In anger and sorrow

Letter/email from our colleague Richard Haviland of Highland4Europe to spread as far and wide:

Dear friend or family member,

If you’re receiving this email, you’re somebody I like, value and respect (even if I haven’t seen you for years).  So I hope you’ll do me the favour of reading it and thinking about it, even if you wildly disagree with me. It concerns you whether you’re right or left, pro or anti-Brexit, or for or against Scottish independence, as it transcends all those things.  It also concerns you if – perhaps especially if – you’re non-political or just fed up with politics. I don’t find it easy to send, but – to use a cliche – I really do want to be able to look my children in the eye one day and tell them I did all I could.  

Quite simply, we have a government in the UK that, though democratically elected, is not democratic in practice. It beggars belief that the UK is now being spoken of overseas as a rogue state, even a failed state. But the truth is that the government is dismantling our democracy at great pace, using a variety of techniques. These include:

  • seeking to make itself all-powerful by attacking and undermining all the institutions – Parliament, the legal profession, journalists, the Civil Service – whose role it is in a healthy democracy to hold it to account and constrain it; 
  • lying as a matter of course. I don’t mean the usual spin, obfuscation and occasional lying of which all political parties are guilty. I mean lying day in day out, almost as a matter of policy; saying A is B and B is A; dealing with inconvenient facts by denying them and inventing alternative ones; until it becomes so constant that we have trouble separating truth from fact, and we end up barely noticing it;
  • speaking relentlessly in propaganda and slogans that mean little but are highly effective at closing down debate, dividing people into friends and enemies, and giving the impression that deeply complex issues are extremely simple;
  • seeking to put itself beyond the law, through its actions, through its language about judges and lawyers, and – now – by introducing legislation which, if passed, will break international law. It’s hard to over-state how catastrophic this is for our reputation overseas, and how much it undermines our authority and credibility.
  • appealing to the ugliest kind of nationalism so as to foster a sense of “us against the world” and enable it to label all those who oppose it as unpatriotic – in so doing casting itself and the plucky Brits for ever in the role of victims.  

This may seem all a bit distant and esoteric, especially when we have coronavirus to worry about. But a government that can’t be held to account is a government that can do what it wants to whom it wants. The worse this gets, the more it will affect us all personally. It will make us poorer. It will make us all less safe.  Corruption – both of power and financial – will seep into the national bloodstream. And, as long as this government remains in place, it will keep our society divided and unhappy, poisoning the well and reopening divisions whenever it feels under attack.

If this all sounds a bit radical and extreme from me, it’s because what is happening to us is radical and extreme. The biggest danger to us is our apathy and our complacency – we wrongly think these things can only happen elsewhere. The classic metaphor for this collective inability to see danger approaching is that of the boiling frog. Put it in tepid water, then gradually increase the temperature to boiling, and it won’t notice the danger until it’s too late. We’re not at boiling point, but we’ll get there if things continue on their current trajectory.  

So what can we do? I don’t have the answer. But I believe it can be stopped if enough people are aliveto what is happening, and do their best to make sure others are alive to it – hence this e-mail. Once you are alive to it, you should be feeling angryabout it. And anger, harnessed, can be a powerful thing.  Speaking personally, I’m not only deeply angry that this is clouding my children’s future, I’m equally angry that the elderly, who lived through the war years and saw what was built afterwards – however imperfectly – to try to strengthen liberal democracy, are now living out their days watching it all being destroyed.

So please, if this chimes with you, think about spreading the word to others – by all means share this message if you want to. If we all just shrug our shoulders, accept this as the new normal, and tell ourselves there’s nothing we can do, we have some very unhappy times ahead.