A good question

Avid readers of this blog – I hope you’re both well and keeping safe – know how fond I am of questions. I wouldn’t go so far as to say there’s no such thing as a stupid question. But I know for a fact that however many stupid questions there may be that number is vastly exceeded by the number of stupid answers. Questions are great! They are powerful tools, essential to analytical thinking. True genius lies not in knowing everything but in questioning everything. For the inquiring mind there is no greater prize than the question nobody thought to ask.

It needn’t be a totally novel question. Sometimes it’s just a case of a familiar question being asked in a particular manner or placed in a particular context that leads to that question being understood in a different way. Even a misunderstanding of the question can occasionally lead to a fresh line of thought. A question may be asked in anticipation of a particular answer or form of answer but due to the way it has been comprehended, it may elicit something unexpected. A question may be asked with no expectation of an answer but nonetheless trigger an interesting line of thought.

I was presented with just such a rhetorical question in a Twitter comment the other day. At least, I now think it was intended to be rhetorical. In the moment that I first read it, however, I took it to be a serious enquiry.

It’s a question that is asked repeatedly not in the hope of an explanation but merely to highlight the conundrum. If British Nationalists are as certain as they purport to be that they would win a new referendum, why are they so ardently, fanatically opposed to that referendum being held? It’s easy to shrug this off as just one of the many contradictions and inconsistencies which characterise British Nationalist ‘thinking’ on the constitutional issue. I myself have been the shrugger on many occasions. But not on this occasion. For some reason which would itself be fascinating to explore, this time just for an instant I appreciated the question in a way I hadn’t previously.

Maybe it was because the questioner appeared to attribute British Nationalist opposition to a new referendum to them being “scared” – presumably, of losing. Perhaps it was just that this seemed to me a rather simplistic explanation, and one that didn’t fit well with the evident conviction that they couldn’t lose. Whatever the reason, I found myself wondering just what really lies behind the fervid, monomaniacal opposition to that new referendum. If it’s not fear, what might it be? If it’s not only fear of losing, what other factors may be in play?

I do not buy the SNP line that ‘the Tories are running scared’. For a start, it’s not only the Tories. It’s the entire British establishment. I yet cling to a faint and rapidly dimming glimmer of hope that the SNP might learn this one day. At least as importantly I hope the Yes movement learns. Among the myriad ’causes’ which have sought to hitch a ride on the independence train the anti-Tory element is undoubtedly the most prominent. And probably the easiest to understand. There is genuine and deep-seated loathing of the British Conservative Party in Scotland. For cause! It takes no effort whatever to turn a pro-independence march/rally into an anti-Tory event. The difficulty lies in preventing this happening. So far, and with all due respect to the organisers of these events, none of them has yet proved up to the task. You can’t fight an effective political campaign if you misidentify your opponents.

But | digress! I scoff at SNP claims that the opponents of Scotland’s cause are ‘running scared’. Why would they be? They have all the power. That’s what the Union is for. The Union ensures that those who favour the Union have all the power they need to preserve their ‘prrreshusss’. The British ruling elite and their political servants have grown assured to the point of arrogance by centuries of being able to control Scotland (and the other annexed territories of England-as-Britain) with consummate ease. They hold the purse-strings and have access to all the apparatus of a former imperial power sans pareil – including a monstrous propaganda machine. Why should they be afraid?

The British political elite is supremely confident of its ability to deal with the ‘Scottish problem’. If they can’t prevent a referendum using the power afforded them by the Union they can win it using that same power. And even were they to lose, the power afforded them by the Union allows them to ignore or overrule an inconvenient result. Why should they be afraid?

The SNP+SGP/Scottish Government seems intent on playing by the British state’s rules, and the Union allows the British state to make or amend those rules at will. Or to break them with impunity. Why should they be afraid?

The British are certainly concerned about the ‘Scottish problem’. That concern is what is commonly mistaken for fear. But it’s not even a new referendum they’re really concerned about. As previously stated, they have every reason to believe they can ‘deal with’ another referendum. What worries them is the possibility that the SNP+SGP/Scottish Government might change its approach to the constitutional issue. The longer the current ‘fad’ (as they see it) for independence continues the greater the pressure for a reframing of the issue and the greater the chance that there might be a tipping-point at which the SNP+SGP/Scottish Government is forced to respond. The British are concerned that the people of Scotland might stop thinking of independence as something that has to be won and start thinking of it as something that has to be taken

The British ruling elite is confident that there is no route to independence through the razor-wire and minefields of the legal and constitutional framework that protects and preserves the structures of power, privilege and patronage which constitute the British state. They are seriously worried that the Scottish people might come to the same conclusion and demand that their government and parliament step outside that framework in order to take Scotland’s cause forward. They fret about the fact that while the Union gives them control of Scotland, that control depends critically on acceptance of British authority. They know that the moment this authority is questioned or challenged, the power of the Union will be broken.

But is that enough to explain the bitterness and intensity of British Nationalist efforts to stop a new referendum happening? I don’t think it does. Now that I’ve been prompted to think about it, I am persuaded there is something more.

It seems to me that British Nationalist opposition to a new referendum stems not from a fear of losing, but from a more fundamental, deep-seated antipathy to the very idea of Scotland exercising its right of self-determination. Especially if the process by which we exercise our right of self-determination is entirely outwith the control of the British state. British Nationalists are appalled by the idea of the sovereignty of the British parliament being challenged. They are doubly appalled by the thought that the British might be excluded from the process and afforded no direct influence. Those who recognise how essential possession of Scotland is to England-as-Britain’s conceit of itself are further horrified by the possibility that their largely illusory ‘Great Britain’ may become unsustainable even as an illusion.

If the British ruling elite is afraid of anything it’s the power that rests in the hands of Scotland’s voters. The power to break the British state. The capacity to at least partially dismantle those structures of power, privilege and patronage. They deeply resent the fact that such power can even exist. What they fear is not a referendum that they may lose, but that in getting to a referendum that is a genuinely free and fair exercise of our right of self-determination the people of Scotland will already have broken England-as-Britain’s grip on Scotland. There is shame in there too. Shame in the realisation that even in what England-as-Britain regards as its own territory, it may be weak enough to fail.

British establishment opposition to a new referendum is driven not so much by fear as by an ideology that is little more than British exceptionalism expressed in a variety of ways. James Hawes has some very relevant things to say.

TNT Show. Ep 70. Dr James Hawes, novelist, historian & latest ‘The England Delusion’.

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13 thoughts on “A good question

  1. James Hawes has published his observations on how the British Ruling Elite have managed political control of first England and then the British Isles, including on the construction of the Idea of ‘Great Britain’ and his conviction of its imminent demise.

    For an accessible introduction to the thesis an (the?) avid reader could do worse than watch him recently interviewed on The Nation Talks by John Drumond.

    TNT Show. Ep 70. Dr James Hawes, novelist, historian & latest ‘The England Delusion’.


    Liked by 2 people

  2. What the British worship is the illusion of power and any action which appears to diminish that illusion is to be crushed. Look how they cling to the “special relationship” with the USA or the idea of the Empire as Commonwealth.
    This is what needs to be challenged. Not the Tories, or any British political power, for they are all the same with largely the same agenda.
    We must break or undermine the very idea of Britishness in the minds of the Scottish people.
    Nicola Sturgeon would seem to have at her core this ethereal belief in Britain.
    It is Plato’s parable of the cave which must continually be learnt and relearned. The SNP are watching the shadows on the cave wall rather than looking outward from the opening to the source of light.
    To give credence to the illusion of power is to submit to it.
    Scotland came close in 2014 but has retreated back into the cave mainly at the insistance of the SNP under the Murrells. We have a way to go to regain this loss.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I think you could be right Peter. What is England without Scotland. Not very much. The union legitimises there power, prestige and status and we know they will use every trick in the book to maintain their authority over Scotland.
      Scotland will go through an evolution once we are Independent.
      England will be the place where there is potential for revolution once we are gone. Of course, we have to get there first.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Interesting. I think this must reach right back to the Declaration of Arbroath, which was in effect an objection to English exceptionalism and an assertion of the sovereign power of the Scottish people.

    There may be other reasons for the lack of fear. In conversation with my wife the other day I opined that the Scottish government has obediently fallen in behind the same structures of power and patronage that comprise the British state, happy to be the devolved administration in perpetuity. Her response was to suggest that on the contrary, the Westminster government will rule Scotland directly by giving grants to compliant councils, while bypassing and emasculating Hollyrood.

    History will decide which way things went, but there is an extent to which under both of these scenarios, the Brits have already won and have thus nothing to fear.

    I think it is unlikely that the current Scottish government will ever hold a real referendum asking the Scots to dissolve the Union, but this in indeed what they fear – the assertion of Scottish Sovereignty.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “this in indeed what they fear – the assertion of Scottish Sovereignty.”

      In fact, Scots need to deal with their “English problem”, not worry about how Westminster deals with its so-called Scottish problem!

      It’s like the “Irish border” issue.
      We don’t have an “Irish border” issue.
      We have an “English border in Ireland” to cope/deal with

      Liked by 3 people

  4. As long as WM can just say no , they will , it is their first line of defence which will only be defeated by either breaching it or bypassing it. They will never concede it , no matter what the polls or elections say.

    Have you considered that the current situation suits them very well in terms of keeping Scotland in it’s place ? The paucity of talent in the Scottish Government makes them an easy target for non -achievement and saying NO to Indyref 2 is the easiest high-salaried gig in town , it’s all stasis.

    We need better , smarter independence minded MSPs with more courageous leadership if we are to escape.
    Time for NS to piss or get off the pot.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We don’t have the luxury of time to browse the shelves looking for better tools. We either use the tools we have – doing whatever it takes to hammer them into shape – or we lube up for the mightiest of fuckings. Most people in the Yes movement won’t realise this until it’s too late. That’s why we still have folk talking about changes of leadership and new MSPs. We don’t have time. But the denial is still stronger than the threat.

      The British can’t beat us. But they know they don’t have to. They only have to play for time and we’ll beat ourselves. That’s what they’ve done – with help from Sturgeon – and that’s what is happening.

      It’s also why we should have had the referendum n 2018 as I advised persistently from early 2015 onwards. Nobody listened then. Quite a few now acknowledge that I was right. But even more aren’t listening now. The voice of dissent needs to be louder. We need to make the Yes movement something that is feared by both Holyrood and Westminster. But it’s probably too late for that as well. 2,000 people marched in Stirling today. If we were on course to do what needs to be done within the time available it would have been ten times that number.

      Liked by 1 person

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