Tuesday, January 13, 2015

She has a dream (she's just not telling us what it is yet)

I like January.  While some get swallowed up in an air of post-Christmas depression, I have tended to welcome this much-maligned month and embrace the dawning of a new year with a sense of new life and optimism.  I am far from alone too.  All around me I hear people discussing their various resolutions, hopes, plans and dreams.  That last one is particularly important because, as Del Boy once informed his younger sibling Rodney, if one lacks a dream then they will face a challenge when it comes to making a dream come true.

One person who has embraced the new year and outlined her dream for us is the former Fine Gael TD Lucinda Creighton.  Her dream, she helpfully informed us last week, is one of an Ireland which is, and I quote, "a great place to innovate, to grow, to build and expand a small business, to employ people, to work and to be a consumer".  Inspiring stuff I am sure you will agree.

Lucinda's banal blueprint for the future of the nation was given at a slightly puzzling press conference that seemed to act as an announcement about a forthcoming announcement.  In case you missed the story, Creighton and a few pals, Eddie Hobbs being one, are planning to launch a new political party.  At a press conference in Dublin a few days back we were not provided with a launch date, a name for the party nor exactly what the policies of the new party would be - all of which left me wondering why they had bothered at all with this bizarre media event.  Wouldn't it have been better to just wait a few months until you actually have a party to launch?
Call me old fashioned but I get the feeling that the folk involved in this particular project have put the cart before the horse.  It would have always been my view that political parties evolve out of ideas and philosophies held in common by groups of people who come together to organise a vehicle that can help see their aims and aspirations realised.  Lucinda and friends seem to be appealing to people to rally around a hashtag.  Yes, a catchy hashtag - #RebootIreland - but a hashtag nonetheless.
Remarkably this content-free political movement is brazenly calling on its website for new members, people interested in becoming election candidates and financial donations.  Quite why anyone would want to do any one of these three things perplexes me but if you are one of those people who has joined, donated or plan to stand for this party/hashtag/thing then do drop me a line and help me understand the motivations behind such a move.
To be fair, there are some small indications of what this party is going to look like.  Given that Lucinda Creighton is at the helm of this beast, none of the indications should come as a surprise.  One line from their very brief description states that they want an economy that supports "entrepreneurs, employees and consumers".  Another talks about the creation of "a political system that supports freedom of thought, difference and independence".  Bland beyond belief so far.
A tad more intriguing are the comments about "making the public sector public" and fostering a "spirit of entrepreneurism in our public sector" - but only intriguing insofar as they spark one's interest and then do not elaborate any further on what they actually mean.  Likewise with their muttering about a "fiscal and social policy with a targeted Minimum Lifestyle Standard".  This was perhaps the most interesting point to arise out of the press conference and social media launch as the goal of a Minimum Lifestyle Standard generally isn't the sort of thing one would associate with the declaration of principles for a new (and I think it is probably safe to use this term for the unnamed creature) right-wing party.
Clearly we will have to wait another few weeks or months to pass a final judgement on this matter but it would appear that the Reboot Ireland brigade are seeking to fill the gap vacated in 2007 by the Progressive Democrats.  However, the reason that gap was vacated by the PDs was because of the electoral annihilation they suffered that same year - and that was just before the economic crash.  Given all that has happened in the years since then, can anyone seriously say that what the Republic needs now is a new organisation committed to free market economics but with a slightly less liberal stance on social issues?  Evidently I am not going to think so, however I get a sense that very few voters will be attracted by such a prospect.
It would incredibly clichéd of me to roll out the old 'second time as farce' line, though it is difficult not to.  Reboot Ireland is essentially the Progressive Democrats without the substance.  They are the Progressive Democrats without any clear guiding philosophy or ideology.  They are the Progressive Democrats without the political heavyweights like O'Malley, McDowell or Harney (unless you rank councillor John Leahy from Offaly as a big hitter).  And the very presence of Eddie Hobbs in this whole palaver suggests to me a political project that is destined to end in tears.
In short, this all reminds me of another political movement from north of the border which was low on content with regard to policy and high on social media know-how.  I am talking here about NI21.  Like Reboot Ireland, it was a right-of-centre party marketing itself as something new and vibrant that would bring in fresh faces from outside the present political class in order to 'shake things up'.  Within months, the electorate had identified NI21 for what it was - a shallow, opportunistic insult to the intelligence - and the failed fresh faces of Tina McKenzie and co, lacking any serious commitment to the organisation and bored following their lack of instant X-Factor-style success, drifted off back to their old lives.
Reboot Ireland might not fall to such a swift and spectacular crash-and-burn ending, though I would be surprised if it managed to make it all the way to contesting a second general election.  That said, I have been wrong before on numerous occasions.  Who knows?  Perhaps Lucinda's grand vision of a land of happy consumers will be just too good for voters to resist.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Indo still stuck in the age of 'stunnas'

I remarked to someone a few days ago about how positive the media coverage of Stephanie Roche's nomination for the 2014 Ferenc Puskás Award had been.  We seemed to have avoided patronising 'great goal for a woman' type remarks as well as the usual sexist tabloid claptrap about how she looked.  After having a browse over the Irish Independent this evening I fear that praise might need to be withdrawn: 

Friday, January 02, 2015

"I bet you the Romanovs never RSVP'd either"

Edward Herrmann, the man who played Richard Gilmore in the Gilmore Girls, died on New Year's Eve.  I thought in his memory it would be fitting to post this scene from season six of the show.  Well, maybe not 'fitting'.  The father of the Gilmore household doesn't actually make an appearance in the scene concerned.  Still, I like it and that's all that matters.  Farewell, Richard:

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Happy New Year, etc, etc

And so it begins.  The year of victory.  Or at least twelve months in which you will be endlessly reminded by people on Facebook that this is the year that Marty McFly travelled to in his DeLorean in Back to the Future Part II.  Nevertheless, have a splendid 52 weeks.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The night after the No before

So, after two years of campaigning the people of Scotland have turned down the opportunity to become an independent country which is a member of the EU and NATO, has the pound as its currency and has the Queen as its head of state in order to remain in a union which is a member of the EU and NATO, has the pound as its currency and has the Queen as its head of state.  In the end you could say that everyone could claim a victory of sorts - the No campaign won the argument and have kept Scotland in the United Kingdom however the Yes camp will feel proud that they managed to convince 45% of the country for withdrawal from the Union.

As well as both sides being able to claim some form of victory, both will also head off into the short and medium term with some new fears.  For the No side, there is the realisation that almost half of their fellow countrymen and women feel disenchanted with the present constitutional arrangement.  For the Yes brigade, there is the threat that the promises made by the leaders of the three main parties at Westminster for increased powers for Edinburgh (a tactic which might just have swung the referendum in favour of a No) might simply evaporate in the coming weeks. 

Yes, the Scottish referendum was in many ways a triumph for both Scotland and the United Kingdom.  It is no exaggeration to say that Scotland witnessed an explosion in grassroots organisation which culminated in the sort of voter turnout one was normally accustomed to reading of in Pravda.  Yet it has equally been an advertisement for the strength and confidence of UK democracy.  At no point did Westminster stand in the way of preventing a Scottish secession.  When it looked as though a significant segment of the population north of the border wanted it, a Conservative-led government in London helped to facilitate a referendum that would allow them to leave the Union if they so wished.  Contrast that with Madrid's present stance towards Catalonia (a stance which will only increase Catalan nationalism if you ask me) and the position of the UK government seems a wise one.  But this referendum campaign has also caused a considerable degree of division.  Just how deep and dangerous that division is was witnessed a few hours ago.

Last night, as tens of thousands of people crowded the streets of Belfast in the annual Culture Night carnival, a city on the British mainland was tearing itself apart amidst scenes of sectarian rioting.  How things change.  The city in question was, of course, Glasgow.  Some of you might well say that compared to the rioting many of us were used to in Northern Ireland in days gone by the Glasgow skirmishes yesterday evening were a pretty tame affair.  Others might point out that the events did not even close to approaching the ferocity of the riots in London and other English cities back in 2011.  Nevertheless, the intensity of the violence is not the issue.  Last night's scenes in Scotland's largest city are important in one major respect: that they happened at all.

The referendum has undoubtedly, in Glasgow anyhow, opened up a Pandora's box of sectarianism.  For many years sectarianism in Glasgow was something which manifested itself primarily along sporting lines in the city's infamous Old Firm football rivalry.  True, the city had its firebrand Protestant ministers and its rabble-rousing Irish Catholic nationalist-supporting elements but these type of folk were very much on the fringes; whatever colour the footballing loyalty of a working-class Glaswegian might have been, his or her political loyalty was very much a deep red.  This has changed in recent years.  Scottish Catholics, once a solidly pro-union community that feared an independent Scotland would be a Protestant Scotland, have shifted in the direction of nationalism.  What we witnessed last night in Glasgow was effectively the template for Ulster-style conflict (Catholic nationalism vs Protestant unionism) transported across the Irish Sea and dropped slap-bang into Glasgow city centre.  We are not in the middle of a major crisis, but it should act as a warning shot.

The referendum campaign has finally disturbed and woken up something that has been bubbling under in Scottish society (primarily the Glasgow and western region) for many decades.  This is not the fault of Alex Salmond or the SNP or the Yes Scotland campaigners, nor is it the fault of the opposing side either.  The national question had to be confronted in Scotland.  It was unavoidable.  However, in doing so it was always going to be the case that sectarian tensions might just be triggered.  Clearly we should not over-exaggerate the situation - this is not some Glaswegian equivalent of Bombay Street in 1969.  However, neither should  it be ignored or brushed off as a mere aberration.  Just a few months after more than 10% of Scots voted for UKIP and thereby thrust anti-immigration politics into the mainstream, we do not want to run a similar risk of letting old school religious sectarianism get dragged in shortly after that.

Aside from the sectarianism, there are other more straightforward divisions between those that supported independence and those that did not.  I do not live in Scotland so my only way of judging the mood of the general public is based primarily on two things which are not always extremely reliable: social media (mainly Twitter) and radio phone-in shows.  In the space of the past 24 hours two distinct trends seem to be developing.  Amongst the No side there is a sense of triumphalism and a very clear desire to rub the opposition's nose in it; amongst the Yes supporters you get the impression that they view those that voted against independence as being weak and somehow less Scottish than them.

All of which leads me to conclude that if I have learned any lessons from this referendum campaign it is that 'civic nationalism' is nonsense and that the left must stop pretending that nationalism and internationalism are compatible with one another.  For a long time I have believed that Scottish nationalism, along with that in other places like Quebec or Catalonia, has represented a different brand of patriotism to the ethnic nationalism that was responsible for the slaughter of thousands of innocent civilians in the Balkans back in the 1990s.  It was not that I agreed with them or found them attractive, I just did not believe that they had any more of an ugly underbelly than, say, liberalism or green politics.  This new nationalism was, I thought, generally safe.  It lacked aggression, it was non-threatening, it was about the economy and self-government and at heart an argument in favour of people managing their lives in smaller, more democratic communities.  Except it isn't really about that.  When it comes to the crunch the new nationalism is simply the old variety with a better PR operation behind it.

Scottish nationalism might never kill thousands in the way that the Serbian or Croatian varieties did but it still has the effect of splitting workers on an issue unrelated to class politics.  Make no mistake, this is not a unionist argument I put forward here.  I am not arguing that small nationalism is bad but big nationalism is good.  Neither is desirable.  Spanish nationalism is not in any way superior to Basque or Catalan nationalism.  French nationalism does not trump Breton or Corsican nationalism.  Belgian nationalism is not better or worse than Flemish nationalism.

That some on the left chose to put themselves on the side of flag-waving goons of all hues for the duration of this campaign is sad, though not entirely unpredictable.  What we leftists and progressives should really be struggling for in 2014 is not the creation of yet more new countries nor the reinforcing of old borders but something much more imaginative and exciting than that which was offered by the Better Together and Yes Scotland campaigns.  In short, that means breaking out of the straitjacket of nation state politics and putting forward a radical, democratic socialist case for federalism in Europe.

Someone once observed that the workers of the world have no fatherland.  He was right you know.