The massive economic shock following the banking collapse of 2007–8 is the direct cause of the crisis of confidence which is affecting almost all the institutions of western representative democracy. The banking collapse was not a natural event, like a tsunami. It was a direct result of man-made systems and artifices which permitted wealth to be generated and hoarded primarily through multiple financial transactions rather than by the actual production and sale of concrete goods, and which then disproportionately funnelled wealth to those engaged in the mechanics of the transactions.
It was a rotten system, bound to collapse. But unfortunately, it was a system in which the political elite were so financially bound that the consequences of collapse threatened their place in the social order. So collapse was prevented, by the use of the systems of government to effect the largest ever single event transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich in the course of human history. Politicians bailed out the bankers by using the bankers’ own systems, and even permitted the bankers to charge the public for administering their own bailout, and charge massive interest on the money they were giving to themselves. This method meant that the ordinary people did not immediately feel all the pain, but they certainly felt it over the following decade of austerity as the massive burden of public debt that had been loaded on the populace and simply handed to the bankers, crippled the public finances.
The mechanisms of state and corporate propaganda kicked in to ensure that the ordinary people were told that rather than having been robbed, they had been saved. In the ensuing decade the wealth disparity between rich and poor has ever widened, to the extent that this week the BBC announced the UK now has 151 billionaires, in a land where working people resort to foodbanks and millions of children are growing up in poverty.
With the mainstream media employed entirely in diverting them from the true causes of their difficult lives, it is hardly surprising that ordinary people do not necessarily understand why a society has arisen where working hard does not enable them to work, eat and stay warm, and why the economic prospects of their children look so bleak. But they know that something has gone very wrong, they witness the vast wealth disparities of our unequal society and the deliberate dismantling of communal and altruistic public provision in favour of privatisation, and they feel contempt for their ruling classes, be they political, media or just wealthy.
The rejection of the political class manifests itself in different ways and has been diverted down a number of entirely blind alleys giving unfulfilled promise of a fresh start – Brexit, Trump, Macron. As the vote share of the established political parties – and public engagement with established political institutions – falls everywhere, the chattering classes deride the political symptoms of status quo rejection by the people as “populism”. It is not populism to make sophisticated arguments that undermine the received political wisdom and take on the entire weight of established media opinion.
Sometimes history appears to be approaching a pivot point, and then the weight swings back and nothing happens. But sometimes it does tip, and times such as these are times of great potential for change. I see hope, for example, in the upsurge of support for Green politics, and the happy convergence of popular political discontent with rising awareness over climate change. Jeremy Corbyn’s rise is in itself an example of the revolution in popular thought – that he is using the mechanism of one of the failed Establishment parties as his vehicle has both positive and negative consequences. In Scotland, of course, I remain anxious the revolutionary moment is being let slip and a new non-radical political class being firmly cemented into power, but retain an underlying confidence in the radicalism and will for self-determination of the Scottish people.
These are stirring times. The popular rebellion against establishment politics is continually portrayed as an unwelcome aberration. It is not – it is a reaction to massive corruption and outrageous inequality. Everybody should fan the flames of change.
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