My bio says ‘No attitude immutable. No conclusion final. No opinion humble.’. Responses to this statement split very sharply into two categories. People either get it, or they don’t. Especially the bit about none of opinions I express being humble. You will never find me starting a sentence with the words “In my humble opinion…” or using the abbreviation ‘IMHO’ in social media posts. Those who don’t get it tend to feel compelled to condemn my ‘arrogance’. Those who get it feel no need to comment at all. Those who get it see nothing untoward about the claim at all.
There’s an all too common confusion which takes the fact that everybody is equally entitled to hold and express an opinion to mean that all opinions are of equal value and must be respected. The nonsense of this should be obvious. If all opinions are to be afforded respect then we are duty-bound to afford respect to extreme beliefs and conspiracy theories and pseudo-science and faith positions. It is the right to hold and express those opinions that we are are obliged as democrats to respect. There is absolutely no obligation to respect the content of the opinion. Nor could there be.
Opinions informed by facts and evidence and careful reflection are always going to be of greater value than opinions based on fallacy and hearsay and bigotry.
The opinions I express are never humble because they have been properly considered. An opinion need only be humble if it has not been comprehensively thought through. It doesn’t mean that the opinions I express are always ‘right’ – whatever that might mean in relation to personal viewpoints. It simply means that I wouldn’t be expressing them if they were humble. If an opinion has cause to be humble then it shouldn’t be expressed. I never publish anything that I am not prepared to defend. But just as this does not mean that my opinions are ‘right’, it doesn’t mean they are fixed. The claim that none of my opinions is humble has to be understood in combination with the disclaimers which state that none of my attitudes is immutable and none of my conclusions is final. It’s the very opposite of bigotry. It’s a repudiation of dogma. It’s my idea of normal.
This intellectual flexibility applies not only to my own attitudes, conclusions and opinions but to my perspective on the expressed views of others. One opinion that I encounter more often than I would prefer is that the SNP no longer believes in independence – or some variation on this theme. Previously, I have been totally dismissive of this view. I don’t think I was wrong in this. I still consider it an ill-informed and ill-considered opinion that deserves to be humble. But I have come to see a small glint of reason in the dross that makes up the content of the opinion that the SNP has abandoned or turned against independence. I have revised my own opinion of this opinion.
The rethink was prompted by a piece in The National by Robbie Mochrie. (The National provides no clues, but I assume this to be the Robbie Mochrie who is an Associate Professor, School of Social Sciences at Heriot-Watt University. If I’m mistaken, I apologise to both Robbie Mochries.)
One sentence in particular stood out for me in a fine article arguing that the SNP/Scottish Government needs to up its game on the constitutional issue. Or as the headline has it, “be better indy ambassadors”.
If independence is normal, then it is an end in itself, and not just a means to an end.
Robbie Mochrie’s argument, as I understand it, is that the SNP appears always to feel the need to justify the restoration of Scotland’s independence. Currently, this justification relates to management of economic recovery from the pandemic. Which in turn seems to be predicated on a return to the status quo ante. What most of us had come to regard as normality. What some of us regard with a mixture of distaste and disbelief. Is it even possible to go back to this ‘normality’? Would we really want to if we could?
Those are questions for another time. What concerns us at the moment is the apparent compulsion to justify independence on the basis of some attached policy agenda. Independence to preserve our place in Europe. Independence to escape Tory austerity. Independence to properly manage recovery from the pandemic. Always independence for the sake of something outwith the realm of the constitution. Robbie Mochrie rightly questions the perspective which holds that independence has to be for something. It is a matter that I have addressed before. Professor Mochrie’s column prompted me to address it again in an article on the White Rose Rising Blog and a comment below the line in The National. At the risk of making this article overlong I think it appropriate to reproduce that White Rose Rising piece in full.
“If independence is normal, then it is an end in itself, and not just a means to an end.”
Yes! Yes! Yes!
It has been a constant refrain of the righteous radicals who attached themselves to the Yes movement that independence is NOT an end in itself. That it is only worthwhile if it facilitates a particular political or ideological agenda. So it is gratifying to find someone else prepared to challenge this dogma.
But it is not just that independence is normal. Or, rather, the term ‘normal’ should be understood in a non-superficial way when used in this context. Normal is proper. Normal is fitting. Normal is appropriate. Normal is right! Independence is right!
To restore Scotland’s in independence is not merely to restore normality, it is to restore justice. It is to rectify the ancient wrong of the Union – a political union contrived solely to ensure that Scotland would always be subordinate to what was then England and is now England-as-Britain. Such a grotesquely asymmetric political union must be abnormal. It must be anomalous. It must be wrong. Ending such a political union must be right.
If righting wrongs is an end in itself; if rectifying injustice is an end in itself, then ending the wrong of the Union must be an end in itself. Ending such an anti-democratic constitutional arrangement and restoring Scotland’s rightful constitutional status is not worthwhile only if it is done in the service of a particular agenda. It is worthwhile entirely in its own right.
Restoring Scotland’s independence is essential regardless of what happens subsequently. Everything that happens subsequently has to be taken on trust because it cannot be predetermined. We have to restore normality and trust that the people of Scotland are capable of managing at least as well as the people of any other normal nation. There is no rational reason to suppose that we are not.
The Union is wrong. The Union would be wrong even if it benefitted Scotland in some way. Rather obviously, it does not. But no benefit could possibly outweigh the constitutional shackles which deny the people of Scotland the full and proper exercise of our sovereignty. No benefit could justify the injustice of the Union. No benefit could compensate for the cost in terms of democracy and dignity.
Restoring Scotland’s independence is just what normal people would do when faced with offensive absurdity of the Union.
It is worth stressing the point made in that article that it is not only the SNP/Scottish Government which has been gripped by the need to justify independence in terms of something external to the constitutional issue. Most of the Yes movement has followed suit. Hence the plethora of different ‘visions’ of independence. Restoring Scotland’s independence has, for the Yes movement, always been much more about what independence might do rather than what independence is. The so-called ‘case for independence’ has been all but entirely about what independence entails rather than what independence implies. As you will have gathered, I consider this to be wrong. Like Robbie Mochrie I maintain that independence is an end in itself.
This does not mean that there cannot be other ends associated with independence. Only that the case for restoring Scotland’s independence needs none of these ancillary ends. The restoration of Scotland’s independence needs no justification other than that it restores constitutional normality by ending a grotesquely anomalous constitutional settlement.
The notion that the SNP has forsaken independence is still ridiculous. But it may be a bit less ridiculous than I previously thought. It is not that the commitment to Scotland’s cause has been quietly dropped. But it appears that it has been weakened by the way the constitutional issue has been framed. Having framed independence as a means to an end and something which must be justified by its supposed social and economic effects, the SNP/Scottish Government and almost the entire Yes movement have lost sight of the fact that restoring Scotland’s independence is fully justified by what it is – normal.
The attitude which pervades the entire independence movement characterises independence as a means to not just an end but to a dizzying, confusing proliferation of ends none of which can be assured. When independence is thus justified our opponents need only attack ends which are inherently uncertain. They can exploit this uncertainty. The can generate and exacerbate doubt. They are not required to address the concept of independence itself. They need only attack the things which are used to justify it. Things which are highly vulnerable to attack.
What this urge to justify independence in terms of the ends to which it can be a means suggests is a deeply disturbing lack of confidence in independence itself. Which in turn hints at a lack of confidence in the Scottish people. Surely the fight to restore Scotland’s independence should be in the hands of people who can recognise independence as an end in itself and conduct the campaign accordingly.
Independence is fully justified by the fact that the Union cannot be justified.
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