A good enough reason?

Ballot box

Obviously, I’ll take support for independence from wherever it comes. And whatever prompts it. Nobody has to explain their vote. The vote cast in spite counts just the same as the vote cast in hope. The vote cast in proud ignorance weighs as much as the vote cast after long and careful study. Nobody has to explain their reasons for voting as they do. There’s no feedback questionnaire on the back of the ballot paper. But if voters did have to provide the reason for their vote, we would surely think some reasons better than others. We would inevitably consider some reasons more valid than others.

Suppose somebody said they voted for a candidate because they were male rather than female; or black rather than white; or tall rather than short. Would we not consider these rather poor reasons? Likewise, if someone explained that they had voted for a particular party because it was a family tradition; or because their spouse told them to; or because they had the prettiest rosettes. Would we not think that person extremely silly and their reasoning shallow beyond measure? The theory is that voters give their informed consent. That is how democracy is supposed to work. The reality departs from the theory by a considerable margin.

In reality, a voter is as likely to vote on a gut feeling as on a dispassionate assessment of the relative worth of the candidates or their party’s policy platform. Few will have read the manifestos or done more than glance at leaflets shoved through their door. Their consent is more likely to be informed by Twitter memes, Daily Express ‘fury’ and BBC propaganda than by any in-depth analysis. People don’t vote what they know. They vote what they feel.

Candidate A smoked a bit of weed when they were a teenager. Candidate B is a lovely woman but would you just look at those dreadful shoes she’s wearing. Candidate C makes it all too evident what the ‘C’ stands for. Candidate D just oozes sincerity and straight-talking honesty – although you can’t for the life of you think of a single thing they’ve actually said you just know they’ve never said anything that offended you ‘cos you’d remember. Which candidate gets your vote? On what basis?

Many (most?) voters wouldn’t be able to explain why they voted in a particular way. Not honestly and accurately, anyway. Ask them and they will give a plausible account. Ask people why they voted No in 2014 and they will tell you it was because of the ‘currency question’ or ‘pensions uncertainty’ or lack of clarity or unanswered questions or any one of maybe a dozen ‘reasons’ fed to them by the media. They will latch onto a plausible post hoc explanation. Technically, they’re not lying, because they will have convinced themselves. But you will be no closer to getting at the real reason why they voted as they did. It’s as likely to have been on account of a name being recognisable or the order in which the candidates are listed on the ballot paper or the weather as anything that could be characterised as a rational, thoughtful motivation.

I was prompted to reflect on this issue of informed consent versus un- or ill-informed consent by Paul Kavanagh’s column in The National. It’s good to see the guy back in some kind of action after suffering a stroke and I wish him a full and speedy recovery. But I can’t say I’m impressed by the reason he gives for supporting Scotland’s cause. In fact, I can’t help but be offended that he attributes his reasons so generously to others in the Yes movement. First we get this,

The reason why so many of us are supporting independence is not because of SNP propaganda, it’s because the Tories are so pish.

Then there’s this,

So the growing support for independence is nothing to do with propaganda and a biased media and everything to do with the fact that the Tories have not delivered on the promises they made to win the referendum.

Scotland’s cause is not, it seems, about Scotland at all. It’s about the Tories. It’s not because we reckon we’d make a decent job of governing ourselves, it’s because the Tories have made such a pish-poor job of it. It’s not because the Union denies the sovereignty of the people of Scotland or because the British state is structurally incapable of adequately safeguarding Scotland’s interests or because we want to choose our government rather than have it chosen for us by people in another country. It’s not because we want the parliament we actually elect to have the status and powers that other nations assume are their right. It’s because the British Tories are despicable. It’s because we detest the Tories. Not because we respect democratic principles and cherish Scotland’s national identity.

By Paul Kavanagh’s account the fight to restore Scotland’s independence is driven by our aversions rather than our aspirations.

He may be correct. It’s not difficult to despise the present Tory regime in London. They kinda ask to be loathed. People like Michael Gove get affirmation from the hatred of people like Paul Kavanagh. And, as the latter points out, the former’s choices regarding Scotland are as ill-informed as those of any voter relying on the British media to remedy their ignorance. But I reserve the right to wish for better. I regard the fight to restore Scotland’s independence as a worthy and a noble cause. I regard it as a fight for justice and democracy. I hold it to be a fight to right a great and ancient wrong. A fight to rectify a grotesque constitutional anomaly.

I’ll take independence by any democratic means. But I reserve to right to hope the motives are appropriate to the nature and scale of the struggle. Restoring Scotland’s rightful constitutional status is a big thing. It deserves big reasons. To my mind, Michael Gove just isn’t big enough. The British Tories aren’t big enough. Democracy is big enough. Scotland is big enough.

Vote Yes to independence for whatever reason you choose – or choose to claim. Allow me at least the illusion that you’re doing it simply because it’s the right thing to do.

11 thoughts on “A good enough reason?

  1. Interesting article, I imagine there are varying degrees of interest in politics, and those sufficiently interested join a party and then a % of them actually canvass and help the local representative campaign.
    If there are 100k in the SNP who pay the £3 subscription annually, then I would guess 50k are actually out helping with leaflets etc. And that is only a bit over 1% of the electorate in Scotland of 4.2 million?

    So my point is that being immersed politically is quite a niche activity itself.

    As to the Tories, I do recall the YES campaign literature that was dropped through my letter box by the said activists in 2014.

    Of the “Ten reasons for Independence ” about half of them were concerned with the Tories, from “no more Tory Govts”, to “Foodbanks” and “Bedroom Tax ” all caused by Tories.

    And that is just three out the 10, the YES campaign was appreciated on opposing austerity and fighting welfare cuts, and in that it was VERY SUCCESFUL, in so far as it did gain majority in the areas where Welfare was proportionally higher.


    1. I would suggest that no where near 50% of SNP members are actually active. Many feel paying their subs is sufficient and many more are constrained by work/caring/health issues. I’d suggest activists amount to less than 20% of the total membership, which makes the percentage interested in politics even smaller than you suggest.


      1. I would not care to argue the point with you. You have made a good case for the number of actual activists. I agree then some 20k are to be depended on shall we say? the rest “raw conscripts”.


  2. I think Mr Kavanagh has lost some of his acuity with this article. He has just lost his dog and had quite a severe stroke. At the very least, he should be taking time off. But I get the impression that for many, the loss of his great wit and forensic analysis is too much, that the independence movement has been relying on his daily words for inspiration and is loath to let him recuperate quietly. I am sure he too wants to get back on his bike as quickly as possible, but today’s article was for me a sign that he should take a step back until he is well enough to share again.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. To me it’s quite simple:

    You accentuate the positive of restoring Scotland’s own democratically elected government by ridding ourselves of the negative of illegitimate London/English/British/UK government in Scotland.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. “Restoring Scotland’s rightful constitutional status is a big thing. It deserves big reasons. To my mind, Michael Gove just isn’t big enough. The British Tories aren’t big enough. Democracy is big enough. Scotland is big enough.” A resounding YES to this!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I suspect that many folk vote in rather the same way as touching wood , not with any conviction that they will have any strong causal effect on events , but as a token of reassurance in uncertain times . It would be nice if their motivation was of a higher and more informed order and your postings contributes to that lofty ideal. Keep on raising the bar , touch wood standards of political awareness are improving .

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Peter, I think you’ve concentrated on one or two sentences, and missed others. Like this one:

    “One of the guys in the ward told me he voted No in 2014 but is now going to vote Yes. He’s doing so because all the stuff they promised us in 2014 did not happen”.

    Kavanagh is one of the few people at the moment who hasn’t lost sight of the real goal, and is actually still trying to encourage people to change from NO to YES by his writings. Others are totally busy examining the SNP’s navel, including many in the SNP, but if the thought of Gove is enough to direct a few more hundred NOes or don’t knows to YES, then so much the better. Otherwise it could be the current crop of governmental Tories being nasty people, or depriving kids of free meals, or broken promises, or breaking international law and the devolution settlement. Every little helps. Anything that makes people think “is this UK what I really want to be a part of?”.

    I wish more people would try, like him, to help increase the support for Independence, to reach out to previous NO voters, rather than the constant inwardly spiralling introspection.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree that we should gratefully and gracefully accept all Yes supporters no matter how they’ve arrived at that decision. (Indeed I think Peter says this in the first sentence of this article: “I’ll take support for independence from wherever it comes”.)

      My concern is that if the rationale for switching to ‘Yes’ is “these bloody Tories, aren’t they outrageous?” these converts could easily flip back to ‘No’ once British Labour get back into power as, for some, the latter are the acceptable face of the UK, especially when they are touting their Federalism fantasies (which they’ve been doing for over 100 years).

      The deal will only be truly sealed once persons realise that the British system is institutionally slanted against the interest of Scotland and her people, regardless of which political party or parties hold sway in Westminster.

      Liked by 1 person

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