You have all the characteristics of a popular politician: a horrible voice, bad breeding and a vulgar manner
How Aristophanes saw ahead to Boris Johnson and Donald Trump beats me – but, then, Aristophanes was very wise. Linked to the characteristics Aristophanes so beautifully and clearly describes is the need for a successful politician always to be positive in their approach and to have the ability to make complex problems and their solutions sound simple. That credits some of them, Boris Johnson and Donald Trump included, with having the intelligence to think through a convoluted problem and simplify it. In fact, along with many of their ilk, those two can do no other than think in simplistic terms.
One thing I admired about Margaret Thatcher, albeit in a cack-handed fashion, was her ability to bring everything into straightforward, everyday wording. She was intelligent enough and knew that the issues she was dealing with were more complicated than she portrayed them but she also knew the voters and her supporters. 'Two and two make five,' she would assert strongly, 'and that is what we are going to do'. Cheers from her supporters and waving of Union Jacks.
Keir Starmer has not learnt that lesson. Perhaps he is too honest ever to do so. Conscientious and intelligent, his answer would be something like: 'It is a complex issue with many possible variants and we need to approach this multi-faceted problem in an analytical frame of mind with an awareness that there is no one finite solution and that multi-various outcomes are likely given the known facts. Certainly, a clarification and an elucidation of the issue may lie somewhere between three and five but, given the variables...'.
Yawn. What's he talking about?
And that is rather sad (I exaggerate it all to make the point) because the problems facing the country are difficult and there are no easy solutions. Starmer's basic fault is that he has to outline those problems clearly and he has not done so; his predecessor as Labour leader was well aware of the growing wealth gap and the disparities that were evolving. He was also aware of the creeping privatisation of such assets as the National Health Service.
Unfortunately, Starmer does not seem able to capitalise on the enthusiasm that Jeremy Corbyn generated. Corbyn engaged many voters, especially young voters, on an emotional level; a level that Starmer has totally bypassed. Corbyn promised a radical change to the system; a total shake-up that would take on the ruling classes in Britain (not all British these days) and produce a better society for all (possibly). To do so would involve tackling such problems as stagnant wages, diminishing employment prospects, the climate crisis and the increasing number of rented, as opposed to bought, houses in the country.
Starmer is aware of all this, but his messaging was obscure. He requires to be clear about both his strategy and approach. His recent cabinet reshuffle had elements of panic in it and the decisions he made in moving people around both mystified and upset individuals who would have tended to support him. Starmer will have to realise that routinely destroying Johnson at Prime Minister's question time is not enough; a distinctive policy has to emerge and a distinctive voice has to be behind it.
Anas Sarwar partly was more direct: his distinctive voice that came over strongly was: 'Give Labour your second vote'. A complete admission that the first vote was certainly to be placed elsewhere and hardly an inspiring rallying call to Labour supporters. Nicola Sturgeon, on the other hand, has the Thatcher approach: say what you want and say it strongly and clearly (be it right or wrong). She has convinced most of Scotland that the country was stuffed (once again) by England (oops, I mean Westminster) over the issue of European Union membership and also by the election of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister, and that Scotland is being held back by its association with the rest of the UK.
That last is highly debateable – certainly not a statement that can be proven. Scotland was a pretty miserable country, one of the poorest if not the poorest in Europe, before it linked up with England in 1707: then it blossomed, it really did. Access to English markets and access to English colonies funded the Scottish Enlightenment and propelled Scotland into being a world-leading nation as such, as David Hume and Adam Smith stepped forward to make their mark and help create the modern world. Union with the rest of the UK has been good (generally good) for Scotland.
But, all changes: after the Second World War, socialism came in on the backs of the returning troops. The National Health Service was formed, coal mines became state-owned, railways became fully under government control and the means for raising and distributing energy were nationalised.
Back to Thatcher: she convinced enough people that state-owned companies were an anathema; they were inefficient (they were), expensive and poorly run (hmmm!). Privatisation was the answer; the taxpayer would no longer have to carry the burden of funding them. Tony Blair's Labour Government (made up of a cabinet of multi-millionaires) went along with that and privatised more jobs than Thatcher had.
And, today, as a result, we have much of our infrastructure owned by private and largely foreign companies; huge international corporations with headquarters well outwith our boundaries and largely outwith our control – and any form of democratic control. Think of Scotland's banks, our whisky industry, our railways, our energy companies, our food manufacturing; all largely, if not completely, foreign-owned. They are just as inefficient as the state-owned versions; they do save us in taxes but that is more than made up by the extra money we pay directly out of our pockets to feed them every time we buy from them and the lack of control we have over them.
Here is a revolutionary thought Mr Sarwar: Sarwar has dodged the referendum issue but, now, there is no reason why the Labour Party does not come out in support of an independent Scotland. Smell the coffee Mr Sarwar – Scotland no longer wants to be connected to a country that supports a corrupt and dull UK administration. However, our independence will have to be sensible and acknowledge the link we have with the rest of the UK: a sensible independent Scotland; a Scotland in federation with the rest of the UK, and a Scotland only responsible to itself and not the large corporations that rule the EU. A Scotland that still enjoys an open border and open trade with England (our major trading partner by far). Miss Sturgeon has fudged around that issue for some time – she knows where we do the bulk of our trade with – and a Scotland where the people own their infrastructure.
So far, there is little talk and little support for a federal United Kingdom and it may not be easy to achieve against the horrible voices, bad breeding and vulgar manners calling for independence – and then into Europe: the advantages are such though that it is worth advocating. Let the Labour Party's voices be the ones calling for it.
Bill Paterson is a writer based in Glasgow