For those like me still suffering sorrow and anger over a lost opportunity to secure ‘once in a lifetime’ empowerment, denied by people happy to leave Scotland’s fate in the hands of another nation whose concerns become more alien by day, there is some cheer to be had from what is happening in Greece. If fact, there are lots of parallels.
We should begin by recalling recent times. When the European Union and its banks, the ECB, EU, and IMF, (nicknamed the Troika) forced draconian conditions on Greece for a bailout loan of billions of Euros the food parcel came wrapped in a torrent of smears. Greece was riddled with corruption, a workforce so lazy it wouldn’t get out of bed even for a free bottle of ouzo, yet somehow everyone owned a Porsche. No one paid taxes, and millionaires squatted in yachts in crowded harbours. It looked like the end of Greek civilisation as we know it and were taught it at school.
In the judgement of the British press Greece was reduced to an unappetising snack you buy from Spiro’s Corner Kebab, or a package tour to see boring piles of ruins. It was an inhospitable place. To our newspaper editors, marauding groups of fascist thugs calling for foreigners and Jews to go home were more interesting. And in case there is any doubt, the Elgin Marbles looted from Greece belong to England so sucks boo, you Greek losers.
Scotland’s future looked just as bleak.
To one publicity addicted historian – who shall remain nameless because he’s an idiot – Scotland is ‘a little, insignificant nation,’ our history myth and bunk, living off goodwill hand-outs from England in the shape of billions of pounds a year. It doesn’t end there.
Our accent was unintelligible, our whisky bettered by the Japanese, our art reduced to instantly forgettable installations not even a Turner prize could save. We were depicted as work shy, welfare addicted drunks who hated vegetables and lived off fried Mars Bars, the target of every puerile stand up comedian’s fare, unless doing a gig and hoping for a Perrier Award playing at the Edinburgh International Arts Festival, in which case, Scotland’s capital is a ‘great city’ for all of a month.
One day we woke up to the Scottish National Party in government. To everybody’s surprise they were actually very good at it. Indeed, they were able to feed the population with a loaves and fishes budget.
The SNP had its enemies, the corrupt Labour party Public Enemy Number One, stunned that it had lost the right to govern Scotland on behalf of, and for, its neighbour nation. Like the Republican party in the USA, prepared to have America collapse into economic chaos rather than have Democrats in power, Labour is prepared to see Scotland go to rack and ruin rather than have it governed by people who care for Scotland before England. And they said so, one allegedly left-wing politician after another.
The SNP’s offer of empowerment to the electorate was Labour’s greatest threat to their belief Scotland is an English province populated by men who wear skirts. Power to the people was something new, a virus. But like a child with a chocolate counter that has no glass barrier the electorate grasped the goods on display eagerly, hungrily. Some wanted real democratic rights and the right to exercise those rights, some wanted only a few, a few didn’t give a Greek fig.
The great debate began
One day Greece woke up to find they had elected a radical new party with radical policies, Syriza, that didn’t respect the economic power of Germany, or the vicious austerity plans that came with its help. They did not see why the mass of people should endure poverty worse than their forefathers, and a stagnant economy imposed by massive budgetary cuts. Syriza had seen Europe’s two great democracies, France and Germany, refuse a previous prime minister the democratic right to put loan conditions to a vote, ultimately forcing him out of office. Now Greeks had a government of politicians who put the people first. The people were overjoyed.
Optimism: the feeling there is hope again.
It is the same revelation for the Greek people as for the Scots.
No matter how you evaluate life ahead of you, essentially you have a choice: you can decide to be pessimistic, throw your hands in the air and say life is hard accept it, better is for others to enjoy– in which case you ensure you live a miserable existence; or you can grasp whatever hope there is.
There is always hope.
So you battle on and do your best. Maybe you’ll be able to avert disaster, or by grabbing empowerment offered go a little way toward a better world. Greeks and a large mass of Scots chose optimism. They, we, believed we could alter our country for the better. They still do. We still do.
What is stopping us now? That is easy to answer: the banks, the finance houses, and governments who place them as the centre of all prosperity. It is the massive neoliberal assault against the world’s population. That evil swung into action under Reagan and Thatcher. In Europe Greece, Spain, Italy, and Scotland are the casualties, the worst casualties of the madness, crazy policies of austerity on top of recession.
If the cost of living becomes so great it outstrips my spending budget my motivation, unless I am infirm, is to find temporary additional work, anything, from offering to keep tidy my neighbour’s garden, wash cars, whatever. If the state finds it has unbearable debts, and its economy is not growing, it stimulates projects to create employment that will pay taxes, and it stretches its debts out to be repaid at a lower rate.
Even the IMF has its doubt about stopping growth. Nevertheless, for bankers paying themselves millions in salary and bonuses nothing else matters. The more they are paid the more they believe they are entitled to it by dint of their superior talent and experience. As we heard Malcolm Rifkind say, “I am entitled to received the level of remuneration my training as a professional lawyer would have received if I were not in politics.” (I paraphrase slightly.) Failure as a lawyer didn’t enter his head. Nor did he seem to have a limit to a lawyer’s income. (He can go work as a lawyer if that disgruntled!)
Imposed, artificial austerity makes sense from another point of view: the neoliberals are undermining our very existence, free education, the Welfare State; emasculating unions; they are weakening labour; they are ensuring people become passive, head down getting through the week; they are increasing the power of the wealthy and the privileged. In this paradox we see in their failure to improve our lives a success that destroys societies.
Greece has won the first round in its battle to change course and give its electorate hope. The Bundestag has agreed to give Greece a few month’s extension, and a short-term loan. Syriza will use the respite to work out its policies. Despite the brutal stubbornness of Angel Merkel to Syriza’s protestations – poverty added to poverty leads only to despair and disaster – the Greek administration makes plain it will not be tamed. In Greece, as in Scotland, and Italy and in Spain too, resistance grows.
People come first, not governments
Scotland has seen a huge rise in membership of the SNP, and a renewed vigour among the population to see real democratic justice returned. The SNP stands poised to win more seats than are in its dreams, Horatio, and become the broker of power at the next general election should Labour not win an overall majority. We shall see. The odious British establishment has yet to fire its big guns. And we have our own form of wee fascist, the BNP, the English Defence League, and the Orange Order.
Strangely, England, hell bent on keeping Scotland under its thumb, allows Northern Ireland to be almost a quasi-autonomous state, running its own affairs. In reality, English and some Scots see it as a piece of Glasgow that has broken away from Scotland and floated off into the Irish sea, and that’s where they want it to remain.
Both Syriza and the SNP have enemies biting at their heels. The Labour party continues to dispense black propaganda, and promise everything it did not deliver in decades when in power. The British establishment is intent on impoverishing Scotland by offering it phony new powers in pretence at an answer to a too close referendum vote. Greece has the fascist evil of the Golden Dawn party. And some of its own membership are angry because they want to give the European Union the finger.
Nicola Sturgeon advocates we play the British game a little longer to see if it gains Scotland greater leverage, a sensible way of rallying the No voters behind her who want more powers but also to keep some integration with England.
A neo-liberal European bank and IMF
The Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, who warned that negotiations with Europe would be very difficult, opines leaving the European Union means only one thing, catastrophe, at least in the medium term. He has no love of EU neoliberal economics, but as he says himself, it is either the EU or endemic poverty for the Greek people. He appears to have relented over his dislike of the Troika, allowing it to supervise the way Greece will spend its loan.
The Troika rules Europe. Their policy, a sadistic capitalism, is insane if you consider the human consequences, but not if you are architect of the policies. Each day sees them richer. Each day sees the rest of us poorer, more cowed than yesterday, money worries mounting, debts increasing.
Corrupting the ideals of Adam Smith
Adam Smith recognized that when capitalism is unleashed, when it is freed from external constraints, “its sadistic nature shows itself because it is inherently savage.” The doctrine of capitalism is, you try to maximize your own personal gain at the expense of everyone else. To do that we must make our neighbour our slave.
And none offered solace
Late this afternoon I stopped at my local garage. Recently bought over and refurbished, it is now owned by Marks and Spencer. There are fourteen newspaper cabinets along its frontage, a transparent Perspex flap over each. Every single newspaper had a front page announcing English news. There was not a headline that brought attention to Scottish issues, either local, national, or international. And that is the way it is for most week days in the year, neither hope nor optimism in any of the headlines.
But the press too is feeling the heat. It is in decline, battered by market forces, the same forces its stupidly upholds and supports, its media moguls determined to remain multi-millionaires with off-shore bank accounts that avoid tax. Doctrinally, newspapers support power in the hands of the few, in Britain that is Westminster and corporations. Not a single newspaper has called for the dismemberment of our corrupt banks. Not one. If another bank was to fail tomorrow every newspaper would demand it be sustained.
Banks are too big to fail. Nations can go to the dogs.
Though the SNP has embraced some left-wing policies, such as the welfare state and free education, and Syriza wants to restore welfare payments to the poor, neither the SNP nor Syriza are hard left-wing parties, they are not demanding worker control of companies.
But they are a great deal more left-wing than the UK’s Labour party, and by a country mile. They are genuinely and devoutly democratic. Above all, both are anti-neoliberal. In that regard they offer us hope. And hope is everything.