Archive for the ‘Elections’ Category

If Wishes Were Forces: the Irish Left’s Tartan Turn

September 14, 2014

Had I been spared the cold granite embrace of Dublin, and deposited instead into the cold granite embrace of Glasgow, I could easily imagine myself voting Yes on September 18th. There are eminently rational grounds for doing so, not the least of which is the sheer mischief of the thing; the noble and democratic impulse to pull the pin, cover your ears, and see who gets smeared across the curtains, without which the progressive imagination is fatally circumscribed.

The desire to escape Tory rule is another valid argument in favour of Yes, although it would be wrong to conflate escape with liberation. Cameron’s government is simply the vestigial muscle-memory of the Thatcher/Blair hydra, shredding and clawing wildly to sate its dimly-remembered appetites, its wizened brains having long since stopped issuing coherent orders.

Retreating to a safe distance beyond its immediate reach is a sensible precaution, albeit one that won’t be achieved through nominal independence. Neither Hadrian’s wall nor all his legions would stand a chance against the latte-sipping barbarians of the 21st century, from whichever direction they attack.

Support for a Yes vote in Scotland has been universal and unstinting amongst the Irish left. This in itself is unsurprising; Ireland is perhaps the only country in western Europe with long-term experience of being administered as a bone fide colony of a world power.

Its socialist movement was inevitably conjoined with nationalism in utero, and has since degenerated towards a kind of indiscriminate poly-chauvinism which regards ethnic and national identity as the wellspring of all political legitimacy. Meanwhile, nominally anti-statist Irish libertarians perceive in Scottish separatism a ripple of the identity-based transatlantic currents which have swept them off their feet in recent years.

The prospect of Scottish independence appeals, not only to these sensibilities, but also to keenly-felt pan-Celticist ties of blood and soil. The sight of Scotland taking her place among the nations of the earth (to quote the early 19th-century hero of Irish nationalism, Robert Emmet) gladdens the heart of the national progressive, precisely because it offers a return to a politics of belonging which has long been outpaced by events and outflanked from the right in the miserable, beleaguered Republic.

For years, the re-integration of the national territory served as both means and end for the lonely kindlers of the socialist flame in post-partition Ireland. Although the vision was never elucidated in detail, enosis with the British-administered corner of the island was regarded as a panacaea for the corrupting of Ireland’s revolutionary ideals; in order to be truly socialist, it was necessary to be truly Irish, and vice versa.

This uniquely recursive brand of stagism, proceeding from the nation-state through socialism and back to the nation-state, has seen its lustre dulled in recent years. Nowhere in Europe is class war waged with more gleeful impunity from above than in the Republic, and the rationale offered by its kleptocratic regime (via the most brazenly compliant media apparatus in any liberal European democracy) is one of perverted national unity.

Sinn Féin, by virtue of effective though entirely rhetorical parliamentary opposition in the south, has snatched up the slender threads of the Irish left’s residual romantic nationalism. At the next Irish election, Sinn Féin’s momentum will carry much of the left in its train.

Even as the party openly solicits coalition with the right, it will attract the support of socialists voting, as they now urge Scots to vote, “without illusions” in the outcome (of course, the illusion of acting without illusion is itself the supreme illusion, and right up there with the Jesuit doctrine of “mental reservation” as willful evasions go).

But few truly believe in Sinn Féin’s pink-tinged national progressivism as a viable agent of change, and the party’s self-serving mendacity in Northern Ireland, where it governs in coalition with the far-right Democratic Unionist Party, has not gone unnoticed in the south.

Supporters dismiss Sinn Féin NI’s craven implementation of Tory austerity as a mere vagary of Northern Ireland’s confessional parliamentary system, echoing precisely the not-us-guv protestations of Labour Party members across the border.

But even Northern nationalists now vote Sinn Féin largely to evade the jackboot of Orange supremacism under which their parents and grandparents suffered, rather than in genuine hope of social or economic deliverance.

Thus, an independent Scotland is seen through a haze of prelapsarian Celtic sentiment from across the Irish Sea, as a misty reflection of a time when a leftist could march erect and moist-eyed beneath the billowing tricolour, without caveat or proviso, and know that it was good.

Incidentally, before we venture any further into the leftist ghetto, it’s worth noting that the majority of the Republic’s population, wholly won over to neoliberalism, labour under no such reservations.

They too support Scottish independence, but their nationalism is of a different order, entirely delimited by the borders of the Republic and viciously exclusionary (of the poor, the dole scrounger, the malcontent, the uppity immigrant or Traveller).

Ireland may not have inherited the caste-based social hierarchy of Great Britain, but a century of unfettered rule by a tiny economic elite has cultivated a middle class as virulently reactionary as any in the world.

One of the key figures in Irish socialist mythology was, neatly enough, himself a Scot. James Connolly’s exploits are familiar to most. In Ireland, his fiercely rotund face (surmounting a thick and unmistakeably revolutionary neck) occupies the place reserved for Che Guveara in most leftist iconography.

Connolly is the perfectly protean proletarian icon. His strident rhetorical internationalism assuages his equally strident, and ultimately fatal, Irish nationalism. A master of dialectical obfuscation, Connolly attempted to reconcile militant industrial Marxism with nationalist idealism (his movement’s, as much as his own; the constitution of Connolly’s Irish Citizen Army proclaimed its wish to sink all difference of birth, property and creed under the name of the common Irish people).

Armed with a pithily emphatic quote from Connolly’s playbook, a left-nationalist need fear no embarrassment. His person embodies the inextricable trinity of state, nation and class. SIPTU, Ireland’s largest trade union, whose collaborationist leadership would put any British union to shame, recycles his image constantly, and his authority is invoked even by Ireland’s ultra-Thatcherite Labour Party. The message of such idolatry is clear; class solidarity must give way to class sacrifice in order to preserve the nation, just as it did under Connolly’s leadership a century ago.

Is this lamentable state of affairs likely to be replicated in an independent Scotland? Probably not, and not merely because the referendum will be defeated, as now seems certain. For a start, it’s no longer 1920. The Scottish electorate has been painfully and extensively schooled in the realities of parliamentary betrayal. The era of the national saviour is past (not that Alex Salmond would have fooled the most credulous nationalist in any era).

But what do Scots have to fear from the SNP, under whose watch the very worst of Westminster austerity has been rebuffed? Here, the Irish example is instructive, and not simply because of the SNP’s avowed intention to replicate the Irish template of a low-corporation-tax virtual economy.

100 years ago, the moderate leadership of Ireland’s nationalist movement, supported by its small native capitalist clique, sought merely Home Rule, and the power to forge a national economy which served its own ends (just as more extensive devolution was the true prize for the SNP).

As in Scotland, it was popular pressure from below and a vision of a different society that forced the moderates towards a complete rupture with the UK. When the revolutionary fervour subsided and the final embers of radicalism had been stamped out, the Irish working class awoke to the sickening reality that it had carved its own gallows. That a state is a state is a state; a vehicle for expropriating public wealth for private gain via the path of least resistance.

The optimal result on the 18th is the one that will almost certainly transpire; a narrow No vote, after a lengthy and fervent debate which has re-awakened the concept of popular sovereignty. Not because the United Kingdom is worth preserving (regardless of the reheated Union-Jacketed tripe served up by the Guardian and David Bowie); the UK is an inherently imperialist and confiscatory national concept, just as Germany is an inherently authoritarian one.

But because the question of who governs whom and on whose behalf is one that cannot be resolved within another piratical fiefdom of finance capital, nestling in the shadow of Fortress Europe. Because these seeds of democratic renewal deserve a chance to ripen and blossom in riotous number, not to be scattered on stony soil.

Yes to popular sovereignty. Yes to crushing the Tories. Yes to democratic accountability. Yes to the elementary humanity of a public health system.

Yes is the right answer, awaiting the right question. Another client state to the empire of capital isn’t it.

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War Capitalism and The New Emergency

March 8, 2011

It is because of the nature of the circumstances, because of the impossibility of foreseeing future developments, because of the need for giving the Government power to act quickly in relation to these developments, that this section has been drawn in this wide manner.

Seán F. Lemass TD, Emergency Powers Bill debate (Dáil Éireann, 2-9-1939)

It is no exaggeration to say that we now face one of the darkest hours in the history of our independent state. To deal with this unprecedented national economic emergency, our country needs an unprecedented level of political resolve. What is needed now after a long period of reckless, ill disciplined Government is strong, resolute leadership.

“Statement of Common Purpose”, Fine Gael/Labour coalition (7-3-2011)

With the dreary predictability of a thirties adventure serial, those components of the National Austerity Front whom circumstance has spared opprobrium have finally torn away their masks to reveal what we knew all along; that they are one and the same.

The tenor of the Programme For Government’s preamble skirts dangerously close to the argot of national-salvation fascism, a fact which might cause greater alarm had such language not been systematically normalised and legitimised by our national media and political establishment over the past three years.

Most disturbing of all is the reappearance of the “democratic revolution” motif, which became an ex post facto slogan of the Fine Gael campaign only after the election itself. The constant stressing of the government’s supposedly cast-iron mandate should put the fear of God in the poor and the vulnerable.

Beyond the rhetorical indicators, there are a few conclusions we can draw:

1: The government is likely to see out its full term.
2: The anti-public sector rhetoric may be toned down, but the offensive will gather momentum with the connivance of a trade union leadership which now has no incentive whatever to stand up and fight.
3: Revisions to the Memorandum of Understanding will at least double the job cull in the public sector within two years. Moreover, the government is aware of this, hence the apparent compromise around Labour’s lower figure.
4: The commitment to preserving the basic rate of social welfare will be finessed by fragmenting Jobseekers Benefit/Allowance into a wide variety of different means-tested and contingent payments, coupled with unprecedented harassment of the unemployed (an explicit manifesto pledge of both parties.) Note that the Programme For Government includes no reference to the previous administration’s scandalous cuts in payment to young adults.

Some of the proposals for local government reform are reasonably encouraging in principle; however, the coalition has nothing to lose on this front, given its joint or overall control of so many local authorities. Despite the superficial steps towards democratisation, collusion between central government, council bureaucracy and local representatives is likely to be even more pronounced under the new dispensation.

For a broader analysis, see WorldByStorm’s exegesis on Cedar Lounge.

Green Party PPB: The Honesty Remix

February 18, 2011

Because the original annoyed me so much.

Meanwhile, in the South Pacific…

April 13, 2010

Some relatively recent news from Nauru. See if any of it rings a bell.

The acting president of Nauru says it’s disappointing people have rejected a referendum to introduce constitutional reforms they had proposed during public consultation.

Nearly 3,000 votes out of almost 4,400 cast opposed the referendum.

It sought to improve the stability of government through amendments including the popular election of the president, clarifying the roles of the president and government, and making public institutions more accountable.

The acting president, Dr Kieren Keke, says the public had called for the changes, but may have been deterred by doubts raised about a few of them.

“The most disappointing thing in the result about the referendum in my mind is that all these amendments were passed by all members of parliament attending late last year. But a handful of opposition members of parliament actively went on a no campaign during the last week and were generating fear and uncertainty on a few things.”

Dr Keke says the constitutional review committee will meet tomorrow to discuss whether another referendum could be held.

These tinpot republics, eh. What are they like?

Spacehoppers, Flares and Trade Union Militancy

February 25, 2010

With UK opinion polls inclining towards the possibility of a hung parliament at the forthcoming general election (although Lenin is sceptical), BBC Parliament deemed it opportune to re-broadcast the corporation’s election night coverage from February 1974, the last election which produced no overall majority at Westminster.

I waded through all six hours at leisure, as much in a spirit of televisual archaeology as historical research. 1974 was before my time, but the Life On Mars thesis of an irreconcilably alien world was borne out to some extent. In fact, everyone was so fucking ugly and ludicrously dressed that I’m surprised the birth-rate didn’t stall altogether.

Beyond the terrifying vista of a world made entirely of beige and hair, however, lay a televisual culture both strikingly familiar and oddly dissonant. The format of the programme was pretty much the standard fare which has survived into the present day: A chief anchor, a couple of eccentric psephologists, a tech kid, a panel of interviewees, some vox pops with inarticulate punters, a few weak humorous interludes, and a band of hardy foot-soldiers doing OB from the count centres.

Nowadays, of course, the emphasis has changed somewhat. The professional psephologists have been marginalised and replaced by graphical shock ‘n’ awe, the main presenter is flanked by a row of permanent and semi-permanent panellists, and the supreme imperative of speed results in an array of reporters standing under basketball hoops and trying to find varying ways of saying that they don’t have a fucking clue what’s happening yet.

What struck me most about the ’74 coverage was the performance of Alistair Burnet under a monstrous workload. Sure, he’s a slimy, oleaginous creep, but he played a blinder. With no laptop, no in-studio interviewees (all the strangely truncated interviews were conducted by Robin Day, tucked away in a poky corner of the studio) and presumably without a torrential surge of information flooding his earpiece in the modern fashion, he kept on top of events, exhibited instant familiarity with all candidates and constituencies, dealt with a breaking news story from Belfast, and didn’t flag once in the course of a six-hour marathon.

The election itself resulted in a minority Labour government which ruled for eight months until Harold Wilson sought a working majority. It also demonstrated the inadequacy of the British first-past-the-post electoral system, as the Liberals were left with just fourteen seats to show for their six million votes (a horse Robert McKenzie flogged endlessly and in vain.)

I’ve uploaded a few highlights which give a flavour of the politics, the campaign and the coverage.

First up, some marvellously old-school striking miners in Denaby reject claims of political striking by a hostile interviewer.

Burnet sombrely interrupts coverage of the election to report multiple bombings and a fatality in Belfast (including a later update.)

David Dimbleby’s round-up of the pre-election campaign, featuring Enoch Powell acting demented, Jeremy Thorpe (whom I was surprised to discover is still alive) sounding typically sinister, and a cast of assorted clueless toffs.

A plummy punter in Trafalgar Square who appears to have been animated by more than the spirit of liberalism (incidentally, “liberalism” is evidently a word to avoid when you’re pissed.)

Desmond Wilcox interviews the original Tory Boy.



Communist Party candidate Jimmy Reid gracefully accepts defeat in Dunbartonshire Central after polling almost 6,000 votes. He was one of only two unsuccessful candidates whose speeches were broadcast that night, for some reason. He’s now a member of the SNP.