The State of the Union

6a00d83542d51e69e2014e60425fc6970c-800wiBy Mike Small

An issue has been thrown into the humdrum melly of constitutional squabbling by the NO campaign which has raised the debate beyond the lofty matter of soft savoury pastry snacks to more fundamental questions of essence and existence.

How do you know if you exist? It’s a fundamental question that’s troubled philosophers down the centuries. René Descartes famously suggested that the ability to ask the question, is proof in itself. He wrote his famous phrase in populist French, not Latin: “Je pense donc je suis”, or, as we English say: “I think, therefore I am”.

I refer of course to the extraordinary document produced by the UK Govt which states:  3 7.   “For the purpose of this advice, it is not necessary to decide between these two views of the union of 1707. Whether or not England was also extinguished by the union, Scotland certainly was extinguished as a matter of international law, by merger either into an enlarged and renamed England or into an entirely new state.”

You can read the full, highly confused document here.

We are therefore not just on the Road to Nowhere, a stateless nation, but actually a figment of our own fevered imaginations. When we were re-named North Britain we should have thought ourselves lucky.

A few weeks ago, the Scotsman published a piece deriding idea that there was a way of life in Scotland to which visitors, colonists or settlers even should have to   acclimatise to, because, Scotland, such that it existed at all, had no redeeming or distinct cultural features. It was an old neo-colonial trope, the sub-text of which was plain: you don’t exist.

But herein lies a riddle, let’s call it Moore’s Paradox: an independent Scotland would not inherit the UK’s existing international treaties but would inherit a share of the UK national debt, according to the Scottish Secretary.

We have moved from the realms of abuse (‘Skintland‘ or ‘Fuck Yourself’), to the realms of accidental displacement, a legalistic catch in which Scotland was swallowed up. Call it a loophole.

This question of whether we exist or not, culturally or legally has a long pedigree. Variations on this recurring theme have been to say Scotland doesn’t really exist because highland and lowland Scotland are very different, or east and west Scotland are very different, or, that without a unifying language, no nation truly exists. It’s  problem of erosion that has just been brought into sharp relief by Moore’s edict.

This problem of us disappearing , as it were, is one that we have been culpable in and at times colluded in. Our inferiorism has led to invisibility.

Often, our own culture has not been so much extinguished, as Murdo Macdonald has written, but rather ‘mislaid’, in other words deemed unimportant. Scotland, Scottish culture and Scottishness has at varying times disappeared, down the back of the British sofa with a penny-chew and a two pence piece.

Referring to the idea of non-existence, and relating this to the notion of cultural diversity as an attribute not a deficiency, Murdo has written (‘Finding Scottish Art’):

An interesting example of the cultural diversity which characterises Scotland is the “division” between Highland Gaelic culture and Lowland Scots culture. This is very often seen as a site of conflict rather than unity in Scotland, and certainly on occasion it has been. Yet it can be recalled that it was the unity of Highland and Lowland that assured Bruce victory at Bannockburn in the fourteenth century and thus asserted Scottish independence after three hundred years of varied incursions from south of the Border. The point is that Bannockburn far from asserting the nation as culturally homogeneous asserted national independence as dependent on cultural diversity. Similarly, and moving on over four hundred years, although the Battle of Culloden is normally stereotyped as a Highland versus Lowland clash in fact – as Murray Pittock has pointed out – Jacobites were drawn from both Highlands and Lowlands in substantial numbers, as were Hanoverian supporters.1 So again what characterised both sides in this struggle was diversity not homogeneity. Although very obvious, these points have to made because the stereotype of nations as homogeneous unities is so prevalent and yet so wrong, and one cannot start any useful study of how a nation relates to art, literature or whatever, without understanding that it is an intrinsically diverse thing.

This is not a phenomenon that is restricted to Scotland within the British Isles, as writer Jim Kelman has suggested (‘The Self Determination of Yes’):

“Scotland also has its own philosophical, legal, religious, literary and educational traditions, and most of this too is marginalised. Scottish educators have to fight Scottish  institutions to find a place for Scottish philosophy, literature and education  itself. Many English people sympathise with the plight of Scottish culture; they see cultures and traditions marginalised everywhere, and recognise also the plight faced by people from Yorkshire, Cornwall,  Northumbria, Cumbria, Somerset, Lancashire and so on.”

Ultimately this idea of ‘not existing’ is unlikely to play well. People are funny about existing. They generally like to exist and get angry when people tell them that they don’t. It’s a matter of self-respect. Kelman again writes (‘Independence Is Not An Economic Decision’):

“Independence is not an economic decision, it concerns self-respect. How many countries do we know in the world where the people need a debate about whether or not they should determine their own existence. Ultimately it concerns survival. For whatever value our culture has it is ours, and like Sorely MacLean once said about the Gaelic language, even if it was a poor thing, it would still be loved, and those who used it would still have the desire to see it flourish.”

Beyond the grand-standing is a deeper truth about how Michael Moore, David Mundell and others see us, and our relations.



Categories: Arts & Culture, Autonomism, Commentary

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22 replies

  1. There is another question or paradox if you like “How can there be any talk of a UNION if one country was absorbed into the other and ceased to exist?” A lot of feet need for shooting in the foot,I think!!

  2. Every breath they take and every move they make are shooting goals into their own net.

  3. Exactly – UNION is a joining together, in this case the joining together of the Crown of Scotland and the Crown of England as equals as a United Kingdom – certainly and painfully not to be taken as united inequitably under the English Crown.

    Who are these jokers trying to con? On yer bike laddie!

  4. I now feel that YesScotland aren’t offering me a Yes/no vote but a Red or Blue pill as in the Matrix? “Do you think that’s air your breathing Cyril”? Hello I’m Agent Darling.

  5. Excellent stuff Mike (and just like Scottish questions in Westminster ) if the general populace were confronted with this ignorant arrogant analysis Yes would be the result. But the MSM and BBC won’t be analysing this any time soon? So you have to worry that the Unionists achieve their negative sound bite with no downside?…

  6. Transcript of Scotland Tonight interview:

    John MacKay
    “Okay. David Mundell, one final point then. The report did suggest that Scotland, in international law anyway, was extinguished by the 1707 Act of the Union. Are you comfortable with that?”

    David Mundell MP
    “Yes.”

  7. Murdo’s perceptive observation is confirmed and encapsulated in the opening line of the ballad, “The Bonnie Earl o Moray”, which invokes “Ye Hielans an ye Lowlans” as distinctive elements of a single realm. – I am inclined to the view that we do exist.

  8. “… “Je pense donc je suis”, or, as we English say: “I think, therefore I am”…”
    Was the “we” a typo … or irony in face of the article?

  9. Comic irony James …

  10. Never mind people, Mad Michael and his traitorous cronies decided to produce 13 papers in the realisation they will need 13 attempts to produce something coherent and consistent to prove we are “better together”. Yesterday’s paper was worse than the first so don’t count on them reaching 13 as I think they have reached the limits of their own inadequacy already. As a lawyer, even Comical Ali must be beginning to realise deep down he’s picked a loser in the career advancement stakes by being front man for this farce of a NO campaign.

  11. If a country keeps its own law then it cannot have been legally obliterated. All the International oil companies operating in The North Sea have FLOORS of Scottish lawyers because they are subject to scottish law. The trial of Ali Bassett Al Megrahi took place in a fully constituted Scottish Court at The Hague. How internationally recognised do you have to be? The Pope in 1324 recognised Scotland. The English themselves did. The Act of Union was not a treaty after a defeat. It was a response to a massive economic crisis. Where have I heard that before? And the English Crown was subsumed into The Scottish Crown in 1603 and The Royal House of Britain became The Stuarts not The Tudors because The Tudors failed in successive generations to breed healthy male heirs. The link to The Scottish Crown was through Henry Vllls sisters. This paltry argument would mean that neither the USA or China exist. Or Germany. Or Italy. as these are all nations that have brought diverse and separate cultural and historical identities together to form a common purpose.

  12. I scanned across this simple pair of lines today which kind of sums up the core message of the debate. Kudos and apologies to the person who originally came up with this (memory ain’t what it used to be).

    Scotland YES
    Scotland NO

    Better together really are the ‘Scotland NO’ campaign. If they are indeed in full agreement with the opinions and findings of this report, they are literally fighting a campaign to abolish Scotland as a country.

  13. The NO campaign, if it succeeds, and it looks as if it will, SCOTLAND will vote itself out of existance…a NO vote simply means, NO SCOTLAND !!

    • Don’t give up on YES just yet! As the BBC themselves said recently in response to a civil request for more balance, the referendum debate has not yet started and therefore presents no need for them to chair debates with any balanced representation on their panels. Well if it hasn’t yet started it’s most likely because “Bitter The Gither” can’t get off the starting line.
      They still have not produced one positive strain of vision for Scotland being better as part of the Union but what they have succeeded in doing is to give YES campaigners a very good insight into why they are finding this task so challenging! Staying together is not about what’s best for us in “North England” it’s about the power the Westminster Gov derives from assets NE provides! Unbalanced MSM sources are very, very slowly having to raise questions about the contradictions and strange information BTG is offering up daily! Keep the faith!

  14. I have said for a long time now if we do not have independence we will be finished,and leave nothing for those “Scots not yet born” not even a country ,this country is not ours to give away or lose it is only in keeping for those that will be born at a later date.

  15. Macart at 15:49

    ‘Twas ‘Patrician’ btl at WoS with the ‘to be or not to be’ crux of both campaigns and the question:
    Yes Scotland or No Scotland – Yes or No?

    Likewise ‘Ron’ (Wilson/Tartan Seer?) thereto:
    A Yes vote makes Scottish history.
    A No vote makes Scotland history.

    WoS covered yesterday’s revelations in a thorough manner which drew out much discursive and illuminating debate on the politics of legal opinion. But it does appear that HMG have renounced Union in favour of Unitary to maintain the UK state’s continium and cherished status in any event. And this provides the opportunity to exploit and split the UK unitarist & EU separatist extreme from the broad unionist tendency perhaps earlier than expected in the political and public space thus vacated.

    To my mind, independence and union has always been the win-win outcome that accommodates most preferences. The former for the prerequiste sovereign state of Scotland. The latter as an all-inclusive confederal association for our family of nations in the British Isles – the social Union of mutually best interests for all our families, friends and fellow folk.

    And after all, we should be generous in our praise of the still UK Prime Minister taking credit for saving the ‘Union’.

    • Agreed, this is no setback its an open goal. The Crawford/Boyle paper outlines several scenarios, the new state/extinguished nationhood tack is the stick, the successor states, the carrot. The message is none too subtle from our dearest friend, neighbour and partner.

      And they say negotiation isn’t taking place yet. :)

  16. “I think, therefore I am”, the logical extension being that as other people are similar to me there is a good chance they must exist also.

    This assumption was of course shot down in flames when Descartes met Willie Rennie. for the first time

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