Johnny Rep and the Psychology of No
People seem to be working to weirdly different time sequences from ‘they think it’s all over’ to ‘we’ll finish the job in 2016’ and on wildly different optimism / pessimism frequencies.
Some have raced ahead to cleaning up after the victory party and are already planning assemblies and shoogley-but-innovative democratic structures (watch the papers this weekend). Others have rushed to be embraced in the comforting arms of failure, hurrying to expectant gloom. For many on the Unionist side, hubris pumping like adrenalin, maintain a state of perpetual and ill-concealed glee based on an ever-decreasing poll advantage.
Two very different outlooks seem to be sustaining people. The buoyancy of post-colonial hopefulness sustains much of the Yes movement whilst deep-seated fear of change grips the No campaign into a rictus of political rigor mortis.
If it seems like the fixed grin of the ventriloquist (‘UK:OK’ ‘UK:OK’) it might not be that the Better Together leadership have very little positive to say, it might be about how the two (or more) groups are actually experiencing the campaign.
Speaking to prospective No voters I’ve been overwhelmed by their feeling of real discomfort and unease, whilst Yesers are elated at having helped to create a fresh culture of democracy, for Unionists this is like constitutional precarity. For the indy movement it feels like something new, just starting for the No’s it seems like somebody’s broken into their home and started painting the walls purple.
And, whilst the breathtaking gall of the ‘More Powers Later’ charade is unlikely to succeed, getting together with Menzies 30 days after is about as exciting as it’s going to get if you’re a Better Together acolyte.
If the No campaign fails, and ‘failure’ could be measured in several ways (losing the argument, very narrow poll victory, being forced into positions or alliances no-one of the Unionist coalition wants etc) then next year will turn into one big exercise in political ‘I Know What You Did Last Summer’.
But would a defeated SNP and a left-green alliance that has had it’s spirit broken survive? The messy creativity of 100,000 new alliances on the Yes side is a wonderful thing but would the (very young) Yes contingent survive or be scarred by defeat (says a man who was 10 in 1978 and remembers Johnny Rep).
The creative chaos may need some channels and structures to help it if we lose, but there’s a good argument that the Yes movement will survive defeat (should it come) better than the No. Why? Because we are engaging, learning and expanding, whilst the No hordes are retreating, defending and trying as hard as possible not to think. We’ll come out of this battle hardened and politically educated. No will come out with a sordid Tory alliance to shed and a campaign to be ashamed of.
The Psychology of No
After a recent public meeting I asked a No voter why they hadn’t asked a question or made their own point. The answer was revealing: “There weren’t any politicians on the panel, so therefore anything I asked none of you were qualified to answer. You have no authority.”
The deference that’s hard-wired into Britain and Britishness was revealed. While Yes revels in the gentle anarchy of the new movement, for this No, and I suspect many more, it’s childish and pointless. What they yearn for is certainty and back to the time when people told you what to do. Soon, they think, the real players, the politicians, will return, and this sideshow will be over.
Reports from friends in Comrie reveal the same. Whilst innovative participatory structures (like virtually excluding the politicians) energise the Undecided and the Yes people, the same structures lead to a stream of feedback asking ‘on what authority’ these non politicians were speaking?
It’s this energy and demand for a better politics that transcends the Yes-No binary that will take us beyond September.
This from Neill Walker add to the picture:
“I attended the Church of Scotland Scottish Independence discussion yesterday as part of the annual General Assembly on the Mound in Edinburgh.
I was struck by the fact that to a significant degree that those on the No side were largely talking about their own personal fears (some of which are not even specific to the Referendum), and the fears that they exhibited were little different to those in the wider public Referendum debate. Further, as in the wider debate, there was little evidence of a positive vision for Scotland on the No side of the discussion.
To a significant degree, when I hear such personal fears, then I consider that they are usually best addressed at a personal level, rather than at a national level. I certainly do not find it acceptable, sensible or practical that Scotland, as a country, should be held back democratically, socially, and in other ways because someone may be struggling to make sense, e.g., of their own personal identity.
And yet, that is precisely what some people on the No side seem to be saying – Scotland should not progress democratically, socially, and in other ways because they have some personal issues to resolve within themselves.
Why don’t they just take a bit more personal responsibility for addressing such personal issues within themselves, rather than insisting that everyone else in Scotland takes responsibility for them on their behalf at a national level?
As in the wider Referendum debate, almost all of the reasons offered by the No side yesterday seem to me to be intellectually very weak, and do not stand up to any serious intellectual scrutiny. In this respect, I do find that the intellectual basis for the No side is one of the very weakest that I have come across in any such discussion that I can recall. Indeed, much of what has been said on the No side has insulted the intelligence of the people of Scotland, with ridiculous scares often replacing substantive evidence-based arguments.
Part of the reason for this, I suspect, is that some people are trying to rationally explain their basis for aligning with No, when the true basis for their present relation to No is not actually rational, but is rooted in aspects of their educational, social and cultural formation and conditioning, much of which is presently poorly examined.”
It’s well said.
Bella is charting the no-shows of the Better Together campaign, as they resist and try and sabotage political discussion by avoidance. But there’s a less explicit way to ruin debate, and that is to engage at such a banal level as to make it meaningless.
I used to think that the idea put forward by some that it’s incumbent on the Yes movement to help the No side into the debate was a bridge too far, now I realise it’s absolutely essential.