‘Nationalism is an infantile thing; it is the measles of mankind.’ Albert Einstein

16 Sep


Confession time – I have a red lion rampant tattooed on my right deltoid (upper arm). My first tattoo, the lion that sits at the centre of the Rangers FC crest and is the emblem of Scotland.

Even now, 32 years since I last lived there, Scotland is what I mean when I speak of ‘home’. It continues to define me and shapes my world view. That’s why I care about the separation referendum and why I’d be devastated if Scotland’s electorate breaks up the union.

I got that tattoo when I lived and worked in the north west of England and since 1982 I’ve also lived in Ontario (briefly), in England’s second city, (inner city Ladywood and outer city Bearwood), sleepy Droitwich, the leafy Worcestershire village of Feckenham, a rented flat in Andover and now fimd myself in Witney, 12 miles west of Oxford. This is a very small island.

I’ve always been uncomfortable about nationalism too, as an ideology or a rationale for decision-making.

As the late, great Bill Hicks pointed out when asked about being proud and American ‘it wasn’t as if I had any say in the matter’.

George Bernard Shaw summed it up for me when he opined that nationalism ‘is the belief that your country is superior to all others simply because you were born in it’.

The aspect of Scottish nationalism I’ve always been uncomfortable with – the dark heart – is a core of base anti-English sentiment.

It is often dressed up as being anti-monarchy, a stated resentment of the Oxbridge elite or republicanism, but it is driven by an underlying antipathy towards ‘the other’, something which exists within all nationalisms I’ve encountered.

And in 2014, ‘Westminster’ has become a cipher for England. . .

It would, however be dishonest to portray the ‘Yes’ campaign as a xenophobic lynch mob.

21st Century nationalism is far more savvy than that.

Despite being led by a neo-liberal SNP, it is quite deliberately couched in the positive, aspirational language of the Left.

A ‘yes’ vote, we are told, is about hope, opportunity, building a better future, more equality, more social justice, getting the government Scotland wants, turning our backs on the corruption of Westminster, a thriving entrepreneurial culture, an end to the inequalities that scar the UK’s landscape……..no wonder it appeals to Scotland’s progressive heart, to it’s Labour voters and it’s younger people.

Trouble is, it can’t be all of those things.

Or even most of them.

A ‘yes’ vote can’t possibly deliver the same agenda for super-rich, anti-union homophobe Brian Souter and the convicted criminal and former Trotskyist Tommy Sheridan  -any more than it can deliver the aims of the Scottish Green Party by exploiting more fossil fuels.

Take the ‘better public services’ that Salmond and Co want to claim for themselves.

Ignore, if you will, the inconvenient fact that Holyrood already controls NHS block grant allocations and school budgets – Alex wants you to believe that an independent Scotland will be just like Norway, the analogy most favoured by the Guess campaign.

The same Norway with a personal income tax rate of, wait for it, 47.2%.

Mind you, this sort of economic idiocy comes from a First Minister who told ITV’s Martin Geissler – I watched this myself on Monday 15 September –the fall in stock value of a mere £2.4 BILLION pounds in Scots-based companies wasn’t, as anyone and everyone else thought, a consequence of the first poll showing Guess leading the No vote.

No, said the former economist, that was down to ‘the expected interest rate rise and a rise in gilt prices’.

A nationalist will say or do anything to achieve his aim. Salmond can’t very well turn round and say, ‘Martin, I think that shows we don’t have credible economic policies and can’t be trusted to govern’, can he?

And that takes me back to my starting point: nationalism.

I’ve heard a number of people tell me they’re not voting for Salmond, not voting for nationalism, not voting for the SNP.

But riddle me this: the SNP is a one-policy Party and their website (snp.org) refers to only one policy aim: ‘The SNP is a social democratic political party committed to Scottish independence’.

Explain how voting for that one stated policy – Scottish independence – isn’t a vote for the SNP?

It is, to quote Spock, highly illogical.

In his masterpiece ‘The Age of Extremes’, historian Eric Hobsbawm illustrated how in the 20th century, nationalism was the key driver in the forces of liberation and freedom across the globe, as countries threw off colonial shackles.

But in the last 2 decades it has been toxic, a coda for ethnic and tribal strife.

This debate in Scotland has not been characterised by a rich upsurge in democratic discourse, but by widespread cognitive dissonance – in other words, people deliberately ignoring evidence which negates their beliefs and choosing only to listen to voices and data which supports their pre-determined view.

So If we still choose to ignore the intimidation, barely concealed organised hooliganism, lying and most significantly of all the huge weight of economic evidence against separation, including interventions by such trivial figures as the governor of the Bank of England, the leaders of the three largest political parties, every trade union except the Scottish section of the RMT…..even if I ignore all of that, I am left with my own politics.

I’m an internationalist, a republican and a socialist.

Global problems, like poverty, preserving the biosphere, promoting equality and social justice, need to be solved globally.

They require thinking outside lines on maps, and a realisation that exploitation of workers in any part of the world reduces life chances, economic equality and justice for all of us.

Never trust a nationalist - they'll say or do anything

Never trust a nationalist – they’ll say or do anything

Killing the planet’s biosphere, to take just one micro-case, is a problem for all of us and I’ll cite just one hypothetical example: if there’s a nuclear accident at Sellafield, will the fall out stop at Carlisle? Will radioactive material respect Salmond’s brave new frontier?

My own politics leave me open mouthed at others on the Left supporting this nationalist candy floss.

And on that note, I’ll conclude by reminding people about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, known as TTIP.

You probably don’t know much about it but don’t be surprised – it has been quite deliberately kept away from the public eye.

TTIP is a backdoor, trans-national stitch up, a classic case of conspiracy made flesh.

In summary, multinational corporations and unelected European Union bureaucrats are currently sat down with their US counterparts deciding what can be defined, carved up and sold off to one another – including our Health Service. It will undermine national sovereignty, democracy and anyone positing an alternative to the neoliberal economic orthodoxy which is wreaking havoc on our societies.

And what does Scotland’s First Minister say about TTIP?

Salmond described it as “especially good news” for Scotland while his deputy, Nicola Sturgeon, describes it as “a reminder of the massive opportunities that European Union membership brings”.

And these 2 clowns are going to open the door to a better future?

Think on.

‘The Big Society’ and how The Establishment operates in 2014

28 Jul

 Oh yes, yes indeed....

Sometimes my inner cynic doesn’t need any encouragement, and recent newpaper stories about The Prime Minister’s Big Society initiative pushed all the right buttons.

You may remember when the fresh faced David Cameron took over the Conservative Party about 8 years ago we heard a huge amount of wishful, dishonest drivel about ‘The Notting Hill’ set. These were supposedly the  new breed, Tory modernisers, the socially liberal small ‘c’ brigade who wanted to steer the Tories away from the far right and back to the centre.

Cameron promised to tackle the image of being the ‘nasty party’ and turn the Conservatives into a moderate, modern, centre-right organisation, much as George W Bush once promised with his ‘compassionate conservatism’ – an oxymoron if ever there was one.

Cameron told us, on entering office, that his vision was for a ‘Big Society’, where charities, volunteers and assorted Neighbourhood Watch type do-gooders would supplant the role of the state in providing support, welfare and safety.


Well, Tories believe state intervention is a ‘bad thing’.

Unless, obviously, you are a failing bank, a City millionaire looking for the taxpayer to subsidise your pension, a speculator who has lost billions of pounds on casino bets against exchange rates or commodity prices, a Director at RBS, a Director at Lloyds, a Director at Northern Rock, Network Rail, Richard Branson………no, that’s when state intervention is a ‘good thing’.

When it means paying disabled people a rate that facilitates an active role in society, or housing benefit which matches the property and rental markets that your own Party created and then stoked by selling off council houses to people in the hope that they’d vote Conservative…..well, that’s a ‘bad state intevention’.

 You see the difference?

 No, me neither.

The Big Lie

The Big Lie

 Anyway, back to Dave’s Big Society. You’ll be disappointed to know that not only is The Big Society Network being wound up, it is also being investigated by the Charity Commission.

 According to The independent, the BS Network ‘was given £2.5m….despite having no record of charitable activity’. Ask any genuine charity – one that actually helps people in need or in trouble – how hard it is to get lottery funding or public sector grants.

 So, why was The BS Network – a much more appropriate name –successful in siphoning off £2.5 million of our money?

 I wonder if it was anything to do with the politics of the four men who ran this Network?

 Step forward Steve Hilton, the fomer advertising executive who was Cameron’s ‘blue skies thinker’ ((translation: ‘what is the craziest idea for stuff we sell off to our friends?) who baled out of Downing Street and headed Stateside when his er, thinking came up against the reality of a self-imposed austerity strait-jacket.

Hilton pushed this Big Society hokum as a big part of his not-very-original idea that if we choke public services to death, ordinary people can be persuaded to step in, kinda like we did in the second world war…..

Alongside Hilton, presumably by sheer coincidence, we had his mate Giles Gibbons.

Not only did Giles write a book with Steve, the innovatively titled ‘Good Business’, but was a partner in Hilton’s old advertising firm. Giles is a trustee of the BS Network’s charitable arm.

Alongside Steve Hilton and Giles Gibbons, we had a more archetypal Tory place-holder, Martyn Rose.

Martyn gave £60,000 to the Tories to support their 2010 election campaign and despite that, and even though he worked with both Michal Gove and Theresa May. I’m absolutely certain that he became the Chairman of the BS Network entirely on merit.

Finally, we have the BS Network’s Chief Executive, Steve Moore.

You’ll be stunned to know that Steve worked for the Conservative Party, on welfare and employment with Lord Young.

I’m certain that the well-honed, ideological prejudices Steve Moore shares with David Cameron, Steve Hilton, Martyn Rose and Giles Gibbons would have had nothing to do with the scrupulously objective and rigorously fair selection process that put him in this publicly-funded role and, by sheer good fortune, brought these five political soulmates together.

Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose…..

Gig Review: The Stranglers, Sub 89, Reading, 8 July 2014

09 Jul

How are The Stranglers doing these days? Pretty darn good, as it happens.

Still going strong without the 75 year old (!) Jet Black on drums, they treated a packed and bijou Sub 89 Club in Reading to a fabulous set list and a performance that made the Germany vs Brazil match irrelevant.

‘Welcome to, err, someone’s living room?’ opined Baz Warne. ‘Reading on a Tuesday night’ as he surveyed the sweaty fifty-somethings before him, ‘ain’t you got jobs to go to?’.

 The Stranglers were never a ‘punk band’ in the sense that even in 1977 although they had a ‘fuck you’ sensibility, they could actually play.

In Dave Greenfield and Jean-Jaques Burnel they have talent and depth, and both are on display this evening, assisted by a PA and sound which gives each instrument and voices room to breathe and clarity. Burnel’s snarling bass and Greenfield’s ethereal keyboards give the Stranglers a unique musical signature, evident on opener ‘Toiler on the Sea’, followed by killer versions of ‘(get a) Grip (on yourself)’ and ‘Skin Deep’.

 I find myself smiling like a chimpanzee, drinking in the ageless sound of a great rock band playing a small venue. The front section of the crowd sings along raucously and jumps up and down in time with Warne’s singing and Burnel’s obvious love for his people. Gone are the days of menace and introspection, The Stranglers are clearly enjoying themselves in their senior years.

 The set rattles effortlessly through the gears: Always The Sun, Curfew, Death and Night and Blood, Nice N Sleazy, Duchess and a peerless cover of Walk On By……the show is peppered with songs from Black and White and Rattus Norvegicus IV and the sparse newer material blends in nicely without being overdone.

Most people in the crowd want the classics, although a surreal moment occurs when Warne tells the crowd they can vote by applause on the choice of ‘Golden Brown’ or ‘La Folie’ and the latter wins by a distance. These are hardcore fans.

 I baled out early to catch the last Oxford train before midnight, but relished the chance to catch up with a seminal band on top of their game. Keep on Stranglin’…….


4 July 2104: Black Sabbath, Soundgarden, Motorhead….

07 Jul
Heavy rock works best in the dark: that’s just empirical observation. Shady music, minor chords and ghoulish lyrics, grandiose audio-visual effects, a genre which flirts (often laughably) with the powers of darkness……..so how would this work in the blazing sunshine of Hyde Park? 
The answer is pretty well.
The British Summer Time festival on Friday 4 July kicked off with Soulfly, the US based thrash band fronted by Brazilian Max Cavalera. Soulfly, are, bluntly, not my cup of tea, with impenetrable lyrics delivered in the growly/grunty/shouty register favoured by too many nu-metal bands and, in my honest opinion, over-compensation for a lack of vocal talent.
There, I’ve said it.
SF tried hard, threw in a blast of Symptoms to tickle the Sabbath fans but they didn’t hold my interest. Meh.
Next on were the band whose motif sums up what they’re about. ‘Everything louder than everyone else’. Motorhead.
Lemmy seems to operate on his own time zone, about half a second slower than everyone else. You can hear the peculiar diction of someone with a mouth full of false teeth, which makes him sound like the pensioner which he most assuredly doesn’t look like. Dresed in wrap-around shades and US cavalry hat, he leads the most unsubtle band on earth through an hour and a bit of their canon. Stay Clean, Killed by Death, Over The Top, Damage Case, an excellent Going to Brazil and others, topped off by a roaring and snorting version of Overkill.
There isn’t much stage patter, Lemmy concluding with ‘we are Motorhead, and we play rock and roll’. A consultation with Mr White leads me to believe that the last time I saw them play was 1982. Love them or loathe them, they’ll probably survive a nuclear armageddon.
The sun continued to beat down and on the Hyde Park stage, something very odd indeed was happening: a crew of roadies dressed in white bolier suits were turning all of the back line and side of stage white, while another set were busy bring on a few thousand  pounds worth of fressh flowers and putting them stage front. This heralded the arrival of Faith No More, a band I knew nothing about.
Seriously, the depths of my ignorance about them are as yet unplumbed. Don’t own a single one of their records, didn’t even know they were from the States. (For some daft reason i thought they were from Sheffield.) Anyway, on they came, all five dressed as priests and, well, they, er, tore it up. In Mike Patton, they have a front man of genuine charisma, huge stage presence and no little vocal talent, but for a band supposedly inactive for 2 years, they were as tight as a drumskin. 
It was hard not to pay attention and in fact they got the first encore of the day, well-deserved and  a set which, I’m told, featured 2 new songs and all their biggest hits. I may well check them out, solely on the basis of a great set full of hooks and clever melodies, delivered with passion and energy. Top notch.
The unseasonal sunshine provided penultimate act, Soundgarden, with a challenge which Chris Cornell, on tremedous form, acknowledged as he led the band out to a thunderous welcome. The band were going to play the entire ‘Superunknown’ record, including miserablist classics like Fell On Black Days and Black Hole Sun, in the bright evening sunshine. How was that? Superb.
I was looking forward to seeing them when the line-up was announced and they didn’t disappoint. In Ben Shephard, they have one of the coolest bass players around. Fretting high and playing low, Shephard wanders around with a casual air of menace and didn’t miss a beat.
Spoonman is one of my favourite songs and to hear it live again was joyous, and my only criticism was that by confining themselves to one album they were compelled to play the handful of place-holder songs instead of raiding the band’s excellent back catalogue. 
But as the dusk arrived and the rain threatened – hooray for British weather! – it was time for Black Sabbath, who hit the stage at 8.45 with Ozzy peeking round the corner and the air raid sirens preceding ‘War Pigs’ cranking up the volume.
The huge set and wonderful AV came into play  now, vast screens playing a montage of Hitler, Mussolini, Mao, George W Bush and Kim Il Sung and images of war and conflict as the band blasted it out like a jet engine. New drummer Tommy Clufetos makes them sound like a rocket barrage and has breathed new life into the old dogs.
‘Into The Void’ followed the opener and the clear difference from seeing them in December and now was that Ozzy’s voice was stronger and in tune – the benefit of not ending a tour having thrown everything you have into it.
After Tony Iommi’s fight with lymphoma, he looks happier and more centred than ever, mugging with Ozzy and smiling like a child given free chocolate.
And after the sang froid of Ben Shepard came the focused hammer punch of rock’s greatest bass player, Geezer Butler, the king of cool.
Watching Osbourne, Butler and the incomparable Tony Iommi play is a tonic for the soul - and the new material from 13, especially Age of Reason, stands up well enough against the classics which landed one after another: Iron Man, NIB, Behind the Wall of Sleep, Fairies Wear Boots, Snowblind……..by the time Children of the Grave and Paranoid brought the show to an end at 10.30am sharp, the vast majority of the 60,000 crowd were ready for home – dazed, deaf and happy.

UKIP: 21st Century Brownshirts? Or the voice of common-sense?

27 May


Tory at school, commodity broker, professional politician pretending to be ordinary

Tory at school, commodity broker, professional politician pretending to be ordinary

(Brownshirts, obviously)

I haven’t written a blog for months (busy with a new job and getting up to speed with the fragmented, demoralised, under-funded labyrinth called ‘the NHS’) but delivering election leaflets in Witney, followed by a few chilled out days with friends in Spain and a fresh eye to cast over matters political has stimulated the brain.

Apologies in advance for the ranting which will inevitably follow…

I’m going to offer much-needed perspective about UKIP’s success and point the finger of blame at those cretins who have encouraged and nurtured them; contextualise the electoral success of the far right across the continent; and offer up a few whimsical ideas aimed at those other people aspiring to live in a better world- you know, rather than one the mired in the politics of hate and neo-liberal despair which the chattering classes favour?

So, terrible results for Labour, eh?

‘Only’ gaining 330+ new councillors, winning more than half the council seats that were up for grabs, controlling 12 councils they didn’t before, winning control in places they need to if we’re to win the 2015 General Election, like Cambridge, Croydon, Harrow, Crawley, Merton……………hang on.

Wasn’t this a bad night for Labour and Mr Miliband?

Didn’t I hear the highly impartial and scrupulously objective BBC tell me so?

This, sadly, is becoming a thorn in my paw. Yes, the BBC unflinchingly parrots the Establishment line and yes, that means it is profoundly reactionary. But how is it OK for the national broadcaster to act as cheerleader for a fringe far right party with not a single MP to its name and not a single council under its control?

Waking up in Cancelada last Friday morning was instructive: UKIP earthquake, politics will never be the same again…..as Sandra, Mary and I looked quizzically at each other listening to BBC Radio 4.

How bad could it be? As it turns out, not remotely as bad as Auntie Beeb said it was.

Here are a few facts. You may not recognise them and for that I can only apologise. Ask yourself why you haven’t heard them from the BBC or the Tory press.

UKIP won fewer seats than the utterly discredited Liberal Democrats: in 2013, UKIP’s local council vote was 22%: this year it was 17%. They got only 7% of the vote in London.

Of the 243 seats contested in Manchester, Liverpool and Preston, UKIP won none.

Of the 219 contested in Newcastle, Gateshead and Sunderland, UKIP won zero.

Zilch, nada, zip, f*ck all.

In the West Midlands cities (Brum, Coventry and Wolverhampton), 224 seats were contested, UKIP won one.

Earthquake my arse.

The Green Party has an MP, controls Brighton & Hove Council and has numerous councillors. The UKIP has no MPs, controls nothing and also has numerous councillors. Feel free to explain to me why one gets ignored and the other treated like royalty?

Anything to do with one being on the left and the other on the far right?

One challenging the insanity of modern capitalism and the other fearlessly standing up for landowners, bankers and bad employers?

I promised some finger-pointing, and here it is. UKIP is the Frankenstein creation of the toxic, morally bankrupt media that this country is unfortunate enough to have, the wart on the end of our national nose.

Not just the low-rent, low-brow hate-mongering of Sun, Star, Mail and Express, but j’accuse the leader writers and columnists of the Times, Telegraph and the Spectator: D’Ancona, Oborne, Hitchens, Phillips, Kavanagh, Littlejohn, …..you are responsible.

It is you who created the space for UKIP. Your 24/7 dialogue about immigrants, scroungers, Brussels bureaucrats and ‘red tape’, gave them a moral cloak. You opened the space for them to grow and flourish. You enabled the xenophobia. You lied about the European Union being some sort of Marxist plot, you pressurised the BBC via your tame politicians, you wrote all those cheeky chappie pieces about Nigel Farage, and you either ignored or trivialised the racism, the hatred of Islam, the homophobia…UKIP is your baby.

I’ll deal with the growth of other far right parties across Europe, the questions that raises for the Left and ask what the EU is for, another time.

For now, I’ll just sit back and remind myself not only that UKIP is a fringe party, but that the struggle against the politics of hate, whether it be dressed as fascism, racism or so-called populism has been waged since the 1920s and still goes on.

Hasta la victoria siempre, as a young Argentine doctor once said.

Stephen Smith: writer

Rants, rambles and other assorted thoughts

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