Author Archives: Johnny McDermott

Johnny McDermott is a Glasgow University Law graduate who is studying for his Masters with a focus on moral and political philosophy.

Drawing in a mirror – Merlyn’s torment

TH White’s story of King Arthur is unconstrained by the traditional myths. He reinvents the world of round tables completely, influenced by the horrors and futility of war.

His Merlyn, and the way in which he experiences time, is a mind-bending concept that has fascinated me since childhood. Scholars of the work debate aspects, but roughly, he began his existence at the end of time, and moves backwards to the beginning. Thus he knows outcomes but has little power to change them:

… one gets confused with time… gets muddled… if you know what’s going to happen to people, but not what has happened to them, it makes it difficult to prevent it happening… Like drawing in a mirror. (The Sword and the Stone, 1938)

It is a very difficult plot device to wrap one’s head around, and in the end it is not clear it works coherently. The theme remains unblemished: you can know the outcomes, perhaps not by supernatural means but say forecasting and the opinions of experts; you can tell people what this means for them, what is going to happen; but you cannot hope to persuade them if you do not know what has happened to them.

We are a party that has a clear diversity problem. I have no figures, but responses to these posts them to be from the same class of people. People like me. I have some experience of what I thereafter called the real world, but am under no illusions that, although I may have lived amongst men with less privilege, I did not become one of them. How can we hope to change minds when we do not properly understand how those minds form? How those deep divisions entrenched? We have our own trenches to dismantle, if we are to have any hope of affecting positive change in power (presumably by sharing it). Assumptions about Brexiteers and their beliefs, their capabilities and education, their backgrounds and true grievances, have made it impossible for us to spell out what we clearly see to be impending doom.

Thinking of Merlyn’s tormented journey backwards through time, led me to question our approach to winning the argument. I find wisdom in his words, but he offers no solution. I believe the point is to recognise that we cannot hope to control the actions of others. Applied to our political situation, we cannot hope to control the setting within which we try to win the argument. Views are entrenched, and we must investigate how they became so in an impartial manner, if we ever hope to alter them. We must learn what happened, before we can figure out what we should propose is going to happen.

Posted in Op-eds | 4 Comments

‘Keep the heid!’: Dad and the Cuban missile crisis

May you live in interesting times. These ‘interesting times’ we find ourselves in are frightening, doubtless. My ‘boomer’ mother admitted the restrictive measures are definitely ‘weird’, even in her lifetime. I am forced to turn to memories of my father, who better remembered far darker times.

He was born around the time of the great depression, and died around the time of our great recession. It was a life marred by personal tragedy, one in which he had, I believe, almost always felt a powerless observer. He rarely spoke of being a young boy at the edges of the blitzed area …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 15 Comments

Jo Swinson…for leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats?

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A few days after the general election, in a state of numbness I’m sure you are all familiar with, my thoughts were on our former leader, Jo Swinson.

I admit, I was not a full-throated supporter of Swinson’s. I believed she would have problems building the relationships and alliances essential to stopping Brexit, so backed Ed in the contest. In my opinion, she had an opportunity to set Scotland on a more positive course against independence. The real north, as I described it last week, could have begun to work more closely to tackle our unique crises. We would have been better able to hold the SNP’s feet to the iron, somewhat ironically, had we spent less time engaging in running point-scoring battles. We had the same aim. Those failings I find hard to set aside.

Posted in Leadership Election and Op-eds | Tagged and | 15 Comments

The real north

I have been feeling grim about the prospects of the union, should there be another referendum. I’m trying to figure out what we can do to stop it breaking apart, beyond the empty soundbite of “working together for now, cross-party, towards a better Scotland, regardless of its constitutional state”. Basically making some progress on “the day job” stuff for a while. To do that, we need to figure out what it is nationalists want, because like it or not, there is no Scottish Parliamentary election result in 2021 that doesn’t see us having to find some common ground with …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 50 Comments

What would Paddy do?

I’ve been rooting around the comments on LDV autopsies, finding myself in a contradiction. We “already have a horse”, I said – Sir Ed Davey – and could steal a march on whomever Labour appoint as the second of only two horses in the next No 10 race. I don’t believe it to be an anti-democratic appeal to ask new entrants and MPs with little or no public recognition to think about what the party needs before personal careers.

 We are in desperate need of realism. We really cannot go into 2023-24 expecting a majority. That would be a farce. It was not down to the withdrawal of the Brexit Party, destroying a “4 horse race” strategy. Did we genuinely believe Farage would abandon decades of attempts to leave the EU to cash in on some short term power move? The Brexit Party’s existence was an obvious threat to its own imperative. We could see that clearly enough to push for a win, so we must have known withdrawal was a highly likely possibility.

 So I’ve been trying to resolve my contradiction. We cannot win, but should not wait for a second horse to be appointed and trail after them, shaping our party in their image. I don’t believe those are positions that cannot be squared. I found myself asking: what would Paddy do?

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 60 Comments

“Sit down, love” – a father’s dilemma

I am still not sure how I feel about my introducing politics to my twelve-year-old daughter. I don’t like the idea of indoctrination, and despite being open about my views, I try to balance them with what the opposing ideas are, so she doesn’t just take what I say as gospel.

It’s tricky. If I think “I’m right”, shouldn’t I teach her what “is right”? Yet, my father did not. A Labour man his whole life, and I barely knew it till he died. They did not shelter us from it. My parents allowed us to know the ideas and make our own choices. I want to try to do that for my daughter.

One thing I will not offer an “alternative view” for is the need for civilised discourse, the need to agree to disagree and make friendships across party-lines. She came home from school a little envious of her environmentally woke friends, who had chosen the subject for their end of primary school talks. We talked a while about the issues she thought important. Gender was chief amongst them. 

I made the mistake of only really knowing about strong legal women, and it ended up tilting to Ruth Bader Ginsburg (we’d seen On the Basis of Sex – a Hollywood biopic about the second Supreme Court Justice –  a month prior) and – to include the crossing-divides theme – Sandra Day O’Connor, of whom we knew nothing.

In the end it was a little convoluted and rushed – how to explain Constitutional Law and the Separation of Powers, gender equality and civilised debate in modern politics in 5-7 minutes was perhaps an editorial screw up on my part. But she understood it. Better, she came up with most of it herself. Did her own research and typed her own speech. It was very important to include SDC’s love of beef jerky because it showed she grew up on a ranch and was strong. Also RBG’s love of opera. Obviously. 

Like any parent, I got a sting of disappointment for her when it didn’t get selected for their assembly; but I thought she’d gained a lot from it and was proud of herself. And more sure of herself, as a young woman.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 12 Comments

Brexit: Do we follow Jeremy Corbyn or revert to Theresa May’s plan?

With regard to Brexit, two options remain for the Liberal Democrats. They are unpalatable. Our very newfound strength represents unconverted electoral energy. We must not overplay our hand.

There is no legitimate option to Remain without attempting reform. We cannot just hope that the far-right does not swell and that our fulsome democracy is not irreparably damaged and left as an empty shell of majoritarian rule. The likes of Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson know how to pipe the tune to destruction.

These are not hollow (Project) fears. We must guard against them as vigilantly as we try to prevent No Deal.

Our options:

Jeremy Corbyn. He offers us a government of national unity to stop No Deal. Then a General Election that we’ve been chomping at the bit to fight. Then – he assumes he’ll win, but we’ll see about that! – a referendum. For this we must accept Jeremy Corbyn as a neutered Prime Minister for a little while. And – I know my fellow Scottish LDs won’t want to hear it – IndyRef2 for the SNP’s support.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 46 Comments
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  • User Avatarexpats 31st Mar - 10:20am
    David, Mark, Matt...Thank you for your concern and best wishes...May I extend those thanks to others on here who will feel the same..Obviously, with post...
  • User Avatarmatt 31st Mar - 10:09am
    @expats Hope your wife is feeling better soon. Not to be an alarmist, but I guess this is advice for everyone. What we are doing...
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    @ expats, Likewise, best wishes to you and Mrs Expats, in the hopes that her ill health will pass quickly.
  • User AvatarDavid Raw 31st Mar - 9:53am
    @ expats Just to say every good wish to you and your wife, expats. Best, David....
  • User AvatarJulian Tisi 31st Mar - 9:47am
    I was on a zoom meeting yesterday and I commented on someone's bookshelf behind them - it looked like one of those "politician's" bookshelves with...
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    As will be clear to LDV addicts from the several posts I have made in the last week or so, I completely agree with Lorenzo....
Mon 27th Apr 2020