What Mike Russell might have said was he under the influence of some magical truth potion is that the Scottish Government is delighted to have an excuse for ‘calling off’ a referendum that was never going to happen. His letter to Gove is a device to reinforce the message that it’s not the SNP administration’s fault that the independence project is totally staled, it’s the virus. Mr Russell and his colleagues are hoping we’ll forget that the independence project was idling in a blind alley long before the COVID-19 outbreak hit the headlines. The campaign hasn’t moved since 2014. The public health emergency is not a reason or an explanation. It’s an excuse and a post hoc rationalisation.
It is important that people know this for the same reason it’s always important that people know when their government is trying to deceive them. Awareness aids prevention. Just as being aware of how contagion spreads and what can be done to protect against it improves your chances of avoiding infection, so awareness of official dissimulation improves your ability to resist manipulation.
Untruth is a disease that infects politics and weakens democracy. Like a virus, lies spread through society by various means. Like a virus, lies mutate in order to survive. Like a virus, lies disrupt the organism. Awareness is our best defence. It would be good if we could eradicate all the ‘bugs’ which cause disease, but those bugs are part of the matrix of life. Even if it were possible to wipe them out the consequences would be unknowable and potentially very harmful to the rest of the matrix. Similarly, deceitfulness is part of human nature. Eliminating it would require that we change all of human nature. Given that our success as a species is largely accounted for by the way we think and behave, tampering with the model might not be a good idea.
We have to live with lies just as we have to live with other disease-causing agents such as viruses. We have to both resist and accommodate them. Awareness is essential to both resistance and accommodation. If you can’t recognise lies or don’t understand how they work, you can’t develop resistance or discover what compromises can safely be made.
It’s all about power, of course. Everything is. All human interactions are transactions in power; a constant and largely unconscious bargaining process in which we seek to optimise our power so as to minimise our fear. The name for this process is ‘politics’. We may only call it politics when it moves sufficiently far from the realm of interpersonal relationships and into the realm of society, but it’s all politics. It’s all the same process. The social and societal life of every human being is one long political negotiation of relationships of power.
It is beyond ridiculous to imagine that this process can be stopped. It is beyond ludicrous to suppose that it might be possible to opt out of the process. And yet this is precisely what Nicola Sturgeon is insisting we do. Precisely what she is asking us to believe is feasible. And far too many people are falling for this deception.
Politics doesn’t stop for anything other than death and extinction. All that can be stopped is active participation in politics. Politics proceeds regardless of whether one participates or not. So the idea that the active participation of the independence campaign can be halted for a period of months and perhaps years without deleterious effect is borderline insane. When British Labour MP Ian Murray says “This is no time for constitutional politics.” he is talking delusional nonsense. Either that or he knows perfectly well that constitutional politics cannot be stopped and what he is actually doing is trying to get ‘wethepeople’ to self-isolate from it. To disengage. To cease and desist from participation.
The same is true of Mike Russell and Nicola Sturgeon. Although the underlying motives and motivations may be different, they are now just as eager as Murray and other British Nationalists to shut us out of ‘their’ politics. Quite simply, our engagement and participation threaten their power. So they orchestrate a deceit in order to put our engagement and participation on hold.
We know very well by now what drives British Nationalists. What we need to be aware of – and far too many aren’t – is that the cease and desist order from Nicola Sturgeon to the Yes movement is no different in its fundamental purpose from the British Nationalist ‘Say no to indyref2’ campaign with its portrayal of the democratic process as ‘divisive’ and of participation in that process as an onerous imposition. Both are intended to have use decouple ourselves from the political process and ‘leave it to the professionals’. Give them the power. It’s a ruse as ancient as politics itself. Power is relative. What better way to increase one’s own power than to dupe others into voluntarily relinquishing their power?
The SNP’s version of this well-worn old ploy differs only in the details of the motive. There was a growing realisation among activists and supporters that the independence campaign had been driven into a blind alley by Nicola Sturgeon. The rumblings of disquiet and dissent were growing even within the party. A tipping point was approaching at which the SNP’s power would be seriously threatened. That power is critically dependent on the financial and electoral support of the pro-independence constituency. Once it became evident to all that the SNP had not only dropped the independence ball but stabbed it, crushed it and set fire to it, then the supply of both votes and cash would dry up.
The COVID-19 outbreak is the perfect scapegoat for the SNP’s failure. If it hadn’t been the public health crisis it would have been something else. Although it is as difficult to see just what they might have pushed the blame onto as it is to discern how the independence campaign moves forward from here. Before COVID-19, the party was in a very serious quandary. No way forward. No way out. No options. No room for manoeuvre. Promises had been made which couldn’t be kept. Commitments had been made which couldn’t be met. Objectives had been set which couldn’t be reached. For professional politicians, this is both a nightmare and a disgrace.
So they lie to us. They tell us “all campaigning” must be “suspended”. That is a lie. There is never a good reason to disengage from constitutional politics because constitutional politics is absolutely fundamental to democracy. Obviously, the precise nature of the campaigning would have to change due to the restrictions necessitated by the public health crisis. But instead of encouraging us to adapt to the situation the SNP has sought to have us disengage. Why?
They tell us the independence campaign can be halted for the duration of the emergency and then picked up again afterwards. That is a lie! Politics doesn’t stop just because you disengage from it. Politics simply proceeds without you. For example, the Brexit fiasco and its attendant constitutional implications for Scotland. That isn’t being “suspended”. So, whenever Nicola Sturgeon decides it’s acceptable to resume normal levels of campaigning, the ground will have shifted. If the emergency is ‘managed’ in such a way as to drag it out for up to two years, as some are suggesting, the ground will have shifted on a tectonic scale. Resumption of business, as usual, will no more be possible for the Yes movement than for any other organisation that fails to move with events.
They tell us that COVID-19 is to blame. That it’s the virus which makes this disengagement by the Yes movement necessary. That is a lie! It is inevitable that the campaign to restore Scotland’s independence will be affected by the crisis. But the manner in which it is being affected and the extent to which it is being impacted are entirely matters of political expediency. And everybody in Scotland needs to be aware of this.
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