2007 - 2021

Cringing Language Cultural Change

Bankers-or-Us-a-Derivative-MessOne of the hallmarks of the referendum debate, as I’ve written before, is the tendency of those on the No side to try to delegitimise Yes arguments; either as whimsical childishness or a malevolent expression of Scotland’s long-standing antipathy to its Union benefactors. We’re either biting the hand that feeds or so far from being aware of “the issues that matter,” to have an opinion of any description. There’s no examination, no interaction and certainly no retort. Only slander.

This week we’ve seen more of the same, in a few different ways. JK Rowling’s donation of £1M was accompanied by a statement which is well worth reading-it’s a mix of the standard reasons I’ve heard from many people about why they’re minded, currently, to vote no (largely to do with risk, and a weariness about whether Scotland’s place in the world could continue without the UK), and also some bits of language which seem lifted straight from a Better Together press-pack: “If we leave, though, there will be no going back. This separation will not be quick and clean.”

I don’t begrudge JK Rowling her opinion, although it continues a streak of not-particularly-well-thought-through reasons I’ve heard from the No side, mostly centered, as I said above, on the idea of risk and existential angst. It’s one of often-ignored points in the debate, really-there is a risk. And we won’t be doing things in the same way the UK has: Rowling points out that RBS couldn’t have been bailed out by Scotland alone. That’s undoubtedly true, although it misses the larger issue that no country, anywhere, should be in a position of having to bail out an organisation like RBS. The security and prosperity we have in the UK is the result of centuries of colonialism, exporting misery and cultural despair the world over. While you can argue whether or not an Independent Scotland would really live up to the promise of restructuring its economy you can be absolutely sure that nobody at the UK’s political level has any intention of doing anything about it. The choice here isn’t between a pie-in-the-sky notion of progress and security, it’s between having a political entity which is capable of exercising change for its constituents and staying part of something which you can only conclude is a fiction, and a tenuous one at that.

The second change was in the rebranding of the No campaign. Better Together met its end, being replaced by “No Thanks.” Again, a change whose happening was mostly overlooked by the media, let alone its significance. Anyone seeing this morning’s Scotland on Sunday, and recalling the Church of Scotland’s talk of reconciliation will be familiar with this strain of discourse: even having a debate is too much to consider, it’s too much of a risk. Too painful to examine our own circumstance, and too jingoistic. “No Thanks,” reeks of the sort of sniveling, Dickensian response to poverty that the Union has made its domestic hallmark. We make do with what we have, and if by some trickery we end up having the opportunity to change things we are expected to demure modestly, with grace.

The cringe isn’t a uniquely Scottish phenomenon. Far from it. It’s a symptom of what Marxists call “Cultural Hegemony,” and scholars of colonialism will tell you, too, is the standard operating procedure of their subject matter. The reshaping of a cultural sphere to enable its constituents to be better, more efficiently exploited, is one of those great exports of colonialism-like the railways! Set up a bourgeois class to run the place, get some education and manage the warehouses, slave ships, plantations, then get the middle managers to aspire to be owners-that’s your petit bourgeoisie-and you’re already well on your way. Everyone gets to believe there’s promise in London, or Glasgow, and that you can make your fortune and be, well not just like them, because obviously you’re still a native, but a better native. And certainly better than those uncultured types who man the warehouse, or are slaves. You come to be ashamed of your own culture because it’s not what the money is looking for-it’s shameful, in part because it’s a reminder of just how far you are from ever being an integral, profit-sharing participant in this great game, but just as importantly because you know, every time you see an expression of experience from outside the colonialist agenda, that you’re ruthlessly involved in its suppression for not much gain-again, you’re never going to be on the inside. You’re making your pennies from their labour, but you’ll never make the pounds-that’s their job, their privilege.

It’s a tool of the No camp, absolutely, but it isn’t their invention. It’s the lazy continuation of fear, shame and embarrassment that allows them to tell people across Scotland that “the global expert on…” (name me a field where there’s just ONE global expert and I’ll be amazed-there’ll be at least 2 other people who think their work is fatally flawed and theirs in the same area is better) knows this about that, so you don’t have to think at all. “RBS couldn’t be bailed out by Scotland alone! That’s all you need to know-there’s so much danger out there, you can’t even know about it, in a way you’re fortunate being able to live your sheltered life, just leave the thinking to your elected officials, or the Vote No Borders campaign, or whoever.” Rowling didn’t call the independence movement ‘death-eaterish’, she used the term to describe lineage-driven understandings of who qualifies as Scottish enough to talk in the debate. She’d be right, of course, that would be awful, although I’ve not heard any such talk, personally (I don’t have facebook, and I don’t read the comments sections on websites, admittedly). It’s another case of people being shocked at something which doesn’t look like being much of the debate. What is ‘death-eaterish’ in my mind is telling people their children would have to queue like ‘foreigners’ to use a hospital in London. Or that if they leave your political Union you’ll stop them using their money.

It’s easy to suggest that the Yes campaign is aggressive, puritanical and ill-informed. Scottish characters are often the aggressive, ill-understood dimwits of the group, driven by anger and a charmingly misplaced sense of being looked down on by everyone else in the room. Of course, some of them work on estates-perhaps polishing the Laird’s silverware, burning heather, or just wearing tweed. So much of our cultural landscape in the Union is about denigrating the identity of its constituents (it isn’t just Scotland, either-the North of England, Wales and Ireland all have their own stereotypes to live out, too.) It’s passed off as just being a laugh, or not something anyone takes seriously, but they don’t have to anymore. It’s how we exist in this group. If we want to be something else, we’re going to have to leave. We won’t be the same, but would we want to be? The No campaign is counting on us choosing an isolated servitude we know rather than having the courage to make good on our vision. In 20 years I’d like to see depictions of Scotland in rUK media that look like the US take on Canada-“so what if their living standards and social fabric are vastly better? We’re bigger.”

The third side of all this really hasn’t much to do with Scotland at all. In Iraq, ISIS has overrun cities and towns, establishing if only cartographically the caliphate it wants to see extending from Lebanon’s mediterranean coast to the Zagros mountains of Iran. For the first time in over a hundred years, since the UK and France divided the remnants of the Ottoman empire into more manageable, colonisable states, those lines have been replaced by a new entity. It is unpalatable, and unstable, but its existence, however fleeting, is a reminder that colonialism’s boundaries are not as unassailable as we are led to believe. In our future we can be optimistic and build a better country, mindful of the real risks-slipping back into old patterns and continuing the cycle of colonialism and violence which has been the UK’s principle legacy.

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  1. Peter Brown says:

    Don’t subscribe to the myth that we could not have sustained the RBS crash. A bailout is paid by the country in which a bank operates, not where they are headquartered. So Barclays eye-wateringly large bailout came not from the UK govt but from the US. Because that was where they were operating. In the same way the UK assisted the Irish banks, because they were operating in the UK. So as the vast majority of the RBS operations were elsewhere in the UK it would not have been Scotland that would have paid the bulk of the bailout, but the rUK. Or we could have done the same as Iceland and jailed the odd banker, having first let the banks go bankrupt.

  2. David Agnew says:

    Scotland couldn’t have bailed out RBS! It’s a fairly typical argument made by the no camp, indeed it was part of the opening salvo from Alistair Darling. The problem with the argument, is not that we should never have been in a position, were it needed bailing out. The problem is that the argument projects the failure of the UK onto a hypothetical independent Scotland, that would have needed to have failed as massively as the UK government failed. In other words, we would have needed New Labour in power and Alistair Darling to be our chancellor of the exchequer. That this failure of government would be projected as a boon of union, pretty much exposes what a straw man the union has become. It also shows how utterly wretched the MSM is at the moment, giving these brainfarts one free pass after another.

    The no camp constantly projects failure onto Scotland, usually prefaced by the term “I’m a proud Scot, but…”
    I am left wondering what exactly it is they are proud of? They seem almost childishly giddy when they think they have proved Scotland to be too feeble to manage its affairs. “Why would you vote Yes to make Scotland poorer?” is one question I remember being asked. When I extolled the virtues of Scotland, its achievements, its abundance of resources, it’s capacity to succeed, I was treated to a pretty wretched display as they took all the credit from Scotland and gave it to Britain instead. So we were back were we started. Me listening to a “Proud Scot but…” argument of learned imbecility being a boon of union. Hell to cap off one argument, a proud Scot and firm believer in having the best of both worlds told me with all conviction “There is no shame in being dependent on someone better than you”.

    So there you have it. 300 years of union. Its either a national giro cheque. A magic cloak to hide your Scottishness or it’s (as the Americans would say) a self licking snow cone. Either way, they have failed to create a single credible reason for it to continue. All they have is their dependency and they’re scared of losing it.

  3. tog says:

    Interesting but a lot of assertions and very little evidence and unclear to me why independence would be the answer.
    Particularly the sort of independence we are likely to achieve that would involve leaving the UK but continuing membership of the EU, NATO, a currency union, the Commonwealth and so on. If independence happens it is equally likely that politics in Scotland would become more conservative both with a large C and small c as a reaction to what most will see as a potentially destabilising change. Certainly the Scottish Conservatives could become more successful in an independent Scotland and the current Scottish government government has built a lot of their present popularity on tax freezes and cuts. The idea of independence as somethin g that will in one stroke will remove 300 years of history, remove all responsibility for the sins of western capitalism while leaving us with the benefits and that we will then take a different path from the rest of Europe seems unlikey. It also suggests that we were not a part of the UK but a hostage and victim. I also believe that people would not vote for independence on these terms. The only place independence will be won is in that old political cliche the centre ground which might not be what we would like but is reality.

    1. goldenayr says:

      Don’t know where you get you’re info from tog but just about everybody I know,even the few sensible no voters,are realistic about it being at least a generation to shed the last vestiges of union.

      This is a journey and it doesn’t end on either the 19th of September or Independence day 2016.

      The real shape and direction our country will take is after the first elections in our restored country.And with the benefit of PR that first real Govt will probably be a voice of the centre ground.I don’t see that as being a bad thing because the people representing us will no longer be looking to Westminster for their orders and be finally free to concentrate on what will drive us forward.

    2. Illy says:

      Who said anything about taking a different path to the rest of Europe?

      Everything I read says taking a different path to the UK and USA.

      Also, *Denmark* is in Nato, I don’t see Nato membership having much effect on anything much.

    3. Alasdair Frew-Bell says:

      Independence isnt the answer to anything, it is simply the state of non-dependence and what we make of that new state is where it all gets rather interesting; representative democracy, a constitution and political accountability would be good start. 300 years of British history and Scotland’s part in that would not be removed at a stroke. The history of those years would be reassessed, reviewed and reinterpreted free of the unionist ideological hothouse which has tended to deliver one “narrative”. That imperial tale is in the ascendent once again its civilising mission mindset appearing to underpin elements of the No campaign’s ultra-unionism. There is now no middle ground. The choice is between independence or total de jure/de facto assimilation into a redefined UK state. Devolving more powers to a body that has well exploited the few it has already is really out of the question. The UKGB is under threat, Scots Unionist are expected to their duty. Step forward G Brown and lets abolish Scottish education. You get the drift.

    4. joseph O Luain says:


      “unclear to me why independence would be the answer.”

      It seems to me you have thrown-away a golden opportunity to enlighten us all as to why you believe the status-quo is the answer.

      Slightly o/t: Last evening on Newsnight we were subjected to the sight of Paxo being presented with a copy of Friedrich Hayak’s ‘The Road to Serfdom’ by the elected-by-nobody Lord Saatchi. Saatchi then proceeded to argue the case for zero corporation tax, this, as though corporation tax was being dutifully paid in the first place.
      Only on the BBC …

      It is extremely well-off ideologues such as Saatchi, with their entree into governmental policy making bodies, that have been running your Union since the nineteen-eighties, and well before. It hasn’t, as some still believe, been elected politicians .

      Since It is difficult to see this situation changing in the near future, one way, the only way, to bring the situation to an end is surely to vote for independence. In one stroke we can disentangle rich ideologues and their influential ilk from the process of governance in Scotland, and begin our journey towards a truly representative democracy.

  4. Me says:

    Tog I refer you to the comment above you. Says all I would wish to say to you.

  5. Fay Kennedy. says:

    Great article. The naysayers always get the press. And the usual trickery goes on. Learn to think independently by using sources further away than the telly and the daily dirge that goes down as news and information. The Scots have lost out badly in many areas and many of them have had enough of a colonial model that only keeps the status quo in play and does nothing to make life better for many who have missed out because of the gross unfairness of a system that is there to benefit the few o’er the many. Scotland has nothing to lose but its chains of illusions just as each of us as adults has to face that truth. That is where the only freedom lies which is the possibility of more free thinking rather than spoon fed consumers of stuff that serves to keep us distracted petty and ignorant too often. It’s time there was a change and I hope that Sept. 18th. is just the beginning for a new journey into something more humane and decent for the folk all of them who live in Scotland just as you would wish as any decent human being the same for all nation whatever part of the globe they live upon. The corporations have too much power and it’s being unleashed on a scale that’s never been before. The gross indecency of the personal wealth of certain individuals and corporations must be exposed for the damage it inflicts. Scotland has a great opportunity to write different narratives instead of the same old regurgitated boredom. Time for change.

  6. jivetoaster says:

    The “Scotland could never have bailed out RBS argument is comprehensively debunked in this article at Business for Scotland:


    Not many people know that the British bank which got the biggest bail-out in the crisis was actually Barclay’s, and not a penny of it came from the UK Treasury. It was entirely bailed out by the US Fed, but as the bit which was bailed out was called Lehman’s, it got hidden in the media.

    The other aspect is that the UK HAD to bail out RBS, regardless of where its headquarters are: London’s casino capitalism market only thrives because it allows everyone to play there. If the UK hadn’t contributed to the Irish and Icelandic bank bail-outs, you’d have seen foreign finance institutions queueing up to get out of the City of London.

    1. Illy says:

      Icelandic bail-out? You mean the jail sentences and revolution?

  7. barakabe says:

    I find it a sad symptom of modern celebrity cult-ure/some form of mass insanity that people even care or consider the opinion of a kid’s books writer as more significant than anyone else’s- prominence & fame are not evidence of proficiency or importance. People are referring to Rowling like her view carry’s some unique weight, in the way Tolstoy’s comments were esteemed in 19th C Russia, or Jean Paul Sartre’s in 50s France- the days of anyone listening to writers is well & truly over ( even more so a kids book writer). When will people learn that all things are open to view & education is no substitute for real thinking- how many experts, famous people & other assortment of privileged mouthpieces have to spout ignorance nonsense before we realize that simple reality? Real Independence is as much about freeing the mind as any manipulation of external conditions.

    1. Abulhaq says:

      “freeing the mind” a concept more dangerous than the goons of “ISIS”

      1. barakabe says:

        It’s pointless to have one form of “independence”, either external or internal, without the other -we can ignore neither of them: what we need is a radical transformation of the whole culture. The kind of “freeing of the mind” I’m referring to is the kind of Nietzsche alluded to in his re-examination of moral prejudices in Genealogy of Morality; with his insistence that we ought to examine the assumptions behind our assumptions. Wittgenstein speaks of this in his later work, particularly the Investigations, with the observation that our language structures continually suck us back into the same conceptual frameworks that continue to confuse us. Hume’s true Skepticism is another form of this same philosophical technique of the open clarity of a free mind unencumbered by any so-called “concluded truth”, what Keats called “negative capability”. We should be teaching our children from the earliest years how to do this: a capacity for transparency, that see through everything, until they are even transparent to themselves ( but what institution or authority would promote such as capacity?).
        The exercising of such a capacity might serve our most prestigious and prominent commentators well, rather than the usual lazy thinking, tired prejudices, stereotyped responses & fixed thinking- ideological restrictions. All ideology always excludes the possible employment of specific & important human capacities at the expense of others, that are often ore favourable to the promotion of the prevailing ideology ( as we see on a daily basis with the Unionist position). I refuse to see how my thinking is in any way comparable to the ‘goons’ of “ISIS”- is this a case of what psychologists call “projection”?

    2. CW says:

      This is absolutely spot on. The level of intellectual deference shown towards Rowling by otherwise intelligent people was baffling.

  8. yerkitbreeks says:

    It’s the civility of it all that is so disconcerting. Maybe like some, as a lad o’ pairts, I wandered off as an economic migrant to London and the SE ( where else ? ) with the rose tinted spectacles.

    Rising up through the ranks to chairing fairly big committees ( dealing with 18 hospitals ) I became aware that the public school thing is not only the school of hard knocks and an effective rounding off process giving able debaters, but also produces a “club” so that subtly, outsiders are sidelined when their use expires.

    The “merit awards” that were supposed to come with extra work didn’t materialise and it took time to discover they went, guess where, to the three teaching hospitals which were surprisingly close to the Houses of Parliament.

    In an iScotland we will need to ensure that such patronage is controlled since there is evidence it is alive and well here – one only needs to look at the Officers over the years of our very own medical Royal Colleges.

  9. JeremyEM says:

    In my ideal world humans would transcend nineteenth century nationalism. Meanwhile there seems to be some confusion between those who want independence in order to get political change ie as a means to create a fairer / more equal society and those who just want independence.

    Whilst I understand that Scottish independence is an exciting prospect for sure, I don’t see that it is any guarantee of a fairer society?

    For instance the large corporations are far more powerful than many countries nowadays and they can afford to buy the politicians they need for their purposes.

    1. Alasdair Frew-Bell says:

      never met anybody who just wanted independence. logically there has to be a reason for wanting it. reasons will vary, obviously, but the thing itself is simply a means.

    2. Illy says:

      The question is simple, as far as I see it:

      What political change do you want to see?

      Now you’ve answered that, which of Westminster and Holyrood is pushing in that general direction? Can you see Westminster *ever* giving you the political change you want to see?

      That’s what’s driving my vote.

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