A Nation of Provincial and Integral Tales in the Making?
A few days ago when chatting with the Fife poet and novelist Wullie Hershaw about the post-Referendum scene, our topic of conversation turned to the cultural tasks of representation that need doing in the period in which we wait for the next crack at achieving independence. I recalled to Wullie that part of my motivation to write my book A Sociological Phenomenology of Christian Redemption (2014) was the conviction that, as it outlined an account of integral human being from a Scottish perspective, the current period of re-imagining and re-founding Scotland was an ideal time to put such an account into the public realm.
When beginning my research for the book back in 1998 as a doctoral student my focus was the relationship between class and national identity. However, some sixteen years later, what I ended up producing was an account of integral human liberation viewed through the prism of the impending 2014 Independence referendum. I had originally began by confining my research to how the Scottish working class were beginning to move away from mobilising upon a class-only basis in favour of the more integral or holistic basis of class and national identity, but as my understanding deepened I found myself going ‘all the way’ and articulating an account of what I refer to as integral liberation as a result of adding three further elements that meant producing a holistic or integral account of (Scottish) human being: intellectual or cognitional agency, psychological liberation and, finally, the specifically supernatural experience which the Christian tradition names the ‘gift’ of grace or redemption.
I also recalled to Wullie how prior to publication I was asked to write a brief description of the book for marketing purposes and it seemed that a selling point was that it is the only ethnographic study of contemporary Scottish nationalism to have appeared so far, and so might appeal to anyone with an interest in a detailed and descriptive study of Scotland from a particular geographic locality. However, even in the historic year of 2014, not everyone agrees that what the world needs is an ethnographic study of Scottish nationalism. I recall, for example, a letter from a very experienced commissioning editor ‘Sarah’ who advised me: “As I’m sure you’ve experienced with other publishers, it is partly the Scottish focus that is a problem for our international marketing and sales potential worldwide…so anything with a specific regional focus struggles.”
A researcher, then, who spends sixteen years conducting an ethnographic study of his natal village (Cardenden) and surrounding region (Fife) to come to a contextualised grasp of Scottish human being is in some danger of digging a hole for himself in light of producing a representation that has a relentlessly local and provincial focus. However, as a professional sociologist with the responsibility of teaching students about contemporary Scotland – but also as one of many thousands of ordinary Yes activists who spent the last year canvassing their locality and region – an insight that needs defending is that most people spend most of their lives immersed in localities and regions. For the professional sociologist as well as the nationalist activist, then, there is the need to recognise and then reject the pseudo-internationalism of the publishing world and the pseudo-internationalism that characterises political unionism in Scotland which is guilty of a facile universalism that is unconcerned with tackling a number of thorny issues that might divide those of us in favour of independence – such as religion, history and regionality.
From my own local or regional and provincial point of view, the Yes campaign gave Fifers the opportunity to mobilise their provincial or sub-national regional identity and constitute ‘the Kingdom’ as a cultural and organisational category for a political and constitutional purpose. Also, among the various locality-based Yes groups, what did not matter throughout the referendum campaign were party political loyalties or not having any political party loyalties. However, our current interregnum period provides the opportunity to discuss a range of differences and the opportunity to learn now to live with difference today and not simply how to live with difference in a future independent Scotland.
In this regard it is useful to remember that the independence movement has a history of ignoring major differences that lie within it. The SNP, for example, refused to address the issue of social class for many years and kept to a purist line that was blind to social realities in order to appeal to as many Scots as possible. I propose that another stage in the development of Scottish nationalism is that of addressing the issue of culture and history and its place in our public life and our educational institutions. More specifically, the question of what constitutes integral human liberation and how this relates to how we imagine Scotland and how we conceive the purpose and meaning of ‘being Scottish’ will either unite or divide those of us in favour of independence and can only arise on the basis of addressing the further related issues of:
– language (Scots, Gaelic, English)
– provincial / regional identities
– the ‘Catholic’ past & the Christian ecumenical issue
– a pre- and a post-industrial narrative for localities / provinces / nation
– the content of a written constitution
While such a range of issues is not a source of division for myself and a Fife poet such as Wullie – indeed is a source of coming-together and common ground – it is clear that if most Scots will not unite behind all of the answers to all of these questions, those of us in favour of independence have the historic opportunity to come together and unite in agreeing these issues need to be de-privatised, discussed and recognised. One of my hopes is that the resolve to address these issues might be one of the lasting legacies of the Yes campaign and one of the defining tasks of this interregnum period as it is clear that there is nothing quite like fighting a common cause to enable those participating to put their differences into perspective. My experience has been that while from the viewpoint of one’s armchair one may see a number of intractable differences, when one has spent that last year or so canvassing the same streets and facing the same difficulties, armchair opponents easily become ‘brothers in arms’ because of a lived verification of common purpose despite other differences.
The pro-independence moment and movement is the time and organisation with the motive and opportunity to agree upon a basic model or template of integral human liberation which avoids the failed status quo ‘solution’ which seeks to privatise these questions of meaning and remove them from the public sphere and reduce politics to management of the economy and reduce education to being fitted out for the job market. If an independent Scotland is only a matter of time, this interregnum period can be one where each local and provincial/regional yes grouping has the opportunity to imagine our provincial and local integral tales or narratives insofar as we address these long durée issues and prepare for our better future.