Illogical Positivism

better together_0

The new theme for Better Together (BT) is that we have the “best of both worlds”. In what the BT Website describes somewhat adventurously as a “devolution animation” we are told that we do not even need to make a choice to have “the best of both worlds”; somehow – you have to go with me on this – it must simply, just sort of happen.

I confess I hadn’t noticed it happening to me.

Perhaps a preliminary state of catatonic inertia is to be advised, to enjoy these fruits of better togetherness; the kind of intellectual paralysis we have come almost endearingly to associate with the now hallmark inarticulate anger of Scottish Unionism; and that is presumably a necessary (and perhaps sufficient) condition in order to ‘think’ like a Scottish Unionist; ironically evoking a political tone towards opponents that is reminiscent of late 17th century enraged Jacobitism. Perhaps this is a result of the latent Toryism to be found even within the Labour Party.

I seem to recall a time early in this campaign, when the cosy, couthy pals of Labour and Conservative in Better Together (for some recondite reason described as ‘opponents’ in the esoteric private-language of Westminster politics) harmoniously offered another kind of complacency. Then, the Union represented not the best of both worlds, but the best of all possible worlds. Yes, Scotland and the Scottish Government were scorned for wanting a debate of any length at all. There was no need for a debate, there was nothing to discuss; the answer was obvious. Bring it on – now; when ‘now’ was last year.

The referendum was merely there to ensure that ‘independence’ was permanently removed from the political agenda; the Unionist boil represented by the SNP was finally to be lanced. ‘Independence’ would disappear from the agenda of mainstream politics on the day after the referendum; following the 1979 precedent, the referendum would produce a ‘no’ vote and buy a minimum of twenty years of silence, for Unionism to reassert its hegemony; or even bury independence forever. BT would win decisively and everything in this Panglossian world-order would quickly return to ‘business as usual’ in Westminster, where the Unionist political parties (albeit quite obviously destitute of both substantive real constituencies, or even voter credibility) decided for the electorate both the content of politics and the appropriate political aspirations for ordinary people to hold. Further devolution for Scotland in this version of the future was either unnecessary, or subject to the exclusive authority of Unionist political parties to select and offer whatever small morsels of subordinate power they deemed fit to deliver.

That was last year.

It all now seems like another age, or a foreign country: even the term ‘Better Together’ has taken on a lugubrious air of self-deprecation or even self-parody. We are Better Together although threatened on all sides, but principally from within Scotland by ‘uncertainty’, ‘insecurity’ and ‘risks’ (the favoured terms of the BT Website), disturbances to the body politic created predominantly by recalcitrant nationalists. Now there is never enough information and the unanswerable questions grow exponentially. They are now “guaranteeing” there will be further devolution. Is this guarantee in turn “certain”? Clearly not; the proposition has literally no content; which party’s devolution proposals are “guaranteed”? Who will be in a position at Westminster to promise Scotland anything in 2015? Who knows? Who could know? Surely the campaign of “Certainty” do not leave such questions hanging in the air?

While I have lived my whole life naively enough to believe that this uncertain state of affairs, in which we know and can know almost nothing about the future, described little more than the actual nature of the world, familiar to all of us; of reality as ‘risky’ (from which no politician can save us – and most Unionist politicians in the UK incidentally failed Britain very badly over the pre-Credit Crunch period and merely contributed to the creation of national financial catastrophe, on the whole making things worse); I now discover that risk and insecurity are all the fault of Yes, Scotland and the SNP – to be ‘vanished away’ by the simple device of voting ‘no’ in a referendum. Gosh!

Now I discover that Better Together has reduced itself to the best of ‘both’ worlds, a special 2-for-1 offer; a world much smaller than the best of all worlds (the Unionist dogma that, no matter the content, Unionism is simply the best of the best); a parochial, cheap, but still determinedly complacent world. All that persists from last year’s Better Together however, is the dubious plausibility of the words ‘better together’. Better Together offers us this ‘best of both’ futures, and if you want to know what it looks like – it looks just like the UK, the Union and Westminster; it is just yesterday, today and tomorrow. In any case on closer inspection this banal new miracle of Better Together Unionism is described as having the “best of a strong Scottish voice” and “the best of being part of something bigger”. Behind the elephantine tropes (who writes that stuff?), and avoiding the anxiously selfish worry whether there may also be the ‘worst of bigger’ yet to be revealed; it is reasonable for the curious (or merely still awake) to speculate on whose strong voice Better Together has in mind? What part of this ‘something bigger’ makes us believe, for example that we are partners in a Union, rather than the inconvenient debtors we are so often characterised (the persistent corollary of deliberate Unionist negativism)? What part of something bigger is actually, well – ‘better’?

Suddenly we find that Better Together and the Prime Minister are making an appeal to the Union as a ‘family of nations’; an extraordinary appeal to the quasi-federalism of a Union that is quite obviously and comprehensively honoured, day and daily, in the breach of the principle. Perhaps the PM ought to tell Nigel Farage that the Conservatives are Federalists? The ‘family’ metaphor has obviously been selected by the superficial, seductive appeal of the term offered by Unionist spin-doctors, to provide the public with the facile, glib illusion of the Union as family-friendly-federalism; but unfortunately this is a Union run by Incorporating Unionist ideologues who (albeit perversely – coherence is quite foreign to Unionism) believe in a unitary, highly centralised, low-regulation State. in which the public purse subsidises the failure of the banks and provides base interest rates artificially held so low that it cannot be said to represent any form of “market” at all. Modern Unionism clearly abhors federalism (represented by that other obsessive-compulsive focus of Unionist paranoia – the EU).

The difficulty for Unionism that this matter reveals is something characteristic of Unionists but that is only just below the surface, and rather too close to home: the delusion that being Unionists, somehow they understand the nature of the Union. They don’t. In Unionism belief and knowledge are typically opposite polarities. The strength of Unionist conviction is no guarantee of knowledge or understanding; indeed among the current crop of Unionist politicians, there appears to be an inverse square law at work: the louder the Unionist conviction, the smaller the area of understanding.

The Union has not been ‘fixed’ for three hundred years and has fluidly represented a composite range of interconnected interests; but since the 20th century it has moved relentlessly in a single, profoundly unattractive and even dangerous direction; for reasons largely of short-term expediency, and run moreover now by those who have thrived on its later, narrowing and peculiarly circular, self-serving characteristics. The historian Linda Colley, ‘Acts of Union and Disunion’ (London: Profile, 2014; p.153-4) neatly parses the end-game:

“It is worth considering how much of the current disquiet and disaffection in different parts of the United Kingdom is caused by the over-mighty reach of London, which needed to centralise power in order to fight two world wars, and has not been all that willing to surrender power back”.

Colley actually conflates two signifiers of London; her London is the London of Central Government, but it is the City of London that has equally over-reached itself and is equally unwilling to cede power or influence. This force of acute ‘London-centricity’ combined with the recent, crass, self-inflicted, peace-time, destruction of banks and financial system, and the explosion in the national debt; have carried the resilience of what had always been a subtle, complex, byzantine Union of counter-poised interests and partnerships into a toxic, unstable, tightly controlled world of central State interest alone; and thus carried the Union to the edge of dissolution.

Did Better Together really believe that in the referendum there was nothing to discuss? Did they really believe everything would continue as before, even if they won? Did they really believe post-Credit Crunch, post-bank failures, post-Iraq, post-phone-hacking, post-Lawrence, post-Saville, post-Hillsborough, post-misselling, post-mutual-fund elimination, post-tax-avoidance, post-£1.4 Trillion debt, post-UKIP, post-pay-day-loans of 4,000% APR, post-austerity cuts, post-property-bubble, post-spare-room tax, post-zero-hour contracts, post-Plebgate, post-MPs expenses: that the UK, the Union is the best of all possible worlds, the best of both worlds, or least probable of all –the best that life could offer, or the fairest our society could aspire to be?

Comments (22)

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  1. JimnArlene says:

    The union is dead. Time to bury it.

    1. JBS says:

      Yes indeed. Under concrete.

  2. Clootie says:

    The “more powers” guarantee.

    If you were buying a new car the local showrooms would be fighting to sign you up ” a full tank of petrol / a years road tax / floor mats / etc ”

    Imagine you paid for a car BEFORE you gained a written deal!”

  3. David Agnew says:

    David Kidd in his book “Union and Unionisms” said that the success of the union in the modern age, was that it became so banal that no one questioned it. For the 300 years the union has existed, the last 50 years has seen it become a hollowed out shell that people forgot about and took for granted.

    It is now being examined in a way that it has never been since that fateful day in 1707. It is having to justify its existence. The argument of “best of both worlds” – is the usual war cry of Better together. It’s a war cry rooted in the idea of Scottish “learned imbecility”. 300 years of union has slowly reduced Scotland to a people who cannot manage their own affairs. But we have the UK and Westminster to do it for us, so that’s ok isn’t it? It’s what makes them a proud Scot and Proud to be British. It’s the mindset lwhich led Ruth Davidson to go to an English party conference and declare with conviction, that 8 out 10 Scottish households have contributed nothing to the success of the UK. It’s what led Alistair Darling to hammer us with doom laden pronouncements that Scotland couldn’t take part in the Olympics if it were not for Britain. We could’t appreciate British culture or music without Britain to explain it to us. George Robertson thought independence was grand for countries that had culture or a history of their own, but Scotland simply didn’t have that. Johann Lamont thought Scotland is nothing more than a place in the mind. William Rennie thinks all the form filling would be hard to do. George Osborne thinks we have contributed nothing to Sterling in 300 years of Union.

    This is just the tip of the ice berg really when it comes to the Boon of Union and the magic cloak of Britishness that hides how wretched it is to be Scottish. This is the best of it. The rest is a bizarre series of scares about Europe, Currency union, Nato. The list of things Scotland can’t do but magically can but only with the help of the British, is a pretty big list.

    So “Best of Both Worlds” seems to be a bizarre argument to make. ”
    Scotland is too wee, too poor and too stupid. But Scotland is in a Union with England, which allows us to call ourselves British, so that means they do all the hard work, while we can keep being charming but effectively useless. Roll and Sausage, sausage roll – we’re better together. UKOK! Independence – No thanks. We like being useless and living off the fruits of British achievements.”

    Its the argument of miserablists. its a wilful cognitive dissonance. A narrative fallacy, which bizarrely actually undermines the union. When they talk like this, they are declaring the failure of Scotland to stand on its own feet, as a triumph. As something to be celebrated. The only time I suffer the Scottish “cringe” is when I see these people traduce their nation and themselves for the benefit of the rUK. It would never have occurred to them to hail the union a success, because Scotland helped make it a success. Remember, not one Unionist campaigner or supporter has ever attacked Osborne and his idiotic statement about Scotland’s contribution to the success of sterling. Not. One.

    The truth is, that having painted Scotland in a corner like this, there is no way come a no vote that this giddily happy state of affairs would be allowed to continue. And having made this catastrophic error of judgement, you can’t simply come out and say, “Oh, that was just a wee bit of banter, Scotland contributes quite a lot to the UK”. If labour win, we will hammered with more austerity than thatcher inflicted on us, and we will be taxed more than anyone else in the UK. We’ll lose our NHS, our education, hell they’ll even privatise our water. They simply cannot allow Scotland to be different that the rest of the UK. The Tories will fleece us of even more money but they will ensure that the Scottish government is forced to be its bagman.
    The Lib-dems will keep on talking federalism but they’ll go with whoever gives them a seat at the table.
    It’s going to be a dreadful time to be a unionist in Scotland when this happens. Most folk will have voted no, not for union but out of fear…boy are they going to be pissed off when they see the UK tear the status quo to pieces. Yes voters will feel vindicated and outraged in equal measure. Poor old unionists will be getting mocked by the rUK for having voted no for dependency and being 2nd class citizens of the UK.

    regardless of the result – it’s pretty safe to say (and I am sure I have said it before here) that the Union is pretty much finished. Because of the way Better together decided to keep Scotland in the Union, pretty much ensures that the Union won’t be able to survive a no vote. It just means that the end will be protracted and painful for everyone. A yes vote ensures the Union ends with some dignity.

    1. Ian Kirkwood says:

      Great post David, fine analysis and reasoned argument. If only the no camp could actually understand the errors of their thinking. Hopefully, there are enough believers to carry the vote to a positive conclusion. Anyone, especially undecideds, reading your wise words will surely be thinking carefully about the implications.

      1. Yes, well written, both John and David. And Ian, it’s only through blogs such as this that the yet to be persueded wil be convinced.

    2. Clootie says:

      Excellent post.

    3. Dr Ew says:

      Great post, and a closing line that NOTABTVNBUKOK supporters would do well to ponder. Enjoyed the article too!

      1. David Agnew says:

        ahh yes – colin Kidd – didn’t realise til I re-read it this morning

    4. Gordon says:

      #David Agnew. Your second last paragraph is so near the mark. NO will not mean the status quo – it will mean the ripping away of all the powers the Scottish parliament has – and maybe the parliament itself. How can the parliament exist without the distinctive powers that Scotland now enjoys and that the Scots voted for. There will be an ill-tempered break up once the deception is revealed.

  4. bringiton says:

    Our parliament,which represents one of the unionist’s worlds,has only been around for a relatively short time and had virtually no say in how we spend our income.
    So overall we have had only the benefit of life under London rule and they have to take responsibility for most of Scotland’s current ills.
    Scots need to take a good hard look at Westminster’s track record in managing our affairs and decide whether it has really been as good as they make out and whether this represents the best bet for our future.
    Two governments is one too many in my view and only independence will fix this.

  5. YESGUY says:

    What a cracking piece John. And Dave i read your post .superb.

    The sun has set on the old empire. The sun will rise to a new Scotland that i am sure.

    Too much muck and abuse thrown to not matter. better together have burned all their bridges. Even a NO vote means independence won’t go away.

  6. MacBee says:

    A good post Mr Warren. Every point well made and underneath it all a frustrated anger which many of us, yes undecideds and the refuseniks share with the unwillingness of the defenders of the Union, despite the mounting evidence of disquiet and dissatisfaction among the populous and the ever increasing list of scandals and evidence of the abuse of power, to even concede that there is a problem with our system of government that needs to be fixed never mind the even bigger leap {for them} of debating Scottish independence.

  7. rabthecab says:

    A tremendous post John. And excellent points well made David. In fact a collection of great comments (if that doesn’t sound too much like brown-nosing!)

    To those who argue for the status quo, I would like to ask one question, “What status quo?” The rulebook got ripped up & thrown away very early in the life of this bastard child of a Westminster Government that wasn’t elected.

    It’s no longer just a case of the rich getting richer while the poor get poorer; the rich are getting richer right enough, but it’s the poor who are paying for it. I’ll freely admit that yes, I have a big chip on my shoulder re this situation: as someone who has faced the indignity of trying to explain my complex health condition to a nurse* then having to endure 11 months of real hardship while I waited for my appeal (which, by the way, I won in 20 minutes) I feel very strongly that this situation has to change, and that will never happen within the union.

    Of course there are many other reasons for my supporting Independence, but it’s very late on a Sunday night, I have a splitting headache, and I don’t want to pass this on to other readers while I go off on one. 🙂

    *Please note I mean absolutely no disrespect to nurses: with over 50 separate hospital admissions since the turn of the century I’ve been looked after by scores, if not 100’s of nurses (and in all that time only ever met 2 I couldn’t get on with) and they are very, very good at what they do. But at my FTT I had to explain to the GP on the panel the operations I went through, as he hadn’t a clue himself; that being the case, how could a nurse be reasonably expected to know anything about it?

    Btw how you doing YESGUY? Good to see you’re still around 🙂

  8. lowlander says:

    A wee poem for the fearful, by Piet Hein:

    To be brave is to behave bravely
    when your heart is feint.
    So, you can be really brave
    only when you really ain’t.

  9. lowlander says:

    should be faint, sorry.

  10. qzchambers says:

    I also picked up on the “family” metaphor from Better Together, used as though being in a family was by itself a good thing. Are all marriages healthy? Do children stay at home for ever?

    The best that can be said about the union is that it’s like a family business where one brother / sister owns most of the shares and the other one eventually wants to take his or her share and start up on his own. If the family was a happy one, then the stronger one would respect that decision, wish the other one the best for the future, and continue to co-operate for their mutual benefit. Let’s hope this happens come September.

  11. Muscleguy says:

    You forgot post Edward Snowdon’s revelations about the snoopers’ charter at GCHQ.

  12. Dougie says:

    Nothing makes me angrier than folk telling me they are voting No Reluctantly
    What a failure of Democracy
    Labour are now playing the sectarian card telling people of the Catholic faith Scotland would be like Northern Ireland, which was part of the UK
    A Senior Scots Tory saying of course scots dont want independence because we have never took up arms and can be bribed by money

    Where is our pride our belief

  13. Reblogged this on Crow House Kitchen and commented:
    This is what we need to talk through, not endless circular arguments on the economy and Europe!

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