Wednesday 30 May 2012

See no evil

Ignoring reality?
Alan Massie tends to be the voice of reason in all matters and at all times. But commendable as his reasonableness may be I fear he may have allowed it to stray into the realm of naivety with his article today in The Scotsman (Yes or No, we all want what’s best for Scotland).

Massie's appeal for good-humour, fairness and moderation from all involved in the referendum campaign is undoubtedly worthy. But I am surely not alone in observing that his entreaty comes a bit late. That ship has well and truly sailed. Many will note the heavy irony of the fact that this appeal comes to us courtesy of a newspaper that has come to be synonymous with blatant bias and infamous for some of the more reprehensible smear tactics of the anti-independence propaganda effort. Is this not the same rag that quite unashamedly rigged its own online poll because it contradicted the "evidence" of the failed UK consultation on the referendum? Just an example of the dirty tricks already being deployed by those desperate to preserve the British state at any cost to the people of Scotland.

Some will say that it is a trivial example. But it's significance lies in the fact that it illustrates a mindset prevalent in the unionist camp and reflected in the anti-independence press. An unshakeable belief that anything is justified in defence of a political system which is regarded as being inherently righteous.

Massie is right to note that the SNP - and the wider independence campaign in Scotland - has assiduously eschewed all the ideological errors that can beset a nationalist movement. What he fails to recognise - or chooses not to acknowledge - is that British nationalism has been far less successful in avoiding the taint of ethnic prejudice, a descent into jingoistic romanticism and fallacious notions of "British exceptionalism". The burgeoning civic nationalism of the SNP and the outright rejection of its "evil cousin" is largely a function of the growing confidence that accompanies political and electoral success. The converse of this is the increasing insecurity felt by those who want to cling to the union and the regrettable manner in which this insecurity all too frequently finds expression.

The title of Massie's article encapsulates a dangerous misconception. It is simply not true to say that "we all want what's best for Scotland". All nationalists want what is best for Scotland. Which is not to say that what they want for Scotland is necessarily best. But their motives are beyond any doubt entirely honourable. Nobody embraces nationalism because they think it will harm their country.

But the motivations of unionists are different because their priorities are different. By definition, the overarching aim of the unionist is the preservation of the British state it's institutions, processes and practices. All else is subordinate to this objective. Including the interests of the people of Scotland - or, for that matter, any other part of the UK.

With all due respect to Mr Massie, the centuries-old struggle to restore Scotland's rightful status is getting down to the nitty-gritty. We simply cannot afford to labour under any illusions. What is threatened by Scotland's aspirations is the British state. And the British state is not benign. When it had the power, it would casually crush nations and peoples in the pursuit of its exclusive interests. The nature of the power may have changed. The nature of the British state has not.

The hope that the referendum campaign might be conducted in an atmosphere akin to a college debating society is a forlorn one. The stakes are too high, and the forces of reactionary unionism are too desperate.

And the harsh reality is that there is a strand running through the unionist cause which not only doesn't "want what's best for Scotland" but actively wishes us harm. A successful, prosperous Scotland threatens to raise uncomfortable questions about policy as it is applied in other parts of the UK to the profound consternation of the powers that be and wannabe.

More importantly, there is a contest here between the principle of popular sovereignty and the conflicting concept of the Crown in parliament from which flows all the authority of the British political class and all the privilege enjoyed by the ruling elites served by the British political establishment.

The British lion is in a corner. However much we may wish it otherwise, what ensues will not be pretty.


  1. Thank you. I only take issue with one point.

    "And the harsh reality is that there is a strand running through the unionist cause which not only doesn't "want what's best for Scotland" but actively wishes us harm."

    I am not sure that there is a conscious aim to "wish us harm." Of course I may be naive in this belief. I think rather, that Westminster generally thinks that "they know best." It's not that they hate Scotland, they simple do not THINK about Scotland.

    Otherwise. a good piece, thanks

    1. I would hesitate to use the term "naive", but would suggest you may be reluctant to acknowledge the realpolitik. If it serves the interests of the British state that Scotland should fare badly then there will be a tendency for those who serve the interest of the British state to take decisions that will tend to bring about that outcome.

      I stress that no formal conspiracy is necessary. Only that a sufficient number of people with a sufficient aggregate amount of influence should share a common purpose. It is only in hindsight that it looks like a cunning plan.

  2. In my own, naive, view of the union I look upon it like this.

    I consider the union to be much like a cotton plantation if you like where the MASTER is Westminster and the SLAVE is Scotland. That, in my view, is how it has been for 300 odd years. We have now reached the point where Scottish Independence is akin to freeing of the slaves on the plantation. The Masters didn't like it then, they screamed and yelled and threatened all sorts but in the end the Slaves won their FREEDOM!

    In Scotland's case we have something very similar. Our "Master" a.k.a. Westminster will scream, yell, threaten etc but in the end they, like the Cotton Plantation Masters, will HAVE to surrender FREEDOM to Scotland. Failure to do so will only bring MORE pain upon Westminster in the long run!

  3. An independant, prosperous Scotland might make our southern brethern restless, and want change too. The British state would not like anything that upsets their apple cart, and as Peter says, will do anything to protect their position.

    Nice article.


  4. "And the British state is not benign. When it had the power, it would casually crush nations and peoples in the pursuit of its exclusive interests. The nature of the power may have changed. The nature of the British state has not."

    The empire may be dead but the establishment which ran it lives on. Timely article Peter and bang on the target. I hope that it is published on Newsnet Scotland.

    1. I didn't think to submit this one to NNS. But thanks for the kind comments.

  5. Peter,

    I would agree with your assessment that Allan Massie is naive when he says things like, "the Labour Party in Scotland is every bit as Scottish as the SNP". The Labour party in Scotland is not separate from the British Labour party or its aims and Johann Lamont is a regional leader not a party leader however much the media try and portray her as an equivalent to Alex Salmond or Patrick Harvie. The same goes for Ruth Davidson and Willie Rennie.

    Then there is his idea that there should be a devo-max/devo-plus/devo-something question on the ballot paper but that no-one is under any obligation to define what that actually would give Scotland in terms of financial, executive or legal powers until after the referendum. That's not what I would call simple naivety. That is when you put your head in your hands and wonder how on earth someone could be so utterly stupid naivety.

    Allan Massie would never accept a job where his employer would unilaterally decide what they would pay him, what hours he would work, what travel expenses he could claim, what holidays he could take, what his employment rights were and what his pension would be only after the signing of the employment contract. He would want all these details sorted out in advance so he would know what he was signing up to.

    But this is exactly the scenario what he wants Scots to be offered with the devo-something option. Vote for devo-something and the unionist parties will work out what it means later.

  6. Yes its like "Sign here you Scottish dogs, and we will throw you the usual bone when we see you are getting a bit miffed about our deal.
    Its time we did the right thing for Scotland and took control of all the decision making process which is the Government of Scotland. Only scots with backbone and determination can see this through and as I have said in other posts, "Anyone who really believes that they are better off in the union should up-stakes and go and live there!" They really have no place in a country as great as Scotland once we have full autonomy. But I bet they will be only too happy to stay and reap the rewards when they see (finally)how much better off they really will be after independence!