30 April 2010

Reasons for the SNP to be cheerful...

I watched last night's leaders debate bobbing on my coracle  in the middle of a corrie-loch, whose hollow was scooped from the side of old Ben Tom-na-Weir by glacial action thousands of years ago. The lip of the tarn was corked by terminal moraine - this water is going nowhere. So I sat, meditatively, sure that any motion I made would be firmly within the brutal stone grip of the watersides. As the debate slid to its end, my portable telly sputtered and fizzed as the media commentary exploded. Much of it was merely fatuous, but it was frenetic - these debates have clearly got them wildly excited. To them is attributed any number of good things - a chance to engage in an extended discussion of policy, a chance for voters to engage with politics, quite literally staged in a dispute between "the" three leaders. A trial by encounter, an existential ordeal laying naked the essential substance of each man before the scrutinising gaze of the public. Each theory, whether charismatic, substantive, psychological - each had its expressive turn in somebody's comments.

My overwhelming feelings were summed up in 140 characters or fewer. "To be honest," I said, "the slow burning anger I feel about all of this is almost eclipsed by how depressing I find the whole thing." Carking crows flapped darklingly overhead, their cynical cawing seeming to form the taunts any Scottish Nationalist must get used to - "chippy Celt", "moaning", "gripe", "grievance", cark, cark, cark! Corbies can be a corrosively cynical lot - and hide the fatuousness of their disdain behind their black-velvet-air of lofty good conscience. They take too much pleasure in looking down. Cark, cark, cark! Hearing so many of those gravel voices from the luminous gloom last night merely tightened the melancholic noose knotting my throat. Since, I've been trying to work out why. 

I think I may have uncovered the answer. Or at least, my answer. Fundamentally, I want to make a positive case for independence. I want to look before us, say these are the choices we can make, the possibilities we can realise. The wonders we can perform, the more virtuous Republic we can bring into being. At the margins, this obviously shades into critical observations on the current dispensation - its wars, its bombs, its pandering to racism, its air of vilification and suspicion towards the vulnerable and the down on their luck. These are arguments we can pursue, should pursue, and any soul who tells you that honest disagreement in politics should be transcended is hawking bunkum. They're merely rising above politics for political advantage, and we should be wise to their tricks. These arguments may be critical, but they're not, to my mind, the elements of an acute negative case. They're views held in an open, democratic sensibility that takes as its primary concern the labour of making political connections where now reigns silence. To point at the gaps in the webwork of our state and politics and cry possibility, naming the unnamed "mebbes". That is what I understand to be my primary political motivation. Independence and autonomy opens up those fields of possibility. 

All that being so, in my innocence, I don't think I quite anticipated the extent to which the London-based media just doesn't care about what it is doing to our democracy, just doesn't recognise its own agency as it glorifies a withered paradigm of pre-devolution politics. Others will detect the dead hand of conscious Unionism, working away in the shadows. The psychology those critical nationalists impute to broadcasters will not be misunderstanding of post-devolution politics but more or less conscious attempt to screw Salmond over and silence the SNP's message. The malevolence of the coverage isn't just in the debates - isn't perhaps even primarily the debates themselves - but the discussions which follow. These endless reactionary gobsworth encounters, and the persistent use of the words our, the choice, the options. The strangling, constricting feeling derives from the precise sense that the media garrotte is looped everywhere, about every throat.  It tells in the three-way rasp of every sentence, in every mouth, from every commentating tongue. It throttles our Green friends as they bravely strive to elect their first MP in Brighton and in Norwich. We well know the sensation of its chafe in Scotland.

I've been using lots of violent metaphors, but my mind is full of the parallels of asphyxiation. And what depresses about that is that I lean towards the explanatory school of indifference. This whole escapade seems to be better accounted for by the want of circumspection, a lack of understanding by our broadcasters - a culpable shrug that isn't much bothered what happens in the unknown political bogpatch of the Scottish political Other. They don't get it, and aren't really interested in finding out. Some of you will no doubt believe that I'm naive to attribute more agency to limited imagination and limited concern than the malicious hand of conscious manipulation. Ultimately, however, it matters not a jot either way. Whether the injury is done by negligence or by intent, whether you show yourself to be persistently aggressive or simply persistently indifferent to the fate of your fellow man - the same conclusions follow. You put both the red man and the  negligent man out. You move on, for your own health and happiness.

That is why, although these events can exercise a  depressive force on Nationalists like myself, who envision even a British state with the imagination and ethical sensitivity to realise a decent, honest democracy - such gloom should be resisted. So too should the temptations of negativity. The skallcrows are always perched at our shoulder, quick to carrion-caw. The heart of the appeal of independence for me has always been in the positive substance of possibility, peaceableness and a prosperous, sincere politics and society. Faced with that vision, the dulcet crooked birds can only blink, uncomprehendingly, their rasps diminishingly poignant, decreasingly sure of their cynical appeal. That is one very good reason for the SNP to be cheerful.


  1. P.S.

    Interestingly, I've just noticed that Gerry Hassan has composed a significantly elaborated and more precisely delineated piece on the themes I have far more briefly treated here.

    He has us "coming up for air" - significant perhaps that we both independently called to mind the metaphors of a gasping British democracy. Equally significant, I think, that Hassan advocates the positive attitude which I'm also trying foster here. He's right.

    Well worth a thumb through.

  2. I agree it is very depressive what has happened with the debates and almost impossible in any other democracy in the Western world.

    But, there are reasons to be cheerful and there may be a silver lining.

    If we get Proportional Representation then two major things happen.

    1. The SNP's number of seats in Westminster will most likely triple and will be a constant force in a balanced London Parliament.

    2. The Labour Block from Scotland will be shattered down to about half the size and that, in itself, makes independence far more likely.

  3. Interesting point Kenneth - albeit a big if, given the current state of the polls, to accurately foresee how the next parliament will pan out.

    Admitting the premise however, and following the thought through, it would be the last stage of the progressive destruction of outright Labour dominance at every level of Scottish life. In particular, one of the stories which is rarely told about the 2007 Holyrood election is the fate that befell swathes of Labour councils (and Labour councillors) when the election system changed. No less than 161 Labour members lost their seats. Quite what this has done to the party in the meanwhile is difficult to tell and folk don't seem to be asking that question. Councillors, after all, can be the locus of local party campaigning and effort. Just because you are no longer an elected member doesn't per se mean you won't continue to stump for your party, of course. But it seems equally improbable, however, that 2007's holocaust of Labour councillors across Scotland was totally without impact.

  4. I totally agree with your comment about the impact of the Council Elections switching to the STV Voting System.

    It was overshadowed by Holyrood but it was still a seismic shift.

    I am not a Liberal Democrat fan, but I will say this, extracting the concession for STV in 2003 was a huge victory and changed the Scottish Political Landscape forever.

    If they can do the same for Westminster Elections we will see another huge shift, for the good, across the UK.

  5. "And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not." (Galatians 6:9)

  6. Hi Lallands,

    I was struck by the judgement as to just how little Scotland's separate character is taken account of by the State in reserved matters. The judgement treats us as a subject nation, not one which joined the Union by treaty and should have consideration of its rights in its own right.

    The judgement really boiled down to "What we say counts and what you say doesn't." - but then we knew that already.


  7. Evening Rab,

    Apologies. I didn't notice your remarks till now. What specifically did you have in mind? In particular, which reserved matters and which particular limb of the state do you mean? From the word 'judgement', I assume you're referring to Lady Smith's recent opinion?

    If so, I notice that a piece recently appeared over at Bella Caledonia analysing the aforementioned judgement line by line. I haven't had the chance to give it a proper read yet, however, so can't vouch for its content!