Music for Old People

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When I was a sprightly teenager I yearned to be able to attend gigs by the bands I enjoyed. This didn’t happen because I grew up in rural Wales, several hours travel from the towns and cities on the bands tours. Indeed i didn’t go to gigs until I was able to drive myself to them.

So, twenty five years later I was intriqued and excited that one of the bands of my teenage years had reformed and was touring again.  The band are ‘Babes in Toyland’, my favourites from the early 90s grunge/ riot grrl scene. so, I went down to London to see them this week.

It was a really great gig, the band have lost little of the energy that characterised them all those years ago, despite the members now being in their 50s and neither had the audience.

I was curious about the audience, would they be entirely people of my generation, re-connecting with a band of our youth? Whilst my generation were out in force i was surprised by the diversity of the crowd. There were an older generation who had discovered the band as mature adults themselves as well as younger people who had discovered the sound at various points, indeed it is a musical style that never really goes away and periodically re-emerges. It is so nice to be in such a freindly cosmopolitan audience spanning generations, this doesn’t happen often enough.

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Fighting Against Evil Supermarket Bread

I love bread! I love making it, baking it, the smell of it, eating it and spreading it with jam! It is the most wondrous stuff and the staple of European food. To an outside observer it would seem that the British in general have ended their love affair with bread. The story is a rather middle-class first world problem, but also illustrative of creeping value loss.

I was lucky to grown up in a small rural town, isolated from the early wave of the supermarket takeover of the British high street. The town had a bakers shop, mainly baking bread for the townsfolk and local businesses such as hotels and restaurants. We had several butchers shops, a fishmonger at the weekly market and several greengrocers. We also had a local independent supermarket , which sold one of everything, basically all dry goods, it even had a cheese counter. Shopping meant walking from shop to shop to purchase your provisions.

Nowadays the town has a rather poor chain baker, is very fortunate to have retained a butcher and convenience shops (which are basically only good for alcohol and snacks). There is a huge supermarket, 7 miles away in the next town, a drive or a bus journey. Time wise, weekly shopping now actually takes much longer. How did this happen? How is the only way of getting a decent loaf of bread to travel 7 miles to buy flour and bake it yourself, indicative of a more modern efficient society?

Supermarkets came about as they offered a more efficient distribution network, offering lower prices, more choice and exotic goods. There were supermarkets in the big cities first. My family used to drive to the city (a three hour round trip) once a month or so, for shopping: books, LPs, clothing and anything else we desired. On the way back we would visit the supermarket to stock up for the month on dry goods, such as rice, as this was much cheaper and to be able to buy foods we couldn’t get at home.

Most people in the town did this kind of shopping (in those pre-internet times). This did impact on the local shops. However the bakers survived as, fresh still warm bread is something very special, to be picked up from the local shop and delivered to the breakfast table. As time passed, local bakers declined. The supermarkets sold the soggy crappy ‘Chorleywood’ sliced, plastic bag bread, only good for toast, at rock bottom prices. So people bought this cheap crap and didn’t eat as much of it, instead people ate more and more of the other things the supermarket provided to replace bread (which they made more profits on),  bread declined. Occasionally people missed fresh bread, the supermarkets provided ‘in-store bakerys’, producing bread any real baker would be ashamed of. However, this made those who only used a supermarket to think that this was what real bread tasted like, it was no longer seen as something very special.

The supermarkets won and killed off real bread as an everyday staple. Bread is now seen as an artisan, luxury product, and often priced accordingly. This is very sad. Many place the blame on the ‘evil’ supermarkets, exploiting the British consumer. This is a rather reactionary view and is indicative of how extremist views can arise, whether they be on bread, meat-eating, political creed or religion. A blame culture, blaming others for a failure to act responsibly. Are the supermarket bosses really that evil, do they drink the tears of virgins with glee?

No. The supermarkets have simply followed the path of maximizing their own profits, without regard for their impact on society. The town planning system failed in holding back their growth.  They are not evil in the sense that they set out to destroy peoples enjoyment of bread,  A consequence of this is loss of bread and a loss of appreciation of the value of various foodstuffs. People are not evil, they simply follow convention and seek cheap food. This explains why bread demised, why the disgusting factory farming of animals proliferated, why people vote for political parties that superficially make the right noises.

Those of us who have invested the time to research, investigate and think have understood this. but the majority don’t. So, for those who understand, can see the situation as one where people just need to be told the truth, to be educated and they will form the same conclusions as these early seers. However, the majority appear not to listen to this vocal minority. They don’t listen because surely a minority of wierdos can’t be right, they must be extremists. So, all these dedicated minorities become tarred with the extremist label, whether they be religious converts, animal rights activists or political activists. The minorities respond by becoming exasperated, so shout louder and sometimes start acting immorally themselves ‘for the greater good’. Moral principle is lost, as well as access to a decent loaf of bread.

Corporate culture has killed off many things precious to ordinary folk. Not because pursuing a profit or greater efficiency is evil, but by taking the idea too far, without control, trying to be all encompassing. It is often heard that people don’t have the time to enjoy kneading there own loaf of bread, yet people have the time to sit for hours everyday in a traffic jam on the way to work and queue in the supermarket. It is very curious indeed how people don’t seem to take responsibility for there own lifestyles anymore in this ‘need’ to comply with contemporary economic theory.

Slightly Different Worlds

It is often said that one shouldn’t discuss religion or politics in polite society. Surely openness and discussion are good things. If people discuss such a topic as whether they prefer cats or dogs, then usually people respect that other people view the world in a slightly different way. So, what makes religion and politics different?

In the week after the UK general election people have been talking about and venting their feelings about the results, there is often anger and bafflement. This anger is expressed by such sentiments as “How on Earth can people vote Conservative/Labour? what is wrong with these people?”. Upon discovering that friends and colleagues, supported the other side, there is a difficulty in accepting such a fundamentally different world view and moral stance. I used to be distraught that around a third of people vote for a government I despise, people on the other side express the same feeling. Surely such a large proportion of the population can’t be that misguided, I would argue that they are not.

I remember having a long, late night conversation with a friend who was of the right wing persuasion. We discussed what we both identified as the problems in society and the type of society we each felt that government should work towards, surprisingly they were virtually the same, we shared the same values, where we differed was in how to bring about this better society. Thus, it is perhaps not morality or principle that is the problem but the application of it.

I am in the advantageous position of having been an agnostic and then became a Christian. I can understand both positions. In religion there is a lot of misunderstanding between the theists and the non-theists. As with politics, this misunderstanding causes problems for people. There is much argument between the two positions. What I find is that the issues that Atheists and Christians squabble over not that important. The difficulties Atheists have with religions, such as the accuracy of the Creation story are, to me, rather low down the list of things that are important to me as a Christian.

Actually, the same problems exist both within the Christian community and the secular community. Both those of faith and none develop their own moral principles. Generally, both systems of acquiring moral principles are equally sound and the ethics of Christians and Atheists are similar. I acquired my moral principles before acquiring faith, those moral principles hardly changed since becoming a Christian.

Moral truths are a good thing, connecting with and understanding a moral principle is one of the great ‘yes’ moments in life that are cherished by us as individuals. I think the problem is with application. when the individual understands a moral, social, religious or political position, it does resonate deeply in our subsequent thinking. As these truths seem pure and universal, it is very tempting to apply them vigourously.  However applying any moral code to extremes, no longer is an expression of the moral principle. The principle becomes lost, fragmented and distorted through ruthless application, without resort to the original moral truth. It is this, which causes conflict and misunderstanding between religions and political creeds.

The bedroom tax as an illustrative example:

The U.K. has a state welfare system whereby, if someone is unfortunate to not have a job, the state pays you welfare to cover the minimal cost of living,  in a post-industrial society that minimum cost is quite high, as housing and food are relatively expensive. During my lifetime the U.K. has the problem of the ‘benefits trap’, whereby if you take on part-time or low paid employment you may be worse off financially than staying on benefits, especially if you have a family to support. Adherents, such as myself, of both left and right wing persuasion have long argued that this system should be reformed and that people should always be better off working than relying on benefits in the medium to long term. The last government stated that they would tackle this issue, which was great.

However the application of the reforms were damaging. The government introduced the ‘bedroom tax’. So, if you became unemployed and happened to have a spare room, your housing benefit (to pay for your shelter) was taxed. This meant that those effected struggle to pay for essentials of food and heating and have no money to invest in seeking employment.

To those of the left this seemed cruel and heartless. Why should the unemployed bear the brunt of the failures of the wider economy? People have died because of it. Hence many on the left of politics brand the right as compassionate.

People of the right wing persuasion are not uncompassionate. The principles of the right are that to reduce the state, so people pay less taxes, that people should not be reliant on state handouts, paid for by other taxpayers. That a stick and well as a carrot are necessary to encourage people into employment and contributing to society. People of the left don’t disagree with these principles as such, they just interpret them in a slightly different way. However it seems that advocates of both the left and right are incensed when the application of  principles causes a conflict with a universal moral principle. To the critic the moral principle is more important than the ideological application. Hence, the left brand the right as cruel.

This ideological wrangling, the differing interpretation of a moral code can seem more important that the pragmatic reason which better fits the intention of the universal moral truth. The bedroom tax is immoral. The U.K. has a monetarist economy. Such an economy requires something in the region of 3-5% of the available labour force to be unemployed, because full employment  leads to excessive high wages that would damage business and cause rampant inflation. It is more economically efficient to have up to 5% unemployed, so it is important to treat those unlucky enough to be unemployed for a time with dignity and respect.

Whilst it may seem shocking and repugnant to discover people with religious. It is important to not take the result of the application of moral or political views that differ from our own as scary or fundamentally wrong. The vast majority of people have good sound moral values. It is imprtant to discuss these things openly, the narrative behind the acquiring of such standpoints. By keeping talking to focus on the truth and realise that whilst we may live in slightly different worlds, to not judge others so harshly.

“Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgement ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in they brothers eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye” Matthew 7:1-3 (KJV)

Electoral Reform

Having written yesterday on the problem of democracy, the solution is perhaps some form of electoral reform. It is difficult to find ways for the people to ensure good, responsible government.

In U.K. elections we still use first past the post (FPTP). This supports a two party system, which by itself is democratically bad, . It also generally produces single party majority government, which is also generally democratically bad.

Single party government, is effectively dictatorship. The debate about policy is taken away from the democratic body to within a political party for the entire period of government. The effect of this is that whilst the party may have some good ideas, the implementation of those ideas is often terrible. Terrible, because the implementation is bias by the ideology of the party or to appeal to the minority of the people that vote for them. During my lifetime, until 2010-2015, the U.K. only had majority governments. I have always felt that this was wrong. Minority or coalition governments at least have to debate with advocates of the rest of the population, to enable finding ways to implement policy that is fair to the majority of the population, to correct ideological bias and make solutions workable.

On the other hand it is occasionally useful for a single party to have a mandate for single party government, when there is a clear will and argument for a manifesto of changes and the power to implement them. For example 1979 Conservative government to tackle the trade union issue and the Labour government of 1997, to re-balance the political landscape. Every other government in my lifetime, I feel should not have a single party in power. Consensual, pragmatic government is generally better at preventing, extremist solutions, when they are not good for the economy. This suggests some form of Proportional Representation, but not purely proportional government.

For the Welsh government elections there is a system which should work fairly well, the ‘Additional Member System’. 2/3 of members are elected by FPTP, giving constituents a local representative. The remaining third of representatives are are elected proportionally, for each region, thus ensuring that no regions dominant party can gain control. This ensures that minority parties at least gain representation and no single party forms the government, usually. However, in practice, as Labour have been the dominant party historically in Welsh politics in my lifetime, they have usually formed a single party majority,  with >40% of the popular vote, that seems unrepresentative for the majority who vote otherwise.

Really the problem with whatever democratic system is that is plays into parties hands, parties learn how to manipulate the voting system. How a country votes is often not reflective of the popular will of the people. Very few people who vote for a party generally agree with their entire proposed programme. Polls, such as general elections give a distorted view, only through listening and talking to a range of people does one develop an idea of what people want and see as the main problems in society.

In Mid-Wales, for local elections at least, we have a better system. Generally, there is a distrust of the big parties. There is a preference for candidates who are genuinely local, who run as independents (even though local people know where their heart lies on the left-right spectrum) people who have established a good reputation locally; though running a respected business and contributing to local charities. Really, if elected officials represented their people, if they disagree with a party line, they should be free to support an alternative, rather than follow the dictats of the party machines. Better legislation is enacted this way.

The recent elections have divided the people and  countries of the U.K. I would argue that party factionalism contributes to the divide, the us and them, making politics into a cartoon series of ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’, turning elections into a conflict between the factions, to the detriment of democracy and a strong economy. Ultimatly, power should reside with the people, with decision being taken at as local a level as possible.

The problem of democracy and why the right always win

The problem of Democracy

Absolutely livid, is how I feel after the results of the 2015 UK general election. The most right wing government possible got in and things are going to get worse fro the UK. This has made me wonder, why so many believed the lies, the distortions of the truth, the slander of the alternatives. Why didn’t the electorate seek a stronger economy? Are the electorate idiots? I feel as though they are, in reality they are not.

Democracy began in Greece, with the idea that citizens would debate and bring about legislation to improve the economy. This was deemed better than a single ruler, liable to bias and corruption. This is the basis of British parliamentary democracy. The British system is based on the idea that each region, or constituency, elects someone to represent them in parliament. The idea is to elect someone of sound judgement, capable of making the best decisions for those they represent. So, the members of parliament (MPs) gather evidence from academics, industrialists, lawyers and other experts. Then the recommendations produced are debated  until a consensus is reached and legislation enacted. At heart it’s a good system.

The problem with democracy is factions, or political parties. These factions compete and vie for power, thus basing their decisions on ideological rather than pragmatic consensual grounds. This became the traditional struggle between the  left and right wing view. This isn’t necessarily a problem as it’s a democracy, representatives of a faction that take their ideology too far will be replaced and order restored. This assumes that the electorate are making rational choices, based on economic performance of the nation. This assumption that voters rationally weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of a proposed scheme of legislation falls. It falls especially in modern times as the factions leaders have learnt how to manipulate information and distort the decision making process. The right have been net beneficiaries of this, which is why I am so outraged. I have said in an earlier blog that I am a Social Democrat. I am a centrist. I don’t believe that either the left or the right are inherently better than the other, balance, the optimum central ground is inherently better. This is my political theory: economic

The above figure visually represents my theory that the political centre is the most efficient for a population. The chart requires answers to two questions: Why is the centre more efficient? Where is the centre?

Why is the centre more efficient?

A Marxist view of economics is that it is a struggle between capital and labour. An extreme left view is that labour is is more important and creates such ideals that everybody should receive the same wage for an equal amount of labour and markets should be heavily regulated, An extreme right ideal is that capital is more important, an incentive to increase productivity and achieve growth through innovation requires encouragement, innovators should be financially rewarded and markets should be very lightly regulated. In a left leaning economy, the lower paid workers do relatively better and the better paid are less well better of as multiples of the lowest waged. In a right leaning economy, wealth concentrates with the better paid and the income gap widens. Thus there is a political spectrum from left to right, most people ideologically place themselves at varying points along it.  A true democracy would achieve a politics at the mid-point between all  views, the centre ground.

Western civilisation has made great advances in science and technology over the past centuries. Western society has moved beyond subsistence agrarian local communities to an industrial world.  Britain in the nineteenth century industrialised. By specialising labour and moving people into efficient factory production, clustered in cities located near the fuel source, coal, ultimately standards of living improved and economic growth was achieved. This has made economics much more complex, increased the inter-dependence of the individual family unit on wider society and the state. This has lead to the phenomena of state provided services, with increased efficiency due to application of industrial techniques. It has also led to an expansion on private enterprise. Hence the question arises for populations of what services are more efficiently provided by a state monopoly and which are better provided by private enterprise. The political left argues that generally the state is the best provider, the right argues that generally private enterprise is the better provider. In my view, neither is generally best, it depends on the service provided. Furthermore as society changes the relative efficiency of state or private changes, this is decided by government, subject to the democratic will of the population.

One example, health services. It is much more efficient for health services to be provided by a state monopoly. If it is assumed that quality of health in the U.S and the U.K. is the same. Then the amount of money per capita used to provide healthcare in the U.K.  from taxation is a lot less than the amount paid per capita in the U.S. through private medical insurance.

Another example, cars. In the twentieth century cars produced by private companies were of better quality and more efficient, in comparison to those produced by state providers in communist Eastern Europe. Where there is a genuine market, competition works and delivers gains. So, if provision of services are allocated between public and private sector, with varying levels of regulation, they can be economically evaluated for efficiency.  So the most efficient economy will have a mixture of private and public service provision, this mixture, this balance, represents the political centre.

Where is the centre?

In the middle! Actually, where the exact centre is is difficult to ascertain. I think that everyone thinks that they  are in the centre. Arguable it is through democracy that decides where that centre is. Ideally economic efficiency drives that choice. The problem of democracy is that populations end up with governments that are not of the centre. There is this left-right divide. People identify themselves as being left-wing or right-wing, or even (as I did) centrists. I would argue that such identification is wrong, the divide is relative.

If I had been an adult in 1970s Britain, where the trade unions held the government to ransom, demanding higher wages for labour, I would have been regarded as a right-winger, as I would have advocated increased regulation of the trade unions, and privitisation of several state services. By the late 1980s, I would have been regarded as a left winger , as I would have felt that government policy went too far to the right. It has been a long time since the U.K. has re-balanced However, all my adult life, the political factions of the right have been in control, the efficiency of the U.K. economy has decreased, the population keep electing right wing governments and the economy moves further to the right. A democracy should be re-balancing the economy towards the efficient political centre.

Why the Right always win

Western democracies are odd, as they are made up of factions or political parties. These parties have ideological agendas to pull the economy away from the political centre. Centrist parties, tend not to do very well. Arguably centrist parties don’t do well because they have no emotional appeal. Depending on an individuals upbringing, family circumstances, choice of career etc, most people bind to the left or right faction due to this sentimental attachment, which is crazy. Even when the U.K. Labour party became a right wing party (just more moderate than the Conservatives), many continued to support tham out of party loyalty, rather than loyalty to principle.

A party that achieves power is said to have ‘won’ an election. This idea is actually preposterous, political parties are actually representatives, they serve the population, it’s not supposed to be about winning/losing, they are there to serve, not to dictate or glorify themselves. A party is in power either because democracy has worked and their faction is the one required to re-balance the economy or the party has been successful in providing misinformation to ensure their lot/ party has the reigns of power. Sadly and perhaps increasingly the latter is the case.

In the recent U.K. election campaign, the main political parties rarely argued the case for their proposals, debate was stifled. instead the main parties relied on a battle of rhetoric about who was best/ least worse. the politicians are not doing their job. People work, get paid and pay taxes to provide for state services. The left factions say ‘We need higher taxes to pay for public services’, which is correct if and only if that is what the economy needs at the time. The right factions say ‘We need to decrease taxes as public services need to be reduced’, again, this is correct if and only if that is what the economy would benefit from. In this simplified scenario, most electors opt for the right faction, as it seems obvious to the individual that they would wish to pay less in taxation. The thing is that is isn’t necessarily the case that the individual is better off by selecting this option. This is the problem of democracy. This is what annoys me as the U.K. elects right wing government after right wing government with no re-balancing.

To  illustrate my point: An individual goes out to work and brings home his monthly wages. some of those wages go to the government in taxes. The individual then pays for services that the government doesn’t provide, such as housing, water, energy supply, internet connection and basic food.  The individual is then left with their disposable income. Individuals will use this income to save money for a later use, or use to provide quality of life by paying for entertainment, quality food or whatever the individual may choose.The point is that if taxes are reduced, the cost of paid for services increases, but not by the same amount. Here is the fallacy. If the economy if not at optimal efficiency, and to the right of the optimal centre, then actually the cost of paid for, private services will be higher than the amount saved from lower taxation, disposable income reduces and quality of life falls.

Of course, in a democracy people will discuss where the actual political centre is. However I’m angry because, the economic data shows that the U.K. economy is too much to the right. For example privitising the NHS (health service) in favour of a less efficient model. Due to the problem of democracy the electorate votes in a government that intends to make things worse. All of this is compounded by divisive policy from the right wing government that benefits some different regions of the U.K. to the detriment of others, What this means is that if an individual lives in the better off area, then the political centre is in a different place than for the economy in a deprived area.

With thanks to http://benjaminstudebaker.com/ for inspiration to solve the problem of democracy.

Tomboys and Tomgirls

I sometimes wonder why it is that I have a tendency to be attracted to tomboys, women who exhibit ‘masculine’ traits such as not into dressing up and wearing makeup all the time. My conclusion is that I am attracted to women who know themselves, happy not to conform to a gender role and are confident in who they are. I like strong women.

So, does this make me a tomgirl, a man who exhibits ‘feminine’ traits? Maybe! In some ways I am quite feminine. My personality is made up of a mixture of traits. sometimes people don’t get me, perhaps they just see contradictions, perhaps especially if  I am perceived to be be all over the place in terms of gender.  I am just being me.

There is an expectation in society for conformity. I think the idea is it makes social function easier if you clearly match an expected identity. However it doesn’t make it easier for the individual if they have to expend energy trying to be something that they are not. Etiquette is the attempt to form a set of rules to govern social interactions, to make things easy and reduce awkwardness. i think most people develop their own set of social rules. As everyone etiquette is not the same, sometimes too many or complex rules are created, which occasionally fall down.

Most of my friends are female. I wouldn’t say most of them were tomboys, but it seems they all have some masculine traits and are not girly girls all the time. Perhaps this is relatively unusual. As a heterosexual sometimes I am sexually attracted to female friends, but it isn’t a problem for me if they are not interested in that kind of relationship.

What perhaps is unusual, is that I am attracted to women who are like me, are a mixture of individual traits, with a mixture of being very close in some areas and widely different in others. I don’t expect either party to play the role of the manly man and the girly girl. Generally perhaps this distinction exists for many people who are closer to the social norm to not get people who don’t need it.

To me, I think i am being very clear when I am being friendly towards a woman and when I am expressing a sexual attraction. Sometimes i am misinterpreted. Perhaps because social etiquettes are different. Or maybe because when i am sexually attracted i am also seeking friendship. Perhaps to many more conventional people it is odd that I am always seeking friendship too.

A victory for fear that no-one voted for

I feel really depressed by the results of the British General Election.The British General Election of 2015 was billed as a game changer for British politics, it was, but the result didn’t reflect that. As soon as I saw the exit poll figures, I foresaw the end of the union, that few actually want. The numbers:

UK vote share:

Conservatives 36.9% (+0.8%), Labour 30.4% (+1.4%), UKIP 12.6% (+9.5%), Liberal Democrats 7.9% (-15.2%), Green 3.8% (+2.8%), Plaid Cymru 12.1% (+0.8%) (Wales only), SNP 50% (+30%) (Scotland only).

What depresses me is that the two main establishment parties vote was little changed, yet the Conservatives won a victory on the number of seats to give them five years to do whatever they want, which is very very scary. The election was fought on fear of change, that managed decline was more stable than change. By the Conservatives winning with a tiny increase in vote, their victory was more due to the collapse of the LibDems (representing a rejection of the last five years by supporters of a centrist party, uncomfortable with the right wing agenda) and the rise of UKIP than any popular endorsement of the austerity agenda.

The British political establishment has given the UK neo-liberal governments for thirty years, the nation and our economy has become weaker and weaker because of this. Anti-establishment parties, all increased their share of the vote (UKIP, Green, SNP, PC), which to me reflects a growing rejection of neo-liberalism, but due to the antiquated electoral system is not reflected in parliament, with the notable exception of Scotland.

Scotland was the story of the election, The SNP with 50% of the vote, took all but three Scottish constituencies. This is not a reflection of nationalism or a desire to split from the UK as such. I have many friends in Scotland, and being Welsh, understand the issue. The electorate in Scotland were not afraid, to seek a new kind of politics, an alternative to the neo-liberalism that has lowered standards of living, particularly in the North and Western ‘fringe’ of the UK, whose economy hasn’t been allowed to grow due to the power of the the London based financial services industry. Change is what Scotland voted for. The desire for independence isn’t based on nationalism, but simply is seen as the only way of having an alternative political system, to have real economic growth that the English seem afraid of or more accepting of the status quo (well for those in Southern England who generally have suffered less from the UK’s industrial decline.

The victory for the Conservatives and their divisive politics will further increase the divide between Southern England and the rest of us. It is this that will most likely lead to the break up of the UK in the next five years, rather than support for a National party in Scotland.  It is simple hard to see anyone sticking up for the benefits of unity as the nation becomes divisive, resentful and argumentative. A strange election for probably the last UK election as we know it.