Brexit, EU Referendum, European Union, Jean-Claude Juncker, Jose Manuel Barroso, Nationalism, Nicola Sturgeon, Opinion, Paul Kavanagh, Politics, Scottish Independence, Scottish Nationalism, SNP, Sovereignty, Wee Ginger Dug
The thistle has been squashed – the Declaration of Arbroath has melted – Rabbie Burns sounds suddenly like Edward Lear – the Loch Ness Monster has washed up on the beach – the bagpipes have malfunctioned and sent a blast of freezing air up the piper’s kilt. And the nation trembles, like a thistle by the roadside, to this question: if Scotland becomes independent after the Brexit vote, then under what known definition of “independence” would this occur? Surely Nicola Sturgeon and her cheaply sinister tartan hordes have lately mangled the very concept of independence to incoherence.
Scotland is a member of two political unions, the UK and the EU. In 2014, 2 million Scots voted to remain in the first union; in 2016, 1.6 million voted to remain in the second. Scotland currently exports a great deal more in goods and services within the first union; the first union has a track-record of devolving powers to the Holyrood parliament; and the first union, far more importantly, was once an Enlightenment project under which scientists, writers, and artists had come together to help invent most of the modern world.
Then there is the second union. Within this, we have far less trade, no common language, no common media and literature, the same historical ties that we have with all of the other countries around the world, and weaker ties than we have with Commonwealth nations. Moreover, the second union has a track-record of gobbling up indigenous Scottish powers, in the same way that any greedy private company might be granted contracts to run public services. This second union has a history of almost pathological dishonesty, in taking ever more sovereignty from national governments whilst pretending to be a harmless, helpful customs union.
The second union has, in fact, from top to bottom, and from start to finish, epitomised a contempt for the same ideal of self-determination which is supposed to inspire and empower the SNP. When voters in France and the Netherlands had the temerity to reject the EU Constitution in 2005, the Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, ordered that, “They must go on voting until they get it right.” Imagine the pandemonium if David Cameron had said this to the people of Scotland following a Yes vote in 2014. Jean-Claude Junker, today’s President, had clarified in 2005 that, “If it’s a Yes, we will say ‘on we go’, and if it’s a No we will say ‘we continue’.” Our own Europe Minister, Douglas Alexander, had then demonstrated far more open hostility to nationalism than could be ever tolerated within domestic politics: “this treaty was agreed by 25 nations … it is not for one country to declare it dead.”
Joseph Heller was the keynote speaker at last week’s SNP conference, with his announcement that he was going to author Sturgeon’s forthcoming Independence Referendum Bill. Sturgeon explained to delegates that, “I am determined that Scotland will have the ability to reconsider the question of independence – and to do so before the UK leaves the EU – if that is necessary to protect our country’s interests.”
“My God, that’s a zinger!” Mr Heller responded enthusiastically, “I take my hat off to you! Becoming independent in order to safeguard your lack of self-determination! Wow!”
For Scotland to become “independent” as part of a desperate attempt to adhere to a Superstate would be like Pakistan seizing independence from India in order to remain a member of the British Empire. It would be farcical! – ludicrous! – no country on Earth would have become “independent” in such humiliating circumstances. It would be humiliating for anybody with any dot of a sensibility about what independence actually means.
Jean-Claude Juncker would be a Founding Father: would his drunken face peer out of future Scottish euro notes; would his shambolic figure be immortalised in marble and pigeon droppings in Scottish town squares? People would have to cherish historical footage in which the Union Jack was taken down, with the St Andrew’s Cross still incorporated within it, and the Flag of Europe hoisted in its place, with no St Andrew’s detectable anywhere in its tacky corporate logo.
Some media commentators have argued that the second Referendum Bill is not evidence of an ideological collapse on the part of Sturgeon, but a characteristically canny bid for influence over the Brexit negotiations. The Guardian’s Martin Kettle, for instance, proposes that, “the pragmatic side of Sturgeon also sees the gathering pressure this week for the UK parliament to shape the Brexit process as a chance to achieve serious gains for Scotland without the very real danger of a lost second referendum.” The error here is of being hypnotised by the soothing centrist facade of the SNP into thinking that there must be some of New Labour’s familiar spin and calculation behind it all. There isn’t – Sturgeon is nothing but a chancer.
There is a tendency amongst political scientists to assume that the SNP is a deep-rooted social phenomenon which requires extensive analysis. Nope, the SNP has actually as much depth as a cancer cell. A bunch of middle-class politicians in Edinburgh want the personal prestige of running a nation-state and they don’t care how many lies they tell, how torturously the concept of self-determination is twisted beyond recognition, and how much austerity is dumped on the poor, in order to achieve this.
The Scottish nation has been, as an economic model, discredited to the last pound. If an independent Scotland was a hypothesis, then Mrs Sturgeon would have wasted all the years of her PhD. Had Scotland become independent in 2014, then the SNP’s many minions would not sit quite so comfortably as they do today. Young Yes activists would not be scolding us like enraged Girl Guides about food banks and Tory cuts. They would have to instead spend every hour that politics sends justifying the debilitating austerity that they had wreaked upon the rest of us. The trouble for Nicola is now that oil revenues can no longer fund her social democracy, she has no alternative economic model to generate the necessary cash. Like a chicken once the head has been chopped off, the carcass continues to strut about, to perform the hopeless impersonation of a living force. But there is nowhere left to go and nothing left to do.
Hence the excruciating spectacle that the dying Nicola is currently making of herself, the expiring antics of this prancing geopolitical charlatan. She trades as an anti-austerity politician whilst simultaneously knowing full well that she would have to implement more vicious cuts than Margaret Thatcher’s to inch the Scottish deficit below the 3% of GDP which is required for EU membership. She poses as a freedom-fighter whilst being simultaneously prepared to hand Scotland’s machinery over whole to foreign judges and unelected legislators. At some point you have to tear your eyes away – at some point you have to whimper that you cannot look any more. But on it struts and flaps, the gaiety of her tweely mobilised independence struggle in defiance of the looming darkness.
All that the SNP can feed us with is catchphrases and platitudes which are chanted defiantly, hypnotically, in lieu of any coherent political narrative or realistic economic strategy. À la Antoinette, Nicola can only reply to more and more bad news with “let them eat clichés!” We are told that “Scotland voted to remain in the EU” (it didn’t – less than half of the eligible voters did); that “our economic security depends upon us remaining in the EU” (it doesn’t – 64% of our exports go to the rest of the UK). Yet these lines, dying as soon as they are in the open air, continue to be chanted anew, merrily and almost with insolence.
Friends on the Left who grow aghast at my dismissal of the entire nationalist project sometimes try to remonstrate with me. They claim that the apparent dysfunctionality of the SNP must be offset by those millions of voters, by those 120,000 party members who resemble a gentle tide of lukewarm water. But on the economic questions about Scotland’s future not a person in this mobilised mass has yet come up with any answer to anything. Those thousands and millions of SNP supporters add up to a pitiful silence.
There are only platitudes and it might be useful for readers to have all of them in one easy-to-access place. I can here recommend the Wee Ginger Dug website. This dog is such a mangy mutt that you wouldn’t use him to wipe a beer-stained table with. It nonetheless says something about Scotland’s own revolution that its fiercest journalist, the Marat or Trotsky of the story, is a tiny yapping rat of a terrier. Of course, there is still real danger – in the Dug’s articles, the complex evasions of responsibility between Westminster and Holyrood are reduced, preposterously, to a story so moralistic that the goodies and baddies are as simple to identify as Hutus and Tutsis. The Dug’s articles are always as one-sided as a Hutu radio broadcast, although I suspect he would insist that his own one-sidedness has a qualitative difference. I am not so sure – I can picture a gradual lapse into ethnic nationalism. There is otherwise a dog’s dinner of clichés and leftovers, of nostalgia for the Tories of the 1980s and for the easy injustices of genuine imperialism.
This is naturally undermined by the same spiviness that you find throughout so much of Scottish nationalism, the same itch to make tiny amounts of money that you see in Greg Moodie’s merchandise machine. So you can purchase all of the Dug’s articles in three volumes – signed or in print or as an E-book – or you can hire him to come and talk at your local “group.” Thatcher would have most definitely approved. All of these nationalists are spivs on the make – from Sturgeon, who wants to put an independent Scotland on her CV, to the Dug who wants you to purchase his discount E-book.
Greyfriars Bobby is the most notorious example of a sentimental dog in Scottish culture, and perhaps the legend of Scottish nationalism will end similarly, with the Wee Ginger Dug. Nicola Sturgeon has reached the end of the road, she has died her political death, and she been buried still gripping the Dug’s leash. And the Dug has to thus remain waiting by the graveside, yapping away, and though his articles appear to be written in words, they are most intelligible as yaps. An empty, repetitive note of sorrow and frustration – yap! – yap! – yap!