Scottish independence, like Brexit, hinges on making a villain as politics turns to militant smear – Alastair Stewart
Between 2014 and 2019, I lived in the south of Spain. If I had those years again I would choose to experience Scottish independence and Brexit votes away from home every time.
Nothing really brings out the Scottishness than listening to drunken Englishmen proclaim that our “little country” has “ideas beyond its station”. Even the most fervent trade unionists choke in their café con leche at the mention of “Sweaty Jocks”.
Paradoxically, nothing really brings out a unifying assembly of britannicity than the Spaniards denouncing Brexit as the folly of a country with, um, “ideas above its station”. It brings out the Inner Flashman: “By Gad, to hell with their shamelessness and have another one for Lizzy.” Chin chin.
Nationalism, patriotism, chauvinism – it has more heads than the Hydra and is twice as hard to kill – thrives with opposition. He rarely thrives without a villain, foil, or oppressive force (real or imagined). Human history is full of adversaries who unite relentless enemies in a common cause. Winston Churchill needed a Hitler to unite Britain, the United States and the former USSR.
Independent Scotland would serve as a “bridge” between the EU and the UK, according to the former SNP …
We see it every day at home; we don’t sync it that much. From our sports to our politics, everything works on the same principle of negativity. Rarely do like-minded people freeze to achieve a common cause without having something to oppose. It’s the oldest political trick in the book, and it’s amazing that so few call it for what it is.
Or, more precisely, describe it as it is. The politics of “division” is a bad cliché. Gordon Brown took it for granted when he warned of 50 years of conflict between Scotland and England.
Neighboring democratic countries only fight and compete for long periods of time when their national consciousness creates the idea of an enemy. Sometimes it’s justified. At other times, it’s propaganda designed to infuriate. These flames are fanned in our politics, and it is a real obstacle to cooperation.
In all fairness to the Americans, they built their entire political system around checks and balances – one institution against another, constantly aware that this would be the end result, anyway. The “group mentality” is the basis of the conflict.
Devolution was pursued in the naive conviction that the fracture of a unitary state would not lead to immutable divisions along parties and national lines. There are no checks or balances, just limits that are regularly pushed back by Westminster and Holyrood. And we still lack a process similar to the Constitutional Court of Spain. Anytime the Scottish and British governments ‘go to court’ it is seen as a political crime rather than a process towards a more perfect union.
Alan Moore’s Watchmen comic book brilliantly underscored this point. It took a fake space octopus killing millions to bring the USSR and the United States back to the brink of Cold War annihilation. It was only with an obscene and absurd “other” that humanity could emerge from the cold and unite.
For a country as supposedly outward-looking as Scotland, our politics are intensely inward-looking and fractured. Our foreign policy is a giant Potemkin village. The way we want to be seen doesn’t. We no longer have the best health care, the best education system, and certainly not the best political system in the world. But the myth survives because we are “fighting” Westminster.
And living abroad offers that prospect. Rather than checks and balances, we have denigration of the highest caliber. The fractured “other” is not inevitable, but created by party politics which can present the “other” as a threat.
What was once “politics” is now militant libel. Boris Johnson’s Tories are determined to be the last party standing. Their move is meant to untie the UK, isolate us internationally and do everything to keep his party in power.
Consider the backlash against our own citizens during Brexit. Britons living abroad who dared to worry about Brexit have been treated as a symptom of the EU problem. “Expats” was an insult. The total weight of the argument has shifted: if you don’t live here, you don’t have the right to have your say. The “us and them” argument prevailed.
The Scottish referendum was no better. Scots abroad were denied a vote (despite the Yes campaign regularly showing celebrities who had taken up residence abroad) because the powers that be did not want to include Scots living in other parts of the country. UK.
Identity politics takes many forms these days, but the common form of argument is defamation. There is a curious acceptance that the independence debate will be a reality until it is realized.
Scotland is stuck in ‘independence is the way’ groundhog day and ‘Brexit has doomed us’. There never seems to be any forward movement. The repeated “otherness” throughout the history of international relations is one of the reasons for the endless cycle of war and occasional peace.
Independence will not answer for anything, as sure as Brexit answered zip – there is always another bogeyman, another conflict, another villain that needs to be fought.
If we removed ‘the other’ from our debates, would the arguments for independence, Brexit and all the rest hold up? Or do they only thrive when people have a villain to throw stones at?