Sana et Vincere!

Methinks George Kerevan doth too lightly dismiss stupidity and personal ambition as he examines the rifts which presently beset Scotland’s independence movement. I almost certainly spend more time than he in the cellars of below-the-line comments and the sub-basements of social media where the baser aspect of human nature tend to be over-represented and I don’t discount the likelihood that this may skew my perspective somewhat. But the virulent inanity and vacuous dogmatism and mindless bigotry and the rest doesn’t just materialise out of some special ether existing only in Twitterworld and its sister planets. It is drawn from an ample reservoir in the general population. Social media isn’t an exception to reality so much as a distillation of it.

If social media is a concentrate of human folly and general awfulness then it is equally true that what we regard as ‘the real world’ is a dilute solution of the same foolishness and unpleasantness. So which offers the most accurate insight? Is the view we get of our fellow human beings in the ‘real world’ overly kind? Or is the view through the lens of social media excessively harsh? Can those who completely eschew social media precisely because it exposes more of the rawness of their fellow creatures than they are comfortable with really be said to have a less distorted impression of our species than those who only know the ‘real world’ as occasional visitors?

Maybe George needs to spend a bit more time among the denizens of Twitter and Facebook. Maybe then he would be less inclined to underestimate in terms of both quantity and quality, the stupidity that humankind is capable of. He will find vast, viscous oceans of stolid idiocy barely stirred by currents of thinking so slight as to test the lower limits of sentience. Vacuousness so profound as to constitute a novel form of mental activity. Intellectual acuity which attains its acme in the selection of an appropriate emoji or gif. He will never again give only passing consideration to plain stupidity as an explanation for any human behaviour.

Nor, as someone with the advantage of much relevant experience in the realm of politics, should he suppose there to be any need to pretend that personal ambition is a pervasive factor influencing behaviour. Which is not to say that personal ambition is necessarily a bad thing. It all depends what price is to paid in the pursuit of that ambition; commonly in the currency of cherished principles.

Were one to seek sharply illustrative examples of both the stupidity and the grasping self-interest that is simultaneously cause and effect of divisions within the independence movement one would surely light on the proliferating ‘list parties’ as a rich source. Having given an only slightly over-egged account of the SNP’s dominance as suggested by polling, George Kerevan asks,

So why is the national movement at odds with itself, just as success moves into view? Why are sections of the movement planning to run candidates for a new independence party on the regional lists – a move that risks both voter confusion and media mayhem – when a large pro-indy majority already seems assured? Surely this is self-indulgence on the part of individuals? Or some conspiracy by who-knows-who?

The independence train is nearing the station but this is what could derail it

Why indeed? It is certainly a phenomenon which demands explanation. As anyone who has ventured onto this ground in social media will be well aware, it also has the richest vein of pure stupidity and more than a few garish gems of personal ambition. It seems odd, therefore, that George Kerevan’s analysis dwells on these things only long enough to be able to say that he didn’t disregard them completely. Is this perhaps because he’s reluctant to give offence?

Just as well I’m here then! Because I have no qualms whatever about denouncing these cunning plans and magic solutions and stating with absolute conviction that witlessness and covetousness are pretty much all the explanation needed to understand why people are happy to risk voter confusion and media mayhem and worse.

It is easy to understand the frustration with the SNP which provided the motivation to reach once again for the facile fantasies that RISE so ignominiously failed to flog to the electorate in 2016. It is a human trait to seek solace in magical solutions when they perceive more mundane methods as being futile. The SNP leadership made the clumsy, amateurish error of smugly assuming the Yes movement would always be there. That they could keep activism in standby mode to be instantly restored at the touch of a button. You don’t treat people like that. And if you do, you better anticipate a reaction that you are not going to like.

The stupidity – and personal ambition – come into the equation when one must explain why this knee-jerk reaction persists far beyond the point where thoughtfulness should have kicked in bringing the realisation that magic is no solution at all. Instead, what should have been a momentary flash of frustrated anger has congealed into a dull glutinous mass throbbing with petulant rage and quite impervious to reason. The stupidity is illustrated not least by the assessment of the SNP’s electoral prospects provided by George Kerevan. These are the very circumstances which make cunning plannery and resort to magic even less relevant than such things ever could be. And yet the less sense these cunning plans and magic solutions make the more determinedly they are clung to. If that isn’t stupidity then stupidity doesn’t exist!

Not that all of those involved in this ridiculous sideshow to real politics are entirely stupid. The dire inertia of the SNP and Nicola Sturgeon’s inexplicable commitment to the Section 30 process have generated a frustration that is ripe for exploitation by those who crave a taste of political power and covet the status of an MSP. The situation is a veritable magnet for chancers, scammers and snake-oil pedlars. Plunge a suitably gloved arm through the sludge of stupidity and I wager you’ll find at least one mire-dweller on the make.

I don’t disagree with George Kerevan regarding the divisions he classes as more significant than the ‘alternative party’ claptrap. I accept that there are differences about policy. But I’m not sure this is as problematic as he supposes. I suspect that if some people are not now prepared to set aside policy agendas and partisan interests for the sake of the overarching issue of principle at the heart of Scotland’s cause then they will become more inclined to do so as the fight to restore our independence regains momentum. There is already something approaching a general consensus that independence comes first. It’s not so much that this attitude is absent as that it wavers quite a bit in the course policy debate. Or appears to do so. Whatever topic is under discussion tends to take precedence for the duration of the discussion. But ‘independence first’ is the position most folk return to when such discussion ceases to be a diversion.

The matter of “who is in control of the independence movement itself” may well be divisive. But that’s because there is no leadership. It is my fervent hope that this leadership will shortly emerge from the Yes movement. Or be provided at last by the person who would be the obvious choice but for the fact that she has shown not the slightest interest in the role. Rather the contrary. Nicola Sturgeon appears to have been actively shunning the independence movement for some time now.

No matter whence it comes, this leadership must reframe the entire constitutional issue and refocus the independence campaign as a campaign to end the Union. The divisions over policy issues cannot be resolved. The differences run too deep and are too bound up in ideology to ever be reconciled or become aligned. A referendum campaign fought on issues that are not relevant to the referendum will almost certainly fail – as happened in 2014. The reason leadership is needed is that this is how unity is achieved. A movement is not a campaign. A campaign requires a form and level of unity, focus and discipline that is unnecessary in a movement and possibly even detrimental.

Leadership. Solidarity. Focus. Discipline. These are all part of the lexicon of the real politics I mentioned earlier. Which is why I am less concerned about divisions related to these than I am about the sideshow of pop-up list parties all being promoted with language that has more connection with hustlers, spivs and time-share sellers. I recently compared what they are selling to the financial derivatives we heard so much about the last time the global economic system suffered one of its periodic one-off implosions. It’s a metaphor worth exploring.

Divide and rule has been the unacknowledged motto of established power for millennia. Let our watchword be heal and overcome.



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