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This infection of money is killing everything

The First Minister thinks he has a responsibility to corporate profit that extends beyond his responsibility to the Scottish people? If we don’t remove this infection of money from Scottish politics we will have no democracy left.

Only one good thing happened yesterday: we saw it. We saw that the UK political system is run on the basis of how much money you have. We should really all know it, but we seldom properly see it. Yesterday we couldn’t miss it. Everything else – everything – was dark and depressing.

I previously suggested that it is inevitable that senior politicians as courted by big financial issues and it would be very rare for those interests not to get a hearing. What matters, I boldly suggested, is whether those meetings result in favours. I was willing to accept that there was little evidence of that following the Salmond/Murdoch meetings. I was wrong.

Is it even worth pointing out that Salmond’s offer was wrong in every regard and that his defence and justification is threadbare? He was going to lobby on behalf of Murdoch’s bid to buy BSkyB. His defence is that it would bring a few low-paid call-centre jobs to Scotland. And for that he was willing to ask no difficult questions on whether media monopoly is good for Scotland. He should know better; as our political representative he should be looking at the big picture. It is exactly the unaccountable media monopolies which have lined up against the SNP throughout its history. More importantly, it is those media monopolies which have distorted policies in the UK in a way that have spread inequality and poverty throughout Scotland. A national leader should protect a nation from predatory press barons who want to buy up the right to control public debate. And to paraphrase the First Minister himself, anyone who can’t see the responsibility of a democratic leader to protect the public from the corrosive interests of politically-motiovate financial interests aiming to distort all freedom of speech has no place in national politics.

You’d think that after the embarrassing surrender of all critical faculties at the feet of the RBS Wizard of Oz (look! it’s actually a wee man behind a curtain who it turns out has No Idea What He is Doing) and the embarrassment resulting directly from Donald ‘I’m all the evidence you need’ Trump lessons might have been learned. Apparently not. Apparently money still matters. When last did you see a photograph of the First Minister of Scotland with any member of the Scottish public earning below the average salary?

Meanwhile, we are treated to the revelation that Labour Leader Johann Lamont discovered that Rupert Murdoch was possible not a good guy at some point last year. Prior to that, who knew? In attacking the First Minister she implied that it was only the hacking of Milly Dowler’s phone that caused the mask to slip. She seems to be suggesting that anything prior to that would constitute an understandable mistake. Like the party leader she followed for ten years offering to be God Father for Murdoch’s child. Let me date the moment when no-one in UK politics should have misunderstood who Murdoch was; that moment was when he conspired with Margaret Thatcher to rewrite media ownership rules to enable him to take undue control of national debate. So anyone who did not understand who Murdoch was from the 1980s onwards should ask some serious questions of themselves. That includes all of them (so no grandstanding from Lib Dems please, you were as silent as everyone else at Murdoch’s feet).

This is all about money. Again, as I have previously argued we don’t really understand money. The only way to properly understand money is to think of it like a bacteria. Without it the world we have wouldn’t work. But it has a life of its own and seeks to grow at any opportunity. It grows and grows, killing off any impediment to its growth until eventually it kills its host – and then seeks to find another host. So it killed the housing market in the early 1990s, jumped to the emerging tech markets and killed them, jumped back into the recovered housing market and killed that again. Then to financial markets which it also killed. Money killed a free media many moons ago and has been killing off democracy for decades. The big mistake about money is that we own it. That’s not the way round it is.

I cannot help but admit that today my belief that money hasn’t infected Scottish politics like it has London politics is shaken. I’m looking at a newspaper in which an idiot is giving evidence to an inquiry into energy supply for the sole reason that he is rich. I’m looking at another man (not an idiot) who has seamlessly turned a national debate about his own corruption into a revelation about the corruption of politics. I watch all the people who don’t have money but who were chosen by the public to represent them working for the money and not for the people. I am greatly dispirited.

There are things that can be done. In the Scottish Left Review’s Agenda 15 (a manifesto for this parliamentary term) we called for a new code of who should be called as witnesses to public inquiries, redressing the balance of money interests which routinely get invited to spout their opinions with the views of people. But the reform will need to be greater than that. Media reform is essential. The concept of ‘freedom of the press’ has been corrupted beyond any meaning. It now means the right of the very rich and powerful to control all speech. So somehow that needs to be tackled head-on. I’ve written before on a system of media franchise which proposes that the private ownership of mass media is not the important right, the important right is for the public to have access to plurality in media (I’m suggesting the freedom to hear is as important as the freedom to speak). So ‘BBC-ifying’ the media, setting up franchises for daily papers to be run by trusts which represent a much wider spectrum of political opinion is a real option and would change everything.

But first a recurring plea – stop believing money ‘means’ anything. Neoliberal dogma has it that the possession of money is an indication of ability. This is a recent idea. It used to be that genetic breeding was the arbtrar of quality and that is why they had money (so yes Etonians are pretty dumb but they are the right sort to run the country). Egalitarianism challenged this in the 1960s so suddenly Eton was ‘the home of the best minds’. It’s garbage, part of the mythology. But it has taken root. That’s why we’re subjected to Trump’s views. He is speaking through its daddy’s money, not his ability. And in any case, in the last 20 years of untrammelled speculative economic growth, if you started with money you would need to be absolutely incompetent not to make more and more. Trump nearly managed the feat but is family bailed him out.

Get money out of the system. Force it out. Legislate. Change the rules. Do anything. Because politics can’t take this level of corruption. And First Minister? Wake up and seek redemption. You were elected by the people, not by the millionaires. Remember who you work for.

Robin McAlpine