by Rab Bruce’s Spider

All of a sudden, there’s loads to comment on in politics. We’ve had statistics about food bank usage, stories of people being driven to suicide by Tory Austerity cuts and Benefits systems, outrageous comments on the Rape Clause by Esther McVey, the UK refusing to raid the premises of a telecoms company accused of money laundering because they are major donors to the Tories, along with the usual BBC spin and blacking out of stories they don’t want us to hear like, for example, the latest spike in oil prices. And there’s Syria as well, with conflicting stories emerging about whether there really was a chemical attack or not.

With all this, and more, to choose from, I found three stories which, while unrelated, do have one thing in common. So bear with me while we run through them.

The first is the appalling scandal over the deportation of the descendants of the so-called Windrush immigrants. The more we learn, the more we see that Theresa May has been the driving force behind this dreadful state of affairs. As Home Secretary, she oversaw the deliberate destruction of documents which would have proved where these unfortunate people came from, then she introduced laws requiring them to produce documents which she knew they did not possess. We shouldn’t forget that pretty much every Party in the House of Commons voted for the new Immigration Law in 2014, with the notable exceptions of the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens, but it was Theresa May who planned it all. The only reason she has offered her half-hearted apology is because she is suddenly realising that not everyone in the UK is a racist, and that most normal people are outraged by the fact that innocent people whose only fault is to have the wrong colour of skin are losing their jobs, losing Benefits and being deported to countries they may never have visited before in their lives. Even then, her apology and vague offer of compensation do not, so far, suggest that there will actually be any change in official policy. Any good distraction, such as an escalation of conflict in Syria or another spat with Russia will move the Windrush story off the front pages and May will be able to breathe again. Indeed, most newspapers are already shoving the story deeper into their news pages in an attempt to diminish the public’s outrage.

But, to get back to the point I wanted to highlight, in times past Theresa May’s deliberate lying to the House of Commons over who was responsible for the destruction of the documents would be a matter for resignation. In any normal democracy, her ineptitude would be a matter for her sacking. But times have changed, and politicians now believe, with some justification given events over the past couple of years, that they can lie with virtual impunity. Public outrage means nothing to them because they have the backing of multi-millionaire businesspeople and media barons. Theresa May’s days as Prime Minister may well be numbered, but her downfall will come about through internal Tory politicking rather than any public demand. Besides which, the prospect of having Jacob Rees Mogg replace her doesn’t suggest we would see any improvement in the calibre of our political elite, nor in the direction of official policies.

The second story is the news that Theresa May’s husband works for an investment company which is a major shareholder in BAE Systems and, thanks to the expenditure of BAE-built bombs and missiles in Syria, stands to make a fortune out of the illegal attacks the UK has carried out.

Now, it can be argued that what Theresa May’s husband does in his day job is nothing to do with political life, and that’s certainly the angle Tory supporters have been pushing. However, at the risk of becoming a history bore, the story of Caesar’s wife is worth recalling. You see, back in the days of the late Roman Republic before he seized ultimate power, Julius Caesar held the position of Pontifex Maximus, the chief religious office of the Roman State. His wife, Pompeia, hosted a religious festival in their official residence; a festival for women only, with no man being allowed to see what the ceremony entailed. However, one young nobleman dressed himself as a woman and sneaked into the building. He was discovered and scandal ensued. Although there was no suggestion that Pompeia had acted incorrectly in any way, Caesar divorced her on the stated grounds that, “Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion". Of course, he may have had some ulterior motive for divorcing her, but his action is often cited as an exemplar of how public officials should behave. This is not to suggest that Theresa May and her husband should divorce, but to suggest that people in public life really should be held to very high standards of moral behaviour. Whether the fact that her husband stood to gain financially from her decisions had any influence on Theresa May is not the point. The point is that neither of them should ever have placed themselves in positions where such accusations could be made. Again, if this had happened twenty or thirty years ago, resignations would have followed.

The third story does not concern public figures but comes from a more local perspective. Police in Central Scotland are asking for help to identify a woman who verbally abused a 17 year old partially sighted girl who was using her phone on a train. Because she cannot see, the girl was using her phone’s Screen Reader to read aloud her text messages to her. A fellow passenger took exception to this and began shouting abuse at her before getting off the train at the next stop.

Now, as a blind person myself, I use Screen Readers all the time. I know from when I first got a smartphone and discovered it could read everything to me that it was amazingly liberating. Yet I quickly discovered that it annoyed my family members no end. All they could hear was my phone chattering away at high speed as I scrolled through texts, emails, Twitter feeds and Facebook. It’s a bit like sitting beside someone who is listening to a radio station you have no interest in. I soon developed the habit of wearing earphones to listen to my phone whenever anyone else was around. I view this as a courtesy to those around me who do not want to be disturbed, and I’d strongly recommend to any blind person that they adopt this practice.

So I can understand why a fellow passenger might have felt irritated at the noise coming from this young woman’s phone, but that is no excuse to start abusing the poor girl. A polite request to perhaps turn the volume down or to wear earphones was all that was required. Sadly, the woman’s reaction shows that anger is a commonplace response nowadays.

Which brings me to the point of this article. I’ve said before that our society takes its lead from those at the top. If our politicians behave in a way which can only be described as racist, if they lie and are allowed to remain in office, if their relatives are seen to be in a position where they can be accused of benefitting financially from their privileged position, and if the media support or even encourage this sort of behaviour, then the public who share those attitudes will feel empowered to behave in ways which would be regarded as socially unacceptable in a civilised society. Our media has ramped up the rhetoric of hatred in recent years, and our politicians have played up to that call. They trample on democratic rules, they ignore or demonise anyone who disagrees with them, and they play the divide and rule card all the time, fostering hatred.

Is it any wonder that a person should feel it is acceptable to hurl verbal abuse at a partially sighted teenager for the crime of simply listening to an audio feed of what her phone was telling her? This is only the latest example of many similar, and worse, cases of abuse. People have even been physically assaulted because of their ethnic origin.

The way to resolve this is for anyone who works in public office to be held to high standards of behaviour and to be removed from office if they fail to maintain those standards. Sadly, there is no sign of that happening in the modern-day UK. The Tories, actively enabled by their Lib Dem and Labour allies, have systematically demonised the poor, the disabled and the unemployed as well as foreigners. It can be no coincidence that tolerance for other people has waned to such an extent that people feel able to abuse their fellow citizens for the crime of being different.

Our political leaders need to set a much better example, but that is not the way the UK is going. Instead, it seems determined to become an isolationist State which allows xenophobes to thrive.

If only there had been some way of Scotland escaping this madness.