High Noon

This week Kenny Farquharson had a scoop of an interview with Stephen Noon, the former mastermind of the Yes campaign in 2014 (‘Yes Scotland mastermind Stephen Noon calls for Nicola Sturgeon to compromise’) reflecting on his views and in which he urged Nicola Sturgeon to “compromise on independence and work towards a more powerful Scotland within the UK.”

It’s worth considering and looking at. The former adviser had stepped back from politics, trained as a Jesuit priest, before turning to academia and starting a role at Edinburgh university. He emphasises a more gradualist inclusive approach for the independence movement, and has insight and regrets into the binary nature of the debate. He describes a sort of epiphany in which he realises the view of the political experience from the view of the ‘other’ side:

“I was living with these lovely Jesuits in Canada, these lovely men who were really, really sweet and kind and caring,” he recalls. “And as soon as you mention Quebec they turned and they became really kind of angry. It was almost quite visceral. And what that did for me — probably for the first time — was make me understand the other side of the experience. Maybe ‘wound’ is a slightly excessive word, but it had left a mark on them.”

He has studied the work of Bernard Lonergan, a Canadian Jesuit philosopher, which has made him rethink some of his political assumptions:

“His belief is that difference exists, but we’ve got a choice about whether difference leads to division or difference leads to dynamism. You can have the creative tension of difference or you can have the disruptive tension of difference.”

He comes across as a decent, intelligent, thoughtful man and some of his conclusions are undeniable, ie that to see the world in purely binary terms without considering the other sides views leads to being blind-sided and paralysed into a silo. The phrase ‘dead-certainty’ springs to mind.

He writes in his blog (not the Times article): “At the heart of Lonergan’s thinking is the idea that new questions lead to new insights which, in turn, can bring us to a higher viewpoint. A political process that sees difference necessarily as division, with a them/us, either/or mindset that has the negation of the other (winner takes all) as the primary goal, is less likely to generate the necessary questions and insights to open up new and broader horizons. The politics of either/or is, on this argument, more likely to be the politics of decline. It is also a politics that runs counter to the supposed founding principles of the Scottish Parliament – a parliament that was meant to break from the binary, confrontational approach of Westminster. Doing difference differently was meant to be part of the Scottish Parliament’s DNA.”

This was catnip to Times columnist Kenny Farquharson, who, along with many in the Unionist camp, see the whole debate as endlessly and unnecessarily divisive and painful and emphasises the toxic and negative experience of the 2014 campaign and the ongoing public debate.

Let’s unpack this a bit, because it’s important.

First let’s acknowledge that for some people their experience of the independence campaign and debate has been and was negative and difficult and at times abusive. I acknowledge this. It’s a simple reality. While for most of the Yes movement the whole phenomenon was an inspiring moment of almost life-changing positivity, the first awakening and excitement of what seemed like a new politics, a new democracy, for others, on the ‘other’ side it was dreadful.

That that traffic – that toxic experience was not one way – that those of us on the Yes side also experienced toxicity and abuse is also obvious and clear. Bella and others have worked to offer a corrective to this and create a voluntary code of conduct for a future campaign to respond to this. But this isn’t a ‘he said/she said’ case of whitabboutery.

Noon emphasises compromise, gradualism and consensus-building:

“Compromise is key, he says. “In life you sometimes get 90 per cent of what you want and that’s good enough. And so for the independence movement, if we can get 90 per cent of what we want, and in a way which gives the No side also a good chunk of what they want, is that not worth exploring? The more we can do this through a process of agreement and consensus, the better the end result will be.”

He suggests resurrecting a form of the Constitutional Convention that brought about devolution. The Times reports:

“Noon would like to see a cross-party constitutional convention such as the one that drew up the devolution blueprint in the 1990s. This would consider the case for independence and the case for reform of the UK. It would agree a legal path to an independence referendum that acknowledged a role for Westminster. And it would seek a consensus that could command moral authority, just as devolution did in the 1990s.”

The problem with this is that the political situation is very different from what this describes, and the lack of awareness of this is stark.

I am (very) aware of the poisoned well of public discourse and have a lot of empathy with the desire for healing that wound and building a better way of talking. But there’s something strange going on here.

Real difference and conflict exists in the world. There is conflict of interest between states and between groups within society and power relationships and we can’t just wish them away in some kind of strange liberal zeitgeist.

The Scotland from which the Constitutional Convention emerged doesn’t exist anymore. The residual respect and grounding that the Labour and Liberal parties had has been tainted by the experience of 2014, and when people talk of compromise and consensus they need to confront the reality that these things were already promised and then failed. The talk immediately preceding the vote in 2014 was of a hugely strengthened devolved settlement, the truth is that devolution has been undermined and is under open attack. These are facts not opinion, and supporters of Noon’s position need to respond to them. Good faith and trust are in short supply and there are good reasons for that.

The real politik is also that such a convention could ‘consider the case for independence and the case for reform of the UK. It would agree a legal path to an independence referendum that acknowledged a role for Westminster’ – but Westminster could still just say No.

But there are other questions about the ‘hurt’ that the No campaign feels and expresses.

The narrative that many on the unionist side nurture is that their identity is British and that they feel threatened by that changing at all. Struggling to find a coherent positive case for the union the debate is often thereby reduced to ‘hurt feelings’ or talk of ‘divisiveness’. Somehow, for some people Britain and ‘Britishness’ is the most important thing in the world. It’s inconceivable for them to imagine the world without this status.

The hurt on the Yes side waking up after defeat was the realisation that you live in a country where the majority of people don’t want to be in control of their own affairs. Dependence won.

So what we are going through right now – what we are living through is the direct result of an imbalance of power – between the British state and the Scottish parliament and people – and between the energy giants and the consumer. What we are being asked to do is respect peoples feelings whilst experiencing the dramatic and disastrous consequences of putting up with the status quo.

If those who want to pursue these arguments want to be taken seriously, it needs to be more than a bromide.

But let’s remain open, and open to compromise. Noon writes: “At the heart of Lonergan’s thinking is the idea that new questions lead to new insights which, in turn, can bring us to a higher viewpoint” – let’s take that seriously. We offer a space for these new questions, what are they? And what processes of reconciliation and truth might there be that would allowing us to proceed to a ‘difference which leads to dynamism’?






Comments (51)

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  1. Sandy Watson says:

    What I want is a more caring, fair, just and equitable WORLD…not just Scotland.

    If Scotland can work towards that, then it’s a small step in helping the world towards it.

    It seems clear to me – and, I expect, to many others – that this is much more likely if Scotland is independent.

    And, in our making the case for independence, I think it’s important to place more emphasis than is currently the case on the clear advantages of creating a new partnership of former UK nations, based on the individual and mutual interests of these nations when freely independent nations.

  2. alasdair galloway says:

    The problem with Noon’s intervention, well intentioned though it is, is its naivety. If there is to be compromise between two (or more) sides, then both have to be willing to make compromises (otherwise it’s just one surrendering to the other, rescuing what it can).
    The current situation with the Conservative Party can be characterized as the two candidates talking to the party membership rather than the wider electorate, and that once elected some sort of Tory Party sanity will return. This might be so. But, their commitments during the leadership debate are still going to be expected to be acted on once in Downing Street. Moreover, the direction of travel of the Conservative Party with regards not just to independence, another referendum and even devolution itself is pretty clear – it is an attitude of pretty unrelenting hostility which seeks “co-operation” of a “do as we tell you” kind, supplemented by undermining devolution as necessary (eg Internal Market Act), and the possible end point of repeal of the Scotland Act.
    What kind of compromise can there be with that? Is Westminster’s aim to reform devolution so that it does work? Or just do away with it? It’s all very well for Mr Noon to discuss how Scotland might compromise, but not only as you say in your article “Westminster could still just say No.”, the very strong likelihood is that they might not even acknowledge it.

    1. norm says:


      I would add, that while not as swivel-eyed Keir Starmer shows no difference in general approach to Scotland than the Tories.

  3. Tom Ultuous says:

    Good luck to Mr. Noon getting the loyalists on board.

  4. Richard Haviland says:

    Good piece. The principle of compromise and understanding and respecting others is unarguable. I’ve been on both sides of the debate (once No now Yes) and I think I have a reasonable understanding of the hurt – and potential heartbreak – on both sides, not least because that conflict is still going on inside me. But if there’s a single thing more than any other that has converted me to Yes – having always until recently felt most comfortable with calling myself British (being both Scottish and English) – it’s that we are dealing with a party in Westminster, and a wider movement elsewhere, that has no understanding or belief in the notion of compromise or empathetic understanding of your opponent, and is utterly authoritarian in its world view. For as long as that’s the case – and it’s not about to go away even if the Tories lose the next election – these conversations sound hopelessly idealistic to me. And I think more and more broken-hearted Unionists, including many of my entirely moderate family and friends, are going to discover this and have to make some painful choices. But maybe I’m being too negative – there is of course a theoretically more positive course of events.

  5. Paul Martin says:

    Noon is being naive. Incredibly naive.

    1. gavinochiltree says:

      Certainly unworldly, but no two of us are totally alike, so more strength to his elbow. He is on the same independence road as me.
      How do we get there? Only when we convince a decent majority of people in Scotland.
      We convince by being reasonable. Being positive. An answer to the known knowns. We put the unknowns on the list of questions WE have—-for the Treasury and other departments of the British State.
      What does Noon say? That independence is best, but we may have to get there by a circular route.
      By stating this, he is inviting the “Unionists” to the party—-and bring a carry-out of powers.
      Does ANYONE think the Tories will respond?
      Does ANYONE expect a positive reaction from Labour?

      So we ask them to meet us in the middle. To compromise, and they point blank refuse.
      THAT is why Stephen Noon is important.
      By being unreasonable in the mind of the public, they lose traction.

  6. Iain Macphail says:

    My question for Mr Noon is a simple one – but it is no exaggeration to say it is also a life & death one, when run to its conclusion.

    The question – How are we to staff our NHS & care services in the 2020s without EU Freedom of Movement?

    The context – 22,000 European staff left the NHS between 2016 & 2019 alone, because of Brexit. This has worsened since (as Brexit then subsequently happened) yet Scotland voted for none of this, and was excluded from having a voice.

    Now, without those staff, many of whom filled positions that require 7 years of training, waiting lists for vital surgery will worsen – through our neighbour’s actions (not Scotland’s).

    Only independence offers a route back to free movement, the single market, erasmus, the customs union, respect for international law (that the UK flouts in my name & yours)

    The UK has blocked off all of those.

    So, the question is, how are we supposed to staff our NHS and care services in the 2020s as an unwilling corner of Hard Brexit Britain?

    1. JP58 says:

      I was trying to explain Brexit to a non British person recently. All I could come up with was it was voted for by many older people in country due to their antipathy to immigration when due to demographics of UK these very same older people require immigrants to provide care for them and pay the taxes to help pay for their care and pensions.

  7. Lindy Barbour says:

    ‘Dependence won’. This doesn’t acknowledge that for many angry unionists the union does not feel.like dependency, it feels like being on the winning side.

  8. Dougie Blackwood says:

    The article strikes a chord. We are presently is a sort of stasis where we await independence but do not take significant steps to prove that things can be better in an independent Scotland. There are a good number of things, within the competence of the Scottish government, that need fixed but we do nothing about them. In the early days of SNP government there was positive action to get on and make things better but we have stalled; we talk about doing things but nothing happens; we are bogged down with the GRA debate and little else.

    Local Government in Scotland is a mess, Local taxation is a mess, Land reform is not happening at any meaningful rate. These are ony three of the many big things that are long overdue positive action. It appears that our present government are more afraid of what the unionist press will say to any action than doing what is right and necessary. If we do nothing our electorate becomes frustrated and wonders what the point of Hoyrood is and then the momentum fades and dies.

  9. Dennis Smith says:

    At some level of generality I agree with Stephen Noon. In an interconnected globalised world there is no place for the notion of absolute sovereignty. We might be best to scrap the word completely but – as long as we are stuck with it – sovereignty needs to be dispersed and shared. And sharp binary distinctions are generally unhelpful. We have to navigate our moral route through shades of grey.

    But, as they say, it takes two to tango. There are a few voices of sanity in and around Westminster but most players there remind stuck in an absolutist 19th-century mindset. Sovereignty is still understood on the lines laid down by A.V. Dicey – absolute and indivisible, and vested ever since 1688 in some mythical beast called the crown-in-parliament. As a system it’s essentially pre-democratic. It closes down discussion of who the people are, and how they can hold Westminster to account, before it can even get started.

    As long as opposition minds remain closed to any idea of pooling and sharing sovereignty, it is hard to see how any pro-democracy movement (and this includes the movement for Scottish self-determination) can avoid taking an oppositional stance.

    This, in short, is why devolution as conceived in the 1980s and 1990s is now a dead duck. It depended on the assumption that Westminster, despite its claims to absolute authority, would in practice exercise self-restraint, as embodied in the Sewell conventions. As the last few years have shown, this was a forlorn hope. Westminster can, and does, act with unrestrained absolutism.

  10. Jeel says:

    British as in Scandinavian.
    They’re land masses.
    One’s an archipelago.
    “As British as any Dane, Norwegian or Swede is Scandinavian.”

  11. George Farlow says:

    He who pays the fiddler calls the tune

  12. BSA says:

    Mr Noon sounds like one of the corporate training courses on ‘Conflict Resolution’ which many, like me, will have endured – always predicated on two sides of equal power and good faith and conducted by folk with no history of conflict.
    Mr Noon, to be fair, will not be guilty of the last failing there, but he should therefore have been wary about handing his insights to someone like Mr Farquharson whose livelihood depends entirely on contriving fatuous new angles on which to attack Scotland.

    1. JP58 says:

      Sounds to me that Stephen Noon is moving to Devo Max position.
      This sounds good in generalities but there are some policy moves that are needed to prove it is meaningful eg.
      Brexit – acknowledgement that Scotland voted 2/3rds to stay in EU. This could be done by a Scottish Protocol similar to NI protocol but would need Westminster to move on potential border trade issues.
      Future independence referendum- acknowledgement that the right to have another referendum lies soley with Scottish electorate and therefore Holyrood.
      Energy – this should be devolved certainly to Holyrood.
      There are plenty of other areas where greater powers could be given to Holyrood to enable greater cooperation between Holyrood & Westminster. This requires a big change in mindset of all especially Westminster.
      However this is all dreamland while Tories & Labour need to ‘other’ SNP (& Scotland)to appeal to voters in England.
      Lastly even after independence Scotland will still be part of British isles (though not UK) and cooperation between RUK and an Indy Scotland will be beneficial for both parties.

      1. BSA says:

        There is not the slightest chance of the British entertaining any of these ideas. They would involve compromising the mediaeval sovereignty of Westminster which is the fundamental obstacle to any reform of the UK which might accommodate Scotland’s reasonable aspirations. We are dealing with imperialists !

        1. JP58 says:

          Without an enormous change in mindset from Westminster I also see no chance for real Devo Max.
          This highlights the naïvety of Mr Noon especially in trying to compare Quebec with Scotland where even the briefest review would show how circumstances are different.
          The stronger the support for independence in Scotland the more chance that Westminster would eventually concede more autonomy to Holyrood to try and spike independence.
          The cynic in me thinks that Mr Noon is trying to raise his profile for career concerns.

  13. Cathie Lloyd says:

    That process sounds mighty like the Marxist dialectic to me. Reinventing the wheel?

    1. Cathie Lloyd says:

      I’m referring to this: ‘At the heart of Lonergan’s thinking is the idea that new questions lead to new insights which, in turn, can bring us to a higher viewpoint.’ the dialectic is best used in political analysis by a rigorous look at the concrete political situation – Today Tory rightwing intransigence and Starmer’s Labour abandonment of democratic socialism in favour of unionism (see today’s National) suggests that the circumstances aren’t favourable to any sort of compromise.

      1. SleepingDog says:

        @Cathie Lloyd, perhaps older, the Socratic method, or Elenchus:
        It requires getting contributors to the dialogue to cooperate by finding enough common ground to introduce questions each is willing to answer, and the process proceeds (unpredictably, contingently) from there. I have watched a few clips of James O’Brien’s phone-in show on LBC recently, which might, I think, demonstrate how vanishing small some people’s comfort zones are in discussing their own views publicly.

    2. 220829 says:

      Lonegran’s thinking is best located rather within the hermeneutic tradition; it was in opposition to the ‘undecidability’ thesis (the truth or falsity of any temporal understanding is ultimately undecidable) of the postmodern hermeneutic revolution begun by Martin Heidegger that Lonegran developed his reinstatement of the Thomist ‘theorem of the supernatural’. The undecidability thesis entails that human understanding is forever evolving towards no conclusive end through a process of elenchus, which is a form of argumentative dialogue between individuals, based on our asking and answering questions of one another that draw out and challenge the ideas and presuppositions that frame our own and each other’s current perspectives. Basically, Lonegran argued that ‘undecidability’ is a consequence of the ‘fallen’ nature of the human condition, from which falleness we can be redeemed by divine grace operating through the offices of the Church.

      (The undecidability thesis in Hans-Georg Gadamer’s philosophical hermeneutics was the subject of my own doctoral thesis, ‘Interpretation, Decidability, and Meaning’, back in the 1980s.)

  14. SleepingDog says:

    Did the Yes Campaign of 2014 actually have, or require, a ‘mastermind’? That seems like a dubious proposition to me.

    As the Jesuits were the spearhead of cultural genocide in what is now Canada and elsewhere, boasting about their success in finally getting natives to beat their own children, were involved in the atrocities of child terrorising, torture, rape, imprisonment, psychological abuse, neglect and murder at Canada’s residential schools for indigenous populations, and worked hand-in-glove with British colonialists, surely we can and should discount the biased testimony of someone who allegedly could only see the mask of kindness until it was ripped away by innocent conversational topics? Also, Jesuits were trained to defend the indefensible using church-branded sophistry. Hardly the people you would turn to to ‘mastermind’ a secular political independence campaign.

    That said, it is worth pushing for UK Constitutional reform for various good reasons, including the benefit of those living in a rump UK once Scotland leaves, also providing a test-bed for some Scottish constitutional issues, a further legal no-fault smoothed-path route into independence should other ways fail, and providing a ‘least-worst’ option should the UK government get into serious difficulty (internationally or domestically) and need to be bailed out or pay some penalty in various ways. We’re not living in a thousand year Reich, and institutions we have grown up with and are familiar with may not be here next year. Empires rise and fall, NATO was sickly before it was given an infusion of blood, and the lifespan of the current United Nations Security Council setup is unknowable but finite. Moreover, climate change brings an accelerating number of system-breaking events.

    How many Jesuit whistleblowers have there been? I commented recently that whistleblowers are, in the military-industrial-securocrat-religious-etc complex, among its greatest vulnerabilities. Whilst individual ‘leadership’ is one of its greatest fictions. Let us have no more ‘masterminds’ in the independence movement, please.

    1. Andrew Wilson says:

      I liked what you said, and thought it was most apt. The suffering of first nation peoples in Canada at the hands of christianity, especially the Jesuits was shocking.

  15. 100%Yes says:

    You nor anyone else will ever convivence me that saying in a rotten state like the UK is best thing for Scotland or its people short or long term are needing their heads read and if you need any reason to ask me why I believe this, then you only need to look back at the last 12yrs for proof.

  16. I think one of the problems with compromise in this situation is where?

    If you believe Scotland should be a functioning democracy with all the powers of any independent country, what is to compromise?

    In addition to hold to this simple (and not very radical) political idea sin’t to be rigid or dogmatic, its just to believe in something.

    Its like being pregnant, you are either are or you aren’t, there isn’t really a compromise ‘position’.

    1. Paddy Farrington says:

      While there is no obvious compromise on an issue of principle like independence, perhaps some compromise might be possible on the process to decide the issue. This might set out the agreed principles involved, and the conditions under which a binding independence referendum would be held. This was achieved in Northern Ireland: the conditions are that there should be evidence of majority support (presumably via opinion polls) and that the question will not be put at intervals of less than 7 years.

      Personally, I could live with that. The prospect of anything like this happening in Scotland seems vanishingly small, though.

      1. JP58 says:

        Opinion polls – they are nebulous and can be influenced.
        The only democratic way to assess:
        whether country should be independent is via a referendum- already established.
        when a referendum should be held is via a majority vote in the devolved parliament (voted in via PR) – established for 2014 referendum.
        Timeframe for referendum would be lifetime of parliament.
        This is all so transparently democratic I cannot see how anyone can reasonably object to this process.
        The one thing I would consider would be the threshold for a Yes vote. I would not object to a 50% of all potential voters as if people cannot be bothered to vote Yes they are not enthusiastic. It would also ensure a far more United country post independence.
        If Scotland voted majority Yes but less than 50% threshold then this would require careful thinking possibly via additional powers to Holyrood. With demographics in Scotland it would build up demand for another referendum to achieve 50% threshold.

    2. 220829 says:

      There’s no possibility of compromise when the situation is framed as a dichotomy, as the ‘Yes/No’ question does. There is no room in this framing for any nuance. That’s why, during the last ‘all or nothing’ conflict, I was continually asking ‘Independence in respect of what?’ Outside the binary framing of the constitutional question, it’s entire possible for the Scottish government to be independent in some respects and non-independent in others. I think we catch a glimpse of that in the more nuanced framing of ‘an independent Scotland within the EU’. Outside the binary framing, it’s entirely possible to similarly conceive of ‘an independent Scotland within the UK’. Maybe Noon is calling into question the assumption on both ‘sides’ that the constitutional situation is a dichotomous one and suggesting that, as in the matter of the EU, it needn’t be reduced to ‘one thing or the other’.

  17. Alan says:

    The larger points may be worth consideration but it always amuses me when “lessons from Quebec” are brought up as if Quebec had some great significance for Scottish independence. There may be lessons to be had from Quebec but I have yet to see a meaningful discussion of the significance of Quebec because the references are usually devoid of any geographic, political, economic or historical context.

    Canada is nothing like the UK. It’s a massive country –the entire UK would fit into the province of Quebec six times over. Most of the population live along the 4,000 mile southern border. Most of the economic relations run across the border. The federal government is quite weak; the provinces have a lot of autonomy. What’s forgotten when the supposed divisiveness of Quebec separatism is brought up is that Canada as a whole has always been subject to centrifugal forces. It’s the essential nature of the country. To various degrees Nova Scotia and other parts of Atlantic Canada have had separatist movements since they joined Canada in the 19th C. Newfoundland and Labrador didn’t even become part of Canada until after WWII and did not join with great enthusiasm. In recent decades Western Canada has had a whole series of independence movements. I lived in BC in the early 1980s and I can remember Trudeau visiting Prince Rupert. Almost the entire town turned out to greet him with their middle fingers raised (they were returning the gesture). At the time you’d often see people wearing caps bearing a noose and the words “Come West Trudeau”. I had friends that lived in Calgary at the time. They’d grown up and moved from Ontario. Amusingly, they would go on about those eastern bastards stealing Alberta’s oil.

    During the 1980s a certain Canadian Studies Department in a certain small country in NW Europe used to fund summer trips to Canada by playing on these tensions. “The government of Ontario gave us $$$…” Funny.

  18. Melissa Murray says:

    Would someone like to explain to me how there is any halfway approach to independence, if Scotland wants to re-join the EU? Or even EFTA, for that matter?
    Being out of the EU has been awful for Scotland. On so many levels. Support for the EU in Scotland is now at 72% (it was 62% at the time of the EU ref.).

    Neither the UK Tories or Labour want to re-join even the single market and customs union. So where does that leave Scotland if we stay in the UK, in any capacity?

    I respect Stephen Noon. But if he’s been away from Scotland for so long, he probably doesn’t realise that this is no longer the same place. A much stronger devolved Parliament might have been feasible in 2014. But only full independence will work for Scotland now.

  19. 220829 says:

    Noon is saying nothing new. The idea that peace is to be attained not through some ideal consensus but through the restrained dissonance of enlightened self-interest is a cornerstone of the version of the ‘contract’ theory of society that goes back at least as far as Rousseau. The idea is that it’s in everyone’s interest that a general harmony of constructive ‘public’ interaction can prevail despite the diversity, dissensus,and dissonance that obtains among the various ‘private’ interests of the groups and individuals that comprise that public and that rationally enlightened people will recognise this and accept and submit voluntarily to a framework of such limits as must be imposed on their private behaviour to ensure that peaceful and productive public order that is conducive to everyone’s interests.

    The problem with Rousseavian contract theory is not only that it requires that everyone behaves rationally in the pursuit of their own best interests, but also that there are no power inequalities within the system of social transactions that would distort our public decision-making by privileging some interests over others. As Mike points out, the system of social transactions – the society – in which we actually live is premised on such inequalities. Noon seems to ignore this. Before we can approach anything like a society in which our differences can be accommodated short of conflict, we need to level the inequalities of power that currently exist between us and our various ‘private’ material and ideological interests, and history shows that such inequalities are never given up without a fight.

    Noon’s muse, Bernard Lonergan, a key 20th-century activist in the Catholic counter-reformation, recognised this in his apologetics. That was why he urged that peace cannot be obtained ‘immanently’, from within society itself, but can only come ‘transcendently’, through grace and redemption ‘from the outside’. Of course, if, as postmodernists insist, there’s no ‘outside’ from which our redemption can come, then it follows from Noon and Lonergan that we’re f*ck*d.

  20. Alan says:

    Unfortunately, we are dealing with political theologians on the other side who are Schmittian in their outlook. If you try to sit around the campfire holding hands with them while singing Kumbaya, you’ll end up in the fire. In fact, aren’t we already in the initial stages of combusting?

    Bernard Lonergan spent time at Boston College but apparently didn’t have much time for Massachusetts history.

  21. Alan says:

    Scots would be better served by paying attention to their own home-grown philosophers:

    The love of our country seems, in ordinary cases, to involve in it two different principles; first, a certain respect and reverence for that constitution or form of government which is actually established; and secondly, an earnest desire to render the condition of our fellow-citizens as safe, respectable, and happy as we can. He is not a citizen who is not disposed to respect the laws and to obey the civil magistrate; and he is certainly not a good citizen who does not wish to promote, by every means in his power, the welfare of the whole society of his fellow-citizens.

    In peaceable and quiet times, those two principles generally coincide and lead to the same conduct. The support of the established government seems evidently the best expedient for maintaining the safe, respectable, and happy situation of our fellow-citizens; when we see that this government actually maintains them in that situation. But in times of public discontent, faction, and disorder, those two different principles may draw different ways, and even a wise man may be disposed to think some alteration necessary in that constitution or form of government, which, in its actual condition, appears plainly unable to maintain the public tranquillity. In such cases, however, it often requires, perhaps, the highest effort of political wisdom to determine when a real patriot ought to support and endeavour to re-establish the authority of the old system, and when he ought to give way to the more daring, but often dangerous spirit of innovation.

    1. 220829 says:

      The thing is, Alan, that the home-grown philosophers of many and increasing numbers of Scots are now English, European, African, American, Asian, etc., according to our respective cultural heritages. The present political task for alll of us is to establish a system of public decision-making that can accommodate our various differences short of conflict, which is in everyone’s interest.. Such a system requires at least political equality (whereby no-one’s opinion, evaluation, and/or customs are privileged over any other in that decision-making) as well as Noon’s enlightened self-interest. Both of these conditions are problematic.

  22. Alex McCulloch says:

    A shaft of light! Breaking the binary! Clearing the poisoned well of public discourse!

    There is no conflict of interest in an even better Scotland -so the national conversation needs to be about what that could be and how best to achieve it!

    There is a need to involve, inform and inspire everyone to contribute to improving their own daily realities and own areas. They need to know their views are sought, valid and will be included in identifying new solutions for an even better society within the context of an ever changing world. It is of no consequence what political persuasion they have favoured previously – it is a whole new ball game and everyone is invited!

    It is important for people to understand that their mainstream media is blinding them with a distorted, biased, twisted view of reality and events designed to cause the binary division that safeguards the protected interests of an elite few.

    The realisation that people are being lied to and manipulated against their better interests by those they favour will be a shock to many ,initally resisted, but will ultimately serve to build a curiosity and appetite for change.

    Then we can focus on the real change that the vast majority of our fellow citizens, civic organisations etc have already stated is required.

    Key Documents describing the recommendations, new ways of working and policy options identified by our fellow citizens, trade unions, civic organisations, business community, third sector groups and our children and young people to enable an even better Scotland include:
    Citizen’s Assembly Report, Poverty Alliance Manifesto, Social Justice and Fairness Commission Report, Scotland’s National Strategy for Economic Transformation, Scotland’s Climate Assembly Report

    The different views on how to achieve the aims of our people as stated in these documents will create the dynamism and desire for solutions and change and maybe then the courage to leave old redundant ways, ideologies and political badges behind!

    Only if we change the conversation will change itself be possible.

    Or we could continue the neverendum on borders, defence, currency etc or continually highlight and attack the representatives of the people we wish to persuade – who can see for themselves that their key values are not reflected by the words or actions of those who supposedly represent them

    It is up to us to change the tone and content

    It starts with ourselves …If we are inspired by what we say and do, we will inspire others…together we will make it happen…

    A Scotland for everyone , shaped by everyone!

    1. 220830 says:

      Wasn’t the Scottish parliament originally conceived as the main forum for such a national conversation, involving parties from across the political spectrum, with no one party achieving dominance and thereby the ability to use government to pursue its own private agenda? Does the constitution of that parliament need to be further reformed to realise its greater approximation to an ‘ideal speech situation’; that is, a situation in which participants would be able to evaluate each other’s assertions solely on the basis of reason and evidence in an atmosphere completely free of any physical and psychological coercion, and in which all participants would be motivated solely by the desire to obtain a rational consensus?

  23. Andrew Wilson says:

    its strange the No side won, why are they so ungracious, and where are their efforts to win us round to their way of thinking? Not impressed by Stephen Noon, or anyone who says ‘nice’ people become annoyed and bitter on the subject of Quebec; if we in Scotland do not win Independence we will be forever dragged along by a more and more extreme UK hostile to those who have least, and to Europe, it has never been more important to leave completely, no half measures.

    1. 220830 says:

      That’s one view, Andrew; there is also it’s antithesis and a broad continuum of nuances between the two.

      The question that Noon invites us to consider is how can all these views be integrated constructively within a single nation? Or is that nation bound to be flawed by destructive conflict?

    2. “its strange the No side won, why are they so ungracious, and where are their efforts to win us round to their way of thinking?”

      Good questions Andrew. I think they are ungracious because in winning they lost and have been losing ever since. There are no efforts to win us round because there is nothing to win us round too. Look around you, we live in a society facing social and economic collapse.

  24. Sandy Watson says:

    Doing some local conflict resolving a few years back, I came upon the concept of ‘sufficient consensus’. It’s a kinda plan B for when ‘consensus’ can’t be achieved. Reasonable people usually get it, especially if they have to get home in time for tea. I see no reasonableness, and not much reason, among most politicians in government and opposition at Westminster.

    The gem’s a bogie!

  25. Colin Dunn says:

    The thing is that there already *was* a compromise in 2014.

    Scotland compromised by not choosing independence in exchange for Westminster compromising on new powers for Scotland. Westminster broke that compromise on day one, and have continued to do so over the last 8 years through successive power grabs.

    Even if there was good faith this time around, I just can’t ever see Westminster compromising on WMDs in Scotland, Scotland’s desire to be back in the EU, and the inherent inequality of the UK. In the UK compromise only goes one way.

  26. George S Gordon says:

    There’s interesting metaphysical discussion, and there’s political reality. To be independent in words and deeds, a country needs the power to enact the deeds. That means fiscal independence, which can only be achieved by having nothing reserved to another state actor.

    There is nothing meaningful to achieve by “independence within the UK”, whatever that means.

    1. Sandy Watson says:

      Power devolved is power retained.

    2. 220830 says:

      Indeed, and the political reality (e.g. our present constitutional settlement and the dichotomous, ‘all-or-nothing’, nature of our current constitutional debate) is framed by the metaphysics (the conceptual presuppositions we carry into those debates). Sometimes, the way out of an impasse, such as the one that’s riven Scottish society into two warring camps, is to reshuffle the metaphysical pack and thereby change that framing of our political reality.

      Of course, if you want to frame independence along ‘all-or-nothing’ lines, it’s incompatible with unionism; that’s why Brexiteers, for example, were able to present UK independence as being incompatible with membership of the EU, which put a check on the UK government’s ability to enact deeds that would be contrary to EU membership rules. What independence within a union means is that a union member retains its independence within a framework of such limits as its members agree must be imposed in the interests of maintaining that peaceful and productive communal order that makes a mutually beneficial union possible.

      Noon seems to be arguing that the nations that currently comprise the UK need to have a different conversation concerning independence, a conversation around whether not England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales should be independent of one another AND, if so, IN RESPECT OF WHAT, a conversation that will require a paradigm shift from that which governs our current divisive and destructive current discourse to one that enables a more cooperative and constructive one. Are there any areas of public decision-making in which it would be mutually beneficial for the member nations to be mutually dependent on one another, areas in which the principle of subsidiarity could be usefully applied?

      But, of course, under the current all-or-nothing unionist/separatist paradigm, neither side has any interest in having such a conversation; the interests of the separatists lie in exacerbating the divisions that polarise us into exclusive ‘Yes’/’No’ camps, while the interests of the unionists lie in maintaining the constitutional status quo. Which is why the sort of conversation that Noon envisages will never happen; the divisive and destructive paradigm of independence into which we’ve locked ourselves makes such a conservation impossible.

      1. George S Gordon says:

        The success of the UK economy is predicated on the success of the London financial system, which sucks the life out of Scotland, Wales, NI, and the other regions of England. And Edinburgh is heading in the same direction, largely because it’s connected to the financial system in London.

        And then there is the sabre-rattling stance of the UK (England), and it’s continual nonsense about being a world leader in x/y/z.
        I don’t wish my country to be a world leader in anything the UK (England) claims, or to be part of their neoliberal dream.

        The Conservative Party are more than happy with all of that, and Labour and the LibDems are not much better. They all rely on keeping the wealthy onside, which means the state must be kept in check and that financial jiggery-pokery is preferred to making things. The key to Starmer’s lack of policy is his desire to avoid anything that Corbyn said in order to appeal to an electorate that has been brainwashed by the media barons. There is incontrovertible evidence that Starmer lied about believing in (very popular) Corbyn policies to become LOTO, and then reneged on them to appeal to Tory voters. Who can be sure that he won’t take us to war like Blair did?

        The UK Parliament, in Conservative hands, is becoming increasingly fascist – even to the extent of fiddling the electoral and judicial systems.

        Why should we be tied to a state that allows, indeed encourages, such nonsense?

        Despite Mr Noon’s fine words, there is no sign that a conversation of the kind described will happen. Indeed the points I’ve outlined indicate to me that it is most unlikely. I wonder how many generations he had in mind.

        1. 220830 says:

          You’re right, George. There’s no will for such a conversation on either side of the established political divide; it’s all or nothing.

  27. Judith Brennan says:

    Noon must recognise, from his knowledge of Jesuit history in South America, the impossibility of reaching a compromise when negotiating with a power that sees itself as absolute.

  28. Graeme Purves says:

    Spot on Mike! Another aspect of the challenge with which the advocates of a ‘third way’ are loath to engage is the European dimension of Scotland’s political predicament. Could ‘independence within the UK’ (sic) restore freedom of movement and frictionless trade with our European neighbours? With a UK Government intent on wrecking the Northern Ireland Protocol and bringing Scotland’s Parliament to heel and a Labour Party strongly wedded to the notion that Brexit can be made to work, that doesn’t look at all likely.

    1. 220902 says:

      I don’t see why it couldn’t. It would all depend on what the governments of the four independent British nations agreed and, in particular, whether they wanted a mutual policy on the movement of goods and labour between the British Isles and the rest of Europe (e.g. to avoid the need for a hard border between their respective jurisdictions) or whether they wanted to have their own separate policies and make immigration and international trade a reserved matter (i.e. reserved to each of the Union’s four independent governments). That’s how the UK would work under the principle of subsidiarity; that’s how the European Union works. I fail to see how it couldn’t work here.

      But the idea of independence within the UK is a non-starter since it lies outside the ruling paradigm that frames the debate as a dichotomous ‘either/or’, ‘Yes/No’. ‘Independence within the UK’ is literally inconceivable or meaningless for both conflicting communities.

  29. Alistair says:

    I think the loyallists would see this as an ideal tool with which to sow dissent in the wavering voters, appealing for another chance, making huge amounts of unsupported promises in the ope of again winning the faint hearts away from committing. We know independence won’t be easy in the early stages as we unpick and fix the imbalances in the economy, restructure our social contract and build that better, fairer and kinder future we seem to want.

    The UK govt doesn’t do concessions, it doesn’t do collaboration and it doesn’t do consultation. It does deception. It does deflection and it does denial. It does absolute control. It does imposing and it does treaty breaking. {even if in ‘limited and specific ways’}

    We know the UK wasn’t an honest broker in the vows of 2014. It doesn’t operate in good faith – certainly not in negotiations with entities it feels are inferior. {And that’s pretty much everyone} We saw that 2014 learning intensified and repeated in the brexit campaigning and even more so in the aftermath of negotiations with the implementation of the withdrawal agreement. There’s clear precedent for both how they will negotiate and how they will implement and they’re not going to be conceding anything meaningful.

    It has to be a clean break. This rose tinted glasses/ turn the other cheek on the hurt done is high on faith of a new religious convert and infinitely low on the spectrum of realism.

    It’s a door onto catastrophe. Don’t even think about opening it to those pitiful voices that will be pleading for us to open up and let them in for good faith discussions.

    They’ve spent the time since 2014 honing their skills on lying to the extent that almost everything coming out of UKgovernment mouths are outright falsehoods. They can’t seem to help themselves anymore.

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