Saussure versus Hemphill
There are two ways to look at the current political context: the first allows discussion of the situation using the language of sociology and textual analysis derived from Saussure and Foucault and their study of media ; the second lets me explore the issues using the political theories of Hemphill and Kiernan. In the language of sociology, we can discuss the division of the situation at hand into binary oppositions: good/bad, black/white, right/left, right/wrong, nat/yoon, Corbyn/Blair, yes/no, in/out, male/female, straight/gay. In the Hemphill/Kiernan analysis, these binary oppositions can be defined in simpler terms: good guy or wank.
Obviously, if you are on the left, Tony Blair is bad, wrong, evil or a wank if we adhere to Hemphill and Kiernan’s methodology. In these binary times, what is right is easily identified by simply referring to our prejudices or our simple Scottish Socialist/Broad Left checklist – we no longer need to think, as the jerk of a knee will shed light on the most complex situation. As a matter of fact, there are no longer any complex situations: Brexit necessitates independence; Blair is a war criminal/Corbyn is a good guy; Corbyn’s supporters are the heart of the Labour movement/ Blairites are scum; Progressives are salt of the earth, conservatives are evil; The MSM is bad/ new media good.
I am a white, middle-aged, middle class (?) man. I am the personification of the patriarchal hegemony which has got this country (the UK or its constituent parts) into the desperate straits we find ourselves in. I voted yes in 2014 and I voted to remain. I am a democrat to my bones who has voted in every election I was eligible to vote in – council, Holyrood , general election and referenda. I cast my first vote in Kinnock’s Waterloo in 1987. I voted Labour in every election with the exception of voting for the SSP in the Scottish Parliament up until the destruction wrought by the permanent-tanned prophet – and voting SSP in the famous victory for John Mason in Glasgow East in 2008. I like to think my vote made a difference in Margaret Curran’s defeat.
I’ve always considered myself to be on the left. My yes vote was a vote based upon progressive principles. I parted company with the Labour Party during the Glasgow East campaign in 2008 in which arch-Blairite James Purnell (wank!) suggested the unemployed work for their benefits. At the time, I lived in Easterhouse and I knew Labour were going to get a hiding. So certain was I, that I waited outside the count in order to let the Labour apparatchiks know the incandescence of my fury at a party that had managed to so completely lose sight of their duty to the working class that were their core vote and the heart and soul of the Party.
Why do I write now? I write now because I despair at the simplistic binary political culture extant in Scotland , a culture where otherwise sensible people make fundamental political judgements based on simple knee-jerk, predetermined, pre-programmed responses to historical political stimuli. One of my dearest friends was so furious I did not consider Tony Blair to be an evil war criminal, that he could not continue a discussion with me. I believe Iraq was a disaster, a foreign policy fiasco in which Blair is, along with Bush, absolutely culpable, for decisions that caused the deaths of countless innocents and continue to claim countless other lives. The fact that I consider Jeremy Corbyn to be a genuinely awful leader and unelectable to boot, however, means that I am considered by many on the left to be a scumbag Blairite lickspittle. Any Labour MP who voted in favour of the Iraq war is forever tainted by their vote. Similarly, any Labour MP who abstained in any votes on austerity or benefits is now – and ever shall be – a Red Tory traitor.
I demonstrated against the invasion of Iraq. Indeed, in order to bump up my credibility in the eyes of those who will criticise this post, I was kettled in 2003. I consider the conduct of the Better Together campaign in 2014 to have been an affront to democracy. My feelings are the same with regard to the Leave campaign. Tony Blair is a a venal, compromised and supremely disappointing Labour leader whose legacy will forever be tainted by Iraq, but he is not Pinochet or Saddam Hussein. Nicola Sturgeon is a formidably talented politician at the height of her powers, but her policies with regard to education are disastrous.
I am suspicious of nationalism, but in a choice between an independent Scotland or a Tory UK majority with no EU to rein in their worst excesses, I reluctantly vote for independence. There have been times since the Indyref when I have been relieved we did not vote yes. Those are the times when I witness the absolute, unblinking certainty of the true believers in independence; the alacrity with which those who beg to differ are monstered; the labelling of yoons, the knee jerk dismissal of decent socialists or feminists based on their views on Trident or Iraq or Tony Blair or independence, the unthinking support for the madder decisions of the SNP ( OBFA anyone?)
We live in complicated, uncertain and frightening times. We need the space to question, we need the space to recognise that we don’t live in a black and white world where the good guys or wanks ( of all genders, ethnicities, nationalities and beliefs) are always easily and instantly identifiable. We are in a process of recovering from a traumatic referendum in which we were faced with a simple binary question: in or out? The future of this country is too important to be reduced to the simple binary oppositions that tend to divide, dismiss or diminish us.
I voted Labour and RISE at the Holyrood elections. Mad, eh? Maybe, but that was my choice. I think independence is inevitable in the wake of the Brexit. With this in mind, we need to transcend the simplistic binary oppositions generated by the Indyref, Iraq, Trident and all those other issues that get our knees jerking. We need passion, yes, but we also need cool heads, compassion, empathy and a recognition that this Scotland of ours contains multitudes and within each individual there are countless passions, prejudices, hopes and fears that make us the supremely complex, multi-faceted people we are.