It’s been a confusing morning so far. First I read a piece by Pete Wishart in which he actually talks sense. Then, as if that wasn’t bewildering enough, I encounter Gerry Hassan’s column and some perplexingly shallow thinking that all the latte-sipping lefty pomposity in all the cafe districts in all the world can’t rescue. To be clear, Wishart’s article wasn’t at all profound. There is no great perspicacity in discerning the reason for the SNP’s national-level voting advice for the upcoming local elections. I certainly didn’t claim any special insightfulness when I explained the same thing almost a week ago. Simplicity of messaging is something so obvious it is hard to fathom how the SNP’s Alba Party critics fail to grasp it. Could it be that they are just pretending to find that ‘SNP 1&2’ message incomprehensible? Maybe the Tories aren’t the only ones doing faux outrage.
While I applaud Pete Wishart’s attempt to enlighten those who might be genuinely unable to understand why the SNP has given this advice, I have to say this effort isn’t helped by the use of phrases such as “descending order of increasing nausea”. In context, it actually makes sense. But the apparent contradiction is no less jarring. And he does rather spoil the overall impression of good sense with his snipe at Alba. But that seems to be obligatory for both tribes now. The infantile pettiness grates on mature sensibilities less than it once did.
Gerry Hassan aims for sage advice in his column. But there are a couple of points that suggest his intellect might not have been firing on all cylinders when he wrote his column for The National. Take, for example, the assertion that “an indyref is a means to an end, not the end itself”. Well, maybe so, Gerry. But just because an “indyef” (How I detest this Twitterspeak!) is not the end doesn’t mean that it is not an end. Surely anything that remains to be achieved while being an aspiration must be considered – on some level – an end. Getting a new referendum and making sure it is the right kind of referendum has to be an end in itself because there can hardly be any doubt that the sovereignty of Scotland’s people and our right of self-determination need to be asserted and affirmed. Given that the British government is trying to deny our sovereignty and constrain our right of self-determination while the Scottish Government declares itself willing to compromise popular sovereignty while exhibiting great reluctance to facilitate the exercise of our right of self-determination, I’d say that actually getting a referendum that’s fit for purpose would be a considerable achievement. It has to be an end worth pursuing, even if it is being the restoration of independence of whatever other end Gerry has in mind as the end.
I’ve had this same discussion – or one very similar – with people who insist that independence is not an end in itself but the means to some other end. Which doubtless someone will also insist isn’t an end but merely the means to… And so it goes on. In truth, there is no ultimate end. But there are many things that we can justifiably define as ends for our immediate purposes. There are steps on this endless journey that are sufficiently significant to be considered ends. Getting that proper referendum may be considered an end because doing so will signal the successful defence of something very much worth defending – the principle of popular sovereignty and our right of self-determination.. Both of which are at risk of being eroded. Similarly, independence is an end in itself because it represents the righting of an ancient wrong. Restoring Scotland’s independence represents a triumph for democracy and justice. Surely that is a worthy end regardless of what ensues
I suppose it depends on how you regard the Union. Blight? Boon? Benign? Obviously, if you regard the Union as a boon – something which benefits Scotland greatly – then dissolving it won’t be something you see as any kind of end. Or any kind of means, for that matter. There are such people. Although I have yet to encounter one who could explain why Scotland should share their idiosyncratic personal perspective.
If you hold the Union to be a blight on Scotland, as I do, then you will tend to regard relieving our nation of this blight as a necessity – for the reasons set out above. Righting a wrong must always be an end in itself. Should we only right wrongs where there is some tangible ancillary benefit? Must we do some kind of calculation before choosing to rectify an unjust anomaly?
Then there are those who consider the Union to be benign. Neither particularly beneficial nor especially harmful. Just a constitutional arrangement much as other constitutional arrangements. Independence might be nice if we can get it without upsetting too many people too much. But there are more pressing concerns.
Gerry Hassan seems to fall into this last category. He seems to suppose the Union to be quite benign.
This means independence has to act and think about the wind behind its sails. This entails breaking with such false binaries as impatient versus ultra-cautious, independence now versus independence by osmosis, and those who see it as all about the merits or demerits of the SNP leadership.
A confident independence which sees itself as the future will think about how it manifests the idea of Scotland as a self-governing country in the here and now.
It would recognise that this is not all about the next indyref, how it is called or what happens when Westminster says no. All of that is the politics of process – and misses that an indyref is a means to an end, not the end itself.
For Gerry Hassan as for so many in the Yes movement, it’s all about the ‘vision’ of being an independent nation and let’s not concern ourselves too much – or at all! – with the process of becoming independent. He misses that independence is an end in itself and that it’s totally pointless having any kind of end in mind if you cannot define the process by which that end might be achieved. It doesn’t matter whether it is the ultimate end or some ‘sub-end’, you only know it’s achievable if there is a viable process by which it may be achieved. This dismissive attitude to “the politics of process” is the sort of thing we get from politicians who allowed their rhetoric to get ahead of their capacity to deliver.
There’s a word for an end without the necessary process. It’s called a fantasy. By all means, peddle the ‘visions’ All great change begins with a dream. But it remains a dream and nothing more until you attach a process to it. I don’t do fantasy politics. So if you are coming to me with some ‘vision’ but are baffled or offended by my questions regarding how that ‘vision’ is to be realised, then don’t expect me to take either you or your ‘vision’ seriously.
There’s another aspect to this. The attitude evinced by Gerry Hassan in his column – again I stress that he is far from alone in this – implies that it doesn’t matter how Scotland’s independence is restored. He exhibits no sense of urgency about restoring it – and I’ll come to that. But if it is to happen then the manner of its happening is of no consequence. I fervently disagree. It matters a great deal how we go about restoring Scotland’s independence. The story of Scotland’s independence being restored must be a tale we are at least comfortable with recounting to our children and our children’s children. There must be no scope whatever for any suggestion that our independence was given to us. Not least because it then could not be real independence. The constitution is about power. True power is never given. It is only ever taken.
I’m not saying the re-taking of Scotland’s independence must be a story to rival the fiction of Braveheart. But it must have something of that quality about it. It is not a small thing. It is a huge thing. Huge things have to be right. Otherwise, they’re wrong. A huge historic event that is wrong tends to be wrong forever. Get it wrong and all future generations will have to live with that.
To the twist in the tail! For all Gerry Hassan’s nonchalance about independence and how it comes about, there is an odd disconnect such as we find in rather a lot of the commentary around the constitutional issue. Most commonly, it’s the urgency/timeframe disconnect. This is when someone acknowledges the urgency of Scotland’s predicament then goes on to suggest a ‘solution’ with a timeframe that is measured in decades. Or at least in electoral cycles. Gerry’s disconnect is a variation on this theme. While being blasé about the when and the how of independence in a way that suggests he thinks the Union quite benign, he also appears to acknowledge how damaging to Scotland being bound to the British state might be. He declares that “The UK is in a state of terminal decay and decline.”. Presumably dragging Scotland down with it.
The British state which once prided itself on its progressive credentials is a force for reaction and punitiveness domestically and internationally. Day by day, the UK Government seems to further degenerate and find new lows.
How can this not be actively deleterious to Scotland? If, as seems all too apparent to me, this implies that the Union is an onerous imposition on Scotland then how can relieving ourselves of this imposition not be both a matter of the greatest urgency and a worthwhile; end in itself?
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