Judging by some of the things Gerry Hassan says in his National column, he appears to think the rest of us are a bit thick. We confuse independence with an independence referendum. We fail to recognise the portion of the electorate outside the Yes/No divide. We focus on process when we should be concentrating on “substance”. We’re just generally rather a silly lot. Thank goodness we have intellectual giants such as Gerry to keep us right. How grateful we should all be for the instructions he proffers in his latest column for The National – Here are 10 things to think about before our next indyref.
In the first part of our examination of those instructions we looked at numbers 1 through 5. Here, we go through numbers 6 to 10.
6) Movement in the electorate is not all No to Yes as some think.
That would be the silly folk again. The ones who need to be told that “telling voters off is seldom successful politics”. The ones too foolish to have noticed that this is exactly what British Labour in Scotland (BLiS) has been doing after successive electoral disasters, each more humiliating than the last. Or maybe we’re just too daft to make the connection between this habit and practice of reprimanding the electorate and the fact that BLiS is now languishing in the polls well south of the point where comedy shades into tragedy.
Allow me to squeeze a serious point out of this if I can. While Gerry may be correct in saying that chastising voters for their choices is “seldom successful politics”, it is quite possible to go too far in the other direction. I know it is possible because I’ve seen it happen far too often. I’m talking about those so convinced of voters’ similarity to delicate hothouse blooms and so fretful about offending their hair-trigger sensibilities that even while trying to persuade them to move to Yes they feel obliged to assure them that they were not wrong to vote No. That it was a perfectly rational choice that deserves to be respected as such.
Of course we have to respect an individual’s right to choose. But nothing obliges us to respect their choice. If that choice was irrational in the light of evidence and arguments available at the time it was made then we are perfectly entitled to call it out. In fact, it is incumbent on us to do so. We can’t avoid doing so. Where a choice is binary, as in a referendum, saying one choice is right necessarily implies that the other choice is wrong. There is no scale of rightness or wrongness that applies. Because it is a binary issue. That’s what binary means. Given this, it is dishonest and, frankly, idiotic to try and pretend you’re not saying what you cannot be other than saying. It’s not necessary to be rude or hurtful. But it is best to be frank and forthright. Evasive, mealy-mouthed, euphemism-laden soft-soaping “is seldom successful politics”.
Voting No was a bad idea in 2014 for precisely the same reason it would be a bad idea now. It is a bad idea because it hands power to the kind of people who do things like Brexit, displaying their contempt for Scotland’s voters as they impose this folly on us. Those people have not changed. They have not changed in centuries. They are the ruling elites of the British state. And they are no friends to Scotland. Not now. Not then. This was known then just as it is known now. Although Brexit may be so plainly idiotic and the contempt show to Scotland so blatant that a few eyes have been opened, if it hadn’t been Brexit it would have been another thing. Or a series of smaller impositions and slights. But always the same attitude and always the same deleterious effect on Scotland.
I don’t want an apology from No voters. I certainly don’t intend to vilify them. They were the victims of a massive propaganda campaign. I just think it would be good if they recognised and acknowledged this. Because they cannot move from No to Yes without doing so.
7) Tone and language matter.
Indeed they do. But all too often this is an argument deployed by elitists seeking to limit and control debate. People convinced that they know best. People possessed of an unshakeable certainty that their idea of correct tone and language is definitive. After all, it’s the way they do it. Obviously it must be right for everybody.
Tone and language matter. But so does context. So does the intent, purpose and motivation of the speaker. So does the nature of the target audience. What matters is that tone and language are appropriate in light of all such considerations. What matters most of all is that the communication is effective. The idea that there might be one formulation of tone and language which is always and everywhere effective and therefore correct is idiotic. Gerry Hassan lectures us that we must “never give the impression that there is one proscribed [sic] Scotland and the politics of a monoculture”. (I think this is meant to read ‘prescribed’) Yet what else does it mean to insist that tone and language must always follow a template set by the dogmatically prescriptive elitists I took to referring to as the ‘righteous radicals’ as they infested the first referendum campaign with their pomposity.
One message! Many voices! If “Scotland’s diversity and pluralism” is as Gerry supposes then surely this must be reflected in tone and language.
8) The politics of hope is pivotal to political change and independence.
There’s aye something that’s “pivotal” or ‘key’ or ‘crucial’ to independence. Read enough in the course of any day and you’re likely to end up with a list of “pivotal” things that’s longer than the list of items read. There are too many ‘single most important things’ to keep track of. Especially given that commentators can invent new ones at will.
It may seem hair-splitting, but I prefer the term ‘hopeful politics’ to “politics of hope”. The latter seems to imply politics built entirely on hope. The sense is far too close to ‘faith’ for my comfort. Politics that is hopeful is politics that strives for hope. Politics that seeks reasons for hope. It’s not the nature of the politics but a characteristic or attribute of it. This may seem trivial. A minor quibble. But I think the difference is important. Although probably not pivotal.
So long as we can avoid the politics of faith, I’ll be content. And where it has not been avoided let us hope it can be banished.
I could argue that confidence is a better thing than hope. But I had quite a lot to say about confidence in the first part of this review.
The penultimate item on Gerry Hassan’s 10-point campaigning for dummies guide has to be quoted in full.
9) Since 2014, the only substantive work undertaken by the SNP has been the Growth Commission, since parked. It is not just that the 2014 offer needs revisited, but the entire prospectus of independence needs renewed in light of Brexit, Covid North Sea oil, the climate crisis and more.
Work is needed on a host of issues – but as critical is how it is done, by whom, and who it is owned by. For example, if a future independence plan emerges from the SNP inner sanctum or as in 2014 from a civil service darkroom, then this will have a detrimental effect. It would be top-down and anti-democratic, and would make activists less enthusiastic, thinking rightly that they were being taken for granted.
The response is brief. it takes the form of two questions –
How much fucking time does Gerry imagine we have?
How many fucking questions does Gerry suppose will be on the referendum ballot paper?
Having got that off my chest and knowing it’s pointless hanging around waiting for a meaningful answer, I’ll move on to the final item. This one deserves to be presented in full.
10) Finally, independence is about maturing and growing up. It is about Scottish people becoming citizens in their own land, taking decisions and weighing up the different choices a nation faces. And this entails being treated as adults by our politicians.
No! No! No!
For someone who has just done lecturing us on the importance of tone and language, this is horribly sloppy stuff. The tone is condescending and the language is ill-considered. Think about it! If “independence is about maturing and growing up” does this not necessarily imply that we are at present immature and not yet grown-up? I don’t know about Gerry or anybody else but I already regard Scotland as “our own land” and I already consider myself a citizen thereof. I want Scotland’s independence restored because I want the removal from our politics of the Union which prevents us “taking decisions and weighing up the different choices a nation faces”.
Independence doesn’t improve my lot by gifting me something I don’t presently possess as of right. It improves my lot by removing the impediments and constraints and impositions which prevent my fully enjoying and exercising my rights as a sovereign citizen of Scotland.
And that is the only reason I want Scotland’s independence restored. It has to be the only reason because that is the only thing that restoring our independence does. Thit is the only effect of restoring Scotland’s independence. And it is enough. Other things good and bad will surely flow from this. But removing the shackles of the Union is a perfectly sufficient reason for restoring Scotland’s rightful constitutional status.
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