Ignoring Stuff the Stuff You Don't Like

Earlier in May there was a general election that had everyone saying how unpredictable it was going to be, and in the end it provided us with the least unpredictable result - a Conservative Majority, which in its self was wholly unpredicted. Weird, eh? I mean, surely there weren't enough people willing to vote Tory, because every where I was reading and listening to was against them whole-sale. The obvious answer was that despite the world being more connected, the world's not connecting in the same way - social media is an echochamber, a self-confirming self-curated selection of what you want to hear, and when you do read or hear stuff that you disagree with, you can find the audience also disagreeing with it immediately, confirming your own thoughts. Wonderful isn't it? 

The issue is that in today's world you can almost entirely cut through all the stuff you don't want to hear and focus solely on the self-confirmation bias of the media that you want to see. I don't follow The Daily Mail on Twitter, nor am I going to follow a raft of right-wing conservatives (that is, if they even used Twitter in the first place). I am not going to follow or watch things I don't want to see, am I?

The same applies to the world of television and music. In my youth I would sit in my room and do homework (or play Xbox and Dreamcast) and in the back ground I'd have the radio on, normally BBC Radio 1. From around 7pm Steve Lemaq would host The Evening Session, which introduced me to a really astonishing amount of music throughout my exam revision periods. There would be music from bands I'd never heard of, music that I didn't like, and music that I loved. The mix was pretty good, and I "suffered" this non-curated style because I liked the host and the music was something new to me, but also the fact that there was no other way.  There was no MTV in my room, no YouTube, no Spotify, which meant to listen to new music I had to actually sit there and listen to new music. Pretty wild, to think about these days.

Despite all of that, there is still a place for curators (like me?). You see, with the noise of the on-demand options you do s for med a guide amongst it all, like Lemaq was for me in the past. That's a different point for a different post, but it's worth saying now.

Today I read that BBC Radio 1 is losing listeners. They are at their lowest in years, since 2003 and since the time I used to listen to Sara Cox in the mornings. Apparently, this has been the plan all along for getting rid of the "over-30s" who were polluting their demographic. That's an impressive spin, because it's not just that demographic that has been switching off - "A report last year revealed that 16- to 24-year-olds spent 15 hours a week listening to the radio compared with more than 21 hours a week a decade earlier".

This is because why the hell would anyone listen to something that wasn't "theirs" any more. There are a generation of children and now adults living in a world where On Demand entertainment is the only system they know, and the question that I have one I can answer. I don't listen to stuff I don't like. I don't watch things I don't like. I don't listen to music radio (ironically for a radio show host, I guess) and I don't sit down and just watch "whatever is on". I don't see television adverts (the last time I did was during the leader's debates on ITV and it was muted as I talked with Con and watching or read something on my phone).

That's the struggle that the BBC have. How do they provide a service of non-Demand entertainment to a shrinking audience? How can they compete with a personalised radio station, like YouTube or Spotify? The answer is they can't, which is probably why this loss of listeners probably doesn't worry them as much as it might have done. 

So, is this a problem? The idea of a self-confirming collection of opinions caused a lot of people to think Scottish Independence was a shoe-in, that a hung parliament (or even a left-wing majority) was possible, and that music is all the same. I know for a fact that if you look for it you'll find music for all types of taste, and anyone saying that music is "worse" now, or was "better" then, is talking utter shit. You have to seek it out, and if you only sit in your comfort zone you won't find anything new or surprising. 

But that's a self-fulfilling problem, and the reason that on the surface all of the chart meanderings are  in fact identical. They are playing to the crowd that expects to hear what they actually hear day-in day-out. It's a strange multilayered issue, and one that keeps spinning. But as the mainstream homogenises into a bland estate of similarity, that just breeds a world of insane experimentation in other genres, which is very good news for my radio show.

And probably was very good news for the SNP, eh? 

The Illegitimate Electorate

Ever been told your vote doesn't count? Of course you have; even if you haven't been told it directly, it's implicit in our democracy in the UK - it's a paradox of sorts. If you don't vote you might not get the candidate you want. If you do vote it's likely that your vote won't make a bit of difference at all. It's a strange duality and one that makes people disenfrachised at the start.

During the IndyRef there was consistent message (one of very few actually) that stated that the UK would be stronger as a unit. Indeed, the campaign for the No side was actually called Better Together, if you were in any ambiguity at their core message. You and I might disagree with that of course, but we can admit that the debate engaged an electorate that hadn't been engaged before. I mean, you could count the number of times I've written about politics on this blog in it's eight years on one hand pre-summer of 2014, and since... it's been quite a few times.

The strangest thing to come along in the past week or so is the frantic realisation that the SNP, notionally called the Nationlists in the demonising press, are going to do very good numbers across large parts of Scotland. Whatever the actual results are in the coming general election, the landscape has changed entirely, just like it did following last years referendum. Even if the SNP "only" manage 25 to 30 seats of their possible and predicted 50 that is still a massive swing from Lib Dems, Labour and yes the lone Tory seat. For Scotland it is the next chapter in a falling out with Labour policy and Labour voting that has been rushing down hill since the 2010 and maybe the 2011 elections (and maybe even further back, from the right-leaning centrist politics of the Blair years).

This has understanably scared the establishment in Westminster. They're realising too late that the UK voters are wanting actual change. The reason UKIP and the SNP (and the Green Party) are gaining votes from the Tories and Labour is because these two parties have fallen into the centre. The Tories aren't right wing enough for the UKIP voter and the Labour party aren't progressive enough for the SNP or Green voter. Sturgeon put it perfectly; "I'm not saying you're not different from David Cameron, I am saying you're not different enough". It's obvious that's the case, but the reality is that the future of Westminster might be at stake.

The First Past the Post system is a bag of shit and loads of people know that - but the issue is that to reform it you need to get on board the people it'll put out of a job. In my current working climate we have a similar issue - engineers are getting let go due to lack of work but instead of a top-down reorganisation to remove the wasteage at the top there has been hiring in and setting up a "task-force". You can't get folk to sack themselves. So we're stuck in a perpetual state of stand-off, much like Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four super powers.

The press love a good scare story and the SNP are the perfect target - they're un-electable in the parts of the country where it matters to the papers (England) and they're an easy sell following the perception of the IndyRef down south as "breaking up the United Kingdom" - controlling that narrative, instead of the "self-determination of Scotland," of course. However, the recent comments about "holding a government to ransom" and "chaos" is startling in it's hypocrisy - why would 25 to 50 elected MPs be illegitimate? Telling the Scots that you're welcome and should saty but only if you vote for who we want is insane. Almost too insane.

In fact, it's like the Tories are playing the long game. The longest game there is - stir up angry sentiment in Scotland because they want to undermine the Scottish Parliament with an English Voter System (which in practise I am in favour of if we move to a federalised system entirely, not this hodge-podge of shit) and power that with angry sentiment directed at the SNP in England. The effect would be to kill Labour entirely; Labour needs Scotland to vote for it, the Tories don't. The tories have backed Labour into a checkmate so strong it's astonishing this isn't an episode of The Thick Of It - either you agree with the idea of splitting the votes in parliament up, which would cost Labour their "Scottish block" (which doesn't exist anymore anyway) or refused to fix a problem that will only get worse - the lack of an English Parliament in which Scottish Ps can vote on non-Scottish affairs - and cause an upset in the majority of voters.

Perfectly played. And Labour fell into the trap. They're fucked either way nationally. In Scotland they're already banjaxed - recent polling suggests that (outside of the margin for error) 1997 Survivor Jim Murphy, the leader of the Scottish Labour Party (which is in it's self a strange idea, with him peddling ideas that he can only implement in Holyrood, where he is not a standing MSP and his party has no majority) could lose his seat in my parents home consituency.

And the results of May 7th will be interesting no matter what. Polling got IndyRef ahead and the panic mobilised the No parties to step up their campaining to a very powerful level. With the SNP coming into power the Tories will rail them and the press will rail them saying that any government with them involved is not proper or moral, a concept so decietful it borders on a coup. The reality is that the SNP will have "power" or "influence" in any Westminster government because the Scottish voters will have voted for it. 

Your move Westminster.

Politics Next: After the Storm

Politics Next - After the Storm

Last year I wrote three posts (here, here and here) about Scottish Independence and they were my "Why Yes?" posts, and a fourth Politics Next post as a wash-up. I am still for Scottish independence and I am certain that I'll see it in my life time. Actually, I think I'll see it in the next ten years, but we will come back to that. In the past few weeks as the General Election Campaign has kicked into high gear people are starting to really consider what they want and how they will vote. The first major test of the post-IndyRef UK is almost upon us and as a Indy-leaning Scot - actually, just as a Scot of any political persuasion - the bullshit has come rolling back towards us.

See, back in August and September 2014 I was at home a lot. I was dipping in and out of my phone every few hours becuase when I got a free moment when Joni was asleep, Connie was asleep, and I wasn't asleep, I had time to read a lot about the different tactics being used by the UK parties, the pro-Union parties. They were very much "stick with us, it's better". If you can boil the entire argument down to two different views: 1) We are better off going it alone and 2) You're better off as part of the UK. The contray point to my own views, the second one, had to be argued from the idea that Scottish MPs were worth a vote in Westminster, that the engine that had been powering our country wasn't broken and useless, not ruined by decades of the right and the left parties moving into the centre, creating a beige of bullshit. In the vaccuum two parties on the left filled the void - the Lib Dems and the nationalist parties (SNP/Plaid Cymru) and two-ish parties filled the void on the right - the BNP and UKIP.

In 2010 there was a choice but little to show for it - you could chose the smaller parties but they wouldn't have any impact, that's what we were told. But in 2010 the two members of the old guard found it impossible to form a government without one of the smaller parties, and the UK had a coalition government for the first time in generations. Since the IndyRef voters in Scotland have realised that they have a very powerful vote for two reasons - the first being that the balance of power sits with our votes as Labour needs them to win a majority. The second is that we have been energised and now a whole generation of people who wouldn't have even considered voting in this year's GE are very interested.

The tactics that were employed during the latter days of the IndyRef by the pro-Union teams was that the Scottish were an integral part of the UK and that our voice would be heard in a future Westminster government, and that we were all more powerful together. That is why the recent attacks by Labour and Tory strategists and spokespeople are shameful: telling us that a vote for the SNP is like Putin or against the democratic will of the British people. The idea that a democratically elected MP from Scotland is illegitimate because they are Scottish is pretty astounding in it's lack of respect...

Taken from  Electoral Calculus  on 3rd April 2015

Taken from Electoral Calculus on 3rd April 2015

There is an argument being made that the SNP winning 30 to 50 seats in Scotland (which is mad, but entirely possible) isn't good for the UK - voting in to Westminster a party that wants to break it up, which on the surface is a valid concern. Sturgeon has an uphill struggle to prove that not to be true, but she has some powerful evidence on her side. The thing is that we voted against Independence last year, rightly or wrongly, and you have to accept that. I have to accept that. The SNP had to accept that, and so does the rest of the UK. The SNP want independence, but they are not a single-issue party. They're a left-leaning party aiming for progressive policy and that is something that a lot of the UK won't have heard before - it's what has been changing my own mind over the past five or so years, and it's one of the best things about last night's debate. It'll be the first time in a long time anyone who is "on the left" in England has heard mainstream media show politicians like that without a snark of bias or a sliver of impartiality. It was refreshing not only to see one, but three left-leaning party leaders on the stage, but also that they were all female showing that there are powerful voices in the UK system not heard on a regular basis. 

It also went some way to dissuading the idea being pitched by the English parties that the SNP are there to sneak in a break-up of the UK. Sturgeon rightly has noted that if that is going to happen it will only happen through the will of the Scottish parliament, not in Westminster. There will have been people in the rUK that were listening to her and what she was saying noting that we do have it better up here. We don't pay for prescriptions, for hospital parking, we don't pay for tuition, we don't have the bedroom tax. Those things are things that I am proud that Scotland has and pays for. The funniest thing on Twitter last night was the English voters wishing they could vote SNP. Imagine SNP candidates standing in English constituencies! 

The next four weeks are going to be fascinating to see how it all shakes out. I am voting to empower Scotland, and in doing so I expect to empower the Westminster system. If last night's debate showed anything it was that the new system of many parties fighting a battle designed for two parties isn't going to last much longer. The rUK will see what Scotland have been annoyed about in the first place - a system rigged against the people who have the voices we want to here. You could hear the old system creaking under the weight of the reality that we live in, and for once I can relax. Political reform isn't just possible, isn't just required, it's inevitable

Politics Next

Following the disappointing result on Friday (if, like me, you fancied an Independent Scotland) there has been a vast amount of reaction from all ends of the spectrum. I knew that defeat was a very real option (see If It Is A No) but I still had a little glimmer of hope that I had backed the winning side. Of course, we know now that I hadn't, but my city, the one I voted in, voted Yes which was nice to see. It also had the lowest turn out too, which confused a lot of people. It amazes me actually that with a 85% turn out nationwide, there was 15% who didn't care to vote (who were registered, of course), but in my city, 1 in 4 didn't turn up to vote, which blows my mind. The most important decision in my political life time, and some of those folk just didn't vote.

I conceded defeat at 5.46am, just before I got up to go to work with a simple tweet.

I then followed that simple tweet with a few more that were less flippant and more confused and disappointed, before tweeting:

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I realised shortly afterwards that that tweet said more than just a throwing in the hands in the air with despair that had created it. It spoke to the core of my politics, which were prior to the IndyRef at an all time low and basically non-existent. I don't mean my internal politics, the ones that make me feel and think about the world and the country I live in, but my engagement with the people and processes that govern us and those that we vote in.

The last time I voted was earlier this year in the European Elections - those disconnected "I don't even know what we are voting for" elections that even after I tried to explain to Connie what they were (and failing), I read up about them (and decided who I was voting for) and even then I still didn't quite understand the system in which I was voting, or how it was going to run down. 

I remember being similarly disconnected from the first time I voted, back in the 2005 General Election, when I didn't know who I was voting for, and didn't read too much about it. It felt like a bewilderingly nonsensical approach to the way the country should be run, and I failed to see how me and my vote could make a difference. The thing that energised me and many other voters in the IndyRef was that it was pretty explicit the two options. There was no middle ground, beyond not voting.

That, and there was something to "play for" - you were either going to be lead down the path one way or the other, and a good chunk of Scotland was going to be annoyed. That is the paradox of democracy - if I believe that the majority should get their way, how can I be annoyed when the majority vote against my own views and win? It is a difficult one to stomach, and one that "Yessers" all over Scotland have been having to deal with since Friday morning.

One thing that has been particularly hard to stomach is the feeling that the IndyRef was hard done by, even if you think that it might have been a fair fight. One statistic that was intersting was that the older voters, the above 55s, voted resoundingly as Nos, when the younger voters voted as Yeses. This lead to some saying the younger voters are less wise and more optimistic (imagine being that arrogant and that dismissive) or that the older voters were scared into thinking their pensions were in danger (which is a legitimate worry, if it weren't for the fact that it was a blatant lie by the No campaign). The ins and outs of the two sides and the campaigns will make for a wonderful study project for students in the future, that's for sure.

The reaction to the vote amongst my friends was varied too - one No voter actually said "Ya fucking dancer!", whilst others were quietly defensive about their choice to vote either Yes or No. In the days that followed, others that had voted No with the promise of more devolution and reform in the back of their minds felt dismayed at the lack of process and the bending of the promises made. The resignation of Salmond was celebrated by a select few who thought he was the head of the Yes campaign, and bemoaned by a few others who mourned the loss of a true politician that was principled and steadfast.

One thing it is clear that has survived is the engagement in the country. I have constant re-tweets, shares and posts still appearing on my social media feeds with folk paying close attention to the way the Westminster Parties are negotiating the next few days. A General Election is there to be won (or lost) and the little speed-bump of the IndyRef has been negotiated successfully. The problem is that something changed in Scotland, and something also changed in the rest of the UK too.

The main parties have backed themselves into a corner that might not be easy to get out of - for the Conservatives, they have said they'll give Scotland further powers as long as England gets them too, which is fair. However, that gives Cameron the power to delay the Scottish changes which isn't what was promised (rightly or wrongly). Milliband has an even bigger issue - he said that Scotland should get extra powers, but disagrees that England should be able to stop Scottish MPs voting on their policies. This is an untenable position, and he's pretty fucked - either he refuses let England decide on their own reform and face a backlash there, block the Scottish powers entirely too and face an even bigger backlash, or agree to Cameron's  proposals and lose the Scottish MPs at Westminster, Labour's big powerplay, and probably the only reason that he was against Scottish independence in the first place.

And that's before you even consider that some die-hard Labour voters that I know of are never voting them again due to their alliance with the Tories, their lies about the NHS (last week it was the NHS is safe if you vote No, and now it's We'll Save the NHS, and generally the fact that the party doesn't stand for what it originally stood for.

On Wednesday the 17th last week...

On Wednesday the 17th last week...

...and then Monday the 22nd.

...and then Monday the 22nd.

As Harold Wilson said, a week is a long time in politics. Maybe not in the memories of Scottish voters, mind.

The point I'd make, to wrap this wash-up post, is that the electorate have changed, in my eyes. I still have politics being discussed in my WhatsApp chats, five days after the vote, amongst people who said before hand that they were "going to be glad when it is over". The Scottish people, the 45% of the population that voted for Independence are going to be watching the UK system like hawks, and the 55% who voted for either the Status Quo or the furthering of devolution, will also be paying close attention.

The UK is going to change. It feels like it has to. If the Westminster parties renege on their promises, the SNP will probably go to the Scottish elections on the mandate of a second referendum following their broken promises. 

As for me, I am considering joining the Scottish Green Party, because they align with my own personal politics very closely.