So what?

Apparently, those pesky Russkies may have been interfering in the UK’s democratic processes. Or maybe they haven’t. I’m tempted to congratulate our new Russian overlords on finding the UK democratic processes with which they interfered. Or not. But in an effort to avoid sarcasm I’ll simply wonder how they hoped to figure out how their interference would interact with the interference carried out by other governments. Including the UK government. If, of course any governments interfered at at all. Because the evidence seems not very evidence-like. In fact, I’d like to see some evidence that the evidence is evidence. But that’s just me slipping into facetiousness again.

Not that I’m saying the alleged interference by the Russians (and assorted others) didn’t happen as alleged. In fact, my default assumption would be that there was foreign interference in the alleged democratic processes. Allegedly. Because that’s what states do. It’s what they’ve always done. I’ll warrant there isn’t a nation in all the world or in all of history that didn’t attempt to influence the course of events in some other nation at some point. They’re all at it! WE are at it! Everybody’s doin’ it! Everybody always has done it. It’s politics.

Long, long before Machiavelli was born state actors were being Machiavellian. There never was a state actor that didn’t think itself the most masterful practitioner of the Machiavellian dark arts since Machiavelli. Or before. They all think they’re running the world. They all see themselves as the ‘Great Engineer’ manipulating the levers of espionage and diplomacy to ensure advantage. And they all fail more or less disastrously more or less all the time.

All that changes is the technology. The underlying motivations and machinations haven’t changed. When carrier pigeons were cutting edge technology the coded messages strapped to their legs concerned precisely the same kind of things that now fly massively farther and faster and in infinitely more indecipherable form courtesy of the carrier pigeon’s successors. State actors have always wanted to know what other state actors are doing and thinking and thinking of doing. And they’ve always sought to manipulate what others do, think and think of doing. It’s kinda their job. Otherwise they’d be state non-actors.

In one of those curious quirks of human nature, these state actors simultaneously think themselves the secret bee’s covert knees when it it comes to the state acting and fret endlessly that other state actors might be out-Machivelliing them with devious new devices and gadgets and techniques and methods. State actors are desperately in need of counselling. But who can they trust!?

What we are being encouraged to worry about is nothing more than the environment in which politics proceeds. Of course, we should be on the lookout for serious abuses. But if any of those state actors had found a way of interfering in the affairs of other states that was effective in any significant way even in the face of efforts to counter that interference then, by definition, we wouldn’t even know about it. And all that would happen if we found out would be a shift to a new reality that was a product of the same process that was the product of the old reality. It to would be a political reality that had been subject to interference and manipulation and, just as importantly, the measures implemented to prevent interference and manipulation every bit as much as the old reality.

If you want to worry about Russian interference in Scottish elections and referendums then you are, of course, perfectly at liberty to do so. But doing so makes no sense unless you also worry just as much about American interference and EU interference and Israeli interference and Chinese interference and – worst culprit of all – British interference.

I’m going to take a wild stab in the dark here and venture that most people aren’t looking to expand their worry-list to anything like that extent.

What can’t be cured must be endured! There are many ills in life for which we are well-advised to develop coping mechanisms given the remoteness of the possibility of a solution. By far the most effective way of coping with and minimising the impact of unwelcome external interference in the democratic process is mass engagement and participation. State actors become small in the presence of the people united.

The Russkies almost certainly do have their tentacles reaching into Scotland. But when there is a frantic pointing at them and their activities (alleged) then my first response is to wonder which state actor’s activities I’m being distracted from. Being in Scotland, I don’t have to wonder long.



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