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Date: 28/12/14

Nearer Pyrrhus Than Pericles

And welcome once again, dear reader, to the annual exercise in futility which is The Great Summing Up Post.

(I have wondered out loud more than once down the years why the hell I insist on doing these pieces, especially as they fair take the joie out of my vivre for about a month while I figure out what the hell I could possibly say that would distinguish the latest one from all of its predecessors. And it is indicative of the strain involved that I find that scouring the gas cooker, mopping the floors and even cleaning the bog suddenly develop an allure if the alternative is to sit here and pummel my ever-more-mushy thoughts into some sort of comprehensible shape. What you think of it as a reader is beyond my powers to predict. If you find yourself thinking that it's high time the freezer got defrosted, or that you really do need to do something about that ingrowing toenail right now, then I wouldn't blame you in the slightest).

The names, numbers and faces may change, but the general pattern (you remember him, chums? Survived all the fighting but ended up dying in a low-speed road shunt and being played by George C. Scott?) remains little changed. Those who lorded it over us at the start of 2014 still - with worryingly few exceptions - see themselves as our innate and divinely-ordained superiors at its end, despite no additional evidence in support of such claims. The Masters of our Universe remain as deeply embedded in their comfortable, fur-lined sewers as ever, and no amount of valiant attempts to use The Great Harpic Flush of History has succeeded in dislodging the über-rats from their holes.

So, to make a start then, and to make it in order of proximity (to me, that is).

I've had a pretty dull and mundane year, in which the only real achievement has been to keep this website going and still get some readers, This last has been greatly assisted by the links tweeted by the estimable Philip Challinor, who has not only brought my pootings and Pooterings to a wider audience but has also - blast him - managed to come up with titles for them which are far superior to my own (re-titling this as "Sidling Up To Fridges", for example, was an imaginative stroke at which I could only sit and groan with envy). There have been over one hundred new pieces here in 2014, a similar number to each of the two preceding years, but nowhere near Peak Blog of 2011 (when I was using it as a form of therapy anyway). But I have been busy elsewhere on the web, particularly with my modding duties at 45cat and 45worlds, where I have been continuing the uploading of entries and images from the enormous stash which a member let us have access to two and a half years ago, and which he didn't have the time or means to put on the sites himself.

Health-wise, I have somehow managed to get through a whole twelvemonth without a single day's sick leave, although there have been days when it was a close-run thing (including those days when - irrespective of my physical condition - I've wanted simply to turn on my heels at the bus stop and go back into the house and say, "Sod it!"). I have no idea how I have managed this - I've not done anything much different to any other year. Then again, I feel confident that at some point after posting dis 'ere ting, a passing virus or bacterium will come along and cheerfully stomp me into the ground.

I nearly gave up smoking this year. Well, I felt that I had to try to do something. So I bought one of those e-cig things, but found that - whether for neurochemical or psychological reasons - I was unable to make the complete switch. So a sly compromise was reached: when I go to work, or out anywhere else, I only take the e-cig. I am not, however, anywhere near self-disciplined enough to make this work at home. I have cut down from about fifteen to about ten a day, though. I can't say that I've noticed much in the way of improvement, but that's my problem.

The family has, mercifully, been OK this year (although my first draft of the equivalent piece for 2013 said the same thing before the sudden loss of a well-liked cousin), and we now have new members of it courtesy of the wedding I adverted to here (Lyn now not only has a first name that could be mis-spelled at least three ways, but a surname which regularly endures similar treatment).

Work remains just work, and the year in that regard has involved plodding as best I can through the morass created by systems which don't work properly and middle- and senior management more concerned with the appearances of effectiveness than with the reality, and where the self-regarding demigods inhabiting the uppermost reaches of The Depratment - led by a 'Chief Executive' whose name has become a by-word for serial imcompetence (see Private Eye, passim) - seem intent on stamping out any uprising against their idiocies by the simple expedient of making it as difficult as possible for our Union to do what it is supposed to be there for.

In other Home News, I was supposed to be having a new kitchen and a new bathroom this year. Unfortunately, the timescale set by the Council and its contractors was completely unrealistic. I can't see how it could possibly take six weeks to do a job like that - they put in a whole new central heating system in a little more than six hours a decade back - but I suppose it fits in with the Housing Department's idée fixe that there are only three types of council tenant: the unemployed, the crippled and the old. As I am in none of those categories at present, and could hardly swing taking that much time off work, I had to decline their kind offer. Still, they did come and do some essential repairs on the chimney-block and the roof, even if it did take them nine months to get around to it.

And so to the land beyond the door.

The two big stories in the ever-more-inaccurately designated 'United Kingdom' in 2014 had little directly to do with the ongoing ideological obsession of 'Austerity' (defined as, "It wasn't our fault, it was yours") and the smashing apart of what little was left of the post-War consensus that tried to ensure - and in no small measure succeeded - that there were as few people as possible living in one of the richest states in human history who were close to starving in either the nutritional or the ambient temperature sense. After all, we're all agreed that 'tough choices' (© A Blair) had to be made to deal with the most hideous national debt levels we'd seen since at least, ooh, 2005, and that everything which is deemed surplus to requirements for a thrusting, dynamic, entrepreneur-driven economy - social security, easily-available health-care, libraries - must be jettisoned in order to provide incentives to those who know an easy mark when they see it, and discouragement to those who are determined to be a burden on such wealth-creating archangels of commerce - like the psychiatrically ill, the physically ruined or those who just didn't get the breaks because Daddy didn't know someone who knew someone.

So we will pass lightly over the spate of squalid deaths, suicides and lives of despair which have multiplied as a result of our masters' deeming it necessary to 'get tough' and 'clamp down' on those whom they feel certain are less morally upright than they are and - crucially - are not likely to be in any position to fight back in any way which might have an effect; or, if they can, which can't be dealt with by a few accidentally fatal encounters with the police, a few vindictive sentencings or baffling inquest verdicts, or - in more extreme cases - the quick passing of legislation to make it all cosy and legitimate after the fact. We have been assured from a hundred apparently discrete orifices that such trifles are not significant in the Great Scheme Of Things, and so they need not detain us here.

No, the two big stories in the UK this year occurred on either side of a completely arbitrary line drawn on a map of the island in order to reflect the interests and holdings of large landowners of the past. The narratives in question both parallel each other and provide some contrasts of varying vividness, not least in the ways in which the respective set of events have been mediated to the wider world.

Up in Scotland there was, of course, the referendum on independence.

Back in February, I stated that I felt that whilst the result would be close - indeed, much closer than the polls at that point were showing - ultimately the preponderance of firepower on the pro-union side, their ability to resort to all the dark expertise of propaganda (particularly the ability to make it seem like it wasn't propaganda) and the residual sense of 'loyalty' (or, indeed, 'loyalism') to a notion of 'Britishness' (however vague, however attentuated, however inarticulable) would lead ultimately to a 'No' vote.

And so it turned out. But I have to apologise to the forces of reaction for my having grossly, grotesquely underestimated their abilities. Even I had not envisaged the lengths - and depths - to which they would go. No smear was considered too ordurious, no character above at least an attempt at assassination, no diversionary tactic too obvious, no insincerity too calculated to be at least attempted. And thus we had the fixating to the point of monomania by the No Future campaign on the personality of the First Minister - admittedly a 'Marmite' politician, in that he tends to provoke either extreme approval or similarly outlandish anathema - and seeking to bring his public standing down by saying - however inaccurately - that he was buddy-buddy with (in sequence) an American corporate asshole with funny hair, a fake-American corporate asshole with a funny face and a Russian ex-spook with a funny idea about what constitutes democracy. Every comment or remark in the online world - on 'social media' in particular - which was less than respectful to prominent members of the 'No' campaign was seized upon as being indicative of the thoroughly nasty and base intent of the 'Cybernats'' campaign and deemed to be Alex Salmond's personal responsibility. Such epic pearl-clutching was conspicuously absent, however, when pro-No's even went so far as to utter death threats against independence supporters in general or against particular individuals within the 'Yes' campaign; such effluvia were deemed to be merely 'joshing' or characterising 'robust debate'.

Beyond Salmond and the social media, the barrage of tendentious, misleading or outright batshit claims which were made by the unionist camp was of such an extent and volume (in both senses of that word) that, although huge efforts were made to counter them, such attempts were rendered to a substantial degree ineffective due largely to the impenetrability of the media establishment in Scotland (and, in as much as it mattered, London) by anyone with a view contrary to the interests of the established order.

Because the primary - if not the sole - weapon the Nay-sayers had at their disposal was the complaisance (to put it kindly; otherwise, just read 'collaboration') of the official corporate media. Not only was every newspaper in Scotland bar one firmly and vociferously pro-Union, but the broadcasters finally blew the gaff on the real nature of their function, in that it would have been obvious even to a particularly dumb Cairn terrier on which side they stood. The BBC in particular deserves something far more than mere opprobrium for its conduct, through which it revealed itself as being The State Broadcaster™, rather than the 'public service' variety which it and its supporters had been able to kid on that it was for so long. That the degree of penetration into the Castration by the Labour Party establishment in Scotland in particular was beyond anything that MI5 had managed with newspapers down the years meant that compliance - or, to be more accurate, complicity - with the unionist view was a given. And, able to take advantage of yet another residue of fuzzy trust in a 'British' institution, the unionists knew that they had the trump card, even if the Trump on this occasion wasn't called Donald.

In the face of such overwhelming narrative force, it was always going to be difficult for the independence campaign to get through to enough people to shift the balance back. All the attempts made were valiant, especially the ones which utilised social media and the blogosphere (horrible word!) and - even more so - the ones which took political campaigning back to a set of basic assumptions which had been lost in our media-saturated age; namely, the idea of actually going out, handing our leaflets in the street, knocking on the doors of houses and flats and actually, you know, engaging with real people, and in holding genuine public meetings. The 'No' campaign had nothing to offer on any of these counts: their online presence was fitful when it wasn't pitiful; its attempts to get down on all-fours and communicate directly with the Great Unwashed were typified by photo-opportunistic insincerity when they didn't consist almost entirely of shouting at people while standing on a plastic crate in the middle of an otherwise indifferent High Street; and their 'public' meetings were seldom if ever anything of the sort, confined to events held in private to which only carefully-vetted trusties and party faithful were invited, and where questions to the speakers were restricted to either the most trite or the most anodyne where they were permitted at all.

In short, the pro-independence campaign was something like real politics as understood by anyone who has a feel for the essentials of democracy, whereas the unionists stayed true to politics as it has been perverted and suborned by the ruling élites for at least two generations; the substance doesn't matter so long as the presentation can be firmly controlled.

Nonetheless, the campaign for Scotland's self-determination failed, at least for now. But enough has changed in Scotland that the status quo ante is very firmly dead. The genie of actual public engagement in politics can never be bunged back in the Buckfast bottle, or shut back into the shortbread tin.

This brings me to the second Big Story of UK politics for the year. This one involves almost exclusively England.

(Wales and Northern Ireland do not - in this wise as in most others in this regard - matter: the former territory's politics have been - even more than usual - one gigantic snooze, as one can expect from a pretend-parliament with not a single genuinely radical and progressive party in it; and the latter province just seems to want to slice up the lumpy gravy and go on partying like it's 1689).

The story is, of course, the seemingly inexorable rise of UKIP. Bear in mind that, prior to the start of this year, the Faragistas had never had a Westminster MP elected in its name (its only parliamentary presence having been of a few months duration by an MP who was thrown out - by Essex Tories, no less - for being too extreme). It ends 2014 with two MPs having been duly elected, although they were also Tories who actually did the decent thing and fought by-elections when they changed parties. That they both won is not that surprising, given that both Reckless and Carswell would have had a high personal recognition factor in Rochester and in Clacton respectively, and that their publicly-expressed views (and those of their new party) would have chimed far more with their constituents than those of their rivals.

But given other by-election results, both this year and last, and the so-called 'political earthquake' of May's elections to the European Parliament, how is it that such a small party of the fringe has managed to succeed where - for example - its predecessor Referendum Party and the Greens have (so far in the latter case) failed?

Well, some of it is undoubtedly to be accounted for by the general contempt in which the political establishment of the Austeria-Hungry Empire is currently held; its self-serving, self-aggrandising and self-obsessed insistence that politics - all of politics - is their preserve, and anything beyond them is not, by any definition which is deemed to count, really politics at all. Add to this the fact that the ideological thrusts of the 'mainstream' parties are really remarkably similar - leading us to a situation which resembles ever more that of the US, where anything outside of the somewhat- and far-right is invisible to most observers - and it is scarcely to be boggled at that an increasing proportion of the electorate see the Conservative and Labour parties as simply two cheeks of the same backside (a metaphor which at least assures the Liberal Democrats of their proper place in the scheme of things).

But such parties have come and gone before, leaving scarcely so much as a skidmark on the bedsheets of that maison de passe known as the Grand Hotel, Westminster. So what is different about the Kippers?

I would aver that, in no small measure, one may look once again to the media for the reason. In a mirror-image to its conduct vis-à-vis Scotland, much of the press and - yet again - the BBC have left no opportunity unutilised to give publicity to the Faragistas, a prominence far outweighing the party's actual standing or merit. Scarcely a day has gone by these past twelve months without the sight of the Chief Gurner adorning a front or front-facing page in the blats, and his appearances on that late-night comedy show known as Question Time have been more numerous than could ever be accounted for by either his party's significance or by whatever he might have to say.

All have enabled Farage to play up to the image he has sought to disseminate of himself: that of the 'ordinary bloke' fighting for all the 'ordinary blokes' up and down the land who are terribly oppressed by the politicians whom they themselves either voted for or couldn't be arsed voting against; the image of the crêpe-soled crusader, battling against The Establishment.

What gets lost in all of this - and what most of the media have failed to draw to the public's attention - is that the Farrago Cult is The Establishment. You only have to look at them or hear them to see that. A party led by an ex-public schoolboy, ex-Tory Boy and ex-City Boy, whose members are the end-of-the-roll and end-of-the-pier knockabouts for whom the development of our society in a generally more liberal and humane direction has been largely indigestible, and whose public pronouncements have been wafts of mephitic gas from the golf-club cellars of south-eastern England, reminding us of all we lost when the Monday Club lost its influence over our political lives? Less a 'movement' than a convoy of clown cars, which some observers will cheer on whilst the rest await the inevitable falling off of the doors? How could this not be The Establishment, albeit in its terminal phase? If it were otherwise, one could scarcely imagine how the papers and broadcasters could possibly bring themselves to give such unwarranted house-room to them.

Don't be misled by their claims to wish to 'break the mould' of UK politics (although I suppose that may depend on which sense of the word 'mould' you wish to invoke). Those of us with long memories have been here before. Thirty or so years ago, there was a party called the Social Democratic Party (SDP), which was formed mostly by refugees from the Labour Party when it was enjoying one of its periods of happy inter-communal violence. They too promised to 'break the mould' and they too were the recipients of lavish media attention, most of it approving or, at worst, neutral. But 'breaking the mould' of British politics is not something which can be done while you're actually inside the mould to begin with; it's akin to trying to lift the manhole cover you're standing on. So, after a brief flourish - during which they managed to help the Thatcher-being stay in power by splitting the anti-Tory vote in 1983 - they slowly faded away, to such an extent that, in order to stay in the game, most of them eventually joined the Liberals to form the LibDems of today, Dr David Owen's last curse on British politics for its rejection of his towering intellect and magnetic personality.

UKIP, too, will pass. In fact, The Passion Of St. Nigel is likely to be no more than about four and a half months away, and what a glorious martyrdom it will be! There are hints that, already, some of the media are starting to turn away from him, although it's not yet clear who has been cast in the rôle of St. Peter. Because they have perhaps realised that they have helped produce a creature who is not as much in their control as they had flattered themselves that he was, and that - even though they may be ridiculing him on the quiet - the more they do it, the more attractive he becomes to that section of the populace which is desperate for novelty. The more learned of them may even have in mind what Luigi Barzini said about the rise of Mussolini, in that the Italian nation looked upon Il Duce as a bit of a joke until they woke up one day and found that he was now their ruler, by which time it was too late.

The vagaries of the first-past-the-post electoral system - to which they were not subject during their Drang Nach Strasbourg this year, and for the continuation of which they campaigned zealously a few years back on the grounds that it was 'British' and thereby a Holy Relic - will surely do for them. There is a point below which, irrespective of a party's total share of the vote, the number of seats which can be gained is minimal (just ask the Greens; or, indeed, the LibDems), and UKIP's share of the vote is static some way below that point. They may hold one or both of the seats they currently hold, and for the same reasons that I gave a few dozen paragraphs ago; but their chances of winning any beyond those are minimal. The Kippers' significance in May 2015 won't be in terms of what they themselves can gain, but in how their involvement will affect the two main parties. Because it is a possibility that, in the same way that UKIP will split the rightist vote in southern England, they may well split the 'traditional' Labour vote in the East Midlands and either side of the Pennines as well. This will leave the Terrible Twins of Westminster more or less level-pegging, but both in their own ways with wounds to their sense of entitlement.

Which is why both parties have sought to edge themselves slightly but visibly to the right in terms of their stated attitudes to immigration and social security. Not that either of them needed much of a prod, of course, because - as I said above - the Westminster system has, during the past thirty years, become more and more a weak simulacrum of its transatlantic counterpart. The idea of genuinely progressive policies has been ditched in favour of a determined manoeuvring around the so-called 'centre ground' (which centre has moved inexorably to what used to be called 'right-wing'); 'triangulation' is in, and all must and will be done to assuage the 'well-founded concerns' of the under- or mal-informed 'swing voters' who make up the electorate in the 'key marginal' seats which mostly cluster within seventy miles of London.

And so, if Party A says it will be tough on immigration, Party B must promise the same. If Party A says that it will be even more ruthless in kicking the halt and the lame, then Party B must follow suit lest it be portrayed as 'soft' (the UKanian equivalent of the US use of the word 'liberal' and with the same denial of the urge to be humane wrapped in its coils). The tiptoeing danse macabre around the petty prejudices and bilious bugbears of the public goes on, leading us undeniably towards the death of democracy, meaning as it does that a wide spectrum of opinion is, in effect, excluded from even the most momentary consideration.

Yet there may still be a chance for the cavalry to come riding over the hill to save us, and that force for progress could come from the direction I spent some time on earlier: Scotland.

It would have been perfectly and humanly understandable, after their defeat, for the various strands of activism which made up the 'Yes' campaign to go away, lie down and lick their wounds, perhaps for an extended period of time. They had done an awful lot in a short space of time, and the disappointment would have been palpable. But this has emphatically not been what has happened: the disparate elements of the independence movement - not, contrary to the impression deliberately fostered by the unionists and their media chums, solely or even primarily the SNP - have already regrouped, continued to organise and have, if anything, been augmented in their vigour, perhaps because they know that the prize was so close this time that - if there is to be a next time - it will need a continuation of the organising and agitating that got them as far as they have already come.

So it is that the membership of the three main pro-independence parties - SNP, Greens and Scottish Socialists - has increased three- to sixfold since the vote. The Radical Independence Campaign, having dedicated itself to taking the message to those parts of their land which the unionist parties in general - and Labour in particular - had long since disregarded, held a conference last month which was massively over-subscribed. Other what are usually termed 'civil society groups' have continued their own work. There seems to be a liveliness to Scotland's politics today which seems joyously alien to the grey, narrow, media-obsessed control-freakery which has been the main feature of the political landscape since the late 1970s; a liveliness which is born, not primarily of anger at the way in which the unionists and their willing little helpers manipulated the public, but of that feeling of the proximity of victory in the near (possibly nearer than many think) future so long as the work goes on.

The unionist parties may be about to discover - if they weren't already getting inklings in that direction - that their victory on September 18 2014 was far nearer to that of Pyrrhus than of Pericles. They may have gained what they were seeking for that particular moment in time; but in the longer term, the result may well prove to be ruinous to what they claim to stand for.

This is particularly the case for the Labour Party in Scotland. A party which arrogantly believed for the better part of a century that it had something akin to a Divine Right to rule the Central Belt and other parts of the country was always likely to find at some point that it had reached a location where the ice was too thin to hold it up any more. What they have actually done in the course of the last two years is not only to carry on without regard to the ominous creakings beneath their feet, but they have equipped themselves with a very large ice-pick to help them on their way. The metaphorical implement in question manifested itself in physical form in the way that Labour openly and enthusiastically sided with every available force of reaction - the Conservatives, neo-Fascists, the big end of the 'business community' and the malodorous mediaevalists of the Orange Order. Oh, and George Galloway. At each other's shoulders they stood, laughing outside a supermarket whose American owners had just warned of a massive hike in food prices which would, they claimed, inevitably follow independence. Arm in arm they strolled, chuckling at all the threats to jobs in every conceivable sector of the economy which, they assured us, would mean that an independent Scotland would rank somewhere between Greece and Somalia on the worldwide scale of ruined economies. And then it was hugs and trebles all round on the Friday as they achieved their aim, and without a word of condemnation for the saltire-burning and sieg-heiling thugs who ran riot through central Glasgow later that day.

Up to a point, one could put such egregious conduct down simply to having Van Gogh's ear for the music of contemporary Scottish politics, something which would be understandable in a party which has long since sought to insulate itself from its origins and ensure that any contact with real people is rigidly controlled so as not unduly to trouble the corporate donors and thinktanks. But, in the main, it was the inevitable result of the hubris of believing the public to be sufficiently dim and gullible to be made to fall for any old guff.

To some degree, they were correct in this assumption, as the referendum result duly demonstrated. But for that 35 per cent or so of their own voters who nonetheless voted 'Yes', it was always going to leave a legacy of deep bitterness and a sense of betrayal. This legacy has been further cemented by the fact that the infamous 'Vow' magimixed up by the Daily Record and the PR bods of the three unionist parties started to fall apart before the month was out, and that the absolute, sure-fire, no-turning-back-honestly assurance of that serial failure Gordon Brown that there would be the nearest thing as dammit to a federal settlement for Scotland - a promise he was in no position either sincerely to offer or to deliver from the Opposition back benches - has already proven to be meaningless, dependent as it always was on getting past the swamp-creatures on the Westminster back benches.

That the Labour Party's Scottish branch office (for such it is; the branch manager Johann Lamont's resignation was accompanied by an extended peeve in which she finally admitted that to be the case) has since gone on to anoint as Lamont's successor a hard-line, missile-stroking, cuts-cheering, expenses-snaffling Blairite thug in the miasmic form of Jim Murphy is indicative either of the Party's wilful inability to learn or of a deep-seated contempt for the public. Or both, of course. That Murphy's first pronouncement on being given the job was that Labour wouldn't lose a single seat to the SNP next year - let alone the couple of dozen predicted by all recent polls - may just have been for public consumption, given that reality must surely have penetrated Branch HQ sufficiently to cause a queue at the office cludgie. But it is far more likely that it is much of a piece for a man whose contribution to the referendum campaign consisted mostly of standing on a plastic crate in town centres screaming into the faces of old ladies and then running off to tell his mammy when someone - with a remarkable sense of both proportion and restraint - threw a solitary egg at him.

(The 'mammy' in this case was, of course, our friends the media, who subsequently anointed Murphy as their preferred candidate for Branch Manager, seeing him as 'one of them' and - by implication - seeing them as several of him. This is why Murphy can count as heavily on the support of the media in Scotland to push his party's propaganda as they could be depended upon to transmit all but verbatim the anti-independence line throughout the referendum campaign. The party and the media are to each other as the head and tail of Ourobouros. Another of the things which is pleasing about the fallout from the referendum in Scotland, by the way, is that a healthy scepticism regarding the honesty of the Official Media has morphed into outright revulsion, thus reducing the scope for those channels seriously to mis-inform or mal-inform the public to anything like the same degree of success in the future).

That this combination of ignorance and arrogance was never going to play well with those who had voted Labour all their lives, or who may not have voted for a long time - if at all - but who might reasonably have been expected to vote Labour if they did, was a given which anyone in the party with any remaining sense would have foreseen. But such qualities seem to be even thinner on the ground in the North Britain Branch (by appointment to Gord) as they are at Imperial HQ, and so no-one - for the moment at least - seems to have twigged that the game is not only afoot, but may well be up as well. So many 'traditional Labour voters' - in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Lanarkshire, Ayrshire, Dundee and beyond - have stated publicly that they have no intention of ever voting for them again that a near-San Andrean shift in the political geology of Scotland is a real likelihood now, as hubris is so often followed by Nemesis.

Speaking for myself, I do not believe that the current opinion poll leads of 20 per cent plus for the SNP with regard to May's elections can be sustained but, as experienced poll-watchers have pointed out, any total share of the vote of more than about 41 per cent with no sign of any recovery in Labour's share will produce a tipping point under FPTP which would lead to Labour losing as many as a third to a half of its current MPs. As I say, I don't see much more than that happening, but even that would be a fair old jolt, leading as it would to two non-mutually-exclusive outcomes: firstly, the failure of Labour - even with constituency boundaries giving them a head-start - to gain a working majority; and secondly, an influx of SNP MPs determined to hold Labour's feet to the fire to extract the maximum out of them in exchange for something rather more progressive than Labour's latter-day stock-in-trade of "We're not like the Tories! Honest! We just have the same policies!".

Making predictions of the outcome this far out is, of course, daft beyond words. My 2010 predictions were way out, and they were made only a couple of days before the vote, so I will hold my fire until nearer the time. Even with a régime as arrogant as the current one, where they don't even feel the need to obfuscate what they are doing any more - the authoritarianism which means that people are still being thrown in prison for things they have said or written (and the ongoing and complementary snooping on the communications and associations of every one of us), the thuggishness with which the weak are subject to punitive action and scapegoating simply for not being maximal economic units, the pandering to the basest instincts of that section of society which can most easily be whipped into outrage by a tabloid headline; even such a régime may retain just sufficient traction to remain in power, albeit with a different, even more reactionary, ally.

In this as in all the other areas I've referred to so far, they can expect little in the way of a countervailing stance from media which have become so totally 'embedded' in the power structure as to be beyond any use to anyone who genuinely wishes to be reliably informed. And, like their chums within the political bubble, they too see no reason any longer to hide what it is they are doing. So they may be relied upon to copy-and-paste the convenient narrative of the day, be it that 'Austerity' is absolutely essential, that all claimants of social security are scrounging scum, that the Middle East and Palestine are intractable problems which can nevertheless be addressed by throwing as many armaments in there as possible and waiting for the business opportunities to come crawling out from under the bodies, or that it is the nasty Russian Bear™ which is threatening poor ickle Ukraine rather than the illegal, far-right, US-directed régime which overthrew a democratically-elected (if bent) government.

And if it becomes apparent that more overt distractions and diversions of public attention are needed, then there's always a Royal Event to get the patriotic juices flowing (a new baby next year to join young George, who was himself described by one drooling hack this year as being "comfortable in his own skin"; a welcome change from all his male relatives since time out of mind, who have only looked truly comfortable in the skin of something they've just slaughtered); or another celebrity pervert to be thrown to the pack (whilst underplaying and sidelining the far more wicked abuses allegedly carried out by members of the political élite); or - and this one will run and run - a four-year-long commemoration-not-celebration-oh-dear-me-no-where-did-you-get-that-idea-from of a war in which 'Our Brave Boys' were led into slaughter by exactly, but exactly the same sections of society who lord-and-lady-and-CEO it over us a full century on.

Turning - at long last, you might justifiably think - to other matters, and to the world's only bipolar superpower, if it was ever a secret that the Untied Stoats constituted a failed experiment, then it should be a secret no longer. It is not merely in its continued attempt to play Cop To The World, and its ongoing - and usually lethal - interference in lands far beyond its own (somewhat porous) borders which illustrate the rot. What has long been known to anyone who cares to look (always a minority in a country which has self-mythologised itself into something approaching a national psychosis) has now been made so manifest that not even its media - even more embedded within the corporate-state power structure than our own - have been able successfully to ignore, twist or obfuscate it, although - to give them their due meed - they've made a plucky stab at it. But the slaying-by-cop of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., a similar act of police homicide on Eric Garner in New York City, the emergence into the wider public consciousness of dozens - if not hundreds - of similar murderous acts by what are supposed to be officers of the public law up and down the US, and the near-total refusal of those in authority to take action against the perpetrators, or to twist the process to make such an outcome practically or legally impossible; all of this - plus the similarly disproportionate reaction of the Forces Of Order (sponsored by Fox News) to the protests which were the inevitable consequence of such a dereliction of duty - should serve to shake even the most lumpen, reality-TV-addled Joe (and Jo) Schmoe out of their complacency.

It should do, but it probably won't. At least, not to any effect measurable in the long term. Such a large proportion of the population of the States has - for reasons of ideological alignment, overt je-m'en-foutisme or of simply wanting a quiet life (as seen on TV) - swallowed whole the highly-Aspartamed narrative of America The Beautiful, America The Greatest Country There Has Ever Been On God's (Not Darwin's, Shit, No!) Earth, America The Infallible (Except When It's Not Being Tough Enough On Them Damn Commies/Ay-rabs/Chicanos/Circle Bogeyman Of Choice - And The Wagons), that its presence has solidified into a mass somewhat like one of those gigantic fat-balls which are today to be found in the sewers of all the best cities, and with the same deleterious effects on the public well-being if not dissolved and properly disposed of. To the majority of the citizens of that happy land, any suggestion that they have sunk - by their own apathy and willingness to believe more than six impossible things before their morning ingestion of excess sugar and fat - not merely into a police state, but into a process of incipient fascism will still be met by not just an unwillingness, but a psychological inability to comprehend. Leaving aside the almost daily police executions of people deemed guilty of 'breathing while black' or being 'young and not white in what we say is the wrong place', and the equally regular and egregious - though not usually so lethal - overstepping of the proper limits of police power, just pointing out the way that the cops - even those on university campuses - have become more militarised than the armed forces of most of the planet's sovereign states ("We have all this hardware, we can't use it on the battlefield, let's give it to the local PD", seems to be one rationale for this) is likely to invite an expression either of blank incomprehension or of squinchy-eyed suspicion reminiscent of James Finlayson.

But taken together - along with the determination of successive administrations to root out and neutralise those who seek to blow the whistle on abuses of power by those all the way up to the very top of the US' governmental apparatus - it should be clear that The Land Of The Free has become little more than The Land Of The Free To Do As You're Told Unless You're Wealthy And Powerful, and that The Home Of The Brave has morphed into The Home Of The Brave To Speak Out Against The Abuse Of Power, Because If You Do We Will Destroy You. Because destroy you they will. That John Kiriakou remains in prison for blowing the whistle on CIA torture, whilst the torturers walk free; that Chelsea Manning is less than four years into her abominable 35-year sentence for revealing her country's government's war crimes and its intimidation and suborning of democratic governments worldwide; that Edward Snowden remains to all intents and purposes trapped in the realm of Tsar Vladimir Vladimirovitch; all this indicates that disclosing that the governmental structure of the US is often little more than a criminal conspiracy not just against its own citizen-consumers but against the world in general is deemed a more serious offence than the conspiracy itself. These are dangerous waters, and the sharks are not yet anywhere near sated in their desire for blood. It seems that not even the release of the recent report on the CIA's involvement in terror - heavily redacted though it was - will be enough to expel them from the reef.

It would be remiss of me to claim that there are not some hopeful signs, however. The outbreak of protests after the actions of the municipal death squads of Missouri, NYC and elsewhere shows that some, at least, have woken up and decided to act. Also, it must be recorded that some - but only some - of the people held in direct contravention of international law and all human decency in Guantánamo have been released, although the Administration's promise to close that pustulence has come to the predictable nothing. And, only in these last few days, Barack H. Obama - obviously looking for some sort of legacy beyond that of being the first ever President of the United States to serve two consecutive terms as a Lame Duck - has announced the thawing of relations with Cuba after fifty-five years of a vicious and failed régime of sanctions and terror. This, however, needs to be qualified by mention of the extreme unlikelihood of any substantial rapprochement being approved by a Congress which not only has clear Republican majorities in both houses, but also has a Congressional Democratic Party which is terrified of annoying the right-wing Cuban 'exiles' in Miami and elsewhere; this on top of their customary default position of rank cowardice on anything remotely resembling a point of principle.

And what of the next year? We should have some idea of who are the runners and riders in the race to replace St. Barry The Impotent, but even now the long list is hardly enticing, containing as it does on the one side the malign and manipulative wife of the last president but one-and-a-half; and, on the other, an extended sequence of proud know-nothings, fake libertarians, real libertarians (who are even more scary) and vociferous theocrats. Three hundred million people, and that is the best they can do? Perhaps Aristotle was right and the legislature should be selected by lot. I want one of those guys with the implausible beards from Duck Dynasty as President, with Woody Allen as his Veep and Steve Jobs' fatal tumour as Secretary of State.

Meanwhile, here on the fringes of The Great Empire (by arrangement with ExxonMobil), the political structures of Europe lurch even further to the Right: Hungary still governed by the most chauvinistic régime seen in Budapest since the fall of Admiral Horthy; the rest of eastern Europe still ruled by various combinations of mafiosi, Friedmanites and regressive bigots; the Greek political establishment - thoroughly discredited as it is from its rôle as proxy for High Finance - doing contortions to keep itself in power rather than risk a government of the mildly-progressive Left; the natural heirs of Franco continuing to bombast and bluster over the national rights of the Catalans; Italy being, well, Italy; neo-fascism starting to burgeon in Germany; and Turkey (which sees itself as part of Europe whenever it suits it) being overseen by a man who will brook no criticism without sending in the cops. All of these things are manifestations of the total failure of the organised Left to mount a challenge - or even a coherent argument - against the dominant narrative of the last six - hell, the last thirty-six - years. Added to which, secret treaties such as TTIP will - if allowed to be implemented even to a minor degree - finally secure the governance of the western world by corporations, and the final fall of participatory democracy will be assured.

In the wider world, south-west Asia continues to fester, China continues to extend its influence into Africa and increase its stake in international commerce, recognising from its long history that what is termed 'soft power' has more flexible and effective applications than simply stomping around the world bombing people like some superpowers we could think of. Palestine remains intrinsically intractable due to the intransigence of the occupying power, although thanks to Bibi even the Americans seem to be getting pissed off with them.

So the snow and ice keep melting, the water level keeps rising (except in the western US, of course), and large parts of the planet are lined up to take part in a dangerous technological experiment to maintain our 'civilisation''s refusal to countenance meaningful steps to stop the snow and ice from melting and the water level from rising (except in California).

Still, there's always something, isn't there? Happy New Year...