Sunday, 15 January 2017

What is Independence?

Just over two years past we had a referendum.

On the one side was the status quo and on the other the proposition set out in the Scottish Government's notorious White Paper. I say notorious because that document was clearly "informed" by a number of financial assumptions that were tendentious at the time and which, with the benefit of hindsight,have been shown to be the entirely wishful thinking that my side then accused them of being.

And it wasn't just the economics that demonstrated a degree of wishful thinking. It was also the assumptions made as to the response of others to a Yes vote. Whether that being the English, prepared to risk the stability of their currency because, while we'd have demonstrated by our votes a desire to have nothing to do with them, they'd still hold a residual affection towards us. Or the Spanish, who'd welcome us into the European Union irrespective of the consequence for their own polity because, being Scottish, we were special. Actually, the whole document proceeded on he basis of us, the Scots, being special, but I suppose that's the view of all nationalists in any nation since the beginning of history.


At least then there was a proposition. Scotland and England would go our separate ways but still share a Head of State and a currency. We'd both be in the European Union, so our citizens could continue to live without restriction in either country and indeed, since we'd also remain in the common travel area, we'd also be able to cross the border with any passport control persisting in being at Dover rather than Gretna. Oh, and since we'd still be in the EU, we'd also still be subject to the two European Courts who'd protect us if required from the authoritarianism and worse which almost inevitably becomes the by-product of over enthusiastic nationalism.

So, even accepting the criticisms of the White Paper which I make above, Yes voters in 2014 knew, or at least thought they knew, what they were voting for.

The people who gathered in Glasgow yesterday to advocate a second referendum have no idea what they'd be voting for. Although they'd still vote for it. What currency would this new nation state use? They have no idea. That doesn't matter. Would we be applying to join the European Union? They have no idea. That doesn't matter. Is the plan still to have a constitutional monarchy? They have no idea. That doesn't matter. Above all, how would they address the unprecedented international deficit identified by the Scottish Government's own figures? They have no idea. That doesn't matter.

And how would Independence actually improve health, education, the economy........indeed anything at all? No idea. That doesn't matter.

Utilitarian nationalism always was a farcical proposition. It can only proceed logically starting from the assumption that in certain circumstances its alleged adherents would not be nationalists at all.  But those people preaching "utilitarian" nationalism yesterday as an alternative to the Tories would, strangely, still be preaching "utilitarian" nationalism in the, admittedly improbable, circumstance that Jeremy Corbyn was Prime Minister and engaged in the socialist transformation of society (sic). For nationalists aren't just "utilitarian" nationalists when Margaret Thatcher or Theresa May was/is Prime Minister, they were equally "utilitarian" nationalists when that position was occupied by Clement Attlee or Gordon Brown.

A month ago they were "utilitarian" nationalists so as they could remain in the EU. Following Nicola's declaration that there will, at the very least, be no vote in a timescale that will permit that to happen they are nonetheless still "utilitarian" nationalists. Indeed, as they consider whether their own electorate might require a complete rethink on "Independence in Europe" altogether, they remain "utilitarian" nationalists. Even if the utility is difficult to articulate.

There is only one sort of nationalism. Suffice to say utilitarianism forms no part of it. Nicola herself described the alternative type as existential. That's one way of describing it I suppose. As I say above, whatever type it is, the eight hundred gathered in Glasgow yesterday will vote for it. The problem for them is that nearly four million people would vote in any future referendum and a large number, even of those who voted Yes the last time, would expect some idea of what they were voting for. Which is why Nicola has taken the decision that there is to be no vote in the foreseeable future.

You can't help feeling that from the perspective of the survival of her existential cause, that is an altogether more utilitarian decision than anything discussed yesterday


  1. Ah! The old straw man fallacy.

  2. Imagine if New Labour had kept on saying they wanted Clause 4, even though the New Labour leadership didnt really, mainly because the electorate didnt ...

  3. You are overestimating the significance of the 2014 White Paper. Few if any Yes voters were voting for that particular vision of an independent Scotland. They were voting for the restoration of sovereignty and the subsequent renegotiation of the relation between Scotland and the other British nations. The White Paper presented one of many possible outcomes of these negotiations. A particularly conservative and uninspiring one in many eyes. Other groups offered more ambitious visions.

    The reason slightly more people voted No was that none of the visions of a sovereign Scotland seemed worth the risk versus retaining the status quo of a UK with alternating Tory and Labour governments, protected by the social-democratic ethos of EU law. Which is exactly why more people will vote Yes next time.

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