Posts Tagged ‘democracy’

I don’t really know what I’m doing here“.

Irrespective of how much money he was on, it was a bit much to make Roy Hodgson conduct a press conference the day after he’d resigned as England manager. What was all that about? His legitimacy evaporated when his exciting young players failed to beat (or even compete against) Iceland. He forfeited the authority due to him by virtue of his office when he read out his resignation statement at a press conference after the final whistle. And yet the very next day he was seemingly required to face the press once more in his capacity as…well, no one was quite sure.

It was a strange coda to a curious chapter in England’s footballing history, and very much in keeping with one of the weirder weeks in England’s and the UK’s political history. After all, the day after Hodgson briefed the press as a resigned England manager, David Cameron took Prime Minister’s Questions as a resigned PM across the dispatch box from a very much not resigned Leader of the Opposition whose parliamentary party had just rejected him 172-40 in a vote of no confidence and whose Shadow Cabinet had pretty much all quit in protest at his leadership.

It seems to me that the concept of mandate is central to the current power struggles in the Conservative and Labour parties. In this post I want to explore the different types of mandate being claimed by the various actors in our contemporary drama and suggest some possible ways forward for Labour and for the UK in its relationship with the EU. Executive summary: some people are going to have to grow up.



Oh no, not that tone again; anything but that tone.

I was prepared for Farage’s monstrous braying. I steadied myself for Boris burlesquing a bit of Horace or Plutarch. I was even ready to endure the sound of Gove’s voice. But I had forgotten how unbearable Scottish people are when they feel politically thwarted these days. Over the past 24 hours or so, the reality of the vote to leave the European Union has unleashed an onslaught of full-spectrum nationalist whining across social media the like of which I’ve never seen before.

The self-righteousness that clogged up the post-indyref atmosphere has descended once more. Across the country, heads shake gently in damp-eyed rebuke as disappointed Facebook posts are bashed out and furious tweets sent. And would you believe it, the SNP leadership has considered events through its single lens and concluded that another indyref is exactly what the country needs in a time of confusion and turmoil. It’s a good job the Scottish Government hasn’t been captured by constitutional obsessives like those UKIP guys, eh?

Now, I lost the run of myself completely during the 2014 referendum. I came to believe many more than six impossible things before breakfast on any given day during the campaign. This blog has essentially been a record of my trajectory from suggestible Yesser back to my general disposition as a skeptic, and I’ve left my early posts on this site as a permanent reminder to myself of the damage enthusiasm can do to rational thinking.

If we’re really going to flirt with having another independence referendum there are a few things we all need to get straight, whether we’re Yes or No or Not Again Please For The Love Of God Not Again. There were lessons to be learned back in 2014 about tone, respect for opponents and preparedness to scrutinise one’s own prejudices – I’m not sure they’ve even been acknowledged let alone assimilated. Well I’m here to help! Learn from my fail by asking yourself the following questions and answering honestly. It can even be our wee secret.  (more…)

The first rule of Question Time is “don’t watch Question Time”. The second rule of Question Time is “don’t go on Twitter during Question Time”. Despite observing these rules assiduously I couldn’t help but hear about the key moment of this week’s EU referendum special. Seemingly channeling Michael Gove’s recent claim that the people of Britain “have had enough of experts“, a member of the Question Time audience attacked the Prime Minister for “relying on experts” to make his case for remaining in the European Union.

Imagine! Those dastardly experts with their insidious expertise – who would want to listen to them?

But perhaps there is more to this than meets the eye. For a start, the audience member was actually making a quite different point to the one assumed by his appalled Twitter critics. If you click on the link above and take the time to listen to him he is actually arguing that the Prime Minister’s choice of expert – in this case the Governor of the Bank of England – has been proven wrong in the past. The man was engaging in critical thinking about the provenance of knowledge. No wonder he went down so badly on social media.

More broadly, I think the Leave campaign’s perceived rejection of expertise illuminates a key tension in our ideas about democracy. In this post I want to explore the idea of common sense, and consider its relationship to the EU referendum.


In Scotland, and across the world, we’ve never had access to so much information. There’s never been so much news; so much analysis; so much stuff to keep up with.

And yet our unprecedented access to data has coincided with something deeply troubling: a profound and growing sense of powerlessness.

Karl Marx wrote that previous philosophers had interpreted the world, when the point was to change it. Whereas these days it often feels like we, as citizens, read about the world, but cannot influence any of the big decisions that affect us.

In this post I will explain how this malaise has infected the body politic, and consider some of the prescriptions drawn up by political parties and social movements to cure it. I will then point, tentatively, to some possible routes out of our present impasse.

In the process I will discuss Russell Brand, Bertold Brecht, and the Scottish Labour Party’s present travails. I will play devil’s advocate on the topics of the European Union and the Yes campaign. And I will look at some very interesting developments on the Tory backbenches, dropping in some Manchester United references along the way. Enjoy!


As the dust settles on the independence referendum, one of the few points around which which a consensus appears to have formed is the wisdom of allowing 16- and 17-year olds to vote.

When the Scottish Parliament met yesterday for the first time since the referendum, parties offered broad encouragement to lowering the voting age to sixteen for future votes. Similarly, when Ed Miliband addressed the Labour Party Conference this week he declared his support for extending the franchise (he didn’t forget that bit of his speech so it must have been important).

I think it is absolutely imperative that the voting age is lowered. However I want to argue this from a slightly unorthodox perspective. (more…)

With one week to go until the Scottish independence referendum, the country has changed. It’s never felt like this before. The wonder of democracy shines everywhere.

I’m voting yes, and I’ll explain why in a minute. But you’ll have read dozens of these pieces by now, and almost certainly of superior quality. Perhaps of more interest to you may be my reflections on the impact of the referendum on the way we do politics in the future. I set these out at greater length below and you’re very welcome to have a read. I’ll explain why I think politics has become detached from real life, and how the referendum experience has helped to reverse that. I hope it’s not too dry. No academic study is required! (more…)