That “the current constitutional arrangements are what got us in this degree of peril in the first place” is not “an alternative view” as Ruth Wishart suggests in The National today, It is the main view. The true perspective. The fist explanation for which we should reach when commenting on yet another instance or example of the British government’s casually calculated contempt for Scotland. The “current constitutional arrangements” – by which one must assume Ruth Wishart means the Union – are not a subsidiary explanation for Scotland’s subsidiary status in the UK as evidenced by the entire Brexit fiasco. They are the explanation for every one of the daily slights, snubs, rebuffs, insults, traducements, calumniations, defamations and denigrations which characterise the British political elite’s treatment of Scotland in all things and at all times.
Only the detail changes. Always, the Union is to be found underlying and underpinning this abusive relationship. For it is the Union which defines this relationship. That relationship having been defined as it has for more than three centuries, it can hardly be surprising if British politicians perceive Scotland accordingly and treat Scotland appropriately according to that perception. Abusive relationships are self-sustaining and self-perpetuating. Abuse is normalised to the point where it’s just use. It’s just the way things are. It is the natural order.
Thus, we get the ‘casual’ aspect of that “casually calculated contempt” as so sickeningly demonstrated by Michael Gove in the tweet which provoked Ruth Wishart’s justified anger. Cutting Scotland (and the other devolved administrations) out of every stage and facet of the Brexit process may seem to us like deliberate, purposeful, considered action. But it is not. Or, at least, not necessarily. Rather, the attitude which informs this behaviour is an inevitable product of the Union. So, the behaviour itself may be seen as such also. The Union is both the cause of and the reason for the abusive relationship.
Politics is the set of processes by which social animals regulate and manage relationships of power. The politics can be crude. Establishing the parameters of a power relationship may be achieved by an overwhelming display of brutish aggression. Or the relationship may be manipulated by more subtle means. When politics works, the power relationship finds a state of dynamic stability. Always changing. Forever shifting. But consistently functional. The social system is not disrupted. Nobody dies.
Politics can fail. The processes by which relationships of power can fail. They can break down in various ways. Commonly, the processes by which power relationships are maintained in a functional state will fail due to one or more of the parties to a relationship being deficient in the required skills. But normal politics can also be prevented from working by some intervention. By the insertion or intrusion into the relations of some device. Marriage is such a device. It imposes a contractual arrangement on the relationship which interferes with or circumvents the normal politics. Things that usually would be negotiated – even if unconsciously – are now not because the contract imposes conditions. Solutions that might otherwise be found are not because the contract precludes them. A functional equilibrium is not arrived at.
Absent the usual regulatory mechanisms the power relationship may tend to tip erratically one way or another. Or it may settle into a state of stable imbalance. The balance of power may tip – or be tipped – so far to one side that it doesn’t rebound. That is what the Union did. It tipped the balance in England’s favour and kept it there by preventing the normal operation of politics. Only by removing the Union can there be a return to normal politics. Only once the Union is ended can the imbalance be rectified.
But the imbalance suits some people. It advantages certain individuals and social groups relative to others within the same community. It stands to reason, therefore, that those people will seek to maintain the imbalance which so favours them. It makes perfect sense that those who benefit from the Union should wish to preserve it. The benefit need not be great. It may even be illusory. But people will generally fight to maintain whatever advantage they have. There is a powerful survival instinct at work.
Hence, the ‘calculated’ aspect of that “casually calculated contempt”. England-as-Britain treats its periphery with a contempt which is casual because the superiority / inferiority is a given – the ‘natural order’; and because maintaining this imbalance is essential to the structures of power, privilege and patronage which serve the political, social and economic elites of the British state – at excessive cost to those who must pay in diverse ways to fuel the very system which disadvantages them. The contempt in Gove’s snubbing of the Scottish Government merely reflects the reality with which he is content. The timing and manner of the snub is calculated to reinforce the basis for that contempt.
So it is, and so it shall remain until the Union is ended. Abusive relationships do not heal themselves. Formalised asymmetries of power do not spontaneously regain equilibrium. Grotesque constitutional anomalies do not rectify themselves. Just as the intervention of the Union suppressed Scotland’s normal political functioning, so a drastic intervention is required in order to restore that functioning.
Independence is normal. It is not normal that a nation such as Scotland should be purposefully and maliciously denied its rightful constitutional status. It is not normal that the people of Scotland should be denied the full and effective exercise of the sovereignty that is theirs by absolute right. It is not normal that Scotland should be forcefully prevented from freely negotiating the terms on which it associates with other nations. Brexit merely exemplifies the abnormality. Section 30 is but one product of the abnormality. Devolution perpetuates the abnormality. But none of these things is the abnormality.
The Union is the abnormality. It is the cancer that depletes and diminishes us. It defines and embodies the “current constitutional arrangements” which imperil Scotland.
Ruth Wishart is right. We cannot and must not be distracted from or deceived about what it is that constitutes the threat to Scotland’s democratic institutions, social contract, economic infrastructure and very identity as a nation. To be distracted from or deceived about the fact that it is the Union which is the threat will inevitably mean failure to find the appropriate solution. That solution – the only solution – is to cut out the cancer. We must end the Union. And we must do so with all haste. For bad as Brexit is, worse is yet to come.
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