By Thom Cross
Scotland ought to be more than a virtual nation with a popular cultural consciousness. Scotland is a subsidiary nation within the UK state. It is currently engaged in the process of incremental devolution which ought to lead inevitably to greater sovereign authority.
Scotland ought to believe in/ have sufficient cultural confidence, to express national consciousness that includes the need for a nation state. Scotland is a neo-nation with national civic institutions, national cultural characteristics and intellectual sensibilities (ways of feeling) that are and can be shared.
Scotland ought to have self -determination as a fundamental principle of natural justice and as a common good. Scotland is intellectually sovereign, yet politically subservient. This contradiction inhibits, represses and indeed prevents an empowering collective sense of national consciousness that should be able to translate into liberal nationalism.
It is this journey from national consciousness to a progressive liberal nationalism that is the task of this generation.
The ‘ought’ and ‘is’ dichotomy , dialectal in essence, is used and profoundly explained in the first two pages of Questioning Sovereignty by the wonderfully erudite Scot , Neil MacCormick whose passing we should remember on the 5th of April.
Born in Glasgow on the 27th May 1941, Prof MacCormick had a quite remarkable academic career in legal philosophy with over 30 years of academic leadership to the law faculty at Edinburgh University and indeed at universities around the world.
But he did more. He engaged his immense intellect actively in studying, campaigning for and demanding self-determination for Scotland. As an MEP from 1999 to 2004 he became increasingly involved with European policy particularly with respect to the growing demand for autonomy from latent nations within larger states. (He also looked after Scotland’s whisky, ferries and fisheries while starring as a piper.)
His work on re-defining and re-formatting the concept of national sovereignty is vitally important (see his essay A Kind of Nationalism in his book). He argues (with enormous skill) the case for the development of a liberal nationalism- ‘the just state’. This draws a very sharp line in the sand from the chauvinistic, cultural and ethnic nationalism seen elsewhere. He also worked assiduously in redefining sovereignty within the wider pan-European political commonwealth in which sovereignty might be expressed within political arrangements beyond the boundaries of the traditional nation-state. His defining nationalist principle is ‘ the members of a nation are as such in principle entitled to effective organs of political self-government within the world order of sovereign or post-sovereign states.’
He was profoundly influenced by Yael Tamir whose book Liberal Nationalism impressed him greatly. In particular a politics of national belonging, comprising societies of individuals with a shared consciousness, which Tamir calls ‘contextual individuals’.
It is as ‘contextual individuals’ that conscientization takes place as we can see and feel in contemporary Scotland.
Mac Cormick should be remembered on his birthday (May27th) and his work celebrated by being made known. But a greater tribute to the great man would see a devolved assembly in Edinburgh after May 5th with a mandate to hasten the process towards a liberal national sovereignty.