Today is the big day of elections throughout the UK.. London Mayor, governments in Scotland and Wales and Northern Ireland.. and local elections in England (not for an English parliament because there still isn’t one, as there would be in a truly federal UK).. I wonder if it says on the ballot paper rules “I’ll vote for the candidate who will agree to tell the truth”… as in my Duty of Parliamentary Veracity Bill… Until we get truth lodged as a legal as well as moral duty among politicians, I suspect that the same old cycle of promises, disappointments and corruption will continue.. For example the Scottish National Party promised that the recent Independence Referendum would be “once in a generation” and then reneged on that sworn pledge… So there is no truth in them, merely blackmail and political opportunism..
I suppose in my own politics I remain at heart a liberal internationalist, in the liberal Hegelian tradition of Lord Acton, Lord Haldane, Pierre Trudeau and Gladstone, and so I mourned the death of Charles Kennedy, who had so much more to give the British people and the Scots in particular. To be even more precise about my “politics” I suppose you could say that I am cultural conservative, a social liberal and a personal green. I did a great deal of research at the time of his death on the inner history of the SNP and discovered that their founders included some rather unpleasant anti-Semites, who wanted to create a separate Scotland by breaking up the UK, because “Westminster was run by the Jews”, and the Labour Party was too much “run in the interests of world Jewry”. The figure who took this line most powerfully, and who was chair of the party at a critical time, and who wrote its fundamental constitution, was a professor of law at Glasgow University called Andrew Dewar Gibb (1888 – 1974). As the Dictionary of National Biography puts it: “Gibb’s view of politics has been described as elitist. Discussing the leadership of the Scottish Party in 1930 he emphasized to the duke of Montrose that ‘the rank and file require to be guided, instructed and shepherded towards the proper course’ (Finlay, Independent and Free, 95). He also embraced a racist conception of Scottish nationalism, considering that inter-war Scotland was in ‘eclipse’ as a result of the combination of large-scale emigration and the ‘influx’ (for which there was no statistical evidence) of what he perceived to be an inferior people from Ireland. This was an identifiable current of thought in right-wing circles in Scotland in this period, also being expressed by leading figures in the Presbyterian churches. The Irish were also condemned for lending their electoral support to the Labour Party, which made its breakthrough in Scotland in 1922. This hostility to left-wing politics led Gibb into even more dangerous territory in the late 1930’s. He expressed ‘admiration’ for Hitler and Mussolini, even praising Hitler’s Jewish policy and condemning communism as ‘too largely Jewish in origin’ (ibid. 197–8). It was what he regarded as the rapid leftward lurch of the National Party that led to Gibb’s resignation from its chair in 1940. Despite these views he was not of the wing of the Scottish National Party that opposed the war and he did not approve of the party’s policy of exploiting the electoral truce and contesting by-elections.” He spoke approvingly of Hitler and Mussolini’s policies towards the Jews in the 1930’s and generally set the tone of anti-Semitic anti-Englishness which had characterised the SNP position ever since, if you did a little deeper under the surface. Two things the English are not, on the whole, are xenophobic and exceedingly nationalistic in their own turn, and whereas the BNP have received very little support in English mainstream politics, I have always found it very odd that the SNP are tolerated as if they are broad mainstream and tolerant party. Their anti-Englishness and anti-Semitism however have masked a much more dark and dangerous project – breaking up the UK in the interests of narrow minded racial-nationalism and ethnocentrism. This same figure (Andrew Dewar Gibb) was also virulently anti-Roman Catholic – another sentiment I cannot subscribe to, being far too well travelled, and too international a person to “hate” the main international body of Christians worldwide, as he did. All this is however kept from the British people as a whole by the mainstream media – why? Is it because the Director General of the B.B.C., Lord Reith, held similar sentiments himself back in the day ? Certainly he also equivocated about Hitler and Mussolini, and seemed somewhat anti Semitic in his day – which was why he kept Winston Churchill off the airwaves until he became Prime Minister – because Churchill had uncompromisingly anti Nazi and Anti fascist views, and was warning of an impending world war – and this was something the BBC did not want its listeners to realise, until it was almost too late. In fact, it was in 1938, that lord Reith left the BBC. He was invited by Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain to become chairman of Imperial Airways, the country’s most important airline and one which had fallen into public disfavour because of its inefficiency. By then Britain was seriously rearming and Reith’s views were probably regarded as out of fashion. In 1975, excerpts from Reith’s diary were published which showed he had, during the 1930s, harboured pro-fascist views. On 9 March 1933, he wrote: “I am pretty certain … that the Nazis will clean things up and put Germany on the way to being a real power in Europe again. They are being ruthless and most determined.” After the July 1934 Night of the Long Knives, in which the Nazis ruthlessly exterminated their internal dissidents, Reith wrote: “I really admire the way Hitler has cleaned up what looked like an incipient revolt. I really admire the drastic actions taken, which were obviously badly needed.” After Czechoslovakia was invaded by the Nazis in 1939 he wrote: “Hitler continues his magnificent efficiency.” Reith also expressed admiration for Benito Mussolini. Reith’s daughter, Marista Leishman, wrote that her father in the 1930’s did everything possible to keep Winston Churchill and other anti-appeasement Conservatives off the airwaves. So is it any wonder that today’s BBC prefers scheduling endless banal comedy shows and politically correct trivialities, rather than address the history of anti-Semitism in British political thought ? No wonder the darker secrets of the SNP get such an easy treatment from them.
So why then have the Scottish people endorsed the SNP view of reality ? There are complex reasons. one is purely apathy, people cannot be bothered to find out about politics, so just vote with the pack and do what the media tell them to. Another is that this darker history has simply been kept hidden from them. Even most ardent SNP members won’t know these facts about Gibb and the kind of anti Semitic politics he espoused. The second is that nationalism always appears attractive – it’s got a kind of simplistic logic that appeals to people in difficult circumstances. It’s a descendent of ancient tribalism. Our lot against your lot. The SNP have managed skilfully to capitalise on anti Conservative sentiment, inheriting this trick off the Labour Party. Another reason is that anti-Semitism always had a magical undercurrent to it. The Nazi and Fascist parties In Germany and Italy attracted many magical romantics who wanted to create utopia on earth – figures like Julius Evola and Alfred Rosenberg evoked magical fascism as a kind of Western spiritual tradition that should oppose materialism (Marxism) and Judaeo-Christianity. Some of their reincarnations seem to be alive and well and living in Scotland. Not for nothing did Rudolf Hess try and get to Scotland to end the war, because he felt a kinship with the whole Scots myth of Romantic Nordicness. However, there is another tradition in Scotland and the UK, of magical philo-semitism, which instead of wanting the destroy the semitic and Jewish roots of British and European civilisation, affirms the complex Judaeo-Christian-pagan esoteric heritage which we all share. Which does not seek to divide and separate, but rather to unite and affirm. Fortunately there are some other marvelous folks here in Scotland who keep this kind of tradition alive as well. Fortunately there is a Druid Council of Britain, to which I have the honour of being the Peace officer, which tries to keep alive this more magical tradition of inclusivity. But the message of love and inclusive universalism is always more difficult to convey that the message of hatred against the “other”. I imagine this was why Charles Kennedy felt so sad towards the end of his life, when he was getting hate mail from nationalists, and couldn’t see how to revive the flame of inclusive toleration and wisdom from its sputtering out.
Bu the existence of anti-Semitism in the historical formation of the SNP shouldn’t surprise us too much; recent revelations about Labour Party anti-Semitic attitudes are also a fact of modern political reality in the UK; even the Conservative party housed its anti Semites in the 1930’s. Sir Samuel Hoare, Lord Templepwood, for example, was Director of the Rome branch of MI5 during world war one, and recruited Mussolini, then an unknown socialist journalist, to work for MI5 and gave him an allowance of 100 pounds per month, then a huge sum. This enabled Mussolini to launch his Fascist movement and take over Italian politics. Lord Templewood went on to become Foreign Secretary, and his role in sponsoring Mussolini has only just come to light in the long buried archives beloved by historians. This is not to say, by the way, that Hoare was anti-Semitic – only that his policy had unfortunate consequences for the Jews of Europe. Conservative attitudes have been studied in Conservative Party Attitudes to Jews 1900-1950 by Harry Defries, which was first written as a PhD thesis for the University of London.
So the question I would like to ask is: what would a politics based on love look like ? Would it be nationalistic, or internationalist ? Would it be intolerant of the other, or would it embrace discourse, paradox, reason, dialectic ? One might argue that a politics based on love would look something like Christianity, but what kind of Christianity ? Or from a Buddhist perspective, one could argue that a politics based on love and compassion would take the Will to Enlightenment seriously. It would always prioritize education over armies, and books, libraries and universities over weapons of destruction. It would put the love of wisdom at the heart of human rights – the right to wisdom surely is at the root of all other rights.
It is not my duty to advise people how to vote, but it is advisable that people should vote. Democratic rights to vote, especially for women, were won dearly, over many centuries. And although we can say it doesn’t change anything, since all politicians are corrupt and dishonest, then at least one can vote for the party or politicians that seems less dishonest than the others. Many politicians are pretty hardworking and genuinely do their best to represent their constituencies, and to advance their own vision of what is the best for their country.
And what kind of love should one’s politics be based on ? Love of power and status, or love of the people, love of nature, love of Spirit, love of God/Goddess, love of the Land ? Love of wisdom ? Love of truth ? Love of family, love of self ? Or all of the above ?
How we can have a politics of peace based on an inclusive vision of spirituality that embraces all the diverse faiths of this country (a microcosm of the planet) and seeks to bring out their best parts, their most positive and visionary aspects, in a way that can provide hope, courage and example to all of us alive now, living through difficult times ?
How can we find a political discourse that is less about divisiveness and more about cooperation, less about point scoring and more about truth telling ?
One final reflection: to become a teacher, a doctor, or a judge, a lorry driver, or a ship’s captain, or an airplane pilot, one has to spend years of intensive study, and to pass all kinds of tests and exams, and to then have one’s career constantly scrutinised and monitored by professional bodies. Yet the only profession in our modern world that has no qualifications, no monitoring, and is not accountable whatsoever for errors of ethics and decisionmaking and which is not even required to tell the truth, is the profession of being a politician, who nevertheless claim the right to monitor, scrutinise, punish, tax and fine all the rest of us. Why is this ? Are they so much more intelligent and moral than judges, teachers and doctors ? More capable than airplane pilots and ship’s captains ? In my opinion, before you can stand as a politicians at any level of governance, and put yourself forward for election, you should have been required to pass a basic test in political ethics; this would include basic instruction in the history of political philosophy, an introduction to democratic theory, to the history of the British constitution (including its regional histories), studies of parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy, an introduction to European Union constitutional frameworks, set in a global context. One would have to prove familiarity with the basic texts of British, European and global political philosophy. Finally, one would have to swear an oath of honesty, that one would tell the truth in all matters of governance and policy that come before one. Then and only then one could become a licensed politician and stand for election. If you are found to have lied, then your license is withdrawn.
I think this is a basic update on Plato’s idea when he set up the academy in Athens, as a training place for the political leaders of Athens and the wider Greek world. But it is one that is sorely overdue. Until our political leaders are better educated and learn to tell the truth, we will continue to stumble on from one crisis to the next, it would appear.
But then what do I know ? I’m just an academic and a lover of the Muses, a philosopher and a poet, after all…