A Case of Mistaken Identity

A Case of Mistaken Identity

As part of my job I sit and think about identity.  If you’re transacting online in the public sector how do you prove who you are?

‘Surely we’re all in a big giant database’, I hear you say.

‘Yeah, thanks for that’ is my reply.

Anyway I have no intention of yakking on about the significant beard stroking involved in sifting through the intricacies and nuances of identity and access management.  Instead, I’d like to bend your ear over another kind of identity.

Everyone Is An Expert

In the run up to the referendum last September, Scotland was infused with a strange political awakening that saw grannies and toddlers alike wrestling with constitutional reform and economic debate.  What proportion of the UK national deficit would an independent Scotland inherit and how would we manage it?  What would happen if the Bank of England couldn’t be our lender of last resort?  Was the risk of going it alone as a petro-centric economy too high given that oil was rapidly running out?  How would cross border trade and the world’s stock markets be affected if we adopted a different currency?  And which currency?  The euro? The pound?  The tartan quid?  Every single person in the country transformed overnight from a whisky-soaked, inarticulate fatty with the life expectancy of a mayfly and the intellect of a bonobo monkey to a loquacious expert in global economics with a specialisation in oil and renewables, fiscal policy and actuarial projections.  The normal pub conversations of football, Kim Kardashian’s backside and more football were replaced with extended treatises on dialectical materialism and Keynsian economics as even your lowly Cowdenbeath jaikie opined on the catastrophic effect on the FTSE 100 if the price of Buckfast or Mad Dog was raised by twenty pence a litre.  Father turned against daughter.  Brother turned against sister.  Uncle turned against niece.  While this only affected a limited number of people in Falkirk it caused mayhem everywhere else.

It was an odd time.  A very odd time indeed.

And oddly, that oddness hasn’t gone away.  Those who thought that the predictable outcome of the referendum that was the status quo would somehow snuff out the neopolitik and let us get back to eating deep-fried pizza, pointing and shouting at our own reflections in shop windows and fighting on a Friday night were disappointed.   By nature, the Scots who choose to remain in Scotland are a cautious lot.  They were never going to go for full on independence but for a time it was close.  For a time, rich people, people who had made a lot of money out of Westminster politics, were worried.  And they still are because the unrest or political awakening or whatever it was that happened in Scotland last autumn simply won’t go away.

What the referendum debate did was reaffirm – in the face of MPs expenses, child abuse cover-up scandals and bankers’ behaviour – that there was something very wrong with the UK establishment and UK politics.  Rebellion was in the air.  It all started to get a bit 1968.  Claims of dirty tactics and establishment manipulation of the media were rampant.  People got a bit fed up listening to the constant diminution of their country by fellow countrymen with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo – a status quo that many questioned not on a national identity level but on a simple moral level.

Morality, Not Politics

By the time we got to the referendum vote itself the whole emphasis had shifted.  This wasn’t about self-determination or the price of a barrel of oil anymore.  It was almost anarchic.  It was about getting rid of Westminster corruption and replacing it with something else.  Now that something else might well end up being corrupt itself but for many people it seemed a chance worth taking.  Why, even diehard Labour voters were suddenly voting Yes.  And matters weren’t helped, from an Establishment perspective, by the echo chamber that is social media.  In the good old days you could quell the proles simply by sticking out a Keep Calm and Vote Tory message on the BBC but in these days of always-on websphere communication that simply doesn’t work.  It didn’t stop the establishment trying but this time nobody kept calm.

In the end, of course, a No vote prevailed but the feelings that had been stirred by the whole process refused to go away.  Even when Alex Salmond fell on his sword and we all thought the fire of rebellion might die down a wee bit, some of the dark coals still glowed brightly.  Membership of the SNP and the Green Party soared.  We might not have got independence but that didn’t mean we were going to lie down to a corrupt public schoolboy London elite.

Now, Nicola Sturgeon is not everyone’s glass of tea and even though she is far too shouty to my ear and can’t seem to shake the habit of talking over people when they are speaking it is testament to the paucity of any kind of credible opposition, even at a UK level, how easily she has slipped into the role of Hilary MacClinton.  God, even people in England have been asking if it would be possible to vote for her.   It seems that people quite like a positive kind of message rather than the customary yah boo sucks stuff that we get served up in the House of Commons.   According to the polls, the SNP are eating everything in their path like some huge political Jockzilla.  And the change has been rapid.  Margaret Thatcher had to stick millions on the dole, dismantle our manufacturing capability, destroy the mining industry, impose the poll tax and give all our oil money away to big business to wipe out the Tories in Scotland.  All Labour had to do was replace Johann Lamont with Jim Murphy.

And now we are in a position, with the UK general election looming, where UK plc is quite simply pooing its collective pants.  Wee shouty Nicola has been demonised.  The most dangerous woman in Britain.  A national menace.  As if she is personally responsible for people in Scotland voting for policies they quite like.  And sadly, the response of the main parties has not been to propose a more winning argument.  No.  It’s been threat and division.  The same as they did during the referendum.

The Identity Hokey-Cokey

So what has all this got to do with identity then?

Well the parties have all shifted about a bit and that’s made people a bit edgy – especially here in Scotland.  The Tories are still the Tories but then so are the Lib Dems, Labour and UKIP.  All Tory.  Just a slightly different hue or a greater or lesser degree of terminological inexactitude.  As they all lurched to the right, or to the left in the case of UKIP, to try to capture the votes of some mythical view of middle England that involves long, hot summers, a sea of white faces, policemen giving small boys a clip around the ear and people knowing their place guv’nor, it left a bit of a hole.  And into that hole stepped the SNP – who used to be the Tartan Tories when I was a boy – to become a kind of New New Old Labour.  This, of course, was a disaster for existing Scottish Labour as the hatred between the two parties – which I personally find does both parties and our fine country a disservice – simply intensified.  It’s a bit like going round to your ex-wife’s to see if she wouldn’t mind going easy on the aliment this month only to find her new partner playing Axiom Verge on your PS4 and wearing your Batman pyjamas.  That’s got to hurt.

And I’m afraid that no amount of spin will ever convince any sentient being north of Carlisle that Ed Milliband deserves the epithet of ‘Red’.  Whether Labour likes it or not, the socialist crown, in Scotland at least, now sits on a different head.

And on top of that, Patrick Harvie appears to have stumbled across a couple of old copies of Socialist Worker Weekly while clearing out his loft – he’s managed to transform the Green Party into the Communists in the space of a couple of months.  It’s all very confusing.

Now, as Tony Blair proved so adeptly in 1997, you can actually get away with this kind of thing because socialist people in Scotland are generally stupid.  They vote Labour.  Just like their fathers and their fathers’ fathers and their fathers’ fathers’ fathers.  Even when it became palpably obvious, i.e. about five minutes into Blair’s reign, that New Labour had about as much in common with socialism as David Cameron does with football, that didn’t stop the old Labour flock baaing to the nearest polling station and sticking their hoofprint in the box that said complicit betrayal.  After all, it still said Labour on the voting paper.

But since the mass national epiphany of September 2014, traditional electoral deceit, like the people of Alloa, simply doesn’t wash anymore.  The old identities of Tories on the right and Labour on the left and everyone else being mere bit players have gone.  You could argue that it disappeared in Scotland with the establishment of our own nest of fearties in 1999.  We’ve had minority governments and coalitions and debate and compromise and guess what?  The government in Scotland has been doing just fine.  Not great.  Still annoying.  Overly imbued with SNP smugness – understandable considering the quality of the opposition – but nevertheless functional and generally competent.

Unfortunately for the Westminster parties they haven’t quite twigged this tectonic identity shift because it looks like it’s starting to happen in England too.  They saw the signs in Scotland but did nothing about it.  They think the same old messages will work with an ill-informed, under-engaged electorate.  We’ll see.

It’s quite ironic really.  Lots of people in Scotland support the SNP because they appear to be the only proponents of left-wing policy (and, let’s face it, it’s hardly Trotskyism) and because they’re not part of the Westminster public schoolboy elite.  I’m pretty sure that a lot of those people don’t want independence and probably don’t support some SNP ideals such as ridding the country of Trident if you scratch below the surface.  I guess in an increasingly centrist or right-wing landscape anyone offering mild socialism is going to sweep up disenfranchised Guardian readers.

But I really do wish that Nicola Sturgeon would learn to stop and listen sometimes.

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