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An Issues Election?

article-2420817-134DA220000005DC-914_634x356With three days to go, the polls remain static.

No party is going to win a majority.

What’s more, when we consider that Miliband has refused to deal with anyone (arrogant bastard) and Cameron and Clegg don’t think they’ll have enough seats between them, or even enough willing backbenchers on their own respective sides, to make their own coalition possible, no-one is in a position to get one either.

As a consequence, we’re already wading through the deepening waters of a constitutional crisis unlike any we’ve ever seen in the modern age.

Some are already talking about a second election this year, a prospect that fills me with dread and should make everyone else feel the same way.

Those in favour of it suggest that it would enable the country to move forward and dispense with the now inevitable gridlock.

In fact, it would actually be an affront to democracy.

It would be not be about the people at all, but about the politicians scrambling for power.

The simple fact, the one Miliband and Cameron and the rest of them are singularly failing to grasp, is that if Friday comes and things are left in flux that it’s that way because the people wanted it thus.

They want a government that can work with other parties.

They want leaders whose coalition partners hold them to account.

They want changes in how this country is governed.

They want something that breaks us free of the deplorable two party system that has corrupted the process for too long.

They want a vision. They want to know their leaders care, and are capable people.

In the end, Scotland will break free from all this but until it does we are as invested in seeing that change as any other citizens of these islands.

That’s why observing the battle south of the border has been one of the most dispiriting experiences of my whole life as a politics watcher and activist.

I said in a previous piece that if I lived in England and my only real choices were to vote for Miliband’s party, Cameron’s or Clegg’s that I would weep. I meant it, and in many ways watching their conduct during this campaign has made me want to anyway.

This is not an election any of the London parties will be proud of, unless they win.

Everything we’ve seen has been about tactics, not strategy.

It’s all been designed to appeal to an infinitesimally small number of people; floating voters in a handful of key marginal constituencies.

The idea that we’re getting a “long term vision” from any of those parties is nonsensical.

I’ll be brutally honest here; the present political climate, and the present political class, scares the living shit out of me.

I’ll tell you why that’s the case.

I often marvel at the world in which we live.

We walk down streets which, a few cracks aside, are beautifully paved.

We have a transport system that we bitch about endlessly but which would have dazzled our great grandparents.

We are surrounded, on all sides, by a technological advance that is staggering.

Our parents can probably remember life before it was like this – all IPhones and tablets – but even their memories are like an old faded picture in a weathered frame.

I was talking to my girlfriend the other day about the Atari 2600, of all things.

I remember being given one of those as a kid and thinking there was nothing like it in the world. I saw a documentary about it the other night and I was aghast at how primitive it all looks now.

Along the way, I graduated to the Commodore VIC-20 and from there to the Amiga 500, which I remember being simply blown away by.

Last year, I downloaded an Amiga emulator for my PC, expecting to experience a wave of nostalgia and enjoyment when I booted up some old classics.

Instead, I was bored in 10 minutes and wondered how in God’s name I could ever have found something that, to my modern mind, is hopelessly inadequate, so amazing at the time.

This is especially true in light of my current rig and the satisfaction I get playing favourite games like the Total War series, where thousands of lifelike soldiers clash on magnificently rendered battlefields in rain and fog, and in stunning 3D.

And I realise that my journey through the video games I grew up with is reflected in the sophistication of the movies and TV shows I watch now.

It is manifested in the way my once vast collection of books has given way, steadily, to DVD and Blu-ray films in direct proportion to the growing list of titles I own now on the Kindle.

We’re chained to our adaptors and chargers and laptops and hand-helds.

The world we’re living in changes so rapidly and we adjust to it so swiftly that you wonder if the species is actually evolving with it, in small, subtle ways.

Furthermore, I realise that, in part, I except to see even greater technological leaps in our society as I get older.

I take it all for granted now.

Let me give you one last example before i go on; wristwatches.

I realised recently that I haven’t worn one of those in over a year. Nowadays if I’m on the move and I want to know the time I turn the Kindle on, or boot up the tablet. When I’m here, at home, I look down to my right, at the clock at the bottom of the screen.

When I have free time these days I read everything I can get my hands on, and why not?

Because the democratisation of debate and the open door of the internet means that it’s all out there now for anyone who wants to find it, and I want to stuff my brain full of knowledge and information and it exhilarates me that we live in a society where that is possible.

And some of what I know about the world would paralyse me with fear if I let it.

We are, all of us, permanently on the edge of catastrophe.

The modern society we live in is so sophisticated and technology driven that any number of crises could overwhelm it all and plunge us back into a place when the Atari would still have seemed state of the art.

Our grandparents, who grew up without all this, would have dealt with that.

I cannot say with any confidence that we’re similarly built.

Cut us off from the vast communications grid on which so many of us live our lives and you might as well send us barefoot into the wilderness.

Switch off our transport system for even a couple of days and there would be havoc.

Strip down the infrastructure of this society even a little, and watch all the other pieces fall apart in short order.

One of the projects I work away on in my spare time is a three-quarters finished novel about a bioterrorism attack in Scotland. It’s thoroughly researched and hellishly real in parts, and in writing it I’ve come to know that we’re not cut out for anything like it.

I put myself in the shoes of all the characters in that book, in a world where invisible death was moving through the population, where all public gatherings were suspended and workplaces closed, where communications were cut off, where supplies were being rationed, where the military patrolled the streets trying, in vain, to keep order … and I know for sure that if something like this really happened our leaders couldn’t even begin to deal with it.

And it’s only one scenario.

Nuclear terrorism is every bit as likely and that would stop the clocks, believe me.

I pondered that as the original scenario in the book but although I’m a guy who grew up reading about megatons and ICBMS and casualty figures that look like a lottery winner’s wet dream I simply couldn’t face charting such a cataclysm in any detail at all.

A multi-tier power grid failure, caused either by a natural disaster or a man-made situation, would be equally unimaginable.

It would turn this country into a lawless state in a less than a week. Official studies on this have been commissioned, and those that are publicly available make thoroughly depressing, and truly frightening, reading.

I remember maybe a dozen years ago, watching as people like Gemma Doyle started to climb the Labour ladder for real, and being shocked at the overall standard of folk being pushed along a career track in the party.

Someone asked me, at the time, why I was so vehemently against these folk, and whether it was simply about policy or something more personal.

“Oh it’s definitely personal,” I remember saying. And I meant it.

In fact, it had very little, if anything, to do with their political beliefs or lack thereof.

“The day will come,” I said (and I’m paraphrasing, but you’ll get the drift)  “when something happens and we are all huddled together, frightened, in the dark and relying on our political leaders to have answers.

“When that happens I do not want these clueless, useless people anywhere near the levers of power.”

It is impossible to look at Westminster and see reasons to believe that our leaders could summon the intellect, courage or will to make good decisions faced with a catastrophic event.

I can’t speak to the state of the other parties, because I didn’t grow up within them, but I can certainly look to a Labour Party which, in Scotland, already elected Doyle, Pamela Nash and others and is pinning its hopes for the future on people like Kezia Dugdale in Holyrood and wants to put “Calamity Kenny” Young and Melanie Ward, who I knew at Stirling when she was a hall-assistant who could barely handle a fire drill, in Westminster.

Let me tell you, the idea that we might ever have to rely on these people in a crisis ought to be all the reason we will ever need to obliterate the Labour Party as an electoral force.

No good can ever come out of handing these people an iota of real influence.

I believe – genuinely – that we’re in big trouble as a country, on many different fronts, because our political class has nothing even approaching a long term vision for how we maintain the present standard of living in the society we already have.

Yet, like a runaway train we’re hurtling into an even more complex and dangerous future without actually having a grip on the state of the world as it exists in the present day.

Disaster could come from any direction, at any time.

I’ll tell you of one ongoing drama – and not a little one – which will give you a hint as to what we’re facing.

Water supplies in England are maintained by a number of for-profit companies, some of which aren’t even controlled by UK shareholders. They operate under OFWAT regulations which are lax to say the least.

Over the years – and this is a fact, okay? – they have run at an average of 23% total losses in terms of water that gets to the taps from the reservoirs.

This is because pipe infrastructure is so far behind necessary repair and replacement schedules that leaks spring up everywhere, every single day of the week. Because they’re below ground many are never properly seen to until pipes actually break.

The cost of all that lost water is measured every year in droughts down south.

The problem is enormous, and growing, and neither government nor the private utilities are in any great hurry to solve it.

Sooner or later there will be a catastrophic breakdown of water supplies in parts of this country because of pipe degredation … and the costs of fixing it will dwarf any civil project we’ve ever embarked on.

Our political leadership, with its focus on short term solutions, is not remotely up to the task of restoring the status quo in circumstances which materially affect our society.

You know, I don’t expect our national government to have a full-proof plan to secure all our futures in the event the Yellowstone supervolcano blows its top, or a mile-wide meteorite strikes landmass somewhere in the UK, but I give a damn that we still have no medium term national energy plan that’s worth a hoot, or even one that makes the supply more secure.

I care that cash-starved local authorities, and not central government, carry the responsibility for reacting to a regional disaster or major incident. In a world where their budgets are being cut left right and centre, is anything more potentially disastrous?

I am appalled at the prospect of us spending uncounted billions on a weapon system we can’t use when our airspace is regularly probed by the aircraft of a foreign country that we seem to delight in poking with a stick.

I am frankly scared shitless that controls over hazardous materials are so lax, that there are enough un-scanned shipping containers sitting in bays right now filled with God knows what that entire cities could be laid waste in the worst case scenario.

I am horrified that we seem absolutely oblivious to the inexorable, unhalted, march we’re currently locked in towards a global climate catastrophe that will leave not millions but billions on the front lines of hellish weather fronts or resource wars.

I worry about the Ukraine crisis spiralling into something we can’t control because we have leaders walking around who are more concerned with looking strong than seeing through the telescope to the other side, at consequences you don’t even want to imagine if you want to sleep at night.

Yet this election is about none of these things, or the multitude of other societal issues that will confront us in our lifetimes and which our kids and our grandkids are going to grow up with as we grew up with the technological advances we enjoy today.

Theirs will be a far less pleasureable experience.

But we know Labour wants to enshrine its weak manifesto on tablets of stone, like a modern day Ten Commandments, and we know Cameron wants to pass laws making it illegal for governments to break their tax plans.

In a world where our leaders will need more and more flexibility to deal with events, these guys want less control in their hands.

That alone makes them both unfit for government.

So we don’t know how a Miliband or Cameron government will react to a major emergency or looming crisis somewhere on the globe, because no-one has bothered to ask either of them and we wouldn’t get straight answers if someone did.

Instead we’re focussed, today, on whether Eddie Izzard really felt bullied, surrounded by media people and Labour staffers, by a guy with a megaphone and the national debate flows around what impact Russell Brand endorsing Miliband will have on the big picture.

Except that the “big picture” in question is the relative size of a postage stamp.

And so we walk, blindfolded, into a dark room, on floorboards that creak and sometimes crack beneath our feet, and we hope one doesn’t break.

There are three more days to go and this is the state of politics in Britain.

Depressing, isn’t it?

Even for those of us lucky enough to be living in Scotland.

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4 comments to “An Issues Election?”
  1. Perhaps if you had served in the Armed Forces in Germany, in the 60s you might,just might have understood that our actual troops on the ground were vastly outnumbered by the Russians and their then Allies. The nuclear deterrent worked then and now that the Mad Mullahs, and the Kooky North Koreans are bragging about their longer range nuclear missiles, our potential response may once again be all that keeps these Western hating people from blowing us all to hell. As Reagan said “speak softly, but carry a BIG stick” still completely relevant today.

    • Alan Smith:

      A lengthy contribution which deserves a response.

      So let’s start with this; your “Mad Mullahs and Kooky North Koreans” talk is bigoted and potentially racist and is an attitude which reflects, exactly, why they hate us.

      Your contention that these countries would threaten us with nuclear attack is nonsensical. Why would they? For one thing, North Korea’s missiles would be better used against the US Pacific fleet than against distant targets in the UK, don’t you think? Unless their leaders are simply mad, and lashing out in every direction they can. In which case, you really think Trident or anything else would deter them? How do you reason with a lunatic? In those circumstances, all Trident represents is means of taking revenge.

      Against the madmen who struck us first? No, against their citizens. Mass murder, in other words, an act without parallel in human history, an atrocity for which our country would, rightly be condemned throught the course of human history.

      Your bitterness against Scotland and Scots is repellant in one who claims to be an “Edinburgh Scot” yourself.

      You wish we’d won independence? Well guess what? So do I. You think “the harsh realities of life” would have scared us? You are missing the point, aren’t you?

      We WANT the “harsh realities of life.” We are not afraid to stand on our own two feet. Indeed, it’s the very reason why we want to be an independent nation in the first place; to stand, or fall, by own decisions. Like adults.

      The myopia of the unionist really is something to behold at times.

  2. Two things I’d like to say to James Forrest in reply.
    The latest sport in the land of the Mad Mullahs is throwing alleged homosexual fellow countrymen off high buildings , matching their predilection for burying women in the ground and smashing their heads with rocks. Nice people.

    And the Koreans, well, Kim is now bragging about his potential submarine capability,and, just by the way, blew some senior official bits yesterday with an anti aircraft artillery shell..this poor chap disagreed publicly with him..
    So, bigotted, yes about these sort of maniacs.

    Secondly, you lefties in Scotland had your referendum, and

  3. Continuation
    Referendum and lost, the majority of Scots wish to remain in the Union, hard to take isn’t it. Nicola and Alex, though, haven’t given up and we will be derived until they get a second chance. No chance of democracy meaning anything to the SNP. However, not in the next five years thank God.

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