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ECONOMY...by Alex Porter
Petition For Divorce
Why should the Scottish constitutional debate be turned into an unedifying “car boot sale haggling session”? Remaining inside the union or opting for independence is a question of preference, not finance. As Janice Joplin once said: “Don’t compromise yourself. You are all you’ve got.”
The answer to why this happens can be found by examining the tactics of those resisting constitutional change. Why? It makes sense that those who want change will stand an equal chance with their adversaries if a fair debate takes place but that the objectors stand to gain if no real debate is had at all. Unionism benefits from doing all that it can to wreck the debate. Does it stoop to such tactics? Without question.
If the debate was about Scotland’s nationhood and place in the world as expressed through independence or the union with England then it would indeed be one which would engage the Scottish population in a truly democratic conversation over the country’s destiny. Such a debate would be decided on the strengths and merits of each case as presented honestly and openly by all ‘stakeholders’.
Scottish nationalism loses when the debate is reduced to a financial spat. The cause of independence relies on Scotland exuding a national self-confidence where it sees itself just as capable as any other nation. In order to defeat the nationalists unionism has resorted to undermining that confidence instead of the nationalist case itself. A strong thread running through unionism’s core message is an ugly stereotype of a Scotland too small, weak and incapable to cope with the burdens of an independent reality.
This is where unionism’s claims to internationalism melt away like snaw aff a’ dyke. The implied notion that Scotland should not directly participate in the world’s community of nations because its inhabitants are inferior is truly disgraceful and an insult to the dignity of all Scots - dead, alive and unborn. Not all unionists employ such devices to advance their cause and there are many examples of unionists who desire to see Scots exhibiting more ‘get up and go’. They too then should recoil at unionism’s predominant political strategy which is underpinned by such corrosive themes. I suggest to them that they go one step further and consider this strategy to be the cause of these apathetic tendencies.
When unionism elevates the issue of affordability to the centre of the debate, by exercising its media privileges, it clearly does not do so out of principle or economic pragmatism but out of a clear visceral desire to intimidate the population for political advantage. Voters may prefer independence but when you introduce the existential fear of financial ruin that dynamic changes: the debate is no longer wholly driven by dignity and preference but by fear and impotence.
Only Scottish unionism benefits from this debate descending into a “haggling session”. Economics is also an inexact science and voters often feel alienated from the debate and so depend on commentary. Having reduced the debate to one of affordability, unionism corrupts the constitutional debate further by suppressing data which undermines their case or by presenting information in such a manner as to frighten the population.
A good example of this is describing the prospect of national independence as a ‘divorce’. The strategy is obvious: instil in the electorate’s minds a parallel which evokes images of wrecked families and fear of an uncertain future. Indeed, many divorces are avoided owing to the financial uncertainty caused by ‘separation’.
As unionism benefits from control through fear so nationalism loses. Nationalists are guilty of being unduly concerned by such characterisations of independence. The SNP will distance itself from the ‘divorce’ narrative not realising that its awkwardness and discomfort is perceived as further evidence of unionism’s charges.
If nationalism seeks to instil confidence in the Scottish population it must lead by example. Instead of running away from such epithets thus lending them potency, nationalists must deconstruct and neuter them piece by piece.
Divorce may indeed be “a messy business” but is it always an undesirable outcome? The SNP has identified that women are less likely to vote for them than men. Not tackling the ‘divorce’ epithet is perhaps an example of why. In any dysfunctional marriage the partners will contemplate life beyond: rediscovery of self and of life, improved self-confidence, realised potential, overcoming financial fears, healthier relationship with the ex-partner and so happier children etc.
The divorce epithet is perhaps a legitimate challenge to nationalism in that it must clearly demonstrate why independence will improve national self-confidence. Shying away because of focus groups shows a failure of leadership and engenders distrust.
I am not suggesting that the SNP adopt the divorce epithet as their own but it is surely naïve to imagine, when the right to the referendum on whether or not Scots want a union at all is finally exercised, that unionism will not resort to the divorce imagery. It would then be wise to pre-empt the assault well in advance.
One avenue that nationalists might explore is the case that union marriage was enforced or there was deception to achieve consent, that at least one attempted annulment was scuppered and that no referendum has taken place and so the vows were never taken. These are grounds for an annulment of the marriage i.e. it is null and void. The language of union as the ‘break up of Britain’ draws on divorce imagery. The use of the highly loaded term ‘seperatism’ by mainstream unionist political journalists such as Tom Gordon also hones in on the divorce analogy.
Nationalism must introduce threads of annulment in its argument as clearly, with the divorce epithet, unionism thinks itself onto a clear winner. Instead of talking simply about how independence would confer benefits it must emphasise that Scotland would be free from abuse and so be a healthier, more self-confident country if the ‘enforced union’ was never entered into in the first place.
It is clear that the idea of divorce will be a central theme in proceedings and so to indulge the unionist camp a divorce petition should be brought forward.
If it can be shown that unionism does indeed use underhand and abusive conduct to undermine the self-confidence of Scots, then nationalists might argue that instead of winning a debate on the merits of independence a divorce should be granted on the grounds of psychological and emotional abuse, unreasonable behaviour and that cohabitation is not possible.
The divorce petition of course can be denied if unionism can prove that its conduct is in keeping with the vows of the British marriage. It is for nationalism to simply to prove that the said unionist conduct is not the result of provocation but done out of malicious self-interest.
How have both parties behaved then?
Scottish nationalism draws on the merits of its case. It points to similar facts and precedents relating to other nations similar to Scotland to demonstrate the case for independence based on the cogency of its argument. Regardless of political desire, independence will require a self-confident electorate and so the SNP forwards an inspirational and positive narrative which points to parallel cases of success.
Scottish unionism on the other hand, draws on the principle of ‘Murphy’s Law’. It exploits media and other institutional privileges to distort or suppress information, which is in the Scottish public’s interest, for the purposes of maintaining the status quo. It seeks to thwart independence momentum by sapping national self-confidence and employs any rhetorical device available to psychologically pressure an electorate, which may wish to consider the independence option, into submission thus binding the partner to the relationship.
In October 2008 Jim Murphy MP, Secretary of State for Scotland, described Norway, Iceland and Ireland as the ‘Arc of Insolvency’. Now, two years later, the prestigious Prosperity Index – launched this year by Lord Mandelson – shows all three nations outstrip Britain.
Released recently by the Scandinavian think-tank behind the annual survey, the Legatum Institute, the Prosperity Index ranks Britain 13th in the world which is 12 places behind Norway who come out top and behind both Ireland and Iceland who rank 11th and 12th respectively. The Prosperity Index looks at prosperity not simply on economic terms but based on wider factors such as happiness and educational achievement.
One question which must now be posed to Jim Murphy, in light of these findings, is that if Norway, Iceland and Ireland are the ‘Arc of Insolvency’ what does that say about Britain?
Jim Murphy was Scotland’s representative to the cabinet in October 2008. He was a member of the British government and headed up the Scottish Office. Yet, here he was intervening in the economic debate of foreign sovereign states – a cardinal sin in international politics.
Murphy’s ‘Arc of Insolvency’ epithet was an attempt at mocking First Minister Alex Salmond’s ‘Arc of Prosperity’ – the SNP leader’s models for what Scots could look to when considering Scotland’s future as an independent country.
His quip though does raise questions over what was dominating his thoughts. Was Murphy so pleased with his ‘Arc of Insolvency’ epithet and the ridicule that would be heaped upon his political rivals that he overlooked the diplomatic consequences of his argument? Or did he calculate that the benefit of the epithet to unionism’s cause outweighed the importance of Scotland’s good diplomatic relations with the other countries involved and beyond?
It is perhaps the same outlook that led Labour MPs to cheer upon hearing the news that the Bank of Scotland would be sold. Public service and national dignity are clearly of lowly import compared to the over-riding desire to and occasional euphoria of revelling in Scottish failure.
The Labour Party must always protect its international credibility and Jim Murphy’s cringe worthy blunder did have repercussions for his career. His gross neglect of international protocol has led the Labour Party to reconsider his future. Party leaders decided to utilise his skill set in the post of Shadow Defence Secretary.
It fell upon the Scottish mainstream media to hold Jim Murphy to account. No calls for a retraction, resignation or even clarification were forthcoming.
And so the all important pincer movement principle of Murphy’s Law comes into play: don’t worry about being held to account for diplomatic outrages or any ugly unintended consequences arising out of the act of attacking Scottish aspiration because Scotland’s mainstream media is captured.
This tenet of the pincer movement is absolutely central to Murphy’s Law – without it, political discourse in Scotland would have to be on a level playing field. In reality Scotland’s mainstream media exerts excessive or contrived scrutiny of the pro-independence position whereas acquiescence to the anti-independence strategy is the default position.
Without thorough media scrutiny of unionism’s lines of attack on independence and the SNP, political reality in Scotland is often contorted beyond credulity owing to a journalistic bias, which - since the SNP won power in Holyrood in 2007 - has become pathological.
This raises serious questions of democracy in Scotland and especially so in respect of the public broadcaster, the BBC, which is duty bound to political impartiality but which draws down license fees in Scotland only to act in symbiosis as unionist partners in an anti-independence or anti-SNP attack force.
Recently, Newsnet Scotland used a series of video and sound recordings to support their charges of BBC complicity. To access that report follow Newsnet Scotland V. The BBC.
To read further examples of substantiated charges related to the BBC dereliction of duty, see:
Part 2 tomorrow
Published with special thanks to Kevin McCourt and Stephanie Gough.