multicultural reputation is the reason that the state is such an attractive option with which to forge a formal alliance.
"We are both places of about 5 million people," he said. "Victoria and Scotland have a bright future together, working on sporting, cultural, industry and trade-type opportunities, and this sister-state relationship will do just that."There are other similarities: both places are notionally across the border from where the real power is concentrated, and yet manage to wield considerable influence. And both of their major cities are largely Victorian in vintage, laid out on a grid, and with vibrant cultural scenes of the sort that don't quite flourish in their glitzier counterparts across the border.
Though Glasgow, of course, doesn't have trams.
Britain's foremost composer is being investigated by police after preparing to roast and eat a swan at his Orkney home. Sir Peter Maxwell Davies claims that the swan was already dead, having presumably been killed by hitting power lines, and that it is a common Orkney tradition to collect and eat thus killed swans. In England, that may have been illegal in itself, as mute swans are the property of the Queen, though this law does not apply in Scotland.
Scotland may soon have its own time zone. Which isn't just some kind of token sop to the nationalists to stop them from demanding secession, but comes from people in England wanting to move to continental time to get lighter evenings, a move blocked by Scottish MPs who don't want their mornings to get any darker. If the move does happen, of course, it means that Greenwich Mean Time will never again be equal to UTC.
A Member of the Scottish Parliament is calling into an inquiry into allegations at traffic light controllers in Edinburgh and Glasgow are deliberately creating traffic mayhem to encourage people to use public transport, undoubtedly motivated by some extremist green agenda. There have been rumours of this sort of thing happening in London too; could Loony Left Red Ken be behind it?
I finally got around to going to see that climate-change disaster-porn film that various US "liberals" were acclaiming as a progressive Passion of the Christ. It was much as I expected it to be.
In short, the visuals were spectacular (about half a dozen SFX firms were credited), with magnificent sets and computer graphics sequences. The characterisation and plot was pure Hollywood formula, with a very linear plot and characters having only the simplest of motivations, and, half the time, thinking in schmaltzy Hallmark-card truisms. Mind you, it being from Roland Emmerich (and the sub-Spielbergian sequence from Independence Day of the towheaded little boy and his dog watching Will Smith take off to battle the aliens still sticks in my mind), I wasn't expecting anything above the lowest common denominator in this respect, so I wasn't disappointed. (Some day, I'd like to see a visually spectacular film whose characters are more than focus-grouped, computer-plotted cardboard cutouts, but I digress.) The science, of course, was exaggerated by orders of magnitude to make it more spectacular (running afoul of the laws of physics in places, such as the instant temperature drop), and some of the details were a bit geographically ignorant (such as the scene with the whisky in the Scottish research station; someone there either assumed that Scotland was part of England or that most Americans wouldn't know otherwise; I wonder how well this film will do in, say, Glasgow or somewhere). Then again, none of that was a huge surprise; as I said, it's special-effects porn, and porn films of any variety aren't known for their plotting or characterisation.
The blingerati arrive in Edinburgh for the MTV Europe music awards. Edinburgh? What the flaming hell were they thinking? You know what Scotland is full of, don't you? Pale people in anoraks who are into twee, shambling jangly indie-pop and such. You'd think that if they had to have the MTV music awards in Britain, they'd do so in Brighton (home of lagered-up big-beat dance parties) or the superclubs of Manchester or someplace. But not Scotland; otherwise they may as well hold next year's ones in Reykjavík or somewhere.
If you can read this, then we're back. A routine machine relocation didn't go quite to plan, but it's all fixed now (hopefully).
And below is the backlog of blog items that didn't get posted to The Null Device over the past few days:
- Your tax dollars at work: A US spy agency as been monitoring webcams at an Islay distillery, just in case they were making chemical weapons instead of whisky. Defense Threat Reduction Agency officials stressed that monitoring Scottish distilleries was not a high priority, but stated that it would take just a "tweak" to modify the whisky-making process to produce chemical weapons. (Hmmm; that suggests some interesting near-future scenarios for potential flashpoints between the United States of America and Britain and a rogue People's Republic of Scotland.)
- An interesting paper on the design of the Google File System, a custom file system optimised for storing huge (multi-gigabyte) files on large farms of fault-prone hardware. (via bOING bOING)
- The latest fad in baby naming in the U.S. involved naming your children after your favourite brands of consumer goods. Looks like Max Barry wasn't all that far off: (via Techdirt)
"His daddy insisted on it because Timberlands were the pride of his wardrobe. The alternative was Reebok," said the 32-year-old nurse, who is now divorced. "I wanted Kevin."
This is only the latest chapter in the boom of giving children unique names.
According to the most recent census, at least 10,000 different names are now in use, two-thirds of which were largely unknown before World War II.
- "We're Gonna Get You After School!" Gibson's Law applies to playground mob psychology, with kids setting up websites and blogs to call their classmates names. This way, technology may be said to have democratised bullying, as it's no longer the musclebound alpha-jocks and the popular rich girls who have a monopoly on making others' lives miserable. (via TechDirt)
One 12-year-old blogger, writing on the popular Angelfire Web site, recently announced she would devote her page to "anyone and everyone i hate and why." She minced no words. "erin used to be aka miss perfect. too bad now u r a train face. hahaha. god did that to u since u r such a b -- . ashley stop acting like a slut wannabe. lauren u fat b -- can't even go out at night w/ ur friends. . . . and laurinda u suck u god damn flat, weird voice, skinny as a stick b -- ."
The author of the article calls for the use of "parental control devices" to stamp out "social cruelty", much in the way that filters have been used to stop pornography. Which sounds more like it would strip those kids put upon by the alpha-jocks/princesses of their online support networks of fellow outsiders.
- More on the internet's impact on human interaction: Internet chat addiction can stunt social skills in introverted adolescents, says a researcher in "social administration". Dr. Mubarak Rahamathulla says that research suggests that chat rooms have contributed to some teenagers fearing conventional social interaction, and becoming more dependent on anonymity or pseudonymity. However, he says, webcams may be a safe, healthy way for to explore their sexuality. Perhaps the future belongs to asocial chatroom onanists, who are into anything as long as it doesn't involve actual human contact?
- The AT&T text-to-speech demo site now has two British voices; the male one sounds somewhat deranged, as if having at some time in the past eaten some BSE-contaminated beef. (via kineticfactory)
- A company is now selling licensed arcade ROMs for MAME. StarROMs currently have a few dozen titles, all from Atari, but plan to have more; games cost between US$2 and US$6 per title, and all are unencrypted ROM images suitable for MAME, with no DRM chicanery to be seen. Let's hope this idea catches on.
- Transcosmopolitan, or Spider Jerusalem's stint as features writer for a women's lifestyle magazine. (via Warren Ellis' LiveJournal comments)
A Yale professor of music claims that African-American gospel music emerged from Scottish traditions, rather than African ones. Professor Willie Ruff, a renowned jazz musician, claims that the style of religious song that grew in black gospel churches in the American south owes more to Presbyterian traditions brought to the South by emigres from Scottish island communities (who worked as overseers on plantations) than the traditions brought from Africa by slaves.
"I have been to Africa many times in search of my cultural identity, but it was in the Highlands that I found the cultural roots of black America.
"When I finally met Donald, we sat down and I played him music. It was like a wonderful blind test. First I played him some psalms by white congregations, and then by a black one. He then leapt to his feet and shouted: `That's us!' "When I heard Donald and his congregation sing in Stornoway I was in no doubt there was a connection."
I'm not entirely sure how much credence to give this story (on one hand, it seems a bit like the thing about curry being a mediæval English invention; on the other hand, the arguments look superficially very plausible), though it's certainly intriguing. Though if it's true, it may explain the uncanny popularity of gospel-influenced soul music in northern Britain. (via 1.0)
If you were a neo-Trotskyist libertarian, you would probably have to be a Scottish science-fiction author. And now you'd have a blog here. And his commentary is as sharp as his novels.
America: a country where ridiculous proportions of the population believe they were created by god, abducted by aliens, and attacked by Iraq. Also where some people believe that someone who burns a paper drawing of a US flag is as good as asking to be crushed under a bulldozer. It's not just the Right. Every political persuasion in the US contains many more stupid people than it or its equivalent does in Europe. On the Left Bank of the Seine you see poststructuralists smoking, flirting, and eating veal. Poststructuralism in America gave us La-La Land liberal toytown totalitarianism. French Maoism gave us Sartre and Althusser. American Maoism gave us Klonsky and Avakian. (I could go on.)
First Foot is a new(?) "alternative media" site from Scotland. (Think socialists-in-kilts radicalism, regional humour and a wealth of information on Scottish culture you probably won't find in Edinburgh's Royal Mile.) (Not sure where I found this.)
Interesting to see that their list of Good Scottish Pop contaisn Cocteau Twins, Bill Drummond and The Associates, whereas Belle & Sebastian and Jesus and Mary Chain are classed as Bad Scottish Pop. No word on where Mogwai would be.
Computer scientists in Britain are tackling one of the hard problems in speech recognition: developing software which understands Scottish accents. The Glaswegian accent is one of the hardest on current speech-recognition software (which tends to be rather London-centric, if not American). The team from Birmingham University will be paying locals to say some phrases in the "Glesca patter", which will be analysed to develop regionally-correct voice-recognition software for use in office computers and mobile phones. (via bOING bOING)
Artefact seen in window of music shop in the Scottish Highlands:
It looks to be what amounts to an all-electronic set of bagpipes, i.e., a breath controller and synthesizer unit, which adds in user-adjustable drones. Apparently it's of German manufacture, has been around for some years, and is intended for people needing to quietly practice the bagpipes. Not surprisingly, the main market would be in the highlands.
Apparently, it does MIDI, and if you run it through an amp, it sounds quite realistic. Is anybody else wondering what it would sound like through some effects pedals?
I just got back to London, after five days spent up north in the land of whisky and Irn-Bru. It was fun.
Yesterday I caught the train down from Inverness, through the sweeping landscapes of central Scotland, to Glasgow, the city that gave us Mogwai, Belle & Sebastian and a lot of twee jangly-pop bands somewhat before my time. Within a few hours of arriving, I had made my way to The 13th Note, a local café and band venue, which seemed quite cool, and has bands on pretty much every night. (For the Melburnians reading this: the 13th Note would be somewhere between the Empress and the Tote, or perhaps like Revolver without the house music and vague miasma of wankerdom subtly permeating everything; it's a funky-yet-too-grungy-to-be-yuppified bar with vegan food, artworks on the walls and flyers everywhere else, and a subterranean cavern where the punters go to see bands make a lot of noise.)
(Aside: Glasgow seems to have a number of things in common with Melbourne. The rain, the grid-shaped street layout, the relative lack of spectacular monuments, and of course a vibrant live music scene. It doesn't have trams, though, and the closest thing to the notorious Rangers vs. Celtics sectarian rivalries that Melbourne would have would be the occasional Serbo-Croatian soccer riot or something.)
I spent the day walking around Inverness and its environs, taking a stroll up and down the banks of the Ness. As I was walking around town, I thought that Inverness would be a great setting for a mystery story or thriller. As I was walking upstream, through the autumnal landscape, the river slowly flowing towards the Moray Firth around islands full of high trees, I realised why: because the landscape looks somewhat like the landscape of British Columbia, Canada, which (through films and television from the X Files to Insomnia) has become shorthand for that type of story.
I also stopped by at the whisky shop and picked up a bottle of something called Athol Brose, purely on the strength of the Cocteau Twins having titled a song after it. It's quite nice.
Stranger than fiction: Norway bestows military honour on penguin. The penguin, named Nils Olav, resides in the Edinburgh Zoo and is the first penguin to hold rank in the Norwegian Army, and now holds the rank of honourable regimental sergeant major. (via Meg)
Strange bedfellows: It has emerged that, during World War 2, Scottish nationalists allied with the IRA attempted to establish an alliance with Nazi Germany, with the aim of establishing a Nazi-allied Scottish Republic in the chaos of the Blitz, (via Lev)
A Scottish entrepreneur is attempting to combine yoof fashion with national pride, and promoting the kilt as 21st century clubwear. His products include kilts with pockets for mobile phones and water bottles.