Them and Us: A Perspective
Them and Us: A Perspective – FROM THE PROVINCE OF THE CAT by George Gunn
At the end of H.G Wells novel, “The War of The Worlds”, the Martian invaders are not defeated by brute military force or by state-of-the art technology but by germs and viruses. Against these Planet Earth pathogens the space invaders have no defence. When Wells novel was first published in 1898 the British imperial project of Empire and world domination was at its height. What Wells tapped into was the underlying anxiety which eats away at the heart of all power structures when they have reached a zenith.
Historically this fear is both suppressed and encouraged by the power elite in order for it to work to their advantage. The Empire must promote itself as the natural state of the world and to advocate that the dominance of trade by military means to the benefit of the few is in fact the best and only set of circumstances there can possibly be, and that all the subjected peoples and countries are liberated from their local limitations and can benefit by being part of the infinitely greater good of the Empire. This is the Marcus Aurelius principle. On the other side of this delusion the imperial project has to foster the notion, either true or false, that “others” are “jealous” of “our” way of life and wish to appropriate it for themselves, so “we” must be constantly vigilant and in a state of ever-readiness. This is the identity principle. All empires need an “other”. Tragically for the Edwardians this arrogance and anxiety found its hauteur being bled to death from 1914 to 1918 in the mud of the Somme. Tragically for “us” now the US and the UK are fighting a Cold War that lacks a Cold War enemy. Despite what Donald Trump may blather the Chinese are not Martians.
In “The War of The Worlds” the mighty are brought low by the humblest. The unseen undoes the unknown. The Marxist economic geographer and anthropologist (yes, such creatures exist!), David Harvey has noted,
“If I wanted to be anthropomorphic and metaphorical about this, I would conclude that COVID-19 is Nature’s revenge for over forty years of Nature’s gross and abusive mistreatment at the hands of a violent and unregulated neo-liberal extractivism.”
When it was first published the predominant interpretation of “The War of The Worlds” was that the novel chronicled the triumph of the Empire over the Other. This unfortunately was not the authors intention. What Wells was actually pointing out was that the Martians were only doing to “us” what “we” did to the native Tasmanians and many other indigenous peoples around the world. As an indigenous Scottish Celt I can point out the low-walled remnants of the culture and society of “us” in Strathnaver and Kildonan and chart a map of Canada to indicate where “we” ended up because of “unregulated neo-liberal extractivism.”
Like his literary predecessor, Charles Dickens, H. G. Wells, if one can be critical of both, it would be to say that while they genuinely sympathised with the poor – the former a philanthropist and the latter a socialist – they nonetheless identified with the rich: the rich were their audience; the “us” of “The War of The Worlds” and not its “them”. The rich were the ones who would read the books because they could afford to buy them, even if they were serialised. Most of the working poor in the nineteenth century, in the industrial heartlands, were too exhausted and malnourished to have the wherewithal to read.
Everyone has their own perspective. I have mine. One aspect of this particular attitude is that I see no reason why the response to the coronavirus is not a matter for politics, as our First Minister regularly insists it isn’t. How “we” arrive at decisions about how “we” allocate resources and respond and react to major problems is primarily political. How could it not be so? How else can “we” the people hold “them”, the government to account, especially when the UK government has granted itself unparalleled powers, if “we” the people cannot debate the issuing and effect of such powers? This is especially pertinent to “us” in Scotland when “we” watch daily the Westminster government collapsing into an incoherent, almost post-political mess. In Scotland the people must, especially now in a time of crisis, be encouraging each other to think of a way forward out of the crisis and into a new arrangement where “we” can replace the current economic and constitutional deal with a more participatory democracy. To a lesser extent Holyrood, and to a greater extent Westminster, have metamorphosed from being governments of the people for the people into a state of governance where controlling the population is a preferred substitute for providing for them. Surely at this time and under these conditions “we” the people can expect “our” independence supporting politicians to be actually working towards independence?
This raises further questions: is the debate about Scottish independence one for an era of crisis, or is it one for an era of stability, pre-Covid-19, which admittedly seems like an eternity ago? Has the sordid catalogue of recent clown-like events, which the Tories are trying to pass off as the responsible administration of a crisis, not been enough to guarantee the resurrection of the cry for another referendum on Scottish independence, and to ensure the obliteration of the Tories as a political presence post the 2021 Holyrood election? Sadly, I fear not. Why should this be?
Change is inevitable whether you believe in it or not. Change, for governments, is usually a version of what happens now happening (somehow better, no-one really knows how) in the future. This is called continuity. One thing that has been laid brutally bare by this coronavirus pandemic is that devolution does not work for Scotland. It was never designed to. When exposed to severe stress the reserved power faultlines inherent in the system crack apart and the entire arrangement betrays the people, as it was designed to. As of May 28th there are 2,316 of “us” dead as a result. For those of “us” who believe the movement for Scottish independence is one born of modern circumstances then this time of crisis, no matter how acute or tragic, cannot be a cause for halting or proclaiming “that this is not the time”. This is exactly the time.
Thankfully, according to recent poling figures, the Scottish people agree. On 29th May David Jamieson, on Source Direct, published these figures,
“Polls all point one way at the moment for both Scottish independence and the SNP. According to another Ipsos Mori poll published on 26 May, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon enjoys a massive 82 per cent approval for her coronavirus performance. Meanwhile, 55 per cent of Scots think Prime Minister Boris Johnson has done “badly” during the pandemic.”
This is another perspective and a positive one. Boris Johnston, the Prime Minister, has proven to be a gift that keeps on giving to the Scottish independence movement. The most damning observation about the entire Dominic Cumming scandal and the exact nature of his relationship with the Prime Minister was observed recently by John Crace in The Guardian (and lest we forget this paper is no friend to Scottish independence),
“He (the PM) even said he was forbidden from making any promises on dates for reaching government targets. Let that sink in. The prime minister is forbidden from making his own policy. If we had been in any doubt who was running the country we weren’t any more.”
The problem here is, just what country does Mr Crace mean? In 1989 the late Canon Kenyon Wright issued his famous retort to London power, “’We say no, and we are the state’. Well we say yes – and we are the people.” Here the perspective is one of sovereignty. In the UK the parliament is sovereign. In Scotland, through “The Claim of Right”, the people are sovereign. For many historians this “Claim of Right” began its constitutional life as an Act passed by the Parliament of Scotland in April 1689. But it goes further back in time than that and much deeper into out collective memory and also goes some way to explaining the recent Ipsos Mori poll.
In an 2016 essay “Mess With Them At Your Peril” the writer and behavioural neuroscientist Sharon Blackie gave her perspective on this memory,
“So it was that the ancient rites of kingship in Ireland included a ceremonial marriage contract, the banais ríghi, between the king and the goddess of the land, and so fundamental was that idea to the Irish way of life that those rites lasted into the sixteenth century. In this sacred marriage, the king swore to uphold and protect the land and his people, and to be true to both; in return Sovereignty granted him the gifts which would help him to keep his oath. These old stories make it clear that, while there is mutual respect between the two partners – between the goddess (Sovereignty) and the king, between the land and the people, between nature and culture, between feminine and masculine – then all is in harmony and life is filled with abundance. But when the contract is broken, the fertile land becomes the Wasteland.” (DangerousWomenProject.org)
There is no doubting, as recent events have shown so unsparingly, that “the contract is broken”, the social contract between the government and the governed, where the former “swore to uphold and protect the land and his people, and to be true to both” and “we” the sovereign people – not a goddess – will grant to “them” the gifts of power. The Tories have driven a wedge between our nature and our culture and are in danger of leaving “us” surveying “the Wasteland”. In his poem of the same name T.S. Eliot, in 1922, summed up our recent experience perfectly in this one line “April is the cruellest month”.
So “we” return to perspective, looking out on the broad acres of identity, the rolling hills of “us” and sunlit lowlands of “them”. The prison and prism of the Union has forced “us” into such observations but the coronavirus pandemic has bound all of “us” together in the commonweal of humanity. What “we” are all in together is the great lyric poem of life.
An independent Scotland has the much longed for potential to enhance and fulfil the lives of the Scottish people. The UK project is forcing “us” to see the world as a set of financialised opportunities modelled on the charnel house of the USA. This perspective does not see the coronavirus pandemic as a global tragedy which we cannot afford to repeat and which must bring humanity closer together but rather enables greed to pilfer the “harmony and life (that) is filled with abundance” and enabled senior US intelligence official Bill Evanina to inform BBC News that,
“In today’s world, there is nothing more valuable or worth stealing than any kind of biomedical research that is going to help with a coronavirus vaccine.”
This attitude, this philosophy, this perspective does not bode well for harmony or international mutual aid and cooperation in developing a vaccine against Covid-19. It would be naïve to think that Big Pharma will somehow drop its traditional habit of secrecy and primary purpose of making billions and become altruistic and humane. It would be more than optimistic to think that western scientists working on a vaccine will share their findings with Chinese scientists or vice versa. It is sobering to remember that coronavirus are incredibly difficult to vaccinate against – one still hasn’t been developed for SARS even after eighteen years and nobody has ever even come close to solving the common cold. But that won’t stop “us” being exploited by “them”, even to the extent that you can buy ten disposable face masks in Lidl’s for just under eight quid.
But “we” will emerge from this pandemic and “we” will still retain the vote as much as “they” would like us relax on that front. The coronavirus might have suspended everyday life and put much of our society into storage but it has not suspended democracy and it will not dampen the ever increasing need for Scotland to become an independent country. This pandemic will have consequences which “they”, the government, both governments, will not like. As A. L. Kennedy so brilliantly put it last week in The Observer,
“We’re quiet now – we’re trying to save each other, staying home, not forming crowds, thinking, planning. But un-isolated life will eventually recommence. We’ll remember our wounds. We’ll remember who helped and who harmed. And, pardon my language, but our government is fucking terrified of what happens then.”
It’s not only the government in Westminster that is terrified “of what happens then”. So is the opposition. As again David Jamison on Source has so perceptively noticed, the Labour leader Keir Starmer (Sir),
“…has been largely absent from the enormous controversies of the pandemic era. And he wants to be seen to be absent. As the Dominic Cummings scandal rolled into its sixth day, he said: ‘This was the week when we should have been talking about how we ease the lockdown safely. How we restart our economy, support businesses, get more children back to school.’”
This man and his party want things to get back to normal as soon as possible. They have learned nothing. Meanwhile back in Alba the “them” and the “us” of the independence movement have yet to learn that “they” have got to ditch the proxy Salmond/Sturgeon feud and come to terms with how, strategically, “we” can deliver an independent and democratic Scotland. If the Yes movement as a broad church and as the engine of independence concludes that it requires an extra independence supporting party to be on the list at the next Scottish election then so be it, but let that not divide “us”. Rather “we” should be constantly on the alert that a big state such as the UK is the most powerful of dieing animals. It will tear “us” to shreds if “we” divide.
Let us put our faith in the ecology of love, justice and truth which is the true measure of the sovereignty of the Scottish people, otherwise the tribe will falter and the iconic landscape where our freedoms are born will become a wasteland. “We” have no right to let that happen to “us”. “They” are not Martians or the Other: “they” are the rest of the world. They are us.