Rationing Viagra won’t boost NHS performance
It’s better to cut highly paid health service managers than the medicines that perk people up
According to the World Health Organisation, health is not merely the absence of disease but the presence of complete social, psychological and physical wellbeing. And since everybody is the best judge of his own wellbeing, it follows that he who does not have his heart’s desire, and frets over it as a consequence, is in a state of ill-health.
The suggestion, then, by the South Central Priorities Committee (one of those Orwellian-sounding entities with which the NHS now pullulates), that the prescription of Viagra or other similar drugs for erectile dysfunction on the NHS should be restricted to two tablets per month, on the grounds of economy, is in contradiction with the system’s founding principles: that health care should be free at the point of usage. After all, sex life is part of health, and to enjoy a better sex life is to enjoy better health.
The problem with the WHO’s definition, of course, is that to deny anything that anyone desires is, likewise, potentially in contradiction with the system’s founding principles. If I pine for an expensive car that will improve my social status, and if social status (as it has been suggested) is a determinant of health, then it follows that I should be prescribed that car by my doctor on the grounds of health.
Impotence may be caused either physically or psychologically. A man may fail to desire any longer the woman he happens to be with; these things happen. Should, then, the NHS provide the man with someone whom he does desire, by setting up a call-girl service?
Lines have to be drawn somewhere, of course, but unfortunately the world is not divided into nice neat categories for the convenience of line-drawers. Almost all phenomena of any importance occur on a continuum, and so where to draw the line has long been a matter of judgment rather than of discerning clear, natural demarcations.
The NHS has long limited access to cosmetic surgery. The desire for such surgery ranges from that for the correction of obvious gross disfigurement to the merest vanity. It also encompasses madness – those who believe themselves to be disfigured by a feature that to everyone else appears perfectly normal, but for which they demand surgical correction: a correction that never satisfies, and leads to further demands for further correction, and so on ad infinitum. In such cases, suicide is sometimes the outcome.
Cosmetic surgery in the NHS is performed, then, only after an investigation of the person’s reasons for seeking it, and of his psychological stability. Those who are not deemed operable under the guidelines have to seek surgery privately; and even the mad will usually find a surgeon willing to operate on them, a partial (but only partial) confirmation of George Bernard Shaw’s cynical dictum that if you pay a man to cut off your leg, he will. I have known some sad cases of people who have devoted their lives to saving money for operations that never satisfy them.
The question, then, of whether to restrict the availability on the NHS of Viagra and other such drugs is a sensible or humane way to economise is not susceptible to a definitive answer. That economies in the NHS must be made seems certain: the increase in expenditure on the NHS between 1997 and 2007 is equal to about a third of our national debt, and may therefore be said to have played a large part in causing our current crisis.
The cost to the NHS of Viagra is about £78 million (it is a fair bet that the vast majority of those prescribed it do not pay prescription charges). This is about £2 per head of working population per year, the population that is least likely to need the drug. I have no idea whether, if a charity were set up to solicit voluntary financial contributions to subsidise the sex life of others, it would be able to collect £78 million. I suspect not.
But in the context of NHS spending, £78 million is small potatoes. I think it may safely be said that at least it makes quite a lot of people happier, and that therefore it does some good. The budget of the NHS is over £100 billion and needs far more drastic pruning than trimming amounts paid for medicines will achieve.
The obvious candidate for pruning is the wage bill. Those who are highly paid should have their salaries significantly reduced (as has been done in Ireland), particularly those who are not so-called front-line workers. All directors of diversity should be summarily dismissed. Directors of anything should have their salaries and allowances halved; management consultancy in the NHS should henceforth be a criminal offence.
If these proposals were met by strikes, the true purpose of many workers in the NHS would stand revealed: not public service or the health of the population, but the health of their bank balances. And at least my proposals are much sexier than those to limit the prescription of Viagra.
It’s Time To Drastically Slim Down Bias-Ridden BBC
Sir Antony Jay
The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has a duty of impartiality, as we all know. But what exactly does ‘impartiality’ mean? If it simply means giving equal time to Labour and Conservative politicians on matters of party contention, the BBC fulfils its duty fairly well. But if it means not having, or at least never revealing, any views of its own on any subject of public debate, well, that is quite another matter.
Anyone familiar with large organisations knows that over the years they develop and perpetuate their own ethos, their own value system, their own corporate beliefs and standards. The police, the Army, the National Health Service, the Civil Service – they all subscribe to their own central orthodoxy, even if not every member accepts every item of it. Connoisseurs of Whitehall are aware that different Ministries have different and even conflicting attitudes – the conservatism of the Home Office, the Ministry of Defence and the Department of Trade and Industry contrasts with the liberalism of the Departments of Education, Health and Social Services and the Department of Environment, though they are united in their belief in a large and well remunerated Civil Service. Those at the top of the tree are the custodians of corporate orthodoxy; they recruit applicants in their own image, and the applicants are steadily indoctrinated with the organisation’s principles and practices. Heretics tend to leave fairly early in their careers.
It would be astonishing if the BBC did not have its own orthodoxy. It has been around for 85 years, recruiting bright graduates, mostly with arts degrees, and deeply involved in current affairs issues and news reporting. And of course for all that time it has been supported by public money. One result of this has been an implicit belief in government funding and government regulation. Another is a remarkable lack of interest in industry and a deep hostility to business and commerce.
At this point I have to declare an interest, or at least admit to previous. I joined BBC television, my first job after university and National Service, in 1955, six months before the start of commercial television, and stayed for nine years as trainee, producer, editor and finally head of a production department. I absorbed and expressed all the accepted BBC attitudes: hostility to, or at least suspicion of, America, monarchy, government, capitalism, empire, banking and the defence establishment, and in favour of the Health Service, state welfare, the social sciences, the environment and state education. But perhaps our most powerful antagonism was directed at advertising. This is not surprising; commercial television was the biggest threat the BBC had ever had to face. The idea that television should be financed by businessmen promoting their products for profit created in us an almost spiritual revulsion.
And when our colleagues, who we had thought were good BBC men, left to join commercial broadcasters, they became pariahs. We could hardly bring ourselves to speak to them again. They had not just gone to join a rival company; they had sinned against the true faith, they were traitors, deserters, heretics.
This deep hostility to people and organisations who made and sold things was not of course exclusive to the BBC. It permeated a lot of upper middle class English society (and has not vanished yet). But it was wider and deeper in the BBC than anywhere else, and it is still very much a part of the BBC ethos. Very few of the BBC producers and executives have any real experience of the business world, and as so often happens, this ignorance, far from giving rise to doubt, increases their certainty.
We were masters of the techniques of promoting our point of view under the cloak of impartiality. The simplest was to hold a discussion between a fluent and persuasive proponent of the view you favoured, and a humourless bigot representing the other side. With a big story, like shale gas for example, you would choose the aspect where your case was strongest: the dangers of subsidence and water pollution, say, rather than the transformation of Britain’s energy supplies and the abandonment of wind farms and nuclear power stations. And you could have a ‘balanced’ summary with the view you favoured coming last: not “the opposition claim that this will just make the rich richer, but the government point out that it will create 10,000 new jobs” but “the government claim it will create 10,000 new jobs, but the opposition point out that it will just make the rich richer.” It is the last thought that stays in the mind. It is curiously satisfying to find all these techniques still being regularly used forty seven years after I left the BBC.
The issue of man-made global warming could have been designed for the BBC. On the one side are the industrialists, the businessmen, the giant corporations and the bankers (or at least those who are not receiving generous grants, subsidies and contracts from their government for climate-related projects such as wind farms or electric cars), on the other the environmentalists, the opponents of commercial expansion and industrial growth. Guessing which side the BBC will be on is a no-brainer, but no one has documented it in such meticulous detail as Christopher Booker. His case is unanswerable. The costs to Britain of trying to combat global warming are horrifying, and the BBC’s role in promoting the alarmist cause is, quite simply, shameful.
So what do we do about the BBC? One course of action that would be doomed from the start is to try and change its ethos, its social attitudes and its political slant. They have been unchanged for over half a century and just about all the influential and creative people involved in political programme commissioning and production are thoroughly indoctrinated. So do we abolish the BBC? After all, we do not have any newspapers or magazines that are subsidised with nearly four billion pounds of taxpayers’ money; why should broadcasting be different? If broadcasting were to start now, with all the benefits of cable and satellite technology, I cannot see anyone suggesting a system devised for the era of restricted wavelengths in which the BBC was born in the 1920s.
Of course no government would actually face up to the problem of privatising the BBC. And there are strong arguments for keeping it: some of its production units are among the best in the world. There is also a case for leaving its news and current affairs operation alone; it may have a built-in liberal/statist bias, but there are lots of other news channels which are commercially funded, so there is no great damage done if one of them is run by the middle class liberal elite.
No, what really needs changing is the size of the BBC. All we need from it is one television channel and one speech radio station – Radio 4, in effect. All its other mass of activities – publishing, websites, orchestras, digital channels, music and local radio stations – could be disposed of without any noticeable loss to the cultural life of the country, and the licence fee could probably be cut by two-thirds.
Could it happen? As the economic squeeze tightens, the case for a drastic slimming down of the BBC gets stronger every day. Cash-strapped households might be glad of the extra £100 a year, even at the expense of repeats, movies, imported programmes, quiz show and panel games – not to mention the sporting events we would see on other channels if the BBC hadn’t outbid them – that the BBC currently uses to fill out its schedules. But in some ways, the strongest case of all is made by Christopher Booker: if the BBC is to be paid to propagate the opinions of a liberal elite minority, it should not be allowed to dominate the national airwaves as it does today. Its voice should be heard, but it should not be allowed to drown out the others.
Showdown for British exam cheats: Board chiefs will be hauled before emergency session of MPs for a grilling over ‘coaching’ of teachers
In Britain it’s the examiners who are cheating, as well as the students
The heads of the country’s exam boards are being hauled before MPs in a bid to restore public confidence in GCSEs and A-levels, it was revealed yesterday.
The Commons’ education select committee has called an emergency session in the wake of the scandal over school teachers being ‘coached’ by examiners in how to improve their pupils’ pass marks.
Education Secretary Michael Gove hopes to de-commercialise the exam system so that each subject is tested by one board only – so rival boards would not be driven to offer tests that are easier than their competitors’ to try to win business from schools.
Rod Bristow, on behalf of Edexcel, and Gareth Pierce, chief executive of the Welsh board WJEC, will appear before the select committee on Thursday, alongside Mark Dawe, chief executive of OCR, and Andrew Hall, chief executive of AQA.
The exams regulator, Ofqual, and representatives from the Daily Telegraph have also been invited to give evidence. An undercover investigation by the newspaper exposed how teachers pay up to £230 a day to attend seminars with chief examiners, during which they have been advised on exam questions and the wording pupils should use to get higher marks.
Two examiners have been suspended from WJEC, after being filmed giving detailed guidance on forthcoming GCSE history exams.
Another examiner was suspended from Edexcel after being recorded claiming the course content in her board’s geography GCSE was so small she did not know how it had been passed by the regulator. The select committee is already investigating the country’s exam system. It now wants urgent answers from the exam bosses over the ‘shocking’ evidence unearthed.
Graham Stuart, chairman of the select committee, said: ‘One of the areas we’re already looking at is conflicts of interest – the commercial exploitation of their position as awarding bodies and whether the way the examination system is structured incentivises the right behaviour in awarding bodies.
‘This…tends to suggest the pressures and competition within the system are driving them to behaviour that is not in the best interests of good standards of education.’
Paul Barnes was filmed apparently telling teachers they could ignore some parts of the syllabus as they wouldn’t appear in the exams
Paul Barnes was filmed apparently telling teachers they could ignore some parts of the syllabus as they wouldn’t appear in the exams
He added: ‘The whole session will be on the evidence unearthed and the questions arising from that. ‘It will be about how we can have confidence in the system if the very people who are providing the awards appear to be complicit in gaining an encouragement of an approach which isn’t truly educational. We are already conducting an inquiry into exam boards and the need for reform.
‘The stories are shocking and suggest there may be a need for radical changes. The committee will question the heads of the exam boards to hold them publicly to account. We will also want to ask the regulator how such alleged breaches have been allowed to happen and explore what can be done to ensure that our qualifications support and encourage real learning rather than undermine it.’ Former senior examiner Martin Collier, who worked for Edexcel, told the committee last week that he wanted to see a single merged exam board because ‘it was wrong to put children’s qualifications into the marketplace’.
Mr Collier, who was an A-level history examiner between 1996 and 2011, told MPs: ‘One of the reasons why grades have gone up and up is the issue of market share. ‘Exam boards are very wary of saying, “this year there have been fewer A grades”.
‘What the exam boards are worried about is that if they hit children hard one year and the number of top grades diminish they fear people will go elsewhere.’
Mr Gove has ordered an official inquiry into the scandal and the regulator, Ofqual, must report back before Christmas. Chief executive Glenys Stacey has outlined a number of possible sanctions including pulling ‘examinations set for January and for next summer with awarding bodies providing substitute scripts’.
The Education Secretary said he is preparing to reform the exam system early in the new year, but is awaiting the findings of the investigation before finalising his proposals. His current plans would see exam boards compete to provide a single exam for each subject.
‘The first response that most people understandably have is, “Why don’t you just have one exam board?”’ he said last night.
‘And as someone who grew up in Scotland I naturally sympathise, because we just had one exam board. I think it is the most compelling answer at the moment. But I owe it to students and to teachers to let the investigators come up with their recommendations…. and present all the facts.’
Cherry juice helps you to sleep?
It could bve true but it’s a very tiny study for a very short time period
Two glasses of cherry juice can help you sleep nearly 40 minutes longer, research shows.
People who drank two glasses of tart cherry juice also napped less often in the day and had increased ‘sleep efficiency’ – the ratio of time spent in bed to time spent sleeping. They slept an average of 39 minutes longer.
Researchers found that Montmorency cherry juice – a variety of sour cherry – significantly increases the body’s level of melatonin, a powerful antioxidant that is critical in regulating sleep.
The 20 participants were given two 30ml servings of the juice diluted with half a pint of water, or an alternative fruit drink, for seven days – once when they woke up and another before bed.
The researchers at Northumbria University, whose findings were published in the European Journal of Nutrition, then tracked their sleep habits using actigraphs – watches that sense movement – and sleep diaries.
They found that healthy adults who had two daily glasses of the juice had longer sleep time, less daytime napping and up to a 6 per cent increase in sleep efficiency.
Researcher Jason Ellis said: ‘When darkness falls, the body produces melatonin to signal it is time to sleep. The juice provides an additional service to what we already have to strengthen the internal signal of the body clock.
‘It would definitely be beneficial to people with jet lag or coming off shift work – anywhere your internal clock has been fighting the external world.’
Even Europe’s human rights commissioner backs freedom of the Press in Britain
Europe’s human rights chief is to call for greater protection of press freedom after warning that the phone-hacking scandal should not be used as as ‘excuse’ for imposing tighter controls on newspapers.
Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, is expected to warn of the ‘dangers’ of statutory press regulation in a report to be launched tomorrow.
The Commissioner’s anticipated robust defence of the media will bolster calls to curtail the power of ‘media oligarchies’ such as Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.
The lengthy document, which addresses the balance between freedom of speech and human rights, comprises analysis from a panel of media experts.
‘Together these contributions give an indication that there is a need for stronger protection of media freedom and freedom of expression in Europe today,’ Mr Hammarberg is expected to say.
The report, Human Rights And A Changing Media Landscape, highlights the ‘critical role’ played by journalists who subject those in power to scrutiny.
Warning against statutory regulation – a possibility brought to the fore by the phone-hacking scandal and the ensuing criticism of the media’s embattled Press Complaints Commission – it states: ‘There are dangers in this.
‘Public outrage is legitimate when the ethics of journalism are abandoned in pursuit of money and political influence, and when the Press exercises power without responsibility, but it is no basis for curtailing media freedom.
‘Certainly, there is something to be said for curtailing the power of media oligarchies – of which News Corporation is a prime example – but that needs to be done in the name of pluralism, freedom and respect for privacy.
‘The Murdoch case, disgraceful though it is, should not be used as an excuse to impose heavy media regulation which would inhibit the capacity of investigative journalism.’
Mr Hammarberg’s report – which offers an overview of the media across Europe – highlights a decline in the scrutiny of power, particularly at local and regional level, amid editorial cuts in a struggling industry.
And it suggests reporting standards have been ‘sacrificed’ in the pursuit of commercial objectives. ‘Today journalism is in the midst of crisis,’ it states.
‘The traditional media, particularly newspapers, suffer not just from the effects of the global economic crisis but also the impact of structural and market changes which have reduced the profitability of media enterprises.
‘In response to these changing fortunes, severe cuts have been imposed in editorial departments that have weakened the quality of journalism.’
While the study underlines the media’s ‘enormously important role’ in the protection of human rights, it also calls into question British laws which have resulted in so-called libel tourism – where individuals pursue a claim in a jurisdiction where they are more likely to win damages.
‘This sort of action shows how weak legislative protection of journalists, such as that in the United Kingdom, can have the effect of silencing legitimate journalism and investigative reporting,’ the report concludes.
Agnes Callamard, executive director at Article 19, a group which campaigns for freedom of expression, said: ‘This report could not have come at a more timely moment.
‘The media in Europe and around the world is facing technological, political, and economic challenges that are threatening freedom of expression and freedom of the Press.
‘The United Kingdom, currently chairing the Council of Europe, must heed the recommendations outlined in the Commissioner’s report.’
The rise and rise of intolerant tolerance in Scotland
A few weeks ago, I watched a debate at the Scottish Parliament about the Offensive Behaviour in Football Bill, a proposal that could result in people who sing offensive ‘sectarian’ songs being imprisoned for up to five years. No matter the differences expressed between those for and against the Bill, there was one thing that they all had in common, an idea repeated ad nauseum by everyone who spoke and summed up by one member: ‘Everybody in this parliament is against any form of bigotry.’
As speaker after speaker got up to repeat this scripted line, it became increasingly clear that this was not a political idea or belief, but a mantra, a chant. It allowed those opposed to the Bill to show their respects, doff their cap at the altar of anti-racism and anti-sectarianism – assured of the murmured concurring of their opponents – and then make their points.
Looked at in this way, saying ‘I am against racism and sectarianism in all its forms’ is little more than a form of etiquette, something that has been learned rather than lived, a line that is repeated rather than one that has come out of debates and arguments. As John Stuart Mill observed, the strength of an idea comes less from its own intrinsic worth than through engagement, contestation and a battle with opposing ideas. If an idea is simply accepted, but never fought for, it loses its strength and significance.
Anti-sectarianism – the idea that no one should be mistreated or discriminated against because they are Protestant or Catholic – has become an essential etiquette that must be observed before any engagement in public life in Scotland. Nothing could make that clearer than the fact that two ‘ultra’ sections of fans from Rangers Football Club – one of the teams at the centre of the whole debate about sectarianism – have also recently declared their opposition to sectarianism. If genuine bigotry were to exist anywhere in Scotland, I suspect that the first place most people would look for it would be among the hardcore fans of Glasgow’s ‘Old Firm’ football clubs: the largely Protestant team, Rangers and the mostly Catholic club, Celtic. Yet, having denounced their treatment by the police, the two groups of Rangers fans declared that ‘The Union Bears and The Blue Order would like to make it clear we are against sectarianism and racism in all forms’.
This discussion has been generated, not by the rise of sectarianism, but rather by a rise in anti-sectarianism
The war on intolerance took off in 2002. The first minister at the time, Labour’s Jack McConnell, first discussed sectarianism as ‘Scotland’s shame’. From then on, ‘tolerance’ – and thus intolerance of sectarianism – became a significant framework, a watchword for Scotland’s new political elite struggling to create a sense of Scottishness after the creation of a separate Scottish Parliament in 1999.
As Michael Rosie notes in The Myth of Sectarianism, ‘Contemporary debate over perceived religious conflict is prompted by the “rebirth of Scotland”. With constitutional change and the establishment of the Scottish Parliament, the Scots are confronted by questions of identity: Who are we? Where are we going? Where have we been?’.
Before 1997, there were almost no articles mentioning ‘sectarianism’ with reference to the ‘Old Firm’ in the Glasgow Herald, the biggest Scottish broadsheet. In 1997, this began to change, with 20 such articles published. The number rose to 50 in 2002 when Jack McConnell started talking about ‘Scotland’s shame’. The initial increase in 1997 related less to a rise in sectarianism than to a rise in anti-sectarianism and initiatives to ‘deal with this problem’.
In 2011, following the election of the current SNP government, anti-sectarian campaigning once again became big news with 85 articles about sectarianism and the Old Firm so far this year. Despite the plethora of laws already in existence to deal with sectarianism in football, the current first minister, Alex Salmond, has revived the discussion about the apparent problem of sectarian hatred and violence in Scottish society.
There were a couple of one-off events last year that triggered the talk about the need to wipe out sectarian hatred, including the bizarre sending of ‘threatening’ mail bombs to a number of high-profile Catholics. However, no increase in street violence was mentioned, no evidence of increased arrests at games was cited, nor were any statistics used to show any increased sectarian conflicts in society. Despite this total lack of evidence about a growing sectarian problem in Scottish football, the Offensive Behaviour in Football Bill was proposed with the aim of clamping down on the apparent intolerance and bigoted sectarianism of Old Firm football fans.
In fact, the extent of the problem of sectarianism is strongly contested. SNP politicians justifying the Bill have tended to use statistics illustrating that the public thinks sectarianism is wrong. In other words, the justification for the Bill derives from opinion polls not crime statistics. It is not sectarianism, but anti-sectarianism that has risen exponentially.
Since 1997 expressions of the Good – the tolerant – have grown in Scotland. The Church of Scotland, for example, argued back then that there was ‘no time for intolerance’ within the church, and that the church must ‘tackle Orange Order bigotry’. This was soon followed by the Catholic Church explaining that ‘We’re all for tolerance’.
An anti-sectarian industry began to grow at this time, with grants being awarded to beat bigotry. Discussions started in 2001 between Celtic and Rangers about their possible involvement in the new ministerial group to tackle sectarianism. The campaign Sense over Sectarianism was launched; the public-sector trade union Unison came out in opposition to sectarianism; even former James Bond star Sean Connery came forward to oppose bigotry. Football club-based campaigns like Bhoys Against Bigotry were set up and the National Union of Students in Scotland created their own anti-sectarianism campaign. By 2006, an Action Plan on Sectarianism was set up by the Scottish government, with the aim of creating a tolerant and ‘truly multicultural and multi-faith Scotland’. Teaching tolerance, with reference to sectarianism, has consequently become part and parcel of children’s education in Scotland.
Professor John Flint has described this period as having the ‘most intensive and sustained focus on governing sectarianism in the post-Second World War period’. He is right. At one level, this is understood with reference to the regulation of a certain type of person in society, the working-class football fan. However, this massive rise in anti-sectarianism appears to have a certain significance in and of itself, and with reference to the new political elites in Scotland.
Some very useful work carried out by Steve Bruce, Michael Rosie and others has blown holes in the idea that Scotland is or, to some extent, ever was a sectarian country. However, these ‘facts’ have had no impact upon the politicisation and problematisation of sectarianism because anti-sectarianism has nothing to do with the actual problem of sectarianism. Tather, anti-sectarianism is Scotland’s flag of tolerance, our own brand of anti-racism.
Despite the declining significance of sectarianism at a religious or even political level, especially with the end of the conflict in Northern Ireland, the stereotypical wee bigot can be dragged out time and time again, kicked into touch and booed at like a pantomime villain. In this way, anti-sectarianism has become the badge of honour for each newly elected Scottish government.
However, not too long ago, the idea of tolerance meant something very different: it meant you tolerated other people’s ideas, beliefs and words. Children were taught that sticks and stones did not break their bones and individuals were expected to recognise the difference between words and actions. Words and their free use were considered important in a free society; name-calling might make children cry, but adults would teach them to deal with this and to grow up.
This freedom, and the necessity to tolerate views you did not like, was, as spiked contributor Frank Furedi has observed in On Tolerance, based on an expectation of judgement. We judge ideas and beliefs, we disagree with them or even hate them, yet in a free society we tolerate them. As John Stuart Mill argued, this was important not only for freedom in the abstract but for ideas in society to have a vitality – to be challenged constantly by different and even offensive ideas.
Jaboby’s insight about the political elite is telling: ‘With few ideas on how a future should be shaped, they embrace all ideas.’
The new intolerant tolerance jars with those accustomed to heated banter. Talking to old football fans at Ibrox, they simply don’t understand the problem. Why on Earth would shouting stuff at a football game become a big deal or a political problem? ‘Water off a duck’s back’, they say, shrug their shoulders and look puzzled.
But today, being offended is the in thing. More than that, it is the morally correct pose to take. Being outraged or shocked at ‘sectarian hate’ and other ‘offensive’ behaviour is de rigueur because it expresses your own nature as a modern, tolerant person. This modern version of tolerance is not about individual freedom or about encouraging the free expression of words or beliefs. As such it is not about making judgements. It is much more conservative and fragile than that; in many ways, it is the opposite of Mill’s notion of tolerance.
As Furedi argues, tolerance now has come to mean being non-judgemental; it means we should not challenge or question or offend different ‘cultures’ in any way. To judge is now to be hurtful and we must offer respect unthinkingly towards ‘difference’ and ‘diversity’. Being tolerant is not about being free, it is simply the done thing. As such, the state and politicians in Scotland can stretch their hands across myriad imaginary barricades and give affirmation to a variety of groups in society. ‘We respect you’, they say, ‘and will not accept intolerant behaviour in any form’.
This is where the anti-sectarianism mantra comes in: judgment is replaced by a formulaic unthinking respect of difference that is lifeless and not part of a culture of free contesting ideas and beliefs. The result is that ‘I am opposed to racism and sectarianism in all its forms’ becomes a platitude that is not based on argument, debate or engagement with contesting ideas in society. Rather, it is a correct form of behaviour adopted so as not to hurt or offend anyone.
In this respect, today’s tolerance closes down debate because of the perceived danger of offending different groups. More than this, the high moral ground given to tolerance means that intolerance becomes understood to be the cause of serious conflicts in society. In this context, ‘sectarian’ football name-calling becomes a profound issue and problem to address. This explains why the seamless link between singing offensive songs and actual acts of violence made by politicians seems to make sense. Intolerance is understood to be an act of violence in and of itself.
The idea of being able to ignore offensive comments or songs as ‘water off a duck’s back’ is no longer the appropriate moral standpoint. Showing your outrage at intolerance and showing that you are offended becomes a ‘good’. To be thin-skinned, to complain to the police, to be shocked and outraged become part and parcel of the correct form of behaviour.
The new moralising form of tolerance has become a central framework around which the new Scottish elite and its institutions have organised themselves. As such, nobody has an interest in denying the problem of sectarianism; indeed, the opposite is the case. Even the Protestant Kirk is happy to exaggerate the problem and to apologise for anything it did in the past that was sectarian, thus cleansing itself and entering the tolerant fold of the new elite. To be a ‘right-thinking person’ in a modern Scotland you don’t need to think, but you must be tolerant.
As the American social thinker Russell Jacoby observed in his book The End of Utopia, tolerance and multiculturalism in the US became based on the idea that ‘the more you support it, the more virtuous you are’. Stripped of any utopian vision, progress is reformulated around the ‘celebration of diversity’.
Regarding the new Scottish elites embrace of tolerance, Jaboby’s insight about the political elite is telling: ‘With few ideas on how a future should be shaped, they embrace all ideas.’ Furedi’s On Tolerance likewise notes that, at a time when overt nationalist sentiments are less acceptable, tolerance becomes the opt-out clause. As he argues, this is an approach ‘of political pragmatism’ for a society that finds it difficulty to inspire the public, develop a sense of commonality or to give meaning to national unity.
Today’s bizarre concern about football fans singing songs and waving flags, the ridiculous talk about religious hate crime, and the impassioned language of offence have nothing to do with sectarianism and everything to do with the elites’ and the middle classes’ moral crutch of tolerance. The irony in Scotland is that there are no real differences in the lives of Catholics and Protestants – and any differences that do exist are dying out fast. ‘Sectarianism’ is kept alive not by the ‘hate-filled bigots’ at football grounds, but by the new tolerant elites desperate to hold onto an issue that gives them a momentary sense of common goodness and moral purpose.