Wednesday, 23 November 2016

The choices we face

Fame and fortune come my way? Not really but I have been asked to submit, to an obscure local political pamphlet, an opinion piece on the elections of 2016. No guidelines other than 'keep it clean and avoid libel'. Here's an edited version as I suspect that readers of this blog might have a lower tolerance towards a ranty polemic than the target audience who seem to like both. But that's lefties for you!
Another vote, and another crushing disappointment for those opposed to bigotry, racism, and homophobia. Another vote, and another victory for the nastiness and the urge to blame the victims of globalisation for globalisation. Another vote, and another twist on the descent into a crueller and less compassionate world. Another vote, and another reason why it’s increasingly vital for social democrats to not lose heart but get organised and mount an effective opposition.

The majority of voters (and I'm not talking about the popular vote) in America have chosen to succumb to the same knee-jerk right wing populism that infects most of the UK (hooray for the triumph for common sense in Scotland). Just like Brexit, Trump’s victory will give succour to the bigots and the xenophobes, the racists, the homophobes, and the misogynists. It legitimises their hatred and gives a veneer of respectability to their prejudices. The right is emboldened and resurgent and the world is a scarier and more dangerous place. Just think about it. An unstable authoritarian narcissistic buffoon, a man who seems incapable of measured judgement, now has his finger on the nuclear button. And one of the biggest stockpiles of nukes in the world sits just outside Scotland’s largest city. That's scary. Gulp! But, no need to worry as the TV news is filled with a succession of straight white middle class Trump supporters and Brexiteers who assure us that Trump and Brexit Britain love and support ethnic minorities, gay people, and women and it was all campaign rhetoric anyway. That’s reassuring, isn't it? After all, straight white middle class men are the experts on absolutely everything.
America has been Trumped. The people who voted for him did so because they were angry with a political establishment that had ignored their concerns and taken them for granted. The same kinds of people in the UK voted for Brexit for similar reasons. And now they’re going to discover that they’ll still be the victims. Their protest was hijacked by the far right, by tax-cutting anti-state business people and ideologues. The silent majority think they have found their voice but they are going to be disappointed when the voice cries “We’re going to blame those who are victimised even more than the elite that doesn’t care for you. We are going to welcome those who cause your suffering into the corridors of power”.

If we want to preserve those parts of the British state that are valuable and good, the only chance we have to do so is for like minds to unite and oppose the common enemy. Tolerance, an outward looking internationalism, a respect for difference, the NHS, our belief in public services, free education: all are at risk if we remain subject to the cold icy blasts of an Anglo-America that has no place for society and that only recognises money and power. We can have a social-democracy that we fight and build for ourselves, or we become powerless and impotent stooges in a right wing populist state. That’s the choice that faces us today.

2016 has been a terrible year. It’s been a year when public distrust in a political establishment that ignores them has turned toxic. Bonnie Scotland has only been saved from the same descent into an ugly and vicious right wing populism because of the Scottish independence movement which puts forward a progressive and social democratic vision of a better country. If it wasn’t for the independence movement, Scotland would have succumbed to the same hatred and paranoia that has come to define the rest of the UK and now the USA. That makes it all the more vital that Scotland continues to pursue its dream of a better country, a country that speaks for all its citizens, a country that welcomes and fosters diversity, a country that defines itself by how it treats its minorities, a country that strives for social equality and justice. Because then they can demonstrate to the rest of us (and the world) that there is a better way. That there is an alternative to the vile and nasty populism of Trump and Farage.

The choice is ours. We can continue to sit, powerless and afraid, being played by the Trump card and the jokers of Brexit, or we can play some cards of our own. That’s the decision facing those who oppose what they stand for. We need to make the right choices. We need to show that there is no place for hatred, that climate change is real, that a nation can meet the needs of all its citizens in an atmosphere of tolerance and respect. 2016 belongs to the xenophobes, the bigots, the sexists and the racists, but the future belongs to us, if we seize every opportunity to speak up and fight for what we believe.

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