I have a reputation for being somewhat irascible on Twitter. Certainly, I don’t suffer fools gladly. Why would I? They’re fools! Silliness can be cute in children and amusing in adults who intend to cause amusement by acting the fool. In the context of the fight to save Scotland from the British Nationalist demolition squad, however, foolishness is inappropriate and, if not intolerable, then definitely to be discouraged. Regrettably, foolishness persists in various forms within the Yes movement.
There is much talk at the moment of the frustration being felt among Yes activists. This is hardly surprising. For the want of leadership, Scotland’s cause has lain dead in in the water for almost five years as the gunboats of ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism bear down upon us. Little wonder there is a degree of anxiety among those not blind to our nation’s predicament. But if the generality of Yes activists are frustrated, then those of us who have been warning about the approaching threat for years are doubly so on encountering others who, for all their undoubted commitment to the restoration of Scotland’s independence, still cling to notions about the constitutional issue that we discarded long ago.
It occurs to me that one of the reasons I get so irascible on social media is that I weary of repeating myself. I think we all occasionally slip into the error – the foolish error – of regarding platforms such as Twitter rather like a single huge arena. There is a tendency to suppose, at some level, that when we talk to Twitter, we are talking to everyone. Or, at least, everyone who matters in terms of the topic. When you’ve rebutted some claim or refuted some argument a dozen or more times you tend to get annoyed when people keep making the disproved claim or repeating the discredited argument. It feels as if they’re just ignoring everything you’ve said to them. But, of course, you haven’t really said it to them. You’ve said it to Twitter. And that is not the same thing. I have to keep reminding myself of this.
Frustration at the lack of progress in the independence campaign is aggravated by frustration at what feels like being ignored. And it can be aggravated further still by the foolishness of people who fail to think things through. Bad enough that they are rehashing stuff that has been repeatedly and comprehensively dealt with. Worse still when it’s stuff that anyone possessed of normal intelligence should be able to figure out for themselves. So the frustration builds and provokes ill-tempered outbursts.
And it gets worse. The way others respond to having their foolishness pointed out can cause a whole new kind of frustration. Evading the criticism altogether by whining about the manner of its expression is one that I find particularly irksome. And discounting an argument on the grounds that the person making it isn’t infallible amounts to a form of foolishness which is thoroughly deserving of some ‘abuse’.
I don’t claim to ‘know everything’. So telling me that I don’t ‘know everything’ is definitively pointless and really, really annoying. And the fact that I can’t possibly ‘know everything’ isn’t a good or valid reason for supposing I know nothing. As with the bleating about my ‘tone.’ such comments totally fail to address the content of what is being said. Sometimes, of course, side-stepping the content is quite deliberate and purposeful.
For a number of years now I have been arguing that the independence movement needs a change of mindset. It needs more than that. But it all starts with rejecting the ways of perceiving ourselves and thinking about ourselves which have been absorbed over centuries of subtly or aggressively enforced subordination within the Union. In March 2014 I was invited to speak at a Yes event in Dundee. I reproduce a transcript of part of that speech here in order to illustrate both my argument and how long I’ve been making it.
The only ones who have the legitimate authority to decide what powers the Scottish Parliament has are the people of Scotland themselves. So long as that power remains in the jealous grasp of the British state, Scotland will be less than a nation and its people will be diminished accordingly. The more so if they actually consent to this condition.
This referendum is not about money or oil or monarchs. And it certainly isn’t about Alex Salmond. It is about you. It is about us. It is about the people of Scotland and what kind of people we are.
This referendum is about the most fundamental constitutional issue of all – sovereignty. The sovereignty that rightfully rests with the people of any nation.
This referendum is about whether we are the kind of people who will carelessly allow that sovereignty to be usurped by the ruling elites of the British state, or whether we are the kind of people who will seize to ourselves the power to shape our own destiny.
With the exception of the reference to Alex Salmond, that speech could be made today and be just as relevant. More than five years on, the issue of what kind of people we are and aspire to be still lies at the very heart of the constitutional issue. Are we as the British ruling elites see us? Or are we as we would see ourselves?
Over time, by a process of consideration and research and consultation and discussion, this idea of a fresh mindset has developed. My conviction that mindset is key to the construction and conduct of a winning campaign has grown stronger. Others, too, have become convinced of the need to move away from the old idea of asking for independence as if it was something that’s in the gift of a superior power, and towards the idea of demanding the restoration of what is rightfully ours but is being illegitimately withheld by the British state – or, in a term I find very apt, ‘England-as-Britain’.
Increasing numbers of people are coming around to a different way of thinking that turns the old way on its head. Independence is normal. It is not independence which must be justified but the grotesquely anomalous Union. Rather than hoping to achieve independence through a process defined and controlled by the British establishment, we must seize control of the process and cut England-as-Britain out of it altogether. Our right of self-determination is inalienable and the question of Scotland’s constitutional status and form of government is a matter for the people of Scotland alone.
We must aggressively defend our democratic rights. We must assert the sovereignty of Scotland’s people in ways which allow no compromise. We must be the kind of people we can admire.
Given all of this, and the time and effort I have put into conveying the idea of this new mindset, nobody should be surprised if I get irascible with folk who continue to express views, make claims and pose arguments redolent with a mindset which assumes Scotland’s inferiority to England-as-Britain. When, for example, they insist that the process by which Scotland restores its rightful constitutional status must be approved and part-managed by the British establishment in order to be legitimate. Or when they assert that international recognition of an independent Scotland is contingent on the consent of England-as-Britain.
Nobody should be surprised if I get annoyed with people who – actually or apparently – ignore all the counter-arguments to their outmoded propositions.
Nobody should be surprised if I get seriously pissed-off with people who simply fail to think through the implications of what they are saying.
The threat to Scotland posed by rampant British Nationalism is real and imminent. It grows by the hour, never mind the day. We just can’t afford to play fantasy politics with endless and ever more complex and devious ‘plans’ for independence. The Yes movement – or, more correctly, the Yes campaign – desperately requires some hard-headed political pragmatism. The mindset of the 2014 campaign is not just outdated, it is dangerous. If I get angry at those who obdurately cling to that dangerous mindset, I have every right.
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