BEWITCHED, BOTHERED AND BEWILDERED

BewitchedThink about it for a moment: when the Leader of the Opposition can’t even define what a woman is, we have to accept we’re somewhere we haven’t been before. A war, by contrast, seems disturbingly familiar, something as regular as night following day; an instinctive revulsion towards conflict is as old and deep-rooted as conflict itself, so our collective response to it is a relatively universal one. Yet to have a prominent political figure with ambitions to be Prime Minister incapable of publicly admitting that men don’t have cervixes and don’t menstruate is the kind of development to which we have no prepared reaction on account of few anticipating we would get to this plateau of preposterousness. Even those of us who picked up on the genesis of the unhinged religion that is Identity Politics long before it seized control parodied it in the assumption a spoof would never be out-spoofed by real life. However, numerous satirical shorts of my own, produced back in the distant days of the 2010s – when we hadn’t quite scaled what Rod Liddle has referred to as ‘Peak Wank’ – are routinely discovered by newcomers to my YT channel, shocked and amazed that videos up to four or five years old can seem so relevant to the here and now.

The fact is I was satirising the embryonic Identity Politics of the era, exaggerating them beyond reality and knowing all the time my takes on them were deliberately ridiculous. Fast forward to 2022 and not only do we have the man who wants to rule the country struggling to own up to biological fact, but his increasingly deranged Caledonian comrade north of the border is surpassing satire once again. Anyone who remembers my ’25 Hour News’ series might recall a story in which the Met were poised to charge half-a-dozen dead Vikings with gang-raping a dead Saxon maiden, overlooking the fact all parties had been deceased for several centuries. Another video was a BBC1 trailer informing viewers of various virtue signalling acts in remembrance of events that occurred long before living memory – a minute’s silence for victims of the Black Death, a memorial service to honour the victims of the Battle of Waterloo, a tribute concert to the victims of the Thirty Years’ War, a charity football match raising money for the victims of the Battle of Agincourt and so on. All patently ludicrous, but parodying the contemporary vogue for wallowing in victimhood, misery and suffering, regardless of how irrelevant the pain of the past is to the present day.

Ah, yes – the present day, the day in which satire is rendered redundant (and, knowing the Scottish National Party’s penchant for criminalising humour, probably outlawed). Step forward once more, wee Ms Krankie. Considering the damage done to Scotland by the SNP’s pandemic policies – not to mention all the nation’s problems that were being summarily neglected with spectacular ineptitude even before the coronavirus exposed Nicola Sturgeon’s totalitarian tartan – the latest public announcement from the First Minister exceeds all expectations. Last week, Sturgeon decided now is the right time to issue a public apology on behalf of the Scottish Government for those unfortunate Scots tried and executed as witches. In case you’d forgotten – which is understandable, considering you had yet to be born – the last recorded evidence of a Scottish person being put to death for the crime of witchcraft was in the Year of Our Lord Seventeen Hundred and Six; just to clarify the urgency of the apology, that’s 316 years ago.

Well, witch-hunting was even more popular in Scotland than England back in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, with three times as many witchcraft prosecutions taking place there than south of the border; it’s estimated around 1,500 ‘witches’ were put to death by the State in Scotland, helped in no small part by the first sovereign to rule both kingdoms, James I of England (and VI of Scotland). Obsessed with the threat of the occult and the presence of necromancy in the country of his birth, James established royal commissions to hunt down witches, he supervised the torture of them when captured, and he even wrote a melodramatic book on the subject, ‘Daemonologie’; as kings were then viewed as God’s representatives on earth, his rant was taken by many as Gospel. The only positive legacy of the book is that it allegedly served as an inspiration for ‘Macbeth’; its more immediate impact was to further legitimise James’s beliefs and reinforce the barbaric punishments inflicted upon those suspected of supernatural practices that had been enshrined in law since the passing of the Witchcraft Act of 1563 – an Act not finally repealed until 1736.

There’s no getting away from the fact that the fatal punishments inflicted upon those convicted of witchcraft were brutal – though it also has to be remembered that most executions at the time were not necessarily renowned for their humane manner: hanging, drawing and quartering, being burned alive at the stake, beheading – all featured in the executioner’s handbook and offered spectators a wide variety of blood-sports when they turned out in vast numbers come match-day. Torture was deemed a legitimate means of extracting a confession before the accused met his or her maker, usually achieved through employing sleep deprivation or the occasional tools of the torture chamber such as the crushing of feet in an instrument known as ‘the boots’ – a treatment memorably endured by Oliver Reed in Ken Russell’s ‘The Devils’.

The unique Scottish approach to detecting witchcraft included a method known as ‘pricking’, whereby the belief that a witch could feel no physical pain enabled professional pricks – or prickers – to insert needles and pins into the accused’s flesh, although the sadistic fraudulence of this practice eventually played its part in bringing about the end of witchcraft as a crime punishable by death. Yes, it was a horrible and hysterical period of British – and particularly Scottish – history, characterised by waves of superstitious fervour such as the Great Scottish Witch Hunt of 1597, when around 200 people were executed over a period of seven months.

Although some men were tried and put to death as warlocks, most of the victims were women, and modern perception of the whole bloody escapade is to view it through the prism of the historical oppression of women by men. Yes, it is true that these incidents tended to take place during times of economic crises, the times when scapegoats are often sought by authorities as sacrificial lambs in order to deflect attention from their own failings; but the fact women suffered far more than men suggests a pervasive fear of women asserting any form of independence within communities, such as being midwives. The nature of the charges also implied a deep-rooted paranoia surrounding female sexuality, as many of the examples of ‘witchcraft’ cited were connected to sexual spells allegedly cast upon blameless men by the wicked accused.

In recent years historical witch-hunts have become inserted into the feminist narrative, and the religious-like fanaticism of extreme activists dedicated to the Identity Politics faith has been manifested in the targeting of blasphemous heathens, using tactics that are reminiscent of the way witch-finders pursued their victims; at the same time, the cult of victimhood so central to the Identity Politics philosophy has portrayed the pursuers as the victims rather than the pursued. In this respect, a revival of interest in ye olde witch-hunts is certainly timely. So deep were the scars left by this era that the term ‘witch-hunt’ remains one still used whenever the mob is stirred into illogical mania by an irresponsible individual or group of individuals with a vested personal interest in the persecution of innocents, though the continued use of the phrase doesn’t mean the age of the actual witch-hunts has any relevance to, or bearing on, the lives of anybody lived in the last three centuries. One would imagine there are more pressing issues pertinent to 2022, though someone forgot to inform Nicola Sturgeon.

© The Editor

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CARRY ON CALEDONIA

SNP - CopyYou can’t keep a bad man down, eh? I should imagine Nicola Sturgeon is probably thinking that today as she continues to feel the breath of her predecessor on the back of her neck, much the same as that breath quite possibly graced a few lady necks during Alex Salmond’s stint at First Minister – allegedly, of course. It’s a been a testing week for the incumbent First Minister, even though she appears – on the surface, at least – to have come through it largely unscathed. What the week’s events have done for the long-term reputation of both her and her party is in the hands of the Scottish electorate; but she remains Nicola, Queen of Scots for the time being and gives every impression of staying put till the bitter end. As a result of recent unedifying revelations, one would like to think some Scots voters have belatedly had their eyes opened to the seedy shower of crooks and charlatans that has mismanaged their nation for far too long. But there’s a certain incurable MAGA-like passion for the SNP in certain quarters of their supporters, willing to back a staggeringly draconian – not to say Orwellian – Hate Crime bill, one that effectively outlaws criticising anyone in either public or private, whilst simultaneously feeling free to demonise the English at will because it’s such a canny smokescreen when it comes to the SNP mantra.

Having been cleared of misleading the Scottish Parliament by James Hamilton QC, Nicola Sturgeon was then found guilty of doing just that in parts of her evidence by the committee investigating how the Scottish Government dealt with the complaints against Salmond. The latter’s conclusions were something of a minor miracle considering the committee was 5-4 pro-Sturgeon; but the committee found her administration’s handling of the Salmond complaints ‘seriously flawed’ and the First Minister’s dubious grasp of the truth was enough to prompt a motion of no confidence in her leadership by MSPs. She survived this just as she survived the publication of the ‘independent’ report into her conduct, published the day before the committee’s findings, though that was hardly earth-shattering. James Hamilton QC – coincidentally, her legal advisor on the ministerial code since 2015 – unsurprisingly found Wee Ms Krankie not guilty.

On paper, Sturgeon’s survival could portray her grip on power as being so strong it has remained intact despite the most serious challenge to it so far. Soviet Scotland looks like a corrupt one-party state more than ever after this week, and even when veteran Tory MP David Davis recently used Parliamentary Privilege in Westminster to heap further pressure on the nonexistent morality of the Edinburgh Politburo – a privilege not available at Holyrood – it was a case of ‘Move on, nothing to see here’ from the SNP. A weak Labour Opposition distracted by the irrelevant triviality of metropolitan Identity Politics and an increasingly authoritarian Conservative Government with an appetite for imposing and prolonging restrictions on civil liberties undoubtedly plays into SNP hands; but the SNP is effectively a combination of the two dominant parties south of the border whilst dishonestly selling itself as an alternative to the gruesome twosome it has cherry-picked the worst aspects of to strengthen the vice it holds the collective Scottish knackers in.

But whilst Nicola Sturgeon is momentarily secure on the throne, the man who would be king is refusing to allow her reign to progress smoothly. Just as he stood for a Scottish seat in Westminster following his post-Independence Referendum resignation as First Minister, Alex Salmond getting knocked down is followed by him getting back up again; the ex-FM is determined to return to frontline politics by taking the route previously traversed by the likes of George Galloway and Nigel Farage by setting up his own political party. Four candidates will be representing ‘Alba’ in May’s Holyrood elections. Interesting choice of name for Salmond’s vanity project, for Alba is the Gaelic word for Scotland. How fittingly romantic and characteristic of the man’s vision; his speech launching the party was redolent in such clichés – ‘Today Alba is hoisting a flag in the wind, planting our Saltire on a hill.’ Cue sweeping strings as Salmond’s Saltire-clutching silhouette stands atop Ben Nevis. Oh, do me a bloody favour.

Actually, choosing the name of Alba to stir misguided patriotic passions in the heart of every Scotsman reminds me of BBC Alba, the minority Gaelic TV channel funded by the nationwide licence-fee payer. It’s worth remembering, of the 5.2 million Scots actually residing in Scotland, barely 55,000 (i.e. 1%) speak Gaelic – and those Gaelic-speakers also speak English; there’s nobody left in Scotland today for whom Gaelic is their only language. Promoting it as an authentic native tongue is a form of luxury ethnicity that perfectly fits in with Alex Salmond’s appropriation of meaningless symbolism that conveniently obscures the reality of an ‘Independent’ Scotland subservient to a Union far less beneficial to the Scottish people than the one that has stood it in good stead for 300 years. If there is any glimmer of hope in this miserable circus, it’s the fact that the founding of the Alba Party raises the prospect of the SNP vote being split for the first time; if anything can weaken the SNP hegemony in Holyrood, perhaps this is it. Anyway, I digress…

I thought I’d point out that effectively renting a platform such as this has its pluses and minuses. Being the good guy I am, I resist playing the Peter Butterworth ‘Carry on Camping’ character at the gate, charging campers ‘a parnd’ for every amenity before they even set foot on the site. Although I don’t see any ads here myself, I’m told visitors are denied the perks of the creator; to get rid of ads altogether would apparently require my demanding ‘a parnd’, so it’s either put up or pay up; it seems like a small sacrifice. However, being the creator doesn’t mean I’m the freeholder; I’m essentially a tenant and was reminded of this fact when abruptly waking up in an online apartment that has been redecorated during the night. I remember reading one of the unnerving ‘gags’ Charles Manson and his gang engaged in before opting for slaughtering innocent people in their own homes was to stage nocturnal raids on occupied properties and simply move the living room furniture around without stealing a thing; the residents would therefore come downstairs the next morning and be instantly unsettled by the unforeseen alterations to their surroundings.

Mercifully, what’s happened here is not quite the same, though it’s still a pain in the arse to see the whole backstage design of the Telegram has been changed without my permission. It’s always strange how any upgrade undertaken without consultation is never as satisfactory as what preceded it. Yes, change always comes as something that takes getting used to, but it’s nice to have the option to choose change rather than having it thrust upon you with no say in the matter. If anything on here therefore appears different in style or presentation, bear in mind it’s nothing to do with me. I’ve spent the last couple of days doing my best to keep everything familiar. It’s frustrating that it now takes twice as long to achieve the complementary marriage of image and text at the top of the article that could previously be achieved in the blink of a mouse click; but this is the best I could manage. Ah, anonymous others making decisions on behalf of the individual and removing all autonomy in the process – at least this is a dilemma to which many have become accustomed of late.

© The Editor

OCH AYE AM THE LAW

In the end, even the architect can be unceremoniously ejected from the building he designed. Following his resignation as manager of Liverpool FC in 1974, the legendary Bill Shankly’s fifteen years at Anfield weren’t enough to prevent him being politely asked to stay away from the club’s training ground when he had a habit of turning up unannounced and interfering in the running of the team by his successor (and former No.2) Bob Paisley. It was a sad postscript to a glittering career, but was at least handled with a degree of delicacy by the club. If I didn’t think they’d probably consider the comparison flattering, I’d more likely be talking of Trotsky and Stalin rather than Shankly and Paisley when turning the spotlight on the power struggle between Scotland’s two principal politicians of the past 20 years, Master Salmond and Madam Sturgeon. The former First Minister – and a man who did arguably more than any other single individual to further the cause of self-determination north of the border – may have avoided an ice-pick to the skull, but there are far more effective means of assassination in the age of cancel culture, where a smear or allegation are enough to leave a reputation in tatters.

Ever since walking away from the SNP leadership following the failure of the independence campaign in 2014, Alex Salmond has been an unwelcome spectre shadowing the increasingly authoritarian progress of Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s dictator-in-chief following her unopposed accession to the post of First Minister. Whilst the pandemic has presented Sturgeon with an opportunity to exercise her totalitarian leanings on a scale far greater than even she could have imagined in her wildest Braveheart fantasies, the persistent presence of her predecessor appears to be something she views as an encumbrance in the same way David Steel was lumbered with the lingering shadow of Jeremy Thorpe when he took over the Liberal Party in 1976. Salmond’s undignified 2018 resignation from the SNP following allegations of sexual misconduct dating from five years earlier was an unsavoury issue that provoked an investigation by the Scottish Government, albeit one Salmond himself challenged by raising legal costs (via crowd-funding) to seek a judicial review into.

It looked as though the toxic taint of such an allegation was enough to cause Salmond to be deserted by his old comrades, and the former First Minister’s determined pursuit to clear his name – something, which at times, bore more than a passing resemblance to vengeance – eventually cost the taxpayer over £500,000 in legal expenses. Salmond was convinced his one-time second-in-command and other officials at Holyrood were engaged in a ‘malicious and concerted effort’ to bring him down; he seems to have reserved his most incensed ire for Peter Murrell, SNP chief executive and – perhaps more significantly – Mr Nicola Sturgeon, with Salmond accusing him of persuading women to make the complaints of sexual harassment against him that led to the botched investigation. Salmond also claimed wee Ms Krankie breached the ministerial code more than once, accusing her of repeatedly misleading the Scottish Parliament, most importantly re the date she says she learnt of the complaints against him.

Barely two weeks after forcing the Scottish Government to admit it buggered-up the investigation, Salmond was arrested and charged with 14 offences – including rape, sexual assault, and indecent assault – and stood trial in March 2020. A fortnight later, Salmond was found not guilty on 12 of the charges, whilst one was ‘not proven’ and the other was withdrawn. What emerged from the trial was an impression of Salmond as bearing that classic trait of the ugly older man in a position of power being a bit ‘touchy-feely’ around young women, though the evidence of anything more serious was threadbare. The fact that many of the allegations came from women drawn from the SNP inner circle was something Salmond pointed to as proof of a conspiracy against him that had descended into a witch-hunt. As soon as he walked away from the court, he indicated he wasn’t prepared to go quietly. Sensing this wasn’t to be the end of the affair, a committee of MSPs was set up to examine the way the Scottish Government dealt with the complaints of sexual misconduct, though a committee comprising nine Members of the Scottish Parliament in which four belonged to the SNP and one to the Scottish Greens (regarded as being in an unofficial coalition with the SNP) hardly seemed like a balanced panel, further fuelling Salmond’s paranoia.

Salmond’s claims against Sturgeon have now reclaimed the headlines – though, oddly, not necessarily those of the Scottish MSM – following the intervention of the Crown Office in the publication of a written submission Salmond made to the inquiry; sudden redactions were made in the published account, removing details concerning the allegations about his successor misleading the Scottish Parliament. A furious Salmond retaliated by pulling out of a scheduled appearance before the committee on Wednesday; it has now been reported he will attend on Friday. Salmond’s censored submission had already been published unexpurgated on the Scottish Parliament’s website before the Crown Office decided to take matters into its own hands, which only continues to make it seem as though the SNP has something to hide. Sturgeon’s husband has twice been accused of perjury following his appearances before the committee, but calls by Scottish Tories to prosecute Peter Murrell would rest with the Lord Advocate, appointed by the First Minister herself and a member of her team to boot. Can’t really see that happening, can you?

Reports indicate that if the redacted passages were to remain intact in the public arena, they wouldn’t be allowed as evidence come the final conclusions of the inquiry; the Scottish Parliament has also given the thumbs-up to the censorship on the part of the Crown Office, which means the evidence against Sturgeon that Salmond presented to the committee has effectively been deleted by Sturgeon and her team. One wonders if the First Minister actually believes she’s Judge Dredd now – i.e. ‘I am the Law’. All this whole unedifying episode appears to have done is merely give additional weight to Salmond’s claims that the SNP, and particularly Mr and Mrs Sturgeon (or should that be Marcos?), are abusing their powers in order to suppress any opposition to their regime. More and more it is looking like Sturgeon has used every weapon in her arsenal to silence her predecessor, but as soon as he re-emerged from court a free man she must have known the failure of the modern world’s default method of destroying a public figure would mean even dirtier tricks were required.

It’s a difficult topic to approach objectively, this one. I don’t support Scottish independence, and whilst I am no fan of Nicola Sturgeon, I am also no fan of Alex Salmond. That said, as soon as Salmond was arrested and the charges against him were splashed across the media, I instinctively felt something underhand was at play; it just seemed too convenient a scenario for his successor as First Minister. The moment he was cleared of the charges, I figured Scotland’s descent into banana republic territory would gather pace – and it has. The SNP’s handling of the pandemic has hardly been exemplary, but by keeping the focus on England’s failings and devoting so much energy to portraying their nearest-neighbours as ‘Tory Scum’ – remember those goons standing on the border expressing sentiments that would be regarded anywhere else as pseudo-MAGA extremism? – Sturgeon and her cabal have managed to prevent any sustained study of their own dealings – until now, perhaps. The ghost of Scotland’s past is haunting the First Minister, but this is not the kind of patriotic phantom Nicola Sturgeon is fond of evoking.

© The Editor

SOMETHING TO DECLARE

Long-term loyalty to a brand can blind the customer to its faults because the customer doesn’t see it for what it is now but what it used to be then. It’s like a favourite band whose albums have got progressively worse, but you still buy them because you own all the others – or when it belatedly hits you that the TV series you’ve been watching most of your life is actually bloody terrible and you only stick with it because it’s part of the furniture; were it a new show, you’d recoil from it, so why are you still watching – just because it used to be great? Well, yeah. That happened to me with ‘Coronation Street’ a few years ago, and if I ever catch a snatch of it now it looks like every bad Aussie soap ever made rolled into one – and ‘Hollyoaks’. Likewise, when the mainstream media ceases to be the go-to source when you want to know what’s happening out there, coming back to it after an absence will probably vindicate your decision to abandon it. I wouldn’t know that personally, however, on account of not having gone back.

If this year’s events have done anything for the MSM, they could well have broken the back of the camel with a hefty bale of straw. 20-odd million tuned in to Boris’ lockdown announcement back in March – perhaps the final swansong moment of the nation turning to television for such information. I don’t know the viewing figures for TV news since then, but I should imagine ratings are falling with the same speed at which coronavirus cases are allegedly rising. From everything I can gather – and from my own personal perspective too – trust in the traditional providers of info has tumbled the longer this situation has gone on. People either seem to feel the BBC, Sky, ITV and Fleet Street are nothing more than mouthpieces for the Ministry of Truth, broadcasting the official line and failing to do their journalistic duty by questioning or challenging it – or people simply don’t believe a word of what they’re being told anymore because they can’t relate the media message to what they’re seeing with their own eyes when they’re out and about. And who can blame them? Real life and media life are living in parallel dimensions to each other.

There certainly appears to be a narrative in place where Covid-19 is concerned, and we’re not being exposed to any other when it comes to traditional mediums of communication. Part of that is probably down to the so-called ‘Westminster Bubble’ whereby journalists and broadcasters are wholly ignorant of the real damage being done by on-off lockdowns in the midlands and the north, let alone Scotland. Indeed, the First Minister’s popularity amongst them undoubtedly reflects an absolute ignorance of the Covid disaster the SNP has presided over in Scotland; all the London media wants from north of the border is the anti-Boris who can do no wrong as long as she pitches herself against the Tories and bigs up her own performance without anyone bothering to issue any counterclaims. Overlook the fact that the Scottish Government are proving to be the most authoritarian and reactionary administration ever to hold power in these islands since the abolition of Absolute Monarchy; at least they’re not useless Boris and his dim chums.

No longer buying a paper or watching news bulletins, ‘Newsnight’ or ‘Question Time’ means there’s one alternative. Okay, the internet can be something of a Wild West when it comes to information, with every crackpot conspiracy theory to be found if you want it. But balancing that out are numerous sites offering reasoned, sensible and questioning debate and discussion on the topic none of us can escape – like TV used to do and no longer does. Having said that, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube have their own methods of policing the narrative, only they do so in a sneaky manner, ‘shadow banning’ anything they feel contradicts the policy they’ve chosen to impose upon users – and ‘shadow banning’ effectively means users aren’t alerted to a particular opinion contrary to the consensus; it might still be there, but you have to embark upon a lengthy needle/haystack search for it. There was an instance of this early on in the pandemic when a couple of reputable medical men dared to air an alternative viewpoint on YouTube and were rapidly removed, presumably because their dangerous opinions didn’t adhere to the established emotional blackmail of ‘save the NHS’. Now I read that some providers have attempted to similarly hide the words of wisdom emanating from a trio of professors who have issued their own manifesto for dealing with Covid-19 – one that doesn’t involve lockdowns. Largely shunned by a MSM lacking all self-awareness of its own irrelevance, this has been an entirely online announcement, so shadow banning it is something we should all be concerned about.

On paper, the Great Barrington Declaration makes a lot of sense and it comes from people who know what they’re talking about. Dr Sunetra Gupta is an Oxford University professor and an epidemiologist whose specialist subjects on ‘Mastermind’ would include infectious diseases, immunology and vaccine development; Dr Jay Bhattacharya is a professor at Stanford University Medical School – also an epidemiologist as well as a physician, health economist and public health policy expert; and biostatistician Dr Martin Kulldorff is another professor – this time of medicine at Harvard University, with expertise in infectious disease outbreaks and vaccine safety. In other words, this trio with impressive credentials aren’t Neil Ferguson, the worst ‘do as I say, not as I do’ expert who commands inexplicable attention, a man whose accuracy in predicting the future is up there with Mystic Meg.

The Great Barrington Declaration was kindly forwarded to me by a friend last week and I was thankful due to the fact that I might otherwise have missed it. Just having someone with unimpeachable expertise in the relevant field actually say out loud that lockdowns aren’t working is such a refreshing change from everything we receive on a daily basis from the usual suspects. In political terminology, the Declaration could be regarded as a ‘cross-party’ affair, stating as it does from the first line, ‘Coming from both left and right, and around the world, we have devoted our careers to protecting people. Current lockdown policies are producing devastating results…with the working-class and the younger members of society carrying the heaviest burden.’ As it goes on to say, ‘Keeping these measures in place until a vaccine is available will cause irreparable damage, with the underprivileged disproportionately harmed.’

This breif, concise statement recites an entirely logical check-list of how our glorious leaders are sowing the seeds for future disaster and offers up sensible, well-thought out ways and means of dealing with the virus far better than we’ve managed so far – in other words, herd immunity . In fact, one could come away from the Declaration and view it as simply stating the bleedin’ obvious, and in many respects that’s exactly what it does. The difference is it’s been said by the actual experts for once, albeit the kind of experts governments aren’t listening to as they become increasingly sozzled on the power they never imagined they’d have over the people. The people made the necessary sacrifices because they bought into the narrative; but now they’re being told that’s not enough and they need to make more and more and more. And this will simply go on forever unless the propositions put forward in the Great Barrington Declaration are acted upon. Mercifully, it would appear the World Health Organisation has finally admitted lockdowns aren’t the answer and has spoken positively of the Declaration. Not before time too. Anyway, read it for yourself before your local closes its doors again…https://unherd.com/2020/10/covid-experts-there-is-another-way/?tl_inbound=1&tl_groups%5B0%5D=18743&tl_period_type=3

© The Editor

WILL GET FOOLED AGAIN

There’s been a distinct upsurge of activity this past week that has made even the most casual of observers aware it really is that time again – that time when honourable members suddenly cease to treat the electorate with contempt and want to be our friends. After two years of not merely reneging on promises but actively ensuring the major promise made in 2017 was discredited and discarded, there is an abrupt about-turn. For many who were happy to see out another three years tormenting and torturing a castrated administration in the insularity of the Westminster bubble without the need to attend to any actual business, a General Election was what they most dreaded; some reacted by jumping ship; those that remained onboard now have no choice but to submit to the firing squad and hope the bullets miss.

Both leaders of the main two parties have seen to it that their respective broad churches will now only contain an increasingly narrow congregation; many of the enemies within have opted out, and the approved replacements sing from a specific hymn-sheet. All Tory wannabes must be Brexiteers; all Labour wannabes must receive the official Momentum stamp as subscribers to the cult of Corbyn. Any deviation from the script will no longer be tolerated. Both Boris and Jezza have concluded that incessant questioning of their visions from the ranks of their own parties has been an inconvenient hindrance to the master-plan. Yes, the Lib Dems have benefitted from this Stalinist approach to internal criticism, but it seems the next Parliament could possibly contain a record number of independents no longer welcome in their former homes thanks to the purges. One might wonder why they don’t form a new party and…oh, I forgot; they’ve already had a go at that.

The undeniable feeling that the campaign is now well and truly underway has been accelerated by the television debates of the last seven days. The first head-to-head on ITV was unique in that it gave us something British viewers have never seen before – the Tory leader and Labour leader alone, bereft of the little siblings demanding the same level of attention. But the constrained nature of the format, cramming everything into a time slot that can’t have amounted to much more than fifty minutes if one takes the two ad breaks into account, didn’t do either man any favours.

Whenever both Boris and Jezza appeared poised to either expose their inadequacies or emphasise their Prime Ministerial credentials, the host would cut them short and move on to another question. Granted, the incumbent PM attempted to overcome this by engaging in his regular habit of continuing to speak even when asked to stop, but it meant the viewer came away from it no better informed than they were before it began. Boris seems to have adopted ‘Get Brexit Done’ as his equivalent of ‘Strong and Stable’, whereas Jezza dodged the question of where he would stand in the event of a second referendum on each occasion. There were also uncomfortable moments when both men inadvertently provoked laughter from the studio audience. The only impression most watching at home probably received was how poorly-served the electorate is when it comes to the party leaders.

A similar impression must have been made following the special edition of ‘Question Time’ on Friday, when the franchise was extended to the Lib Dems and the SNP. The latter was an obvious inclusion if we are to be reminded this is a nationwide Election and not solely restricted to England; but the presence of Nicola Sturgeon is always a tricky issue. The SNP are not a nationwide party. Sturgeon may well be queen of her own castle, yet voters south of the border cannot vote for her or anyone standing for her party. Nevertheless, as a seasoned campaigner, Sturgeon was probably the most polished performer during the QT debate; she was also probably relieved that enough years have passed since she succeeded Alex Salmond, thus sparing the party the kind of curse that the private life of Jeremy Thorpe placed upon the Liberals for years. Ultimately, however, it matters not if Sturgeon impresses viewers in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, for her message is largely irrelevant outside of Scotland – with the exception of any under-the-counter deals done in the possible event of a Hung Parliament.

Boris and Jezza had a little more breathing space in this debate than they’d enjoyed in the first; the two-hour timeslot meant each leader had thirty minutes to sell their respective parties to the public. This campaign so far has been marked by the PM attempting to come across as a serious statesman – something he spectacularly failed to do during his stint at the Foreign Office; but he’s clearly struggling to play the straight man after successfully playing the clown for so long, and were the Tories not in possession of such a comfortable lead in the polls, the thought that party members might just have elected the wrong leader could be putting them through what Labour members went through in 2015.

Jeremy Corbyn at least finally came down off the fence and declared he would be ‘neutral’ should Labour get into office and rerun a scenario we’ve spent the last three and-a-half years languishing in the miserable shadow of. We all know where his true feelings regarding Brussels lie; but his dithering over this particular issue and doomed, deluded hope that he can appeal to enough voters beyond the faithful to form a majority Government could cost him more than any ineffective TV appearances.

And talking of ineffective TV appearances, the QT debate will perhaps best be remembered for the way in which it finally exposed Jo Swinson to the British public as the clueless charlatan she is. If Nick Clegg momentarily charmed an electorate tired of Labour and mistrustful of the Tories back in 2010, this Lib Dem leader couldn’t even manage to convince in the half-hour she held the platform. Perhaps imagining her relatively recent election as the bright young replacement for an old dodderer might airbrush her part in the worst austerity excesses of the Coalition, Swinson hadn’t bargained that both host and audience hadn’t forgotten. She struggled to justify her actions when confronted by them, and equally struggled to justify the anti-democratic intention of cancelling out the votes of 17.4 million members of the electorate.

After raising their profile by moving from a People’s Vote policy to an all-out ‘Scrap Brexit’ mantra, the Lib Dems are now beginning to realise not everyone sick of the Brexit saga necessarily believes we should just act as if the last three and-a-half years never happened; many believe that concluding we went through all that for nothing isn’t that great a strategy. There has to be something at the end of it. Jo Swinson’s sixth-former-at-the-debating-society delivery and unconvincing arguments just made her look out of her depth, and quite possibly condemned the Lib Dems to collecting not many more seats than they have already.

Away from the TV debates, the manifesto fairy stories are tumbling down from the magic money trees like bird droppings from branch to bonnet. For now, the parties are Lucy inviting Charlie Brown to kick the football and promising not to move it before his foot makes contact. But we all know they will move it; and we all know we’ll end up flat on our backs. Good grief.

© The Editor

THE COALITION OF CHAOS

Once politicians cease to be politicians, it’s interesting how they belatedly come across as human beings; flicking between BBC and ITV coverage on Thursday night, I found the Saint & Greavsie double-act of George Osborne and Ed Balls on the latter quite entertaining and almost forgot why both provoked such loathing in me when they were in power. Perhaps there is a human being lurking somewhere in Theresa May and we won’t see it until she’s out of office; I would imagine most right now are thinking that day can’t come quick enough.

Anyone watching events on TV since Thursday night, albeit with the volume muted, might have found the images misleading. They could have come to the conclusion that Jeremy Corbyn had been elected Prime Minister and that both Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon were reflecting on relegation to the opposition benches. The expressions of the three party leaders mentioned were more a reflection of results catching them all by surprise. Jezza clearly never expected to do so well; May and Sturgeon never expected to do so badly. At the end of the day, Labour may still be in opposition and the Tories and SNP may still be the biggest parties in England and Scotland respectively, but the latter two both misjudged the public mood and paid the price. May is worse off now than when she called the Election and Sturgeon’s obsession with a second Independence Referendum has seen her lose 21 seats.

If the result of last year’s EU Referendum should have taught party leaders anything it was that the electorate don’t take kindly to condescending, smug, self-righteous arrogance in their elected representatives, and given half a chance they’ll reject being told what to do and how to vote by a pampered Parliamentary elite totally detached from their own lives. It would also appear that the antiquated assault on Corbyn by Fleet Street, utilising tired old tactics that seemed to work in the distant 80s, utterly backfired; our newspapers, like our politicians, still labour under the belief that the Sun can win it; it can’t. Few under 40 even buy newspapers now and the huge increase in the youth vote facilitated by Labour’s canny employment of the cyber language the majority of youth speak resulted in the highest turnout since 1992.

Jezza may have provided Labour with what was apparently the party’s biggest increase in the share of the vote since Clement Attlee, but it’s seats that count when it comes to a General Election. Sorry to take us back to February 1974 again, but it’s always worth remembering that Jeremy Thorpe’s Liberals received the largest share of the vote in the party’s history in that Election – greater than even the share they had in the Liberal landslide of 1906 – yet that only resulted in a paltry 14 seats. Similarly, May’s Conservatives won their largest share of the vote since Thatcher’s 1983 landslide this time round, yet their majority was wiped out. A good deal of these statistics could be attributed to the fact that the vote has been less thinly spread in 2017, with the two major parties claiming 82.4% of it, the first time since the 1970 General Election that Labour and Tory could claim such dominance over the other parties.

Were it not for the fact that the Brexit negotiations are imminent, I’ve no doubt Philip May would never have to put the Downing Street bins out again; as it is, the Tories are postponing Madame Guillotine for the moment, but it’s only a postponement. Theresa May is a dead woman walking after Thursday’s result, our own equivalent of a lame duck US President midway through a second term, knowing re-election is out of the question. Yes, her two toxic advisers Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill have walked the plank today (May ‘laying down her friends for her life’, perhaps); but their ex-boss’s brief speech after visiting Brenda yesterday, bereft of any acknowledgement of the disaster she’d presided over, spoke volumes. Theresa May is in serious denial of her own shortcomings, refusing to accept what is evident to everyone else, her own party included.

For all the success Labour managed, the fact remains that this is the third General Election in a row the party has lost; it now has more seats than it has been able to boast since 2005, but had it managed to push the Tories as tight it did under Harold Wilson in February 1974 the outcome of this Election could have been far closer and Jezza could have a more legitimate claim to form a Government than contemplating a half-arsed coalition comprising Labour, the Lib Dems and the SNP that still wouldn’t constitute a majority. However, for all the scaremongering stories about Corbyn’s good relations with Sinn Fein – standing alongside Adams and McGuinness well in advance of all the Prime Ministers that have done just that from the Good Friday Agreement onwards – the irony that Theresa May is having to reach out to the Democratic Unionist Party to prop-up her minority administration, a party whose past association with Loyalist paramilitaries is hardly spotless, can’t have escaped Corbyn.

The Northern Ireland Assembly has been in chaos for months now, and the Tories throwing their lot in with the Unionist side, regardless of the traditional ties between the two, hardly looks like fair play from a Nationalist perspective. Playing the impartial broker of the peace process has been the British Government’s role ever since 1998, and May’s desperate move to cling onto power will merely add to the political turmoil in Ulster at a time when the border with the Republic in the wake of Brexit has already provoked enough uneasiness across the Irish Sea. As for the DUP’s conservative stance on issues such as gay marriage and abortion, which has received the most coverage on social media, they’re largely typical of the hardline Protestant mindset in Northern Ireland, just as they are of the hardline Muslim mindset in the rest of the UK (Ooh – Islamophobia!); but that shouldn’t be the reason why this awkward alliance is a worry.

Yet, regardless of how both last year’s Leave vote and the inconclusive result of Thursday’s General Election have served as evidence of just how disunited this kingdom really is, the PM is content to keep churning out the vacuous slogans and sound-bites she thinks will save her own skin at the expense of the country. Considering I avoided predictions when the snap Election was called, I still imagined a Conservative landslide would be the outcome and said as much. I’m glad to have been proven wrong, but God knows what comes next. Only a fool would be a betting man right now, and I can at least admit I’ve never set foot in a betting-shop.

© The Editor

SCOTCH FROTH

The aim of Sinn Fein is to achieve a united Ireland; the aim of the Scottish National Party is to achieve an independent Scotland; therein lies the basic raison d’être of both political parties. Neither has managed to achieve either aim yet, though the SNP has come closest. The result of 2014’s Independence Referendum, rejecting the SNP’s ‘Braveheart’ fantasy, may have cost Alex Salmond his job, but it was never going to be the end of the story with Nationalists ruling the Holyrood roost. The Brexit vote was the dream result for Nicola Sturgeon, and this week’s announcement by the First Minister that she intends to instigate a rerun of 2014 has been expected ever since the morning of June 24 last year.

On paper, Sturgeon’s demands appear to be economic insanity. With the UK perched on such an uncertain precipice, having endured almost a decade of austerity measures and now facing a protracted withdrawal from Europe, why the hell would the SNP want to jeopardise these uncertainties further by bailing out of a Union that it has done far better from than the Union it wants to throw its lot in with? The bloated beached whale of the EU has been on its arse – to paraphrase a little French – for years; Germany may be flourishing, but Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal tell a different story. That the SNP places a ‘special relationship’ with a struggling continent over its relationship with its nearest neighbour speaks volumes as to its narcissistic agenda.

Sturgeon’s Scotland seeking an alliance with an ailing institution rather than remaining a key member of a county it helped put on the world map says everything one needs to know about the SNP. It doesn’t give a toss about its countrymen and their future; all it can see through its tunnel-vision is sepia-tinted liberation from the Auld Enemy, something that conveniently brushes aside the benefits of a relationship Scotland entered into with shrewd economic foresight 310 years ago.

Scotland didn’t unite with England because – unlike Wales or Ireland – a megalomaniac monarch with anger issues conquered it; Scotland was smart enough to recognise the financial benefits of such a union at a time when its own finances were far from healthy, and the deal that brought hundreds of years of mutual antipathy to an end was sealed by Queen Anne, an English sovereign from a Scottish royal dynasty, the Stuarts. Thanks to the willingness of the Scots to link arms with the bastard English, the collective inhabitants of this violent, quirky, bloodthirsty, ill-tempered and eccentric island were truly united for the first time since the Roman occupation; and what came out of that union surpassed even the global reach of our former Latin subjugators. When Ireland was officially absorbed into the club just under a hundred years later, the journey from Great Britain to the United Kingdom was complete.

The Union was the culmination of a long transformation from warring tribal kingdoms to the mature recognition of the sense in joining together; having done pretty well out of the deal since 1707, one would imagine recognition of that fact along with future Scottish prosperity would be at the forefront of the SNP’s mind; but a party that cynically toys with the tendency of Celts to romanticise and sentimentalise their ancient history is too focused on its one objective to take anything else into consideration, let alone pressing issues in the here and now that even Robert the Bruce would struggle to deal with.

Theresa May’s predecessor at No.10 signed the Edinburgh Agreement with then-First Minister Alex Salmond, which gave Holyrood the power to call the 2014 Independence Referendum free from any Westminster approval, but that only applied to 2014; Nicola Sturgeon needs to seek a similar agreement in order to instigate round two, though it seems highly unlikely the PM will grant it to her when she currently has bigger fish to fry. Besides, despite an upsurge in support for Scottish independence following the EU Referendum, the figures have since slipped back to where they were in 2014 – further evidence that underlines Sturgeon’s willingness to sacrifice the interests of half her fellow Scots for the sake of her own ego.

Nicola Sturgeon fired her anticipated missive at a moment when she, like many observers, imagined Theresa May had her finger on the trigger of the revolver known as Article 50; but by attempting to punch above her weight and dictate the Brexit narrative, Sturgeon may well have gambled on the outcome of a second referendum that polls consistently claim her nation is hardly unanimously in favour of right now. Not that this will concern the First Minister, however; being the leader of a Nationalist party means everything – including a measured response to a delicate situation – is secondary to the overriding obsession of independence, whatever the cost to her country. As long as she can get to play Mel Gibson in drag, the sacrifice is justified.

© The Editor

HARD TIMES

britannia-statue1Ooh, it’s hard – it’s really hard! Yes, porn-speak infiltrates political discourse and, guess what, the SNP, Sinn Fein and the Lib Dems aren’t happy. Finally, the PM emerges from her Downing Street bunker and outlines her Brexit strategy. It’s only taken Theresa May the best part of six months to come up with some sort of speech to get the classes chattering at Westminster, Holyrood and Stormont, but she’s done it at last.

Yesterday, Our Beloved Leader announced that the UK will be leaving the European Single Market as part of our exit from the EU, confirmation of something that had been anticipated and (in the self-interested case of Nicola Sturgeon) hoped-for. Free movement of goods, services and capital without the free movement of people isn’t going to happen, so the Prime Minister had little option but to include this as a key part of her speech. It goes without saying that prominent Remainers in Parliament took the news badly; Tim Farron described being removed from the single market as ‘a theft of democracy’ and ‘not something proposed to the British people’. In case he’s already forgotten, nothing other than Leave or Remain was on the ballot paper last June; that was the extent of the detail.

The PM said Parliament would indeed vote on the final deal once unveiled, though a majority of votes by MPs and Peers against it wouldn’t alter the deal being enacted, which renders the laborious process of debating the issue in the Commons and the Lords somewhat redundant; I suppose it’ll serve as a token gesture to the Great British Sovereignty that a Leave vote was allegedly intended to return us to the bosom of, and it’ll also waste more time as the negotiations drag on and on, of course.

Along with leaving the European Single Market, the UK will wave bye-bye to the EU Customs Union, with the PM claiming it restricts Britain from being able to cut trade deals with non-EU member states; at the same time, she said she wanted the UK to have a new tariff-free trading relationship with the EU. It looks like Mrs May wants that cake and she’s determined to eat the bloody thing! It was this aspect of the PM’s plans that particularly upset the Nationalist parties in Ulster, with Sinn Fein MLA John O’Dowd declaring the decision ‘creates a hard border on the island of Ireland’. However, May did add that a crucial element of her intentions for Brexit in relation to Northern Ireland would be that the Common Travel Area between the UK and Eire remains.

At this moment in time, with the power-sharing Executive suspended pending an election, Northern Ireland would seem to have more pressing matters; not so Scotland, of course – according to the SNP, anyway. The PM may have said all the devolved UK administrations would have a part to play in formulating the Brexit strategy, but Nicola Sturgeon wants a ‘special deal’ for Scotland that flies in the face of May’s rejection of the European Single Market. The First Minister may be publicly stressing she believes Scotland remaining attached to the EU is in Scotland’s economic interests, but it’s been evident ever since she succeeded Alex Salmond that she intends to overturn the Independence Referendum result of 2014 at the first opportunity; and now it would appear that Theresa May’s speech has presented it to her.

Perhaps still stung by Obama’s threat of the UK being at the back of the queue when it comes to trade deals should the country dare to exit the EU, the Government now seems to be hinging a lot of post-European optimism on maximising ‘the special relationship’ again. The President-Elect wants to be our friend, or at least that’s what we’ve been led to believe via the Donald’s stated fondness for Britain, his thumbs-up for Brexit and his apparent willingness to do deals with us. Toe-curling snapshots alongside the likes of Farage and Gove probably shouldn’t be taken as an indication that this is where the majority of our global trading future lies, however.

Enthusiastic Brexiteer Boris Johnson has played down any over-reliance on the US by claiming endless other nations will be queuing up to sign trade deals with the UK once the death warrant on our EU membership known as Article 50 has been triggered – well, once the expected two-year process is over and done with. The Foreign Secretary added that ‘we are not slamming the door to migrants or hauling up the drawbridge’. But for all Bo-Jo’s bravura, nothing is as clear-cut as he and his ilk are liable to paint it; and one of the few straws Jeremy Corbyn could clutch at yesterday was his conviction that extricating ourselves from the EU might take a little longer than a couple of years.

Whether that means all those countries forming an orderly queue to trade with us are prepared to wait that long, only time will tell; and all of this is undoubtedly going to take time.

© The Editor

PS We can still console ourselves as to the integrity of our Great British Institutions, however…

A WHITEHALL FARCE

leatherI envy anyone stupid enough to have thought this would all be done and dusted by June 24 last year. The Brexit saga seems set to run and run as though Brian Rix was at the helm; all that’s missing is a pair of trousers round the ankles, though if I could I’d gladly pay whatever Theresa May’s designer leather pants cost to be spared the sight of them occupying the traditional Whitehall position. The weekend was full of headlines on the subject, beginning with Nicola Sturgeon’s latest desperate attempt to assert what she regards as her authority by aiming another threat in the direction of Westminster.

Acutely aware that the climate isn’t quite ready for a Scottish Independence Referendum she hopes will this time gain her the result to justify both her own career and her party’s existence, Scotland’s First Minister has declared she’s prepared to put a rerun on the backburner if the PM can fix it so that the UK remains part of the European Single Market. Oh, it’s still on the cards, but Sturgeon promises she’ll put it off for a bit – not unlike the Brexit negotiations, then. Yes, they may have opted for Remain north of the border, but in the seven months since the EU Referendum, the majority decision of England and Wales to vote Leave hasn’t seen the upsurge in renewed demand for Scottish independence that Sturgeon anticipated, so it’s hardly a great sacrifice on her part to delay.

It was obvious even before the votes were cast last June that Sturgeon would be praying for the Sassenachs to go for the Brexit option and she wasted little time in exploiting the situation, quick off the blocks by announcing the decision of 2014 would not be one she’d honour for long. However, the First Minister’s opportunism, whilst galvanising the bad losers afresh, has failed to gain many new recruits. The unexpected success of the Tories in Scotland under Ruth Davidson on the eve of the EU Referendum was something few saw coming, least of all Sturgeon; and Davidson is hardly likely to be a fellow cheerleader for a second referendum that could reduce Scotland’s outside economic benefits even further at a time when separation from Europe has already been voted for.

The climate is uniquely conducive to Nicola Sturgeon’s somewhat crass headline-grabbing tactics, though – largely due to the continuing uncertainty over what flavour Brexit the country will go for: hard, soft, crunchy, chewy? One can’t really blame the SNP leader for capitalising on the confusion. It doesn’t help that Theresa May has mostly limited her public pronouncements on the topic by repeating ‘Brexit means Brexit’ and not much more.

In many respects, it’s difficult to think of a previous occupant of No.10 who’s been resident for as long as six whole months keeping such a low profile at a moment when what used to be called ‘strong leadership’ seems so essential. May appears to have taken a strange approach to the job, as if content to keep her head down and hide behind the now-irrelevant mandate achieved by her predecessor until it expires in 2020.

Her reluctance to challenge the fixed parliamentary term established by the Coalition after 2010 suggests a curious lack of confidence in defeating an opposition party more divided than it has been in over thirty years or it says she’s a ditherer. Neither indicates we currently have the forceful figure we apparently need if we are to successfully navigate the minefield that all those European treaties of the 90s marooned us in.

Of course, the weekend saw the first major TV interview the Prime Minister has given on Brexit, probably timed as a riposte to the UK’s outgoing ambassador to the EU, Sir Ivan Rogers, whose parting gesture was to accuse the Government of ‘muddled thinking’ over the issue; Nicola Sturgeon cannily preempted May’s big moment, and though the PM talked at length, she skirted around clarity by resorting to recycling the empty, sloganeering rhetoric about ‘taking back our borders’ that characterised her years at the Home Office. May says she’ll be ‘setting out more details in the coming weeks’, but many no doubt came away from the Sky chat no clearer on what will happen than they were before it aired.

Negative reactions to May’s vague waffle both from Labour’s Shadow Brexit Secretary, Mr Plastic Man himself, Keir Starmer, as well as the Lib Dem leader (and fellow resident of Planet Mediocre) Tim Farron, were predictable but understandable when nobody seems to really know what comes next. The plain fact is that none of the political class expected this result and therefore didn’t plan ahead for it.

The simplicity of the two choices on the ballot paper when the country spoke on June 23 2016 didn’t specify anything beyond ‘Remain’ or ‘Leave’, which could be seen as a means of duping the electorate into believing it genuinely was that simple or as a case of shrewdly avoiding the technical complexities of an actual exit from the EU, something the Government figured it wouldn’t have to deal with anyway.

Joining what was then the European Economic Community was a long-drawn out affair spanning a decade, and nothing has so far suggested leaving its leviathan successor will be any speedier a process. Naturally, the longer the delays, the more the opportunities for those eager to throw a spanner in the works have to cast doubt on the wisdom of the decision; but, as with the striking railwaymen clinging to their Luddite tendencies amidst the unstoppable encroachment of automation, one cannot help but feel opposition to the inevitable is futile on a level unseen since King Canute took his seat on the beach. It’ll happen; we just don’t know when. And I don’t think Theresa May does either.

© The Editor