…this argument comes from a place of political unreality.Andrew Tickell: Home Rule in this reactionary UK would not answer our problems
Reading Andrew Tickell’s column in The Sunday National this morning, the phrase “a place of political unreality” struck a chord. This, I thought to myself, could be the strapline for ‘brand Scotland’. We are become a land where fantasy politics reigns. A nation where the product of a fevered imagination can immediately acquire the status of a proposal worthy of serious consideration. If you can think it, it can happen. The divide between political reality and unreality has been blurred out of existence.
Andrew was referring to the particular political fantasy of ‘home rule’ as lately propounded by Alba Party MP Kenny MacAskill. But there are so many other aspects of Scotland’s political discourse that he could have been writing about. Federalism, for example. A close cousin to home rule, a ‘federal solution’ is Gordon “The Interventionist” Brown’s pitilessly flogged dead horse du jour – and every ‘jour‘. There’s nothing oor Gordy likes better than strutting the stage like a tent preacher evangelising about the golden glories of a federal Britain. That his ‘vision’ is pure delusion matters not at all.
We cannot entirely discount the possibility that Brown actually believes his federalist fairy tale. Frankly, that’s a matter best left between him and his therapist. It is tempting to see his barely coherent rambling as purposeful; part of a British Nationalist effort to muddy the constitutional waters. It certainly does that. But it is less certain that this is Brown’s sole or main motive. It’s at least equally possible that this is just a doddering old political has-been desperately trying to seem relevant in a political environment changed beyond his understanding.
There is no doubt that some of those whose ‘thinking’ on the constitutional issue comes from a place of unreality really do believe the stories they tell. Both Alba Party/Alex Salmond devotees and SNP/Nicola Sturgeon loyalists tend to fall into the category of ‘true believers’. Express the slightest doubt about Alba’s ability to transform Scotland’s politics or the SNP’s determination to deliver a free and fair referendum and you will condemned as a heretic by the offended tribe while being hailed as a prophet by the other. What you will not get is any attempt to allay your doubts or answer your questions or rebut your criticisms or address your concerns. Not only must the fantasy be adopted as truth, it must be embraced whole and with the required degree of enthusiasm. The similarities with fundamentalist religion are marked and disturbing.
It’s not a matter of minor quibbles either. The doubts are serious. the questions are fundamental. The criticisms are fatal. The concerns are justified. But there is no communication across the divide between political fantasy and hard reality. They are two quite distinct realms. And the former seems to be expanding while the latter is in retreat. Andrew Tickell easily dispels the home rule fantasy in a couple of paragraphs.
Firstly, this argument comes from a place of political unreality. This UK Government has no interest in this kind of reform agenda. If anything, this Conservative administration has shown every desire to contract – rather than expand – the sphere of devolved authority. But even more fundamentally – why would anyone want the UK to retain these responsibilities?
If the sight of Boris Johnson dragging his gusset around the sands of Carbis Bay doesn’t persuade you of the advantages of an independent foreign and defence policy, look at it this way. If the state of the health service is important enough for you to devolve, if education and justice and the environment are matters you would like to see determined in Edinburgh rather than London, why would you want questions of who we sell bombs to and in what quantity, of who we wage aggressive war against – to be determined by Her Majesty’s Government in London?
The same arguments hold for Brown’s federalist fairy tale. The British political elite has no interest in a new constitutional settlement which would reduce its power. Scotland’s people would have no interest in a new constitutional settlement which left the nation powerless in crucial areas of policy. To this I would add the impossibility of negotiating a new settlement that would be accepted as fair while England-as-Britain enjoys the disproportionate power afforded it by the Union. For either a home rule or federal ‘solution’ to even get out of the starting blocks the parties must come to the talks as equals. In other words, Scotland’s independence would have to be restored before negotiations could even begin. Then independent Scotland would have to be persuaded to hand back to the British big chunks of the power newly restored to it. Good luck with that!
None of these arguments touch the fantasists, however. They are impervious. That place of unreality is a fortress of faith. A keep of absolute conviction. The main divide in Scottish politics long ago ceased to be the ‘traditional’ left/right rivalry of British politics. For at least twenty years the constitutional issue has dominated. But that has now given way to an even more unbridgeable divide – that between mindsets so alien to one another that there can be no common ground. Nor even a common language.
Unionists believe in a status quo which no longer exists. British Nationalist believe in a reborn imperialist ‘Great Britain’ that can never exist. Alba Party devotees believe in an imminent mass awakening to their truth. SNP loyalists believe every word that Nicola Sturgeon utters. None of them talks to the others. None of them listens. None of them has more than a very tenuous grip on reality.
Scotland has become a place of political unreality. It’s not a good place to be a political realist.
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