Beyond The Pale

In the end, what did for Al Capone wasn’t the bootlegging, the murders, the protection rackets or even the extortion. What got him in the end was something much more mundane. The falsification of his tax returns.

To be fair to bold Alfonse, at least he never pretended to be anything else than the gangster that he clearly was. Which is much more than you can ever say for a certain Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson.

Is Johnson about to meet his own Elliot Ness moment? I hae ma doots.

After everything that has happened – sacked from several newspapers for lying, conspiring to have a journalist beaten up, misleading the head of state, an appalling Brexit that has seen trade plummet and the return of violence in Northern Ireland, racism, homophobia, sexism, the funnelling of taxpayers money to a lover, a test and trace system that cost roughly twice as much as the entire Scottish block grant and didn’t work very well; Covid PPE contracts worth millions awarded to companies despite them actually being confectionery manufacturers, pest controllers or, in one case, insolvent; the dreadful mishandling of the pandemic and the reports that he’d “rather see the bodies piled thousands high in the street” than announce another lockdown; and one of the worst Covid death tolls in world.

On top of this, we might add his slashing of the overseas aid budget, the illegal suspension of parliament and the support for a special advisor who trashed a crucial public health policy by driving to Northumberland to check his eyes at height of a pandemic.

And yet, despite this, it might be that something relatively small might finally signal the end. After everything, the thing that might finally do for him is, em, wallpaper.

The story – the source of the funding for a £200,000 refurbishment of the Prime Minister’s Downing Street flat – sounds like a slightly bizarre Westminster fixation that ought to pale in comparison to the tsunami of sleaze and corruption that ought to have seen him resign many months ago. Certainly, if the pictures of the property interior are anything to go by, his partner’s taste in soft furnishings is about as good as her taste in men. But it feels like an important story nonetheless. Because by refusing to say who initially came up with the cash, he denies us our rights as taxpayers and voters to know who he owes – and what hold they have on him. This matters.

But here’s the most alarming thing. Nobody seems to care. The opposition have failed to lay a glove on him. The Conservatives hold a double-digit lead in the polls. And I worry that he’s eleven points ahead not so much despite of who he is – but precisely because of it.

The concern is that when England votes, as it normally does, for the Conservatives, they have already factored in the character of their leader. A bit like America voting for Donald Trump, you know exactly what you’re getting. It’s on the label, in plain sight. It’s all part of the package: “baked-in”, as the Americans say. So when Johnson is reported to have said he’d rather see dead bodies in the street than a fresh lockdown, we aren’t nearly as outraged as we ought to be, because it aligns with what we already know. We know we were far too late to lockdown. Perhaps now we know why.

These remarks over lockdown – like his litany of other statements, like calling the Good Friday Agreement a “ghastly business” (and remember this was the guy in charge of a Brexit that threatened that deal) aren’t “gaffes”, as apologists often say. There’s a long pattern of deeply reactionary behaviour here. “When people show you what they are”, said Maya Angelou, “believe them the first time”. Well, I believe Boris Johnson, which may well be a first.

I truly believe that we have moved beyond the era of post-truth. We are now in the age of post-shame. I was thinking about various scandals and their outcomes. I remember the late Scottish Conservative leader in the early days of Holyrood, David McLetchie, resigning over mistakenly claiming an expense for a taxi fare that ought to have gone through his own legal firm, and Labour First Minister resigning over the wrongful sub-letting of a flat – “a muddle not a fiddle”, was how he put it. Small stuff really, but he walked. And it’s often forgotten that John Profumo spent the rest of his life post-scandal raising millions for charity partly to atone, one imagines, for his transgressions. To step aside is human, wrote Burns, and all three cases revealed flawed human beings with a robust moral compass.

I suspect I’m not alone in watching events in Westminster almost from a remove, as if his isn’t my Parliament, at least not one I recognise. But, in a week that Scotland goes to the polls, here’s the problem. It still is.

Despite – (because?) of the character of Boris Johnson, his party is comfortably ahead in the polls and an eighty seat majority means it can pretty much do anything it pleases, and there isn’t a damn thing we can do about it, apart from what we always do, which is employ the limited powers we currently have to mitigate against the worst of the carnage. And even our ability to do that will be further eroded by anti-devolution measures like the internal market bill.

The problem for Scotland – and indeed for liberal minded people across the UK – isn’t necessarily Johnston but a system so fundamentally broken that it actually allows someone so unsuitable to become Prime Minister.

So we have to accept that a neighbouring country at least ten times as big as populous as us is quite happy to elect on our behalf someone to legislate who flagrantly breaks the rules. There’s long been a deep deference amongst the English electorate, and not just towards the monarchy, and it filters right down to the UK Government. They get away with it because they can and because it’s what they have always done. It’s not so much they’re above the rules. They are the rules. And if the consensus of our neighbours is that this is fine, then Scotland has no chance on stopping this. None whatsoever. And that’s something to bear in mind every time Willie Rennie or Anas Sarwar or Douglas Ross promises to change things. They can’t, because they are utterly dependant on an English electorate and a devolution settlement that ties one hand behind our backs.

Continuing to put up with this makes us complicit. But we have a chance to get out for good. Which is why it’s so important to get out this Thursday and vote to allow Scotland to finish its journey and become the normal, outward-looking, self-determining democracy that it must surely aspire to be. Because, frankly, I don’t care for the alternative.

Stay safe good people. I’ll meet you further on up the road.

7 replies »

  1. At least we do have a choice – something that is denied at least half of the english population. The problem remains whether at least half of the Scottish population will exercise this choice or wilfully accept to be lorded over by the corrupt english parliament.

  2. If we lived in a world where the concept of shame had any meaning, Sturgeon would have walked years ago.
    Her litany of failures over education, health and drug deaths are Scotland’s shame. This together with the atrocious waste of public money spent at BiFab, Ferguson Marine, Prestwick Airport and more than probably ScotRail, demonstrate a willful disregard for anything approaching competent governance.
    For someone who constantly professes to work for the future of this country, this takes some doing.

  3. When I read your first sentence I thought “That’s funny – I’ve been thinking that”. Then I realised that probably an awful lot of people have been thinking that, too.

    When the shit hit the fan about the re-decoration of the PM’s flat, I said to my long suffering husband ( long suffering because, due to us being at home most of the time now, he has to listen to a lot more puttering than usual!)…..this is what I said …”This could be what brings him down. Al Capone got done for not paying his taxes – maybe Boris will get kicked out over a decorating bill. Stranger things happen.
    Each time he’s been caught out, I’ve thought that might be the end of his reign, but it wasn’t. Remember my saying that, bar murdering someone, what does he have to do?”

    I thought that this, seemingly small, thing might be what tipped the scales. But what is happening? It appears to have gone away, as a lot of news items which aren’t comfortable for the British Government go away.

    I agree with you, Alec, and it’s good to know that others are equating this with what happened to Mr Capone.
    I honestly thought this might be the one that did it – the wrong-doing that broke the creatures back.

    One thing though Alec – your view is that the whole set-up is the problem, not just Boris, and I whole-heartedly agree, but, for me, well, it’s got so that I don’t even want to see his nasty face or hear that blubbering voice.

    I broke off typing this to see the main 6 o’clock news – my one dose of news a day – all I can take at the moment. The Social Distancing rule might go. Foreign travel might come back. And why might this happen? The God that is the economy and lining the pockets of already rich people.

    I’m getting angry to no purpose – what can I do about it? Hope, and vote, that Scotland can be free of this mess, and make her own decisions.
    Why her? I suppose a country is often felt to be female, a mother-land.

    We have to get out of this. I could hardly believe what I just heard on the news. I suppose I should know better, but I am eternally optimistic – have been told that I’m naïve.

    What does that man have to do to get kicked out of office?

    And meanwhile, we have Nicola.

  4. Making up scandalous stories about the government when nearing an election is nothing new, it used to be called “the big lie” and was very common in wartime propaganda. Mainly it just shows failure by the opposition to achieve anything resembling success. The scale of it now though with social media exaggerates it way past believable and so has the opposite effect of what is intended. The more Boris is whipped perhaps even if initially deserved the relentless flogger and opposition will be believed and respected less.

  5. The institutionalised opposition parties cannot shout to
    Loud over the corruption and fraud, and war crimes.
    The acceptance of crimes against humanity abroad.
    The gross injustices against the Chagossian Islanders, Palestinians, towering inferno’s, refugees, asylum seekers,
    The despicable , sickening, racist treatment of windrush folks.
    The murderous treatment of Irish folk.
    The undemocratic treatment of our parliamentarians and Scotland.
    Feel free to add more.
    I hope we get the votes to end this union, May the 6th is just the start.
    When the smoke clears after the 6th, we will know
    What we have to do.
    Onwards and upwards

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