Consensus and the Weapons of Mass Distraction

Scotland’s commentariat have decided: independence is over.

It’s because of the war, and also because we’re too poor.

Sorry about that.

Across The Times, the Press and Journal, the New Statesman (and I’m sure I’ve missed some): the consensus is the same.

It’s a circular argument.

The New Statesman editorial ‘The Scottish Question’ quotes Rory Scothorne (of this parish): “It is for these reasons, as Rory Scothorne has written that Scottish nationalism is “simultaneously safe and stuck; unlike Ukraine or Ireland, Scotland isn’t so much a cause as a complaint”.

Rory in turn quotes the editorial: “After several years of bubbling and spluttering, is the great broth of Scottish independence being taken off the boil? That, at least, is the tentative conclusion of the most recent New Statesman leader” – and the great Andrew Marr – explains that increasingly everything: “looks bad for the anti-Trident, left-of-centre Scottish nationalists. The war and Putin’s nuclear threats have made Nato more popular right across Europe – and British nuclear weapons more relevant to much middle-ground opinion of the kind the SNP needs to convert to nationalism.”

Are you following the logic?

Let’s break it down:

  1. Being left of centre and not pro-WMD is bad because the SNP needs to win-over something called ‘middle-ground opinion’. 
  2. Being pro-Trident – which includes submarines with eight missiles on board, each carrying up to five nuclear bombs – and each of these being eight times as destructive as the bomb which flattened Hiroshima in 1945, killing over 140,000 civilians – being in favour of this is called “middle-ground opinion.”
  3. The war in Ukraine in which the one thing we absolutely must not and must never use (Trident) is paraded as an essential part of the Union dividend. Got it? The fact that it is both morally and tactically useless must never be discussed.
  4. The fact that Ukraine is fundamentally about defending sovereignty is a lesson you must never draw from this conflict.

The elder statesmen of Scottish columns all circle back on each other. Kenny Farquharson also quotes Andrew Marr (‘SNP needs the guts to keep nuclear option‘): “Andrew Marr, writing in the New Statesman last month, said the lack of a credible alternative to the Clyde means that “a Scottish independence vote next year would therefore also be a vote immediately to strip the UK of its nuclear deterrent”.

If the rUK really wanted to keep its WMD it could. I mean if it can put its immigrants in Rwanda it can put its nuclear missiles in Plymouth, right?

Farquharson and Marr’s argument is that Ukraine has changed everything, so nothing must change.

Kenny Farquharson explains: “Tactically there is a political case for an SNP shift on Trident. But the challenge represented by Putin demands more than political calculation. It requires a long view of history. It requires a clear-eyed understanding of a changing Europe, and Scotland’s place within it.”

Ah, ‘changing Europe, and Scotland’s ‘place within it’. To write this as the debacle of Brexit is still washing over the Scottish economy is to invite ridicule.

When It Comes to the Crunch

What’s interesting about the nuclear gang is the sort of moral void of their arguments. The morality of hosting and threatening nuclear weapons is simply never discussed. As Marr does notice the SNP’s position is unequivocal. Their website states:

“The SNP has never and will never support the retention or renewal of Trident. We believe that nuclear weapons are immoral, ineffective and expensive.”

This is undoubtedly true, as is the reality that hosting Trident on the Clyde puts a target on our back. Rather than making us safe it imperils us.

Over at The New Statesman (which used to be a magazine of the left) Chris Deerin joins the fray declaring that “The Nats are fanatically anti-Trident” and “in the middle of the Ukraine war, the SNP’s foreign policy seems lightweight and tokenistic” (don’t tell him we’re not an independent country! – Ed).

Reaching a crescendo Deerin concludes: “When it comes to the crunch, to falling bombs and councils of war and crisis calls to the White House, most Scots continue to look to Westminster for leadership. There is a sense of safety in numbers and well-worn historical channels, perhaps even a British lineage of warfare and a reliably principled, united stand against totalitarianism.”

I mean sure I’ve never felt more like looking to Westminster for leadership than I have these past few months.

Deerin Farquharson and Marr have a cosy consensus, but Rory Scothorne has a fresh approach.

In a unique intervention Scothorne proposes a new solution to Scotland’s dilemma.  “Stalling Scottish independence would strengthen the cause” he explains. With some bewildering logic he argues that:

“Independence” … “doesn’t necessarily mean we should leave the United Kingdom.”

The problem for Scothorne is about confidence: “The flaw in the current case for independence is that while Scotland’s crumbling industrial base cannot be revived by Holyrood, a post-independence state – presuming a fairly narrow win for “Yes” – would be unlikely to have the self-confidence and unity, not to mention financial security, to intervene at the scale required.”

The answer he proposes is: “The alternative to the SNP’s circular independence pitch is to use Scotland’s constitutional precarity to demand massive, state-driven industrial support from an incoming Labour government at Westminster. If independence is shifting to the back-burner, a change of government down south becomes at least an equally auspicious avenue for political change.”

Yes the way to get independence is through massive subsidy from the British state. Why are we poor and in need of subsidy? We just are. Why is England wealthy? It just is.

“I don’t really see what more needs to be explained. The south has the money, Labour wants our votes, we exchange one for the other” he explained.

Bargain Brand Britain

Meanwhile a minister from the government you didn’t elect is suggesting that people who chose value brands could “actually contain and manage their household budget” (Cost of living crisis: George Eustice tells people to buy supermarket own-brand products).

There are reports from energy poverty groups of people burning their floorboards to keep warm, and yet here we are, the answer from our Unionist commentariat is to imagine future Labour benevolence to the Impoverished North – or to be grateful for the security offered by weapons of mass destruction (at a cost of £205 billion)

It’s a bleak picture in which Scotland is painted as an innately almost naturally impoverished place in need of eternal handouts from its wealthy neighbour. Our responsibility is only to be host for nuclear weapons.

Aside from this deeply strange view of the world – projected out to us as if it was all entirely reasonable and rational – it is suggested that the SNP are wild outliers on the brink of being expelled from office and going against the grain of decent ‘middle-ground opinion’. This notion is repeated on their pages as if it was more of an incantation than an op-ed. Surely if it is repeated often enough it will manifest itself?

Yet as the election results will no doubt attest, this is not the nation we live in. In 2016, 58 of Scotland’s 59 MPs voted against the decision to renew the Trident nuclear weapons system. A Survation poll found that 56% of people in Scotland oppose the renewal of Trident.

Nuclear weapons are a moral obscenity and a relic from the Cold War. The UK government signed up to the international treaty on non-proliferation – which it then trampled over in its by now – customary fashion. But the consensus of a handful of men does not reflect public opinion in Scotland and the war in Ukraine does not validate their desperate need to remain tied to this Union.

As George Monbiot writes describing the ‘social vivisection’ we’re experiencing: “Despite the pandemic, during which accommodation for rough sleepers magically materialised as soon as they were deemed a “health risk”, the number of people living on the streets is estimated to be 38% higher today than it was in 2010. A tiny fraction of the social housing we need is being built. The cruel benefits cap and bedroom tax have made piddling savings while inflicting enormous pain. The Malthusian two-child benefits limit imposed in 2017 delivers child poverty and nothing else. The number of food parcels supplied by the Trussell Trust has risen from 41,000 a year before the Conservatives took office to more than 2m today. Almost one in 10 parents expects to have to use a food bank this summer. Disgracefully but unsurprisingly, life expectancy in the most deprived areas has been falling since 2011. If you want a single indicator of government performance, this is it.”

This is the reality of Britain today after twelve years of Tory rule. It is a grim and indefensible reality. It’s a ground that these gatekeepers and editors don’t want to fight on because they know it’s untenable, so instead we get, in desperate and circular repetition, a plea for more and more bombs. There is something pitiful about clinging to grotesque weaponry at a time of war as your unlikely defence of a Union that is in danger on many fronts.

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Comments (12)

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  1. Cathie Lloyd says:

    Its likely that CND will be reinvigorated if the news about new US nuclear weapons coming to Lakenheath are true. I’ve already had solidaristic messages from an American friend I met at the first Greenham Common demo back in the day. They cant be allowed to bring them back!

  2. BSA says:

    Another fine piece, but who reads Marr and company anyway.

    1. I suppose I’m arguing about how absurd their arguments are – and how that power is held by such a tiny unrepresentative group of men. But sure the NS probably doesnt have a huge readership, I dont know the figures to be fair

      1. BSA says:

        I have read NS off and on for most of my life but my respect for it (and the Guardian) has largely disappeared over the last ten years with its Scottish coverage which is not really about Scotland at all.

  3. Julian Smith says:

    We read the NS and very much appreciate this article, which is very much in line with our own reactions. Thank you, Mike.

    1. Lots of it is good – but the Scottish coverage is poor – with the exception often of Rory to be fair

  4. Chris Connolly says:

    Not sure it’s possible to be “fanatically” opposed to Trident. Opposition to WMDs seems like a an entirely sensible opinion to me. In fact, I’ve never yet come across an argument in favour of them that isn’t irrational.

    Just to remind everybody: there is no British nuclear deterrent. The Trident system won’t work without American technology, and there’s no evidence that it’s a deterrent against anything. The only thing it successfully deters is vast amounts of money actually being spent on something socially useful. I’m sure everybody can think of better uses for all the £billions without me needing to suggest examples.

  5. Gavinochiltree says:

    An excellent article about our “Uncle Tam” syndrome, which manifests itself whenever the Brit Nats get desperate.
    Isn’t Scottish Labour opposed to Trident?

  6. Wul says:

    These diddies have no idea what Scotland is like. Utterly clueless. Who are their audience? People in need of comfort?

    “…The south has the money…” It certainly has mine. I’ve been sending it there, from Glasgow, for 40 odd years.

  7. john burrows says:

    They are just relics of a past that finds comfort in dreaming of armageddon. There arguments are no more rational than Hammonds alien invasion gibberish. There is nothing noble about housing nuclear weapons.

    Their vision of the future is non existant. The idea that the modern Labor Party is a white knight that will ride to our rescue is risible. A party terrified of its own roots. Driven by fear of offending their old red wall voters they offer nothing remotely aspirational.

    Starmers mantra of “Make Brexit Work” is beyond absurd. Given its roots in xenophobia, it is an impossible task.

    The only growth industry in Britain today is in bureaucracy – fifty thousand new customs agents to start with. These will be the only opportunities available for the foreseeable future, and just in time to be filled by the next cohort of woeful Oxbridge cretins.

    They are only talking to each other and the fools pulling the wool over their own eyes. All willing dupes to a ruling class that has no morals and is too busy selling the family jewels at bargain basement prices to anyone with a “Golden Visa” or wanting to get in on the action of fleecing the natives nine ways from Sunday.

  8. Paddy Farrington says:

    Very interesting piece. Andrew Marr seems to make a habit of pronouncing on topics he seems to knows little about. More surprising is Rory Scothorne’s latest proposal, which strikes me as unworkable, undesirable, and beside the point. Unworkable, because Labour voters in England could not be expected to support the kind of special treatment for Scotland that he is calling for. Undesirable, because massive industrial state subsidies probably would not work in this age, and would in any case further entrench Scotland’s economic dependence. And beside the point, because Scothorne, like Marr, fails to address the key issue: that the people of Scotland are now making profoundly different political choices from those made by people in England, and that such differences cannot be accommodated within the Union.

    I find myself wondering: is Scothorne’s proposal an early preview of what Gordon Brown might come up with?

    1. Graeme Purves says:

      Some 17 months ago I was assured by an ‘estimable’ scholar of Scottish politics that Labour’s keenest minds had been hard at work on Gordon Brown’s plans for comprehensive constitutional reform and that they were almost at the point of being what politicians like to call ‘oven ready’. Perhaps that wasn’t true?

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