Ten years on and the Bully State continues to grow

Ten years on and the Bully State continues to grow

by Brian Monteith
article from Tuesday 16, April, 2019

THE OTHER DAY I Tweeted a link to an article I had written for ThinkScotland about a further possible incursion into our rights as individuals by the state. (This time it’s demands to restrict the resale of tickets for gigs and other events by their owners.) As a result of this authoritarian approach I used the phrase “Bully State” in the title, because we are long past the Nanny State and wanted to emphasise this. 

Interestingly, the response by supporters of more state interference was to query the very existence of the Bully State: “Agents of the ‘BULLY STATE’. I mean, where do you start...” was one, another was “I didn't even know the bully state was a thing until today.”

It made me sit back and think; where have people been? Are they ignorant of post-war British political history? Presumably such people don’t believe they are, for they possess the self-confidence (or arrogance?) to tell us how our lives should be run. Their unalloyed certainties must be based upon their own particular worldview formed from a historical narrative and, hopefully, evidence.

Have they not heard then of the nanny state? Many objected to nanny’s pervasive influence in our daily lives, some reluctantly concluded nanny really had our best interests at heart, while others worked feverishly to extend nanny’s influence. Me? I wrote a book about it, ten years ago in fact, but such is the ignorance on display, the forgetfulness of how the state has slowly smothered us, that I’m seriously thinking of updating it. 

Oh for the days of nanny, for she is no more. She has been dismissed, sent packing, told she is behind the times. A bright, brash,young thing – the bully – has replaced benign old nanny. The bully is tough, malevolent and unrelenting in the pursuit of total control. Since my book was published the bully has not stood still, but grown larger and stronger and more menacing.

The state is no longer content to allow people their hard-fought liberties while pointing out the choices it would like us to make. Today the state goes to great lengths to not only direct or restrict our choices – but to criminalise us and enter into our private domain. Our homes are no longer our castles as the state seeks to control our behaviour with intimidation and threats backed up by brute force. 

It was this move from nannying, which I found irksome but was prepared to tolerate, towards outright bullying – the name calling, the prosecutions, the use of technology to control people’s behaviour – that moved me to write my book. Once I started the problem was trying to stop because the growth of the nanny state and its mutation into the bully state never stops. 

What is it about so many politicians that they feel they should place their often grubby hands all over our freedoms? Why are they such liberty takers? It happens very slowly, so you don’t notice it. One by one our liberties are infringed until we are living in a society so intrusive we don’t know how to begin to challenge it.

Frankly, it’s the politicians who are bad for us, not my steak tartare, my cigar or my gin and tonic (all of which have received the attention of the bully). As with any laws that seek to settle conflicting rights and responsibilities between individuals there are grey areas, fine lines of balance; thus nannying will always divide people. That’s because it is generally well intentioned and a surprising number of people do wantto be told what to do. They like the security it gives them. They want to be nudged, they want to conform. But bullying is different. Bullying is when the government grows impatient with nanny’s progress in seeking to educate us and instead opts for coercion through fines, criminal records, legal entry and the confiscation of private property to meet its latest set of targets.

The growth of the bully state has not been without pushback from ordinary people taking on the power-seeking politicians and single-issue obsessionists – and some of those challenges to authority have been successful. Proposals for compulsory use of an identity card in the UK were eventually defeated, while in Scotland the proposals for creating a ‘state guardian’ for every child were stopped in the courts. There have been others, but still the bully keeps coming back and over time knowing that our societal memory changes, accepting the past and current bullying as the everyday.

Every new generation that grows up with compulsory motorcycle helmets and use of seat belts thinks that is the new normal – it wasn’t when I was a youth. Anyone under thirty-one has never lawfully smoked inside a Scottish pub. Now there are new laws about sugar in drinks and we can see the same demands coming for more restrictions on what we eat. 

This is no coincidence. The people who have sought over the last 40 years to limit our personal behaviour in areas such as smoking, eating, driving, drinking and other lifestyle choices are well coordinated, regularly share their experiences, and often move across sectors from one campaign to another. While different bullies in aspects of our lifestyles work together while the public responds individually. The bullies divide and rule; we accept new laws for one group, like smokers and then find the same laws are applied to drinkers and, ironically, those using e-cigs. Had so many of the advocates of e-cigs not attacked smokers they might have found they would not be picked off later. Had the food and alcohol companies not distanced themselves from smokers they might not have found the same state interference imposed on them. (I write this as someone who has never smoked a cigarette and who’s dad died from complications following lung cancer.)

Although there are many things that we may not care for ourselves – cigarette smoke in bars, rolls of body fat cascading over hipsters or the sport of fishing – it is in our own interests to defend smokers, burger-munchers and anglers because the denial of their freedoms makes the loss of the freedoms we cherish far easier and far more likely. 

Selling-on a ticket for a gig you can’t go to? Buying a ticket to see a Wimbledon final just once in your life? Who would have thought, that like buying or selling your car, putting your vinyl albums on e-bay, that there could be anything wrong with it? We must identify and call out the links between the different bans and restrictions and support those whose habits we may not necessarily like or indulge in ourselves – or see our own freedoms perish. We can take heart that we have had victories in the recent past, but if we don't defend the freedoms of others as well as our own then it's our lifestyles too that will be at risk. 

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