‘They weren’t bad people; they let me eat…’

Comment: We are urged time and again to look to our Nordic neighbours for inspiration and answers to the questions Independence raises. Looking more specifically to Stockholm however, may provide even greater clarity.

On August 23rd 1973, Jan-Erik Olsson and Clark Olofsson entered the Kreditbanken premises in Stockholm fully intending to relieve the bank of it’s coffers. The heist failed miserably and the men subsequently took three females and one male employee hostage. The Swedish clerks were kept for six days in a vault during which time they were frequently held at gunpoint and on several occasions were asked to place nooses about their necks and strap bombs to their bodies.

Despite the trauma of such events, when the attempt to free them came, the four hostages fought with their captors against the police. Upon their release one of the hostages even went so far as to set up a fund for the hostage takers’ legal fees.

The rather bewildering response to this incident from the victims led to the term ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ being coined by the Swedish criminologist and psychiatrist, Nils Bejerot during a news broadcast following the events as a nation sought to come to terms with what they had witnessed.

Stockholm Syndrome has subsequently been cited to varying degrees in cases concerning child kidnappings, cult membership, convicts under various Communist regimes, interned individuals in concentration camps, cases of incest and battered spouses (although I would proffer that in the case of battered spouses, often the defending of their partners owes more to an attempt to rationalise or justify their choices than what we are about to discuss).

Patty Hearst takes part in the April 1974 Hibe...

Patty Hearst takes part in the April 1974 Hiberna bank raid with other SLA members. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Also referred to as terror or traumatic-bonding it may well be that Stockholm Syndrome has received more attention than is deserved. In 2007 an FBI report found that 73% of victims displayed no affection or signs of empathy with their captors whatsoever. The highly unusual responses of those displaying Stockholm Syndrome however invariably pique the public interest. The heart-rending case of Jaycee Lee Dugard and the infamous trial of the heiress Patty Hearst who having been kept in a cupboard and repeatedly abused at the hands of the Symbionese Liberation Army in 1974, later adopted the guerre de nom, ‘Tania’ and took part in several bank robberies alongside her hitherto captors, being notable instances that remain in the public’s collective conscience.

Despite the number of high profile cases however, there remains to be found a coherent and consensus agreement on precisely what criteria needs be met before Stockholm Syndrome can emerge. Several traits ought to be present in any case,

–       a severely uneven power relationship whereby the captor dictates what can/cannot be done by the victim

–       a perceived threat, either real or imagined, at the hands of the captor

–       occasional kindnesses shown by the captors toward the victim

–       isolation of perspectives other than that of the captor

–       a perceived inability, either real or imagined, to escape

(Allied to this it is consistently added that a strong self preservation instinct must be witnessed in the victim. I have neglected to include this on my list however as I can think of no more natural an inclination than that of self preservation. Stockholm Syndrome is itself an act of self preservation and to this end I will exclude it from my analysis).

The list above displays obvious similarities to techniques used to encourage thought reform, or ‘brainwashing’ as we more commonly refer to it. Thought reform falls under the sphere of what psychologists term social influence and I acknowledge the ‘persuasion’, ‘compliance’, and ‘education’ we are currently being subjected to. Despite this and irregardless of how quickly I might point the finger of blame unwaveringly in Mr. Cameron’s direction for much of our countries ills, I will not stand to accuse him of brainwashing our nation on this occasion.

Reviewing the list above however, I am more than content to posit the idea that Scotland presently is experiencing something of a societal Stockholm Syndrome, a creeping sentiment that has gradually but inexorably stolen into our nation’s psyche.

To my mind, a societal Stockholm Syndrome need not require the threat of terror. Futility or a pervasive sense of hopelessness is often just as able an antagonist to ensure compliance in lieu of a bloodied forehead repeatedly struck against a wall. I find this particularly accurate where politics is concerned.

The very nature of UK politics as we find it in it’s present form is demoralising, dispiriting and by that same token, utterly dehumanising. It engenders deep resentment and ultimately a feeling of abject futility. A cursory glance over voter turnout numbers corroborates this claim. Politics is failing. Party politics even moreso.

In it’s present incarnation, the First Past The Post (FPTP) system simply ensures the survival of an archaic duopolistic political system that all but eliminates any party outside the ‘big two’ from active participation in governing politics. The LibDem’s obsequious panderings since forming their Blu-Tack coalition with the Tories have done nothing to change my view on this matter.

During the 1950’s the duopoly was riding high on 85% voter participation, close to 100% registration and saw a colossal 97% voting either Labour or Conservative. Almost 80% of the electorate voting for the duopoly. Today, this number has fallen by more than half to below 35%. A more thorough investigation of the numbers can be found here alongside a coherent and persuasive argument as to how the collapse of the current system in the UK will come about.

The nature of the political system in the UK then need not concern us presently. I use the example simply to illustrate the concomitant futility that exists within the electorate at a political system that is failing them catastrophically.

Returning to the factors necessary to elicit a Stockholm-type response from either an individual or group and one is quickly struck by how many criteria are currently met by our present situation in Scotland.

The ‘uneven power relationship’ is so apparent it barely merits mention here given that it is precisely this heavily asklent balance of power which has brought us to this point. Dictating what we may or may not do is now accomplished however with less obvious menace through mechanisms such as the Scotland Bill and ‘legislative consent motions’.

The ‘perceived threat’ may not come directly from the hands of our captors either but the threat remains, whether it is merely implied or unashamedly explicated. The threat to incomes and to the family home are as likely to elicit self preservation in the mind of the individual as the threat to life. The ‘Too wee, too poor, too stupid’ mantra put forward consistently by the No campaign serves purely to undermine confidence in our own ability. Our capacity to overcome, to achieve and to prosper.

To look for evidence of occasional kindnesses we need look no further than Holyrood itself. Westminster’s equivalent to ‘throwing the dog a bone’ remains from a Unionist perspective, a glorious, unifying edifice and an example of what can be achieved within the mutually beneficial relationship that currently exists between ourselves and our self appointed benefactors in London.

One might dare to offer the following assertion however. When TWA flight 847 took off from Athens in 1985, few could have expected two terrorists to burst into the cockpit and demand the plane take them to Lebanon. Fewer could have expected that after landing, threatening the passengers at gunpoint and murdering one innocent civilian whom they tipped unceremoniously onto the tarmac that they would be described by one of their hostages thus,

‘They weren’t bad people; they let me eat, they let me sleep, they gave me my life’.

In the same way that this traumatised individual was unable to acknowledge in that instant his fundamental right to eat and to sleep whenever he did so wish, the unionists are unable to acknowledge the equally fundamental right of our own nation to self-determination and autonomy; to acknowledge that subservience is not the natural state of man; that he is predisposed to walk upright, not crawl upon his knees.

The ‘isolation of perspectives other than that of the captor’ appears to be less illustrative until looked at in more detail. While obviously, the isolation of hostages in bank vaults or windowless basements is a very extreme identification of this criteria, we would do well to remember from where our own perspective originates.

Who remembers this from Question TIme in Stirling?

The BBC has recently admittedly publicly that it has no obligation to remain impartial on the independence debate. This was simply an acknowledgement of what was already understood by everyone with a television set but it was astonishing to hear the admission nonetheless. The relentless nature of this broadcasting bias has a further demoralising effect on the people.

Finally we come to the ‘perceived inability to escape’ and with this I return to the idea I have already put before you. The futility felt by the vast majority of people, witness to the baying, boorish behaviour of our representatives in the House of Commons, is free of pretense, falsehood or affectation (the very traits which our politicians display so unreservedly). It is a futility born out of years of frustration. And within this sense of futility, felt so tangibly for so many years, lies the root of our ‘perceived inability to escape’ from a system that supports nothing save continued mediocracy.

Is it any wonder that given the paucity of information available to her people; given the apparent inability of any government to rise above the mendacious platitudes that masquerade as policy; given the propensity for politicians to say whatever it takes to remain in power; given the unrelenting scale of scaremongering and misinformation; is it any wonder, the people are inclined to simply keep their heads above the water?

I wish to labour this point once more. Stockholm Syndrome is self preservation, nothing more. Not advancement. Not progress. Not striving to achieve. Simply trying not to lose.

The challenge for those of us on the ‘Yes’ side remains to dispense with fear, to answer those questions that give rise to that fear, to provide the perspective through social media that traditional broadcasting denies, to remove the threats one by one and to put forward the case for creating a more meritocratic society within which we might flourish.

As importantly, we must ensure the flimsy tenets of unionism do not become an instrument for survival and protection.


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