I’m sure readers of The National are obliged to Angus Robertson for pointing out that “Scotland’s future is currently not in the hands of the people in Scotland”. We should all be grateful to him for reminding us that “Our future is being determined by people we did not vote for and [who] do not care about majority opinion in Scotland”. Where would we be without such inspired insights?
Did Mr Robertson suppose he might shock us with these revelations? Does he imagine we are unaware of Scotland’s status as part of the British state? Or could it be that he reckons we need to be reminded? If the latter, he may have a point. Perhaps he wasn’t being offensively patronising after all. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt.
We need to be reminded because we, the lumpen proletariat, so quickly come to accept our lot. Present us with a new reality and we’ll be wearing it like a favourite old cardigan in no time at all. It’s an adaptive trait. Being powerless to influence our reality we either adjust to it with alacrity or suffer the stress of being confronted with our powerlessness. However immediately discomfiting each new reality may be, and however frequently that imposed reality may change, we pride ourselves on our capacity to be unmoved while moving on.
Being moved to offence or anger by a newly inflicted reality is perceived to be a sign of weakness. Objecting to the new reality reveals a shameful inability to perform the emotional and intellectual contortions demanded of those who live in the ‘real world’. Refusing to accept circumstances as they have been created for us is the mark of the dangerous radical. The misfit – in the truest sense of that term.
There is no more subversive idea than that the purpose of all civic organisation and political effort should be to create a society that is fit for people, rather than people who will fit themselves to whatever form of society is presented to them by those with the power to shape it for their own narrow purposes.
Politicians, and the forces behind them, are very well aware of how readily the populace adjusts to each new reality. Techniques have been devised which take advantage of this malleability. The techniques are familiar to most of us. So familiar we rarely notice their use on us. Which is part of the technique. We all know, for example, that among the most favoured of weapons in established power’s armoury is ‘divide and rule’ – the use of social fragmentation and alienation and demotivation to preempt and neutralise the countervailing power of popular combination.
If there is strength in solidarity then there is power in division.
But it doesn’t matter that we know about ‘divide and rule’; how it works; and what it does. The fact that people generally are aware of the concept makes them no less susceptible to the technique. Because social fragmentation and alienation and demotivation are all abiding characteristics of the reality to which we have become inured. We either don’t perceive it as affecting us, or we don’t regard it as something we can avoid.
What can’t be cured must be endured.
Then there is the ‘fait accompli’. The ‘done deal’. It’s happened! It’s pointless trying to change it! We can’t go back! We have to move on! Move on!
The technique is to effect change in small increments, allowing people to grow accustomed to each small change before moving on to the next. Using the power of the media, the changes can be portrayed as too trivial to make a fuss about. Resistance to these minor alterations can be made to seem like aberrant over-reaction. Talk of incremental change can be dismissed as ‘conspiracy theory’ madness.
This is ‘boiled frog syndrome’. We are all frogs. We are all being boiled.
Related to this is the technique of ‘dragging and spreading’. Drag something out long enough and it becomes easier to alter perceptions of it. Last week’s outrageous behaviour is next week’s minor mischief. Wallpaper people’s lives with something and it becomes too commonplace to provoke any strong emotion. Public anger is diluted by time and familiarity.
Last on this far from comprehensive list of techniques by which we are manipulated into meekly accepting our fate is the ‘on-off’ and its cousin the ‘natural process’. Catastrophes are portrayed as singular, discrete events unconnected to anything else. Thus, the system which has produced the catastrophe remains invisible. And should the system become visible, it is presented as a natural process.
You fight the natural law, and the natural law wins.
So maybe Angus Robertson is right to remind us of the fact that “Scotland’s future is currently not in the hands of the people in Scotland”. Maybe we need to be reminded. Maybe it doesn’t matter that we heard the same thing last week and the week before and the week before that. Maybe we need to be constantly reawakened to the reality of Scotland’s predicament.
Except that it has the opposite effect. The warnings themselves, however dire they may be and however portentous the rhetoric in which they are couched, become part of the political furniture. They become a mundane part of our mundane reality.
What may not be perceived is that, while the warnings remain constant, the situation to which they relate is changing. Indeed, the repetitious nature of the warnings may serve to mask the fact that the situation is worsening rapidly. Rote phrases such as those wearisomely recited by Angus Robertson are habitual – almost ritualistic. It’s just what you say on these occasions if you’re an SNP politician or spokesperson. The words long since ceased to relate to or reflect the circumstances to which they refer.
That “Scotland’s future is currently not in the hands of the people in Scotland” is a truism. A 312-year old truism. A truism so often repeated as to have taken on the character of a banality. It fails even to adequately convey the incontrovertible fact which it states. It is inadequate to the task of communicating the appalling injustice of the Union. It doesn’t provide any impactful sense of the reality to which we are being habituated.
It says nothing of the future that is now promised to Scotland by the Union. It tells nothing of how that future has darkened under the pall of looming ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism. It speaks of Scotland’s future as if that term refers to the same thing now as it did the very first time anyone thought to point out how it was threatened by the Union. It neither takes nor gives any account of how Scotland’s prospects as part of the UK have worsened massively over the past decade. Nor how those prospects continue to worsen at an accelerating pace.
The trite gobbet of politician-speak proffered by Angus Robertson utterly fails to get across the fact that what once was “not in the hands of the people in Scotland” is even less within our control now. It doesn’t show the situation as deteriorating, It doesn’t help us see that our control is diminishing. It gives no indication of the real and imminent threat to the institutions and processes of democracy which function as the “hands of the people in Scotland”.
Why not? Why the restraint? Why the reluctance to spell out the truth? Why are SNP politicians not shouting from the rooftops about what is happening to our nation, and what is inevitably going to happen if our elected representatives do not immediately act to prevent it? Where is the urgency?
If the SNP can’t do better than redundantly point out how awful everything is, then they might at least have the courage to say how really awful it really is.
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