2007 - 2022

British Realism and a Scottish Republic

The Prince Andrew scandal is the perfect time to make the case for a Scottish republic.

The writer Mark Fisher fostered the idea of ‘capitalist realism’, from his book of that title in 2009 he argued that “capitalist realism has successfully installed a ‘business ontology‘ in which it is simply obvious that everything in society, including healthcare and education, should be run as a business”. His idea refers to a perceived “widespread sense that not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system, but also that it is now impossible even to imagine a coherent alternative to it.”

Alongside this idea we can see British Realism, a condition in which the very strange and exceptional state of British structures cultures and institutions are assumed to be not only normal and universal but primary and exceptional. The most fervent British Realists believe Britain to be the very best in the world, and have essentially formed a sort of cult, the existence of which they are completely unaware. This movement is ahistorical and seemingly unaware (often literally) of the rest of the world. The condition can only be sustained by practicing an advanced state of hyper-parochialism and studied avoidance of ideas and examples beyond These Islands.  This ends with a state in which for some British people there is a widespread sense that not only is Britain the only viable political entity to exist in, but also that it is impossible even to imagine a coherent alternative to it.

This can be seen from the way we structure our education to the way we retain power in the hands of a few. Evidence from Upstart shows that the best way to allow our children to flourish is through play-based-learning. International evidence shows that children under the age of seven benefit from an educational approach that supports their all-round physical, emotional, social and cognitive development, rather than pushing them towards early academic achievement.

Upstart explains: “We’re trapped by history and tradition.  In 1870, the English parliament chose an early  school starting age so children’s mothers could provide cheap labour in factories. Scotland followed suit, and ever since we’ve taken it for granted that formal education must start at five. (Only 12% of countries worldwide start children at school so early – and all bar one are ex-members of the British Empire.)”

We’re continuing this practice in the face of overwhelming evidence from around the world, because of British exceptionalism.

The House of Lords now has over 800 unelected peers, at a cost of £1.1m a year based on the average expenses claim, according to the Electoral Reform Society.

British exceptionalism is a debilitating condition.

At its heart tradition and deference act as a stranglehold, a cloying quietism that befuddles people into a pliant cosy nostalgia. Even when these habits structures and institutions are proven failures they are clung on to out of desperation and blind ignorance.

Nowhere is this more true than in the continued allegiance to the monarchy. Now, sensing real crisis, liberal commentators are panicking. Martin Kettle writes: “The latest Ipsos Mori survey on the subject, in November 2021, showed 60% for Britain remaining a monarchy, with 21% favouring a republic and 19% don’t knows. That is still a strong position, but it is a notable decline. It has come, moreover, at a time when the Queen’s own popularity remains undiminished. In a YouGov survey last week, Elizabeth II’s favourability ratings were 84% positive against 11% negative. When the Queen eventually goes, however, things could be very different.”

Well, yeah, and without wanting to be morbid, that can’t be too far away.

But a lot (a lot) has happened between November 2021 and today and would love to see those survey figures updated. I’d also like to see them disaggregated for Scotland.

Kettle is thinking hard about the future. He writes “It is not hard to see what will start to happen after the Queen’s death, and perhaps even before it … The monarchy will find itself sliding into becoming the object of controversy from which Elizabeth has, by and large, insulated it. Its vulnerability will be exposed and tested, not least among younger people.”

“If you want to make that prospect a little spicier, imagine it happening at about the same time that the future unity of the new monarch’s kingdom is itself under challenge. Suppose Northern Ireland is facing a referendum on unification, or Scotland a vote on whether to go independent. Neither is at all unthinkable within the next decade.”

Imagine.

But if there’s an open door for real change here and an abandonment of the suffocation of British Realism, it’s a door that needs a good shove.

As the Yes Movement is attempting a re-launch it should do the right thing and put a Scottish Republic at the heart of its vision. We need to completely revise the case for independence and ditching the British monarchy must be a key element of a completely overhauled outlook. This could be at centre of a contemporary constitution worthy of the 21 C and future focused for the times ahead.

It would likely be unpopular with a small fragment of the population already unlikely to be persuadable and enrage a portion of lumpen loyalists.

But more importantly it would galvanise an idea of this being a democracy movement as much and far more than a nationalist one. Tactically too introducing completely new ideas disorients the opposition who are frothing at the mouth in panic at the state of British politics.

Let’s change the ground, change the debate. Posit a contemporary modernising Scotland with an archaic broken Britain. Let Barons Foulkes and McConnell and Baroness Lundin Links argue against it all they like.

We can either be British subject or Scottish citizens, it’s time to decide.

The argument for a long time has been that the sweet spot is to make sure that the case for Scottish independence must not be too radical so it puts people off supporting it. This was always completely wrong but it’s more obviously wrong as you see the British state slide into further disgrace and dysfunctionality. For the case for Yes to be compelling it must offer the prospect of real change.

 

Comments (22)

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  1. Tom Ultuous says:

    I’d look again at that “£1.1m a year” figure Mike. Do you mean each? That would be too much. Do you mean 1.1 billion overall? That would be too little.

    I’m all for a republic but think it would best be left till post-independence. Not sure it would be a vote winner up here although it would desireably increase the clamour of English wanting rid of us “parasites”.

    1. Bill says:

      I know the history of who wrote Scotland’s Declaration of Arbroath, all of that notwithstanding it did state that should the King not act in Scotland’s benefit then he would be deposed and an alternative found. I am sure that when Betty Windsor goes, King Charles 111 will carry a lot less support than his mother. So a republic could and should be on the cards. Now is the time to start preparing for same. What can Barbados do that we cannot?

      Bill

      1. Tom Ultuous says:

        I agree with you but, as others have said below, why give the right-wing press another smokescreen before the referendum.

        PS According to the SNP the House of Lords cost the taxpayers 15 million a year. I don’t know if Mike’s figure referred to Scotland’s contribution to that.

      2. Bill says:

        Further to the post on the Declaration of Arbroath, I have a vague recollection of what was said when a previous dynasty ended. “it cam wi a lass and it will gang wi a lass’ Given that Victoria was the first of the Saxe-Coburg -Gotha/Windsors, who knows maybe Betty will be the last of same

        Bill

  2. Axel P Kulit says:

    If the monarchy were to go, rather than being replaced by a figurehead monarchy as in the Netherlands, what would replace it?

    What are the pros and cons of a republic and what alternatives are there to a republic? What are the pros and cons of each?

    I am thinking of the USA and Trump, Italy and Berlusconi and Putin and Russia. The Roman republic morphed into an empire very fast.

    1. Voline says:

      In many republics the office of head of the executive is separate from the head of state, which has a mostly ceremonial role. Germany has a President and a Chancellor. Ireland has the excellent Michael D Higgins as Uachtarán (President) while Micheál Martin is the Taoiseach (Prime Minister).

    2. 220220 says:

      Aye, that’s the nub of the matter:

      1. Would the head of state be a hereditary office or an elected office after independence?
      2. What would the relationship be between the head of state (currently the Queen) and the head of government (currently the First Minister)?

      The people of Scotland have a right to know how the government of their public affairs (‘res publica’) – i.e. their state or republic – will be organised as soon as it becomes independent of the UK government. They have a right to know how all this stuff that’s going to be decided after the independence of the Scottish government has been won is going to be decided.

      What they should be demanding of the Scottish government as a condition of voting ‘Yes’ to independence is at the very least a programme of government for the first 100 days. This programme should outline just how the processes by which those decisions are going to be made will themselves be decided and by whom. Basically, as part of any ‘white paper’ on independence, the Scottish government should at the very least outline the decision-making processes by which the new Scottish republic is going to be formed immediately post-independence. For example; is a constitutional convention going to be established to decide how the republic is going to be constituted, whether it’s going to be (say) a unitary, federal, or confederal state? If so, is this convention going to be appointed from among the establishment by the Scottish government, or is it going to rather be selected from among the population generally by some process of election or sortition?

      If independence is going to be more than just a narrow nationalist project – if it’s going to be instead a wider project towards greater democracy – then the process by which we define ‘an independent Scotland’ has to be democratically controlled from the outset and not just entrusted to politicians and the ideological and material interests they represent. It has to be more than just a spectacle in which, having spent our vote, we find ourselves again cast (as usual) as a passive audience watching a company of actors strut their stuff across a political stage.

      We need some prior commitment from the Scottish government that independence won’t just be the same old political spectacle draped in a saltire, that its first act as an independent government will be to surrender real sovereignty back to the Scottish people.

    3. Tom Parkhill says:

      I imagine no-one would seriously suggest that an independent Scotland adopts either a US or a Russian model (or French, for that matter), but instead having an elected head of state using models similar to those of e.g. Germany, Austria, Ireland or Italy. Wikipedia tells us that 3/4 of the world’s states are Republics in some form – we are not stuck for choice.

      A couple of points to consider in your message. Silvio Berlusconi has never been President of Italy (he has been Prime Minister, so the comparison would be with Boris Johnson). He was briefly in the running in the recent Presidential election, but that was quickly discounted.

      As I understand it, the Roman Republic lasted from the founding of the city in 509 BC until around 29BC – a period of nearly 500 years. Not a fast morph into an empire. And having a republic eventually become a monarchy does not seem a good reason to resist change from a monarchy now. As Keynes said “in the long run, we are all dead”.

  3. James Mills says:

    I’m all for a Republic in an Independent Scotland ( and in the UK ! ) but throwing another debatable argument into the debate before a vote is , in my view , too risky .
    I agree that there already exists a pro-union , pro-monarchy minority who would be completely opposed to Independence , but there probably exists ( I have no figures -does anyone ? ) a minority who , due to the constant propaganda that surrounds the Royals , have become comfortable with the idea of monarchy , despite the ubiquitous scandals over many years . The idea of ditching this welfare dependent dysfunctional family business may be a step too far for those who are dithering on the edge of voting ‘Yes ‘ .
    Like many issues ( EU , NATO , etc … ) these may best left to the Scottish people to vote on AFTER Independence is secured .

    I know that some feel that ALL of these issues should be debated before the vote . But are we not in danger of providing too many distractions ? The unionists will jump on any and every opportunity to split the Yes vote .

  4. 220220 says:

    A ‘companion volume’ to Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism is Mike Watson’s The Memeing of Mark Fisher: How the Frankfurt School Foresaw Capitalist Realism and What to Do About It.

    Echoing both Fredric Jameson and Slavoj Žižek, Watson argues that 2020 and 2021 were years that ‘didn’t take place’ in a psychological sense, years in which our society itself suffered a clinical depression brought on by the stresses of the pandemic, climate emergency, and transition to a digital economy, and fueled by social media and the meme.

    Against this background, Watson revisits the main critical theorists of the Frankfurt School (Adorno, Horkheimer, Fromm, Marcuse, and Habermas), whose work came to fruition in the third quarter of the 20th century, during capitalism’s evolution to a post-industrial society and the emergence of the culture industry. In examining the praxis of the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory, and by drawing parallels with Fisher’s critique of post-industrial capitalism, Watson aims to make the Frankfurt School’s theoretical toolbox available for the ongoing deconstruction/evolution of capitalism in the 21st century.

    Watson argues with both Fisher and Habermas in particular that the dichotomy between culture and political praxis is a false one; political praxis is itself a cultural phenomenon and, as such, an expression of the material conditions that shape our consciousness of the world and of ourselves. There is no ‘Archimedean point’ outside of capitalism from which we can dislodge this hegemony it exercises over our reality. Hence, as Fisher quotes both Fredric Jameson and Slavoj Žižek as observing: ‘it is easier to imagine an end to the world than an end to capitalism’; the world as we know it and everything in it, including our utopian hopes for a ‘better’ world, is itself a creature of capitalism.

    In contrast to a utopian activism that merely replicates the cultural products of capitalism, Watson and Fisher follow the Frankfurt School and its successors in offering a praxis of ‘immanent critique’, whereby activists draw out and amplify in their own work the deconstructive tendencies inherent in our consciousness of the world and of ourselves; that is, the contradictions that are ‘immanent’ in capitalism’s own current expression as manifest in our own current life-experience or consciousness, whether as artists, politicians, students, tinkers, tailors, beggars, or thieves.

    Finally, Watson sees the praxis of immanent critique flourishing as more and more people have access to the means for theoretical and cultural broadcasting. The whole ‘post-truth’ phenomenon of social media, which fuels late capitalist society’s depression, can also be construed as a real-life cultural and political movement that resists and dislodges from within the hegemony that capitalism exercises over our reality.

    Depression is good. It is the chaos we need within ourselves to give birth to a dancing star.

  5. Robbie says:

    Completely agree wth you Mike,time the SNP took this approach and laid it out fully to the Scottish people just what’s needed for Scotland’s future .Time to take it into our own hands and Stop being talked down to by a bunch of ar*****s, the people in northern England obviously feel the same way ,second hand “subjects” Citizens and treated like crap , 2022 and waiting for the next King to Rule , some shit eh, Do away with monarchy what becomes of the House of Lords ,sorry “Gangsters” clear all this rubbish out of the way and things will become more clearer to the people on both sides of the border. The left hand might know what the right is doing then.

  6. Utterheb says:

    While there is considerable merit in having a degree of focus on how we would want to function as a nation when independance comes, the old trappings of empire and institution still have considerable sway with a considerable portion of Scots.
    However, no matter how indefensible the cartload of odious historical baggage – social and economic – that is currently attached to Scotland, to begin work at this stage in dismantling these burdens would be to foment considerable angst in some quarters and to dilute attention from focussing on the main prize.

    Put simply… young bull and old bull are walking down the road, young bull looks up and says to the old bull ” hey, there’s a field full of cows over there, lets run down the road and f*** a few of them”.
    “Nah ” says the old bull, “lets walk down and “f***” them all!”

  7. SleepingDog says:

    Would the Queen be so popular if her activities and expressed views were more widely known? Perhaps the Queen’s popularity depends on draconian British secrecy and an immense generations-long propaganda campaign spearheaded by institutions like the BBC? After all, who gave all those anti-democratic extremist orders to crush democracy round the world, and keep the flame of British imperial world domination alive? In fact the Queen is an imperial overlord whose crimes are not just a mirror to other similar monarchs (like Hirohito of Japan) but far more extensive. This is how the British Empire can maintain multiple covert wars and hostile clandestine operatios around the world in any given year, bypassing Parliament. Meanwhile the documentation for these orders are all locked in sealed vaults never to be released in the next century.

    Some kind of unexplained wealth order might reasonably be served upon the British Royal Organized Crime Family, and their riches should be stripped from them to pay reparations for slavery and colonial crimes #RoyalReparations

    But there are important points about what a Scottish Republic should be, what would take the place of the monarchy and its vast pyramid of shadowy support. A codified constitution is an import limit on democracy, and it is essential to grasp the advantages of this point, not just to preserve the rights of human minorities, but in the opportunity to grant a political voice to the non-human world (which I have written about before), in a kind of Constitution for Survival. So in terms of realism, we need planetary-realistic ideologies that will forge a planetary-realistic Constitution for an independent Scotland. This will entail giving majority voting rights to non-humans: the lifeforms and ecosystems which are all affected (typically negatively) by human activity. Putting royals in charge has left Britain as one of the most nature-depleted lands on the planet, but replacing them with more humans is not the answer, I believe.

    It is not a new idea to grant environmental rights in a human political Constitution, which have been used to shape legislation and policy with real effects on the ground. Movements to establish ecocide as a paramount international crime may be persuading old and young alike.

    So, my suggestion is that when we cast aside the anti-democratic Royalism, when we look at writing a new Scottish constitution, we frame our new state as a biocracy, and take our place not only amongst a human family of nations, but side-by-side with the greater family of all life on Earth.

    1. 220220 says:

      ‘…when we look at writing a new Scottish constitution…’

      Neither of us will get anywhere near the writing of a new Scottish constitution. That’s not how independence will work. It will be drafted by a constitutional convention comprising the great and the good. The Scottish government is offering no guarantee that it will be done otherwise, and that’s not good enough.

  8. Chris Ballance says:

    Following from your first para, it frequently annoys me that our school will teach my children Business Studies – SQA even offers Highers in it – but there’s no suggestions that Public Service could be a subject worth studying.
    And yet, there’s masses of modules relative to good public service that could be on the curriculum. Business Studies is (mainly) Get your market and your price right and away you go.

    1. Bill says:

      The Open University, as part of their MBA used to offer a Public Service Module that carried the same points as all other modules. Whether or not it still offers that module I do not know, but I was very happy to take it as part of my MBA. You are correct, much more needs to be done in education regarding the Public Sector.

      Bill

  9. Jim says:

    As a supporter of independence I’m with Mike on this. What’s the point of voting for more of the same under a different flag? Let’s take the opportunity to create a new Scotland, a Scottish Republic. Maybe we can have a president who we can elect and replace rather than an unelected group who ‘rule’ us by accident of birth. We need change, real change.

  10. Gavin says:

    I am a republican. If it been a “small”, cycling monarchy, living in a modest castle, then we could just have ignored them.
    But before a referendum is the absolute wrong time for this debate.
    Leave it till later.
    Answer any questions with, “the Scottish people will decide”.

    1. Wul says:

      “…cycling monarcy…”:

      I’m picturing the Queen and Charlie cycling down to the Spar in Braemar to buy a Telegraph, bottle of milk and some morning rolls. Put the messages in the panniers and ride back home. Maybe stopping to pick a few brambles en route…

      I don’t thinks that’s what you meant though.

      1. 220223 says:

        Aren’t the pair of them a bit too auld to be bowling about on bikes? And I imagine the Queen might be mobbed and torn apart by countless thousands of relic-hunting adorants were she to try and use her bus pass.

        Bicycling monarchies, like those of Denmark and the Netherlands, where members of the royal family are frequently seen cycling about their daily business in Copenhagen and Amsterdam, though less intensely venerated, enjoy much greater approval ratings than the more aloof British monarchy – up to 92% in Denmark – despite their retention of full royal prerogative powers and their extreme personal wealth. King Olav V of Norway, who was named ‘Norwegian of the Century’ in a 2005 Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation poll, used to take public transport when he went skiing back in the 1970s. When he was asked why he didn’t take any bodyguards with him, he replied, referring to the Norwegian people, “I’m constantly surrounded by four million bodyguards.”

  11. BonnieRichard says:

    The first thing an Independent Scotland should do it is to call for general election for a Constitutional Assembly. The so elected Assembly would then draft a written Constitution and address the Republic/Monarchy issue. The results of the Assembly submitted to the people with a referendum.

    Personally, I believe Scotland would fare better as a Republic (and seize all the land from the Crown…).

    R.

    1. 220223 says:

      Exactly! The Scottish government’s quest to become independent of the UK government would be more worthy of support if it guaranteed that it would disempower itself in just that way. But it hasn’t so guaranteed, so f*ck it!

      Of course, there’s nothing to stop private citizens from crowdsourcing a constitution, as happened as part of the Búsáhaldabyltingin in the deconstruction of the Icelandic state in the financial crash of 2008.

      In 2009, private individuals organised a National Assembly of 1500 people – 1200 chosen at random from the national registry and 300 chosen as representatives of companies, institutions, and other groups – to discuss the core values on which Icelandic governance should proceed. This was followed in November 2010 by a government-organised assembly of 950 randomly selected citizens, which drafted a constitution based on those core values. The draft constitution produced by this citizens’ assembly was approved by a national referendum in 2012; however, this constitution is yet to be implemented by the Icelandic government.

      But, as Thorvaldur Gylfason wrote in, ‘Democracy on Ice’: ‘As always, however, there will be a new parliament after this one. One day, most probably, the constitutional bill approved by the people of Iceland in the 2012 referendum or a similar one will become the law of the land’.

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