Lost

Gordon Asher and Leigh French’s Crisis Capitalism and Independence Doctrines’ is a critique of the independence movement seen as one that is reformist and shallow in it’s potential to deliver any transformation of Scottish society. It is an extended version of a contribution to a book to be published later this year. The authors have been instrumental in Variant magazine – one of the UK’s most insightful sources of radical critical thinking for decades.

The authors argue that it “Our motivation is the concern that while the independence referendum could be an opportunity for dialogical participation it is instead functioning as a process of closure, where independence is posited as ‘progressive’ – as if “independence (give or take all the known variables) is a known quality” (i) This habit of thinking serves to co-opt struggles and movements working for social justice in ways that demand critical attention.”

This call for a political movement that is self-critical and open to new ideas and dynamics is the strongest aspect of the contribution. But while the authors raise important questions, they are largely railing against imagined enemies. The edifice of the article is essentially a category mistake. They suggest trenchant and complex arguments against a trans formative revolutionary act, but fail to realise that no-one is arguing that the referendum, in and of itself is such a thing. We are therefore faced with what is essentially an internal monologue, a series of arguments blossoming out from this false premise: critiquing ‘democracy’ as if the referendum in 2014 was proposing a revolutionary new form of direct or economic democracy (‘Returning to conflations of voting with participatory politics, it seems important to emphasise referenda are not liberating acts of direct democracy’). This is followed by a well-worn (and well aimed) analysis of the shortcomings of the Homecoming (2009) event and it’s cultural and racial exclusivity. This attempt to tie a government marketing campaign to the independence movement is a confusion that is combined by a familiar re-tread of Benedict Anderson’s imagined communities thesis (“imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion”).

There follows a discourse on ‘nationalism’ (‘Focusing on nationalism – on national/ethnic identity – homogenises and flattens our multiple, complex and mutable identities’) which seems adrift from decades of debate about self-determination, cultural identity, socialism, and the national question.But the question remains ‘Focusing on nationalism – on national/ethnic identity’ – who is actually doing this? Most of this is imagined.

French and Asher argue that “having the political class closer to home doesn’t necessarily make replacing them any easier, never mind challenging the idea of a political class per se” and in this they are absolutely right. But this argument is one which the nationalist left is acutely aware of and is repeated and explored in and amongst the burgeoning publishing and media forums that are thriving in pre-independent Scotland.

There seems to be no acknowledgement of, consciousness of or engagement with these forums or discussions. It’s an important question for – perhaps both these forms and the writers themselves have to ask, why is this? Do we live and work in such silos that these movements have no crossover?

In the final set of arguments French and Asher state: “At the risk of stating the obvious, Scotland is part of the capitalist and neocolonial order. Its institutions and systems of law and governance operate within the logic of that order, which did not ‘happen to’ some hitherto-undefiled Scotland after 1707”. This is true but whilst self-mythologising and romanticisation of Scotland’s egalitarian past is rampant, the authors analysis seems devoid of any awareness of the process of colonisation (however defined) that took place. This is a historical. Of course Scotland is part of the capitalist and neo-colonial order. ‘We are all prostitutes’ etc. Save from (say) Chiapas and occasional deliberative communities, disputed T.A.Z., we all are part of the system. But in choosing to ignore Scotland’s different political cultures, roots, traditions and trajectories, the authors set themselves apart and create yet another false summit to be triumphantly climbed. No-one, simply no-one suggests Scotland is not part of the capitalist order. What is suggested is that there’s a discernible political culture and aspiration that is markedly more progressive and egalitarian than can be currently expressed through a subordinate devolved chamber. This is ignored but in doing so the authors separate themselves from contemporary political debate to instead discuss as set of conditions and arguments which do not exist.

In setting out their ideas in this fashion they have created a set of four constructs: that civic nationalism is a dangerous myth, that lack of integrative thinking means the independence movement is shallow and fails to confront nexus of power on different related levels and that the forms of statehood and democracy being constructed are dangerously open to corporate corruption and capture which haunt Westminster, and indeed Holyrood.

What’s striking about the article are three large holes or blindspots. There are three simple elements that have gone awol: it lacks an analysis of power of the British State (particularly of the military complex), it lacks any cultural attachment and it seems oddly bereft. Issues of enclosure, language loss, self-colonisation, contemporary British imperialism, environmental justice are glossed over or lost completely. Trident, use of depleted uranium, Cape Wrath, Raytheon or Faslane are ignored – presumably because the rich and radical interwoven history of the women’s movement, the peace movement and the independence movement is inconvenient in the narrative they are building.

Whilst ‘civic nationalism’ is poked at, British nationalism is ignored, and this the entity that brought us the charnel house of the Iraq War. No consideration either of the role of Scottish elites in Westminister. As Nairn writes – prefiguring this the 2012 Year Long Celebration of Queen Flag & Empire in 2007: “Gordon Brown launched an unprecedented campaign to boost not just New Labour but British identity as such at a Fabian conference in January 2006. Should he become Prime Minister, the ‘Save Britain’ movement threatens to raise us-style flagpoles in Ukanian front gardens for the restored Union flag; ‘Britain Day’ could soon succeed the former ‘Empire Day’. But if Brown believes that old-style Britishness can be conjured up from the dead, he is mistaken.”

To discuss the periphery – edge-land – is to veer dangerously into ‘the spatial’. In doing so the Anglosphere is re-established. To be wedded to it is natural, normal and to question this marks you out as ‘nationalist’.

Perhaps Nairn was wrong (it took a far slicker operation than Brown to play resurrecter). But for French and Asher the nationalism under question is Scottish, others are not to be questioned. But Iraq (‘an infamous and gory failure of the old, in which Great Britain’s role has lapsed into a despicable mixture of bleating apologist and camp guard’), possibly the guiding light that brought us here to this point, is not on the table. Nor is recent history. The process of political collapse, legitimacy failure and regime meltdown that we have lived here is simply not present in this account.

How did constitutional reform come about? How and why are we in the pre-amble to an independence referendum? However much you may despise it and find it in failing – you still have to somehow account for it? You can’t do that without examining the Thatcher-Blair continuum and the (failed) efforts of the Anglo-British State to re-brand and re-articulate itself. Nairn again:

On the constitutional reform front, the radical horizons of 1998 have taken on the dimensions of a disintegrating dog-kennel. In 2005, the ancient Westminster magic returned New Labour to office with a large majority based upon less than 22 per cent of the electoral vote. New Labour then returned the favour by making clear it had no serious plans whatever to farther alter the system that has ‘served us so well’. In 1997, for instance, the preposterous House of Lords was to have been transformed into an at least semi-democratic, electable second chamber. But a decade on, this affront to democracy still awaits its nemesis—the only substantial difference being that by now nobody expects anything better, or indeed takes much interest in the farce. Blair’s collapse has involved his interrogation by the police about an ongoing peerages-for-cash scandal. ‘Modernization’ of this kind has generated a UK climate recognizable enough in many other parts of the neoliberal world: generalized scorn and despair of politics and politicians. (ii)

We have lived since through a further descent, a further exposure of relations, a further crisis of governance from feral bankers to a rolling narrative of the violence of finance capitalism centred around and drawing strength from the Square Mile.

But the truly sad thing about ‘Crisis Capitalism and Independence Doctrines’ is it’s inability to explore ‘possibility’, and this from writers who eschew a libertarian socialist analysis, a worldview that could and should thrive on potentiality.

In French and Asher’s analysis (in amongst seeming complexity) there’s much binary simplicity.

The argument – developed at some length – appears to be that because the independence referendum does not include, embrace and aim to resolve at a stroke a pot pourri of issues and in and of itself resolve capitalism, it is politically not just useless but reactionary. This is Magic Wand Theory which lacks credibility and seems to expose the authors to accusations of a sort of comforting and infectious form of  lost loserism. It is a historical, and, incredibly from editors of a Variant, lacks any sort of cultural rootedness.

As James Kelman has written recently:

Scotland does have a history. I’m not sure where it belongs, in the history of servitude, subjection, psychotic inferiorisation, god knows, these different ways people avoid responsibility. We need a proper debate and it’s up to us that it should go that way. How many of us never mind the rest of Britain know that those in favour of independence are not necessarily nationalist? It’s said of me. Let me repeat I am not a nationalist but I favour independence 100%. I was on a platform with four other Scottish writers in France recently. Each of us favours independence, and none of us is a Nationalist, as far as I know.

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.

Perhaps Kelman is culpable too? Where does this take you? Where does it take us?

There is a hesitancy. Amidst a cloud of references (‘Zlatko Hadžidedić’ ‘Swyngedouw’) the only specific reference to anyone or anything from the independence movement itself is to Gerry Hassan. No attempt is made to engage with the radical elements coalescing around a key strategic goal. In this analysis there is no gay Edwin Morgan, no Irvine Welsh no green Alison Johnstone. There’s no Leanne Woods or Isobel Lindsay  either. Where’s Jimmy Reid?

Instead, the authors seem lost: “Rather than taking a pro- or an anti-stance to voting (if at all) in the referendum, here we seek to problematise the central terms, narratives, limits, assumptions and promises of the independence campaigns, in a spirit of critical dialogue foregrounding the evolution of an empowered and engaged populous.”

So, given the opportunity to be part of a movement of change that has a specific historical opportunity to dismantle the British State, these activists choose … nothing. No view, just a sort of puritan abdication, a sort of disaffection.

Yes to openness.

Yes to the possible.

Yes to peace.

Yes to sovereignty.

Yes to whatever’s next.

(i)‘We need to have a One Question Referendum. It is that simple!’, Gerry Hassan, January 28th, 2012: http://www.gerryhassan.com/uncategorized/we-need-to-have-a-one-question-referendum-it-is-that-simple/

(ii) New Left Review 43, January-February 2007

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  1. Donald Adamson says:

    Mike,

    This clarification and critique of Asher and French’s impressive article is helpful, not least in identifying some of their “blindspots”. The questions they raise are important and mustn’t be evaded but, at the same time, we need to remember that socialists across the world have been struggling for many of these objectives for over 150 years, with limited success, so the Scottish left can be forgiven for not having a programmatic panacea ready to hand in time for the referendum.

    I think it would be helpful to distinguish the strategy that is required for winning the referendum from the broader and longer-term strategy for transforming Scotland, after all, one of the reasons that many on the left have mobilised around the issue of independence is the belief that the former is a condition for the latter.

    And what the authors don’t address in their article is the possibility that independence will open up new spaces for the left in Scotland. This alone would be a huge advance on the present limited manoeuvrability of the Scottish left in the British-centric (devolved) settlement. In this settlement, from the perspective of the British left, devolution (and Scotland) is seen as a “congenial laboratory” for the development of a new model of British social democracy, as Andrew Gamble and Tony Wright once put it (‘The New Social Democracy’, Blackwell, 1999). A terrible fate for the working class of Scotland, or any other nation for that matter.

    None of this means that “progressives” in Scotland are naively investing their faith in representative democracy. But while we’re on the subject, it isn’t just, as the authors argue, quoting The Reid Foundation, “at the local level [that] Scotland is the least democratic country in Europe”. At the national level, too, Scotland barely limps over the first hurdle of representative democracy. Let us not forget that the Tories have not won a general election in Scotland since 1955 yet, over the last 57 years, the Tories have governed Scotland for longer than any other party.

    This surely needs to be factored in to your excellent point, Mike, that the authors fail to provide any account of how constitutional reform came about or how and why we are on the verge of breaking up the British state. Incidentally, I would make a similar point about their treatment of nationalism. Some of Asher and French’s references to ‘nationalism’ resemble the straw man of primordial nationalism rather than a contextualised consideration of post-war nationalisms and Scotland’s relation to them. ‘Civic’ nationalism may be the self-image of the SNP but we cannot leave it at that and, in any case, Hans Kohn’s original typology has surely outlived its usefulness.

    Asher and French are right to point out that, “Scots have been and are both the foot-soldiers for, and leaders and beneficiaries of, empire and neo-colonialism in the present, not just historically”, although this is a complex story. But this needs to be articulated in the specific context of the ongoing crisis of British capitalism. The British are parasites on the world economy and Scots are, for the most part, their unwitting accomplices:

    http://www.economicsofimperialism.blogspot.co.uk/2011/05/economics-of-british-imperialism.html

    It’s this British economic imperialism that equips the British state to exercise its military adventurism, its pernicious foreign policy objectives and, of course, its nuclear capability. Although we mustn’t underestimate the problem, in a post-independent Scotland, of untangling the nexus of relationships between Scottish capital and British capital, isn’t the issue here that any realistic prospect of even beginning this process and, thereby, transforming Scotland, is itself contingent on the radical disengagement from the British state that only independence can deliver?

    Having said that, this leads to another important issue that Asher and French raise and, here, I think the authors have identified something that the Scottish left does need to address sooner rather than later. No progressive supporter of independence who has thought seriously about the consequences of independence can fail to have considered the real risk that independence could create a nation of champions of Scottish capitalism that could overwhelm even a rejuvenated left after independence.

    It’s not difficult to anticipate, say, an SNP-led government promoting a ‘dash for growth’, a continued discourse of greater ‘economic efficiency’, the need for global ‘competitiveness’ and so on in the early years after independence, if not beyond. Were this to occur then, from the perspective of the Scottish left, there is surely one fate for Scotland that would be worse than being a “congenial laboratory” for a new model of British social democracy, and that would be to have a government that was, at best, a benign variant of New Labour.

    But here, too, we must be careful not to foreclose the future. In the next two years, and beyond, the Scottish left has an historic opportunity to politicise independence, initially as a means of mobilising greater support for independence but, beyond that, as a means of intensifying the transformative struggle.

    Any analysis that thoughtfully recruits John Holloway’s “advocation to act ‘in, against and beyond’ both capitalism and the nation-state” must be taken seriously. For some time now, Holloway, following Marx, has been reminding us that by working (and consuming) in a capitalist society we relentlessly reproduce our subordination to capital. But like Marx, Holloway also draws our attention to the numerous resistances that we conduct in our attempts to subvert this subordination. Struggle, therefore, is not the means to a solution, struggle is the solution.

    Our point of departure must be that capital (like value) is a social relation. Capital cannot escape its own reality, in this respect: production, exchange etc are social activities. But the social nature of these activities is distorted by capitalist relations of production, which seek to individuate them, subject them to the mystifications of property rights, the laws of capital accumulation, commodification, marketisation and the expansion of value. Today, the notional value of global derivatives, $700 trillion, is some ten times the nominal value of the world’s annual GDP. Further evidence, incidentally, for anyone who still needs it, that Marx is more relevant in the twenty-first century than he was in his own.

    Capitalism has succeeded in naturalising its relations of production, everything from property rights, competition, marketisation, to the relentless cycle of working long hours for a wage and mass consumption. So deeply embedded is this naturalisation of capitalist relations of production that many people cannot even imagine an alternative to it. As Slavoj Zizek puts it, “It’s much easier to imagine the end of all life on earth than a much more modest radical change in capitalism”. Although perhaps we shouldn’t follow Zizek too far. After all, he’s also been quoted as saying, in response to a question about our possible futures: “What are you asking me for? How the fuck would I know?”.

    Even the very concept of the ‘economy’ has been naturalised. It has an ontological status that is beyond our control, that overwhelms us, that has its own ‘laws’ that we are seemingly powerless to control, or even manage effectively. So the ‘Great Complacence’ (Engelen et al) precedes the great stagnation and some on the left still struggle to see beyond the sterility of a return to ‘Keynesianism’.

    A realistic project for the left in an independent Scotland, is to create alternative social relations to capitalism within capitalism. Any meaningful transformative politics must be grounded in our material conditions, not just our consciousness, and any meaningful transition to socialism, or some other post-capitalist condition, must entail an attempt to naturalise these alternative relations of production. Only then, when people start to see, as part of their day-to-day experience, producing for human need, co-operation, the common good, economic democracy as being natural can we speak in any meaningful sense about social justice or socialism. And as Marx never tired of telling us, capitalism itself creates the conditions for this.

    One way of reading Asher and French’s piece is to see it as a warning to the Scottish left not to fetishise independence. If this was part of their intention, they are surely correct to highlight it. But might the nation, rather than the competitive capitalist nation-state, provide alternative futures to the necessitarian logic that is implicit in Asher and French’s notion of “transcendental securitsation” and national-ism? After all, when Benedict Anderson referred to the nation as an “imagined community” he didn’t mean by this that the nation is a figment of our imagination but rather that it was something that we creatively (imaginatively) produced. The products of this creativity – languages, customs, cultural artefacts, narratives, myths, stories, games, symbols etc – are also differences that we must celebrate and respect. Might the nation, or rather, isn’t the nation offer(-ing) another means to people across the world of resisting the imperatives of global capitalism?

    Much that is characterised as ‘nationalism’ in Scotland is, rather, a response to the consequences of Scotland being co-opted into British nationalism. Many of those on the Scottish left who have critically reflected on this have come to the conclusion that the possibilities for meaningful transformation in our lifetimes are significantly greater with independence than they are by remaining tied to the long-standing crisis-management of the British state, with all its consequences. Still, Asher and French’s article is a valuable contribution to the independence debate and they should be commended for it.

    1. Leigh & Gordy says:

      Hi Donald re. We’re most certainly not asking for “a programmatic panacea”, what we do fundamentally question is the seemingly pragmatic need to “distinguish the strategy that is required for winning the referendum from the broader and longer-term strategy for transforming Scotland” if tomorrow does indeed contain that which we put into it today.
      The ‘habitual struggle to game the system as best they can’ is perhaps what drives interest in “the possibility that independence will open up new spaces for the left in Scotland”, and what the party political left need to consider is that the opposite might equally be a possible outcome ‘if’ that “possibility” is not better and more fully articulated as a process not a programme.
      Obsessive reference to the Tories elides actual ideology at local and national level in Scotland. “…why we are on the verge of breaking up the British state” – perhaps because it remains unthreatening to capital?, which is what those of us on the left are thought to concern ourselves with — as you outline and we broadly concur with except for the unqualified assumption that “a rejuvenated left after independence” could be ‘overwhelmed’ by “a nation of champions of Scottish capitalism” as opposed to that being the starting point.
      We are not wanting to “foreclose the future”, quite the opposite, nor do we see it as “an historic opportunity to politicise independence” — which implies some tellingly consider it not to be — rather, critical conscientisation is the very doing, not “initially as a means of mobilising greater support for independence” and “beyond that, as a means of intensifying the transformative struggle”, for we find that disingenuous, but as the very means for open transformative struggle, now, today, not in future suspension. As you say: “Struggle, therefore, is not the means to a solution, struggle is the solution.” And think you succinctly capture our motivations when you say: “So the ‘Great Complacence’ (Engelen et al) precedes the great stagnation and some on the left still struggle to see beyond the sterility of a return to ‘Keynesianism’.”
      We contest that much that’s “characterised as ‘nationalism’ in Scotland” is indeed more than just “a response to the consequences of Scotland being co-opted into British nationalism”.

  2. Michael Reilly says:

    I did not see such a scathing negativity against Scottish Independence within the Asher and French critique. I did see an overly complicated, high brow, lacking in true depth, examination of something resembling part of our history and the Independence debate but it was not convincing. If anything it would be a turn off for the ordinary man in the street and probably a tried and tested means of switching people off and convincing them that the status quo is what they need. Our battle, no, I’ll re-phrase that. Our role is to win the argument through informed meaningful debate let the people see for themselves, what they need to see and give them the confidence to take a decision for all the right reasons, good positive ones.

    1. Donald Adamson says:

      “let the people see for themselves”.

      This is surely the leitmotif of the left and, ultimately, this is the way things have to be. No worker needs any Marxist or anyone else to tell her that she is alienated in capitalism. Having said that, we need theory to help us make sense of our experiences but we also need to try to understand why theory itself sometimes makes us feel uncomfortable, even threatened.

      In the same interview that I previously quoted from, Zizek – who is often insightful and sometimes very funny – gives his take on anti-intellectualism:

      ‘You know who told me the best story? The British Marxist, Terry Eagleton. He told me that 20 or 30 years ago he saw a big British Marxist figure, Eric Hobsbawm, the historian, giving a talk to ordinary workers in a factory. Hobsbawm wanted to appear popular, not elitist, so he started by saying to the workers, “Listen, I’m not here to teach you. I am here to exchange experiences. I will probably learn more from you than you will from me.” Then he got the answer of a lifetime. One ordinary worker interrupted him and said, “Fuck off! You are privileged to study, to know. You are here to teach us! Yes, we should learn from you! Don’t give us this bullshit, ‘We all know the same.’ You are elite in the sense that you were privileged to learn and to know a lot. So of course we should learn from you. Don’t play this false egalitarianism”’.

    2. Leigh & Gordy says:

      Hi Michael We’re quite explicit as to who our intended readership is, we don’t think it’s an argument to be won, we approach it as more about recurrent processes than that, but agree that there is need for “informed meaningful debate”, not towards a single outcome but in critically engaging an informed citizenry beyond the issues of independence, and whatever the outcome of the referendum.

  3. Leigh & Gordy says:

    Thanks Mike for responding so quickly and at length, overall though, we feel that in your immediacy you misconstrue our intervention:

    1. To pick up on your perceptions as to the foundations of our piece, with regard to “our category mistake”/”false premise” – [MS] “They suggest trenchant and complex arguments against a transformative revolutionary act, but fail to realise that no-one is arguing that the referendum, in and of itself is such a thing. ” Yet you conclude: “Yes to whatever’s next.” It seems that either you’re suggesting a highly separated-out or differentiated process – the referendum’s part of a continuity when it is, then it isn’t when it isn’t as suits – or that “whatever’s next”, regardless, will be sufficiently qualitatively different to justify present campaigns and a ‘Yes’ vote. We think that we speak quite clearly to ongoing processes both pre- and post- referendum – and the need for them, not “the referendum in and of itself” to be oriented to transformation.

    2. we do not collapse ‘the independence movement’ into a singularity, we are careful to express differences and tensions across differing shifting positions held. There is no flattened monolith, no totality of one-ness; there is a direction of travel within which there are not insubstantial differences but which are kept unarticulated for the reasons we try to unravel — these we wish to air, not to weaken but to politicise, engage the public (how else do you arrive at an informed citizenry?), and so submit enforced assumption to scrutiny and account — a demystification and problematisation.

    3. [MS] “reformist and shallow in its potential to deliver any transformation of Scottish society” – only if you should totalise a construction of change as above; we propose how to do differently. We distinguish ‘non-reformist reforms’ may be necessary and we fundamentally unpick the notion of ‘Scottish society’ as something pre-formed and not contingent on the participatory processes themselves.

    4. [MS] ‘imagined enemies’ — this tactical division is the current darling for postponed political engagement: ‘keep quiet, don’t rock the boat, we just need to get over the referendum hurdle, everything will be different after that’. As Mike points out, we don’t fall into line which we make no apologies for. Yes it is us visibly working out how we relate to these processes, even what these processes are, how we are to understand them, participate in them, how we might do differently so that there is perchance of a more fully informed engaged citizenry whatever the referendum outcome.

    5. Internal consumption of Homecoming 2009, as with the forthcoming Homecoming 2014, was but one short illustrative example of ‘cultural initimacy’ (we also considered ‘Brave) and points to the drudgery of imaging the nation as brand, and of the ethnicty-orientated ancestral tugs. We note you qualify your dismissal by the use of “most” [MS: “Most of this is imagined.”]; implying we differ mainly as to degrees of its significance. Having started by totalising the ‘movement’ it now seems you’d like to pick-and-choose which bits you want as significant, only once having excluded it can you present it as ‘imagined’ — that’s a tautology, surely.

    6. You suggest that our dialogical contribution [MS] “seems adrift from decades of debate about self-determination, cultural identity, socialism, and the national question”. We felt, see our references, that we position ourselves very much within such debates – however, perhaps you have alternative debates and sources in mind? We note with concern that you go on to display the ‘national intimacy’ we problematise, not least when you dismiss international academics as not being “specific” but a “cloud of references”.

    7. [MS] “the burgeoning publishing and media forums that are thriving in pre-independent Scotland” — You’re right that there has been and is some heightened politicised writing amidst austerity. But Mike, surely this is hyperbole! You’re not selling a product? Much of this is froth — such as a recent blog list of culturati who support something called ‘independence’; lacking depth and detail, we’re not even told what their differing conceptions of that might be or why, as if it “were already known”. This is a dumbing down of politics that tends towards the paternalistic and the patronising.

    We had intended a longer section (and more sections overall) engaging issues of a Scottish media and its ‘crisis’ (Crisis for journalism in Scottish media, Scottish Parliament 2009 Report) and how what our text asks for demands different public technologies/relations of communications. Further, if Scotland has the freedom of communication, broadcast and print media for a citizenry to fully engage politically? This, not as a pre-condition (e.g. Variant magazine having just been cut by Creative Scotland under a ‘growth-first’ Scottish government promotional agenda) but as a necessity of process.

    8. [MS] “no acknowledgement of, consciousness of or engagement with these forums or discussions” — we believe our prior comments/engagements are there to be seen, and that this is itself an engagement… We’ve also looked to further collaborate with yourself on issues of a militarised Scotland, but time commitments/ financial penury have prevented it for all of us. (And we hope to meet for that pint with yourself and Svenja soon!)

    9. [MS] “there’s a discernible political culture and aspiration that is markedly more progressive and egalitarian than can be currently expressed through a subordinate devolved chamber”:
    a) What truth values does this claim to exceptionalism hold, and how selective does it need to be in making these claims? Contra to your presentation of our text, we do try to disentangle these issues, see e.g. our reference to Miller et al. We do not “separate [ourselves] from contemporary political debate”, and this includes problematising ‘your’ chosen explication. We can see how what we’ve sought to problematise may be uncomfortable, but not to engage with them is itself problematic. It would be a bit mean for us to tar all political culture with the Lib/Lab brush of Chik Collins’ 2006 “The Scottish Executive is open for business”-The New Regeneration Statement, The Royal Bank of Scotland & the Community Voices Network BUT how selective do you intend to be in identifying a “discernible political culture … markedly more progressive and egalitarian”?
    b) We address the failure of representative democracy either side of border and its likely continuance.

    10. [MS] “blindspots” – Yes, there are many areas we have not had time/room to explore. We still need to consider the state’s institutional monopoly of violence (and taxation) — as the Scottish government seeks to transfer core state powers (economic, political and military) from the UK to a new Scottish state — as Alex Law did in his Inaugural Lecture, Dundee, May 2012, ‘The end of civilisation as we know it? : Symbolic violence and the de-civilising process’. But, as is evident from the SNP leadership’s ‘new normal’ on NATO, ‘warships on the Clyde’, or terrorology at St. Andrews Uni., we cannot fancifully exempt Scotland from the “military complex” — and we might also look to CND’s ‘Fortress Scotland’ report (but this doesn’t begin to look at the more indirect military ties, such as those of HE).

    [MS] “Issues of enclosure, language loss, self-colonisation, contemporary British imperialism, environmental justice are glossed over or lost completely.” Whereas, following Eagleton, we challenge the rigidity of the dialectic of coloniser-colonised, [GA&LF] “portrayed as a wish ‘to throw off imperialist rule in order to assert already established national identity, whose only flaw is to have been contaminated and repressed by the presence of the colonialists’ (Terry Eagleton), avoiding both local and global realities.” Which you then demonstrate, selectively including the Peace Movement yet omitting the Edinburgh Military Tattoo. It is precisely this selective and opportunistic narrativising we challenge.
    We believe our text does speak to enclosures and privatisations, to colonisation of all kinds (internal and external), to ‘contemporary British imperialism (including its ‘Scottish’ components and complicities) and clearly foregrounds issues and claims around environmental justice.

    [MS] “British nationalism is ignored” — or not: [GA&LF] “be it Royal Weddings, ER II’s Jubilee or 2012 Olympics, to be sold at home and abroad, and wielded as a disciplinary and marketing tool for the manufacture, maintenance and evolution of consent”. But then we didn’t set out to write an article unpicking British Nationalism, given who the text is addressed to. [If we may add to your list on English-British nationalism: ‘If…. On Martial Values and Britishness’, Emma Louise Briant: Consecutive Westminster governments have emphasised vigilance to threats’, creating scapegoats to distract from domestic and foreign policy and drum up support. Amidst a state-of-emergency London Olympics bristling with securitisation and ‘exceptional’ democratic foreclosure, the inequity of royal pageant under public austerity draped in imperial re-imaginings, and public school assertions of class power presented as a return to old-fashioned discipline for civil society, Briant assesses this populist construction of ‘British’ militarism and ‘martial values’. ]

    [MS] “the nationalism under question is Scottish, others are not to be questioned” – despite our references to the work of Hadžidedić and Swyngedouw, work which you dismiss as not being sufficiently Scottish. Indeed our piece questions all nationalisms.

    [MS] “The process of political collapse, legitimacy failure and regime meltdown that we have lived here is simply not present in this account.” We think the context of ‘disaster capitalism’ (and the possible role of ‘independence’ with(in) that) is succinctly outlined – and not just in the title. Further, we make suggestions as to what, and how, things might be done differently.
    What you outline is merely the current phase of crises caused by, yet integral to, the continuation of late capitalism. How should, with hindsight, Scotland now do differently (in locating and addressing its own failures, collapses, meltdowns) — in a country which post-2007 appointed an implicated “feral banker” to steer its national cultural policy? This is precisely the public discussion we crave and are attempting to contribute to.

    [MS] “…a rolling narrative of the violence of finance capitalism centred around and drawing strength from the Square Mile…” Wake up and smell Edinburgh’s New Town! Constantly externalising all that is abhorrent of finance capitalism to London or Westminster is a narrative of convenience that doesn’t match the actuality. It’s not coincidence that Goodwin’s window when someone put a brick through it just happened to be in Edinburgh. [For fun, we might also add Creative Scotland Chairman Sir Sandy Crombie (Non-Executive Director RBS) kicking off Creative Scotland’s festival reception by telling the assembled throng that he was there in a suit and tie because he ‘has a proper job’.]

    11. [MS] “inability to explore ‘possibility'” — and other such caricatures and inflicted binarisms. We expected disagreement but not our arguments being turned around and misconstrued for their opposite. The orientation of the text is about what we believe is possible for participatory democracy as a process over time — critical conscientisation/ praxis. We set out to advocate for further and greater public engagement, not a foreclosure, as we both identified and now seem to be experiencing?
    So to be met with such forceful defensive foreclosure as to what is ‘right’ is disappointing. But such is the disciplining around constructing ‘unity’; excluding other forms of thought as not being supportive of the project and creating an appearance of one-dimensional agreement — both “exploration” and “possibility” are misapplied, as while implying movement they are in fact treated as fixed knowns yet still largely unarticulated quantities.

    12. [MS] “No attempt is made to engage with the radical elements coalescing around a key strategic goal.” So from accusations of reductive binarism now we don’t conform to another kind of reductivism. Rather than promotional discharge, we’ve tried to unpack our concerns and in doing so point a different way towards picking out entangled but differently orientated routes, not devoutly echo a “key strategic goal” riven with submerged contradiction — as we unpack we do not want to reproduce a matrix which excludes critical forms of thought and engagement. Again, rather than engage what’s there you decide to more easily point to what we decided not to do, a cultural digest — something we ordinarily do, critically. (Picking out soundings from the camp of supporters sounds more like adding to an election strategy than we had in mind and intent.) Instead, here, to get to grips with understanding the theoretical intricacies of e.g. competitive nationalism and take seriously its translation across spheres, we thought it productive to go back to some sources of critical sociological arguments (yes inter/trans/supranational, and hardly deserving of being beaten with the stick of ‘Scottish’ betrayal for, which is how it comes across). So it’s perfectly understandable that we wouldn’t necessarily be reaching to Edwin Morgan et al; Kelman we do reference to a degree. Given who we set out to address, we also thought it worthwhile breaking out beyond a set of dominant and dominating markers,; that it might be productive to open up to other less ‘intimate’ associations. If you’d put it otherwise, outwith cultural reductivism, we might agree that we don’t directly engage Nairn and others here, and we would like to develop that further. We fear an avoidance (‘strategic’ or otherwise) of criticality and of failing to bear difference, restricts speech codes and limits interpretations/ possibilities/ potentialities (and probably excludes the connections that can be made with our own life situations).

    So while you may need a discourse focused on your primary needs as perceived, in the name of ‘unity’ this has the effect of silencing demands emerging from other potentially sympathetic constituencies.

    Returning to your title and your claim that we “seem lost” — in how you outline such assurity of belonging (which we problematise in depth) then yes, like many others experiencing “disaffection” as a process. What we outline and ask for is greater engagement in the development of a politically aware citizenry that can as fully as possible participate in democratic processes as ongoing processes, not just for one referendum outcome but as a process of becoming — we don’t think it’s that hard to grasp. So again, we have to wonder why you seemingly deliberately defensively either ignore or misconstrue the thrust of our text — in stating we “choose … nothing […] just a sort of puritan abdication”? Critical exploration is not reducible to cheerleading.

    Gordy & Leigh

    PS Be in touch for that pint.

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