Consent which cannot be withdrawn at least as readily as it was given cannot be considered consent by any generally accepted definition of that term. The more correct term would be coercion. Oppression can take many forms. It need not involve actual physical violence or the explicit threat of violence. The boot stamping on your face may be metaphorical, but the oppression that metaphor encapsulates can be very real.
Oppression is more insidious for being less overt. Violent oppression is difficult – and expensive – to maintain. Oppression by other means is the preferred option of those regimes which have access to the means. The British state has the means. The British ruling elite needs no jackboots. Not when it has the entire apparatus of a modern state at its disposal.
It is hardly possible to write about this modern form of oppression and its mechanisms without referencing George Orwell’s ‘1984’. That’ll happen when a work of fiction is so prescient. Such references have become commonplace and so may seem trite. They may be dismissed as mere cliché. Which is precisely how oppressive regimes arise. Failure to heed warnings from history or from astute observers of humanity allows oppression to to take root and grow.
Winston Churchill is another source of useful if glib aphorisms.
Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those others that have been tried.
One of democracy’s imperfections is its fragility combined with its appearance of robustness and resilience. Those whose direct personal experience is confined to a broadly democratic society do not easily imagine anything other. The corollary being a tendency to take democracy for granted. If only they realised how tenuous is our grip on the freedoms we assume to be ours by dint of nature, they would fear for those freedoms.
Those freedoms are ever under threat and must be constantly defended. More than anything they must be defended against our own apathy. It has been truly said that “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men should do nothing” (Edmund Burke?). There is no insignificant oppression. Tyranny does not arrive declaring its name. It arrives in the guise of necessary precautions; or temporary measures; or any of countless deceptive and deceitful pseudonyms. It arrives as a small thing easily swallowed. It grows by increments easy to discount. Each increment required by the last and requiring the next.
Democracy’s defence against creeping oppression in the absence of reliable vigilance on the part of the people, is a system of checks and balances. What we are witnessing in America right now is both cause and consequence of the breakdown of that system. The adept tyrant knows how to turn the tools of democracy to the purposes of oppression.
But adept tyrants exist almost exclusively in the form of the evil geniuses in fiction. In real life tyrants are more commonly accidental than purposeful. An ordinary politician becomes a tyrant without intending any such thing. It just happens. Power acquired by the democratic process is always subject to that same process. Once acquired, it has to be defended. Power defends itself by extending its reach beyond the limits set by democracy and into the processes which are supposed to hold it in check.
Oppression grows in a manner reminiscent of the growth of empires. A territory’s weakest point is its border. A powerful regime, jealously protective of its power and aware that its neighbours are just as jealous, seeks to defend its border and keep war from its soil by mounting incursions into neighbouring territories to create ‘buffer zones’. Over time, these annexed territories come to be regarded as part of the homeland – by the invaders if not by the ‘natives’. As part of the homeland it too must be defended at the new border. And so it goes on. Tyranny evolves in much the same way. Its origins may be so trivial as to go unnoticed. It’s development so surreptitious as to go undetected by an apathetic populace disengaged from its own democracy.
The system of checks and balances is meant to prevent the infection that kills democracy. The greatest of these checks is the requirement for consent. Government is by consent. If this check is to be effective then there must be a way for consent to be refused or withdrawn. The capacity to refuse consent is easily understood and the need for it very obvious. If government is to be by consent then it must be possible to refuse consent to those not deemed fit to govern. The need for a means of withdrawing consent may less obvious. Unless one takes account of the phenomenon of insidiously growing ‘incidental’ oppression. The means to withdraw consent is necessary if such growth is to be stopped.
It follows that the choice of when to withdraw consent must lie with those who granted it in the first place – the electorate. Were it otherwise; were ultimate control of the means of withdrawing consent were to lie with the (potential) tyrant then it could not function as a check on growing oppression. Such an arrangement would not qualify as democracy. It would lack the functioning checks that true democracy requires.
It is vital that the people understand that the constitutional issue is about much more than who governs Scotland. It is about whether democracy survives. Democracy cannot survive the removal of such a crucial check as the capacity of the people to withdraw consent at will.
Unionists and British Nationalists don’t hate democracy. They do not set out to destroy democracy. They just don’t care about it enough to properly protect it. They take democracy for granted. They suppose no harm can be done by circumventing the checks and balances. There intentions cannot be considered benign. But they fail utterly to appreciate the harm that they do by subordinating essential components of the democratic process to their ideology. The most pernicious aspect of that ideology being the idea that absolutely anything is justifiable in the name of protecting and preserving their ‘precious’ Union.
Boris Johnson is not a tyrant. Nor is he ever likely to be. He represents the precursor to tyranny. By undermining – perhaps fatally – the foundations of democracy he and his ilk create the condition in which tyranny may take root and flourish. For the lack of adequate checks and balances.
This assault on democracy must be stopped. Responsibility for that lies squarely on the shoulders of the people of Scotland. While we fret about the fate of America’s democracy our own is in equal if not necessarily similar jeopardy. The British ruling elite being openly intent on removing access to the essential checks which safeguard our democracy then we must access the means to withdraw our consent by other means. Means that we create. Means that cannot be undemocratic simply by virtue of operating outside the legal and constitutional framework which is being used to deny and destroy democracy.
If we want democracy in Scotland then we will have to seek it outwith a British state which is set on dismantling our democracy to obviate a threat to established power. We will have to withdraw consent to the Union. We must restore Scotland’s independence. And we must do it without the involvement of the British state.