The labours of Sisyphus

I rarely watch the politics programmes on TV these days. Not out of apathy, but because listening to the likes of Andrew Neil for half an hour is a lot of effort for very little reward. I know that if anything interesting is said in the small gaps between Neil’s interruptions then I’ll find out about through social media. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the hardy souls possessed of greater tolerance for self-regard and pomposity than myself for sitting through these programmes and presenting what amounts to edited highlights on Twitter.

The edition of Politics Live that I want to discuss came to my attention, not via Twitter as is customary, but by way of a letter in The National. In his letter, Andrew Grant recounts a contribution to the discussion of a new independence referendum from historian and right-wing commentator, Simon Heffer.

Heffer stated that most people in England would agree that the British state had made a hash of Irish independence and that if there was a desire for a second independence referendum then “we” might agree to the Scots having another opportunity to determine their own future. But he claimed the issues of currency and EU membership were ignored in the first campaign and that “we” had a duty to Scotland as part of UK.

Heffer concluded by saying yes, let’s grant a second referendum, but only on condition that the Scots demonstrate first how Scotland will fund independence and “make a proper case that they can govern themselves responsibly afterwards”. The other panel members nodded wisely. Coburn let it pass since they were anxious to plug Heffer’s latest book.

The letter’s author was, as you might expect, offended by Heffer’s “pompous condescension”. Assuming Mr Grant’s account is accurate – and I have no reason to doubt it – then we have a few remarks which perfectly reflect the innate elitism, vaunting entitlement and presumptuous arrogance of British Nationalist ideology. Heffer simply takes as a given the superiority of the British ruling class. The concomitant inferiority of Scotland and its people is assumed to be the ‘natural order’. Were the tables turned and Heffer was asked to “make a proper case” that the British political elite were more fit to govern Scotland responsibly than the people who actually live here, the suggestion would surely be met with incomprehension followed by outrage followed by patronising amusement.

I confess that I was as irked by Heffer’s comments as Mr Grant. I was also dumbfounded by the total lack of self-awareness and empathy which was required even to think such thoughts far less give voice to them in a public forum. There can be no doubt that the attitudes of a past imperial age still pervade the very blood and bones of the British ruling classes. How dare he speak of Scotland in such a casually contemptuous manner? How dare he insist that Scotland must “pass some arbitrary tests” set and marked by the British establishment before we may hope to exercise our democratic right of self-determination?

Well, perhaps he dares because we have encouraged him. Perhaps he dares because we have at least made it easy for the likes of Heffer to think and speak as they do. Perhaps he dares because we have appeared, not only to accept the terms Heffer would impose, but to concur with his assessment of Scotland’s inferior status.

How often have we been told by SNP politicians and other leading figures in the Yes movement that we must “make the case for independence”? This has been the constant mantra of the Yes movement from its inception. Our purpose, according to those who presumed to define and direct it, has never been to challenge the attitudes expressed by Heffer and his ilk or dispute the ‘natural order’ that he describes or question the asserted right to examine and pronounce upon Scotland’s fitness to be a nation like any other. Our purpose, rather, has been to concede that right; accept that ‘natural order’; and embrace – or at least pander to – those attitudes.

The Heffers of the British establishment tell us we must “make a proper case” that we have the capacity to govern ourselves responsibly, and our response has been to scurry off and set about trying to make that “proper case”. Throughout the 2014 referendum campaign and since we have been urged on to ever greater efforts to pass the British state’s test of our fitness to have our rightful constitutional status restored. By all accounts, should there actually be another referendum, we will be told we must continue striving to demonstrate our ability to meet whatever standards the British political elite sets and satisfy every condition that they impose. Our task is, not merely to “make the case for independence”, but to make a case that will be accepted by the British establishment.

It is a task which bears comparison with the labours of Sisyphus. Legend has it that he was condemned to spend eternity pushing a great boulder up a hill only for it to roll back down again just as he got it within reach of the summit. In the case of the Yes movement, our ‘eternal’ task is to roll the boulder of our “case for independence” up an ever steeper incline towards a constantly receding summit.

The “arbitrary tests” set by the British political elite have no pass mark. They will never be satisfied. Scotland will always be inferior. Because how else can England-as-Britain be superior?

Not for the first time it occurs to me that the most crucial prerequisite for the restoration of Scotland’s independence is a new mindset. We are all, to a greater or lesser extent, tainted by generations of immersion in the culture British exceptionalism so well represented represented by Simon Heffer. Our minds are polluted with it. Some minds are totally colonised by it. It affects most people in Scotland to some degree. Otherwise, why would be trying to “make the case for independence” rather than demanding that British Nationalists justify their ‘precious’ Union?



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One thought on “The labours of Sisyphus

  1. I agree.
    The days of Heffer’s guff are numbered. You will have missed the simple, calm question of a young man in last Friday’s QT. I paraphrase: “Who are you to tell us when we can or cannot have a referendum?” It was refrehsing and broadcast. No one demurred.

    Liked by 1 person

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