What is Choice?
When no-one in the ruling elite actually believes in anything other than their own right to rule, history shows that freedom usually comes after the spilling of much blood. Nothing of social value is given to the majority from autocratic oligarchs in decline. It has to be taken before the damage to the people and the nation is too great. That is where we are in these stormy days of Autumn, in relation to Westminster. The blood here, I hasten to add, will be metaphorical. Corrupted from without and corrupted from within the London government staggers and falls over all of us. Its blubber and grease corrodes every surface it touches. In Scotland we have a choice, at least. The people of England have a terrible problem. For them there is no escape unless they make a fundamental alteration, one they have seldom made in their history. Which currently consists of not choosing between the Tories or Labour or the Liberals (all of whom have failed and betrayed them in turn) but of some other radical alternative, as yet not attempted, but which I imagine will look a bit like a socialist republic, but then I am a dreamer. The last attempt at a republic in England in the 17th century began and ended in a blood-bath. There was nothing metaphorical about that. It dragged every acre of Scotland, Ireland and Wales into it.
What of Scotland then? What dreams do we have for our own tribe?
It seems to me we have a simple choice. We either carry on as normal and go down in the Brexit flood or we break free and form our own country. That is all Scottish politics is about this October in 2018. Those who want Scotland to remain a part of the United Kingdom are lying to the people. It is as simple as that. They have made their choice and it is the way to oblivion. To make a new nation is not easy but it does require courage and it is a gamble. Do the SNP have the courage necessary, and are they brave enough to gamble? How bad does it have to get before the penny drops with the leadership that playing the game is part of the problem and not the solution? I know it is easy enough for the likes of me to say this, but I am Scot and I have a vote and this what I see. Many see what I see. I am sure the leadership of the SNP see this as well. We all see it, we all know it. Do we have to rely on the SNP? The choice is stark and getting starker. Ironically it is not one of our own making, but we must make the choice, for our own good, for the future, for the ones who come after us and will call an independent Scotland normal, their own country, their home. For good or bad, but their own none the less.
In many ways we should not be surprised by Brexit and the seemingly inevitable no deal conclusion. The ruling class have historically violently resisted every European power alliance that has arisen, whether they have been the French, the Spanish or the Dutch. This reaction to what they perceive as a threat may seem at the time to be a display of vitality and strength but in fact only contributes to their undoing. It’s how every empire falls. Why should the English empire be any different? Unique unto itself its difference is its similarity to all that has gone before. Radically identical every oppressive regimes collapse has both a particularity and a universality which energises its inevitable demise.
Observation in literature may be revelation, but in the politics of modern Scotland it can be a painful experience. Conception can be a mutual joy, but birth is always a singular pain. Yet the birthing of a nation, of Scotland, is what we are seeing, experiencing, bearing and it is not easy. There are decisions the people have to take and choices we have to make. The observation is available to all, the revelation less so. Many see the slow conversion of Billy Connolly to independence as a sign of hope. In this process we plant the seeds of progress wherever we can.
Theresa May has survived the hound-dogs of her own party up to now, but she may not survive the savagery which is coming from them later. She will learn the hard way, I suspect, the maxim of Montaigne, “Learning must not only lodge with us: we must marry her.” (On Educating Children). The Prime Minister’s strategy of surviving one crisis only to stumble into another one is no example to a child let alone a polity. One thing I think the Scots have learned, being the children of experience if nothing else, is that the real choice the Tories have is, it is either Brexit or the Union. As Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp has pointed out in The National (October 18th) that Article IV of the Act of Union of 1707 states
“That all the Subjects of the United Kingdom of Great Britain shall from and after the Union have the full Freedom and Intercourse of Trade and Navigation to and from any port or place within said United Kingdom”.
There was an amendment (Article VI) in 1800 which goes further and states that in:
“all treaties made by his Majesty, his heirs, and successors, with any foreign power, his Majesty’s subjects of Ireland shall have the same privileges, and be on the same footing as his Majesty’s subjects of Great Britain.”
That is why the so-called “backstop solution” to the problem of the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic and the UK is mince. It will take more than the vague pronouncements of a bunch of un-elected Lords who have been herded together to come up with a new Act of Union to square this circle. But what the whole sorry mess does do is prove that this entire Brexit business is the unintended result of attempt by David Cameron to placate his anti-European backbenchers and the result has gone horribly wrong, so that we will have to suffer an outcome which benefits no-one. It also shows that no Tory politician really believes in anything. Theresa May, David Mundell and Ruth Davidson were all pro-Europe at one point. No wonder the majority are sick of politics and politicians. No wonder conspiracy is the new philosophy. When truth is relative then rumour becomes certainty and we sweat in the shade and shiver in the Sun.
Day by day it becomes clearer that Scotland is not “on the same footing” as the rest of the UK. Davidson and Mundell have made it abundantly clear that their priority is to keep their party in power in Westminster, come what may. They, it would seem, have made their choice. The question is: just why do Unionists such as they prefer the prolongation of a declining situation, i.e. the UK, to the possibility of a positive beginning, i.e. an independent Scotland?
There may be an answer in Greek mythology. There is the story of Zeus and Poseidon, two of the greatest gods, who competed for the hand of the goddess Thetis. But when they heard the prophecy that Thetis would bear a son more powerful than his father, both withdrew in horror. Since gods plan to rule the heavens for ever, they don’t want a more powerful offspring to compete with them. So Thetis married a mortal, King Peleus, and gave birth to Achilles. Mortals, on the other hand, desire that their children should outshine them. This myth might teach us Scots something important in relation to the UK. Or as Yuval Noah Harari puts it in “21 Lessons for the 21st Century” (Cape, 2018),
“Autocrats who plan to rule in perpetuity don’t like to encourage the birth of ideas that might displace them. But liberal democracies inspire the creation of new visions, even at the price of questioning their own foundations.”
There is no “new vision” on offer through Brexit. Only a step back into the 1950’s. A modern, independent Scotland, however, does inspire a new way of living in relation to ourselves and our neighbours, our culture and our environment. It represents the future. The Tories plan “to rule in perpetuity” because they see themselves as the natural party of government, as political gods, and the UK as the best of all possible worlds, much like heaven. The Tories won’t rule for ever, and the UK isn’t heaven. The choice we face is between the past or the future. In reality the acts of Westminster are limiting our choice. The choice they offer Scotland is not a choice at all: it is a myth. Our real choice here is that we must marry our courage to our future.
©George Gunn 2018
George Gunn’s new play “The Cloud Dwellers”, the story of Olga Ivinskaya, the inspiration for Laura in Boris Pasternak’s famous novel “Doctor Zhivago”, will be given a moved reading at 7.30 pm on Thursday 1st November at The Bungo, Nithsdale Rd, Glasgow.