As we would expect of such a respected academic, Gerry Hassan does a fine job of explaining how shifting ideas of the Union have helped bring the UK to its present predicament. Gone are the accommodations and compromises of old-style unionism which enabled the Union to survive in spite of its inherent defects and deficiencies. In its place has risen a narrow, rigid, intolerant, insecure. isolationist, xenophobic nationalism which seeks to forcefully engineer a ‘One Nation’ British state that fits and reflects its own character. The perfect vehicle for political forces equipped with a predator’s instinct for exploitable prejudice.
In doing so, as Gerry Hassan points out, this latest incarnation of the historic Greater England project has dissolved the low-tack adhesive which allowed the Union to be re-configured while maintaining its overall integrity. What configuration we end up with is still a matter of conjecture. But, hopefully, not a matter of chance.
What I find more than a little disturbing is the apparent assumption, implicit in much of the commentary from a progressive/pro-independence perspective, that the pieces will fall in Scotland’s favour. The rather naive notion that the disintegration of the UK necessarily leads to the restoration of Scotland’s independence. The rhetoric of SNP politicians, in particular, suggests an expectation that Scotland will automatically benefit from the Brexit-inspired breakdown of the UK. The sub-text of all the Tweets and sound-bites is that we don’t really have to do anything to restore Scotland’s independence as it will surely result from the British political elite’s actions.
This laissez-faire attitude need not be at all pronounced. It need not even be real. It need only be hinted at – perhaps as an unintended consequence of attempting to reassure anxious Yes activists – and the intellect-cancelling effect of social media then does the work of turning it into a generalised feeling across the independence movement that the battle is all but won and an increasingly shrill insistence that the ‘enemy’ should not be interrupted while they are making mistakes – even if those mistakes promise to be horrendously costly for Scotland.
What is missing from the prevailing narrative within the independence movement is any call to action. Rather, we have a call to inaction. We are urged not to do anything that might have any effect at all. Because it is assumed that developments presently in train must lead to independence, we are warned off doing anything that risks disrupting those developments. Which, because the processes are largely incomprehensible, means we are exhorted to do nothing at all. Leave it to the experts! Have faith in Nicola!
I just don’t think it is realistic to suppose that it will all turn out right in the end so long as we don’t spoil it. I am totally persuaded that, in order to achieve a desired outcome, we must act to steer developments in the direction of that outcome. Scotland’s political leaders appear to be shying away from the determined, decisive action around which the whole Yes movement can coalesce.
If you don’t do anything, you can’t be blamed for doing the wrong thing. And if you insist loudly enough that anything others might do is liable to be the wrong thing, you create plenty of potential scapegoats should your inaction prove to be a mistake. If it turns out well, you’re a hero. If it turns out badly, somebody else is the villain.
It’s politics, of a sort. But is it the kind of politics that the situation calls for? Is it the kind of politics Scotland needs?
I know it’s not Gerry Hassan’s style, but it would have been gratifying to see a further paragraph at the end of his article. The observation that “we are in the advance stages of the beginning of the end of the United Kingdom as we have known it” seems incomplete absent a statement of what must be done to ensure that what happens then is what we want. Or at least an acknowledgement that something must be done.
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