The Age of Unreason

alec-rossIn my more reflective moments, I realise that I’m not nearly as good a person and I’d like myself to be. I was at a brilliant garden party yesterday. The sun was out, the company was great, the conversation superb. The buffet was magnificent and although I was sticking strictly to sparkling water I couldn’t have been happier. Despite this, I made my excuses to my excellent host and left just after half past two, on the premise that I had to go and pick up my sons.

Which was true up to a point – they weren’t needing collecting until five. But the final day of the Open golf was on. I felt guilty for the white lie, but I’ll live. I’m delighted for Jordan Spieth, to whom I’ve often been compared. A friend recently commented that, compared to Jordan Spieth, my golf is appalling.

But Sunday was compelling and reminded us why we still love our sport. From hitting his tee shot at the 13th into a different postcode before scrambling a scarcely believable bogey and then playing the final five holes in five under to become only the second golfer after the great Jack Nicklaus to win three majors before the age of twenty four, this was drama from a different planet. Spieth’s victory from the most inauspicious of circumstances – he seemed dead and buried at the 13th – defies logic.

But then so does much of our current affairs. Perhaps he is a champion for our age. The only claret jug I’ll ever get to drink from is the one we got as a wedding present, but I love my golf. Given that my swing resembles an octopus falling out of a tree, I’m unlikely to be threatening the leaderboard anytime soon. But one of the joys of golf is the people you meet. You also spend 99% of your round not actually doing anything apart from walking – and talking.

Last Thursday, I was golfing with a friend and confided that I often felt I was wasting my time in trying to articulate logical argument in a world seemingly devoid of reason. Brexit isn’t logical, I said. Neither, I argued, is voting for a party that explicitly states it intends to impoverish you and raise the state pension age to sixty-eight – especially when, if you happen to live in some parts of the West of Scotland, you will, not qualify. Because you will in fact be dead.

It isn’t logical for a third of Mexicans to vote for a President who called them rapists and thieves, but that is what happened. Trump’s misogyny and groping revelations should have finished him, yet more than half of white American women supported him. Listen to a Trump speech. It seems incoherent and even self-contradictory. This is because it is made up of a patchwork of messages, each one targeting a different voter group. Each voter group will hear the message that most interests it, and will not pay much attention to the other messages in the speech, although the overall tone – it is easier for campaigners on extreme political wings to shout, promise and threaten without treating what they say as genuine commitments – helps also because it makes them seem different and determined.

Political moderates – like Remain campaigners, like advocates for Scottish independence – trying to explain the details of sensible policies do not sound so exciting. So don’t publish a white paper – write it on the side of a bus.

This is not a logical age. In any sane universe, an influential group of thirteen Scottish Conservative MPs would already have secured their share of nearly three billion pounds for their constituents by refusing to back their government until the Barnett Consequentials due from the DUP bung were paid in full. Logic dictates that they would have pressed for a bespoke deal for Scotland that would see us remain in the Single Market at the very least, in line with the overwhelming Scottish remain vote. But neither of these things happened, and neither of them will. Because their loyalty – first and last – lies with their party, not their people. At least now we know where we stand.

By this point, my friend and I were standing on the seventh tee. “Remember ‘All The President’s Men'”? he asked. And then the penny dropped. Follow the money. In other words, who gains from Brexit? Well, it would not be people who benefit from the existence of the NHS, state education, welfare, and the regulations that protect employee rights and the environment – a Sunderland car worker, for example. Such things need sufficient tax revenues; they need pooled resources, contributions from us all for the benefit of all, through taxation.

A low-tax economy therefore would not, because it could not, benefit those who rely on what taxes pay for. It would instead benefit people who do not use the NHS because they have private medical insurance, who do not need a state education system because they educate their children privately, who will never need welfare because they are rich, who object to not being able to sack their employees easily, who do not care if city air quality is bad because they have houses in the country, who do not care if our beaches are dirty because they can take their holidays in exotic locations abroad. The UK government, for example.

Somebody always gains from catastrophe. It’s often the reason why catastrophe exists. The Luftwaffe couldn’t have functioned without American oil millions. People close to the British Government stand to make a fortune from the privatisation of the NHS. Privatised security firms made a fortune out of the Iraq war and its aftermath – it wasn’t just Tony Blair who made a killing.

And for Scotland? The Brexit endgame is the reintroduction of direct rule from London. You think I’m joking? Seriously, they wouldn’t hesitate for a second and in truth it has already started. The Supreme Court has already ruled that we need not be consulted. The Sewell Convention has been ripped up. Barnett died on the altar of the dodgy deal, the repatriation of farming and fishing powers were broken on the Brexit wheel. Michael Gove pontificates on Scottish farming, as if it had been reclaimed by Westminster. It may well be soon. It’s not so much that they don’t care about us. I never believed all that equal partners / family of nations nonsense.

But now we are held in open contempt and Brexit provides both the motive and the opportunity to keep Scotland on its knees, to grind us into the dirt. This week’s Downing St downgrading of the First Minister’s diplomatic status is not only an outrage but the reversal of the devolution settlement by stealth.

So here’s a question.

In these circumstances, what are the chances of achieving a sustainable future for Scotland’s farmers?  And, in what parallel universe does Michael Gove give a damn about us?

The worst could happen but it won’t happen straightaway. But I worry. With these themes in my mind, I called some farming friends for their views. I was alarmed at the lack of outrage, worried about the absence of anger. Perhaps, because we’ve been on permanent crisis management mode for the last few years, uncertainty has become the new normal and we have become anaesthetised with each fresh outrage carried out in our name. Which is, of course, exactly what they want.

But we must not cower. Our inaction makes us complicit. We need to recognise – quickly – that our existing constitutional settlement affords us precisely zero chance of achieving a sustainable future for  farming or the wider Scottish community.

We face an existential threat.

It is time for us to leave.

Alec Ross is a regular contributor to The Orkney News. If you would like to send us a contribution you can email : 

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7 replies »

  1. Turkeys voting for Christmas comes to mind what a shambles democracy is dead we are now just serfs to do the bidding of our master’s

  2. Dare I, dare I comment? Yes, I will comment – I live in a democracy. Democracy in Britain is on shaky ground, but the wheel turns, Mr. Dow – it will turn again. Keep on agitating, keep on speaking up, keep on being uppity, keep on keeping on. Look back, look forward – the wheel turns and the tide turns – it just…does.
    As to reason – it’s something I constantly, persistently do – I look for – expect – reasonable behaviour in folk who aren’t reasonable, then I am very, very puzzled by their behaviour. Human behaviour – (I’m going to annoy Mr Balfour McKie by quoting Bjork) “There’s no map, and a compass won’t help at all.”

  3. I absolutely agree with every word. I am raging at the inertia of my fellow Scots to get off their collective backsides and see what is happening to our country. We need independence, and we don,t vote for it then we must declare UDI. Now I have been chastised on several occasions for making that decision, but if we don,t we are sleepwalking in to an unimaginable nightmare

  4. I have spent months reading anything that could explain the inexplicable. But now I have found the sub-text. The European Union has begun to reform the off-shore tax rules. By 2019 they will have tightened the screws and will be claiming back unpaid tax. They have a copy of the Panama papers. They are already claiming back 2 billion pounds for unpaid tax in China.

    Like you said, follow the money, it’s off-shore. Who benefitted from BP’s tax break, the shareholders. Who are they? Those, (I would argue with off-shore accounts). That’s why we are leaving the Union with a 2% majority. Hardly democratic! Read Reuters and the Guardian.

  5. China – there’s a place with no vestige of democracy. It’s shaky here – but we can still speak out, even if what we say isn’t in agreement with the government. We can speak out – for now…………..

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