Gav Prentice: ‘Ideological’ Is Not An Insult

 clean slate

There’s one thing that the bulk of our politicians love even more than spouting forth about Decent British Values God Save The Queen, The Navy And The Dear New Royal Baby. I don’t mean patronising working class people in factories; the dead-eyed routine with which they do that sometimes gives me hope that they at least aren’t enjoying themselves. No, what they’re doing in those factory photo opportunities is trying to convince us of one big idea – that politics is only about getting the people in place that are most capable of running a free-market economy.

That sounds really dry at first, but it has big implications. It means that they think that history has come to its end, that capitalism is the only game in town when it comes to organising society, and that democracy’s purpose is to make sure that capable, well-educated people should look after that for us. It’s convenient for them because it allows them to deny there is such a thing as ideology, that is, no such thing as fundamental disagreement about the good life, how resources should be distributed, how much inequality is excusable or justifiable, which instances, if any, make for a just war etc. They pretend that there is no such thing as philosophy, just good and bad management technique. What they can claim to disagree on is who is going to get our capitalist economy (the overall shape of which you mustn’t question) on ‘the right track’. That could mean a quick return to growth, or reducing the deficit, or even restoring the country’s banks to their former glory; but it basically all means restoring the system which buggered us in the first place.

The biggest blow that the Westminster parties can deal to each other is therefore that of economic incapability. The next worse is that they are being ‘ideological’ rather than simply administering the free-market consensus – which the opponent then fiercely denies. ‘Ideological’ has become the scary insult to hurl at an opponent in the way that ‘communist’ used to be, and it’s accompanied by no reference whatsoever to what the substance of the ideology in question actually is – the fact that it goes beyond simple management of the status quo is seen as bad enough.

So they all hurry around the latest figures on growth desperately trying to discredit each others’ economic records. Labour had a boom time and wasted it. Tories have concentrated on the deficit rather than growth. UKIP aren’t attacked as xenophobic, they’re ‘economically naive’. This is why we have the dearth of positive reasons to stay in the Union; to keep with the programme they have to basically say that Scottish people aren’t capable of running an economy. Labour also therefore attack Tory cuts primarily based on them being a wrong-footed way to fix capitalism rather than unfair, and if they are bold enough to claim unfairness (which, if they were serious, would of course require them to stop backing brutality like a benefits cap for the tenants of extortive landlords) then they simply accuse the cuts of being ‘ideological’.

Of course they are ideological. Just because everyone in Parliament agrees with it doesn’t mean it can’t be placed on the political spectrum, or doesn’t make assumptions about human nature, history, and the future of human beings in a way that isn’t an overarching ideology. Capitalism clearly isn’t the opting-out of ideology when it fails and the ruling class clamour to make the poorest pay for it. The Labour leadership won’t go into any further detail on which ideology it is that’s being pursued of course, as it puts them on the very rocky ground of having to explain their own, no longer the democratic socialism which was abandoned in the early 1990s, and that would expose that the ideology of Westminster is one wholly shared by the opposition and the two ruling parties. No, they insist that the Tories are the ones being ideological (and only at times), the implication of course being that Labour are not. And what a hollow, desperate state of affairs that is, to clamour to declare that you don’t have an ideology, that you’re just a learned man in a suit, more learned than the man opposite. This is reducing the role of elected representatives essentially to admin. Not only is that what we have civil servants for, not only is it fiddling while Rome burns, it also means that none of them are holding each other to account for the veritable famine of ideas on how to make the world better rather than worse-at-a-slightly-varying-pace.

All of this is a symptom of a broken democratic system. Not a broken society, but a broken ruling class. The situation was brought about by successive Labour governments competing for the swinging vote in middle England and taking working class voters from all over Britain completely for granted. The sight of Scottish Labour politicians voting for tuition fee hikes in England that won’t affect their constituents was as clear a sign of a broken and undemocratic system as you’ll see. (That’s right, English socialists, those supposedly lefty Scottish Labour MPs you think we’re taking away from you to leave you abandoned with Tories, they ensured that Blair was able to pass even more right wing policies, because they were effectively not accountable any more. Celebrate their demise with us, please!)

As Blair dragged his party kicking and screaming ever rightward and towards electoral success in a UK context, the differences between the options in the ballot box vanished, and millions of people were written off. I first became politically aware as a teenager in among the fight against New Labour privatisation and a New Labour illegal war. For left wingers of my generation the Labour party, not the old Tory scarecrows, were the enemy that we grew up in opposition to. At home it was Labour selling off my school playground, abroad it was Labour bringing about the deaths of hundreds of thousands in Iraq, and yet our generation is expected to show them some sort of loyalty. Well, I for one believe in ideology, and just because Labour abandoned the left does not mean that the left does not exist. And now in the Ed Milliband era we see the backing of Tory cuts, and why? Because he doesn’t want to look like he can’t run a capitalist economy.

It doesn’t take much to see how this attitude fits into the arguments that an independent Scotland will simply not work. You and I may want it to happen, we might even say that it’s a democratic imperative, but it. Just. Won’t. Work. We need people that know more than us about money to keep that money moving in the way that it pretty much does just now, and that’ll be better than being able to elect leaders who reflect our views, because that will threaten how that money moves around, because, like I said, we don’t know how it works. Being able to elect leaders closer to home and have all of the powers of a nation state will mean that the flags will all unfurl themselves, children will suddenly take to heroin en masse, cats living with dogs, up becoming down and so on, because behind the scenes work is constantly being done by our betters to keep all of that from happening. For the avoidance of doubt, our betters are in London, not Edinburgh.

This is is what sits at the heart of the lie which is the currency debate. This has been presented to us as a debate about proficiency in managing a system, when that is quite clearly not what the referendum is, unless you want to argue that Scottish people are innately stupid, with Scotland the only nation in the history of the world genetically incapable of ruling itself. Nowhere is it being asked what the right position should be for a newly independent nation. Should we control our own currency? Would it be better to keep a currency union going in the face of the Euro?

Even putting aside the various holes in their story exposed since, when the Westminster parties said there would definitely not be a currency union, they weren’t actually saying that a currency union couldn’t possibly be made to work. They were saying that they wouldn’t let it. It would be a very strange thing to say that a currency union between a newly independent nation that already uses that currency, and another nation that also already uses that currency, couldn’t possibly be salvaged despite historical precedents, that given good will on both sides there would be nothing that could be done to make it function.

What they were saying was that they would make sure it wouldn’t work by not agreeing to it. And they were saying it in a way that put forward the idea that the SNP (of course conflated with everyone who plans on voting Yes in Scotland) simply don’t understand how money works – that when they inevitably mismanage the Scottish economy they won’t let the rest of Britain’s economy be dragged down with it. When you add the dimension of the Bullingdon Club cabinet of entitlement delivering this news, it’s difficult to see how the attitude stops short of imperialistic.

It’s frustrating that the Admin over Ideology approach is so ingrained that the SNP’s response to it is simply to reply “we are capable and it’s you that isn’t.” Perhaps it’s too much to expect anything bold from them, they are still largely careerist politicians. But when we vote in the referendum in September we can at the very least not insult the intelligence of everyone involved in the debate by pretending that this is only a matter of cold hard facts, a hard sum which if you work hard enough you will find the correct answer to – “Aha! I will be £3.28 better off following independence, therefore the correct answer is Yes.” Not only is it impossible to predict that stuff for either outcome with any degree of certainty, it’s simply not what the referendum question is.

We’re talking about a constitutional change; Democracy is better served with a Yes vote, and when you vote you need to keep in mind that it’s because it’s easier to hold the shower of shits in Holyrood to account than the even larger shower of shits in Westminster. Time and again many of those still undecided about how to vote will cry out for more facts, like they’re just missing a few more pieces of information which will make the whole thing slot into place. A No campaign which referred to itself as Project Fear seeks to exploit that as much as possible. That’s even despite the uncertainty brought about by staying in a UK which could be removing itself from Europe under the influence of a UKIP with relatively very little political support here. I don’t say that to frighten anyone, or even because I think it’s hugely likely, but because I think that outcome should be made constitutionally impossible because it would be so deeply undemocratic.

The idea that your level of knowledge about how money flows decides how you vote is fairly patronising, and of course people from both the Yes and No sides of the debate are guilty of it, trooping out more and more business leaders to show that they are the ones who have their admin right, or showing as many numbers as possible, each time thinking that this latest one contains that nugget of information which proves that everyone else has been stupid and needs to just learn more. I don’t think that people who plan on voting No are stupid, but I must confess that there was one piece of information which was the definite arrival of my position as a confirmed Yes voter. It wasn’t in the national press, an authoritative business paper like the Financial Times or a campaigning publication like the Socialist Worker, it was in The Airdrie & Coatbridge Advertiser.

In that story, a councillor recalls a young man that came to his surgery saying that he would go without food in order that his daughter can still come and stay with him using the ‘spare’ bedroom in his council house. The Labour and SNP politicians that represent his constituency, at council, Holyrood, and Westminster levels, are all unified in opposing the bedroom tax. Not just that, but 91% of Scottish MPs opposed it in total. This young man was visiting his councillor in a nation where everything possible had been done to stop this legislation making him suffer, yet suffering it is still what he has had to do. The situation may remind you of the poll tax, and I’m not sure how many times we’re expected to endure injustices like these, but it was upon realising the hopelessness of it that I came to decide I was definitely a Yes voter, and for purely ideological reasons.

Remember the first Parliaments of 1999 and 2003, where Socialist and Green politicians were suddenly sitting in Holyrood and suddenly had real influence in Scotland for the first time? Imagine the actual ideological choice that could be presented to us following the creation of a new independent state and the drafting of a new constitution. Don’t let them fool you, the rest is admin.

Gav Prentice
National Collective

Photograph by Robyn Glendinning

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About Gav Prentice

Gav Prentice is a Glasgow based musician originally from Bathgate, West Lothian. He is one half of the euphoric pop duo Over the Wall, best known for their debut album 'Treacherous' on Motive Sounds Recordings, their Around The Isles in 80 Days endurance tour of Britain and Ireland, and their flagship anthem 'Thurso', borrowed for the theme of BBC comedy series Burnistoun. His debut solo album The Invisible Hand was released in 2012, containing original songs which would later feature in National Theatre of Scotland’s 'Rantin', in which he also performed for its nationwide tour in 2014. Over the Wall recently released the 'This Is How We Did It' EP before announcing their split with a run of farewell performances in May 2014. Gav plans to work with a variety of producers on new solo recordings in an independent Scotland later in the year.