Conveniently unchangeable

Here you come upon the important fact that every revolutionary opinion draws part of its strength from a secret conviction that nothing can be changed.

George Orwell – The Road to Wigan Pier

George Orwell can always be relied on for a thought-provoking quote. It’s many, many years since I read The Road to Wigan Pier, so I can’t claim to have any recollection of this little aphorism. I encountered it in some corner of the web that I wandered into on one of my virtual sojourns. Don’t ask me where. But it must have made an impression because it was still rattling about in my head a couple of days later. Almost as if it was nagging me for attention. So I’m giving it some that was going spare.

Having given it some thought I think I now know why these words lodged so stubbornly in my mind. It will hardly surprise anyone to hear that for “revolutionary opinion” I immediately read “restoration of Scotland’s independence”. I reckon advocating the abolition of the Union counts as a revolutionary opinion. Unionists certainly seem to think of it as such. But it was this idea of such views drawing strength from futility that I found simultaneously intriguingly counter-intuitive and strangely familiar. The feeling that it should be wrong, but isn’t.

I know it isn’t wrong because it relates to something in my own experience. Something I’d been puzzling about in some nook or cranny of my cluttered mind for some time. When no less a figure than George Orwell urges you to drag a thought out into the light for a bit of scrutiny, what else can you do?

In fact it didn’t take much scrutiny to figure out why this quote spoke to me as it did. For some time there’s been something curious going on in the minds of some Yes activists. I refer to the people who believe they are part of something which has the power to transform Scotland having defeated the efforts of the British state to preserve the Union. People, moreover, who reckon they can manipulate the voting system so as to win list seats and do something useful for the independence campaign once in Holyrood. These are people endowed with an uncommon belief in themselves. People convinced that they possess powers extending to the borders of the supernatural.

However, suggest to these people that they might usefully apply this power to restoring the essential political arm of the independence movement and mighty is the scoffing. Can’t be done! They won’t listen! They’ll never change! The only thing that distinguishes their conviction that nothing can be changed from that referred to by George Orwell is that it is far from secret. They’ll proclaim the inherent incorrigibility and innate immutability of the SNP leadership at the drop of a Tweet. They will reject outright any possibility of altering by so much as the proverbial bawhair the SNP’s approach to the constitutional issue. And do so at the same time as insisting they can take a new party from a standing start to somewhere over 10% of the vote in a single election. All as part of a project which aims to do nothing less than save an entire nation from the scourge of rabid British nationalism.

Am I the only one who sees a contradiction here?

What Orwell’s insight did was start me wondering whether there might be some kind of positive, constructive tension in this contradiction. Even if it was no more than the kind of cussed contrariness which bids people of a certain character to defy the odds. Could the ‘cunning plans’ of the list parties be drawing strength from a conviction that nothing can ever change the SNP? Or is it more likely that they have found it necessary to convince themselves of the absolute intransigence of the SNP leadership in order to rationalise their ‘cunning plans’ to game the voting system? Plans which only make sense if the SNP isn’t part of the calculation.

I think Eric Blair (George Orwell) was on the right track, but slightly wide of the mark. Revolutionary opinion draws part of its strength not from the conviction that nothing can change, but from the expedient conviction that alternatives to that revolutionary opinion are infeasible. If one has set upon a particular position or course of action – or ‘cunning plan’ – then it is rather convenient to hold the view that competing positions and alternative courses of action are unworthy of consideration.

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5 thoughts on “Conveniently unchangeable

  1. Whilst I agree that the SNP is the best route to independence – what are they waiting for? Apart from Blackford and Cherry making pointless complaints to the Tories, the SNP appears to be sitting on its hands whilst insult is piled on top of injury to our country by the rag-tag of imbeciles in Westminster?

    Are they waiting for the health crisis to abate? The opinion polls to show overwhelming support for independence? Boris Johnson to have a change of heart? Better weather?

    Playing the long game may sometimes be wise but we haven’t got long. Brexit looms.

    Nicola Sturgeon is proving to be a strong and decisive leader during this epidemic. However, is she a war-time leader? Has she got the stomach to take on the British establishment and take our country back from them? Is she prepared for a rough and nasty political battle with no holes barred?

    I think that is going to be what it takes.


  2. The general principle of wanting to get MSPS elected on the List system only, is a reasonable ideal. But it will depend much on the appeal or otherwise, of those hoping to get elected.

    It is not unknown for some political groups to come from nowhere, to reasonable political strength and influence.
    We have seen that happen in Spain and Greece in recent years, with new Parties going from start up, to having several elected parliamentarians, within months.
    However, a lot depends on the leadership, and what the new political group’s policies are.
    I think we could do with another pro Indy group at Edinburgh.
    In fact, common sense should be that all MSPs are for Independence. Alas, for us, they all ain’t!
    But at present, I’m not too sure if this new Independence for Scotland Party, is really the kind of group that can go from nothing to several elected MSPs.
    It is early days, but I would also be of the view, common sense tell s us, any new pro Indy group must work alongside SNP, and not against. Yes, have differences, but we are well aware of the fact, we do rely on SNP to get us where we want to go. Certainly for the timebeing. That is how it is.

    As commented before on this new setup, without being accessible by others, like say, having a webpage, and how to join, what they stand for, (apart from Independence), etc, I find it hard to see how they can go anywhere, at the moment..
    They will have to improve fast, if they are not to be superceded by someone else.


  3. I’ve read the Road to Wigan Pier, but not for a long time, and also walked the road from Orwell’s writer’s retreat in Jura to visit the Corryvrechan whirlpool where he nearly drowned.

    The book I’ve read most recently which uses a “road” analogy is “Soil and Soul” by Alistair MacKintosh. Mackintosh talks about a road so rough, rutted and hazardous that it is impossible to progress by going slowly as you’ll certainly get stuck in a rut or a pot-hole – remind you of anything ? So the only way to travel this road is quickly, this road is much too rough to negotiate slowly!
    The “accepted” road to Independence so often seems to be long and rough and rutted, and we definitely need the option of a fast track, so here is an alternative route which addresses the main weakness of the Independence for Scotland Party (ISP), satisfies the plan B requirements of the majority of SNP members, gets SNP MPs out of Westminster, and results in a Holyrood majority in favour of the dissolution of the union. A less than modest set of aims I’m sure you’ll agree.

    But back to the cunning plan – what steps do we need to take to make this possible ?

    Let’s go with your conviction Peter, that the SNP can be changed – I share that conviction. The SNP manifesto for Holyrood 2021 must include the commitment that a majority of seats for Independence-supporting parties represents a mandate to dissolve the union.

    The list-only ISP and maybe also the Greens must adopt the same commitment to the dissolution of the union in their manifestos. They would do this if the SNP gave the lead.

    In early 2021 the SNP withdraws its MPs from westminster. A carefully pre-determined number of them resign from the SNP and join the ISP, and the ISP adopts them as list candidates in all regions. This gives the ISP its much needed list of high profile names, deemed essential to cross the 5-10% vote threshold which results in list seat wins.

    The SNP runs no list candidates. Both SNP and ISP campaign under SNP1, ISP2. How many Holyrood seats would be won by the SNP/ISP alliance in these circumstances ?

    The main catches are that the SNP needs to adopt dissolution as part of its manifesto for 2021, and needs to campaign alongside the ISP on a joint SNP1, ISP2 ticket. The ISP needs to recognise its role effectively as the SNP reserve team.

    SNP policy is made by members, normally quite gradually via a fairly bumpy road riddled with potholes and time-consuming diversions. In the absence of a 2020 Conference we also need to approach this road quickly, as it is also too rough to go slowly.


    1. That started to sound like a cunning plan. I’m not enamoured of cunning plans. But I do like the road analogy. It’s a matter of momentum. Get that right, and you’ll overcome most obstacles.


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