Douglas Lumsden is an Aberdeen Councillor and the British Conservative & Unionist Party (BCUPS) candidate for the Aberdeen Central constituency in the 2021 Scottish Parliament elections. Douglas Lumsden is a Tory. From all outward appearances he seems content to be a Tory. There is certainly nothing to indicate that he is under duress. Douglas Lumsden seems pleased, even proud, to be a Tory in a nation where Tories are generally held in somewhat low regard. But perhaps not as low as the regard in which Douglas Lumsden holds the nation. It’s all relative.
As well as being a Tory, Douglas Lumsden is a British Nationalist. Which means his first loyalty is to the British state and the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define it. Note particularly the last of these – patronage. Douglas Lumsden is presently being given a bit of a boost up the ladder of a ‘rewarding’ political career courtesy of that patronage. From Councillor to parliamentary candidate is a big step for Douglas Lumsden even if he doesn’t win. And even if it is only the pretendy wee parliament in Edinburgh and not the glorious British one on the banks of the Thames.
Douglas Lumsden has come up with a wizard wheeze. I say Lumsden has come up with this wizard wheeze, but there’s a better than good chance that he didn’t. It’s likely that the idea first hatched in the mind of some lowly aide or assistant who, lowly as they might be, was still closer to the hierarchy than Douglas Lumsden and therefore able to inveigle their wizard wheeze into the party’s decision-making contraption. The wizard wheeze may well have come to Douglas Lumsden in the guise of a boon bestowed from above. A gift Douglas Lumsden knows he can’t refuse lest the British patronage spigot be turned off and his career in British politics ended prematurely.
What I’m saying is that Douglas Lumsden is indebted to the British Conservative & Unionist Party machine. He’s certainly not about to rock any boats in the backwaters of Scottish politics lest he not be permitted to sail the oceans of British politics. So, if some anonymous strategist delving in the bowels of the British Conservative & Unionist Party comes up with a wizard wheeze said wizard wheeze will be passed up a chain of people long enough and complicated enough to give each a modicum of plausible deniability until it reaches someone high enough in the organisational hierarchy to have nobody to pass it up to – because the risks involved in passing it upwards are greater than the risks of putting their initials on the wizard wheeze – so they initial it and start passing it back down the chain, with each recipient being mindful of the fact that this wizard wheeze wouldn’t be getting passed down to them unless it was the sort of wizard wheeze that those further up the chain thought might be a good wizard wheeze but not good enough to be worth risking one’s next serving of British patronage by owning. And so it goes until eventually the wizard wheeze is passed to someone desperate enough for that British patronage to be prepared to take ownership. In that sense, Douglas Lumsden has come up with a wizard wheeze.
Basically, he wants Aberdeen City Council to bypass Holyrood and seek funding direct from London. Or to be more precise his bosses in the party want him to say he wants Aberdeen City Council to bypass Holyrood and seek funding direct from London. They want him to say this not because they really want Aberdeen City Council to bypass Holyrood and seek funding direct from London – although actually they do but that’s not relevant here – but because they know that the suggestion will be met with howls of protest from their political opponents. Which essentially includes anybody who respects Scotland, Scotland’s people, Scotland’s democratic institutions and Scotland’s identity as a nation. As well as anybody who has a social conscience or even just a bit of fundamental human decency. They need a big row. Big rows can have unpredictable and unfortunate consequences for the individual at the centre of the storm. A patsy is required. Someone in a position to attract media attention but someone who is also disposable.
That’s Douglas Lumsden. Never heard of him. Prepare to pine for those lost days of blissful ignorance.
Let us set aside discussion of the merits of what we will henceforth and for convenience refer to as Douglas Lumsden’s wizard wheeze. I’m prepared to concede that arguments might be made for Aberdeen City Council bypassing Holyrood and seeking funding direct from London. Indeed, it would not be a wizard wheeze if no argument could be made for it. The people making these arguments are British Nationalists so the arguments needn’t be coherent or honest. They need only be marginally plausible. It’s not as if the arguments are going to be subjected to rigorous scrutiny by the British media. Or, for that matter, any scrutiny at all.
We can safely disregard those arguments as they consist almost entirely of the assortment of soundbites which came with the wizard wheeze when it landed in Douglas Lumsden’s lap. He need only string these soundbites together in some arrangement or permutation. The British media will do any heavy lifting involved in putting the wizard wheeze to its true purpose – which has nothing to do with Aberdeen City Council’s fiscal arrangements and everything to do with British state propaganda.
Nobody who keeps their head in its customary location rather than up their arse now denies that the British establishment is out to cripple or kill the Scottish Parliament. What they really want to kill is distinctiveness. Where there is distinctiveness there are almost inevitably comparisons. Comparisons have a tendency to expose deficiencies. Deficiencies have to be blamed on someone. That is pretty much universally regarded as a bad thing. One might consider trying to come up with a wizard wheeze whereby the deficiencies would be rectified. But one is suspicious of wizard wheezes for all the reasons given. Better to conceal the deficiencies by avoiding comparisons. Eradicate distinctiveness and there can be no comparisons. Job done!
It’s also about power, of course. Ultimately, everything is about power. Power is relative. Power takes many forms. Different forms of power have variable values according to context. In the context of British politics, Scotland’s independence movement is on the verge of being powerful enough to break the British state’s hold on Scotland and thus its status – real and imagined – on the world stage. The Scottish Parliament is, along with the Scottish Government and the Scottish National Party (SNP) – the institution through which the power of Scotland’s cause can be given political effect. It is the part of Scotland’s democratic applicationaratus that is vulnerable to British Nationalist assault. It is not (yet) feasible to prohibit the SNP. Even aided and abetted by the British propaganda machine the British parties’ tartan-bedecked operations have failed abysmally to return the Scottish Government to a safe pair of hands. British hands. So they are going for the Scottish Parliament. The heart of the beast. A relatively easy target as it exists only by the grace of the British political elite.
They could just abolish the Scottish Parliament tomorrow. Kites have been flown, however, and the portents for such a project are ill. Political rows such as that provoked by Douglas Lumsden’s wizard wheeze, are useful tools only to the extent that they can be controlled. Indications are that going in heavy and abolishing the Scottish Parliament would cause a row which could easily get out of control. Not to worry! The British political elite has been bringing down nations for centuries. They are adept in the dark arts of which wizard wheezes such as that attributed to Douglas Lumsden are a very small part.
The Thatcher regime is often ‘credited’ with economic and political maneuverings which in fact have been common practice for many decades in the realm of acquisitive capitalism. Perhaps it’s just a matter of scale. These things, too, are relative. It’s not the people who deploy a tactic as part of their everyday operations whose names come to be graced with the suffix ‘ism’. It’s the ones who deploy the tactic on a grand scale who lend their names to doctrines. So it is that the business tactic of destroying a rival operation by making it unviable is now regarded as coming under the rubric of Thatcherism. Thatcher’s regime didn’t do it first. But it did it biggest. In the words of the song, everything counts in large amounts.
Attrition is as good a word for as any for this tactic of weakening an opponent or rival by gradually undermining their power on the premise that the less power they have the more you have. It’s all relative. But the term ‘attrition’ may suggest a protracted process. In fact, such destructive processes tend to accelerate such that however slow thay may have been initially the final stages came flash by in the blink of an eye. This makes perfect sense when you think about it. The more power that is taken from an entity the less able it is to resist the taking of ever greater amounts of power. Until we wake up one day to find the entity gone. And immediately begin searching for someone to blame for its disappearance.
The trick is not to be seen to be doing what it is that you are doing. The media can help by portraying what you are doing as empowering for the entity being undermined. It’s just a case of constantly repeating that the thing being done is the opposite of what it is and denouncing more accurate descriptions as ‘false news’. The short attention span of the dumb beast that is The Public makes it fairly easy to manufacture ‘truth’. An example I particularly like is the ‘truth’ that the UK car manufacturing industry failed because the workers kept going on strike. A ‘truth’ which does not stand up to even cursory examination. But ask 100 people and you can safely venture a small wager that most of them will respond with the ‘truth’ manufactured for them by the media working on behalf of established power.
Another manufactured ‘truth’ is the one commonly summed as the idea that Scotland is too small, to poor and too inadequate to function as a nation. It doesn’t matter that nobody ever used those actual words. It is the perception they encapsulate that has done its pernicious work. To the point where even those who indignantly reject the notion that Scotland is not big enough, rich enough and capable enough to be independent still feel compelled to expend all their energies on an effort to oust this manufactured ‘truth’ and replace it with factual accounts. Factual accounts are boring. Taking on board a new truth requires effort. Few are prepared to make that effort even when they are uncomfortable with the manufactured ‘truth’ they’ve grown accustomed to.
Truth is relative. It depends less on the power of proof than on the power of persuasion. The British state – and established power wherever it is found – becomes the prevailing power only after first securing the means of mass communication and persuasion.
But I digress. Back to Douglas Lumsden and his wizard wheeze of proposing that Aberdeen City Council might bypass Holyrood and seek funding direct from London. This almost certainly isn’t going to happen. There are too many obstacles. The purpose is, in part, to create a row that will distract from what is actually being done and also to present something so preposterous as to make other things seem relatively sensible despite them being only slightly less insane. It’s not a sophisticated trick, but it almost always work. Or works well enough. If you are intending to lay off 2,000 workers then first start a rumour that 5,000 jobs are to be shed. Do this right and you might even get to be the hero who ‘saved’ 3,000 jobs.
There’s another trick used to manipulate a population’s perceptions. It is the trick of having things thought of as either unique or ubiquitous depending on circumstances. The purpose as ever being to have these things generally disregarded by the population. Something can either be a total one-off, so there’s no point worrying about it. These things happen from time to time. Moving on…. Or they can be so common as to be totally under the public’s radar. These things happen all the time. Nothing to be done about it. Moving on….
Consider, for example, job losses and bank collapses. It suits established power to portray the latter as unprecedented, unconnected occurrences regardless of how many precedents there may be for such occurrences or how strong may be the connections between and among them. The former, on the other hand, is presented as something so prevalent and perpetual as to seem like a natural force at work; and therefore something to which we need pay no more attention than we do to the falling leaves in autumn.
Douglas Lumsden is far from the first of his ilk to talk about bypassing the Scottish Parliament and thereby undermining all of Scotland’s democracy. I well remember David Mundell talking about “UK-wide common frameworks” and feeling the chill wind of direct rule stirring. Douglas Lumsden’s wizard wheeze actually serves the British propaganda machine in a number of the ways described here. It is outrageous enough to divert attention from what is actually happening while being sufficiently credible that it isn’t dismissed out of hand. Recall if you will the British propaganda machine overreaching during the 2014 referendum campaign with nonsense about aliens invading Scotland stripped of the protections provided by Nanny Britannia.
The direct funding proposal may be ridiculous. But it shouldn’t be regarded as a one-off gobbett of idiocy from a Tory/British Nationalist clown. It feeds into a narrative which may prove just as insidious as the idea that Scotland’s right of self-determination is subject to a British veto. It’s not the part of that narrative which makes headlines that we should worry about. What we should be concerned about are the parts of the narrative which unnoticed until it is too late, insinuate themselves into the regular political discourse. We must be wary of being led into discussing seriously things which not so long before we would have scorned.
When somebody says we need to ‘have a conversation’ about the direct funding from London of local government in Scotland then every alarm bell, siren and klaxon in Scotland should be triggered. It’s the things that may seem relatively inconsequential that we should attend to. There is every chance that they have been purposefully made to seem relatively inconsequential.
We must be aware. Unfortunately, awareness is also relative. People consider themselves relatively politically aware but fail to take due account of how low is the base from which they are measuring. One may be relatively politically aware and still miss most of what is going on.
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