As our hero Jim faces a vital Scottish Executive meeting, Citizen Cuddis detects a (very) late surge. He tells us this may be something to do with Stanley Milgram’s obedience experiment of the 1960s…
Achiltibue Hughie, a victim of savage austerity cuts imposed by Newsnet management on their already meagre clothing allowance for roving reporters, stands in front of a windswept portacabin. wearing a counterfeit Berghaus jacket. A “Not to be worn during weather” label hangs from the collar.
The jacket’s thin lining struggles to prevent the onset of hypothermia in the Siberian cold snap. Another 10 minutes of exposure and his falsers will need to be thawed out using a Vidal Spitoon professional hair drier if he is ever to speak again.
“In the dying days of the 2015 election campaign,” Hughie announces, “wannabe MPs with the morals of sheep rustlers and the ethics of Burke and Hare, beg voters for an opportunity to demonstrate their honesty, at least until after the votes are counted.
“Now that the last octogenarian has been frightened into believing that her post-election pension will be paid in Ugandan Shillings, collectible only at a Faroese post-office and subject to upper band income tax, the flood waters of politicians’ cumulative deceit sweeps up the bleak strand of half-truth, smear and innuendo to dump doubt, dodgy-doings and double-dealing along the shoreline of electoral opinion.”
“And with campaigns in the doldrums, it seems that Auld Nick has made work for idle hands at the Heedrum Hodrum Collider’s Institute of Political Psychiatry, here in Troon.”
Professor Klaus Vier, Boffin-In-Chief of the HHC, Troon wears a lab coat with 30 ball point pens in the top pocket (a hint of Bohemia about the hairstyle—something Billy Fury about the fringe) and sits behind a desk in front of a Commodore 64.
“Can you tell us about the Institute?” Hughie asks the professor.
“Of course,” the Professor replies. “The HHC’s pecking order is simple. I am the Institute’s Boffin-in-Chief. Reporting to me are the über-qualified or Eggheads as they prefer to be known. Their assistants are the Wunderkinder. These are like Minions. The main difference being that we have to pay NI contributions for the wunderkinder and Minions are just CGI characters.”
“Bestriding Troon like a technological colossus, is the Commodore 64 which controls all HHC facilities across Central Scotland. There may be better machines out there but the last time we went to PC World we were after a dot matrix printer, so who knows.”
Hughie asks, “With the GE2015 campaigns winding down we understand that discipline within the staff here has been a problem.”
“Bored Wunderkinder had been sneaking into Troon,” the professor says. “Or the big smoke as we call it, putting lighted bangers through letterboxes and running away. So we thought we’d re-run a famous psychology experiment to keep the Wunderkinder occupied before they started writing on the wallpaper with ballpoint pens.”
Hughie outside the portacabin again. His face and hands are the colour of Ribena. The microphone in his hand is shaking so badly he looks like he’s playing the maracas. The hood and one sleeve of his Poundland Berghaus blow off, shorn of their tack-stitched moorings by an arctic blast, and whip over the portacabin roof out of sight.
“A little experiment to keep the HHC’s rug rats from mischief,” says Hughie. “Where’s the harm in that you ask? But what was to unfold here, would rock Troon’s scientific community to its very foundations.”
Hughie walks through the front door of the portacabin, into a room containing two tables with chairs. On one table sits a large metal box with lights and switches.
“The experiment consisted of three people and this gadget.” Hughie points to a rectangular box and to various other locations as he speaks)
“One person, the teacher, asks a second person—the learner, questions from this desk. The learner, with electrodes attached to their ears, is in the next room, through the glass there. The teacher administers electric shocks of increasing severity in response to wrong answers. The more wrong answers the more volts. Too many wrong answers and its ‘frying tonight’.
“In fact, no shocks are administered; the apparatus is not connected to the electric power. The learner is a confederate who feigns pain—he’s a pain feigner. The idea is to see how far people will go when an authority figure eggs them on.”
“In this re-run, the experimenter, played by Professor Vier himself, is the authority figure. His role is to insist that the teacher continues to zap the learner when the teacher baulks at shocking the learner. “Another boring experiment, you say? Perhaps, but the learner in this case was none other than Jim Murphy.”
In professor Vier’s office, the wall behind his desk is festooned with certifications, awards and the likes. A 50 Yards Swimming Certificate, Cycling Proficiency Award, a membership certificate for the Tufty Fluffy-tail Road Safety Club, a parchment conferring the Freedom of Coatbridge Container Terminal and an honorary degree from the University of California at Wishaw.
“Once we enlisted Jim Murphy as the learner we decided to lie to him too,” says the professor. “After all, he’s been lying to all of us for months. And anyway, if you can’t tell lies during an election campaign, when can you. We tricked Jim into taking part by telling him that he was auditioning for a part in a new BBC quiz game called Double your Expenses.”
“We told him that as he answered questions, a special headset would capture his deeply insightful political thoughts at the moment of their creation. We said we’d bottle these thoughts, sell them at a garage sale for a pound a throw and give Jim the proceeds. In addition, each correct answer, he was told, would double his expenses claim for the month.”
“Was he pleased?” Asks Hughie.
“Well, he started galloping up and down the room Gangnam Style. So I suppose he was,” replies the professor.
The professor points to the row of lights and switches on the black box. Each has a legend beneath it, explaining the effects of the voltage. They run from 10 Volts up to 500 volts, the last is marked with a skull and crossbones logo with no legend or voltage inscribed. A tuning knob moves the indicator lights from lower to higher voltages. The professor points to the 10 Volt light with a biro.
“Most people say a shock of 10 volts is like having their erect nipples tickled with a goose feather. We’ll that’s how it feels to me anyway. It’s a Fifty Shades thing.”
“At the other end of the scale, 500 volts could blow a Clydesdale horse clean through a stable door into lunar orbit. Between these extremes 250 Volts would set your amalgam fillings vibrating like the clapper on an electric school bell. While 350 Volts tend to cause the ears to vibrate Willie Rennie-style like tent flaps in a gale.”
In the room where the learner, Jim Murphy will be kept, Hughie is strapped into the ‘electric chair’ with electrodes attached by crocodile clips to his ear lobes.
“We chose a mild mannered member of our staff for the role of teacher,” says the professor. “Mildred Merriweather, our librarian here at the Institute. She has a Hobbit’s name, a Muppet’s haircut and the emotional demeanour of dormouse on Valium. Surely she could not be provoked into doing harm in this way.” He turns and gestures to Achiltibuie Hughie.
Hughie says, “So what does happen when Jim Murphy, a shy woman with a Muppet’s hairdo and the nuttiest of professors are thrown together in the name of science?”
The Professor stands under a wall mounted TV, looking up at Kezia Dugdale being interviewed. Kezia is saying “That might be the question you’re asking but this is the one I’m answering.” He turns the sound down, leaves the subtitles on.
Mildred has failed to turn up but appears to have sent a substitute. The substitute introduces herself to the professor. “Mildred cannae come the day. So she’s asked me—I’m Teeny by the way—tae stand in furr’er. Onybody got a problem we that?
The professor leads Teeny to the room next door in time to watch the wunderkinder strap Jim Murphy into the ‘electric’ chair. Electrodes are attached to Murphy’s earlobes. Teeny disappears behind the chair briefly with a Lidl’s bag from which various loose wires protrude. When she appears again the bag is empty. A step-up transformer has been attached to the chair which in turn is hard wired to the national grid.
“Protocol insists that you can stop at any time,” the professor says.
“No fucking way,” Teeny replies. “I’ve waited years for this chance.”
“The fee for participating’s a fiver. Is that okay?”
Teeny whips a £10 note out of her purse and stuffs it in the professor’s top pocket.
“Here’s a tenner, keep the change.”
Behind the professor’s head an ashen-faced TV announcer speaks. A Newsflash. The sound is muted and only subtitles convey the naked truth. ‘We interrupt our wall to wall ‘SNP bad’ coverage to bring you an important message. A librarian with a Muppet’s haircut has been found in a library cupboard in Glasgow.’
‘The perpetrator is still on the loose. She has been identified as Christina ‘Teeny’ McGubbins, a 65 year old Celtic supporter. Known to be tougher than William Wallace’s chain mail balaclava. She played scrum half for Galashiels in the 60’s.’
Teeny’s photo appears on screen. Right then, Teeny is at the controls of the black box. She sets the machine to 100 volts.
“Right James, lets get tore in, by the way. Question numero uno: Does the largest party get to form the government?”
“Ouch! Largest party…1924…Cameron by the back door…SNP bad…”
“Try this one. How many Labour party members in Scotland?”
“Ouch! Tell my constituents first…1924…late surge.”
“Does yer 20,000 include bingo club members?”
“Wrong!” Zap! With each wrong answer Teeny twists the controls to a higher voltage.
“Ouch! …Patriotic Scot…fairer society…1924”
‘Yer nae daein too weel Jamesie. Not one right so far. I’ll need tae crank this hoor up a notch or two. And here’s wan for free.’ The lights on the black box are almost all lit now.
Zap! Ouch!…Fairer Society…can’t get a labour government by voting SNP…”
“How’s your ‘let’s arm ourselves to the wisdom teeth with nukes in order to further multi-lateral disarmament’ patter sounding about now, voltage-wise?”
“Ouch! What do you want me to tell you?”
“No. I can’t do it. I won’t do it”
“This one’s for trying tae scare me aboot ma pension.”
“And this one’s for shouting at me through yer megaphone.”
There’s only one voltage setting left. The one with the skull and crossbones. Teeny nips next door, removes the electrodes from Jim Murphy’s earlobes and attaches them ‘further south’. Then returns to the room and holds her finger over the button.
“Alright, I’ll tell you the truth,” Murphy says. “The party with the most votes doesn’t always win; there’s only 800 members in the Scottish Labour Party and SNP Good. Just don’t zap me any more.”
“Far too late for that now James,” Teeny says slamming the voltage button with a clenched fist, “Try this for a late surge.”