This is a music blog – which you may have noticed – and as such, other subjects (politics especially) sit uneasy in the narrative. So call this piece a one-off. An experiment; should the forthcoming UK General Election not be your cup of tea or goblet of hemlock, I’ll be returning to overlong screeds on obscure indie-pop back catalogue in the next post…
And for those of you still here: on Thursday May 7th, you’ll find me Lambeth Walking it down to my local polling station, where with ballot paper in my paws, I’ll do a great big X, right next to the name of the Scottish National Party candidate.
Not a sentence I’d ever thought I’d write – and had you informed me of these voting intentions even just a few years ago, you wouldn’t have been believed.
For starters, I’m not a nationalist. And as the Lambeth reference implies, neither am I Scottish (although I do live north of the border; this isn’t some ballot-spoiling protest at the dreary choices offered to the English electorate). Finally, my own political beliefs are idiosyncratic enough as to preclude allegiance to any particular party, and until Guy Debord, 80’s kids’ TV anarchist puppet Pob, and the artificial intelligence hive minds of Iain M Banks’ Culture novels all get together to thrash out a manifesto, I don’t see that changing. Scottish, National and Party – three words, none of which appeal on their own terms.
In the past I’ve been extremely protective of my vote, lending it exclusively to the Apathy Party and the Wilful Abstention League. Not because I’m Russell Brand… well, maybe I am Russell Brand, the fear being that inserting cross into box translates as being automatically complicit in a flawed, unjust and corrupt system that isn’t afraid to act like a fascist junta whenever the mood takes it, regardless of who occupies No.10. Voted Labour in 2001? Oops – you inadvertently facilitated the Invasion of Iraq, whether you supported it or not. Vote Conservative at any time over the last three hundred years? Oops – you’re a cunt. Ever since it was a shitty marshland islet nuzzled by the Thames, Westminster has had a great deal of blood on its hands, and my conscience is calibrated in such a fashion as to recoil at the prospect of supporting it.
This, of course, is a flawed argument, despite Westminster’s best attempts to marginalise the Russell Brand / armchair anarchist constituency (after all, it’s in the system’s best interests to turn off the “freak” vote; that way, the established order gets to maintain the status quo). The first-past-the-post electoral system is an obvious method of concentrating power, banishing minority opinion and dissenting voices (of any political hue) to the perimeter of the conversation. And whilst exceptions – chancers such as UKIP and George Galloway – do from time-to-time get a foot in the (Commons) door, it’s invariably the result of scare tactic single issues designed to spook the moronic – the “blah blah blah European Union, blah blah blah immigrants with AIDS” platform – or local peculiarities exploited by gobshites with a gift for self-promotion (Caroline Lucas winning Brighton Pavilion on a credible Green Party ticket last time out being an exception to the exception).
For sure, Proportional Representation would be a step in the right democratic direction (and don’t even get me started on the House of Lords). But then again, would dispatching a handful of Tory/Labour backbenchers to the glue factory, then parachuting in a rum assortment of Greens, independents, local interest groups, the odd old-school socialist, and dribbling UKIP nutjobs never far from a casually racist comment make a difference on any macro level?
When it comes to election time, many never exercise their democratic right. An unfortunate state of affairs for which convention is only too happy to apportion blame. Yup; it’s the fault of all those feckless fuckers too lazy to vote. Too strung out, too stupid, too preoccupied by internet porn to bother leaving the house. The deadline for voter registration last Monday, and social media was aflame with the great and the good (hello, Armando Iannucci!) giving the proles a nudge with their witty spin on that old “If you don’t vote you can’t complain” trope. “I still desperately cling by the fingertips to the ideal that a national democratic debate can do some good to people’s lives,” he writes in his recent New Statesman article; a noble statement, for sure, but whilst he proceeds to kick the shins of the old Tory/Labour duopoly of power, the inference behind it all remains one of it’s your fault if you don’t vote and the blowhards win.
Well… yes; there’s always going to be village idiots volunteering for disenfranchisement. People are shit, and they deserve to be hit with sticks, then burnt with fire. But (and this is a huge fucking but), any political/socio-economic system that profits from exclusion represents the worst in human nature. I can’t emphasise this point enough; the narrow bandwidth of political persuasion – capitalist, monarchist, elitist, neoliberal, beholden to big business and appealing to self-interest – is the type of thing that future generations will look back on in the same way we regard the Divine Right of kings or burning heretics at the stake. Or to employ one of those musical metaphors I’m oh-so fond of, voting is the equivalent of popping down to the record store with notes of the realm burning a hole in your pocket, yet all that’s in the racks are LPs by Dire Straits and Phil Collins, and the proprietor of the store ploughs the profit into murdering prostitutes.
Armando Iannucci again:
Is that reason enough to vote? More pertinently, reason enough to vote SNP? The right-wing London press may be painting the party (and Nicola Sturgeon / Alex Salmond in particular) as a power-crazed Trotskyite cult intent on plundering English wealth and enslaving all first-born sons in the borate mines of Stirlingshire, but somewhat disappointingly, they’re anything but (also of note: a strong, powerful, role-model woman leader: cue the predictable misogynistic insinuations from the less enlightened corners of Fleet Street).
The reality is that the SNP are vaguely left-of-centre Social Democrats. The cause for independence aside, their central tenets are those of universalism, progressive taxation, upholding the welfare state, and a trust in Mammon and the markets. It is not, despite an admirable policy of nuclear disarmament, radical stuff, and their record in Holyrood demonstrates as much.
It’s not radical, yet when placed against the prevailing socio-economic trends sponsored by the Westminster homogeny, the SNP manifesto is made to feel so. Ditto for Plaid Cymru and the Greens, who I’d possibly vote for if I lived in Wales or England. Because we live in an era where social conscience is increasingly subservient to profit, and whilst such an observation isn’t exactly hot off the presses, the UK electorate in general and Scottish voters in particular have – for the first time in a generation – a coherent opportunity to reject this neoliberal fiscal agenda.
A coalition government it may be, underpinned by compromise and consensus, but that hasn’t tempered the Conservative’s ideological contempt for the poor and dispossessed; for that alone, Nick Clegg and his Lib Dem cronies deserve to be kicked down the stairs.
Far worse however is Labour’s complicity when faced with such an agenda; so far to the right have they drifted in search of the middle England vote that parties such as the SNP have been sucked into the centre-left vacuum they’ve left behind. If the polls are even vaguely close to predicting the outcome of this election, the Nationalists are going to treat the red rosettes in Scotland to an almighty kicking – in private, Labour insiders frequently admit as much – and as with last year’s independence referendum, it’s this opposition to Westminster’s divisive economics that’s a key driver behind the Yes/SNP support.
London never understood indyref; they like to view those of us who voted to leave the UK as chippy, misguided kooks wanting independence for its own sake, when what the Yes campaign really represented was the opportunity to build something new, something fairer, more humane. The Scottish electorate isn’t keen on policy dictated from the boardrooms of HSBC and BAE Systems, especially when the alternative is decisions taken for the benefit of the many, not the few – and it’s this momentum that’s translated into this surge of SNP support, helping to transform what was once a small and parochial political party into a progressive force Conservative and Labour alike are in a serious flap about (you don’t go from 25,000 members to over 100,000 in a six month period without hinting at a shift in the political equilibrium).
It’s important to stay grounded when it comes to politics, and I’d suggest that cynicism is an important tool in the electorate’s arsenal. Politicians don’t keep promises, their manifestos about as sincere as the hyperbole sprayed about on TV commercials. Should the SNP hold the balance of power in the next parliament – possibly supporting a minority Labour government – they’re not going to be able to implement many (if any) of their manifesto commitments, and even if they were offered the opportunity, that’s no guarantee that they’d take it. But this all goes back to Iannucci’s tweet. A start. Participating, monitoring, calling to account. 45/50 SNP candidates ensconced in Westminster will, alongside Plaid/Green representation, give the disenfranchised a voice that Labour are no longer capable of providing, and whilst my own political aspirations are unlikely to be met – no anarchist-syndicalists in Whitehall, and definitely no situationist pranks during Prime Minister’s Questions – I will be voting. For change.