Yes to more on the meaning of Yes
Posted on August 17, 2013
Plenty of people to be voting No in Scotland’s 2014 referendum on Independence are dissuaded from Yes because of their internalised suspicion of Nationalism, Scottish or otherwise. Plenty of people to be voting Yes in 2014 are persuaded of Yes, not because of the imperatives of Nationalism, but by the conceptualisation of Independence as a necessary lever in achieving ‘our-politics-by-our-people-for-our-people’. Both positions are familiar: some bloggy counterpoints and additions here.
The No cohort invoked above imagines that Nationalism is a uniform (and, of course, uniformly pernicious) trans-national phenomenon that begets the same results wherever it arises irrespective of the certainty of in-country sociopolitical and geographical contingencies. Such totalising is required to sustain the perniciousness-quotient of the Aunt Sally, precisely the kind of flattening-out of thought, we understand from naysayers, that Nationalism can be expected to encourage, or enforce, especially, they add, under conditions of Independence.
Prevalent in the press as a result of this kind of ‘No’ we meet a mischievous concatenation of components of the independence debate: Independence is unwelcome > for it is forever a form of Nationalism > which is forever predicated on blind and exclusionary Fundamentalism > and Fundamentalism is required for a Yes to Scottish Independence because there exists no practical economic reason to wish it. To finger the ringleader, The Scotsman journalist, Brian Wilson is fond of deploying this propagandistic stylistic on behalf of the No campaign, not with their permission, perhaps, because the stylistic tool is rusty and blunt.
By stringing the elements in this way, though, Wilson and fellow naysayers dial up from the cultural sphere the Mario Vargas Llosas of this world, and, from the sphere of political science the John Dunns. We heard last year from Vargas Llosa that ‘When nationalism becomes power, it is always very negative, very pernicious. It produces a provincial vision of social and political problems’. (Those proclamations from Vargas Llosa have bothered me before – But One Nationalism?) And, we continue to hear from premier league political scientist John Dunn via No journalism, for Dunn is well known for having said that nationalism is ‘the starkest political shame of the twentieth century’. Of course, before anything culturally or politically subtle happens, stringing the elements in this way brings to bear images and prejudices of the most potent kind as the vulnerable will call to mind the narratives and visages of terrorist fundamentalists, to Wilson’s slight mischievous advantage it must be said.
There are examples of nefarious extremist nationalism because there are examples of nefarious extremism wherever you choose to look for them. By way of contrast, Nationalism in a Rousseauesque guise, applied to our context here, emphasises the centrality of a country’s institutions and civic infrastructure in achieving a connected and committed populace, one that can redescribe itself and collectively address national wellbeing. Scotland’s cultural institutions and the reputation of our Government in respect of its support for our cultural institutions will play an enormously important part, at home and abroad, in winning and sustaining such a civic nationalism. Rousseau may have been more interested in national, civic infrastructure for its own sake as a servant of national togetherness; Scotland’s version might harness cultural infrastructure to celebrate (and indeed create) aspects of national unity as well as difference, dissent and debate as part of establishing pride in an Independent nation. The cultural content of our infrastructure, then, and the visibility of Governmental support for that content (in all its diversity) is important too, Jean-Jacques.
But one can be committed to (Scottish) Independence and at the same time doubtful of the potential of Nationalism as the political ideology to carry forward the objectives of that Independence. Of course, one can reach such a conclusion in advance of considering the roadworthiness of the SNP as the vehicle for the journey to and beyond Independence. Or, one can be committed to Scottish Independence and persuaded that Nationalism is indeed the political ideology most likely to achieve common objectives within an Independent nation. If you get yourself to this point intellectually, you require firstly a different-from-Wilson’s-stylistic take on Nationalism, perhaps Rousseauesque or even Gandhian, plus disdain for the mischievous concatenation.
As for reading the referendum as an opportunity for us to decide upon how best we represent ourselves politically, there is a risk inherent in this non-Nationalist independence arriving with a fanfare of underwhelmism. Independence of governance is all well and good, and is surely a democratic ask not to be scorned or ultimately refused, but, needless to say, to have that system of governance is not the same as to have courses of action that would render a newly constituted home-ruled nation distinctive and progressive. The mechanism of governance has to be applied to something for some end, and that end is deserving of three-dimensionality in the debate.
With that principle of application in mind, and with nearly one year till referendum, there seems timely sense in those press rumblings that would have the Yes campaigners more voluble in their description of the progressive agendas that can be precipitated by the coincidence of Nationalism and Independence in Scotland. These rumblings rumble for more radical courses of action that might marry in the mind Nationalism (even if not the Nationalists) with the prospect of a progressive, Independent Scotland on a road to a more equal, ethical, prosperous, fair, meritocratic, diverse, secular, diplomatic, post-imperial nation – etc. – better able to address interdependent contemporary globalism as well as local historical blights by virtue of the reality of the desirable concatenation from the opening paragraph; our-politics-by-our-people-for-our-people.
If these bloggations are understood to tap into a real and growing desire for, not interminable reassurance that if the historical threshold is met in 2014 we need not worry for mostly everything will stay the same, but, instead, greater commitment (beyond the political expediency of party politics) to what the meaning of the Yes actually is, then that pleases me. To move in that direction is to move miles away from wee Scotland’s playground of archetypes with shivs as sharp and rusty as parochialism can let them be.
With typical modesty and humour, through the lens of this week’s football international Robert McNeil in yesterday’s The Herald offered a perceptive analysis of the current phase in the Independence debate (‘Glad to see the end of the football hate-fest‘, The Herald, Friday August 16, 2013). Like many, McNeil was relieved but maybe not surprised at the lack of trouble over the match, his stimulating explanation being:
Everything has changed since the Sixties and Seventies, days of tartan-trimmed troosers and torn-down goalposts. Back then, when the Union was never under real threat, I remember anti-Englishness being casually widespread. The stronger the Union the greater the anti-Englishness.
It’s a leap, but to take it following McNeil’s lead, is there not now a momentum of confidence that can be tapped into, a momentum that is in part predicated on exhaustion with old battles and with the crippling impediment that is Scottish reflex underdogism and resentmentism. You are indeed a dog-held-down if you are destined to lose by dint of the self-oppression involved in believing in the inevitability of suppressive power structures, structures that might not work too hard to disabuse you of those thoughts. McNeil’s opinion piece attributes a lack of trouble and fuss to a growing sense of self-determination, attention to which takes the oxygen from the ogre of resentment, an ogre that happily grants permission for underachievement.
McNeil is right, I am sure, and his pop culture context should not mask the import of his insight. His rumblings are timely and they too call for a voluble address from the Yes campaigners:
The Yes campaign whispers, the No campaign shouts. It shouts down. As it must. In a debate that’s essentially about education, the more people know the more they back Yes. Nobody changes from Yes to No. It’s all the other way about.
There is a confidence and capacity amongst voting Scots for more on the generational potentiality of Independence – a confidence and capacity that is not structured any longer according to master-servant stencils. If Independence might bring more than the technical achievement of something like representative democracy, it will be important for Yes campaigners to shed some more apprehension and appeal directly to those undecided with concatenations that describe, not just the immediate alterations to professional infrastructure, but the long-term gains that might underpin a grown-up Nation.