Still catching up after my very pleasant sojourn to Ayr, I just came across an article in Arc of Prosperity in which blogger Thomas Widmann asks, “Is it the time for civil disobedience yet?”. I can answer that question quite readily. Yes! It is most certainly time for a campaign of civil disobedience.
Thomas Widmann poses several other questions. But before addressing these it may be worth asking a question or two of our own:
How do we know when the time has come for some form of direct action in support of a peaceful, lawful political campaign?
To answer this we must consider, not the particulars of the campaign, but the nature of the opposition to that campaign. It is the attitude of the opposition, as well as the methods and tactics it employs, which determine the point at which normal politics.fails. We know it’s time for alternative – ultra-democratic – means when our opponents tell us they will no longer respect the customary democratic means.
The British state has made it abundantly clear that the democratic route which has been assiduously followed by Scotland’s independence movement is now closed. All pretence of respect for democratic principles and processes has been abandoned. Scotland’s democratic institutions are treated with total contempt. Our elected representatives are excluded and insulted.
We are informed that no democratic mandate afforded by the Scottish electorate will be sufficient to influence the British government. Scotland’s right of self-determination is denied. The sovereignty of Scotland’s people is denied. The democratic will of Scotland’s people counts for nothing in a British state where democracy has become a sick joke – demockracy!
British politicians now barely bother to try and disguise their intention to emasculate, suspend or abolish the Scottish Parliament.
How do we know it’s time for civil disobedience? The British establishment has told us in terms that are totally unambiguous.
Does this mean they want us to resort to direct action?
We should not discount the possibility that it hasn’t even occurred to them. Certainly, there are individuals among the British political elite who are sufficiently lacking in awareness to have failed to consider the consequences of closing the democratic route to a perfectly legitimate political goal. But we can be sure that, collectively, the British establishment has taken due account of the implications. This is well-trodden ground for the British state. It is one of the ways in which they hope to provoke the kind of reaction which will justify a brutal clamp-down on democratic dissent. It is a strategy the British have deployed on countless occasions.
Which brings us back to Thomas Widmann’s questions and two which can be taken together..
What [acts of civil disobedience] would work? How would the British state respond to these acts?
The first of these questions can be understood in two very different ways. There’s what would work in terms of its impact on the British state. And then there’s what would work in terms of the Yes campaign’s capacity to command and coordinate the action. As to the latter, all we can say is that the Yes movement is massive, with commensurate potential power. But it is also unstructured in a way that makes it difficult to deploy that power for a particular purpose.
As to what will be effective; anything that disrupts daily life and makes government more difficult. That’s the simple answer. Scale is obviously important. Which is why the Yes movement’s capacity for coordinated action is crucial. But perhaps the most vital element is imagination. With a bit of imagination, even relatively small numbers of people can have a significant impact.
Civil disobedience works best when no laws are broken. It is deemed to have failed utterly if violence occurs. Confrontation with police must never become an aim in itself. A campaign of civil disobedience must never resort to the methods of the oppressive, anti-democratic state. Violence is the state’s weapon. The people’s weapons are our numbers, our ability to withhold cooperation and our economic clout.
What works is what causes the British government most grief without giving it an excuse to inflict lest subtle grief on campaigners. The British state’s preference is to respond with violence. When all you have is a hammer, hammering is all you do. What works is what causes a level of disruption that the state might reasonably be expected to have planned for, but which goes just beyond the limits of what the administration is capable of planning for. There will inevitably be inconvenience to the public. Ideally, the public blame the authorities for that inconvenience at least as much as the campaigners.
What works is what targets services and corporations and the apparatus of the state rather than people.
What works is what makes a splash without getting anybody wet who wasn’t prepared to get wet – or who doesn’t deserve to get wet. If you can entertain and amuse people as part of the disruption, that is the ultimate act of civil disobedience.
If the campaign of civil disobedience is working as it should then the British state should only be able to respond with propaganda. The less credible the propaganda is, the more effective the campaign is. Because the public see the disconnect between the propaganda claims and the reality of what they witness. That gets them thinking. And few things scare established power more than a thinking populace.
What else can Scotland do to convince Westminster that Scotland should be listened to?
Nothing. The circumstances which require civil disobedience preclude everything else. Obviously, channels of communication must be kept open. But the civil disobedience is only happening because “Westminster” has made it plain that it cannot be convinced and isn’t going to listen.
How big a role will the Scottish Government play in all this – should it be organised by Holyrood to be efficient?
No role at all. Absolutely not. Civil disobedience is a tool of the people, not a device of government. The role of the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament is to maintain those channels of communication and act as mediator between the people and the British government. Which is not to say that politicians cannot be quietly supportive of the direct action. And the more that action is in line with what has been sketched above the easier it will be for them to associate with it.
A campaign of civil disobedience walks a very fine line between the ineffectual and the criminal. Keeping to that line is as much art as science. Now that the arrogance and ineptitude of the British political elite has made direction necessary, let’s be sure to campaign clever.
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