Sunday, 4 August 2013

The Hunter home from the Hill

My plan to be a bit more blogging from my holiday fell by the wayside when I didn't have wifi at my location for the second week. But, although I'm home, I'm actually still on holiday for another week so I'm going to be staying away from politics till then.

Or Scottish politics at least.

The second week of my holiday coincided with the disposal of Silvio Berlusconi's final appeal against his four year prison sentence for tax evasion. He is now, in theory, to go to the jail. Although in practice that would, at worst, mean a form of house arrest, since he is over 75 and Italian law means that nobody over 75 serves time in a normal prison. And anyway only for a year because...................oh never mind, it's a long story.

In the immediate aftermath of the Court's decision there was the usual outrage by the man himself and an immediate suggestion by his Party, the PdL, that if President Napolitano wished them to remain part of the governing coalition, then a Presidential pardon might be considered. Our Man, the current Prime Minister, Enrico Letta, seemed largely to do no more than suggest everybody keep calm, a task for which he might be ideally suited for as an orator he makes Ian Duncan Smith look like Cicero.

Anyway, then everybody went on holiday, since it was August and this was Italy. No doubt they will all return to a state of hysteria (Comrade Letta aside) around about the 1st of September.

Now, I might be the last person to say this but I can see the argument of the Cavaliere's supporters on these matters. They relate to a period when nobody in Italy paid their proper taxes. You might think that Berlusconi, as a leading public figure (for a good part of the time covered by the indictment he was Prime Minister!) should have been the visible good example to the contrary in that regard but that misunderstands the nature of his electoral coalition. He was only doing what they were doing, albeit on a somewhat larger scale and to many of them it seems unfair that he has been singled out in this way "just because he was Prime Minister."

Most of us, I think, would believe that this was all the more reason for singling him out, if he was singled out, to jump languages for the moment pour encourager les autres.

And, do you know, I think that might just be having an effect. I was struck both in the fortnight past and when I was in the Veneto in May that retail transactions are now invariably done "by the book", with proper receipts and far fewer insistencies on cash. Now, I suspect that the tax reforms of Mario Monti in response to Italy's Euro Crisis has also had an impact here, and indeed the panicked reactions of many Italians, at that time, to the realisation that Italy might drop out of Europe's "First Division". Even the "moral disapproval" of Grillo's Five Star Movement may also be playing a part (although the man himself remains a clown).Whatever is behind it, this can only be a good thing for the Country and the wider European project.
Maybe I'll try to get to the mezzogiorno in the Autumn to see if this change goes all the way South.

There was however another thing worth noticing. That was how far the whole Berlusconi thing passed most people by. Now obviously there must be some element of ennui about this. Berlusconi is a bit like our own First Minister in this one regard; most of those engaged with politics have already made up their mind about him, for good or ill.

But that's not the real message. Most people simply couldn't care less. During the week I had a car, I would listen to Italian Radio. It helped with my efforts to improve my Italian. The channel (!02.5) had a standard format. Cheesy pop songs (about twenty played in a continuous loop) and phone ins. And despite the Berlusconi verdict, before and after, leading the hourly news bulletins, the phone ins were entirely about where people were, or were going, on holiday; how hot it was and what the caller had had for lunch and/or was going to have for dinner. And with whom.

For, like here, politics remained very much a minority interest. I've said this before but it's worth repeating that the whole Independence Referendum does not dominate everyday life for ordinary people, no matter how it might appear to within the limited circle obsessed with Good Morning Scotland; the "serious" newspapers; Scotland Tonight; Newsnicht and, dare I say it myself, Twitter.

The only other thing I would say is that if  Italy is anything to go by, this is not a uniquely Scottish experience.


However, in case your worried, I'll be back to feeding the obsessives in that regard next week when, amongst other things, I'll give you my view's on Iain McWhirter's "The Road to the Referendum" which I read while away.

Meanwhile, I've still got a week off so I may go to......Edinburgh.

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