Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Scotland be brave

(This is my second post on the Scottish referendum. My first, longer post is here.)

It doesn't feel like it, but we're on the brink of a national tragedy. In just over two weeks, Scotland might vote to dissolve the union. That alone is heartbreaking. That it might actually throw away so much for the sake of an ideology - one that could do so much damage to Scotland and her relationship with England - is devastating to me.

I implore any eligible voter reading this to search their conscience - honestly and without prejudice - for their sense of what is good about the Union, of who we are, what we've done, and what we could do. And then ask if it is definitely - finally and irrevocably - worth throwing that away in favour of what the Nationalists are offering.

Forget Salmond's Tory bogeymen - they might not even be in office this time next year. Short-term political feeling can't be used to justify a decision about the forever of the rest of Scotland's history. The feelings of many Scots about the Tories may well be justified, but that doesn't mean they are relevant to the decision you will make on the 18th of September. Salmond seems to me to be urging Scots to make five years of disaffection the basis on which to decide Scotland's whole future. This doesn't match up - in fact, it's a terrible, terrible idea.

A Scotland that stays will be more prosperous, more secure, more confident, better provided for, more outward-looking and connected to the world, and with broader scope to create and to pursue ambitions. Not only are the SNP's policies economically unrealistic, and overly hopeful, they look worryingly like bad medicine for Scotland's soul. There is a pinched meanness, a narrowness of vision, and a negativity to their policies - the proclivity towards shouting down, the worrying hints of the ideologue's blithe disregard for reality, and the feeding on grievance and feelings of diminution.

Politics like this isn't good for Scotland, or any nation.

Best vote 'no'.

This was my impassioned bit, below are a few more details.

1. Nationalism and anti-democratic feeling make a terrifying combination

The Nationalist argument is that independence would be a victory for democracy because it would allow Scots to be governed by parties they voted for, instead of the Conservative governments voted for by the more populous English. 

On the face of it, this seems convincing enough, especially as we currently have a Tory government. But consider this:  counting the elections backwards, we've got the Tories failing to win a majority in 2010, outright Labour victory in 2005, Labour landslide in 2001, massive Labour landslide in 1997. 

The SNP, given these facts, cannot possibly claim domination by English Tories - but they could certainly claim to be dissatisfied at not always getting what they want.

But democracy was never the promise of always getting what you want, and to believe that it should be is profoundly undemocratic - sometimes we have to tolerate the free choices of others, because democratic free choice is pinned to the individual but still mutually shared. No one gets a guarantee that their free choice will always trump others, and yes-voting Scots won't get this guarantee either.

It is not just that this has the smack of gerrymandering on a colossal scale. When combined with nationalism, and when viewed from a historical perspective, this intolerance of the mutual freedom of others is very troubling. The extremism of the 1930s didn't occur because people were converted by the arguments of Fascists and Communists, but because they lost faith that the democratic process could give them what they wanted and end the depression. It wasn't muscular or reliable enough.

Scottish nationalism had its own flirtation with Fascism in the 1930s, and it is always sensible to be wary of any nationalism - my bringing up the past may seem snide but is justified. The Nationalists are arguing for a new, strongly nationalistic, atavistic future, and they are sceptical that the democratic system as it stands can deliver it. My point is this - their scepticism will recur in any democracy that isn't a democracy of one, so we can well ask how long it will be before scepticism turns to cynicism or outright rejection.

The Nationalists' democratic blind-spot is evidenced also by their insistence that the Bank of England will remain lender of last resort to iScotland's banks (i.e. in a currency union) or the argument here  that UK research councils will continue to fund an independent Scotland's universities. A big assumption, given that they are overlooking those who will foot the bill - i.e. British taxpayers. There is no suggestion that rUK's leaders will first need to secure the consent of the populace.

2. Xenophobia

Let's do a bit of pragmatics - in an argument about whether to dissolve a 300-year-old union and spend the rest of time as an independent nation, Salmond's focus on the Tory government, elected for a five-year term, and even the comparatively brief Thatcher years, is, one would assume, surely irrelevant. It is not a coherent contribution to the debate. If he went on TV and argued Scotland should be independent because it has an 'S' in its name, this also would be incoherent, to the point we would question his sanity. 

So why don't Salmond's anti-Tory arguments strike us the same way? We don't feel them to be incoherent because, in some way or another, perhaps a discreet way, they are hitting the mark -  there must be some other criterion that makes them relevant.

It cannot be political or psephological, because we are just coming out of thirteen years of Labour government. So in what way are his supporters finding these attacks reasonable - on what frequency are they resonating?

Simple - he is angling for a wider, negative identification of the England and the English with Toryism. That is, a belief certain Scots have about the type of people the English are and always will be - arrogant, posh, supercilious, too powerful, too privileged - and Salmond is keen to exploit it. It is his trump card in anathematizing union with England.

It's a libel, of course, and it's disgusting - nothing more than class and cultural, possibly also ethnic, hatred. But who is surprised? This is nationalism! And, unthinkably, it might be Scotland's future.

3. Fear

Third problem - fear. 'No' voters are frightened to speak out. why? Because our message is, supposedly, 'reactionary'. We, all of us, automatically grant legitimacy to the peripheral voice, and reject the central one as hegemonic and chauvinistic, celebrating authority. One beneficial side effect of a no vote would be the firm rejection of this as absurd undergraduate juvenilia - it is taking away our voices and making us do our politics badly.