55 plus 22: Back for two weeks

Posted: 8 September 2019 in 55 plus, Edinburgh, Edinburgh Fringe, politics
Tags: , , , ,

Housekeeping: OK, so I’ve now been back in London for two weeks, and while I’m pretty much physically recovered from my stay in hospital in Edinburgh (50 plus 05: er… e.r.? Eh? No, A&E.) and a couple of visits to GP and hospital since I returned to London, I’m still utterly shattered most of the time, and any stamina I got back seems to have deserted me the past couple of days. I really don’t want to bother my GP again, but if I’m still feeling like this tomorrow or Tuesday, yeah another visit beckons.
 


 
OK, so one other thing about Edinburgh I hadn’t mentioned this time around, because I hadn’t quite realised how unusual it was, and it’s only been sinking in slowly since I returned. (Look, I’ve been ill, and you have to remember that, even in good times, I am exceedingly stupid on occasion.)

In fact this thing has only occurred on one previous visit: 2014’s. I doubt that my earlier than usual visit is the reason. (I usually get up there after my birthday, but in both 2014 and 2019, I celebrated my birthday up there.)

In 2014, I attended the Edinburgh Fringe a few weeks before Scotland’s Independence Referendum. It was only my second visit to Edinburgh, so I didn’t have much to compare it to, but I’d already discovered how much I enjoyed sitting in the main food court area outside the Gilded Balloon of an evening, having a drink, doing some writing and watching… watching performers promoting their shows, watching people enjoy themselves, watching people chat away.

But as I say it was my second visit, so I had no idea whether the seemingly ever present politics chats among other groups were common or unusual, whether how everyone seemed to at some point or another express an opinion on the politics of the day, and seek another’s opinion, was usual or uncommon.

Future years showed me just how uncommon, how unusual, it was, by the way. Most years, it’s shows they’ve seen that people are chatting about, shows they’re about to see that they’re animated by. And the telling of gags they’ve heard. Seriously, you hear some cracking gags, and delightfully, all credited to the right comedian for once.

But in 2014, the referendum chat was everywhere. Not only in the food court chats, but almost every political show covered it, everyone’s topical material had ‘a bit’ on it. And rarely, very rarely, it got angry. Occasionally, but only that. Even many of the political comedians got angry, very angry, then punctured it with a joke that returned everyone to enjoyment.

And in the food court, usually, it was informed, sensible, rational debates, addressing the arguments in a way that I wished politicians would follow. I even saw people make a point, get called on its potential unreliability, or flat out falsity, and then one or other of them would look it up on their phone or tablet… and then both would agree whether or not the point was valid. (Small caveat for the potential post-independence Scotland’s finances; only occasional agreement on that, but on everything else to do with the Referendum? Lots of agreement.)

I got asked my opinion loads by strangers at the same table while up there, and despite my always saying ‘well, not really my place to say is it, I’m not Scottish‘, I was courteously encouraged to give a view, and where I said something the other person disagreed with, there was a genuine attempt to change my mind, not an insult to my intelligence, or honesty, or parentage. (The less pleasant exchanges I had were all online in 2014.)

Well, 2019’s Fringe was similar and dissimilar. Sure, yes, the politics chat was back in full force, moreso than in previous years, and yes, plenty of heated chats, but what was missing was the ‘huh, yeah, you have a good point there, my friend, but what about…?’ That wasn’t merely less, but was entirely absent, as was the implication of good faith on the others’ part.

Anyone who was still pro-Brexit (an important caveat; people seemed to have far less of an issue with people who’d voted Brexit three years ago, mainly because it was three years ago), and there were a few I heard, well, their views were treated not with contempt but flat disbelief.

And the anti-Brexit positions weren’t merely “anti No Deal”, they were flat out anti-Brexit.

I’ve said before that one of the things I like about The Fringe is that I’ve rarely seen angry drunks up there. Plenty of drunks, sure, but few who were angry. And those few either calmed down or were escorted off the premises by very big security people.

This year, it wasn’t anger, but heated frustration that I saw a lot of: a complete lack of ability, not mere refusal, but an inability, to see, or even attempt to see, the other person’s point of view.

That scares me, genuinely.

Because I’ve seen more of it the past two weeks since I’ve returned. I see it in politicians, I see it online, I see it with some friends. And no matter what happens in the next few weeks, I suspect it’s going to get worse.

I wrote a couple of weeks back about why I’m dreading the next election. What I was foolish enough not to realise when I wrote it was… we’re already in the election campaign, whether the election comes in a few weeks or a couple of months. And the battle lines are already being drawn.

This will be an election of double standards, of fervently supporting your ‘own side’s’ actions and behaviour while vehemently decrying and condemning the same actions and behaviours of your political opponents. And both sides, all sides, will hold themselves out as the morally superior, the only honest one, the only rational one.

And that scares me as well.

Here’s just one example. Amber Rudd, until today Secretary of State for the Department of Works and Pensions, quit and said it was because she was no longer convinced the government wants a deal to leave the EU and is in fact going for a No Deal Brexit. She was previously very anti- that, seemed to swallow the possibility when she joined Johnson’s cabinet but now has quit.

And the responses to her resigning have been many, but one notable one is “well, I’ll take her support, sure, but dont forget she did this and that and this and that, so it’s two cheers at best; she’s no hero”.

And I get that as a reaction, I honestly do.

In fact, it’s the same response I have to people leaving the Labour Party, or at least trashing the current leadership, from people for whom antisemitism in Labour wasn’t a deal breaker but apparently Brexit is.

Again, I’ll take any anti-Corbyn support I can get, but I’m not going to celebrate someone discovering a backbone but for whom antisemitism was – if not fine and dandy – at least not something ‘up with which they would not put.’

And yet, when I express this view, I’m told, ‘but no, you must welcome them warmly and fully, embrace them.”

Well, I won’t. I’ll give them the same two cheers. And sadly, but invariably, wonder, at what point, if Labour changes their Brexit policy to something they can live with, the antisemitism will once again be something they can similarly live with.

Something else tomorrow, I think.

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