By I Am Séamus Fierce
Darling, you’re a wank, Darling Darling you’re a wank.
Alistair Darling: MP for Edinburgh South West (1987-present); Chancellor of the Exchequer (2007-2010); chair of Better Together (2012-present); official fannysack (June 2013).
This isn’t about us being swivel-eyed Cybernats, seeking to discredit a hated rival. Well maybe it is a bit. But we’ve got good reason to be in a mood with Al-D. Several reasons in fact.
There’s the historical beef of course. As chief of the UK’s economy, he followed Gordon Brown in presiding over soaring levels of inequality, hundreds of billions of state revenue lost through corporate tax avoidance, and the sell-off of the nation’s assets to profiteers. When the storm of the financial crisis hit, Darling was in a pivotal position, holding the reins to one of the world’s biggest economies. Of course, this meltdown would never have occurred if people like him had done their jobs and called a halt to the banks’ gambling binge, but that would have meant taming the beast that is the City of London.
However, cometh the hour, cometh the men. When it all went tits-up, Brown and Darling were decisive. No matter the cost, the Treasury would pay off the banks’ bar-tab, which ran into the hundreds of billions. This made a mockery of every politician who has ever quibbled about whether we can afford public services. But these guys don’t embarrass easily. Not only would the family silver be sold to keep the banks afloat, but in an astonishing display of negligence, they would be allowed to continue without changing the way they operate. Regulation is still so light-touch it might as well not be there, directors still pocket hundreds of thousands in bonuses, and they’re still being mega stingy with loans to small businesses. This is why we can’t have nice things, and it’s all Alistair’s fault.
That’s not why we’re talking about him now, though. It’s much more current than that. Our history boy has set another precedent, becoming the first ever Labour MP to speak at a Tory conference. Do not adjust your screen. You read that right. A Labour MP at a Scottish Tory Conference. Fuck that noise. It’s politically as consistent as Darling’s hair colour(s).
In some ways it should come as no surprise. Blairism was a continuation of Thatcherism. Both parties embrace the free market and fall over each other to look tough on immigration, crime etc. Competing for ‘Middle England’ (and placing policy & communications in the hands of PR gurus) has meant the two are merely competing brands of the same product, like Coke and Pepsi. The issue that’s brought them into open embrace, though, is Scottish independence – and their shared hostility to it.
It is a bit of a head-melter. Considering the fact that there are still people around who see the Labour Party as being the vehicle for socialist change (yes, really) this type of thing surely shouldn’t happen. It certainly would have been unthinkable a generation ago. But it’s not unique in Europe. The crisis has caused a ‘flight from the centre’ in many places, with the rise of radical parties of the Left and Right. No country displays this more obviously than Greece, where the big 2 parties of centre-left and centre-right have had to form a coalition to keep Syriza and Golden Dawn out of government. Similarly, Italy is now ruled by a ‘grand coalition’ to keep protest parties away from power. Even Germany came close at the last elections, before the Right managed to cobble a workable majority together.
Of course, in Britain, we’ve been enjoying the Cameron-Clegg Con-Dem pact. Some stupid part of me hoped that Labour in opposition may lurch to the Left; not cos I was daft enough to believe the ‘Red Ed’ hype (he’s more Eddie the riddy), but because it would make political sense to take a bold stand against the cuts which are so badly damaging the economy and society in general. Alas, it wasn’t to be. The truth is that our problems stem from an imbalanced economy reliant on consumerism and property bubbles, alongside depressed wages and the rich opting-out of social responsibility. Yet somehow the media have managed to convince millions that the recession was caused by nurse’s pensions and sick people being given enough money to live on. ‘Economic confidence’ is now key to winning the election, meaning Labour have decided to reassure posh people by promising to defend their privileges through austerity-lite.
“Cutting too far and too fast” is the best criticism Darling et al can muster. It doesn’t take a political scientist to calculate that Miliband as PM would offer more of the same. The UK government and opposition are now effectively a single bloc, dedicated to rolling back the welfare state and eroding working-class living standards. This process is chilling when considered alongside the rise in far-right ideas and authoritarian practices. I’ve heard experts on Radio 4 discussing whether democracy can really keep functioning, considering economic ‘reforms’ are inevitable and most people are gonna hate it. A post-war prime minister once bragged “we’ve never had it so good” – now you can scratch that and replace it with “you’ve got it far too good”, sneered by a Cabinet of millionaires at a nation struggling under the weight of falling wages, rising food and energy prices, and unserviceable levels of consumer debt.
It feels like a long time now since the MPs’ expenses scandal demolished the public’s already-shaky faith in representative democracy. What I find remarkable is the lack of understanding about how this relates to Scottish independence. Quite simply the Labour party, in the form of its careerist representatives, is acting to preserve the structures which allow them access to wealth and prestige. The New Labour project was fairly open about changing priorities from social justice to power at any cost. Why so many people – some lefties included – are willing to believe that there may be some more noble progressive/internationalist purpose for the preservation of the union is beyond me. I can only hope folk snap out of it by the time of the referendum.
Darling is a Tory in a red rosette, that much is obvious. To me it’s slightly odd that he’s been selected as Better Together’s high heid-yin, though. His CV may be impressive, but charisma isn’t a key skill for him, nor is he particularly loved by the public in Scotland or anywhere else. So what qualifies him, other than devotion to the free market and rule by the Westminster elite? Apart from the lack of talent on the No side, I think it’s got something to do with his public persona. Seen as bookish and genteel, his dull posh voice is like that of a private school headmaster. Deliberately or not, he seems dispassionate, unflappable. He is not an accessible, popular type of politician. He is the guy who knows more than you. He’s handled the big bucks, been right at the top during testing times. He knows what he’s talking about. You don’t.
The key tactic being called upon to dissuade us from going independent is that it’s all just too difficult, in fact it’s basically impossible. Many people genuinely worry that if Scotland votes Yes, they’ll lose their job, home, passport, business, family and hair, not to mention having to use the groat or possibly empty irn-bru bottles as currency. It’s nonsense of course, but folk believe it because the unionist media is stubbornly refusing to present fact.
For now, most people are still reliant on the trusted word of important men like Alistair. So when he tells you Scotland is too wee, too poor and too stupid to govern itself, you better believe him. Otherwise in 2017 we’ll end up eating grass and getting payday loans after we’ve spent our annual GDP on cheap whisky and soapbar hash to distract ourself from how unbearably shite our new country is.