Boris Johnson’s ‘sheer might’ may be the stuff of fantasy. It may, in fact, be “dishonest weakness”. Maybe it does reveal “a fantasising, insecure, bullying Prime Minister, leading a fantasy fuelled, and failing, administration”. But it’s evidently enough. However fantastical may be the “sheer might” of the UK, the Union is clearly sufficient to its purpose.
Mike Russell – or Michael Russell as it seems we must now refer to him – is a politician. One would therefore be forgiven for supposing that he’d be aware that power is relative. What matters in the context of the constitutional issue is not the “sheer might” of the UK in relation to the rest of the world, but the power relationship between the British state and Scotland. From that perspective, the might of the Union is as sheer as it needs to be.
It’s all very well to illuminate the grotesquely asymmetric nature of that power relationship – which Michael Russell does exceedingly well – but what I and I’m sure many others want to know is whether and when the SNP intends to do anything to alter that power relationship so that it ceases to disfavour Scotland to the extent that he so ably describes. He makes a great job of conveying the gross injustice of the Union. But he has nothing to say about the SNP’s plans for rectifying the situation.
Michael Russell’s words are nicely chosen to provoke anger at the democratic iniquity of the Union. But he offers no constructive outlet for that anger. So he should not be surprised if that anger turns inward.
You may have noted that I asked only whether and when the SNP intends to do anything to alter the power relationship between Scotland and the British state. I made no mention of how this might be done. That’s because there really is only one way a power relationship may be re-balanced and that is by bold, assertive action taken by the disadvantaged party.
Power begets power. Power accrues to itself. It would seem that the default tendency of power relationships is to favour established power. Given that established power controls the terms on which power is distributed and exercised it is only to be expected that the rules will be such as to preserve and maintain the arrangement which has allowed established power to become and remain the dominant party. But the relationship is not as fixed and immutable as this suggests. No matter how one-sided, power relationships are still subject to a dynamic.
One of the ways in which established power achieves and maintains dominance is by asserting power on the basis of asserted power. Once a certain form and level of power is accepted, it becomes the foundation for further claims to power. The dynamic would tend always to totalitarianism and stagnation but for the disadvantaged party’s capacity to challenge asserted power by asserting its own power. It may seem that the default tendency of power relationships is to favour established power. In reality, however, the dynamic favours equilibrium within a range of power differential that is liveable for both or all parties.
There is no prevailing power without countervailing power. Because prevailing power gives rise to countervailing power. The potential of countervailing power is always there awaiting agency. We look to the SNP to give agency to the countervailing power which challenges the prevailing power of the British state. The “sheer might” of the British state relative to Scotland is a function of the Union. The obscene imbalance of power is the purpose of the Union. All the power over Scotland asserted by the ruling elites of England-as-Britain derives from the Union. Nothing changes in Scotland’s favour unless and until that power is challenged.
It is not necessary to wonder how the prevailing power of the British state might be challenged because countervailing power is not only born of prevailing power but defined by it. Countervailing power can do no other than take the shape of the space left to it by prevailing power. The exercise of countervailing power is, if not dictated, then certainly constrained by the space in which it can operate. Countervailing power redresses insupportable imbalances by testing the limits of that space. That is what the SNP is supposed to be doing. That is what the SNP is not doing.
What I want to say to Michael Russel and Nicola Sturgeon and all our elected representatives is this. By all means try to increase awareness of the appalling nature and effect of the Union. By all means seek to inspire with visions of a better future liberated from the shackles of an anachronistic and inherently anti-democratic political union. But unless you also show willing to be the agent of Scotland’s countervailing democratic power, what the hell use are you?
If you find these articles interesting please consider a small donation to help support this site and my other activities on behalf of Scotland’s independence movement.