Meanwhile, the punters…

by | 4 Sep 2023

Not a grassroots march but a branding exercise, the gap between what the politicos say is happening and what the public thinks is happening is miles apart.Independence is the victim.

At the weekend, in Edinburgh, there was a march and rally. I cannot be persuaded that it was a march or rally for independence, or that it was about providing a morale boost to the grassroots of the movement. This was just a power-play over who owns the independence brand.

What I want to do is contrast it to my weekend. I didn’t actually do much – painted some doors, played some music, watched a film. I only had one political conversation in the shop, but I got copied into some exchanges which are revealing and had two other conversations reported back to me. It’s the gap that’s the thing.

While the SNP payroll were leading a march down the Royal Mile, a youngish working class man had a text message exchange with a friend of mine. Let me quote a bit:

“I’ve been pro-independence but anti-SNP for years. I think everyone is just disillusioned with it all now, there’s not a representative for just a normal minded person (whatever that is) and they distract us with virtue signalling when actually nothing is getting better.” [There’s then a section outlining really upsetting money worries for his family which aren’t really mine to share.]

He wasn’t aware there was a march on. Neither was the person I bumped into in the shop, softly pro-indy but not really very political. Her take was one of despair. Basically she works at a fairly low level in the public sector and was explaining the mind-numbing bureaucracy of trying to get anything done.

But she was utterly clear that whomever the Scottish Government was working for, it wasn’t her or her ‘clients’. She was utterly scunnered with it all and was reaching the point where she was actively looking for a fight with the bureaucracy, basically as a scream of rage.

Another conversation shared with me was a group of (mainly) mothers talking about the NHS. Or at least they started off talking about the NHS. One of their kids had needed taken to hospital after an injury and no-one who was there even thought it worth calling an ambulance. No-one expected it to arrive in time. They drove the child to the hospital.

That was just the start though. The rest of that conversation (which went on for a while) could be summarised quite simply by the phrase ‘nothing works in this shithole country and the people in charge don’t have a clue what they’re doing’. That group were not mainly independence supporters and I don’t get the impression they’re currently ‘on a journey’ in that direction.

Let me stretch back to just before the weekend. I was speaking to a service sector worker in their mid-20s. We were chatting about a lot of things. But twice it came back to this (I’m paraphrasing a bit); ‘I’m totally progressive and all that and I’m all for gay rights and everything, but why is that all politicians talk about all the time? I can’t afford to move out of my parents.’

The point of all these announcements isn’t to make them real but to play the political parlour game of ‘persuade the persuaders’ – and persuaders don’t wait until they can verify if something actually happens before writing up the coverage, so no-one worries too much about making things actually happening

As I’m typing this the First Minister is trailing the idea that he’s going to ‘introduce a four-day week‘. This contrasts completely with the previous First Minister who announced that she was going to ‘introduce a four-day week‘. That was another bogus headline which first turned out to be a very limited pilot scheme and then was dropped completely.

Will this be any different? Who knows, because the First Minister is also going to make the Scottish Government the ‘most business-friendly government ever‘. This contrasts sharply with the previous First Minister who said she was going to make her government ‘the most business-friendly government ever‘. Business begs to differ.

So what’s really happening here? Almost no-one thinks the Scottish Government is doing anything at all well. No-one’s experiences of public services is consistently positive just now, and many of them are utterly damning. Prices are rising faster than wages for most and the main response of the Scottish Government is to point at Westminster and say ‘their fault’.

And it is their fault, but is it really credible to claim it’s all Westminster’s fault? Because that’s what it sounds like when you’re outside the bubble. Not me mate. And that’s the point – none of the people I’ve mentioned here are in any kind of political bubble. When our working class guy says ‘normal minded person’, what he’s really trying to say is ‘outside our ruling classes’. Do you know what all this waffle looks like to them?

There are two games going on in Scotland, with major consequences for the country at stake in each. The first game is the surface game being played by political insiders for political insiders. Believe in Scotland and Team Humza want the shiny surface of a movement but without troublemakers like me in it.

The government wants the headlines that say they’re business friendly without changing anything. They want to be progressive and bold at the same time by re-announcing a four-day week I’m sceptical will actually come to a workplace near you any time soon. They want to persuade journalists, political commentators and political Twitter (I’ll call it X once you all start doing it) that they’re great.

They are doing that in the only way they know how – the way they learned from the only mentor they ever had. Like Nicola Sturgeon they are just saying things with enough PR puff to make you think that they are true. None of them come to pass (national energy company, world leader in 5G, best childcare system in the world, close the educational attainment gap, find Nessie).

Because the point of all these announcements isn’t to make them real but to play the political parlour game of ‘persuade the persuaders’ – and persuaders don’t wait until they can verify if something actually happens before writing up the coverage, so no-one worries too much about making things actually happening.

Politicians keep choosing to manufacture showcases for how in touch they are, as everyone else shuffles away slowly from them in disgust

The other ‘game’ is being played by the probably 70 per cent of adult Scots who don’t take home average salary (by the time you include low-income pensioners, the non-working who rely on benefits and the many part-time workers). The game they are playing is ‘create some kind of life for myself somehow’.

The young ones can’t get a house, the old ones can’t get affordable care. Some of the parents can’t afford to boil a kettle any more, some of the disabled can’t get to a hospital. One in five are skipping meals to feed their children and one in four of their children have been referred to social services before they are five years old.

They’re pissing in bottles for Amazon or working zero-hours contracts for low pay. The political classes read about them in the newspaper, but it always goes away again the next day. That allows the politicians to march down a Royal Mile headed by the kind of young people who go on reality TV, have columns in national newspapers and fly to New York a lot.

Can you feel the buzz for independence growing people? No, me either. And this gap, the sheer space between the experience of the world of political insiders and ‘the punters’ is why the far right and conspiracy theories are rising. It’s why public services are failing. It’s why no-one has a good word for politicians. It’s why saying ‘independence’ to someone who can’t find anywhere to live is a disgrace.

And its why the politicians keep choosing to manufacture showcases for how in touch they are, as everyone else shuffles away slowly from them in disgust. But let me leave you with two contrast points. First, in ten years of marches I don’t think there has been a single photo of self-entitled antisocial behaviour on a train afterwards, but ‘the new generation’ managed one on their first time out the gate.

The poor passengers on the train who are not all vying for comfy jobs with the SNP? Seriously, who gives a fuck. And then there is the march organiser who informed people in advance that they weren’t interested in coins in their collection buckets, only large-denomination folding notes.

Put that all together for yourselves before any of you come round asking why we’re not cutting through with the public.

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