For a new Singing Revolution for Bairns Not Bombs

Way back in the late 1980s, the Tron Theatre in Glasgow held a mini-festival of theatre from the Baltic states (Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia). It was something like ‘celebrating small northern European states’ and the sub-text wasn’t subtle. But the Scottish hosts met their visitors with complete incomprehension. The theatre bar was decked out with huge red flags with the hammer and sickle. It would be like hosting a Scottish nationalist convention festooned with Union Jacks. The Scottish theatre world – at peak anti-Thatcher fervor – met their confused Baltic counterparts who were celebrating their move to freedom and embracing the market economy. Mutual confusion (and whisky and vodka) followed.

It was the Baltic ‘Singing Revolution’ (a massive campaign of civil resistance against Soviet rule) from the late eighties that led eventually to the dissolution of the Soviet Union. On 23 August 1989, the Baltic Way, a two-million-strong human chain, stretched for 600 km from Tallinn to Vilnius. The Soviet Union recognized the independence of three Baltic states on 6 September 1991 and the last Russian troops were withdrawn in August 1994.

Fast-forward twenty-eight years later and we are watching the capital of Europe’s largest country being shelled by Russia on live television. ‘Glasnost’ and ‘Perestroika’ have been replaced with militarism, imperialism and macho-authoritarian posturing and violence.

The orthodoxy that Putin wouldn’t do this, couldn’t do this, or that he would annex ‘only’ a section of Ukraine (as if that would be fine) is out the window. The rhetoric from only a few short days ago was that the idea that Russia would invade Ukraine was just ridiculous. The very idea was being (somehow) ‘talked up’ by ‘the West’, whose fault all of this was. It was hysteria.

All that’s gone.

So too is the much-parroted line about Putin’s genius – his tactical savvy and cunning.

Now it’s clear that not only are the ‘rules’ of international affairs torn up – but as in so much of life and the contemporary world – we don’t have control over very much at all. Even the idea of the end of the Cold War and MAD which had been one of the few great gains of our lifetime has now disappeared in just a few crazy days. The condition of radical uncertainty that permeates most of our world has just opened up a whole new frontier. Putin’s threat that anyone who interfered with Russia would meet consequences ‘the likes of which we have never seen in world history’ was a clear threat to use nuclear weapons.

And that’s where this comes back to Britain and Scotland. Because one of the great lies about the Union is that it gives Scotland safe-harbor in the world. Britain’s famously broad shoulders and endless economic benevolence is matched by its military might. This, so the argument goes does three things: poor wee Scotland can benefit from defense jobs endlessly making warships for the British navy; we benefit (mysteriously) by Britain’s status on the world stage as permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, and we cradle safely in the knowledge that we host weapons of mass destruction at Faslane and ‘our’ nuclear subs.

Except none of this is true. It wasn’t true a week ago and it’s far less true today.

In 2022 the ships we should be building are low-carbon and zero-carbon ones. The UN is a busted flush that can’t and won’t impose its powers and can’t and won’t control psychotic dictators like Putin. It can’t defend democracy and our presence on the Security Council is a historic relic that does nothing other than expose the reality of our global status. Our nuclear arsenal makes us a target, nothing less.

What is dawning on us all is that Scotland being attached to the British state contributes massively to our insecurity, putting us in danger and distorting the possibility of us getting to a place of true security and true peace.

For the pessimists, the Russian invasion of Ukraine will only bolster the pro-NATO wing of the SNP, give further opportunity to delay action on a referendum, and allow centrist liberal nationalists to cleave to the British state under the cry of ‘exceptional circumstances’ and bogus claims of ‘national unity’ etc etc.

Maybe. But it doesn’t have to be this way and another direction that the Yes movement and wider civil Scotland could take us is quite different.

We can and must start by denouncing NATO and fighting back against that orthodoxy. We should follow that by denouncing Putin and his regime and its authoritarian repressive and revanchist actions. This isn’t a game where you pick a side. Instead, we should be coming to terms with the mortal dangers that being tied to Britain means and rapidly, urgently creating a different worldview, a different concept of ‘defence’, and a Peace Paradigm that unites Scotland with other forces for peace in Europe and around the world.

As Professor Talmadge of MIT has observed we have to completely re-think our ideas about ‘security’ and nuclear weapons: “Putin’s pointed, not-veiled nuclear threats are really remarkable, signaling a willingness to turn to the country’s nuclear arsenal if the West interferes with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This is about the clearest evidence I have ever seen for the Stability-Instability Paradox: the notion that mutual vulnerability (“MAD”) at the strategic nuclear level can actually make conflict more likely at lower rungs of the escalation ladder. Deterrence theorists associated with the Nuclear Revolution often dismiss this idea, arguing that nuclear stalemate means both sides will avoid crises and conflicts out of the fear they could escalate. The result should be peace, stability, and less military competition. Yet Putin’s behavior suggests that revisionist actors are not so inhibited and may instead use their strategic nuclear forces as a shield behind which they can pursue conventional aggression, knowing their nuclear threats may deter outside intervention.”

M.A.D. was always mad but now it’s really mad.

Putin’s unhinged assault on Kiev has exposed some brutal realities of our powerlessness our insecurity and the lack of control we have over our own safety. We are off the map.

It seems that having someone else’s nuclear arsenal on your western coast – being a small nation without control of your own defense policy – but bristling with WMD – doesn’t make you safe and secure. Who’d have thought it?

Creating a new narrative about peace and an independent Scotland can be a unifying project converging Scotland’s deeper phreatic movement of the Left, the forces of progressive Yes, the women’s movement, the radical faith movements, the climate movement, and the entirety being routinely abused disowned and marginalised by the powerful. Because the violence of war is only the largest-scake manifestation of the violence that surrounds us: the violence of poverty, patriarchy, the violence of capital.

We need a new ‘Singing Revolution’ uniting all of these forces. This would mean laying down some of our own mythology about violence in Scottish culture and history, often worn like a motif of quiet pride, as well as completely re-thinking our dependency on the British ‘defense’ industry.

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Comments (28)

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  1. Jacob Bonnari says:

    This is so wrong. There is nothing inherently wrong with alliances and mutual defence support. There comes a time when evil has to be fought. In this case the evil being Putin and his kleptocratic cronies rather than the Russians and the conscripted 19yo he’s sent to Ukraine.

    Try telling Lithuanians, Latvians, and Estonians that NATO isn’t worthwhile. We can see that the populations of Finland and Sweden are now asking whether they should join NATO.

    This morning Germany’s Social Democrats and Greens have announced that they will increase their defence spending massively and support Ukraine’s resistance with firther support.

    While the govts of the USA, UK and European nations have been hypocritical about when and when not to get involved, this is a clear cut case of needing to support a country resist external aggression.

    It is a dangerous moment and the risk of escalation outside of Ukraine has to be managed at all times.

    1. 220227 says:

      But is Putin ‘evil’? Is he not rather a leader who perceives himself to be defending/promoting his own nation’s interests?

      Zbigniew Brzezinski used the phrase ‘Manichaean paranoia’ to characterise the attitudes and foreign policies of the United States and its leaders that simplistically reduce the world to a struggle between ‘good’ and ‘evil’. We need to get beyond that.

      1. Niemand says:

        It matters not what he ‘is’. It is what he he is doing that matters i.e. sanctioning the murder of innocent people and the subjugation of a people. He lies continually, is duplicitous, loves belittling his minions and is totally callous. I would just call him a despicable human of the highest order.

        1. 220228 says:

          Indeed. Much of what he does is ‘wrong’ by our standards even if he does do it for reasons of national interest or realpolitik. The naturalistic appeal to ‘good’ and ‘evil’ and to the man’s character generally is just infantile, however.

          1. Niemand says:

            Well if you think designations such as good and evil have no value in any circumstances then this makes sense. But then there is quite clearly such a thing as a good and bad person as evidenced by their actions and I do not think this infantile. It doesn’t necessarily help understanding but it is a natural human reaction to inhuman acts. And when you have it in a leader it sets the tone for society so in that sense being ‘bad’ really matters.

          2. florian albert says:

            ‘The naturalistic appeal to ‘good’ and ‘evil’ and to man’s character generally is just infantile’

            You encapsulate the moral sterility of postmodernism in a sentence.

          3. 220228 says:

            All human reactions are learned; we respond to actions of which we disapprove by explaining them as the acts of ‘bad’ or ‘evil’ people, not because we’re ‘hardwired’ that way, but because that’s how we’ve been programmed. Such a response distances us as ‘good’ people from those acts, and we learn to distance ourselves as ‘good’ people (the right kind of people) from ‘bad’ or ‘evil’ people (the wrong kind of people) as part of our socialisation; by failing to so distance ourselves, we risk exclusion from the security and protection of our group.

            Perhaps this is the pathology of our moral judgements, of our supposedly ‘natural’ reaction to rogue behaviour, to behaviour that isn’t authorised, normal, or expected: herd instinct; the inborn tendency to associate with others on whose protection we depend and follow that group’s behaviour.

            But, however ‘natural’ it might be, we should still nevertheless abandon the concept of evil because it lacks explanatory power and as such is a scientifically useless concept.

            The concept of evil would have explanatory power if we were able by its means to explain why certain actions were performed or why these actions were performed by certain agents rather than by others. For instance, we might wonder why two ten-year-old boys, Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, tortured and murdered two-year-old James Bulger while other ten-year-old boys with similar genetic characteristics and upbringings do no such harm? The concept of evil is often invoked in these cases to provide the missing explanation.

            But the concept of evil doesn’t actually provide a genuine explanation because to say that an action is ‘evil’ is just to say either that the action resulted from ‘supernatural forces’ (e.g. the influence of the devil or demonic possession) or that the genesis of the action is mysterious. However, to say that an event resulted from supernatural forces doesn’t give a genuine explanation of that event because, by definition, supernatural forces don’t exist in nature. To say that an event is a mystery, on the other hand, doesn’t give a genuine explanation of an event either; rather, it suggests only that the event just can’t be explained.

            The concept of evil can’t explain the performance of actions because it’s an essentially dismissive or ‘infantile’ classification. To say that a person or an action is ‘evil’ is just to say that that person or action defies explanation, that it’s incomprehensible, that it lies beyond the ‘horizons’ of the universe of moral discourse into which one’s been inducted and comprises one’s moral sensibility.

            ‘Putin is evil’ tells us b*gg*r all about the forces that brought about the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It’s just virtue-signalling.

          4. 220301 says:

            ‘You encapsulate the moral sterility of postmodernism in a sentence.’

            Indeed! Postmodernist commentators seek to go beyond ‘good’ and ‘evil’ in their analyses, on the premise that no one is sufficiently without sin to be in a position to cast those stones of judgement.

            Another aphorism that encapsulates the essential inessentialism of postmodernism is that “Everyone’s entitled to their opinion, but it’s only an opinion.”

  2. Alec Lomax says:

    It’s interesting that your criticism of NATO takes precedence over your criticism of Putin. Kiyv is about to be bombed and you’re going to have a wee singalong.

      1. Alec Lomax says:


        1. What seems to be the problem Alex?

  3. SleepingDog says:

    Pretty much, I guess, although I had to look up ‘phreatic’. As in ‘bubbling under’? The Cold War has not gone away (two interesting books on the psychology of its Western protagonists are Daniel Ellsberg’s The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner; and Frances Stonor Saunders’ Who Paid the Piper? The CIA and the Cultural Cold War). And indeed our culture remains drenched in CIA- and Pentagon-approved products (see Matthew Alford’s and Tom Secker’s National Security Cinema: The Shocking New Evidence of Government Control in Hollywood).

    Perhaps the Cold-War-Baby the UN can be reformed, or reborn, like its ill-fated predecessor the League of (Evil) Nations. But it is important to understand that the founding goals of the United Nations were never realised: we still have non-self-governing territories (largely controlled by the UK and USA), and instead of becoming nations, the top members retained their imperial characteristics and goals, which largely applies to the five permanent members, although the British Empire is largely slaved to the USAmerican Empire, Russia has replaced the USSR, and France’s neocolonial role in Africa may be running into ever-stiffer resistance.

    Yes, I didn’t need an MIT professor to tell me that nuclear weapons can be used for aggression even in the face of a nuclear-armed opponent. That we have not annihilated most of the world’s human population and much of non-human life is largely due to flukey good fortune, the intervention of non-annihilationist human cogs in the death machine, and possibly technical malfunctions (which could have gone the other way). There is no use appealing to the ‘working class’ per se, whose representatives defend the death machine they are bonded with.

    Human psychology is both the problem and solution. Our power structures elevate psychopaths, the corrupt and the unfit for office; our imperial education system trains and conditions them; our exploitative/extractive economy rewards them; and our humano-centric legal system protects them; our militarism turns them into mass murderers; our established religions absolve them; and our corporate-state poets write hymns of praise to them. We need to apply our knowledge of human psychology and neuroplasticity to grow towards a life-sustaining political system which takes the lead from the non-human natural world, if we are going to survive. I call such a system biocracy, and is the only radical solution that substantially addresses the points of this article that I am aware of.

    1. Phreatic – yeah – an underground river

  4. Wul says:

    I am so, so sick of living in the fear-shadow of dangerous, idiot men (from all countries of the world) who want more money, more power…more, more more…of everything. I grew up with it, and now my kids have inherited it too.
    We are living on a perfect planet, why are we killing each other and ourselves?

  5. Paddy Farrington says:

    While I completely agree that new thinking on defence is needed, I’m not sure that this is the right time for it. There is just too much uncertainty. Will Putin even survive? Events do not seem to be going his way. He has united a disunited Europe against him; mobilised a united Ukrainian resistance; generated widespread opposition to him within Russia; bolstered the appeal of NATO membership for Russia’s neutral neighbours; and (perhaps more significantly than we might think) is generating some serious doubts on the part of China. Not even to mention the less than lightning progress of his troops on the ground.

    However, some realities will need to be faced, and even in the current fog we can begin to discern their outline. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine undoubtedly reinforces the need for some kind of defensive alliance of neighbouring states: after Ukraine, it’s just not reasonable to expect these countries to choose otherwise. Just as salient, however, is the obvious fact that NATO has utterly failed: its primary purpose after all was to prevent a major war in Europe, risking nuclear escalation.

    So, much new thinking will be required, in due course. But for now, only one thing really matters: unreservedly to get behind the Ukrainian people and the Russian opposition to Putin. Chest beating on our part is the very last thing they need just now. Scotland’s independence movement must be central to this campaign: self-determination and internationalism go hand in hand.

  6. Niemand says:

    ‘This isn’t a game where you pick a side’. Actually, at least in the shorter term, it really is. And it isn’t a game.

    Frankly I do not trust the judgment of those who, as is pointed out here, until a few days ago were condemning NATO as war-mongering, when the truth is they had real intelligence the invasion was going to happen but we have become so cynical, displaying the ‘anti-imperialism of idiots’, as Taras Bilous writing from Kyiv, said on this site yesterday, in thinking they were making it all up,

  7. MBC says:

    So what’s going to protect us if not NATO? Our Celtic charm?

    1. 220228 says:

      Our non-alignedness?

      I suppose it would depend on what international aspirations an independent Scotland would have. Would it want to be a player in power politics and align itself in the competition for resources and accordingly prioritise its own national self-interest over the interests of other nations or the international community?

      1. Niemand says:

        An alternative take is that to be ‘non-aligned’ is to be even more self-interested and unwilling to form collaborative partnerships even when aggressive dictators decide to attack. Ultimate national selfishness in fact, driven by an ‘I’m all right Jack’ attitude normally bolstered these days by ludicrous suspicion of anything dubbed ‘MSM’ to be replaced with real garbage sources instead that are about as reliable and honest as Putin himself.

        It is always worth remembering that one’s individual cynicism is not always matched by the peoples and organisations one is cynical about, yet this is the mistake those who now dismiss anything from the ‘MSM’ make, and now believe NATO is some kind of evil organisation and the root cause of this whole problem. The result? They are less well-informed than ever and worse, have become mentally corrupted seemingly beyond repair.

        1. 220301 says:

          The idea that NATO is some kind of evil organisation is just as infantile as the notion that Putin is some kind of evil man. It exhibits the same ‘Manichaean paranoia’ that Brzezinski detected in US foreign policy.

  8. MBC says:

    Putin has been planning this for a long long time. There are voices in Russia saying that Russia with its vast land mass can survive nuclear war. This is a country where a large meteor landed and nobody even noticed for days. He’s going to do it. He’s going to nuke us. The only hope is that one of his underlings has the guts to assassinate him.

    1. Derek Thomson says:

      No, he’s not.

      1. MBC says:

        I hope you are right! I hope that the economic damage now being inflicted on Putin and the ineffectiveness of his army will cause a slow down or pause in his aggression. But I fear that if he continues to pulverise Ukraine into submission, eventually NATO or the EU will be forced to take military action rather than stand by and let the Ukrainians take the hit and do all the fighting. And if so, he will escalate into a nuclear attack on the West, probably Germany. He will not nuke Ukraine, he is claiming it as his prize. It is us he will nuke, because we stand in the way of his bid for global domination.

        1. 220301 says:

          That’s one powerful crystal ball you’ve got there.

          1. MBC says:

            Clear as day.

            But if only if we take the bait.

  9. Ottomanboi says:

    This is a well thought out alternative perspective, information v propaganda.
    A rather long read.
    Free, informed thought versus mass manipulation.

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