The Irony of Unionist Complaint

By Jason Michael

Faced with diminishing funds and rising costs the Scottish government works to improve the NHS and the education system while the Westminster government bombs hospitals and schools abroad. Apparently this is the fault of the SNP.

First Minister’s Questions has become a nauseating and repetitive drone of unionist voices complaining about the “poor record” of the Scottish National Party in government. The whole #SNPbad campaign seeks to drive into the national consciousness the idea that the present Scottish government is failing in education and healthcare. Waiting lists are too long, and apparently this is the fault of the SNP government. Student debt is rising, and apparently this too is the fault of the SNP. Of course they will claim this. It’s their job as the opposition to call the government to account. Yet they are shy to talk about the reality of money and funding in Scotland.

Hospitals and schools need money to function. It makes the world go round after all, and although Ruth Davidson and Kezia Dugdale love nothing more than to rub Nicola Sturgeon’s nose in the mess they perceive to the failings of the government they are loath to discuss reality. In reality the difficulties faced in education and healthcare were inherited by the SNP from the last Scottish Labour government. This legacy has pinned the SNP down to the task of repairing the damage caused by years of neglect and cuts. We must add to this also the very real problem that the Scottish government is drip fed money – Scotland’s own money – from Westminster at a diminishing rate while the costs of services continue to rise.

Scotland generates enough wealth to over-fund our schools and hospitals. Surely this is the smoking gun needed by the unionist parties to discredit the SNP once and for all? It’s odd that they never say anything about this. Even with prices falling, North Sea oil and gas sales produce enough revenue to solve many of our problems. Our revenue from exports is more than capable of topping up the shortfalls. So what’s the issue? Why can’t the Scottish government throw this money at the problems? Well it would if it could, but – and you guessed it – the vast majority of oil and gas revenues go directly into London’s coffers and all but a small amount of our exports are taken south and taxed at English ports.

Even the revenue Scotland raises by means of income tax, VAT, and the likes is sent to London. What we get in return from Westminster – under the Barnett Formula – is a “hand-out” reflecting a fraction of the money we send to London. It’s the pocket money of an abused spouse, and that’s why Davidson and Dugdale avoid it like the plague. On this allowance the Scottish government is meant to transform the country into an instant utopia – lest it get a beating from the prisoner functionaries of Scottish Labour and the Tories.

Most ironic, for those of us who want a better funded National Health Service and education system in an independent Scotland, is the fact that these unionist talking heads – who complain at every turn of how badly the Scottish government is doing – support a Westminster regime that soaks up our money – that we could be using – in order to bomb hospitals and schools all over the Middle East. If we want to talk about realities, then we ought to begin with the awful reality that the union is not good for health and education in Scotland or in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, or in Yemen.

Yemen: Britain’s Forgotten War | Owen Jones in Djibouti

Author: Jason Michael (@Jeggit)

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A Long Awaited Reflection from the Privileged Left

Back in the day, campus revolutionaries sported army surplus jackets and black Ernesto Che berets. Now it would seem they prefer the Harry Potter look. At least this appears to be the case with William Foley, the deputy editor of Trinity News who bears a striking resemblance to a younger Daniel Radcliffe – complete with magical round spectacle frames. One hopes this look is not in anticipation of the disappearing act many ‘leftist’ students pull once they have been furnished with their diplomas and a leg-up onto their career paths. I shan’t be ribbing Foley too much, as that would be judging him prematurely and unfairly. Besides, he is saying what I’ve been saying for a long time.

Other than opening his comment in spectacular fashion with “Leon Trotsky once said;” no doubt to put his rouge revolutionary balls on the table, he sets in about his left-leaning student colleagues for their whimsical commitment to the cause and their downright distain for the socialism of the working class. He is right. Ireland’s intellectual left, perhaps since the end of the Lockout, has been consistently inconsistent in its relationship with ordinary working people. In more recent years the only genuine organic working class strivings have been stone-walled by the so-called left’s self-appointed betters. This intellectual left has succumbed to either the vanguardist bandwagoning of the Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers Party or to retreating, as Foley expertly points out, into safe, anally retentive quibbles over politically correct language.

Here we shall ignore those who have swelled the ranks of the language police. Let the dead bury their own dead. No sooner will they pass through their commencements than they will be tugging on daddy’s coattails and regaling the boys at the yacht club in Dún Laoghaire with yarns of their conversion from socialism. They’re full of bullshit. Let them go.

This vanguard thing is different. It’s still bullshit, but it’s a different flavour of bullshit; it at least has the seeds of something better in it. Eager as he was to recite Trotsky, I’m going to assume Foley is – perhaps unfairly – a vanguardist; a revolutionary of the Fourth International and the permanent revolution. William Foley is spot on the money when he points out the hypocrisy of the university educated left in its rejection of worker solidarity. It exposes the lack of trust the learned élites have for the initiative and experience of working people, and, more damning, hints at their hope to assume command of the coming revolution. This is precisely why the vanguard has never been trusted by the very people for whom it claims to exist.

In every stirring of the proletariat around the world the vanguard has failed, and it has failed because there is no vanguard without the mass support of the working people. Solidarity is everything, and without it the revolution is nothing. Socialism of course needs its intellectuals. It withers and dies without them. Yet an intellectual socialism without the socialism of the worker is dead. Revolutions do not simply happen in order for a leadership to catch on; they are built from the ground up in a participatory relationality between all its parts. This, and only this, is what it means to be united.

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Everyone but undergrads knows it is bad form to talk in the library. During my early days as a student in Trinity College I took to sitting up on the fifth floor of the Berkley Library, where the theology books and those on the history of religion were to be found. We called it ‘the gods,’ not so much for the sacredness of the content of the shelves but for the seriousness with which the postgrads took themselves up there. It was a dangerous location for an underling to be perched, but I liked the thrill of it. One afternoon I will never forget was when Rossa came up to my desk for a chat.

In what we took to be hushed tones we were catching up on something or other when a shadow fell over us. It was like the eerie moment of an eclipse. Rossa’s face grew pale and his mouth fell slack. His eyes had taken on the forty yard stare of a US Marine after a long tour on the trail in Vietnam. If I were the earth, and he the moon, he was reflecting to me the light of a terrible sun. Knowing that someone – or something – else had entered into our orbit, and that the feeling of this arrival did not sit well with my waters, I quickly went over in my head all the people who might be out to kill either of us. We were young, and a few names came to mind.

Twisting my head gingerly around, grimacing like a chimp, I came face to face with Lidia. People had warned me about risking life and limb on the fifth floor. They had warned me of Lidia, but did I listen?! At that moment the shadow needed no other explanation. Lidia cut an imposing figure, and it was patently obvious she was a force to be reckoned with. This wasn’t a person. This was a force of nature.

She was staring right at me. No. She was glaring through me. Why me? Rossa was talking too! Rossa was on his feet and we both knew he had the best chance of making a run for it, if he hadn’t been – like me – petrified like Lot’s wife or a rabbit in headlights. I was sitting directly beneath this very angry looking woman expecting the avalanche to happen at any second.

Baruch atah Adonai eloheinu melech ha olam…” Rossa was muttering a prayer in Hebrew as I began to examine my conscience and think of the words to the prayer for a happy death. This wasn’t going to end well. Without a word being spoken Lidia lifted her pointer finger to her lips, sucked in all the air in the room, curled her face up into something approximating a Rottweiler about to sneeze, and blasted out an earth shaking “Shhh!”

For the length of time her thunderous Shhh lasted Rossa and I felt like we were in a NASA wind tunnel. Our hair was blowing in the wind, and I felt like we were surfers standing atop our boards on Big Wednesday. It ended, and Lidia snapped around and marched back to her desk. The sun returned and the birds began to sing. We stared at one another in shock, and did the only thing we could. We broke out laughing. We weren’t trying to be rude. It was a nervous laugh. Trust me; it was a very nervous laugh.

After a few more hours of reading – in perfect silence – I packed up my books and made for the door and the elevator. I tip-toed out of that library. Once in the lift my calm returned to me and I let out a tiny sigh of relief. I pressed the button for the ground floor and the doors started to close. As both chrome panels of the elevator doors were about to meet a black boot jammed between them. The doors again opened to reveal no other person than Lidia. It was going to be a long trip down.

“You can talk all you want in the lift you know,” she said as she waltzed in next to me. Thus began a twelve year friendship, and one that has had about as many ups and downs as that bloody elevator.

Lidia was laid to rest today after getting suddenly – remarkably suddenly – sick. Her death has given everyone whiplash, so it could be said that she remained true to herself even to the end. She hasn’t been far from my thoughts these past few days; the usual stuff, fondness and regret. For a while we lived on the same street. This past few years we have lived only two streets apart and we’ve seen a little less of one another. When I first moved into “Corpse House,” as she so affectionately called it (that’s a whole other story), she arrived with a bucket of cleaning equipment and insisted that she help me “purify” the living room carpet.

She was a militant Atheist and an even more militant Feminist, and never let either of those two sides down – never, not even for a minute. It’s hard to say everything she was and meant. It was complicated; sometimes awesome craic and sometimes unrelenting flack. She never forgave me, I’m sure, for presenting a paper on Superman at the Irish Society for the Study of the Ancient Near East conference she put so much work into organising. Superman? What was I even thinking?!

Well, now that she has gone off on her own path of truth, this phase of our friendship has come to an end. Tonight I have found myself hoping she’s wrong about all that Atheism business. Usually I like to think that I respect other people’s decisions on such matters, and usually I do. Only tonight I don’t like the idea of never seeing her again. No sooner have I written those words than I can see her disapproving frown. Acht well.

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Seeing it through to the End is the Result

Fifty hours does not sound like a long time, but then, all things are relative. Two whole days in a leisure park will always feel much shorter than the same amount of time in a maths class. Our fifty hours, of course, was in the latter, and all of us wished dearly to have been in the former. It is no secret right now that Ireland is suffering from record levels of unemployment, and the young people in particular are feeling the pinch. As it currently stands people under the age of twenty-five have been limited to a maximum dole payment of €100 per week, and this – in a city like Dublin – is simply not enough to make ends meet.

Fortunately there are a number of ways around this, and one of them is education. In all honesty, the jury is out with regards to the motives and intentions of the government in making education available to the young unemployed. Whilst young unemployed people are registered in a government approved education scheme they can be conveniently removed from the live register, and many of the young folk in the courses will openly admit that the only reason they have signed up is so that they can avail of the education supplement that has been made available to them. In many cases they have no choice in the matter. They need the money. Sadly this means that many of them have no real desire to engage with the education process, and some will become disruptive. We can’t blame them.

It was a friend who was employed by one community development programme who gave them my number as they were looking for a maths tutor. Now that I have returned to the university myself I could do with the extra money and leapt at the offer. Over the course of fifty hours it would be my job to prepare these youngsters for a maths exam that would entitle them to a qualification, and, at times like this, qualifications are useful. Yes, there were a few in the class who did not want to engage, and a few who, at the start, made it their business to disrupt. I would like to think that as our relationship developed most of them were won round. With all of this going on there were a couple who were there because they wanted to be there.

Together we finished the course and today they all sat down to take the exam. These too are all relative. Some of the students found the questions a real challenge, but I was delighted to see that even those who had earlier been menaces gave it their best shot. As I watched them scribble in silence and punch numbers into their calculators I couldn’t help but feel a little proud of them. Our time together is all over now, but in the time that we were working together we did become something of a team. My only hope is that their results – no matter what they are – will help them get out of the mess the economy has helped land them in. I really wished them all the best.

Jason Michael
Blog Author

Education is a Double-Edged Sword

It was the late Anthony De Mello who said: “Ignorance and fear, ignorance caused by fear, that’s where all the evil comes from, that’s where your violence comes from.” That ignorance caused by fear and fear caused by ignorance lie behind every act of violence are truths that we can intuit from our everyday existence. Economic and political philosophers have long associated violence with the lower classes and the underclass; the very people in an industrialised society who are kept in the deepest ignorance and controlled by fear. It is for this reason that it is typically in the working class estates and in the inner city where we witness racism acted out with violence. Yet this is not to say that the well-to-do are not racist. Often they are, but their racism – institutional racism – is often protected by a culture of decorum. Ending violence therefore must first be in providing the correct remedy for ignorance and fear – education. Such, however, is no simple task, and this is so because education is not a thing in itself, but a term which describes a number of quite different things. One can educate by instruction, but instruction requires little more than mere obedience. What we require is a formation of the will and an assent to wisdom.

One must always remember that it was the mere instruction within the British school system which led to the greatest will to violence of the twentieth century. Teachers have always been the greatest recruiting officers. Rather, what we desire from education, is a teasing out of the finer angels of human nature that already inhabit the person. Ignorance and fear, through generations of social conditioning, have caused this better nature to hide away. It is the task of the pedagogue to help pull them forth. Entering into a classroom this morning the first discussion I overheard in the morning was of how it would be wrong of the state to welcome refugees when it cannot look after its own vulnerable people. No thought was given to the possibility that the Irish state simple did not want to look after its own people. The truth remains that our ability to welcome people in need is not an either/or equation, but a both/and sum; Ireland can take care of Irish people and extend a welcome to strangers. Only ignorance and fear hinders people from seeing it. At the end of the day I watched as a number of young adult students cobbled together a sign of welcome. My heart leapt for joy, but my mind wondered just how much of this was mere instruction. From small things big things grow.

Jason Michael
Blog Author