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Selectivity? OK. Spain then.

Euro 2012 – take any identity you want (we’re told), so long as it doesn’t interfere with the British State which is currently trying to jail-break a rich white woman from a Ukrainian prison just because she’s rich. Or why I’m supporting Span…

Time to pick a football team. Since football is a pantomime with a ball (‘look, those lot are wearing blue and we’re wearing red – boooo!’) I will do what I always do and support whoever is playing the pantomime villain. Which for me is England. But this ‘selectivity’ on my part goes a bit further – I have a silly habit of picking my teams politically (one benefit of being Scottish..). And in any case, Ed Milliband tells me I can pick any national identity I want if I’m British (well nearly). So for this reason I’ve decided that today I’m Ukrainian. This is not for the sake of any love of the rather nasty racism and anti-semitism currently gripping sections of the Ukranian population but in recognition of two stories about selectivity to appear in the paper on the same day.

Let’s start with Ukraine. I visited the country a few years ago (not too long after the ‘Orange Revolution’) and learned an enormous amount in a seven-hour taxi journey with the great fun (if slightly deranged) Fema. (He offered me a deal on getting from Kiev to Odessa which cost not much more than the train that would have taken three times as long…) I don’t take Fema to be a final arbiter of all things but he represented an attitude I found almost everywhere among people. Yes, they were in favour of the Orange Revolution (in the main cities). No, they did not like the old regime desperately much. But no, they did not trust the new lot one little bit. The assumption (mainly correct) was that both the old Russian-allied regime and the new US-allied alternative were simply different types of oligarch, all of whom would primarily use power for personal enrichment. But people thought that perhaps a spell being supplicant to the US would be a nice change.

This was marginal though. The reporting of the ‘Orange Revolution’ in the West (especially London and Washington) was nonsense. The tale was of an overwhelming uprising against oppression, but this was never true. The voting which the West claimed to be rigged turned out to produce an extremely similar result to the one run by their endorsed candidates. The Orange Revolution was in fact mainly pretty packaging for a sort-of IMF-style take-over of the country by neoliberal economic interests. I have spent my whole life in and around protests, but I’ve never seen one quite so carefully and fully supported by the state – I stood at the ‘spontaneous camp’ in the main square and followed the power lines the ‘protesters’ used to keep comfortable and they all led straight into the town hall.

What wasn’t in doubt from any person I met was that Yulia Tymoshenko was just as much of a crook as the rest of them. At the time she was wanted for questioning in a number of countries over fraud during her time as an oil executive. We know this is probably true because she became fabulously wealthy out of the crash of the USSR and the looting of the nation’s resources that follows. And nobody that got rich had clean hands. She was undoubtedly tainted by corruption, tax evasion and fraud. And despite all the ‘western love’, by all accounts she used national office to help her friends. So let’s not get this woman confused with Aung Sam Suu Kyi or anything.

So now she’s in jail, put there by an opponent she did everything she could to vilify and present as a dictator. Fair? Not sure. Selective? Probably. Baseless? Almost certainly not. But that isn’t stopping the British Government which us boycotting the opening game of Euro 2012 in response. Not, it has to be noted, because of neo-Nazis and racists, but because one rich crook is in jail. We failed to boycott Burma for massive human rights abuses (against poor people mainly) but we’re kicking up a fuss over one rich chancer?

Of course we need to take a stand against “justice being applied selectively under political motivation” (the UK position). Like increasing the sentencing tariff of young and mainly black kids who ‘riot’ to ‘send a message’ on behalf of the state that poor people must not make a mess. It is to be noted that selectivity is the very definition of British State policy. We punish the poor and reward the rich, even for the same actions – at home or abroad. How long did Mark Thatcher spend in jail for plotting a military coup? Longer or shorter than the boy in Dundee who Facebooked about an imaginary riot? Shorter, as it turns out. Syria is to be condemned (because it is friends with Iran) but Bahrain is a great place to do business and race expensive cars (because it is friends with Saudi Arabia). Balking at selective justice? Spare me the crocodile tears.

The other story about selectivity is Ed Milliband’s speech in which he converted state, nation and identity into a purely aesthetic pursuit. We can choose to be British and Scottish, only British, mostly Scottish and a bit British or whatever we want as we see fit. Only choosing to be Scottish is a mistake (that would be ‘narrow’). Because in Milliband’s universe it’s just a badge. Identity and nation have nothing to do with the state. Being British has nothing to do with the actions of the British State, apparently. It’s just a knack for queuing, a love for the queen, pride in our Big Guns and copious use of a flag. This is almost completely value-free identity. It is just a little bit like defining the Serbs in the 1990s as people who have funny hats and drink plum brandy. Ignoring the ideologies, histories, attitudes, actions and intentions.

The ‘incredible liteness’ of Milliband’s notion of national identity helps us in no way. It does nothing to debate or discuss how British identity and the British state interact and either reinforce or moderate each other. We bomb the poor and the Royal Family endorses it by sending their kids to join the army and by having toy soldiers march for them as if their real purpose isn’t to kill people. We ravage vulnerable countries for finical benefit and cheer when our Prime Minister ‘sticks it to those foreigners’ by making sure nothing stops or slows down the financiers doing the ravaging. By intentionally failing to draw any link between identity and action Milliband seems to tell us ‘wear whatever flag you like, just don’t make trouble for the elite in our society’.

Identity isn’t a facile aesthetic choice. Identity creates a moral framework for our society and nation. At kick off, as God Save the Queen belts out and the English fans revel in a fairly-benign xenophobia, I just keep seeing black kids in British jails forgotten and a rich white woman in a foreign jail defended with all our might, all for the benefit of the City of London.

So here’s how I’m planning to use my ‘free choice of identity’. I have always loved German football but I am (reluctantly) going to support whomever plays Germany as a simple reaction to the injustice of a bully. It would just feel wrong if the Germans won the football too. I will support whomever plays England as a straightforward protest against the Queen, the City of London and the British military. (I can do that, right Ed? You said I could. Or have I just picked one of the national identities you don’t approve of?) And despite my kidding around I can’t support Ukraine – I love the country but I can’t stomach the racism.

It’s Spain. It’s got to be Spain. (Well, Greece too, but since the IMF has sold of their boots it might not make for sustained viewing…) I don’t like their government but as a simple act of solidarity with a nation as ill-treated as I can remember in modern Europe they deserve a break. (Oh, and both my partner and daughter are part-Spanish and Mexico obviously isn’t there).

So there you go – Ed says its OK. C’mon the Spanish!

Robin McAlpine