Comment: A successful ‘Yes’ campaign must not only challenge the hollow ideology of unionism but understand both the political and entirely humanistic underpinnings that support it.
‘Better Together’, eh?
I have to assume that the slogan above does not refer to the hopelessly lopsided, Conservative-led coalition government. Cameron and Clegg? Better Together? Better they never, surely?
Perhaps then, we are talking about the UK and her European allies? Certainly, both the UK and Europe are infinitely ‘better together’ but nope, wrong again. Herr Cameron it appears cannot extricate himself quickly enough from that stubbornly cojoined relationship either, albeit chiefly at the behest of some backbench Tory relics.
The economy, stupid…
Ah yes, the economy, or at least the fear that the UK’s hyper-imperialist hegemony will be irrevocably damaged in some way by Scotland’s forthcoming referendum when the people will be asked to determine whether or not they ought to be afforded the right to determine anything at all.
‘Better Together’ it is then?
Or ‘Better Late than Never’. Closer inspection reveals the cry from unionists to be illuminatingly reflective of their entire campaign; a vacuous campaign relying solely on the divisive nature of trite sloganism and the polarising of political debate.
Without entering into an epistemological argument, for the purpose of this blog and it’s limited scope, it is enough to state that knowledge is generally acquired in two ways. Through empiricism (experiencing) and through rationalism (reasoning). It should be immediately apparent that slogans such as the one propositioned by the UK government and opponents of independence in Holyrood are neither instructive nor informative. No knowledge can be garnered from it’s utterance. No truth can be gleamed from it’s reading. Had the ‘better together’ campaign sought to highlight the surprising yet delightful combination of strawberries and fresh basil, I’d have been more receptive having tried this for myself (a wonderful example of experience trumping reason).
So why the reliance on sloganism?
There are three primary reasons for the over reliance on such heavily edited presentations. Firstly, the polarisation of political debate is demanded by a broadcast media increasingly desperate to appear relevant. The general public are, by in large, moderate in their views on most subjects, conscious that the world is a veritable kaleidoscope of grey and that most issues require more than a simple soundbite to clarify them, far less issues considered worthy of being put before the people by way of referendum. This stance however, while an entirely rational viewpoint, also ensures that considered and overly thoughtful types seldom attain position in public office where zealotry and myopia flourish.
The erroneous assumption by certain media outlets and politicians alike is that the public are incapable of seeking out answers to the valid questions they do have. This is a traditional view that fails to consider the changing relationship between those who disseminate news and those who receive it. Indeed, news was once consumed, rather than simply received but the immediacy of social media, allowing for instant rebuttals and ready dissection of every statistic from experts in every field and internet bampots alike has seen a seismic shift in what we do with the news we are given. Unfortunately, politics continues to be treated like an episode of Masterchef where information need be first deliberated, cogitated and digested before being regurgitated into our laps.
While being spoon fed politics in handy bite size morsels is infuriating, admittedly, polarisation can be highly entertaining. BBC Question Time would be a far less convivial hour of television were the panel composed of individuals who expressed concurrence with one another at every opportunity. In America, where the polarisation of politics has scaled inconceivable heights, mirroring the geography of the United States itself (much ado East and West with much ado about nothing between the two) few would argue that Presidential debates make for compelling viewing however galling the rhetoric. The challenge for those of us on the ‘Yes’ side is to refuse to engage in such histrionics however. The phrasing of the referendum question is a binary one. There is no reason for the preceding debate to be similarly so.
I have already suggested that the slogan used in the ‘No’ campaign is illuminating in that despite the thrust of it appearing to be socially inclusive, I have yet to hear a single argument built upon the pillars of this much vaunted togetherness. Debate has been driven solely by the politics of fear and uncertainty and this would indicate the presence of the second reason for our over reliance on the hackneyed hyperbole we have been subjected to thus far. When a group or party adopts a positively inclusive slogan to front a campaign then consistently and consciously peddles scare mongering and anti-nationalist invective, it is indicative only of a lack of faith in their own cause.
The final justification for the pervasive sloganism that we are being subjected to is I believe the most relevant and hopefully might be the most instructive when it comes to the issue of how best to tackle the naysayers.
‘Better Together’ as I have already shown offers precious little foresight into how we as a people can expect things to turn out. And while the ‘no’ campaigns policy of negativity and adversarialism (presumably all too aware of the emptiness behind their clarion call) might be attributed to the same lack of answers that a great number of the public currently have, it is my contention that it owes more to problems of debating on a fundamentally unsound ideological footing.
In 1978, a matter of months after Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s seminal Harvard Commencement Address, Václav Havel the noted playwright, essayist, former President of Czechoslovakia and subsequently, first President of the Czech republic wrote his impassioned defence of freedom, ‘The Power of the Powerless’. Penned as a discussion piece for a joint Polish Czechoslovak volume of essays on the subject of freedom and power, Havel’s contribution remains one of the finest pieces of dissident literature ever written and remains as valuable today as it was when first released.
While the circumstances under which Havel’s essay were written are obviously so dissimilar to the political climate we are currently experiencing in Scotland, there are enough parallels that it warrants revisiting today. Havel may have been writing specifically about the ideology of Communism and the powers exerted upon the people in order to ensure the continuation of that ideology (Havel was arrested one month after writing his essay) but there can be little doubt that today in Scotland, while the political ideology is different (imperial unionism) and the people unarguably less restricted and free to voice dissent, when it comes to matters of importance are no less powerless democratically when viewed within the context of the United Kingdom as a whole.
Given that much of our present debate is argued upon an ideological basis of unionism, we would do well to consider the ideology that is at it’s core. The problem for the unionist flag wavers and those of us advocating self-determination is highlighted when asked about specifics. For while ideology may be a ‘specious way of relating to the world’ it does offer, ‘human beings the illusion of an identity, of dignity, and of morality while making it easier for them to part with them’.
The danger is that ideology soon takes on a life of it’s own. Havel posits that invariably ideology,
‘becomes reality itself, albeit a reality altogether self-contained, one that on certain levels (chiefly inside the power structure) may have even greater weight than reality as such… Reality does not shape theory, but rather the reverse. Thus power gradually draws closer to ideology than it does to reality; it draws its strength from theory and becomes entirely dependent on it. This inevitably leads, of course, to a paradoxical result: rather than theory, or rather ideology, serving power, power begins to serve ideology. It is as though ideology had appropriated power from power, as though it had become dictator itself. It then appears that theory itself, ritual itself, ideology itself, makes decisions that affect people, and not the other way around.’
The ideology of unionism’s strength is not held within any inherent truth but in the sheer number of people prepared to accept the lie. Prepared to take it at face value rather than question it’s core tenets. And here we are presented with yet another problem when dealing with a system that is constructed for the sole purpose of furthering it’s own aims. People are wont to be led. Here again the ideology appears to answer every question,
‘this ideology inevitably has a certain hypnotic charm. To wandering humankind it offers an immediate available home: all one has to do is accept it, and suddenly everything becomes clear once more, life takes on new meaning, and all mysteries, unanswered questions, anxiety, and loneliness vanish. Of course, one pays dearly for this low rent home: the price is abdication of one’s own reason, conscience, and responsibility, for an essential aspect of this ideology is the consignment of reason and conscience to a higher authority. The principle here is that the center of power is identical with the center of truth’.
The challenge for ‘Yes Scotland‘ and for every individual in the country is a simple one. Havel proposed that all one needed to do in order to kibosh the entire system was to no longer passively comply with the system. The system exists because of the complicitous relationship between the citizens and the system itself. Given that the principles which underpin the system are the idea that the centre of power is synonymous with truth and that the people remain complicit, it needs only for a small child to step forward from the crowd and point out that the Emperor is indeed naked.
David Cameron, just as Hans Christian Andersen’s emperor before him, stands before us disrobed. A rather small, Union Jacked fig leaf covering what is left of his assumed dignity and sparing us all an even more unpalatable sight.
To return to polarisation for a moment, Havel stated in the same essay that the Prague Spring had frequently been misunderstood as a polarisation of two world views, (those who wished to reform the system and those who did not.). He reminds us however, that this was simply the final consequence ‘of a long drama originally played out chiefly in the theatre of the spirit and the conscience of society’.
The true battleground of the independence debate will not take place in the floor of westminster or within the chambers of Holyrood.
The treasury’s examination of Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland (GERS ) from the first twelve years of devolution revealed that each person in Scotland would be one shiny pound worse off as an independent nation (‘I’ll buy that for a dollar!’), the pound continues to fall against the euro and the dollar against fears about the UK’s AAA credit rating, and while the UK economy contracted another 0.3% in the final quarter of 2012, Scotland’s rose 0.6% in the quarter previous.
None of which matters much.
The true battle will be fought in the wee small hours of the morning in the ‘theatre of the spirit’. While our reasons for accepting the status quo thus far are entirely humanistic, they are no longer valid reasons given the opportunity now afforded to us.
Failing to capitalise on our opportunity will be a collective failure, not just as a society but as individuals. A failure as human beings to embrace those facets of human experience that encapsulate best our humanity; self-determination, dignity, autonomy, and our voice. To sacrifice all of that and accept instead our fate as being bound up in a recalcitrant and mendacious imperialist hegemony, reluctant to enact change or acknowledge the very people it ought to serve is indefensible in the court of the soul.
I have always been fond of Spring. The SNP might have been better advised to hold the referendum in the season that promises most. The most optimistic of all seasons. Nature’s apology for another all too protracted winter tenancy. Indeed, Spring’s only failing is that she invariably makes promises that Summer cannot keep. Hence Summer in Scotland has ever be known thus, as the season of broken promises. Let us hope that come Autumn 2014, the promise of our great nation rising again will be realised.
For a comprehensive dissection of the unionists most oft cried scare mongering tactic and for more reasons to vote ‘Yes’ read Irvine Welsh’s peerless riposte here and Toni Giugliano’s crystalline outlining for Mosaic here.