Keith Brown took the words right out of my mouth. The Scottish Government’s mandate for a new constitutional referendum exists as a matter of observable, palpable, indisputable fact. It is not a question of belief. It is a reality.
Except if you are a British Nationalist of the breed that has recently evolved in the foetid swamp of Borissian politics. (Thereby is coined a new name for what some have been referring to as ‘England-as-Britain’. Welcome to Borissia! Not to be confused with Borussia, which is the old Roman name for Prussia. Pick-a-Deity forfend that any parallels be drawn there!)
British Nationalists see a different reality. A reality defined, not by anything substantial or measurable, but by faith-based ideology. A better headline might have been ‘Majority of crypto-theocrats deny existence anything that conflicts with their beliefs!’. Although I can well understand why The National went with its own version.
Faith is belief stripped of any rationality. Believing something requires something akin to evidence. Faith demands not only an absence of evidence but an element of contrary evidence. The more contrary evidence there is, the stronger the faith must be. So the faithful actually relish conclusive proof refuting the object/subject of their faith. If they can maintain belief in the face of incontrovertible proof then they get a prize. Generally, the actual presentation of this prize is deferred until after they’re dead. But this small print on the faith agreement seems to bother the faithful at all.
So it is that James Kelly can write the following without embarrassment.
But the poll shows that 95% of them take the opposite view. It’s hard not to conclude that they’ve been inculcated with a near-Trumpian mindset that will always regard the Tory mandate as stronger and more valid than the SNP mandate, regardless of how many more seats or votes the SNP actually win.
Change ‘Tory’ to ‘British’ and, bearing in mind what has been said of faith, and you have a telling comment on British Nationalist faith. Kelly might better have referred to the British mindset that will alwayst regard the thing that is British as superior in every way to the thing that is not British. Another useful term is ‘exceptionalism’ – which can mean either or both that the British are exceptional or/and that everything which is not British may/must be excepted.
One of the reasons the No side of polls on independence has been so stubbornly resistant to the ‘positive case for independence’ is that it conflicts with their faith-position. The British Nationalist views Scotland’s independence campaign as heretical and illogical. If British is always superior, why doesn’t everybody want to be British? Or everybody wants to be British so there must be something wrong with those presumptuous Scots who say they don’t want to be British but would prefer to just be Scottish.
Another and possibly more significant reason the No side isn’t eroding as might reasonably be expected is that it is futile to use reason to argue a person from a position arrived at other than by reason. The rational, evidence-based case for restoring Scotland’s independence cannot impinge on faith-based devotion to the Union any more than the comprehensively verified nature of the mandate can make any impression on the faith-addled mind of the British Nationalist. The strapline for Better Together / Project Fear should have been ‘Bring me your proof, and I will deny it!’.
This has profound implications for the campaign to restore Scotland’s independence. To whatever extent my analysis holds, the current form of that campaign is titlting at Union flag-draped windmills. You can’t chop wood with a scalpel. You’re asking for a doing if you take a pillow to a swordfight. In a political contest between reason and faith, the former may always win, but the latter can never lose. Assuming they are equally determined – and equally convinced of the other’s weakness – the forces of reason will become increasingly frustrated and fractious, while the armies of the faithful will grow more resentful and vicious.
Clearly, if the matter is to be resolved and the warring cease, then one side is going to have to do something differently. That are going to be obliged to change their tactics. This is a reasoned and reasonable conclusion. So we can immediately rule out the British Nationalists. Remember, they are not amenable to “gentle persuasion”. That’s what got us into this position in the first place. So it has to be the forces of reason which make the adjustment.
Reason wins merely by changing the object/subject of faith. Faith can only win by changing reality. Or by persuading enough others to abandon reason in favour of faith. Which may well amount to the same thing. If absolutely everybody in the world maintained as a matter of faith that it was flat, how would you prove otherwise? Scientific evidence would be worthless in the truest sense of the word; nobody would value it. Newton’s insights concerning celestial mechanics would be the ravings of a madman. If Newton could even exist in a world without science; without reason.
Here we have a clue to how reason might prevail by means of a change of strategy. We know that reason is useless against faith. So don’t use reason in a direct assault on faith. Instead, use emotion to attack the object/subject of that faith. Reason cannot be transferred. It cannot simply be planted in a mind that has been given over to faith, because that mind is fundamentally changed in the process in ways that mean it can no longer accommodate reason – at least, not comfortably.
Faith, on the other hand, can quite readily be transferred. It can be move from one subject/object to another. The person who believes in a flat world can just as easily apply that same faith to the slightly misshapen globe we all know, live and shit all over. Faith may be impervious to reason, but it is vulnerable to doubt, misgiving, mistrust, suspicion and apprehension. But the greatest of these is doubt.
I am, of course, talking in generalities, abstractions and simplifications here. Few people are wholly given over to faith. And fewer still are capable of pure reason. At some point, we must check and see if our model fits in the real world.
In the real world, doubt was what defeated the Yes campaign. Certainly not reason or reasoned argument. The massed forces of the British state disdained to provide reasons for Scotland to remain in the Union. The ‘evidence’ they offered was intended, not to change minds, but to provide those among the faithful who need such things with the means to rationalise their faith position. Minds were not changed by Better Together / Project Fear, they were infected with doubt. That’s what all the questions were about. They weren’t looking for information. They were relying on the human instinctive calculation that says questions imply doubt. And a lot of questions implies a lot of doubt.
If it worked for them, it can work for us. When I say that there was a failure by the Yes side to learn lessons from the 2014 campaign, I mean there was a failure to learn the lessons of the campaign as a whole. There was a great deal of fretting about the Yes campaign and its ‘message’ – little or none of which came to any conclusion untainted by prejudice, preconception and prejudgement. But there was little effort to look at the No campaign to see what might usefully be gleaned from its tactics and methods. Which is surprising given that they won. It was always my position that, if we can learn from our own mistakes then we can surely learn from others’ successes.
Keith Brown is right on the money when he observes that denial of the mandate is an act of faith. I wonder if he took that thought further, as I have attempted to do here.
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