We are living in exceedingly strange times. Nine months ago Scots were being cajoled and entreated to remain in the Union. Today those same beseeching voices are demonising us as the hirsute hordes, poised to breach Hadrian’s Wall and wreak havoc on the south. But it’s all right, I’m not going to write about that – or rather, I am, though not directly…
The thing that saved me from apoplexy during the independence referendum, and continues to do so during this general election campaign, is humour. I don’t see much of it in the mainstream media, but there’s plenty to be found in the alternative sources of news and comment; and I’m sure it’s for that as much as anything else that people are increasingly turning away from the newspapers and television. As the Charlie Hebdo killings highlighted, in this mad, troubled world we need and must stand up for humour more than ever.
Now I am not one of the undecided in these matters, as I guess most readers of this blog will know, and the other blogs and online sites I frequent tend to reflect my own leanings. I recognise that with that comes the danger that one simply ends up in a great echo chamber, but it’s one at least that echoes a good deal of the time with laughter rather than howls of despair or indignation.
There are two or three blogs in particular that I have found to become more and more entertaining as the general invective becomes more and more preposterous. By ridiculing outlandish or mendacious claims, and doing so in an intelligent, well-informed and amusing way, they neutralise the potentially toxic effect of unbridled enmity and help us to see it for what it mostly is, which is fear – fear of what seems unknown, or is misunderstood or even simply different.
I have to acknowledge, of course, that this is partisan humour I’m talking about, and that what amuses me won’t amuse everyone, especially if they hold opposing views to mine; but at least by having been made to laugh at something, I’m less likely to feel the need to retaliate, and this way humour can help lower the temperature, person by person.
We encourage people to use humour – for slightly different reasons – on Dark Angels courses. Here it’s not so much to neutralise enmity but to show up the self-aggrandising codswallop that so often passes for language in the business world for what it really is. So we re-write a corporate vision statement in the tone of voice of one of the seven deadly sins, or we make a pitch for a bank as if it were a chapter of Three Men In A Boat. There’s nothing like it for revealing the shortcomings of the original writing, and again it puts people in a good mood rather than leaving them with their heads in their hands.
So perhaps it’s a sense of optimism that’s the greatest boon of humour. Poke fun at something, watch the balloon deflate, and one realises that things can be different, that change is possible and stuckness, negativity and fear don’t have to carry the day.
Laugh? I nearly cried.
As we approach E Day on the 7th, I desperately need some levity to leaven my sense of approaching doom. Which blogs would make me laugh? I already read the Wee Ginger Dog, Tom Pride, Wings over Scotland, Bella Caledonia and Lallands Peat Worrier BUT I’m not laughing. I’m staring, stunned into the approaching headlights, actually. What a mess this election is becoming. Our PM tweeting hand-held shaky videos of Salmond in the hopes of discrediting the SNP, the two main parties’ inability to campaign on anything other than grounds of ‘Don’t vote for THEM, they’ll make things even worse’ and the media lying, lying, lying through its yellowing, backwards-sloping teeth. So humour me – where will I find the laughter I need?
I’m afraid you’ve exhausted my medicine cabinet, Debi, but Iain McWhirter in today’s Herald (28/4) pursues a similar theme!
Where I sit, in the south of England, usually on a sofa, Nicola Sturgeon is having a really good election – good coverage after the leaders’ debate, and generally approving coverage of her manifesto launch. If you really want to know how it feels to be demonised, try being a Tory. Ten million people voted conservative at the last election – twice as many as the entire population of Scotland. And yet no-one seems to complain at the sort of language they are exposed to. Fourteen million people voted for John Major in 1992, more than ever voted for Margaret Thatcher. And yet Nicola Sturgeon can say, hand on heart, “We aim to get the Tories out of Downing Street, and keep them out”. Well, that seems illiberal and undemocratic, even to someone who has never voted Tory in his life. Gordon Brown said the same thing (and gerrymandered the electoral boundaries to achieve it – look where that got him). The left is really bad at accepting democratic decisions. Arthur Scargill was determined to bring down a massively mandated and democratically elected government. He succeeded only in wrecking his own members’ lives. I’m thinking of voting conservative this time just to stick it to my pinko commie friends (© Dennis Thatcher).
It is fascinating how much panic there is at the thought that the Scots, who were begged (and conned) to stay in the Union, might actually reject the Tory duopoly and democratically elect a national party that will look out for Scotland’s interests.
It seems to me that the Unionist parties hoped that by losing the Referendum the SNP would be neutralised for a generation and that the Scottish people would crawl back into their box and quietly pull the lid over; but the genie was let out of the box – the Scots became politically active in a way that is not true of other parts of the UK. Instead, it is the Unionist parties in Scotland that are trying to rerun the referendum they already won, while the Scottish parties have accepted the result and moved on to seek taking part in the fabled Union we were told was so valuable to us.
Alongside this, the Scottish people have had enough of Labour’s lying and hypocrisy and are rejecting them just as they did the Tories (with whom Labour were close bedfellows in Better Together) in the Thatcher era and ever since. The LibDems were already toast for imposing a Tory government on Scotland which had overwhelmingly voted Labour (as it also did in 1992 when despite getting 41.9% of the vote, Major only won 336 seats). Such are the delights of the first past the post system.
Given that the electorate are deeply disillusioned with the existing duopoly (not so much “when the electorate say don’t know” as “a pox on both their houses”) and are turning to smaller parties, it is unsurprising that neither of the behemoths are likely to win an outright majority. Thus, we find ourselves in a system that is common elsewhere: coalition government. And that is where smaller parties, denied power under first past the post can (unless, like the LibDems, who were so dazzled by being in governement that they merely facilitated Tory policy) wield influence. As Sturgeon, Bennet and Wood have made clear, they want to work for the benefit of the whole UK – something that cannot be said, except ironically, of either the Tories or Labour.
So who in England is feart of this democratic election of a majority of SNP MPs to represent Scotland – only those who are scared that their time is up: the Westminster elite.
I forgot to point out an error in Paul’s comment:
14 million people did not vote for John Major (his constituency has nowhere that number on the electoral roll) but for Conservative MPs up and down the UK.
It is Parliament that selects the government (usually in the UK by reason that one party has an outright majority) and, by convention, the leader of that majority party automatically becomes Prime Minister (this remains true even when there is a change of leader without an election, eg Major succeeding Thatcher or Brown succeeding Blair).
This is important as in a coalition the minority government has to prove to parliament that it can govern.
That’s a timely article, thankyou! In social work I find humour very valuable, as tensions often run high over strongly held viewpoints. Using humour appropriately is an art though; if it is misinterpreted as mockery you can get a bloody nose…literally. I tend to rate stand up comedians on their ability to poke fun without deriding, so that the listener is left with enough power to laugh at themselves by their own choice, rather than by force.