Mindset and language

If you prefer to listen then you’ll find an audio version of this article on my podcast site.

I accept that the phrase ‘once in a generation’ was part of the debate, but let us at least be honest with each other about the context in which that was said. It was said invariably by those who were proposing a Yes vote for independence as a caution to their supporters that they might not get another chance. It was not made as a promise or qualification to those who opposed independence that it was going to go away forever.

The National: Tommy Sheppard says ‘once in a generation phrase’ misused in indyref2 debate

So what, Tommy? Do you really think the British Nationalists aren’t aware of the idiomatic nature of the phrase ‘once in a generation/lifetime’? They’re fully aware! They don’t care. They don’t have to care. They’re British Nationalists. Any lie or deception or smear is justified when it is done in the name of preserving their ‘precious’ Union. Misrepresenting a phrase is as nothing when you’ve told the kind of lies that trip off the forked tongues of British politicians pretty much every time they speak.

Christian Matheson MP (British Labour) was right when he points out that what matters here is the fact that it was SNP politicians who used used the phrase. He wasn’t right in the way he thought when he leapt to the aid of his fellow British Nationalists on the Tory benches. But there is an accidental truth in his remark. Not that it was the SNP that said it. But that this is what matters.

It’s what should matter to the SNP. It’s what should matter to the independence movement. That the British political elite seek to weaponise the phrase against us is old news. The point is that they shouldn’t have been given this weapon in the first place.

Those who avidly read every comment I make will immediately assume a contradiction here as I have been known to say that we should not allow concerns about how the opposition will use our words against us to work as a form of self-censorship. How then can I now say that it was a mistake to use the phrase ‘once in a lifetime/generation’ because it was always going to be weaponised in the way that it has. But that is not what I’m saying. It may be considered to have been ill-advised on those grounds. But much more importantly it matters because it betrays the mindset of the people who deployed the phrase.

It’s our old friends sovereignty and self-determination again. The sovereignty of the people of Scotland and the right of self-determination that is ours by virtue of the fact that Scotland is a nation. My point is that someone who fully comprehends these concepts; when they are an established part of their worldview; when they are an ineradicable facet of their mindset constantly standing on alert in their subconcious, that person would tend not to use a phrase such as ‘once in a generation/lifetime’ in the context of the exercise by the sovereign people of Scotland of our inalienable right of self-determination.

They would tend not to say such a thing because they would be intuitively aware that in its implications and connotation the phrase clashes jarringly with those essential concepts. Indelibly imprinted on their minds would be the principle that no power or authority may rightfully constrain the absolute right of the people of Scotland to choose by means of a democratic process the form of government which we consider best serves our needs, priorities and aspirations.

It simply would not occur to a person equipped with such a mindset that a phrase such as ‘once in a generation’ might sensibly be used in the context of a constitutional referendum. If it did occur to them then they would be pulled up short of actually uttering the phrase by an instinctive awareness of how inappropriate it would be.

There is an important lesson to be learned for a new referendum campaign. Maybe two. It would certainly be advisable for SNP politicians to have access to proficient communication advisers who could cast a critical eye over planned speeches. But given that not all utterances are scripted it would be beneficial if every individual who might be perceived as speaking for the campaign to restore Scotland’s independence were to undergo a ‘refresher course’ on the concepts of popular sovereignty and the right of self-determination.

Get the mindset right and we get the campaign right.

13 thoughts on “Mindset and language

  1. Yes, the phrase complained of does not sit with our inalienable right to self determination. It actually gets close to tugging the forelock territory.
    If what it means needs to be explained,you have lost the argument. More true than ever in what passes for political debate in the UK’s broken polity.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. For repitition ad infinitum!

    Theresa May – House of Commons – 4th December 2018:

    Ultimately membership of any union that involves the pooling of sovereignty can only be sustained with the consent of the people.

    David Davis – Marr Show – 10th March 2019:

    There is no other treaty in the world I am aware of where a sovereign nation undertakes to join up, and can only leave when the other side says so.

    Attorney General Geoffrey Cox: House of Commons: 12th March 2019.

    “A sovereign state has the right to withdraw if a treaty is no longer compatible with its fundamental interests.”

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Peter, you wouldn’t perhaps consider doing a brain swap with one of the ‘high heid yins’ in the SNP just long enough to inject some sense into their closed minds?

    Liked by 2 people

  4. What if the Brexit vote was a narrow vote to remain.
    Can you imagine the furore in England if Brussels then said you can’t have another vote unless we (Brussels) say so, and if we agree, we will organise it?
    Yet some Scots can’t break free from the shackled thinking that it is a matter for Westminster if Scotland wants to leave the UK union.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It is crucial to not engage with those attempting to draw us into the bogus and distracting argument about the definition of a ‘lifetime’. (It can be 5 minutes, it can be 120 years or it can be anything in between). I find a sufficient retort is to assert:

    “We, the people of the ancient nation of Scotland, choose the form of government that suits us whenever, however and as often as we like”.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. To illustrate the same point from the other side:

    David Frost 6 mar 2021 Telegraph
    “When I voted to leave the EU in 2016, I did so because I thought decisions about our country should be made by the people of this country. Polling shows that many voted to leave for the same reason – for democracy. Even now, the central importance of being responsible for our future as a country is often lost. The public debate about what happens now after Brexit is still at least as much about the details of customs and form-filling – important though that is – and not about the huge advantages we now have in being able to choose a government able to set our laws in every area of our national life. “

    Liked by 1 person

  7. The unionists are in full electioneering mode and the usual suspects are crawling out of the woodwork. In the small hours of the night I happened upon a documentary called Assignment on the propaganda channel’s World Service. The presenter (she may think she’s a journalist) was setting out to explore the mysteries of Scottish identity and sought out representative voices. Yes, you’ve guessed, Sir Kneel Oliver (introduced as a popular historian) armed with his usual tropes, declining standards of education, ferries, SNP cancer in society, I love being British etc, all unchallenged by the presenter. A few positive voices and finally an Orcadian (council leader?) who speculated that the northern islands might decline to follow the rest of Scotland into independence and perhaps become crown dependencies of the benevolent rUK! You couldn’t make it up

    Liked by 1 person

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