Preparing for a pillow fight

There are two fallacies in this article about Progress Scotland which, because they are so enthusiastically embraced by so many in the Yes movement, drive me to despair.

Firstly, there is the fallacy of ‘clarity’ about Brexit. The one thing that can never come out of the Brexit mess is clarity. The UK’s relationship with the EU and the rest of the world will be in a state of turbulent flux for many years. Probably many decades. Nothing useful can be known about it. As evidenced by the list provided.

But by the end of April the Brexit fog should have lifted to some extent anyway. Voters should know if the UK has left the EU, and if it has crashed out without a deal or left with May’s deal, perhaps with a tweak to the political declaration (the non legally binding part of the agreement she struck with the EU).

What part of that makes the slightest difference to the fact that Scotland voted against Brexit? What difference does any of it make to the fact that our democratic choice was treated with utter contempt by the British state? What difference does it make to the fact that this contempt is not only facilitated by the Union, but rendered inevitable by it?

The worrying thing about the whole Progress Scotland thing is that the entire project appears to be founded on the assumption that the Scottish Government will not use the mandate that it has. It assumes that the Scottish Government will do nothing to prevent Scotland being dragged out of the EU against the will of the people. It assumes that the Scottish Government will fail in its solemn duty to defend Scotland’s interests. And fail catastrophically.

A corollary of all this is that the Scottish Government is content that Scotland should continue to be treated with contempt ‘for the time being’. Certainly, there is no indication that the Scottish Government intends to do anything to change this situation.

The second fallacy is the notion that there is some mystical form of words by which the ‘positive case for independence’ will be made irresistible to those as yet unpersuaded. How can there possibly be a “fresh case for Yes”? Even ignoring all the campaigning that went before, since at least 2012 countless groups and organisations have been presenting their own ‘vision’ of independence. Over a period of around seven years, every possible formulation of the independence ‘message’ has been presented.

Indeed, this was a large part of the reason the Yes campaign was less effective than it should have been. There was no single, clear, concise campaign message. There were countless different messages. The campaign was diffuse, vague and confusing – if not actually confused. The campaign had thrust, but no sharp point. As I have said before, we took a pillow to a sword fight.

Independence is not a complex concept. So why are people trying to make it so? Who benefits from this unnecessary complexity? Our political leaders and others in a position to influence the Yes campaign strategy are falling once again into the trap of taking on an obligation to answer any and all questions posed by those resolved to preserve the Union at any cost. They are, at least tacitly, accepting the proposition that it is only when all these questions have been answered satisfactorily that Scotland will qualify for dependence.

The idiocy of this should be obvious. In the first place, there is no limit to the questions that can be posed. Once you accept that you have to explain yourself, the demand for further explanation is potentially infinite. And the explanations can never be satisfactory when the ones asserting the role of ultimate arbiters are the ones who are resolve to preserve the Union at any cost.

Advocates of the ‘pillow’ strategy will protest that it is not those resolved to preserve the Union at any cost who are being addressed. They will insist that it is ‘soft Nos’, or some such elusively defined group. But this is British politics. What matters is not reality, but perception. And who controls the overwhelmingly powerful machinery for manipulating perceptions? Why! It’s those resolved to… you know the rest. If no other lesson is drawn from the 2014 referendum campaign could it please at least be the fact that it doesn’t matter how often or how thoroughly or how comprehensively or even how convincingly questions are answered and/or explanations provided, the British state’s propaganda apparatus will endure the general perception that no satisfactory answers or explanations have been forthcoming. And if at any time it seems that the answers and explanations provided might gain some traction on the terrain of public opinion, the British state’s propaganda apparatus will move, not just the goalposts, but the entire bloody pitch!

There are, in fact, a multitude of lessons to be learned from the 2014 referendum campaign. I despair, not least, because it looks like all of those lessons are being ignored in favour of airy-fairy notions of a ‘fresh case for Yes’ or promised ‘clarity’ or an ‘optimal time’ out there somewhere that will come to us if we just wait long enough.


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