There is no law of nature or humanity which provides that there can only ever be one crisis facing a nation or the world at any given time. And yet this is what apologists for the SNP’s failure ask us to accept. They effectively insist that because there is a public health crisis, nothing else may concern us or occupy a moment of our attention lest we be condemned as cold and uncaring – heedless of the human cost, if not actually responsible for some part of it. It would be interesting to examine this curious mindset. It could be informative to reflect on the causes of this extreme tunnel-vision. In particular, it might be illuminating to consider the role of the mass media in creating a population whose attention can so readily be manipulated by or on behalf of powerful forces in society.
But that is not my purpose here. Perhaps another time. For now, I think it important to consider the reality which is being excluded by the contrived and quite unnatural obsession with a public health threat which, while undoubtedly serious, is now being exaggerated to rationalise the irrational exclusion of all political and social issues from public attention.
As is very often the case, Scotland is the exception. It is strange that the thing that is most insistently excluded from public attention, the thing that is most immediately and comprehensively set aside, so consistently tends to be something that is of particular relevance to Scotland. Part of this irrationally obsessive mindset involves the well recognised phenomenon of abstraction from any historical context. Events are regarded as one-off. Singular. Unique. Failures of the capitalist economic system, for example, are reliably portrayed as unprecedented when, in reality, they are frequent enough to be commonplace. Economic crises are presented as isolated instances when, in fact, our economic system is in a constant state of crisis. It simply suits some purpose of the powerful to have us concentrate all our attention on one small section of the timeline. Like blanking out all but a few selected frames in a movie or ripping out all but a small number of pages from a book and convincing everybody – or enough people – that this is the whole story.
Lest you think this phenomenon manifests only in the realm of global economics I’ll mention one further instance which always comes to mind when this abstraction is discussed – the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers in New York. One aspect of this magnificently horrific incident evident to those inclined to consider its wider implications was that it was not considered fitting to consider wider implications. The incident was lifted entirely and completely out of the great play of history and placed centre stage and alone with every light in the house thrown on it and everything around it cast into darkness. Any attempt to restore the incident to, for example, the context of US foreign policy was, shall we say, vigorously opposed. In fact, even to attempt such a thing risked being metaphorically burned at the stake for heresy. If the attempt was made in America the immolation might be less metaphorical.
As with bank collapses and terrorist atrocities, so with the current public health emergency. It’s the only thing there is. One crisis only allowed. Nothing else matters. To suggest that something else matters is to invite accusations of attempting to diminish or dismiss the seriousness of the ‘real issue’.
But the world is not so monochromatic. There’s every shade of grey and every other hue besides. This is not a controversial observation. All but the most devoted coronavirus obsessives might agree were the question put to them directly. There is no law of nature or humanity which provides that there can only ever be one crisis facing a nation or the world at any given time. The COVID-19 pandemic is a serious public health issue. But it is not and cannot be the only issue. Life goes on quite literally regardless of the things that inevitably loom large in our personal sphere – such as bereavement – and the things that are made to loom large by those who stand to benefit from having them loom large enough to push everything else out of our sight.
In Scotland, what always and immediately gets unceremoniously pushed below the bottom of our list of priorities is the constitutional question. Is that not something worth pondering? The constitutional issue is one day the single overarching matter in Scotland’s politics, and next day nowhere to be found. How does that happen? Why this issue? To stay firmly within living memory, the tipping of the global capitalist system from constant to particular crisis in 2007/2008 instantly prompted shrill demands that Scotland’s constitutional issue be completely removed from the agenda. Note that it had to be purposefully, forcefully removed. Other issues could be relied upon to find their place in the calls upon the public’s attention and concern. Actual effort was demanded to ensure that the constitutional issue was consigned to the sub-basement of priorities. Have you never wondered why?
Likewise with the Brexit fiasco. Ever since the Leave vote in England and Wales meant that Brexit would be imposed on an unwilling Scotland, the shrill voices of those who presume to decided such things on our behalf have asserted as fact that it is not possible to both deal with Brexit and be in any measure preoccupied with Scotland’s constitutional issue. Only and always and most insistently Scotland’s constitutional issue. Have you never wondered why?
Now it’s COVID-19. Almost the moment the existence of the virus became known it was seized upon as yet another justification for taking the constitutional issue ‘off the table’ completely. Do you not wonder why? Are you not yet beginning to see a pattern emerging?
And it is particularly the constitutional issue that is the matter we are supposed to put entirely from our minds. Nobody suggests that the coronavirus crisis obviates the climate crisis. Nobody has suggested that the conflict in Syria has ceased to be of any importance because only the coronavirus crisis can be important. The public health crisis certainly hasn’t put a stop to the British political elite’s constitutional machinations. If anything, the malignant child-clown in Downing Street is accelerating its plans and intensifying its efforts to forcibly mould these islands into a new state made in the image of the imagined ‘Great Britain’ of a grotesquely mythologised past. Only in Scotland are we expected – required – to abandon our aspirations for something better than Boris Johnson’s tawdry blend of Little England and Greater England where every day is a crossover between Dad’s Army and Terry & June. Don’t you ever ask yourself why?
There is no law of nature or humanity which provides that there can only ever be one crisis facing a nation or the world at any given time. At this moment, there is a public health crisis. But there is also a constitutional crisis. The public health crisis needs to be addressed and can be handled without any difficulties which aren’t the product of human folly. But what of the 99% who survive? What of their future and the future of the generations to follow? When the COVID-19 pandemic ceases to hog the attention of the mass media and hence the general public, Scotland’s constitutional crisis will still be there. It will still need to be resolved. It will inevitably be even more urgent given that British Nationalists are not being in the slightest bit hindered in their campaign by the coronavirus pandemic. Does that not lead you to wonder whether it is a good idea to drop the independence campaign completely? Has it suddenly ceased to be important that we set up some resistance to the escalating onslaught on our democratic institutions, our distinctive political culture, our essential public services, our civil and human rights as citizens of Scotland and our very identity as a nation?
Which brings me to the third crisis I want to bring out of the deep, ominous shadow cast by COVID-19 (and whatever is to be the next mono-crisis) and into the light of public attention. There is a constitutional crisis in Scotland. But our means and effort to address this are also in crisis. The Yes movement is in crisis. The independence campaign is in crisis. And it has bugger all to do with coronavirus. Responsibility for this crisis lies squarely on the shrugging shoulders of the SNP. With their apologists perhaps due some small share of blame. It’s bad enough when the British political elite tries to demote our constitutional crisis to insignificance and with it our aspirations for a better nation and a better society. It is an entirely different and vastly more serious matter when our own government and the party on which the independence movement has hitherto relied collude with the British state in this demotion. That, I submit, is a whole new crisis. And one from which we should not be distracted if we are to have any hope of saving Scotland from the fate that is being decided for us by forces unaccountable to the people of our endangered nation.
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