The creature desperately trying to maintain human form has generously conceded that the British state which he serves will respect the “settled will” of Scotland’s people. Or at least that’s what you’d suppose were you to read only the headline in The National – Michael Gove: Independence referendum will go ahead if it’s ‘settled will’ of Scots. If you treat such headlines with advisable caution, however, and read on to discover what Gove actually said then you’ll find that his words are as every bit as oleaginously amorphous as the alien shape-shifter itself.
Gove told the Sunday Mail:
The principle that the people of Scotland, in the right circumstances, can ask that question again is there. I just don’t think that it is right, and the public don’t think it is right, to ask that question at the moment. If it is the case that there is clearly a settled will in favour of a referendum, then one will occur.
Let’s peel away the layers of synthetic flesh to expose the beast beneath. Having cleaned up after snorting your morning coffee down your nose at the sight of a British politician using the word “principle” you will surely recognise the first clue that all may not be as the headline would make it seem. The qualifying phrase “in the right circumstances” sits there like a slimy egg newly squeezed from the dangling, dripping ovipositor of some ghastly alien amalgam of lizard and insect, ripe to burst and release a host of hope-devouring clones. What are these circumstances? Who decides whether they are right and what criteria are applied?
The answers would appear to be that Gove reserves to himself the authority to pronounce on the rightness of the circumstances and the criteria seem to be nothing more than his own British Nationalist prejudices. He doesn’t think the right circumstances exist and, having already reserved to himself the authority to decide this he reckons he might as well help himself to the authority to speak for the people of Scotland as well. Speaking through Gove the people of Scotland – not generally known for their fanatical British Nationalist sympathies – somehow come out sounding exactly like fanatical British Nationalist sympathisers. Amazingly but not at all surprisingly, they agree with the unidentified lying object that the circumstances are not those in which fundamental principles of democracy can be upheld.
The next phrase pregnant with grim portent for Scotland’s democracy is “settled will”. Now, you might think this is an already well-understood term. You might suppose it to have a fairly clear definition. But you reckon without the overweening presumption of the British nationalist politician. Just as he gets to be the final arbiter of the circumstances in which democratic principles might be relevant and just as he gets to be the voice of Scotland’s people, Gove gets to apply his own definition of the term “settled will”. And just in case that definition leaves a loophole through which we might glimpse what the people of Scotland actually think, he appends another of those sleekit qualifiers. The opportunity to exercise our right of self-determination is conditional not only on this being the settled will of Scotland’s people as determined by Gove, but clearly the settled will. See if you can guess who gets to be the judge of whether sufficient clarity has been achieved.
But the ineffable Gove-thing isn’t quite done exploring the limits of the English language’s famed flexibility. He finishes by stating that in the vanishingly unlikely event that he should take the shape of a principled democrat long enough to allow that the circumstances are right for a referendum,”then one will occur”. Now, maybe I’m overly sceptical. Then again, is it even possible to be too cynical when dealing with British politicians? Be that as it may, I can’t help being suspicious of the superficially innocent word “one”. No non-specific term can safely be assumed to be without an ulterior purpose. The referendum that Gove has in mind might be – actually, must be – very different from the one I’m thinking of. I am hoping for a referendum that is a free and fair expression of Scotland’s right of self-determination. I very much doubt that this is what Gove is thinking of.
To the extent that he has in fact conceded that the British political elite will bow to the will of the Scottish people Gove’s words serve only to remind us that the British are never more dangerous than when they’re smiling and nodding. When they’re agreeing and offering cooperation we’d be wise to be doubly cautious. I have long maintained that the British government will only ever agree to a new referendum if they are absolutely assured of either winning or being able to sabotage the process or have some devious ploy hatching like baby aliens. The flexibility of Goves language has but one purpose and that is to allow it to be bent to the service of the British ruling elites.
I’ll close with a toast to the flexibility of the English language. A flexibility which isn’t just a boon to shifty politicians. It has been exploited to great effect by such luminaries as William Shakespeare, Lewis Carroll and Ronnie Barker. I ask you! In what other language could ‘Gove’ rhyme with ‘hunt’?
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