2007 - 2022

Independence is not a Lifeboat, it’s a Mutiny

Getting told to cheer up isn’t the worst aspect of the social-media-politics vortex by any means, but it’s one of the most soul-sapping.

You ok hun? Well, no, actually. In any sane, healthy, discourse the ability to not be okay shouldn’t simply be allowed, it should be understood as deeply necessary. A long litany of calls to dry your eyes, pull your socks up, and not to mourn, become classic responses to the kind of political shock that we witnessed on election night (and that many of us went through in 2014).

We remain trapped in a culture of British deference and emotional repression – and few tropes are more effective at keeping this in place than the injunction to pack up your troubles. But the kit bag now has a life of its own, animated with centuries of untold, undead, troubles.

For what is “Get Brexit Done” if not the promise to ditch that writhing canvas ball of pain into the sea, to fire it out of a canon into the mid-Atlantic? Having been told that everything is essentially fine for so long, against all the evidence, some feel that one final act of erasure, if bold enough, might just do the trick.

The game of our newly emboldened government is simply to provide enough distraction before those troubles, inevitably, wash back ashore. There is no vision beyond that. As a measure to get and retain power from distraught people, it’s very smart. As a means to solve any of the existential crises we now face, it is catastrophic.

The trauma of Britain’s missing places and people is volatile enough, it seems, to damage a great deal. It invites us to write-off the rich cultural and political achievements of the working class of the north of England, to brand them class traitors, or dupes. Why? Because acknowledging the extent of the inter-generational trauma and forgetting that led to Thursday night’s implosion of Labour’s English heartlands, doesn’t fit with the gut group response of quick positivity.

These habits exist in Scotland too. It’s complacency of the first order to think otherwise. Unlearning British nationalism with its militant drive to “keep calm and carry on” is the great adventure Scotland has set out upon. But the real challenge is to come up with something more generous and honest, to not simply offer up a Scottish variation on the theme that everything is essentially fine in a world on fire.

The task now, as we gear up to witness still greater misery and division inflicted by the British establishment, must be existential in every respect.

Firstly, there is no easy route to move beyond one basic hard truth – in 2014 we handed back sovereignty. The people of Scotland didn’t want or feel able to wear it. The incoming UK government will remind us of this again and again – pressing upon the deep sore truth that there is no inalienable reason for Scotland to be allowed to function as a polity,  especially in a political context in which might is seen to be right. Existing institutions can be robbed of their status, branches of the Scottish establishment can be bought and sold, popular sentiment can be ignored, corralled and manipulated.

In the face of such an onslaught, there can only be the demonstration of what sovereignty might be for. It is not enough to compare the southern psychodrama by proclaiming our own apparent virtue in contrast. The different space that we have the opportunity to shape, that the north of England lacks, is a privilege. And when Brexit combines with the new majoritarian freedom of the UK government to pick apart the distinctive Scottish social settlement, it will no longer be anything like enough to rely on being less cruel, less unequal or to pin our hopes on feeding a less rapacious form of capitalism.

Because the second existential question we must face down is a government that will seek to ride the coming wave of climate chaos with a mix of xenophobia and opportunism, with a nervous eye on the fossil capital that paid for its elevation to office.

Climate change will relegate most comforting political realities – from national borders, to the warm notion of “we the people” – to abject irrelevance. It will undermine transnational agreements that have facilitated some freedom of action for small nation-states.

Nothing is fine, there is no place for calm, there are many to weep for. But unless the forces in Scotland supporting independence start from the premise that we must shape our own response to the great crises of our times, by refusing to cooperate with a destructive system, it will just end up replaying the despair of Blyth Valley a bit further north.

Fundamentally, we can’t offer a couthier version of the status-quo, because a radical government in London is about to spend the next five years smashing it and pitting communities (and the four nations) against each other in a race for the scraps.

The alternatives are there for the taking. We can build a new state at the leading edge of the post-carbon revolution, we can learn to judge the success of a country by the status of those with the least, and we can reject the absurd isolationism of the British twilight with a genuine commitment to internationalism.

There is no lifeboat. Globalisation binds us together on one ship with peoples far beyond this wee island – the vessel cannot be unbuilt without sinking. Our only hope is to assert ourselves, and, in response to orders from above, to make a great deal of noise below decks.  

Comments (29)

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  1. Mark Bevis says:

    “Climate change will relegate most comforting political realities – from national borders, to the warm notion of “we the people” – to abject irrelevance.”

    This should be stamped on the forehead of every political and religious leader world wide with a hot branding iron. Although, it’s not just climate change, but the collapse of complex systems (which is what our ‘civilisation’ is) that will be the deciding factor – climate change is merely a symptom of the predicament we are in.

    1. john burrows says:

      Truth will out as the tide of catastrophe gathers momentum. Unfortunately, electorates will continue to choose self delusion over facing reality. Even when rising waters wash away their homes.

      Joining up dots is not a particular strength of our compatriots in England and Wales these days, if last week can be considered a measure.

      1. Mark Bevis says:

        Yes, indeed, my first response on my town turning Tory for the first time since 1910, was that we now have proof that turkeys do indeed vote for christmas.

    2. Jo says:

      There was a Herald article last week about Greta Thunberg being named person of the year. My response was, “Wow!” The comments under the article weren’t so complimentary. I was shocked by the insults thrown at her. One woman called her a “spoiled brat” who was terrifying children with her predictions of doom. Unbelievable.

      1. Mark Bevis says:

        Aye, Greta has been abused since she pushed the envelope of the Overton Window.
        Notice how that woman’s comment was the same as Trump’s.

        This is a classic example of what the Trumps, Bolsonaros, Borises of the world know. If world leaders behave irresponsibily, eg abuse people in public, openly lie on record, propose genocide, etc, then this will rapidly become normalised. Especially if they do it with a bit of flash, panache or basically bad acting. People like that woman will then feel empowered to copy it and, ultimately, get away with it. “If our world leaders do it, it must be okay” she said, tugging the forlock of unsuspecting class division.

        The neo-liberal shock doctrine in full flow folks. The fact that Greta gets so much abuse clearly shows the global elites know she is right. Which brings me to this article that was flagged up in the doomosphere yesterday:


        Climate deniers at the top political level are actually well aware of the impending collapse of global industrial civilisation. We now know “Exxon Knew”, and all the other petro-chemical industries did, way back in the 1960s of the dangers of climate change. So if they did, so did their funders, the leaders of world governments.

        There was a 2015 Guardian article about, an example of which here:

        where it is stated governments study collapse of global industrial civilisation and they fully expect it to have happened by 2040. If you study your Limits to Growth book, this fits in neatly with the science of the early 1970s. Which basically shows a 90% population collapse within 2 decades. The only question some ask is which decade, but for many people the collapse has already started. Having 1/3rd of UK’s children living in poverty is no coincidence. 14 million people in the UK are living in poverty. Every 2 days 5 disabled people die after having PIP refused.
        These are not ‘accidental outcomes’ of austerity, but in effect hoped-for population reduction targets. If you are the global elites, the last thing you want is competition from starving unemployable masses. The starving employable masses on the other hand, they are still useful. At the moment.

        But, the Tories, or UKIP 2.0 as Tim Watkins calls them, and closet Tories in other parties, for all their bombast, all they are doing is speeding up the collapse. The death rate of the innocent, marginalised, sick, poor (which I am fully aware me include me) and disabled will merely increase in the next parliamentary term, something that was going to happen anyway. A horrible truth maybe, but one we had better get used to. {I tend to follow Jem Bendell’s Deep Adaptation ideas more than I do Extinction Rebellions’ or Greta’s demands.}

        As Tim Watkins well puts it in the last line of this article, we’re merely getting our collapse in early to beat the rush:

        Any response post-2019 election from the progressive left should surely factor in these details. The reality is, the simplest way to reduce CO2 emissions is to eliminate the richest 100,000 people on the planet, that would reduce CO2 emissions by a massive 70%. You wouldn’t even need to kill them, just asset strip them and make them claim Universal Credit. See how long they last then. Of course, human avarice perpetrated by neo-liberalism being what it is, another elite would simply step up to fill the void.

        But even XR and Greta are not telling us all the truths. They are merely citing climate catastrophe. Which is a symptom, not a cause. I still don’t here the O-word and the D-word in the Overton Window.

        1. Jo says:

          Thanks for that response Mark.

  2. Juteman says:

    I disagree that we handed back sovereignty in 2014. I would argue the opposite is true. In 2014 we demonstrated to the world that Scotland is a sovereign nation. In indy ref 1, because we are a sovereign nation, we decided to stay part of the UK.

    1. Alan Bissett says:

      In 2014, as a sovereign nation, we decided not to be a sovereign nation?
      The point about the No vote was that it gave away power. We did not accrue it.

      1. Juteman says:

        No, we chose to stay part of the UK in 2014. Because we are a sovereign country, we can change our mind.

    2. Judith Brennan says:

      And the EU?

  3. MBC says:

    I was thinking the other day that the Tory revival in England in the most unexpected places, might be similar to the Tory revival in Scotland in similar places like Gordon in 2017 when they went from 1 to 13 seats. At the time, though others posited a variety of reasons for this, such as a post-2014 electoral tactical voting pact amongst the unionist parties, and the SNP being caught unawares, or the high number of English-born residents in the NE with the defence establishments and the oil industry, it did cross my mind that there could be other, more pragmatic reasons. Such as, why vote for a party that is always going to be in opposition? Such as the SNP at Westminster. You are only going to get something from the party that is in power. There is not a lot of point of voting for a party that will be in permanent opposition. It may feel good emotionally to make a protest vote, but it will not realistically ever achieve much. How far Boris will deliver on his promises to provide more jam for the poor northern towns remains to be seen. Perhaps this is similar to what farmers and fishermen thought they might get out of a Tory government in the NE and Borders of Scotland when they voted Tory and the NE turned blue.

  4. James Mills says:

    ” Our only hope is to assert ourselves and , in response to orders from above , to make a great deal of noise below decks ” . What does this mean ?

    In view of what you have said earlier in the article it would appear that we are impotent in the options open to us in the face of of a government exercised by ” xenophobia and opportunism ”.
    You say we do not have a lifeboat , but you give no practical alternatives to those of us who DO see a lifeboat in the form of independence ( which will need to be wrested from the grasp of this xenophobic and uncaring government ) .

    What is your road map ? I do not ask this in a pejorative way , only as a genuine request for information .

  5. Daniel Raphael says:

    Outstanding, in every respect. I’m sharing it as widely as possible.

    Bella Caledonia, you are a treasure.

    1. Maxwell macleod says:

      Some great writing here,but again I am exasperated by the use of the term establishment.
      The notion that there is this clique who meet in London clubs to decide the future of the country is absurdly outdated.
      Last week I spoke with a very senior lawyer and a very senior member of the military. Neither had voted Conservative. Both loathed Johnson.One had held his nose and voted liberal, the other ditto and voted SNP,both against Johnson.Its all change.

      1. Mark Bevis says:

        That makes sense, after all, the armed forces and legal services have been gutted by austerity as much as any other public service. When judges were called ‘enemy of the people’ by the MSM, you can understand some of them will be outraged.

      2. Wul says:

        ” I am exasperated by the use of the term establishment…Last week I spoke with a very senior lawyer and a very senior member of the military…”

        Really Max?

        Last week I spoke with a tyre fitter and forestry worker. We are not members of the establishment either. I wonder who they are ?

  6. neal ascherson says:

    Slaves made a great deal of noise below decks. Much good it did them, When the Scottish-owned Fair Parnelia capsized in 1726, leaving 273 chained men , women and children hanging upside-down to drown, there was probably – but briefly – a lot of noise. It didn’t hinder Captain Gillespie rowing off in the lifeboat in the hope of claiming the insurance on his cargo. Christopher Silver’s energetic article carries a headline about ‘mutiny’, which is the effective sequel to noise below decks. But he didn’t go into it at all . What sort of mutiny, what varieties of disobedience, might he be thinking of ?
    Neal Ascherson

  7. Hamish100 says:

    The britnats are preparing fir next years climate gathering in Glasgow. Radio 4 already promoting Johnson as leading the way in tackling clinate change. Really? Hope the city council bans all flags excepting the Saltire of Scotland which leads the way in green policies. Lets have the biggest indepence March to show the world that Scotland cannot be bought by johnson or trump.

    1. Wul says:

      Johnson has already decreed that he does not want Nicola Sturgeon “anywhere near” the 2020 climate meeting in Glasgow.

      If he gets his way, what does that tell us about our “Family of Nations” ?

      1. Wul says:

        In fact, even if he doesn’t get his way. His attitude to Scotland, and the people we have elected to represent us, is abundantly clear.

  8. Wul says:

    I feel that direct confrontation between “Yes” folk and the forces of Law & Order, at strategic UK sites is a losing strategy.

    The miners’ strike, London riots, New Age Travellers’ battles, G8 protests…there is a large section of the public who sympathise with state power rather than the hapless protester getting her nose broken by a police truncheon wielded from horseback.

    The British Govt. are masters at turning protesters into illegitimate enemies of the state.

    1. That’s true it would have to be done well. But for every isolated protest done down by violence or vilification I can show you a NVDA movement that won?

      1. Wul says:

        Yes to non-violence. And yes, there have been successful direct action campaigns. Especially where the “wrong” was brought into plain sight. We need to keep public & international opinion on our side. In essence, we need to change the dominant narrative to majority support for independence.

        Awareness raising is a powerful tool. For example; Consider that since 1975, with broadly similar amounts of oil extraction, Norway’s government has raised twenty five times as much tax money from their oil as the UK. 2,500% more cash! Our governments gave UK oil monies away (to their pals).
        The UK owned 40% of the globe for nearly 200 years. What happened to all that cash, streaming in from every continent on Earth? What were the lives of UK citizens like while all that bounty was being reaped? What public benefit accrued from that bonanza?

        The UK will never be a country run by the people for the people. That’s just not the way it is designed. Our English cousins seem happy for that to continue, and we don’t, so it’s time for us to say “farewell”.

  9. milgram says:

    Bella’s having an exceptionally good week(? fortnight? month?). Lots to think about in this and other stuff published recently.

  10. John Robertson says:

    Wilfully misleading guff. Or just plain incompetence. A knave or a fool. Quite possibly, a good chunk of both. Hey ho.

  11. Mark R says:

    Hi Chris – lots of sensible observations here, but I really wish we could stop using the term ‘climate change’ to describe the environmental issues. For sure, the waste we produce will affect the climate and weather system – that’s already happening. Anyone who read James Lovelock’s work on the Gaia hypothesis in the 1970s will rue the day his warnings were ignored – but the most critical issue is the impact pollution has in the atmosphere and ocean to our own health. The last year has seen increasing reports of deaths from poor air quality in several cities and a realisation that our marine and freshwater environment is deteriorating rapidly from plastics, agri-chem run-offs, Fukushima etc.

    The only two things that are important in life is air and water – without adequate clean supplies of both, all life on this planet ceases to exist. It’s really that simple. Two hundred years ago human population numbered 1 billion. A century later, it had risen to 1.8 billion. Last month it was 7.8 billion. The population growth in the last two centuries also coincided with the industrial revolution and the use of coal, gas then oil to provide fuel and energy. Next time you take a flight, look out the window at cruising altitude – you couldn’t survive outside, there isn’t sufficient O2 and you’d suffocate. We live only 30,000 feet below and in that small blanket, were pumping out huge quantities of toxic and poisonous gas 24/7 whilst clearing the very trees and plants that produce and contribute O2 to the atmosphere. Really smart, huh?

    If there was another species on this planet that had multiplied exponentially over the same period and produced toxic waste that risked all ecosystems to the same extent as humans have – we’d do everything possible to cull or exterminate them completely. In a decade, we will look back at the beginning of this century and despair at our crass stupidity and greed.

    If we are still here.

    Climate change is an abstract notion for most. Pollution is properly a far more frightening prospect.

    Best wishes.

  12. MMT is right says:

    Jonathan Pie nails it


    Only the liberal middle classes that should be in the Lib Dems and not the SNP will not get it. GROUPTHINK is strong with the Borg.

    Hilarious !

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