How low can we go?

It might just be a lunar thing.  Or at least, a mid bleakwinter association.  But I’m feeling low.

Events too have conspired to contribute to my mood.

I have purposely avoided the broadcast media coverage of the horrific events at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown in Connecticut.  I could not bear the way microphones were being thrust into people’s faces, especially traumatised children’s faces, seeking the instant reaction and the right package to keep the news rolling.  On an issue like this – in my view – the printed press beats broadcast hands down.  Yes, there’s some sensationalist front page coverage but also distant, respectful and considered analysis and presentation of the facts.

Which we must all force ourselves to read and to debate.  In a timely move, Kenny MacAskill, the Justice Secretary, has announced moves to curb the availability of air guns by licensing him.  It will take a brave vested interest in light of events in Newtown to oppose this move.

Alongside the debate on gun ownership, surely we must also consider more fully the role violence plays in our lives.  It has an all pervasive presence in the world of entertainment.  At this point, I admit that both my boys had plastic replica gun tat.  The wee chicklet in fact has an arsenal.  I temper my hypocrisy by only buying him wooden stuff from museums – viking axes, shields and the like.   And gave up trying to prevent the inlaws and outlaws buying blasters and the like.  But it’s there all the same.  And I vainly temper my hypocrisy and guilt by encouraging other influences in his life.

And when he and his pals are not on recces out in the garden and nearby streets, he can be found setting out huge war scenarios using plastic soldiers and equipment, some of it even inherited from his brother.  There is a real joy to be had in watching him at this kind of play.  It is meticulous.  It takes over the house.  I find soldiers in position in plants, on the stairs, perched on the TV, hiding below books and on top of speakers.  There is very little role play of actual fighting, it is all in the set up and the planning.  But still….

Even if I banned and binned the lot, I’d struggle to keep him free from violence.  Not when even the age-appropriate video games involve bashing up opponents and beating them by fair means and foul.  When many of the programmes on children’s TV involve humiliating friends at schools or cheating on your team mates.  And when movies, even at PG level, offer wrecks, chases and action, albeit often of the animated type.

We have created a childhood for our children that is brimful of adrenalin, which encourages a dog eat dog mentality, with little room for kindness, empathy and inclusion.  And all of it has to have as much bearing on the adults they become as the availability of weapons and indeed, the influence (benign or otherwise) of adults.

What kind of world do we want to live in?  What do we want to gift our children?  And what role does Scotland want to play in any or all of it?

These are the kind of questions that should surely be at the heart of the national conversation on our constitutional future.

Yet, last night, when all over the world, people were using twitter and other social media to show solidarity with the pain and suffering of bereaved families and a bewildered small, rural American community, there were the Yes and No camp frontlines.  So far buried in their own navel that even a tragedy of this size cannot tempt them from their self-absorption.

Who cares who said what to whom about the EU frankly.  Who cares if the Depute First Minister was on the back foot or the front foot on this issue.   The battle for our hearts and minds is currently being fought out as a point scoring exercise.  It is like playing a game of Scrabble with all contestants tallying their double and triple word scores at the end of the day and determining from the total whether they need to enter the fray the next day by thrusting or parrying.

The current tactics of both camps are built around the worst kind of politics where name-calling, petty insults, finger-pointing, belittling and verbal spats are seen as an acceptable way to conduct the discourse.  It is appalling.

And for some to suggest that just because 20 children and several adults lost their lives in the worst way imaginable means nothing to Scotland and that it’s fine to carry on as before turns my stomach.  Didn’t Scotland welcome the sympathy and tenderness expressed from some very surprising places when the terrible events of Dunblane occurred in 1996?  The eyes of the world were on us then too and the global community was keen to offer a handshake and a hug of comfort when we were struggling to come to terms with what had happened in our midst.  At the very least, we should return the favour.  Or have we lost all ability to work out what matters in our lives and in others?

It would appear that winning the game and the prize has become the all for too many protagonists in both camps.  And the purpose of what constitutional change might be about has been cast aside.   And if this is what people are like now, if this is as low as we can go now, what hope is there for the future?

This inability of Scotland’s body politic to treat politics as more than a game was exposed in cruel reality with the publication of an Audit Scotland report this week that showed despite record investment in health and in the face of commitments – by both our major parties – in recent years to tackle health inequalities, we have failed.  We have and are failing utterly to turn around the lives of those in our midst who need our support and action most.

And if we think things are low now for the most vulnerable in our society, they are about to get a whole lot lower when welfare reform comes to town and its measures start to bite.  Not just the poorest, but the wee bit poor, the nearly poor and thought they were no longer poor too.  Do our politicians have any answers or solutions to offer?  Who knows, for anyone who does cannot be heard above the din and clatter of our daily political and constitutional diet.

There are good people out there working away at crafting policy and practice which aims to change people’s lives.  But they are scarcely noticed.  And they are seen as an irritant and an inconvenient aside to the main course of politics served up daily by our leaders and their followers.

A diet which does not care whether children have been gunned to death.  Which does not pause to consider whether it might happen here – again.  Which ignores the big issues which affect the ability of our people to live decent lives.  And which prefers to use the misery of others only when it suits their own arguments.

It is politics of the lowest form.  And I fear it will get lower still.


7 thoughts on “How low can we go?

  1. To be honest I find the public outpouring of grief when these kinds of atrocities take place a bit stomach churning. It is too intrusive and presumptuous in a way. I know that maybe sounds horrible and it is probably the media that get to me more than normal peoples reaction. But it’s all incredibly shallow. Let’s share the grief for five minutes before moving into the sport.

    Plus kids get killed every day. Do we only care when it happens in small town America and is broadcast 24/7? Do these kids matter more because they are white and American and speak the same language as us?

    It’s all so pointless anyway. Americans are not going to change their gun laws because of what we think. If our opinions mattered and could infuence things gun control would have been brought in years ago.

    We are but spectators in this tragedy and to be honest is it not more decent to look away? This is for Americans to resolve after all.

  2. Everything has been brought into ‘celebrity’ status particularly in the media on politicians and on their own interviewers, if one can call them that. Honesty is missing in most walks of life at the top as self endearment is far more important in their own little bubbles.

  3. How many children have lost their lives in the Middle East, Asia etc in the past year? Past ten years? WE, our allies bomb schools. Yes we, as part of NATO do.
    “There might have been as many as 50 people in the school at the time of the blast, including children.”

    Why haven’t we put out thoughts to that? Why don’t we all stop what we are doing and sort that out rather than look the other way or worse, rubber-neck the horror?

    A young man with a gun enters a school and shoots American kids, their teachers dead in a country where apparently no war has been declared. We stop, watch in horror.

    A soldier sitting many hundreds or thousands of miles away puts on his uniform, his office kit, takes a seat before a computer screen and presses a button firing bombs from a drone hovering over a building full of people, Pakistani people in Pakistan. Adults, children die in their school, in a country where no war has apparently been declared. We carry on our lives as though nothing at all happened. No one stops to watch, few if any object it seems.

    What are we doing? Who are we? What are we? What are we saying? What are we doing?

  4. Davidsberry wrote:
    “…I put this down partly to the increasingly surreal dislocation from everyday life exhibited by MSPs, who operate on their own planet now, much in the manner that MPs have always done. I blame this on ‘The Invasion of the Spads’…”

    To which I would add – the vested interests of the civil service in the status quo. Anybody active in local politics on eg: housing or land rights would recognise the ‘Nanny Knows Best!’ atttude at Victoria Quay.

    While I hold no brief for certain large city councils on the Clyde, the suggestion to remove and nationalise local government, much as has been done for the Polis, will only intensify that dislocation of national politicians.

    Compare and contrast the noble sentiments in the Communities (damn, I did use that word!) Empowerment legislation and its unethical practice at local level.

  5. Agreed. We need one of the parties, or perhaps some non-partisans if the parties can’t manage it, to take a lead. Rational, logical debate where participants seek to learn from each other and reach consensus should not be an unrealistic expectation.

  6. I admire your blog because it is invariably thoughtful and full of good heart, posing questions deserving answers and generally moving the debate along. This one covers even more ground than usual.

    On violence and war paraphernalia for children we do differ. Those with well developed social consciences will probably agree with you. But I would argue that people—especially men—have a naturally violent side, just as they have a need to exercise or to compete. Giving such things expression may fulfill personalities and permit a balanced life, whereas their suppression may lead to a more twisted and irrational behaviour.

    Where I would agree is that these less civilised traits, however natural need to be balanced by developing the creative, the sympathetic, the more selfless, more human traits in order to make your contribution to humanity a decent one. But whereas your son could express his more pugnacious side in solitary play, this latter humanity can only be achieved through interaction with others.

    I have no firm knowledge of this but I suspect that Adam Lanza may have indulged in the former without adequate compensating balance from the latter, This is the basis upon which I wrote my own blog on the issue.

    When you move on to the point-scoring behaviour of both sides in the Yes/No argument, I find myself far more in agreement. I am uncomfortable with the tone and embarrassed by the ‘arguments’ issuing from both camps (partisan tweets and comments from non-staffers seem far more palatable and interesting).

    I put this down partly to the increasingly surreal dislocation from everyday life exhibited by MSPs, who operate on their own planet now, much in the manner that MPs have always done. I blame this on ‘The Invasion of the Spads’—bright, presentable but ultimately poisonous young politicos who make a career out of building postures into policies without the inconvenience of having to stick to anything as difficult as principles.

  7. A post that eloquently captures my own feelings on the last 24 hours too, influenced I’m sure by the fact that I’m also a parent of a young boy. The only other perspective I’d offer is one outside the safe litttle bubble we inhabit.

    Less than a couple of hours flight from here there are communities that experience this level of violence, and worse, on a daily basis. And they themselves are trying to leead their way out of it, a process that some of us are hugely privileged to try annd support.

    Here’s an example – eevenn in our darkest moments we shouldn’t forget that for some this sort of horror is just part of life.

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