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'Education, Education, Education...'

Politicians should start telling the electorate what they need to know rather than what they want to hear.

Friday, December 22, 2023
8 mins

'Education, Education, Education...'

Younger readers cannot know what it felt like when 'New' Labour removed the Conservatives from power in 1997. For many it was one of the happiest days of their lives. The atmosphere the following day was euphoric.

Total strangers smiled at one another in the street and there was a sense that real change was coming. That was true enough but we didn't realise that it was change of a kind beyond anything any of us could imagine - three months after securing a second landslide victory in 2001, 9/11 happened. The rest is history and Blair's reputation will never recover.

To get a sense of how trusted Blair was in his heyday, the penultimate episode of the Netflix series 'The Crown' offers a convincing illustration of how his popularity troubled the Queen enough to consider a revamp of the monarchy. To summarise (and this is a spoiler!) the Queen allegedly asked Blair to suggest reforms which might help improve the image of the royal family. Blair went off and had focus groups determine general attitudes before compiling cost-focussed options which would 'prove' that the monarchy was serious about change.

Ultimately, the Queen decided against the wholesale removal of ancient hereditary Royal household titles (e.g. 'Keeper of the Queen's Swans') because she believed that her people didn't want their monarchy to be 'real' - they like the fantasy, the illusion it offers.

OTS is fundamentally republican, like many Scots. We believe that the royal family is and always has been essentially 'English' and that the people of England are very welcome to it. But that doesn't mean we can't understand her reasoning. It is tempting to suspect that the Queen identified something 'a bit orff' about Blair long before many of the rest of us but it's not as if we hadn't been provided with many clues as to just how 'slick' an operator he was.

Here's an example:

Speech by Rt Hon Tony Blair, The prime minister launching Labour's education manifesto at the University of Southampton

23rd May 2001

'If we are given a second term to serve this country, our mission will be the renewal of our public services. There is nothing more important to making Britain a fairer and stronger country.

Our top priority was, is and always will be education, education, education. To overcome decades of neglect and make Britain a learning society, developing the talents and raising the ambitions of all our young people...'

That speech is worth re-reading now because it made some hefty promises about improvements to UK schools. What it did not clarify was that the money to pay for them was being raised via PPP/PFI schemes (some say 'scams') which have been bleeding council budgets all over the country for almost 20 years, most of which will remain in force until the mid 2030's at which point Blair will be over 80 years old.

But that opening passage is worth consideration because it exemplifies the kind of verbiage Blair delivered in the rest of that speech as well as many others: a cocktail of evasiveness, obfuscation, exaggeration, hyperbole, spin, inconsistency, hypocrisy, clichés and platitudes. But it went down well with the majority and those seeking to emulate his success on the world stage took note. Now, with a political culture which results in people like Liz Truss and Keir Starmer rising to the highest offices in the land, we can see the damaging effect of such misuse of language. And here in Scotland, where the SNP was the main beneficiary of Labour's near-complete collapse in Scotland, such wordplay has become the norm.

Fool me once...

If we even attempt to lay out the parallels between post-Salmond SNP and New Labour we'll be here for days. But suffice it to say that what we have witnessed in Scotland over the past nine years is a triumph of style over substance. (Blair: 'I had to make that decision...' Well, no, actually, you didn't. Sturgeon: 'I take responsibility...' Well, no, actually, you never do.) They both appear able to avoid accountability using little more than brassneck. Sturgeon never had the powers possessed by the monarch or Prime Minster but she managed to cast herself as some hybrid of both and did so convincingly enough to fool some who - even yet - maintain that her fall from grace was engineered by the British State for reasons which are never specified.

So, what has this all to do with Scottish independence?

For two years or more there has been growing awareness of matters which are of vital importance in persuading disillusioned Scots to resume pushing for complete independence from Westminster rule. They can be boiled down to two fundamentals: the first is the constitutional case being taken up by those supporting the work of Salvo/ISP/Alf Baird and many others who know that a second referendum is not going to happen under any WM government and that some form of UDI is the only remaining (peaceful) route. The second is the economic case, forever obfuscated by scaremongering over vanishing oil and gas reserves which, miraculously, seem to keep topping themselves up in approximate tandem with periods of UK economic decline.

These two main concerns are being aired, in Scotland, by parties other than the SNP. ISP is championing abstentionism, the complete withdrawal of all Scottish MPs from Westminster. Alba is unshakeably optimistic about Scotland's future based on the natural resources we possess but has members currently serving as MPs in Westminster. Many ex-SNP voters support both but have only one vote to cast. (The contradictions and tensions are obvious but the intricacies needn't be rehearsed here.)

Why would the SNP, Greens or any other party in the Scottish parliament agree to a debate about serious electoral reform or 'radical' action such as abstentionism? It is not in their interests to do so - the gravy train would be blown clean off the tracks.

Why would the Scottish mainstream media ever host debates about something like 'sortition'? We're prepared to bet that only a small percentage of the Scottish political milieu (politicos and journos) would be able to identify the word's meaning let alone describe how it operates in practise. And if they did realise, suddenly, what it entails then the discussion would surely grind to an abrupt halt. Likewise with 'abstentionism' - people who write and read blogs like this are, generally speaking, more aware than most of electoral conventions but many of us would struggle to explain to anyone else the logic underlying the concept of electing someone who then declines to take up their seat. It is, to say the least, counterintuitive.

Round in circles

And so we come full circle. 'Education education education...'

Perhaps, just for a wee change, aspiring politicians who want an independent Scottish government to do things differently should lead by example and start telling the electorate what they need to know rather than what they want to hear.

Some diehard SNP supporters don't want to hear that they were duped by Scotland's own version of Blair.

Some don't want to see evidence of why change is needed desperately because they're doing very well thank you.

There is an unfortunate cohort of unionists who genuinely believe that the United Kingdom has existed since biblical times.

And there is, of course, the perennial mass of dunderheids, common to every nation, who will vote for anyone who offers them something shiny or simply don't register the existence of 'politics' at all.

So - the idea of 'Scotland United', right now, applies to very few people and even if they did unite tomorrow there would be little-to-no likelihood of them securing representation in Westminster.

We have racked our brains over this and are stumped.

Home truths

The only reasonable suggestion we have to make - and it is made more through hope than realistic expectation - is that anyone and everyone with an interest in the future of this country should now set about educating themselves about the constitutional and economic realities.

That is going to require telling one another some home truths.

Perhaps the first and most important task of all is helping our SNP-supporting friends, relatives and neighbours to face the horrible fact that they have been used. If we can't or won't tell them, who will? (Branchform could certainly help shake scales away from some eyes if their owners haven't already expired by the time it appears.)

The alternative? A return to remote control via some form of SNP coalition with a WM-based party, worsening child poverty, endless entanglement in colonial wars, declining life expectancy, further decimation of whatever remains of our manufacturing industries, grim competition for low-paid jobs and ever-decaying infrastructure.

Our mantra, by and for ourselves, should be 'self-education'. And we don't need to repeat it thrice because we've all had more than enough of that disingenuous pish to last us a lifetime.

If anyone else has positive suggestions we would very much like to hear them.

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