The Citizens, The Mavericks and the Scotland Bill

The STUC was in high dudgeon today following the publication of the Scotland Bill, describing it, confusingly, as “not even the end of the beginning of progress to meaningful additional devolution”.

Reading between the lines of their press release, they seemed upset because they didn’t get to see the Bill before it was published. Having been at the launch and had the chance to chat to a few weary-looking civil servants, I suspect that was because it was only finished at about 2am yesterday and then rushed off to the printers to be produced in time for David Cameron to wave it around chummily on the Our Dynamic Earth stage.

Anyway, I was actually quite interested in the STUC’s suggestion that the Bill should now be subject to a citizen-led consultation process, in order to ensure that all the non-politicians who threw themselves into the referendum campaign can have their voices heard.

I was interested because I’m not sure I agree. Nor am I entirely convinced that the apparent deluge of Yes campaigners signing up to stand for the SNP is unequivocally a good thing.

The brilliant thing about the referendum campaign was that it steamrollered the politicians and became a phenomenon totally beyond their control. People organised their own events, got their own groups established, went round their mates’ houses to debate the issues and expressed themselves in umpteen different ways, from music to drama to comedy and much else besides.

There has been much political harrumphing since 18th September about the need to maintain this momentum, but it all seems to aim at getting the campaigners to play the politician’s game: whether by joining a party, taking part in a consultation process or standing for election. Just today, there was a Guardian story about all the mavericks who are choosing to stand for the SNP in order to achieve independence – but mavericks tend to cease being maverick-y once inside the system.

It’s worth saying that I do admire those who are choosing to stand, or seek selection as a candidate. Politics is a tiring, demanding, dirty business and I respect anyone who’s willing to put in the hours and take the abuse that seems to go with party politics, especially when you’re giving up a perfectly comfortable and pleasant lifestyle to do so.

But I worry when I read all these mavericks talking about the need to recognise the realpolitik of the situation and to maintain discipline in order to win the bigger goal of independence. Politics already suffers from too much discipline. The reason so many people dislike politicians is that they all sound the same, toeing the party line in order to maintain order and, they would argue, advance the greater good. But this is to confuse the interests of a political party with the interests of the citizenry. It is in the interests of a political party to preserve discipline so they don’t get trashed in the press and made to look unruly. But it is in the interests of the public to have proper debates and to have politicians who are willing to tell us what they actually think.

I don’t know if the STUC will get their citizen’s jury. If they do, I do not believe it will re-ignite the pre-referendum energy. Nobody who is now enjoying a well-earned sit-down, having spent months standing on platforms to declaim their beliefs or trudging the streets delivering leaflets is likely to fling down their Sudoku puzzle and cry, “At last, the opportunity I’ve been waiting for! To the barricades, friends, to analyse clauses 25-39 of the Scotland Bill!”

I hope Scottish politics is truly changed forever, and I wish all those with the gumption to stand for election the very best of luck. But I also hope that at least some of our mavericks stay on the outside, doing their own thing.

Why We Shouldn’t Kill the Paris Gunmen

Let them live.

Let each of the Paris gunmen live. Let us not hunt them down and kill them, as we have often done to terrorists recently.

Instead, let us bring them to justice and in so doing, establish beyond doubt the superiority of a peaceful, law-abiding society, one which celebrates difference and encourages dissent.

Let them be arrested, in full accord with the law. Let them be treated with all of the dignity and respect they deny to others. Let them have access to legal counsel, to appropriate food and the opportunity for prayer, and to their families. And then let them explain, in court, in full view of the world, their pitiful, wretched philosophy.

Let them explain why they felt entitled to decide that twelve people should die, and twelve families be ruined. Let them attempt to reconcile their actions with a belief in a God who is great. Let them explain, as best they can, how slaughter can possibly be an appropriate response to a cartoon. Let them set out why they, above everyone else in existence, should choose who lives and who perishes.

And then let us show them, again and again, with persistent argument and relentless logic,that they are wrong. Let us bring before them true men and women of religion, so they can see that people who are certain in their beliefs are not afraid of disputes: indeed, they welcome every opportunity for discussion and debate. Only those who doubt their own beliefs are unable to tolerate any criticism. Only those who are weak feel the need to demand that everyone believes in their creed, that everyone acts according to their values, that the world should bend to their will.

Let us listen to them. Let them demonstrate their ignorance, their pusillanimity, their shameful empty bluster. Then let us send them to jail. And every day, by treating them with courtesy and basic dignity, let us remind them that a welcoming, diverse society is better in every regard than the hate-filled wasteland they seek to create. Let us deny them the opportunity of martyrdom, resist the temptation to meet violence with violence and expose them as the piteous unthinking cretins they undoubtedly are.

Let us do this in memory of their victims, who were far, far better people than the zealots who took their lives.

Little Pigs

It has been almost twenty-five years since I ate meat. At the age of fourteen, I became aware of the industrialised and inhumane processes involved in rearing and dispatch animals intended for human consumption, and I chose to opt out.

However, there are a lot of others who are unlikely ever to give up eating meat. I know this because I live with two of them: my partner is a highly enthusiastic omnivore and my twenty-month old daughter appears to take after her dad. “Bacon!” is one of her favourite words, not to mention breakfasts.

I don’t judge them. I’ve no right to judge anybody: doubtless I do many things that others would consider to be of dubious morality.  But I do encourage them to eat good-quality meat from animals that have had reasonable lives and deaths, ideally from local farms where animal welfare is a visible priority. I have always felt that if you are going to eat an animal, you ought to take an interest in its welfare.

This is exactly what Glasgow’s Locavore has been doing. Over the last few months, I have often cycled past Queen’s Park and enjoyed watching Locavore’s small drove of pigs snuffling around in the grass. They appeared to be living good lives, with freedom to move around and express themselves in their own piggy way. I cannot guarantee the existential state of any pig, but insofar as I could tell, they seemed happy.

But I was never in any doubt about their ultimate fate. These pigs were going to be bacon. And given that around ten million pigs are slaughtered in the UK every year, many of them having been mutilated and constrained, the eventual death of some well-treated and popular pigs did not seem like the worst thing going on in the world. Too often, we – especially those of us who live in cities – are completely cut off from the places where our food comes from, allowing us to shirk responsibility for the welfare of the animals we eat and divorce the meat on our plates from the livestock we drive past in the countryside.

I understood that not everybody would see it that way. And that’s fine – generating a debate about animal welfare and the concept of eating meat seems like a useful by-product of this project. But judging from Locavore’s social media recently, some people have gone way beyond healthy debate, into the realms of hysteria, aggression and threats.

Here’s my position. I like Locavore. I blogged about them in their very early days, and I wrote about them again more recently on Contributoria. They are a small, local business that helps communities to grow their own vegetables and learn to cook, employs people might otherwise struggle to get jobs and provides fresh fruit and veg at little more than cost price to people on low incomes.

They now stand accused of being the very uncaring, profit-focused corporation they are fighting against. Well, it won’t wash, and I personally feel it is important to stand alongside them. I haven’t been as good as I meant to be about using the Locavore shop – it’s a bit far, I’m always busy, there’s always a reason why it’s easier to go to Asda.

But tomorrow I’m going to go down there and buy as much as I can of my weekly shop. I may hate animal cruelty, but I also hate bullies, and I won’t stand by and watch a fantastic part of my community being threatened and abused. I hope many others will join me.