Means and Ends

As someone who has never been comfortable being described as a ‘nationalist’, who is suspicious of excessive enthusiasm about flags, and who mostly views the concept of patriotism as a tool of states to control their populace, I’m not an obvious cheerleader for ‘Scottish exceptionalism’.

I’m one of those people who a certain subsection of independence supporters may well view as harmful to ‘the cause’: one of those who will happily admit they see independence as a means to an end, and who recoils in horror at the sight of people lashing out with paranoid fervour against any criticism of a pro-independence person, organisation or political party.

(By which I mean criticism against people, organisations or political parties they actually like – because if we don’t like you, you don’t really support independence anyway. That’s how logic works, didn’t you know?).

And yet, this is exactly why I’m here to make the case that the only way independence can, or even should be achieved is through striving for exceptionalism, and that a failure to recognise the ways in which Scotland has already managed to do and be ‘better’ will surely be the road to another lost referendum.

I’ve been amazed (in the “I’m amazed that there’s a significant audience for people I’ve never heard of eating bugs on TV” kind of way) to find that the ‘independence-must-be-ideologically-neutral’ contingent seem not only to be holding strong, but getting louder – at least within the echo chamber of social media.

Never mind the fact that there is no such thing as ideological neutrality, for me, the whole ‘means to an end’ business is just common sense: to convince someone who something is a good idea, you need to show them what it would mean for them. And I’m firmly of the belief that people can and will be persuaded by a vision for a more socially just and equal Scotland.

I am proud to be able to say that Scotland’s campaign for a major shift in the balance of power in 2014 was predominately progressive and distinctly inclusive, and that our Scottish Government, while presenting itself in stark opposition to the Westminster establishment, has maintained a clear pro-immigration and pro-equality stance.

This may seem a small achievement if not viewed in the international context: where a vote for the UK to leave the EU was won by stirring up xenophobic sentiment; where an unintelligent, narcissistic millionaire was elected US President on the back of a campaign of hate and division; and where support for far right parties has grown across Europe, from Sweden to Germany, Austria to the Netherlands, France to Greece.

All of these trends have something in common with the movement for Scottish independence – they have been fuelled by years of alienation from existing power structures which have failed to represent large sections of the population, all while propping up an increasingly cutthroat capitalist economy in which inequality and antipathy are on the rise.

Yet Scotland truly has achieved something unusual by seeking to fulfil that thirst for change from the left, and not, as so many have, by cashing in on humans’ basest instincts to exclude and vilify others. By boldly building on this momentum in the next referendum (because I have to believe at this point that there will be a next time) Scotland has the chance to show the world that it is possible to avert pressure to be driven to the right and to win popular support at the same time.

When the referendum was announced back in March 2013, support for independence sat at around 28 per cent. By September 2014, 45 per cent of the highest turnout in decades voted Yes, and two Survation polls in the last month have identified independence support at 46- 47 per cent. From where I’m sitting, that looks like a pretty enduringly convincing campaign – just imagine what could happen if we tried that again?

In light of this rare feeling of optimism that I can just about muster when I put my mind to it, it is both disheartening and puzzling to see some in the ‘Yes Movement’ resist attempts to push for more equal representation or attention to equalities issues, instead arguing that we should focus solely on independence until such time as an independent Scotland comes into being.

This is not only an unfair request to make of anyone who might actually be affected by any number of other issues on a daily basis, it also unrealistically treats the achievement of national independence as a single event which can take place within a bubble, as opposed to forming part of a wider and ongoing movement for political and social change. People will never compartmentalise issues that cleanly in the real world, so suggesting they do is a lost cause from the outset.

What is true is that some people will never be appealed to by the idea of a fairer, more redistributive society, or one which takes seriously the concerns of women and minorities – and if those are the people we’re going to base our politics around, we’ve already lost. But it’s also true that there are people who can be won over to new ideas through considered conversation, information, and persuasion – or, as some like to call it, ‘campaigning’.

What I think is more likely to drive people away is an attitude that these conversations can’t be permitted, that no self-improvement is necessary, and that the movement is closing ranks and closing the door on anyone who dares to question it – because, hey, we don’t need you anyway. Except, we really, really do.

We need the numbers – that’s just a fact – but we also need to hold on for dear life to the ideals that drove so many of us to vote for independence in the first place. These ideals are easy to lose sight of at the best of times – we know that, because we’ve seen how almost the entirety of political history has played out – so if we can’t hold on to them even in the pre-campaign stage, what chance do we have of creating a country around them?

And this has as much to do with the ‘how’ as the ‘what’ we want to achieve – it seems to me that much of the problem with Westminster politics is its centralised, unrepresentative nature, its tendency towards politics as performance, of adversary for adversary’s sake, and of a lack of transparency on the matters of real substance.

If we hope for an independent Scotland to represent something genuinely different, it won’t do to replicate the same structures, systems and dynamics which have failed us in the past. When discussion and debate within and around the independence movement so frequently descends into tribalism, suspicion, and outright hostility, it becomes hard to imagine that we are “living in the early days of a better nation”.

It would be far too easy, but tragically unwise, to take for granted that we can offer that hopeful vision to people without first embodying it ourselves.

Audre Lorde was quoted a little over two weeks ago in Bella Caledonia in aid of similar sentiments, and the relevance was striking enough that I think I can allow myself to present a few more of Lorde’s words of wisdom: “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.”

As it is, we are standing on the precipice of the future and we have a serious choice to make about the tools we want to use, and the nation we want to build.

Comments (10)

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  1. Dougie Blackwood says:

    Yes. Well written and sensible.

    We do not want an us and them mentality, we must persuade the voters that, for the good of all, we must try to help the weakest in society. This may be painful to those that must contribute a little more but an egalitarian society, that is inclusive of everyone, is the society that we want in an independent Scotland.

    If you read the xenophobic, me first stuff pumped out by the Daily Mail and Express it should ring alarm bells. If you read only the National and do not see that it is overly biased toward the independence, to the exclusion of almost everything else, then you need to get out more.

  2. Jim says:

    Great, well-written stuff. Thank you.

  3. tartanfever says:

    ‘and two Survation polls in the last month have identified independence support at 46- 47 per cent. From where I’m sitting, that looks like a pretty enduringly convincing campaign – just imagine what could happen if we tried that again?’

    Probably not much to be honest. People campaigned like stink for over two years. Every night meetings took place up and down the land trying to convince a vote for independence. Websites were set up, grassroots movements, street stalls, books written etc etc and we still couldn’t win.

    Now imagine what the Westminster will do this time, or the think tanks, or the media. If you think that they won’t change their tactics to be even more provocative, hateful and deceitful then there is no point even starting. Whatever conviction you have to try harder, the opposition will equal it, and they have many more resources.

    What will be more apparent will be the infiltration of the independence movement. Sites like this will become strewn with expletive, bigoted posts about hating people and they will provide the headlines for the following day’s media, be it print, radio or TV. That will be the campaign. Divide and conquer, good vs. evil, them and us.

    Look at where we are now. Brexit is a shambles, May lost her Parliamentary majority, Labour are all over the place on Brexit themselves and still a split party between Corbyn and the Blairites. Economic signs are woeful, hate crime and racism are up and yet we still can’t get a majority supporting independence.

    Seems to me that the unionist media and online presence in Scotland is doing a pretty effective job distracting the independence campaign from hammering home the Brexit message, which is what is giving us another chance for a referendum. We seem to be quite happy following their lead by talking about bigoted Tory councillors or Labour MSP’s going on a reality TV show. If I was a member of the Scottish Tory party, I’d be pretty chuffed at the diversionary ploys currently being lapped up.

    1. David Allan says:

      Sadly I find myself sharing all of your thoughts.

      And they’ll be no Weir supplied war chest next time.

      I look at how Catalonia election coverage has been effectively media censored. The MSM power brokers have all the cards and pull the strings of a compliant population at will.

    2. David Allan says:

      Sadly I find myself sharing all of your thoughts.

      And they’ll be no Weir supplied war chest next time.

      I look at how Catalonia election coverage has been effectively media censored. The MSM power brokers have all the cards and pull the strings of a compliant population at will.

  4. David Allan says:

    ” to convince someone something is a good idea, you need to show them what it would mean for them. ”

    Caitlin this sentence reminds me of the Sales and Marketing mantra linking features of a product with it’s benefits to the potential purchaser. What’s in it for me!

    A factor often missed in presenting the case for Independence. Those in the bubble need to deploy different tactics to deliver in a more detailed manner the sales pitch to those they seek to persuade to vote YES in future.

    A simple example – I oft hear the comment you enjoy free prescriptions in Scotland !

    To someone you are trying to persuade this is almost meaningless unless you also advise the cost of said prescription elsewhere in the UK .

    Regrettably this type of delivery is not forthcoming from our Politicians. And was certainly absent during the Scottish Budget speech.

    Investment in some presentation skills training for SNP cabinet members would be a useful asset to the cause. It might even prompt some thinking in the part of those opposed to Independence. Especially those in the chamber .

    I see little evidence that we are becoming any smarter in attempting to grow support.

    It’s all about good preparation and effective communication.

    1. J Houston says:

      Theoretically the entire UK could have free prescriptions. I think back in the day it did. But that’s before my time.

      So why do we really want independence? I can think of a number of other reasons that will never be resolved by a reform of the UK. Reasons which in many cases are not dealt with in this article, like the complete domination of some parts of the UK over others.

  5. Bruce MacDougall says:

    The “Westminster” system is adversity between parties Labour, Liberal and Tory all with conflicting ideologies. The Scottish parliament is fairly unique in that the SNP is the only (and Greens) party which represents the interests of Scotland, the others Tory and Labour are offshoots of the English parties and represent English Union. I agree with all the sentiments expressed in the above article, but the hateful bile in the media as a whole towards Nicola Sturgeon, and the media soundbytes given to Ruth Davidson makes it almost impossible to present a balanced viewpoint to the community at large. Sectarianism also rears its ugly head, Rangers, Celtic, Orange men, Masons, etc. most of whom are pro Union and close minded. I think the majority of people in Scotland could be persuaded to vote for Independence if they knew the facts, but how do we get the information out there and often enough to persuade them. Facebook while useful is not enough.

  6. J Houston says:

    “As someone who has never been comfortable being described as a ‘nationalist’, who is suspicious of excessive enthusiasm about flags, and who mostly views the concept of patriotism as a tool of states to control their populace, I’m not an obvious cheerleader for ‘Scottish exceptionalism’.”

    Except in some senses, you are a nationalist. “Nationalist” is such a broad term as to be useless. A lot of people who are described as “nationalist” have little or nothing in common with each other politically. They come from all parts of the political spectrum.

    As for “exceptionalism” and flag waving, that is the British view of Scottish nationalism, which you seem to have internalised.

    You seem to be unable to tell us why you support independence, other than some vague notions of a fairer society. If the Westminster was completely reformed to be “fairer”, would you still support Scottish independence? And when we do get independence, what are you going to do with it?

  7. J Houston says:

    “As someone who has never been comfortable being described as a ‘nationalist’, who is suspicious of excessive enthusiasm about flags, and who mostly views the concept of patriotism as a tool of states to control their populace, I’m not an obvious cheerleader for ‘Scottish exceptionalism’.”

    Except in some senses, you are a nationalist. “Nationalist” is such a broad term as to be useless. A lot of people who are described as “nationalist” have little or nothing in common with each other politically. They come from all parts of the political spectrum.

    As for “exceptionalism” and flag waving, that is the British view of Scottish nationalism, which you seem to have internalised.

    You seem to be unable to tell us why you support independence, other than some vague notions of a fairer society. If the Westminster was completely reformed to be “fairer”, would you still support Scottish independence? And when we do get independence, what are you going to do with it?

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