Panglossian folly

[W]hen you were hanged, dissected, whipped, and tugging at the oar, did you continue to think that everything in this world happens for the best?

Voltaire Candide

Yet another headline in The National proclaiming that support for Yes is soaring. Yet another article seeking to persuade us that everything is for the best in the best of all possible worlds. Even the awfulness of the latest British regime is cause for unbounded optimism. After all, as Voltaire’s Dr Pangloss reminds us,

…if there is a volcano at Lisbon, it could be in no other spot; for it is impossible but things should be as they are, for everything is for the best.

Voltaire Candide

On this occasion support for Yes appears to have ‘soared’ from 54% to 53%. But in a worldview untainted by realism anything other than the most precipitous decline may be regarded as lark-like soaring into unblemished blue skies over big rock-candy mountains. Flying is just falling with style. And nobody has style like the current SNP administration has style. Just to prove it, here comes Nicola Sturgeon herself riding on a cloud of approval ratings almost too wondrous to behold. All we need now is a rousing chorus of We’ve Never Been Closer to Independence from the Alyn Smith Choir accompanied by Pete Wishart on the organ. Instead, we get an old quote from John Curtice. But let’s not allow disappointment to show. It is, after all, the very best of John Curtice quotes and perfectly in keeping with The National’s relentlessly optimistic analysis of the state of the campaign to restore Scotland’s independence.

It’s not that there is absolutely no cause for optimism. Just that the optimism is exaggerated to the point where it begins to resemble wishful thinking, fantasy and delusion more than analysis founded in the hard truths of realpolitik. That support for independence is anywhere over 50% is a Good Thing – even if it is still within margin of error territory. And even though we might reasonably have expected it to be ten points higher given all that has happened since 2014. As it surely would have been but for all the things that didn’t happen after 2014.

That the SNP is, according to the polls, on course to take a record 74 seats in the coming Holyrood election is a Good Thing – even if we should really bear in mind that this includes the list seats that some nominally pro-independence ‘parties’ are determined the SNP should not win. And even though it takes no account of the possible (probable?) negative impact on the SNP vote of campaigning by these nominally pro-independence ‘parties’. Among the few things we know for certain is that for hope of restoring Scotland’s independence to remain alive the election must result in an SNP administration with a working majority and a massive vote share.

But it’s not enough! Optimism at this level is simply not justified by a more hard-headed analysis. Neither an SNP majority administration nor majority public support for Yes nor even both of these together and taken to levels beyond credibility is adequate to bring about the restoration of Scotland’s independence. These things are necessary. But they are not sufficient. It is disturbing that polls and approval ratings are being presented as if these were all that is required to make restoration of Scotland’s independence inevitable. It is Panglossian folly. And it is dangerous.

It is dangerous because it is dishonest. Above all we need an honest and accurate appreciation of Scotland’s predicament if we are to have any chance of rescuing the nation from that predicament. It is dangerous because it breeds complacency. And complacency is next only to apathy among the greatest killers of noble causes.

Scotland’s cause is often portrayed as a journey. As with any planned journey, it is essential to know three things – the destination; the starting point; and the route from one to the other. The Panglossian folly being foisted on the Yes movement lacks all three. In this fallacious analysis, no destination is clearly defined. Rather, there are as many destinations as there are ‘visions’ of a future Scotland or policy agendas seeking a free ride on the independence movement’s coat-tails.

The starting point is not correctly identified. As already noted, the very essence of Panglossian folly is the pretence that we are where we are not. At the extreme, we are told that we are closer to independence now than when the polls opened for voting in the 2014 referendum. A patently ludicrous proposition. But even the lesser delusions are a potentially fatal (self-)deception. Even the notion that we are but a step from independence is meaningless if our ankles are hobbled. Or if a wall has been erected where we must step. Or if we are being urged to take a stride in the wrong direction.

The route-map is totally absent. Scour the Panglossian analysis as you may, you will find no consideration of the ‘how’ that connects the favourable figures to the desired outcome. No chart by which to navigate from the misidentified start point to the ambiguous end point. You will find, moreover, that such consideration is actively discouraged. Enquiries concerning the ‘how’ will be met with the stony silence of the Twitter block list. Or spittle-flecked accusations of treachery.

Think of what, in the context of the fight to restore Scotland’s independence, would constitute the ideal outcome in the 2021 Scottish Parliament elections. As noted earlier, an SNP administration is essential for the not inconsequential reason that the alternative is that the British parties squatting in Scotland’s Parliament would take control. A thought on which I prefer not to dwell. But the ideal is an SNP administration with a solid working majority. Then, the cherry atop our dream result would be the SNP getting over 50% on both ballots – regardless of winning any more list seats than are necessary to secure a working majority.

(Those who peddle that aspect of the Panglossian folly which maintains that the British state must surely buckle under the weight of democratic dissent should be smiling wistfully at this thought. Although the reality is that there is no amount of democratic dissent that the British state cannot discount with a shrug. Such is the nature of the Union.)

Let’s suppose we have this ideal outcome. Does the restoration of Scotland’s independence follow in any sort of automatic way? Of course it doesn’t! Should we be considering now what more is required? Of course we should!

Whether dream or delusion, none of it achieves anything if the SNP goes into the election with nothing more than a vague promise to yet again essay the Section 30 process despite it now having been shown beyond any reasonable doubt that this cannot serve the purposes of Scotland’s cause. All three of the things excluded from the Panglossian analysis must be put in place before the election in order that we can come out of the election prepared to take forward the fight to restore Scotland’s rightful constitutional status.

There must be an honest and explicit acceptance of where Scotland’s cause presently lies after six years of inertia and missed opportunities all disguised with stirring rhetoric and the occasional dead-end ‘initiative’ announced with a fanfare that belied the futility. We are well into the final minute of the eleventh hour and all but totally unprepared for the battle to come. Even in denial that there is to be a battle. The SNP and the entire Yes movement has to allow that bold, decisive action is essential if Scotland is to be saved. It is a choice between Scotland and the British state. And the moment of decision is upon us.

There must be a general recognition across the entire Yes movement that an effective political campaign cannot be constructed around a contested concept such as independence or on a quagmire of policy agendas. The immediate and primary objective of the independence campaign is the ending of the Union. After that, it becomes an entirely different campaign. Up until then it must be nothing other than a campaign to end the Union.

There must be acknowledgement that the route from Scotland’s current constitutional predicament to the objective of ending the Union lies through the Scottish Parliament; that the journey requires only the unchallengeable democratic legitimacy of the Scottish Parliament allied with the sovereignty of Scotland’s people and supported by a raft of internationally recognised laws, conventions and norms; and that confrontation with the British state is unavoidable.

The SNP must adopt a Manifesto for Independence which renounces the Section 30 process and all it implies; undertakes to assert the competence of the Scottish Parliament in all constitutional matters; and commits to a referendum within the next Parliamentary term on the question of ending the Union.

All of this must happen within the next six to eight weeks. I remain hopeful. I remain optimistic. But I diligently avoid all Panglossian folly.

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15 thoughts on “Panglossian folly

  1. The National does seem to be joining the hubristic ‘journalistic’ World of its MSM/Unionist/BritNat competitors.

    I understand the need to ‘up-sell’ the pro-Indy position but it really is getting dangerously hyperbolic in its articles: there are about 3 pieces in today’s each boasting that the Union’s time is up and the SNP is going to crush everything in site next May.

    The fact is that the last time Yougov asked this question on Independence in Scotland – January 22-22, see – there was a 51%-49% (excluding don’t knows) in favour. So a 2% increase today is an improvement but hardly ‘soaring’. It’s within the margin of error and the deal is most definitely not sealed.

    I find the complacency that we just have to continue to elect an SNP government in Scotland and that the Brits will simply fold almost child-like in its naivety. It has become an article of blind faith.

    Similarly voting for AN other “list-only” pro-Indy party is now irrationally clung to much as a cultish belief system that somehow a super-majority of pro-Indy MSPs is better than a simple majority of pro-Indy MSPs.

    The reality in both instances is that a plan is required. A proper, realistic, workable plan that defines exactly where we are now, where we want to be and by when, and how it is proposed that we get there.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. It is ludicrous for anyone to cite opinion polls as progress – particularly polls taken in what everyone agrees are exceptional times.

    Perennial opposition parties – such as the SNP prior to 2007 – should be judged by progress in terms of election results. There really is no other basis upon which to make an objective judgement.

    Governments, on the other hand, should be measured by achievement. After all what is the point of winning huge numbers of seats if it makes no difference to anything? For Governments, winning an election in itself is, by definition, not progress.

    Never mind there has been no progress on the constitutional question, I am still waiting for the true believers to tell me what this Government HAS actually delivered since 2016.

    PS starting the answer with ‘baby box’ does nothing but demonstrate just how bare the cupboard is.


  3. What is it these days with Indy supporters (on-line at least) getting gloomier with every poll that shows things going increasingly independence’s way?And don’t give me the “polls don’t matter schtick”. They are indicators things are changing and encourage others to look again at the issue. In other words, they are influential in creating momentum and credibility.

    I don’t care that the Scottish govt haven’t explained their exact, point-by-point plan for securing it. I believe the vast majority of ordinary (ie not on-line obsessives) Indy supporting Scots are equally sanguine about it. They understand the SNP are “the party of independence” and vote for them on that basis. It’s madness to try and discourage them with a “careful now, they haven’t given you a detailed plan yet, best with hold that vote until they’ve told all and sundry what it is” pessimistic admonition from the on-line world.

    If you tell everyone, including your opponents, your every intention before you are in a position to action it …. you might as well not have had a plan at all. A prepared opponent will have every base covered before Indies even take to the field of play. Why give them that advantage?

    It’s not my experience that any Indy supporting Scots furth of cyberspace are giving much of a thought to the “how”. They just want it to happen and trust the SNP to deliver it when it becomes deliverable. Undermining that trust with tiresome on-line negativity is hardly a way to fast track independence. If anything, it can only make the task more difficult or even impossible.


    1. @Me Bungo Pony

      I think that opinion polls do help and I am delighted that there is an apparent swap from 45: 55 in 2015 to 54: 46 currently. However, these survey results need to be interpreted with appropriate context (see my prior comments, above) and claims of progress need to be fact-based and credible rather than hubristic.

      With regard to momentum, again I agree that opinion polls help. However, what I (and perhaps others, who can of course speak for themselves) might like to see is some degree of urgency injected into the discourse by SNP leadership figures regarding the essential requirement of Independence in order to protect Scotland’s democracy and the very existence of Scotland itself as a discrete, identifiable nation.

      That, instead of constant cries of ‘Hold!” or “don’t worry, we know best” from an increasingly remote and high-handed leadership, would provide the greatest boost of all and help generate the momentum that you refer to.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Another rant from Me Bungo Pony. Wheesht aw you tiresome, obsessive, online negativists. Oor Nicola Sturgeon has a Secret plan so secret in fact that naebody else in the stable kens whit it is or whit it contains or when it will be let oot. The Dissident at 19.20 widnae be too far aff the mark!


  4. Indy Ref 2 will be in the 2021 manifesto.

    and the band played on…and on…and on.

    The lady ain’t for turning Peter!


  5. Me Bungo Pony pitches up just as Peter is having trouble with Facebook. I’m sure the two things are completely unrelated!!! ;-D

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m afraid those in the ‘Trust Nicola’ camp haven’t been paying attention.

    I have an email in my inbox from Nicola Sturgeon, written in May 2019 – perhaps some of you have the same email. In it she said she was absolutely determined that Scotland would have a referendum within the lifetime of THIS parliament.

    I was at a rally in Glasgow last year, attended by Mhari Black, Humza Yousaf, Michael Russell – and Nicola Sturgeon. The slogan of the rally was ‘IndyRef 2020’.

    Now in recent pronouncements, Sturgeon has said she is not going to think about independence until Scotland has recovered economically from the virus. She has effectively given herself permission to take independence off the agenda for the indefinite future.

    The SNP were cock-a-hoop at the resignation of Jackson Carlaw. They have their binoculars trained on the wrong spot. They should be casting their eyes on Queen Elizabeth House at Waverley Bridge, soon to be populated by 3,000 UK civil servants, a colonial government in waiting.
    This is the end-game folks; Birnam Wood is coming to Dunsinane, and Sturgeon wants to spend all her time on a podium clucking about ‘staying safe’.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Jim. Nicola’s current behaviour is what psychologists would refer to as “Denial”.

    She has used Covid as a very useful distraction. The longer she can spin it out, the longer she can live in denial.

    The thing under her bed (Independence). Is like a child’s bad report card hidden from their parents. They know sooner or later that the truth has to be faced.

    Nicola might try and bury her failure to deliver Indy ref 2 for another 5 years. As long as she can find the right distractions to dupe the people.

    They will go into 2021 with the exact same strategy as the last 3 elections.

    That is” Jam Tomorrow”.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. My attitude is we’ll see.

    Either the SNP is playing a blinder of a cunning campaign to pull off an independence coup, or they’re just too happy with the way things are.

    As a member of the great unwashed I have no way of knowing which.

    Commonsense says our only credible chance right now, other than an uprising, is the SNP.

    Commonsense also says if they do not do it with the 2021 election, then it’s time to realise we won’t get it with the SNP’s policy of timidity.

    We’ll need a new party which won’t turn the other cheek to the continual attacks of the British State which has been conducting a Cold War against Scotland for decades. A party that comes out kicking.

    In short, 2021 is the last election the SNP gets my vote unless they do the job we elect them for.

    We will not forget the Home Rule promises pf the Liberals and of Labour. Scotland has been continually duped for over 100 years with “Be a good lad for just now, the sweeties will be delivered tomorrow?.

    The SNP has to decide whether it wishes to share the same trajectory as those.


      1. Hi Peter.
        Not disagreeing in the slightest, but also not seeing the justification for this:

        “All of this must happen within the next six to eight weeks.”

        It might help understanding if you could expand on why this deadline around the 8th October?



  9. The UK internal market legislation gives Westminster the ability to strike down any and all decisions made by Holyrood if they (Westminster) consider the decisions have an adverse effect on the internal market. Would anyone like to provide an estimate what proportion of Holyrood decisions will be affected? Would anyone like to tell me how waiting for this to happen advances the cause of independence?

    Could this be one (just one) reason why some of us are getting a bit anxious?

    Liked by 1 person

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