Grangemouth doesn’t register on the British newsstand. Wrong country. It’s funny to see these front pages as a snap-shot. It makes me feel almost entirely cut-off from this political culture.
But Martin Kettle, over at the Guardian is to be congratulated (‘Grangemouth could help shape the Scottish referendum‘ ). He’s maybe the first serious London commentator to actually tune-in to what’s going on and to pick up on Commonweal and the deeper debate.
Listen to the debate now taking place in Scotland, and it is clear that this societal argument for independence is at least as important as the constitutional one. Yet this should not be a private conversation for Scots alone. With very little alteration Scotland’s societal argument is one which applies in the rUK too – England in particular – and across much of the European Union.
Certainly, no one who listened to the debates at last weekend’s Scottish National party conference in Perth could have been in much doubt that the SNP is now putting a societal critique of the UK’s embrace of inadequately regulated market capitalism at the heart of its independence argument. Naturally, the constitutional argument remains crucial – independence as an expression of nationhood. But the SNP is increasingly making a louder argument based on societal objectives.
But good luck to him bringing these issues to a wider British audience. As the media landscape above graphically shows the obsessions of the now largely tabloidised politics are, variously, the scraping deference of Celebrity Feudalism, the weather (it’s going to be windy!), an ongoing obsession with the McCann’s, Ant and Dec, or, to their credit in the Independent and Guardian, the off-the-leash activities of America’s security agency. Most point to a society dominated by the deeply trivial and celebrity culture, with little room for debate about, well, anything. The saddest thing about mainstream Anglo-British culture is not the virtual policy merger between Labour and Tories and Liberals (“deeper and tougher”) – nor the strangehold of the print media – it’s the grip of an unthinking unquestioning outlook which holds sway.
It’s the result of a deep-seated idea of self-import and entitlement that ends up with a sense of natural order. Contrast that with the reality – as pointed out by David Greig – that the independence debate allows us to explore every aspect of our national life and ask ourselves the question – ‘does it have to be like this?’
In this sense Yes has already won the independence referendum. By creating a vehicle for hundreds of thousands of people to ask: Who are we? Who runs this country? Why is it like this? We have won. It lacks credibility to think that anyone genuinely undergoing this process would allow the current order to continue.
But will it, can it, as Martin Kettle suggests transfer to a pan-Britain debate?
Sadly, I think not. The dead-certainty of English politics makes it extremely unlikely. The Daily Mail splashes today with a (slightly desperate) “Don’t sign this toxic charter to gag the Press, Queen urged: Urgent warning from free speech groups around the world” (all of which is, naturally complete nonsense defending the indefensible). But it’s a beautifully captured moment of Anglo-British torpor in the face of relentless change.
Whilst Martin Kettle’s insight is refreshing it’s also almost completely isolated. Most ignore the process entirely or see it through the dark prism (consciously or not) of subsidies, or personalise it entirely around Salmond. What features most strongly in the visual feast above is what Tom Nairn has called a ‘Blind Brit Preservationism’ – it’s the idea to do nothing because nothing needs done. It affects English politics but also informs everything for Better Together. It’s where Project Fear emanates from:
Blind-Brit preservationism is the one hope for the Scots and the Welsh – as, more obviously, for the Ulster Protestants. The periphery must cling forever to the cadaver of the imperial Nurse, out of fear of something worse.
As Cameron flits in and out of the debate, ducking and diving for cover, your reminded that we haven’t really moved on from John Major’s heyday, who said, shortly before disappearing in a deluge of sleaze:
The Scots just feel left out of things up there, and I have a good deal of sympathy with that. I ought to go there much more often and so should the rest of the Cabinet. If they see us around more, they’ll feel a lot less cut off.
If only it had been that simple.