In my opinion, much of what passes for public discourse these days can be characterised as antipolitics. In this post I’m going to deconstruct four images from modern life, which bring the shape and definition of antipolitics into focus. I’ll start with an image from British politics, before narrowing my focus to Scotland and then to Glasgow. I’ll then finish up by looking at a familiar trope from the world of social media. In the process I hope to convince you that much of the recent public activity people highlight as exciting and positive is actually the very opposite of politics.

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I live next to a train station in the southside of Glasgow. It’s close enough that I can wave to our cat from the platform as she watches me head to work from the back window.

I love to hear the trains late at night, heading into town as I get ready for bed. The last one passes just before midnight and always sets me off on a mental flight of fancy: who’s travelling into Glasgow this late on a Tuesday night? Where are they going? What will they get up to?

When I heard the last train rolling past the flat last night, my thoughts turned to the Arches.

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Something about the General Election outcome has been nagging away at me since Friday morning. Something about the unexpected starkness and decisiveness of the result.

If you’ve ever discussed politics in the pub you’ll no doubt have found yourself entering the realm of speculation. What if this happens in the future? What if that had happened in the past?

I think the 2015 result looks like something you might dream up after a few pints. It looks like a counterfactual.

What if the SNP win basically all seats in Scotland? What if Cameron actually wins a majority? What if UKIP win 4 million votes and almost no seats? What if the Labour vote flatlines?

You may remember the Sliding Doors, a film which imagines two entirely different outcomes based on whether someone does or does not make it into a crowded Tube carriage. This election is a real life Sliding Doors moment.

As Labour try to pick up the pieces of their disastrous result, the party needs to see the clarity of its new circumstances as a blessing. Labour didn’t make it onto the train – so we’re all now actually in that alternative universe in which the Tories won outright and the SNP dismantled Labour’s Scottish power base.

So how did we get here? As ever, it was through a combination of accident and design; through a series of Sliding Doors moments, all of which might have gone differently. In this post I want to explore some other turning points that helped create our new reality.

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Kevin Bridges had a great joke during the indyref, where he imagined parents fretting about their kids indulging in ‘underage voting’.

I was up for a bit of that. I couldn’t wait to vote, and I have loved election day ever since.

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One of the features of the 2015 General Election has been the attention paid to parties in what we might once have seen as the second tier of parliamentary importance. In the likely absence of a clear majority for any party, speculation abounds on the potential for the Lib Dems and/ or the DUP to act as Westminster kingmakers, or for the SNP to adopt the intriguing role of king-slayers.

But there is a further tier of electoral activity that has, understandably, been somewhat deprioritised during this election campaign: the independent candidates and fringe parties. In this post I want to share my love for the mixture of mavericks, seers and occasional bastards who, for me, embody the true democratic spirit.

You can tell a lot about an election from the patterns of participation in it by outsiders, and I think #GE2015 is no different. Interested? Read on. Read the rest of this entry »

I don’t have much of a track record as a tipster – the horse I backed in last weekend’s Grand National exceeded my expectations simply by not dying – but even I feel emboldened to hazard that the SNP might do quite well in next month’s General Election.

The polls suggest the SNP will win a majority of Scottish votes and almost all available seats. On the face of it this looks like a deep political consensus, but in reality I don’t remember our political culture ever feeling so divided.

In this post I explore post-referendum polarisation and unpick some of the myths that have come to be accepted as reality by large swathes of the electorate.  Read the rest of this entry »

In the run-up to the 2015 UK General Election, the emotive issue of university tuition fees has re-emerged recently as a topic for debate. Scotland has a vastly different Higher Education funding model to that of England and Wales, with the Northern Irish system different again. As such, the debates around the justification for or against fees can be rather confusing, and the talking heads who take sides in the debate rarely display much of an appetite for nuance.

Data is available about student fees and student numbers, however, which I think help us navigate these choppy waters more easily. I gather it together below and give it some thought, before considering the moral, political and economic arguments for and against university tuition fees. I hope to convince you that this is a much more complicated topic than it may first appear.

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Underworld returned to Glasgow this week (Thursday 12th March) to play their breakthrough 1994 album Dubnobasswithmyheadman in full. The prospect would be unpromising in the hands of almost any other band – a nostalgia gig, in a classical music venue –  but the night was a triumph.

This is my journey through Underworld, the band who taught me to dance, introduced me to indie royalty and dangled a rope ladder from the greatest generation down to mine.

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Want to feel old? The first Elastica album was released twenty years ago this month. Twenty years!

It’s a bit of a shock to realise that two full decades have passed since I first heard them, but I remain as convinced today as I was at the time that Elastica were the best band of the 90s. Here’s why. Read the rest of this entry »

In counter-point to my Adam Curtis piece, here’s the great Mark Dawes expressing his doubts about Mr Curtis’s work with characteristic élan. (See also: the comments under my Curtis piece).


Journalism’s job should always be to explain things to you. But in our age it should do that with real emotional power. But it doesn’t.Adam Curtis

In January 2015 Adam Curtis released another documentary to add to a few decades or more of highly-stylised journalistic films, situated squarely within the BBC’s cultural programming sector. Curtis is widely admired, in fact, he enjoys the status of a cult rock star to much of his devoted audience. I’m not convinced by his work, even though I find his subject matter worthwhile and his political and social position persuasive.

My good friend Ian Gillan and I recently augmented some of our pub visits with lengthy and detailed discussion of Curtis and his films. Ian synthesised some of these commentaries into a brilliant and respectful homage to Curtis – read it here (it’s magnificent). Ian’s excellent essay explores the features of…

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