Selling off Scotland

'I'm amazed that an SNP government would be so intent on turning our country into some kind of heath

I'm at home. This doesn't happen. I'm never at home. I never have time to look in all my cupboards and dust. (As it turns out, there's quite a lot stored in my dust.) I've been in my own flat for almost two weeks. Good God, this is unheard of and had I not been strapped into my big black typing chair and imaginary places for almost all of this - I did have an outing to Perth for a reading - I would probably be deep into cabin fever by now.

Then again, I may have just spent the small and larger hours of every day battering out allworkandnoplaymakesJackadullboy over and over. I'm not really in a position to judge. I have an impossible amount of work to do and in order to finish the short stories, the newspaper bits, the emails, the drama fragments and treatments and films to which I have committed myself (quite possibly to no avail) I have to behave impossibly - which is to say, by not sleeping, typing, eating toast, typing, doing Tai Chi and (I didn't know people genuinely did this) pulling my hair out and typing. My chair is surrounded by a ring of fallen hair, scribbled-over manuscripts and discarded mugs. And, strangely, I'm having the time of my life. It's exhilarating: all this pacing and typing and puzzling and skin-of-the-teeth deadlines and shouting at my walls - and when I meet real live people in the streets on the way to buy more toasting bread I TEND TO SPEAK VERY LOUDLY AND FAST BECAUSE OF THE CAFFEINE. I may have a stroke quite soon.

And, of course, I'm entirely pleased by the election results in the US. For the first time in three presidential races, a majority of the American states has voted for a Democrat and actually ended up getting one. Who knows by what margin he really won, given the shameless voter purges and rigged ballot machines?

The senate race has also been dirty and dodgy: for example - oops - 50,000 suspected Democrat voters have been reported as blocked from voting in Georgia. Ain't democracy a grand thing? But I'm still cheery - despite the possibilities of Republican philibusters to come - any man who mentions giving a puppy to children in his presidential acceptance speech is okay by me. And if I see that puppy crapping on the Whitehouse lawn I will believe those campaign promises and good feelings for at least a month or two. And I will be able to ignore the never-ending references to the Kennedy brothers whenever Obama appears. We all know these are just mediaspeak for "We think you're going to be shoot in the head soon. Sorry. And sorry for unsubtly suggesting this so very, very often. But it will be a great story. For us. Not so good for you, or your kids, or your wife, or that puppy. Is the puppy cute ? Will it be in the funeral cortege?"

Oddly a UK pal of mine wrote me an email on Wednesday morning that mentioned being "exhausted by hope" after watching Obama's victory. How appalling is it that we should find hope exhausting - even when it's second-hand?

Less of a big huzzah when I found out that my local Scottish politicians have just decided to bend over and let Donald Trump do whatever he wants with a huge and rather lovely chunk of Aberdeenshire.

I'm amazed that an SNP government would be so intent on turning our country into some kind of heathery play park for the super rich and plausible. Not that Trump is that plausible - if we wanted to get into bed with a millionaire couldn't we have picked one the other millionaires didn't laugh at? - one whose millions were a little more, shall we say, convincing and whose current business schemes were not rumoured to be quite so dependent on future business schemes in what looks horribly like an over-leveraged and apocalyptic chain of fiscal dominos. And what have we just learned about those, boys and girls ? Nothing apparently. So, well done, Mr. Salmond. Next time I see your noble visage and melting brown eyes I shall hear the delicious and perfectly sane Mel Gibson's voice yelling,"They will never take our freedom!" Yeah, right. We'll just sell it them for pocket change and promises and a couple of photo ops. Can I see that puppy now, please? - I'm getting depressed.

Getty
Show Hide image

In the 1980s, I went to a rally where Labour Party speakers shared the stage with men in balaclavas

The links between the Labour left and Irish republicanism are worth investigating.

A spat between Jeremy Corbyn’s henchfolk and Conor McGinn, the MP for St Helens North, caught my ear the other evening. McGinn was a guest on BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour, and he obligingly revisited the brouhaha for the listeners at home. Apparently, following an interview in May, in which McGinn called for Corbyn to “reach out beyond his comfort zone”, he was first threatened obliquely with the sack, then asked for a retraction (which he refused to give) and finally learned – from someone in the whips’ office – that his party leader was considering phoning up McGinn’s father to whip the errant whipper-in into line. On the programme, McGinn said: “The modus operandi that he [Corbyn] and the people around him were trying to do [sic], involving my family, was to isolate and ostracise me from them and from the community I am very proud to come from – which is an Irish nationalist community in south Armagh.”

Needless to say, the Labour leader’s office has continued to deny any such thing, but while we may nurture some suspicions about his behaviour, McGinn was also indulging in a little airbrushing when he described south Armagh as an “Irish ­nationalist community”. In the most recent elections, Newry and Armagh returned three Sinn Fein members to the Northern Ireland Assembly (as against one Social Democratic and Labour Party member) and one Sinn Fein MP to Westminster. When I last looked, Sinn Fein was still a republican, rather than a nationalist, party – something that McGinn should only be too well aware of, as the paternal hand that was putatively to have been lain on him belongs to Pat McGinn, the former Sinn Fein mayor of Newry and Armagh.

According to the Irish News, a “close friend” of the McGinns poured this cold water on the mini-conflagration: “Anybody who knows the McGinn family knows that Pat is very proud of Conor and that they remain very close.” The friend went on to opine: “He [Pat McGinn] found the whole notion of Corbyn phoning him totally ridiculous – as if Pat is going to criticise his son to save Jeremy Corbyn’s face. They would laugh about it were it not so sinister.”

“Sinister” does seem the mot juste. McGinn, Jr grew up in Bessbrook during the Troubles. I visited the village in the early 1990s on assignment. The skies were full of the chattering of British army Chinooks, and there were fake road signs in the hedgerows bearing pictograms of rifles and captioned: “Sniper at work”. South Armagh had been known for years as “bandit country”. There were army watchtowers standing sentinel in the dinky, green fields and checkpoints everywhere, manned by some of the thousands of the troops who had been deployed to fight what was, in effect, a low-level counter-insurgency war. Nationalist community, my foot.

What lies beneath the Corbyn-McGinn spat is the queered problematics of the ­relationship between the far left wing of the Labour Party and physical-force Irish republicanism. I also recall, during the hunger strikes of the early 1980s, going to a “Smash the H-Blocks” rally in Kilburn, north London, at which Labour Party speakers shared the stage with representatives from Sinn Fein, some of whom wore balaclavas and dark glasses to evade the telephoto lenses of the Met’s anti-terrorist squad.

The shape-shifting relationship between the “political wing” of the IRA and the men with sniper rifles in the south Armagh bocage was always of the essence of the conflict, allowing both sides a convenient fiction around which to posture publicly and privately negotiate. In choosing to appear on platforms with people who might or might not be terrorists, Labour leftists also sprinkled a little of their stardust on themselves: the “stardust” being the implication that they, too, under the right circumstances, might be capable of violence in pursuit of their political ends.

On the far right of British politics, Her Majesty’s Government and its apparatus are referred to derisively as “state”. There were various attempts in the 1970s and 1980s by far-right groupuscules to link up with the Ulster Freedom Fighters and other loyalist paramilitary organisations in their battle against “state”. All foundered on the obvious incompetence of the fascists. The situation on the far left was different. The socialist credentials of Sinn Fein/IRA were too threadbare for genuine expressions of solidarity, but there was a sort of tacit confidence-and-supply arrangement between these factions. The Labour far left provided the republicans with the confidence that, should an appropriately radical government be elected to Westminster, “state” would withdraw from Northern Ireland. What the republicans did for the mainland militants was to cloak them in their penumbra of darkness: without needing to call down on themselves the armed might of “state”, they could imply that they were willing to take it on, should the opportunity arise.

I don’t for a second believe that Corbyn was summoning up these ghosts of the insurrectionary dead when he either did or did not threaten to phone McGinn, Sr. But his supporters need to ask themselves what they’re getting into. Their leader, if he was to have remained true to the positions that he has espoused over many years, should have refused to sit as privy counsellor upon assuming his party office, and refused all the other mummery associated with the monarchical “state”. That he didn’t do so was surely a strategic decision. Such a position would make him utterly unelectable.

The snipers may not be at work in south Armagh just now – but there are rifles out there that could yet be dug up. I wouldn’t be surprised if some in Sinn Fein knew where they are, but one thing’s for certain: Corbyn hasn’t got a clue, bloody or otherwise. 

Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser