This Is Not A
When Empujón Comes To Empellón
This had been intended to be a considerably shorter piece than the one which closed 2016 with such an enormous "CLANG!!".
There were a number of reasons why this should have been so. First and foremost amongst them was the realisation that these tours d'horizon - like everything else I've ever written here - were not going to change anything. For anyone. At all. Ever.
Secondly - and following in natural sequence from the above - was the sheer effort involved in my putting what passes for my thought processes on the year which is, like the rest of us, slowly dying into some sort of order and to make it remotely interesting. Or even readable. The gloomy prospect of having to do so envelops my mood like a mephitic vapour from early November onwards, and the dénouement - when it finally comes - is less a warm post-coital release than that feeling you get after passing a really big one, i.e., greatly relieved but rather queasy. I am more than aware that the experience of reading it may well seem much the same, which is why...
...The third consideration was...well...consideration. For my reader. Expecting anyone in these hard-scrabbling, busy-busy times to spend minutes on end (which might otherwise be used for more elevating or satisfying pursuits, such as dusting your pelmets or de-fleaing your cat - or someone else's cat if your fancy takes you that way) scrolling through the effusions of a tortured mind comes close to being an act of coarse ingratitude towards anyone who may have bothered to read any of it at any other time of year.
Sadly I find that, having concluded the first draft, it turns out to be of very similar length to last year's. Simply put, the world and its various sub-routines have in 2017 become so opaque to understanding, so averse to rational analysis, that writing about it all might be accomplished with equal effectiveness by picking six or seven thousand words out at random from half-a-dozen equally haphazardly-chosen pages from two or three similarly whimsically-selected news websites and then doing the equivalent of throwing the yarrow stalks up in the air and simply transcribing the result.
(Troublingly, I find that my ability to type accurately at speed is diminishing noticeably of late, and so I may achieve the above goal without having to go to so much effort).
In addition, I am cognisant of my self-imposed responsibility to what might be called my 'audience', and wouldn't wish either of them to feel let down by their being denied the delicious feeling that someone else is having to do this and not them. So...
I have to start with myself - it being nearest - and 2017 has been a far calmer year that its precursor. My recovery from the surgical adventures of 2016 was complete in so far as it ever would be, and the remaining problems were - I realised quite some time down the line - due to the medication rather than the 'procedure' itself; once I'd stopped dehydrating myself to a husk, most of the wooziness I had experienced went away. My cardiologist has pronounced himself satisfied with how things are going, and that's good enough for me. I have another encounter with the slow-motion tumble drier that is the MRI machine in Manchester early in January, which I hope and expect will be merely routine.
And - apart from a rather alarming episode of deafness which lasted for nearly the whole of October, and a period of Depression during much of the past four weeks which was the worst I've had since the dark times of 2011 - that was that. Although one after-effect of the whole experience has, I fear, been to reduce my confidence in my ability to do things, even things which I had been doing immediately prior to the problematic pulmonic valve really letting rip on me early in 2016. As a result, I have only in the last few weeks - and most tentatively at that - attempted to resume the Great Winter Project™ of which I was so inordinately proud at the time.
Work is, of course, work, and the manoeuverings of the Depratment continue to confound and amaze even the most generous-hearted cynic. That the office I try hard not to work in faces closure by the Spring of 2021 is still a given, although there may be a bit of slippage because of the nature of the building in Liverpool to which many of my colleagues will be expected to move at that time. But just to make us feel really valued and comfortable in the meantime, the remaining staff here will shortly be required to decant themselves into just one of the two floors of our current abode so that the Depratment may save money by handing the other floor back to the tax-haven-resident landlords. We are now trying to find training materials which will teach us how to act like sardines...
But I did get my photo on the front page of my union's newspaper. Given my oft-complained-of problem with photographs of me, this one was all right, probably because it was shot from an angle somewhere around knee-level at a distance of about four feet. It therefore avoided the usual problem - unlike the photo from a previous protest which was placed on the union's Twitter feed - of my looking as if I shouldn't be allowed out without supervision.
Culturally, I have been greatly enriched this year by the kindness of friends in lending me some books to read; books which I almost certainly would not have gone out and bought, considering at least two of them to be in an area in which I had (or so I thought) little interest. And so it was that I read Ferdinand Mount's wonderful Tears Of The Rajas back-to-back with William Dalrymple's excellent White Mughals, both works bringing a highly engaging and moving personal element into the story of Greater England's tortuous relationship with the sub-continent, and the rôle played by greedy corporations and evangelistic nutters in soiling what had been theretofore a generally harmonious co-existence. I was also able to read Le Freak, the autobiography of the legendary songwriter, musician and producer Nile Rodgers, a superbly stylish book (for the man writes as well as he plays) which leaves one wondering how the hell he survived into adulthood, let alone into his sixties.
Speaking of music, there was a fine new album from Penguin Café which - due to an extended period of cranial constipation - I totally failed to review here. I didn't commit the same error with Sparks' Hippopotamus, a record which delights and entertains from start to finish (although there are two or three real earworms on it). And, of course, I got to see my favourite Germans again, this time in a genuine concert setting.
Although the past year has not been so cataclysmic as its predecessor in seeing the end of great talents and cultural figures, 2017 did bring us the passing of my generation's trusted clever uncle (Brian Cant), our favourite mischievous older brother (John Noakes), and the following generation's annoyingly chirpy kid brother (Keith Chegwin), along with the near-ubiquitous-for-fifty-odd-years Bruce Forsyth; musical talents as various as the pioneering Pierre Henry, both Jaki Liebezeit and Holger Czukay of Can, Chuck Berry and Fats Domino from the Golden Age Of Rock 'N Roll, Glen Campbell (whose recording of Jimmy Webb's Wichita Lineman has been a favourite of mine since I first heard it on Radio Luxembourg fifty years ago), Gregg Allman, heavy-rock legend Malcolm Young, and - shockingly in the sense of how one can't easily imagine the teeny-bop idols of one's childhood ever falling off the twig - David Cassidy. Film and television were not exempt from Death Duty either, with the departures of giants such as John Hurt, Roger Moore and Jeanne Moreau.
So we turn, brothers and misters in the Systeries, to the wider world. Or, at least, to one of the narrower parts of it, both geographically and - for want of a better word - psychically.
And here is where we must, as I indicated earlier, abandon all attempt at reasoned analysis. For nothing in Greater England in 2017, it seemed, made any logical sense unless one postulated that the entire power élite of the Great British State was in the pay of a far-eastern betting syndicate and that they were all desperately trying to throw the game.
We started the year with the prospect of the triggering of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. This was not a necessary move, but a cynically-calculated action on the part not only of the Government but of an official 'opposition', which showed no disposition to oppose at all when it came to the vote. To do otherwise, we were told from all plausible (and several implausible) directions, would be to thwart The Will Of The People™ (by arrangement with Prince Rupert, Pap Paul, Dirty Desmond and the Barking Barclay Brothers). And so it went ahead, with all the predictable rah-rah and Union Jacking-off from pols and pundits alike.
And then, in an access of arrogance, a Prime Minister who had a small but perfectly feasible working majority decided that she was going to go for The Big Prize. All, indeed, seemed rather hunky and pretty dory at first, with the scum press and supposedly serious pollsters alike all assuring us that the old Trot Corbyn had no chance, that the Empress Theresa was on course for a thumping majority.
What had not been reckoned with was not merely the increased activity at the Labour Party's grass roots, as people who had been sidelined for more than two decades by the corporate fluffers of 'New' Labour seized their chance, but also the appalling conduct of the Tories' own campaign. For their beloved Boudicca Rebooted turned into someone who might as well have been designed by real.com, so clunky and unconvincing was her ability to communicate. For all the parroting of "Strong And Stable!", May turned into a running joke as she proved utterly unable to display even that thin veneer of spontaneity which is absolutely essential in election campaigns in the Media Age. Never better than ill-at-ease in the company of real people, her 'meetings' and 'rallies' were held only in front of either party trusties (such as the one held in a scout hut in a wee forest several leagues west of Aberdeen) or employees of Tory-supporting companies who were ordered - sometimes on pain of imminent unemployment - not to embarrass the candidate by asking her questions which hadn't been fed into her RAM, and to applaud dutifully whenever she made some leaden remark which was intended as a rallying cry. The Reincarnation of St Margaret of Finchley turned into Fire-Door Freda, as a tribute to her preferred method of entering and exiting the venues in which she was connected up by a length of CAT5 to the Party's elderly iMac and oh-so-erratically booted up.
On the other side of the electric fence we had the sight of a Labour Party which was - two leadership elections in as many years notwithstanding - deeply riven between the Blairite old guard and transgenerational seat-warmers on the one hand, and the dentine-denting intensity of the new rash of activist drones. Scarcely a day went by without real or confected splits being reported between the two camps; reported, of course, by media outlets which were not exactly likely to be sympathetic to the more radical elements anyway. This was the case even with the so-called 'progressives' of the Grauniad, who largely fell into line with the narrative established by the Right, bemoaning pre facto the imminent electoral annihilation of 'their' party.
The LibDems were the predictable Sad Sight, running around desperately trying to make themselves relevant again whilst hoping that just enough people had forgotten their complicity with the socially and economically extreme policies of the Coalition; the KIPpers spent their time (and Aaron Banks' dosh) hope-and-gloriously disintegrating before our eyes; the SNP were fighting a rearguard action against both apathy and a concerted Unionist campaign of tactical voting; and the so-called 'Party Of Wales' was preparing for a remake of Flatliners.
And at the end of all the hype and hoop-la? A government which had completely unnecessarily thrown away its majority, along with what remained of its legitimacy; a main opposition which had made some gains, but not all that many; an SNP which had lost over a third of its seats, albeit from an unfeasibly high mark from 2015 (a whole dozen of them to the Tories, who were the primary beneficiaries of the leader of the Scottish branch office of the Labour Party of all people urging people to 'stop the Nats' even by voting for the Continuity Wing of the We've Never Actually Understood Adam Smith Institute), but were still the largest party in Scotland by the length of a large loch; the LibDems lost some but gained a few more; KIPperdom was (at least in name) finally expelled from parliament; and Ddy Parti Of Wêls, whilst narrowly gaining one seat, came perilously close to losing one which they had held for over forty years.
There were some odd results: parts of Stoke-on-Trent and Walsall went blue, whilst Canterbury (due to an active student campaign) and Westminster and Chelsea (and this before the hideous catastrophe at Grenfell Tower, which displayed the Conservatives' customary contempt for non-property owners, the law and straightforward humanity in general) turned pink; and the long-overdue defenstration of Enabler Clegg (to be consoled with a knighthood by the year's end) was the nearest we got to a Portillo Moment (although his Labour successor has proven - 'ow-you-say? - 'problematic').
Otherwise, it was more or less 'as you were'.
It was all amusing stuff for connoisseurs of Schadenfreude, but it was also heartily depressing for what it said about not only the quality of candidates on offer, but also about the soul-sucking vacuity of just about every occupant (or prospective occupant) of high office in this land.
What followed was the grubbiest act in recent Ukanian political history as the Conservatives - admittedly short of options because the Liberal Democrats would rather have eaten their own foot before they'd fall into that trap again - bribed ten MPs from the most extreme, racist, religiously-sectarian and hypocritical party left in the Commons ('hypocritical', because they scream "We urr Bruddush! We urr Bruddush! We urr Bruddush!", and then demand exemptions from laws which challenge their monoptical Presbyterian view of the world) in order to gain a semblance of a majority.
And what - now that the Tories had found another little orange tail to wag them (one which, moreover, proved that they were at least more honest than the Liberal Democrats by being bribable with mere money rather than status) - have we had since?
The same fuddle and muddle, the same wibble and widdle, the same hooting and looting that we had had over the previous twelve months. For the acolytes of The One True Way Out were not for allowing the existence of a mere bagatelle such as reality to impinge upon their Golden Dream. And so the obfuscations, the swift backtracking and the self-contradictions flowed like Friday night puke over the pavements of political discourse.
It was all about 'Brexit'.
The trouble was still as it had been before; no-one in any position to bear influence had any real idea what 'Brexit' was. The circular argument of "Brexit Means 57 Varieties Of Whatever You Wish It To Mean" was never going to have much mileage (let alone kilometrage) when it came time to start actual serious negotiations over matters of substance with people who already had their stance thoroughly worked out. A sort of grinning desperation took hold of the ministers supposedly responsible for this field; but when one considers who those ministers actually were, the imminent collapse of the government's position - assuming they could ever work out what it was, of course - should come as little surprise.
So it was that David Davis, having promised the 'row of the summer' over the timetable for departure managed to cave in before all the Welsh clubs had been knocked out of European football competitions. He then went on to assure us that his department had undertaken any number between fifty and several million sectional impact studies, before refusing to let anyone see them, and then calmly admitting that the studies never existed in the first place (it has since been discovered that they do exist, but they read like the essays of a know-all eleven-year-old; those bits which weren't cribbed from Wikipedia, of course).
Likewise, the Disgraced Former Cabinet Minister Turned Disgraceful Existing Cabinet Minister Liam Fox continued to travel the world at the drop of the promise of a future non-executive directorship assuring us that, liberated from the shackles of Free Trade, Good Old Blighty would become a world-enlightening beacon of...Free Trade. This would have been risible even had Norway, Australia and Japan not already made it clear that they had no intention of playing footsie (or even FTSE) with him.
And the Foreign Body himself, the Howler Of The Removers, carried on being simply himself, with due emphasis on the 'simple', as he seemed determined to win the George Brown Memorial Footwound Award by his ridiculous conduct.
All of this - leading to the first instance in history of a climactic climbdown when May capitulated in toto to everything the continuity EU had been demanding for over eight months - would, one would have thought, have led to the collapse of the government.
This is to reckon without the fact that the official 'opposition' - an increasingly uneasy alliance between centrist time-servers and bright-eyed young activists - was even more split than the governing party. A party which contained a few courageous souls who were willing to go against that Will Of The People (something which has hardened by now into a sort of religious dogma), but which at the same time contained hardened Out-And-Outers such as Kate Hoey and Frank Field, was never going to be a 'broad church' as much as it came increasingly to resemble a derelict chapel. The Labour Party's pretzeloid manoeuverings - which included refusing to debate the biggest issue of the day at their annual conference and three-line-whipping their MPs to vote with the government on even the most extreme of measures, such as the rubber-stamping of the power grab which Whitehall has launched against the devolved colonies - have meant that there has been no leadership for those who are not afraid to recognise the enormous perils of current policy, and no coherence in articulating any narrative other than a thoroughly cynical and self-serving one: how can we dish the Tories and get back into office?
So, we await the inevitable.
It's not as if there isn't anything else demanding urgent attention by 'our' legislators: in an atmosphere of national reverse Couéism, every day in every way things get worse and worse, whether it be the unfolding fuck-up of Universal Credit which is plunging ever-increasing numbers of our fellow citizen-consumers into penury, homelessness and despair; or the carving up of the health service (particularly, but not exclusively, in England) into bite-size chunks more easily digestible by American insurance companies and Richard Branson; or the stagnation of wages at a time when inflation is rising and interest rates are in the basement; or any number of other real crises which affect real people in real places in real time.
'Brexit' has, in effect, paralysed the entire Ukanian political process, making those famous and regularly-occurring instances of gridlock in the United States Congress look like a runaway experiment in fluid dynamics by comparison. No other subject may be discussed at any length, nothing else may be considered to be important or significant. And so the racially-motivated attacks continue, aided and abetted of course by the scummiest 'popular' press in the developed world (even Australians look on the likes of the Daily Mosley and the Extreme with undisguised distaste) with their branding of people who dissent from The Way with epithets which varied from the inane to the insane. The nastiest elements of the Right have been further emboldened, whilst those claiming to be on the Left have dithered between muted me-too-ism, meek acquiescence and meandering virtue signalling.
The rest of Europe will, of course, carry on. All the nonsense about "They need us more than we need them!" is precisely that; nonsense. The idea that a generally cohesive bloc of twenty-seven states of similar (or, at least, agreed) view was ever going to be seriously disadvantaged by the removal of one, sole, medium-sized state on its periphery which was unable to get a semblence of consistency within its own position was always a ludicrous proposition, all the vainglory aside. The rest of our continent will look on with a shaking of heads in sad regret, but will establish a new equilibrium and move ahead.
There is something which may undermine the future of the European Project® however, and it isn't the mardy strop of a formerly semi-detached participant in it.
It is - in a word - Catalunya (note spelling).
That that ancient nation, long since rubbed up the wrong way by a Madrid régime which had proved impervious to discussion let alone reason over a great many years, would seek to break the impasse by giving its people a clear opportunity to vote on independence had been a given since the results of the last election to the Generalitat in 2015, which produced a majority in favour of a referendum (although not quite a majority of pro-independence parties).
That this would incur the wrath of the Spanish state establishment - of hard right and fake left alike - was also inevitable, and the rattling of sabres could be heard from La Linea to the Pyrenees.
That Madrid would seek to stop the vote being held in the first place was no surprise to anyone, least of all the Catalans; this, after all, was how Spain had behaved towards them since time out of mind. That a politically-compromised Spanish judiciary declared the very holding of a vote at all to be 'unlawful' and 'unconstitutional' was only to be expected.
But the people of Catalunya held their vote anyway. After all, the decision to hold a referendum had been made by a democratically-elected parliament, and the consequent vote had a legitimacy to it which was unchallengeable except by means of force, be it judicial or otherwise.
So it was that, on October 1 2017, the people of Catalunya voted on the question of whether their land should be constituted as an independent republic. Or at least, they tried to vote. Forty-three per cent of them succeeded in voting and in having their votes tallied. A further seven per cent or so voted, but didn't have their ballots counted. The reason for this being the actions of the paramilitary goon squads which Madrid had sent in by the thousand (including - hilariously - on a commandeered cruise ship with a big picture of Tweety Pie on the side of it) to every part of Catalunya to try to prevent polling stations opening at all, and - where even they were unable to do that - forcibly to remove the ballot boxes and the voting slips they contained. Whether it was the one action or the other, it was carried out with a routine, arrogant disregard even for the safety of people who were - by the lights of Madrid - their 'fellow-citizens'.
Let's just remind ourselves of what was seen around the world on that Sunday of the Kingdom of Spain's commitment to freedom of expression and democracy:
By the day's end, about one thousand Catalan citizens had been hospitalised - some of them permanently maimed - simply for trying to exercise their most basic democratic rights. The Guardia Civil and the Policía Nacional were, it must be said, unbiased on the grounds of gender or age; they bludgeoned male and female, young and old alike.
Despite this, people voted, and produced a swamping majority in favour of the establishment of the Republic of Catalunya.
The Catalan government under President Puigdemont, mindful no doubt of the caveats around the result, held off on an immediate declaration of independence in order to give time for Madrid to enter into serious discussions. That this tactic caused doubts to be expressed by some of the pro-independence parties was an unfortunate by-product of that decision; but Puigdemont was playing quite a canny game. He recognised that the Rajoy régime was unlikely in the extreme - given the arrogant attitudes it had displayed in the preceding weeks, months and years - to take even the smallest steps towards compromise. He intended the world to see Spain's intransigence without ambiguity.
Three and a half weeks passed without any indication that Madrid was going to see any degree of sense, and so when the Generalitat met on 27 October the choice was clear: obey the popular mandate, or capitulate. By that time, too many people - in Catalunya, in Euskadi, in Galicia, in Spain and in the world beyond - had seen too much of the violent and vicious nature of the Spanish state for any backing down to be viable. By this time, two senior figures of the independence movement - Jordi Sànchez i Picanyol, president of the leading civil society group ANC, and Jordi Cuixart i Navarro, president of the cultural organisation Òmnium - had already been imprisoned without trial by the puppet courts of Spain on charges of 'sedition' (where, at the time of writing, they remain).
And so the Republic of Catalunya was proclaimed, despite a petulant walk-out by pro-Madrid parties.
The Kingdom of Spain's response was swift: the previously-unused Article 155 of the Kingdom's constitution was invoked; the democratically-elected government of Catalunya was overthrown and replaced by Rajoy's sidekick Sáenz (both representing a party which can't even get 10 per cent of the vote in Catalan elections); the democratically-elected parliament was dissolved and a completely unnecessary election called.
Worse was to follow. Over the succeeding days, eight members of that government were imprisoned without trial on various charges of 'sedition', 'rebellion' and 'misusing public funds' (this last count being particularly piquant given that hundreds of members and officials of Rajoy's party are under investigation for corruption). Four more members of the elected government of Catalunya, the President included, were obliged - in justifiable fear of their liberty - to flee to Belgium. This was another clever move by Puigdemont, in bringing the issue of Catalunya to the very heart of the European Union, where it would be more difficult for the apparatchiks of Euroland to ignore the repression which was going on.
For repression there was, as was seen in the subsequent weeks. Trapero, leader of the Catalan police (the Mossos), hailed as a hero by the Spanish state and its tame media only a few weeks before for his part in thwarting much of the terrorist attack on Barcelona, was charged with...yes, you've guess it...'sedition' for failing to enable Madrid's goon squads in their wrecking of the referendum. He had his passport taken from him and was dismissed from his job by the new army of bureaucrats and political catamites bussed in by Madrid who had by now taken complete control of the Catalan government. That same mob of impostors insisted on changing the language of the country's administration from Catalan to Spanish and, with the help of an electoral commission and a constitutional court which are mere toys of the Partido Popular and its even-further-right allies, removed the last shreds of Catalunya's formal autonomy.
As the official campaign of the imposed election proceeded, the actions of the Spanish state became more extreme, more overtly nasty. Unfortunately for Madrid's image, they also became increasingly inane and ludicrous. Banners saying 'Democracy' were ordered to be taken down; people whose homes were flying the independence flag had their addresses noted by Rajoy's goons, no doubt for future reference and possible charges of 'sedition'; schoolteachers were dragged in for questioning on the grounds of 'hate crime' (I wish I were making this up) simply for allowing their students to discuss what had happened in and around October 1; historic artifacts were looted by the Spanish state from a museum in Lleida; and - in a twist which no-one writing fiction about the actions of a mad tyrant would consider remotely viable as a plot element - the colour yellow was effectively banned because it was deemed to be 'pro-independence'.
In short, Francoism - a zombie cult never laid finally to rest by the compromised set-up of the modern Spanish state or by a supposedly 'mainstream' political party with its roots in the years of murderous dictatorship - had returned. Rajoy, looking to distract attention from his party's scandals, knew that Catalunya - whose inhabitants have long been detested by 'real' (or even 'Real') Spanish - provided him with the ideal opportunity for a diversion. Like in other internal-colonial states in Europe - France and Greater England, for example - he knew that waving the flag of 'one nation' Spanishness (which is merely an extension of Castilian exceptionalism) would play well not just with his own voter base but with a large proportion of the population at large. And so there was an upsurge in verbal and physical violence by far-right mobs, their demonstrations (including the singing of Falangist anthems and the giving of Fascist salutes) condoned by the very same powers who sought to brand peaceful manifestations by pro-independence groups as being 'rebellious' and suitable only for condemnation and prosecution. Spanish politicians from the Right and the self-styled 'Left' (such as the Iberian Blairites of the PSOE and the supposedly 'radical' Podemos) fell over themselves in their enthusiasm to talk of 'disinfecting' Catalunya and restoring 'normality'. The Borbonic Plague (the inbred Felipe of that tribe had made a nationally-televised speech of extraordinarily unstatesmanlike petulance) had been released and was spreading its hateful contagion in all directions.
And all of this - the imprisonment without trial of elected politicians and non-violent civil activists alike, the day-by-day denial of civic and national rights, the threats (veiled and unveiled) of physical or judicial violence against people whose 'crime' was to believe something opposite to the State's preferred narrative - was viewed with either approval or, at best, a complicit silence by politicians, administrators and media orifices throughout Europe.
Statement after statement from EU Commission President Juncker and his gofer Timmermans, from Council President Tusk, and from such supposedly liberal parliamentarians such as Guy Verhofstadt, either declined to allow themselves to get involved in trying to negotiate a better way through the issue or - more emetically still - came out in full support of the repression which was taking place in Catalunya.
The rationales given were, to put it kindly, unconvincing. Firstly, it was the issue of the supposed 'unconstitutionality' of the referendum itself. Then the 'Rule Of Law' was cited, followed by the claim that the result of the vote was not legitimate because the turnout was only 43 per cent.
In the first case, the vote's supposed 'unconstitutionality' is due entirely to the Spanish constitution making it totally impossible for any such vote to take place in any circumstances (in clear breach of the founding documents of the United Nations); this added to the fact that the Constitutional Court is an entirely bought body, with ten of its twelve members being political appointees. In the second instance, the 'Rule Of Law' is always trotted out by those of an authoritarian and cowardly bent; remember that Stalin's purges, the Sho'ah and Apartheid were all totally lawful at the time they were implemented. And, thirdly, the pro-independence share of the vote on that 43 per cent turnout was so large that it would have taken a turnout of near to 80 per cent, with all of the extra votes being against independence, to flip the result towards Madrid's preferred outcome.
And nowhere in Europe's governments - with the honorable exception of the Prime Minister of Estonia - was there a voice to be heard to condemn even the most egregious breaches of fundamental rights by the Kingdom of Spain. Some parliamentarians - and some devolved administrations - did voice concern or distaste for what was going on. But they were never going to be heard beyond their respective chambers, let alone in Brussels or Madrid.
This is why what has happened in Catalunya since late September is more of a threat to the European Project® than 'Brexit'; because it has laid bare the hypocrisy and opportunism of those who have constantly claimed high values but - when empujón came to empellón - betrayed those self-same claims by their silence, their words, or by their lack of the right ones. So, when Verhofstadt - rightly quick off the mark to decry the spread of Fascist sentiment in Poland and Hungary - openly sided with Rajoy, all many of us could do was to gape in astonishment at so cynical a betrayal.
The corporate media played their part in all this, of course. As conduits to and from power, their owners, editors and hacks knew that it would not redound to their material benefit if they were seen to be espousing values at odds with those of the élites they needed to suck up to. First of all, they tried ignoring what was happening altogether; the BBC scarcely mentioned the story for days either side of the referendum. This tactic having failed - due in no small part to people on social media asking them why they were being unusually silent on so large a story - they turned instead to slanted reporting. Some were more overt with it than others, but all of them used the standard tropes for discrediting inconvenient realities; the referendum was 'illegal' and 'unconstitutional' (even scholars of Spain's constitution were not unanimous on that point); the result was 'invalid' due to the turnout (the reasons for which - namely people being understandably reluctant to have their heads stoved in by a Guardia Incivil running amok - were never mentioned); and then the describing of the supporters of independence as 'separatists', always a loaded word in the English lexicon. One BBC reporter described President Puigdemont "...bolting to Brussels.", and other hacks routinely called him 'a fugitive'. Few if any of the corporate media tried very hard to present even a semblance of balance.
So we came to 21 December with the fear that all the pressure, all the threats, all the bullying would pay off, especially as Madrid had handed the contract for tallying the votes to a company with strong links to the Partido Popular.
The people of Catalunya - who have, remember, never resorted to a single act of force or violence during the whole of the six years or so that they have been trying to engage Madrid in polite conversation - once again surprised the more cynical of us. On a turnout of 84 per cent, the pro-independence parties retained their absolute majority in the Generalitat (for comparison, a similar result for the Greater England House Of Commons would give a majority of 20). More than that, the parties which are formally neutral on the subject of independence but which are in favour of a referendum won eight seats. That meant that the pro-referendum bloc now numbered 78 out of 135 seats (which would be the equivalent of a House Of Commons majority of 88 seats, which is a mandate in anyone's language...except possibly Spanish). The Catalunya branch of Rajoy's party was humiliated, ending in joint sixth place with just 4 seats.
It was that rare thing in these days; a genuine triumph for the democratic will.
Not that it will change anything much in the short term. The Madrid régime immediately stated that it was seeking to prosecute not only present independence leaders but their predecessors as well for...yes, 'sedition'; the European Commisson stated that it would never change its position (which led someone to ask pointedly just how big a victory would be needed for them to alter their stance); the by-now totally discredited Verhofstadt ignored the take-away from the election, preferring instead to congratulate the largest single party - a virulently right-wing pro-Madrid one which constantly votes with the Partido Popular; and the corporate media continued to defy the gravity of reality, with much continued use of the word 'separatist', a claim that the result was somehow illegitimate because the pro-independence parties didn't quite reach 50 per cent of the total vote, and with those true disciples of liberal values at the Grundiad claiming that both sides had behaved 'provocatively'. Yes, indeed, how terribly 'provocative' to stage a democratic referendum and win it by a country kilometre, and then win the subsequent election forced upon the country by colonial imposition. All of this being, of course, an attempt to delegitimise the result and its implications.
A brief (-ish) Digression at this point on the subject of the media in general - print and broadcast. In all 'controversial' areas of public and political discourse - climate change, 'Brexit', the referendums in Scotland in 2014 and in Catalunya this past year - it has become abundantly clear that journalistic and editorial standards have fallen to possibly their lowest state within recorded history. Kierkegaard apparently said that if he had a daughter who had been seduced, he wouldn't turn her away, but rather hope for her salvation; but that if he had a son who became a journalist, he would throw him out of the house. What would old Søren have to say about the Daily Mail? The Sun? An increasing proportion of the BBC's news coverage?
The crisis is real and dangerous. Especially as those who own and control the media - corporate or (nominally) public alike - seem to be blissfully, arrogantly unaware of the terrible consequences of what they are doing. They seem only to be able to operate on one of three levels of consciousness:
- They don't realise what they are doing
- They do realise, but continue in a state of denial
- They realise, yet believe that they will be able to go on in this way in perpetuity.
You may say that, in the end, it's only the hacks, editors and proprietors who will be the fall guys. But that isn't true at all. Because if journalists allow their much-vaunted 'standards' and 'ethics' to fall to the level where the public perception of them is as disillusioned and baleful as their view of politicians, then even when the hacks do what they are supposed to be there to do - tell the truth, tell truth to power, and hold the powerful to account - then their words, however powerful, however perceptive, will be viewed with a shrug by Joe and Joanne Public, who will say, "Wurl, they're just journalists, ain't they?". And the politicians - happy that there is finally a section of professional society which is held in even greater contempt than themselves - will increasingly be able to react to any news story which paints them in a bad light by shouting, "Fake News!", and continue as before. And that is a clear danger to the whole of society, for if a society is mal-informed - either because those who are charged with informing them think they can get away with any old tosh, or because they have allowed themselves and their 'profession' to fall into terminal disrepute - then that society has no earthly chance of making sane decisions. As we have seen all too often in recent times.
Back to the matter in hand. I stated that l'affaire Catalan is a greater threat to the credibility of the EU than 'Brexit' or the treatment of Greece could ever be. That is because it challenges those within the European political establishment to uphold firmly, audibly and visibly those 'liberal' and 'democratic' values they claim to hold dear. If they screw this one up - as it seems most of them are determined to do - then the EU will be shown to be on the side of states rather than nations, on the side of power rather than people. That will increase the disillusionment felt even by those of us who were previously quite firmly pro-EU, and lead us to consider the possibility that it is time to 'de-fang' the overtly political facets of The Project and accept that, while a trading bloc is a good idea, the fitting of so many states (and so many nations within those states) into a straitjacket is not such a sound notion after all.
Speaking of failing political unions which seem not even to be trying to live up to their oft-stated founding principles any more (and also speaking, for that matter, of straitjackets) brings me with a crash of inevitability to the Great Failed Experiment™.
The first year of the term of office of a vain and arrogant (even by recent presidential standards) oaf as Colander-In-Chief was always going to be quite a ride. And yet, for all that Trump was deemed to be an unknown quantity simply because he was from outside the standard Beltway pattern, the events of the opening months of his reign could have been predicted, and were indeed predictable. And so we had the appointments to positions of influence in the Administration of extreme right-wing squawkboxes like Bannon and Gorka and the filling of departmental positions with people who were not so much unsuitable as they were openly inimical to the stated purpose of the organs of state they had been put in charge of.
That it all started unravelling almost immediately might be read by the more optimistic as an endorsement of the strength of the Constitution and the famous 'checks and balances' contained therein; but none if any of the defenestrations which have taken place since January has occurred because of such formal restraints; rather, they have happened because of bad publicity and the attendant threat to the President's own ego, as he runs government as if he were still on the US version of The Apprentice.
All of these are natural and inevitable manifestations of Fart-Euphemism's toddler-like self-centredness and random petulance, typified by the constant Tweeting he does (and has anyone worked out yet what the fuck 'covfefe' means?). This, however, has meant that his remarks (they are too random and scattergun to be dignified with the word 'statements') have had to be 'walked back' so often that the White House press office could now compete on strong terms in one of those strange races in which people run backwards at speed. And with the same likelihood of their being creamed by a Walmart delivery truck (Trump has gone through press secretaries like Zsa Zsa Gabor went through husbands; the current one bears, confusingly, the surname of 'Huckabee-Sanders', thus uniting two conflicting strands of US politics in one convenient - if confusing and terminally vacuous - package).
Yet all of this, along with the arrogance shown towards the rest of the planet - as if all the world is still Washington's and Wall Street's plaything - is nothing new in itself; it has merely continued the pattern of conduct and attitudes which could be perceived in most of the US administrations going back to Truman. It's simply that - due to a combination of that 'king of the castle' attitude and the total inexperience of Trump and those he has placed around him - they see no need to hide it.
And that's quite refreshing in a way, although most of those who voted for him still haven't had their eyes opened to the fact that what long lay concealed (and about which they griped incessantly) is now being made manifest to such a degree that even Fox 'News' has occasionally rolled its eyeballs at Trump's blunders.
Digression Number Two brings me to the issue which is being touted as the most significant surrounding the current administration: Russia.
That Russia may well have sought to influence the result of the 2016 election is, I concede, a real possibility. After all, if the choice was between a candidate who was (as far as one could tell) in favour of at least a degree of rapprochement with your country, and one who seemed hell-bent on encircling and attacking it, it would be rather foolish not to avail yourself of any plausibly-deniable opportunity to sway things. And it isn't as if it couldn't have happened before, and it certainly isn't as if the US had never done that to Russia amongst many other perceived challengers to its sense of dominance (the support, practical and propaganda-wise, to the 1996 re-election campaign of the crooked drunk Yeltsin being a particularly germane case in point).
As to the links between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, attention seems to be concentrating on potential business links between Tribblehead and the supporters of his opposite-number-in-waiting. Again, this isn't exactly new; American businessmen - and politicians, for that matter - have been engaging in discussions with their Russian equivalents for years.
So why the fuss? Partly because of the US Democratic Party not merely failing but actively refusing to admit that they lost the election through their own fault, by picking the worst possible candidate in the circumstances after fiddling the nomination process in her favour. Mature losers accept their defeat, internalise it, learn and move on. Immature losers, on the other hand, look desperately around for someone or something else - anyone or anything else - to blame for their own failings; hence the wretched mea non culpa issued in book form by Clinton during this past year. Russia has provided a convenient scapegoat for the DNC and its media groupies, with the added advantage of being able to play on deeply-embedded prejudices inculcated into the minds of Their Fellow Americans since the Cold War and, indeed, right back to 1917.
This trope has by now, of course, been circulated around the so-called 'free' world, so that the whole of the 'Western Alliance' is now aiming its rhetoric, its propaganda and its weaponry at Moscow, including troop movements and 'exercises' right up to Russia's borders, a particularly provocative act considering the clear within-living-memory experience that land has with murderous invasion from its west.
It should be taken as read that Vladimir Vladimirovich is a thug, and a cunning one at that (he's an ex-KGB man, rememember?). But he isn't stupid; he knows the limitations of his country's forces and he therefore has no interest in an overthrow of the existing structures in the rest of Europe. To attempt to do that - even covertly - would seriously risk discovery and ruin.
Meanwhile, back on the ranch...life in the Untried Stats has carried on much as before: black people - young and old - are still being gunned down in the streets (or even their own homes) by race-warrior cops who know that - with very few exceptions - they have total impunity from their superior officers, from the political establishment and from the courts; the despoilation of the environment continues at an accelerating pace, with the concomitant 'natural' disasters inevitable from such a course of action; the statehouses are still full of corporate shills and catspaws who know that - from the point of view of their own enrichment - Things Go Better With Koch; the Congressional Republicans - for all they may grumble about the putz they have in the White House - would still rather have a lousy GOP-per there than a principled Democrat (should such an exotic creature still exist, of course); and the rise and rise of the so-called 'white nationalists' (or, in just-plain-folks-speak, 'racist fuckwits') and their acts of provocation and terrorism - none of which has drawn more than fake condemnation from the Prince of Orange - continues.
The odd good thing happened, for all that. The terminal disappointment that was Barack H. Obama at least managed one act of simple humanity before he left to spend more time with his ghost writers when he commuted the remainder of the sentence of Chelsea Manning, who was finally released from her tortuous and torturous confinement in May after over seven years.
And Judge Roy Bean...sorry, I mean Judge Roy Moore lost his bid for membership of the US Senate in Alabama. This was good news on two fronts: it prevented Moore from raising the Imbecile Quotient of Congress by a good few percentage points; and it stopped any possibility of the senior wranglers of the Democratic Party thinking, "Hey, perhaps the only sure-fire way to win elections in the south is if we became a party for racist perverts as well!". It must be borne in mind, however, that even with a candidate as appalling as Moore, nearly half of those who voted still wanted him to represent them. In the USA today, just like it has been for forty years or more at least, party loyalty is considered more important than character; Republican voters will still support racist, misogynist, homophobic, theocratic nonces, much like Democrat voters will still come out and cast their ballot for war-mongering Wall Street fellators and fellatrices.
Talking of unspeakable acts, my Third (and, I promise, final) Digression concerns the Niagara (or is it 'Viagra'?) of scandals in and around politics, the arts and the media during 2017 which involved men (almost entirely) having got rather more than hands-on with their colleagues and underlings (mostly, but not exclusively, female) over a long period of time.
Now I appear to be at something of a disadvantage on the topic, because - possibly as a sign of my getting old - unlike the shenanigans we had got used to, which involved DJs and entertainers from a bygone era, I have to confess to recognising hardly any of the names who have been fingered (if you'll excuse the term) in the last few months.
That the accusations (and let it be borne firmly in mind that that is all they are at this stage) have been made against apparently significant figures in sport, the arts, media, politics and academia, and that those accusations have come gushing out now, leads me to ask myself the key questions which one has to pose in order to prevent oneself from merely joining in with what that famous 'everyone' who is invoked at such times is deemed to think: firstly, why now? After all, nearly all the stories we are being deluged with relate to things which happened some time ago; and, secondly, what might we be being distracted from in the 'real' world by all this coverage?
The first question may be answered uncontroversially enough: once the big story - that of Harvey Weinstein (and why, while we're here, is the first 'ei' in his name pronounced 'I' but the second one pronounced 'ee'?) - broke, then those who had previously and understandably felt intimidated into silence by the eminent positions of their alleged abusers realised that they were not alone, and began to recount their own experiences.
There is a more contentious answer however, in that what has followed often appears more like the sort of 'pile-on' tactic deployed in playground fights; once the main rumble has started, others join in so as not to feel left out. There has even been a Twitter hashtag created with the name #metoo to encourage this. What this does, however, is to drown out the evidence of the genuine victims of powerful-on-powerless sexual oppression in a burst of static or similar interference beamed across the planet by the transmitters of Radio Free Entitlement, which broadcast around the world, around the clock on social media.
This leads to the impression in the minds of the more cautious or sceptical of us that we are witnessing a form of witch-hunt, with every grandstanding self-described feminist and opinion-column warrior turning themselves into the digital-age equivalents of Matthew Hopkins and seeking to hunt down every last bogeyman. And this all on the basis of mere accusation assuming the quality and force of proof.
That people's careers, livelihoods and even lives have been irreperably damaged on so flimsy (as yet) a basis should trouble the more thoughtful. It may seem that Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Damian Green (of whom one wag said that it was a pity to lose the only member of May's Cabinet of Mediocrities who had a firm grasp of his portfolio) and others have 'got what they deserve', but would you want to face the total destruction of all you are and all you have merely from someone saying something to the media? And you won't have people who - as the phrase has it - 'have your back'. You'll be on your own, with perhaps not even your family standing by you. In the same way that human rights and freedom of speech may seem to be protecting only dangerous arseholes or others of whom we may disapprove, those protections - along with the right to be considered and treated as being innocent until and unless properly proven guilty - have to be applied to them in order that we may have some guarantee that they will be applied to us.
No-one is likely to be well-served by such a process...
...except, perhaps, those whose intent in promoting and publicising these stories is to create a very useful 'moral panic' - particularly against 'celebrities' of various stamps - in order to distract us from what may be going on elsewhere which may be darker, more pervasive and ultimately more damaging to society as a whole.
That the media are fully on board right across the spectrum from the faux-liberal to the hard right should not be a surprise - or even much of a concern - to us. That is what they do and they do it for commercial reasons; nothing sells papers or generates ad-clicks quite like Famous Pervs. Except that those self-same organs seem unwilling or unable to probe far worse actual, provable crimes regarding the abuse, prostitution and even murder of children and young people in the UK by rings of serial nonces with connections to the upper levels of Greater England politics, judiciary, policing, commerce and the media, which has been going on for decades and to the bottom of which no official enquiry has ever got, nearly all of them having been nobbled in one way or another.
(A useful reference point here might be the blog of Dr. Sally Baker, although you might need to turn down the sensitivity of your outrage receptor in order to get through much of what she describes).
That we are being distracted from that - and from the further removal of our rights in general, our further immiseration whilst Those Wot 'Ave end up being given yet more - is more than a mere suspicion given what we know of the uses and aims of propaganda: when A Big Story breaks (such as a Royal betrothal/wedding/result of unprophylacticised shagging), it's always a good idea to look out for official statements and press releases being issued under cover of the barrage of incense; the most remarkably dishonest, thuggish or merely inconvenient acts may be concealed thereby.
I turn finally (and with a sense of relief which You, The Reader will almost certainly be sharing by this point) to those unregarded parts of this planet which appear in our hyper-developed Western consciousness only as news stories about which we can, it is assumed, do nothing.
In Latin America the re-assertion of the Washington Consensus continues, with another fiddled election in Honduras, the sidelining of progressive politics in Brazil, Chile and Argentina, the dismissive attitude of the US to its Puerto Rican colony being devastated by natural disaster, and the ongoing attempts to destroy any alternative way of doing things in Ecuador and Venezuela.
In Africa, we have seen the replacement of the corrupt Zuma as head of the African National Congress in South Africa with the even more corrupt corporate agent Ramaphosa; the further destruction of what is left of Libya; the mollycoddling of the military dictatorship in Egypt; and, of course, the final removal of Mugabe in Zimbabwe, his place being taken by someone who, for all the rhetoric, will be nothing more than another 'strongman' amenable to the forces of Euro-American financial power. And China is increasing its 'soft power' influence over much of the rest of the continent.
In Asia, Pakistan continues to be a failed state, India marches on to becoming in large measure a Hindu theocracy, Bangladeshi free-thinkers continue to be imprisoned and murdered, and Burma reminds us of two things: firstly that, contrary to the old hippie image, Buddhists are not necessarily nice or moral people; and, secondly, that Aung San Suu Kyi falls into the Wałęsa Class of people touted by western conservatives and liberals alike as being living saints, but who prove - once gaining actual power - to be no less ineffective, no less venal and no less extreme than those they once challenged.
And the Middle East goes on being the Middle East: Iraq continues to fracture; the Kurds are asserting themselves to greater effect (which also pisses off Turkey which, under Erdoğan, marches boldly on towards its own form of theocracy); Lebanon is riven by religious and racial tribalism; Saudi Arabia thinks that re-arranging the djellabas on the royal divan will fool people into thinking that anything has changed; and the Righteous State carries on its ethnic cleansing, the expansion of its illegal occupation and its constant bleating about 'anti-Semitism' whenever its numerous mis-deeds are pointed out.
And so, as dear old Charlie Chester used to say, "...there we are friends at home, overseas and over the borders."
So what of 2018?
Well, "So what?" might end up being the appropriate response at the end of it if recent and current trends continue. But let's try to visualise the next twelve months, shall we? Oh, what jolly fun!
In Greater England, the ramifications of 'Brexit' will become more apparent to more people. This will not necessarily lead to any major shift in The Will Of The People; indeed, it is more likely simply to harden the line of the hard-liners, and the denunciations of those who resist being dragged to the adjacent cliffs with the beastly buttonhooks of exceptionalist pig-ignorance are likely to grow increasingly shrill. The mood in Scotland is likely to harden in favour of a second referendum on independence once the deal (or lack of one) becomes clear. And in England's Oldest Colony, the potential formation of a new political party committed to a firm pro-independence stance may possibly shake our raddled and rancid political culture out of its torpor.
In Europe, the departure of the most backward-looking member state will cause a few ripples across the EU, but the real waves may come from what happens in Catalunya, with the Spanish régime being many times more likely to double-down on its oppressive arrogance than it will be to open serious negotiations on its future relationship with one of its 'autonomous' communities. This will leave the EU Commission and Council in a bind largely of their own tying: do they try to maintain their pretence that it is merely an 'internal matter', or will pressure from civil society and the more aware members of the Parliament force them to make some sort of a stand for the values they claim for themselves?
In the Untied Stoats, Trump's new tax plan will begin to be felt even if its architect might not still be there at the end of the year. Such an outcome is, however, merely possible rather than likely; once the worst of the frothing from Democrats and their media buddies about Russia is shown to be a combination of special pleading and wishful thinking, it is only the President's own bumbling which is likely to unseat him, especially if the Congressional mid-terms go strongly against the Republicans.
And in the rest of the world? Palestine will continue to simmer and frut, Russia will continue to play a canny game and China will just get quietly on with buying friendships.
Let me end what I intend to be the last of these interminable annual excursions with a few upbeats.
First off is one of the most moving and inspiring things I saw in 2017; a collection of pro-independence citizens along with a thousand-strong assembled-on-the-spot orchestra singing and playing the Catalan anthem in a square in Barcelona a few days before the referendum (unfortunately, the beginning of the first verse is missing):
Next is my sporting moment of the year. It comes from the semi-final of the Thailand Cup. The score after extra time was 2-2. The penalty shoot-out had got to 19-19 (!) when one of the goalkeepers comes up to take a kick. It ain't over till it's over, as the defending keeper discovers (and full marks to the referee and linesman for keeping their eyes on the ball):
And finally, my media moment of the year, which is also sport-related.
To set the scene: it's the commentary box of BBC Radio's Test Match Special; it's at The Oval in south London at the end of July during one of England's matches against South Africa. The England batting legend Geoffrey Boycott is summarising alongside the Corporation's chief cricket correspondent Jonathan Agnew. During a lull in play, Agnew reads out a press release from the International Cricket Council which casts doubt on Boycott's record, particularly the location of his hundredth first-class century. What follows is one of the classic Test Match Special moments; indeed, one of the great radio moments of recent years:
That 'Aggers' managed to straight-face the whole thing for nearly nine and a half minutes means that I certainly wouldn't want to play poker against him.
Happy New Year.