Wha’s Like Us?
Oot in the disputit quagmires atween the Serbs an the Croatians, doun bi the pairt o the Danube whaur the blue’s ran oot, there’s seiven square kilometres o clam an drowie mire whaur the anely biggins are the “Keep Oot” signs an the anely soond the bizz o hungert midges. Focht ower? This, this orral o moss? Anely in the sense that neither Serbia nor Croatia wants it. The laund is unviable for human occupation, a sinkhole in ilka weys; no fit tae support a pair o size six buits, niver mind a body bigger as a beastie.
That’s aw tae the guid, syne if the five hunner thoosand “citizens” o the sel-proclaimed nation o Liberland actually took up residence there, even the midges wad be findin it an awfy tight squeeze. In 2015 this sma green dot o nae-man’s-laund, unthocht o syne the end o Yugoslavia, was laid claim tae bi ane Vit Jedlicka, a colourful racin identity an yin-time PR agent wha cawed hissel president an set furth a platform o nae compulsory taxes, nae gun control, an aw the usual Atlas Shrugged shite. Weel, Jedlicka had hit the jackpot, there; sign-ups for the new kintrae went throu the roof. Croatia, no too keen on the prospect o a holiday hame for gun-slingin yahoos playin Wild Wild West on their doorstane, syne denied Jedlicka or ony o his ceetizens fae settin fit on their new fundit laund.
Like mony heids o state, Jedlicka has muckle plans for his tenure, an, like mony, nae prospect at aw o seein them throu. Sindry basics that he’s currently wantin o include; money, legitimacy, infrastructure, political capital an, maist o aw, the international recognition which, in the general run o things, maks a kintra a kintra. This is important. The micronation o Sealand, an affshore data haven in the North Sea, has spent maist o its microhistory tryin tae dupe some hapless government or anither intae admittin that it’s there. Tae be acknowledged as a peer bi a Spain or even a Luxembourg – yon’s El Dorado tae yer wid-be El Dorados, catnip tae yer tinpot Bolivars. But Jedlicka is no fashed aboot ony o that. The EU, the UN; they can aw gan ram it. As faur as he’s concernt, Liberland needs naebody’s permission slip jist tae exist.
“Aw kintras are fantasies,” he says.
An as Billy Joel yinst sang – sometimes a fantasy is aw ye need.
Maist fowk wad gan their dinger if they thocht ah wis likenin an independent Scotland tae a swampfu o Chuck Norris cosplayers. But a fair hantle o pro-indy proselytisin recently has come doon tae gettin oorsels compared tae the richt things, the strategic photobombin o ither people’s strauchles. We’re there in Catalonia. We’re there in Kurdistan. We’re like the Three Amigos o civil nationalism; whaurever there is injustice, ye will find us – within certain reasonable parameters.
It’s guid – or at least naitural – that we’d suiner set wi the weel-tae-dae o bonnie Barcelona than the sunburnt racists o The Donald. But we gain naethin bi sic a comparison, ceptin a misplaced sense o oor ain virtue. Gin we coud stap clappin oor ain backs for a meenit, an speir oorsel whit maks us sae different frae the Birthers an the Brexiteers, we micht actually fund something oot aboot oorsels, gin that’s whit we’re in the business o.
The differences atween, say, the Yes muivement an Make American Great Again are that plain an that pautent as tae want further owergaun. We’re no this, we’re no that, we’re no sic an sae. Weel, aye. But unfocus yer een fae the policies an keek at jist the colours o the thing. The language. For ‘Drain the Swamp’, read ‘Wastemonster’. For ‘Lock her up’, see ‘Ruth the Mooth’. The mairches, the rallies, the enshrined notion o an unjustly marginalised community. Abuin aw, the scunneration wi whit presents as oor democracy, the up-dander at a hyne awa government that conteenually reneges on its contract wi the people. Fae birther tae Brexit tae Trump tae Tea Party, we’ve tae acknawledge that, gin the ends are awfy different, the motivations an the means are aften like as like. An yon’s a wirry, when politicians sae aften conflate their means wi their ends; when pairliaments are that static that the difference atween yin pairty an anither isnae whit they got done – like as no, naethin – but hou they purported tae dae it.
God knows it haurdly leukt like yin at the time, but Trump’s promise o a Mexican waw wis a maisterstraik, gin ah can uise sae cantie a wird for sae dulesome a thing. Efter a slew o Republican dug-whistlers wha said aw the richt things aboot faith, family, Roe v. Wade, an then went straucht intae office an did hee-haw aboot it, Trump plichtit fowk – on his honour! – a concrete realisation o their desires, a big, beautiful Mount Rushmore o wanton xenophobia. There wis naethin nebulous aboot this, nae vote for me, ah’ll hoise yer standarts o livin – whitiver that means. Fowk kent exactly whit they were votin for. An when Republicans gan tae the polls in 2021, they’ll no need tae take their calculators an reams o GDP statistics tae check if Trump did whit he said he wad. They’ll jist leuk up the Rio Grande on Google Maps. Hell! Mebbe they’ll even wind up gettin whit they asked for, which will be kind o a Zen experience, an mair than mony o the lave o us are fixin up for. They’ll no be the better aff for it, like, but ah suppose that’s by the by.
Pynt is. Bi promisin a definite, meisurable ootcome fae his election, Trump wis able tae sinder hissel in a wanner fae the say-onythin, dae-naethin menyie his voters fund laithsome. He turnt the hale election intae a ane-question referendum; whit are we gonnae dae aboot immigration – somethin, or naethin? An in an era of touraboot policies an fushionless soondbites, a referendum still means somethin. It’s a guarantee o pouer tae the pouerless, a promise that somethin – onythin! – will finally get done.
Daes ony o this ring a bell?
Electin politicians on the basis o a single, meisurable thing – be it the forderin o independence or the stellin o it? The current Tory Government, like it or no, is held up bi MPs wha ran purely on the basis o keepin the UK thegither – an wha did sae agin ithers that ran purely on the basis o splittin it up. But wha’s faut is that? When the voice o the electorate is as shilpit as it is, it’s nae surprise we anely send yin message. Yet basin oor vote on the content o that single message jist gies oor politicians free rein tae interpret, aka ignore, oor opinions on aathin else.
Ah get why fowk on the left micht swither aboot referendums. Indyref, Brexit, even AV – when it comes tae the ballot box, no much has gaun oor wey. But when we’re anely faced wi meaningfu choices yinst in a blue muin, o coorse it’s gaun tae gan tae oor collective heids. O coorse it’ll imbue a yin-aff issue wi a mortal significance. An o coorse it’ll end up wi some awfy wappy decisions. But the solution tae this problem isnae tae tak awa sic opportunities for direct democracy. It’s tae gie fowk mair.
Ochone, the dreidit Neverendum o the prophecies, Rapture an Ragnarok biled up intae yin. Yon weirdit end time, when we’ll no can roll oot o bed o a morn wioot somebody speirin shoud we ban the metric system, or mak the beltin o oor weans compulsory.
Ah ken we’re tired o haein referendums. Ah ken we’re seek o sayin whit we think. Ask Rupert Murdoch. Ask Paul Dacre. The burden o an opinion an a means tae disseminate it is an ower muckle thing for chiels sic as oorsels. In the name o the wee man – ah’ve still got a Junior Savers bank account! Whit chance hiv ah o kennin richt fae wrang?
Aye, weel. But think back tae the political purpose that informed oor lives in 2014. Is there no an extent tae which the thing we leuk for in a referendum is the process raither than the ootfaw? That the goal o a prospective indyref2 isnae sae much an independent kintrae as an expression o the kintrae we’ve awready got? That we’re drunk on democracy an want mair, mair, mair, are as hungry for it as a replicant is for life? Is that no at lang an last the pynt o the hale independence jingbang, that we micht yin day live oor days the way we did yon referendum – as if everythin we did had actual meanin?
Acause the first thing ah’d want in an independent Scotland, Day Wan, wad be mair direct democracy. Referendums o the Month. Shoud alcohol hae a minimum price? Shoud frackin be alloued? It’s aw up for grabs! We’d get things wrang fae time tae time, nae dout, but ah’d bet on us tae dae nae warse than the politicians, or a monkey throwin darts, or whitever. Maist important, tho, is that we’d be up tae oor necks in it. We wadnae be able tae contract oot aw oor thinkin aboot hou we’re supposed tae live tae a boorach o cowboys wi double-barrel names. An aw the unstoppable forces we’re telt the warld is in hock tae – the corporations, the lobbyists, the banks an aw their crew – raither than tak a couple of politicians gowfin every yinst in a while, finally they wad hae tae negotiate directly wi the heid yins, the daesters, the fowk at the tap. The people.
Weel, that pairt o it aw micht be pie in the sky. Mebbe we’d be as gleg tae play baw wi the brokers as oor politicans usually are. But here’s the thing. If naethin else, we’d be gettin the best political education ye coud ask for, which is tae actually be involved. There’s nae substitute. As an electorate, it’s the wan thing we’re cryin oot for – some first-team experience. An gin we had that, gin we coud see the direct relationships atween the things we chose an the things that came to pass, shuirly we’d stairt tae mak the richt decisions. Or tryin tae.
The relevance o aw this to our current situation gans nearly wioot sayin. That Scotland exists as an entity regairdless of the recognition o ither nations is baith oor strangest argument an oor permanent Achilles heel; sae culturally distinct are we, sae different frae the lave of the UK, that we dinnae even need oor ain nation state tae let oor voice be heard. A seat on the United Nations Cooncil? A soapbox on Buchanan Street wad dae the job. Sae why bother? Gin every kintrae is jist a dream, daes it maiter wha the dreamers are?
Weel, aye, it daes. It maiters acause we’re gettin tae the stage nou whaur – like the Brexiteers, like the white supremacists – we’re stairtin tae fetishize oor ain helplessness. Whaurever it is we gan, whitever it is we’re daein, we’ve ayeweys yin ee oot for a railway track tae lash oorsels tae, an a pantomime villain tae haud responsible. They took our jobs! Dey terk er jerbs! The poses o pouerlessness we’re that prone tae strikin are wan quick wind-chynge awa fae bein hou we leuk tae the warld forever.
Votin, for aw these fowk we howp we’re naethin like, is an act o pure symbolism. They arenae votin on the basis o foreseen ootcomes; or if they are, they’re kiddin theirsels. They’ve nae idea hou their vote will pan oot, cept the smart money is on it matterin no wan bit. They’re stuck wi election as self-image, democracy as fashion accessory – votin aboot the kind of person they think or wish they were. We need tae be careful that oor democracy disnae gan that wey, wind up becomin a thin, gossamer web o semiotics, a self-indexin conglomeration o thistles an tartans haudit loosely thegither bi oor proclaimed guid intentions.
The reason ah want independence isnae sae that we can hae saltires on oor passports or snooker medals at the Olympics. It’s sae we can at lang an last stairt turnin aw these guid wirds o oors intae deeds. Preach the Gospel, the mannie says. Uise wirds if necessary. Weel, ye can hae aw the culture in the warld, but gin there’s nae wey o that translatin itsel intae meaningfu action, nane o it’s wirth the tea-towels that it’s prentit on. The Internet is braw for talkin up a storm aboot the kin o chiel ye are, or wad be, gin ye’d anely the opportunity. Wioot independence, ah’m afeart that Scotland is duimed tae sic Walter Mittydoms o the soul, a daeless daydream mair attractive than the freedom that it dreams o. It’s anely throu action ye learn aboot yersel. Wha’s like us? Richt nou, we dinnae even ken. Let’s fund oot.