For those who do not know the story already it concerns MP for Orkney and Shetlands, Alistair Carmichael, former Secretary of State, apologising to Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, for releasing an internal memo, a private memo, an action against all standards of protocol. He did it because he knew its contents were substantially incorrect consequently misleading, ergo, he saw an opportunity to smear his opponent’s good reputation with an invention at a critical time during the election campaign.
(See sister essay: Cook in a Half-Nelson.)
A number of politicians have come to his aid including that bastion of liberal values, the Guardian newspaper. They cite the extraordinary case for the defence as follows: He took a gun to assassinate a hated opponent, it misfired, no one got hurt. What’s the problem?
The truth and nothing but the truth
As unjust bloody wars and phony economic theories accumulate to dash peace, prosperity and happiness we have come to understand politicians are pathologically economical with truth. The compunction to lie arises from personal inadequacies of character, election promises compromised or junked, allegiance to big business that bought them hook, line and sinker, and a political culture of secrecy over decisions taken, and of plans that run counter to the common good.
Once they attain power they learn the art of dissembling first-hand assuming they did not attend classes on the way up. An honest politician – and there are a few – is a national treasure. The rest are predominately holders of this essay’s title.
Carmichael lied through his teeth in a series of interviews about having no knowledge of the memo. “The first I became aware of this, and this is already on the public record, was when I received a phone call on Friday afternoon from a journalist making me aware of it.” This was a flat-out lie. He knew it as did his sidekick in crime, adviser Euan Rodin.
He used a contrived falsehood to undermine the democratic process during a general election; he used it to fool his own voters in his constituency.
As he says himself, that would be a resigning matter had he still been Secretary of State. I have news for him. It is still a resigning matter when an ordinary member of Westminster’s parliament as he is now. No longer can you be addressed as, the Honourable member for so-and-so. The SNP’s deputy leader, Stewart Hosie, turns up the pressure by calling for Carmichael to step down in the face of a full investigation by the parliamentary commissioner for standards, Kathryn Hudson.
The announcement of his guilt was made on the Friday of a Bank Holiday, a tactic to have it lost amongst the splurge of entertainment programmes, Eurovision Song Contest, and couldn’t-care-less mentalities. Nevertheless, no amount of skilful side-lining of the scandal by the mainstream media can protect him from public revulsion. Ultimately he is answerable to his constituents. As a Liberal-Democrat he is almost extinct.
If I was him I wouldn’t think about propagating his species any time soon. The glass case in the museum next to the Dodo is already marked ‘reserved’.
Nicola Sturgeon accepted his apology but justifiably points out he only owned up when identified as the main culprit, his associate, Euan Rodin, the other villain in crime.
A better society? What better society?
The march toward greater democracy in Scotland is part of a world-wide trend, exemplified in the Occupy movement, a resurgence of direct but pacifist action last seen in the 1960s and 1970s against nuclear weapons and union rights, both movements ridiculed, resisted, and then ferociously dispersed by local and national authorities. (Note Boris Johnson’s request for water cannon against London’s next riots.)
An open society
The mass of people in Scotland, whether for independence regained or more powers short of independence, seek a better, more transparent, more accountable society than we have now. By vigorous nationalist politicians, the internet, and word of mouth, we have learned and experienced first-hand how our liberties are eroded and restricted, or removed altogether. In retaliation and impatience – we have only one life! – the nation that shook the western world with the Enlightenment has risen again in an attempt to wrestle back rights and liberties lost in public life to the power brokers of corporate globalisation.
Usually, in similar pronouncement of values, those who call themselves ‘political realists’ pop up to tell us we are all astonishingly naïve and stupid for daring to think a better society is there for the fashioning if only we are given the prospect to grasp it. They misrepresent aims and objectives as recklessly optimistic, Panglossian.
The world is a hard place, they aver, and we should brace ourselves for the worst and build against adversity. That doctrine is patently cynical and fatalistic, an excuse for more and more authoritarian powers.
The common good
Concern for the common good should compel us to find and institute ways that reward the best in human nature, not continually protect ourselves from the worst by constraining liberty, or allow the worst in us free expression because man’s inhumanity to man and his greed are supposedly inevitable, over-riding, all-consuming, so keep taking the pills.
Adam Smith, one of Scotland’s greatest and most influential Enlightenment thinkers felt that it shouldn’t be too difficult to institute humane policies. In his “Theory of Moral Sentiments” he observed that, “How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it.”
Taming the worst and encouraging the best
We here in Scotland, a small nation of generally good education, see that more benign “original passions of human nature” might compensate for the pathology of greed and self-interest. We do not want our humanist and liberal tendencies to be crushed by the rocks of extreme capitalism.
Listening to a great deal of political discourse, and to fellow Scots in the public eye who foresee a new society is attainable, able to articulate it, can be edifying if not inspiring. (Our politicians tend to keep ideals to rhetoric or platitudes.) They seem to be saying the same thing. They reject the fatalism of the old maxim ‘if the bullet has your name on it there’s nothing you can do.’
No one in the Referendum debate called for a rigid, fixed, self-enclosed social system with a definite answer to all the multifarious questions and problems of human life, what malicious opponents were wont to term, a fool’s paradise. They prefer we encourage a trend in human development that strives to attain Enlightenment ideals.
What we heard was, we can do better, life can be better. The share of food, and wealth can be more equitable. Greed can be controlled. Governments can be made accountable. Mass death from foreign conflicts is not an inevitability. Those are sound, universal ideals. That is why the No campaign during the Referendum was rejected by so many. It asked that we accept what we have, what we are given, even though we know it adds not a thing to the sum of human happiness.
John Stuart Mill
Socialists in the Referendum argument discussed the loss of union rights, the one democratic system created to dispense wealth horizontally. Another great thinker, son of the Scottish historian and economist, John Mill, was John Stuart Mill. He wrote, “The form of association, however, which if mankind continue to improve, must be expected to predominate, is the association of labourers themselves on terms of equality, collectively owning the capital with which they carry on their operations, and working under managers electable and removable by themselves.”
That statement is pretty close to the thinking of Karl Marx, and anathema to any right-wing capitalist intent on ensuring wealth ‘trickles’ upwards to him and no further. But is that not part of the current struggle – to offer labour a share in their toils, to regulate the banks properly to see that process is not hindered, their earnings stolen, to demand corporations pay their full taxes to invest in our cities and towns and social systems, and to stop wholesale exploitation of our land and its resources?
Then again, we remember the guardians of labour, the Labour party, junked Clause 4.
Only journalists had no clue
During the Referendum I heard a few journalists ask of our politicians, ‘what do you mean by ‘a better society?’ You keep repeating the phrase but never define it.’
It is my understanding ‘New Scotland’ – for want of a better definition – seeks to identify structures of hierarchy, authority, and domination that do not constrain human development, and then subject them to a very reasonable challenge: Justify yourself.
I think what I am saying is, if structures in society cannot meet that challenge then we should dismantle them and refashion them to greater effect for society’s good.
Guilty as charged
Those who fear and distrust the people, and wish to draw all powers from them into the hands of the higher classes, should be removed from power.
Unsurprisingly, that brings me full circle to Alistair Carmichael, a man who tried to quash a popular uprising to defend the power he and his cohorts hold fast. He appears to be aware of right and wrong even if he seems unable to practice it. However, by his behaviour he has told us he is not the man to fashion a better society.
We are all involved in a popular struggle. That struggle includes conducting ourselves in an honest, ethical, considerate manner. Alistair Carmichael gave in to the worst in human nature. I shall leave the last words to him, penned by himself, published on the 24 of May.
“The right to freedom of speech is a fundamental one but it does bring a responsibility with it to tell the truth. The right to smear an opponent is not one we should be defending”.