There are two stories in The National today which may well make you angry. Individually they will tend to raise the hackles of anyone who has the smallest regard for democracy and and all who care about Scotland. Taken together these two stories become more than the sum of their deeply offensive parts. Taken together they may do more than provoke anger. In combination they may – if well considered – inspire action.
The first of these articles concerns a brazen exhibition of arrogant, entitled, imperialist British Nationalism offered by British Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey. Questioned about the prospect of a new independence referendum if the SNP were to secure a landslide victory in the 2021 election Davey answered by casually sweeping aside Scotland’s democracy with a few words.
I don’t accept that because they need to make sure they’ve got the votes in the House of Commons and I was elected to this House on a mandate to oppose a second referendum.
Lest we didn’t get the message he added,
… what I’m saying is to get that mandate you need to persuade people at Westminster and at Holyrood.
How does one respond to that? How would one go about explaining to a person capable of expressing such sentiments the problem with the sentiments they’re expressing when the sentiments themselves deny any capacity for understanding the problem with those sentiments? Any attempted explanation comes up against the armour of British Nationalist ideology. Any effort at enlightenment vanishes into the gaping void where Ed Davey’s self-awareness should be. There is no way to reach such an individual. There is no way to penetrate the Britishness.
The other story is promoted on The National website with a blurb clearly devised to arouse the passions “Westminster ‘denying Holyrood financial powers needed to respond to pandemic'”. The story itself is a little more complicated than this blurb suggests. But it is basically accurate. The piece is an account of Scottish Government’s Finance Secretary Kate Forbes’s reaction to the grandly titled Winter Economy Plan announced by British Chancellor Rishi Sunak. She’s not pleased.
Not only is the UK Government denying us the appropriate financial powers needed to fully respond to the pandemic, it has also removed any clarity about how much funding we will receive by deciding to scrap this autumn’s UK Budget.
What angered me about this was not so much the fact of Westminster ‘denying Holyrood financial powers needed to respond to pandemic’ as the manner of Kate Forbes’s response. I have been aware that Scotland’s revenues are seized by the British exchequer and grudgingly disbursed by the British Chancellor after the British state has taken its cut for too long to be much moved by a reminder, however stark and timely. But it is only relatively recently that I have become increasingly irked by the SNPS meek acceptance of an arrangement that any normal nation would denounce as intolerable. Over the last four or five years I have gone from sufferance to frustration to anger as I first reluctantly acknowledged the necessity of caution then wearied of the procrastination then got seriously pissed off with the a ‘strategy’ of waiting which had descended into total inertia.
I hear Kate Forbes speak of “the UK Government denying us the appropriate financial powers” and I am immediately struck by the thought that the appropriateness problem is not with the financial powers but with the denying of them. Of course I am angered by the Scottish Government being deliberately impeded in its efforts to address Scotland’s needs by the British political elite – for what is undoubtedly a political purpose. But I am at least as angered by the Scottish Government’s failure to reject outright the the British state’s authority to withhold any powers from the Scottish Parliament.
All the powers of a nation rightfully are vested in the Parliament democratically elected by the people of that nation. The Parliament which can claim democratic legitimacy is the only Parliament which may rightfully exercise the powers vested in their Parliament by the people.
Why is the SNP not saying this? Why is the Scottish Government not hammering home this point at every opportunity? Why are our elected representatives pandering to the anti-democratic contempt for Scotland evinced by Ed Davey? Why did Kate Forbes not instinctively and instantly see Rishi Sunak’s announcement as her cue to reject the assumed authority by which the British Chancellor in a British government with absolutely no democratic legitimacy in Scotland nonetheless presumes to control Scotland’s finances?
We should be angry. There are things that it is right to be angry about. There are times when it is not being angry that is the unnatural and irrational response. British Nationalists in Scotland such as British state placemen Alister Jack and Douglas Ross are not angered by Ed Davey’s off-hand affirmation of Scotland’s subordinate status in the Union or Rishi Sunak’s implied assumption that the British superiority enshrined in the Union is the ‘natural order’. They are not angry because they accept the British authority that Rishi Sunak assumes and share Ed Davey’s disdainful attitude to Scotland. We rightly despise them on account of their craven fawning to the British political elite. We detest the British Nationalist dogma which maintains that the Union must be preserved at whatever cost to Scotland and its people. We justifiably abhor that such people so openly betray the nation they are elected to serve. We get angry at them. And so we should.
The SNP is supposed to be different. In fact, it is different. The party is its members. The members of the SNP make the SNP different because their regard for Scotland and for democracy stands in starkly vivid contrast to the casual, callous contempt exhibited by British Nationalists both in England-as-Britain and at home here in Scotland. If only that regard for Scotland were reflected in the stance taken by the party leadership. If only that regard for democracy could be seen to inform the Scottish Government’s approach to the constitutional issue.
If only SNP politicians would give voice to the anger we feel. If only they would act to end the Union which so offends us.
We, for our part, must take care that our justified anger does not decay into irrational rage. Anger is an energy. That energy can be harnessed and directed to a purpose. Rage drains and squanders energy. Rage is anger without direction and purpose. What these two stories together tell us is how we should direct our anger and for what purpose. They tell us that it is pointless to aim our anger at British Nationalists. Better the energy of that anger be directed to effecting change in the SNP and the Scottish Government.
These stories indicate to us that while the ultimate problem is the Union, the proximate problem is the attitude to the Union adopted by those to whom we have entrusted the task of restoring Scotland’s independence. So long as they accept – or fail to reject – the Union as a legitimate source of the authority England-as-Britain presumes to exercise over Scotland they can never succeed in that task.
It is that attitude which we must change. It is to that purpose, and no other, that we should direct the energy of our anger.