Thursday, 25 September 2014

Gallant Defeat

Ah, gallant defeat: classic Scotland.
I don't mean to stick the boot in for those whose dreams (and, more importantly, hard work and cogent arguments) were crushed in the referendum result. It's just that I've seen too many Scotland football matches over the last 25 years to not make the comparison.

In fact, in my life, the whole thing has been played out entirely in football terms: to be Scottish was to support Scotland, and to want Germany to beat England, and I faithfully followed the directive asked a child, and it nearly got me a kicking in 1990, 1996 and 2000. (In 2010, I thought I didn’t care, but it still made me smile.)
I never “felt” English, but the really important thing was to be different. Everyone else at school was English and supported England; I was Scottish and supported Scotland. I enjoyed and hated the standard argument:

Any kid ever: So, you’re Scottish, are you?
Me: Yeah.
AKE: Where were you born then?
Me: Southmead [Hospital, Bristol]
AKE: So, you’re English then.
Me: No, I’m Scottish.
AKE: But…you were born in England!
Me: Yeah, but…
AKE: So you’re English, aren’t you!?
Me: Well, no, not really...
Me: Well, Roald Dahl was born in India, but he’s English, isn’t he? And Freddie Mercury and Richard E. Grant were born in Africa, but they’re about the most English dudes ever, aren’t they?
Me: Well, if one of my parents was Scottish, you’d say I’m half-Scottish, right? Well, they both are, so I’m whole Scottish, OK? Or, you know, some sort of mix of -
Me: [yawn] Well, this has been great – let’s do it again next time you feel a burst of national pride and are offended by anyone not joining in…

I never quite understood why it was so important to claim me for England – I know I’m pretty, but…can I not decide to identify more with my parents and their upbringing and idiosyncrasies than with those of my peers and their parents? Isn’t that quite normal?
It’s probably also quite normal to want to homogenise and pigeon-hole everything and everyone around us to make life simpler, and I suppose that’s part of the appeal of cultural nationalism. And the same thing is played out all over the world, within and without the (increasingly boring) sphere of international football.
I don't spend a lot of time these days thinking or arguing about whether I'm Scottish, English, British or all, or none of the above. It doesn't matter much to me what I think about it, and even less what others think about it.

The referendum on Scotland's independence quickly transcended this kind of cheap nationalism, it seemed to me.
In England, as I wrote a couple of weeks ago in this blog, it was reported as a curiosity rising to a mild panic as people considered how it would all really work in the event of a Yes vote. Most of the discussion was on the typical election level of lowest common denominator/narrowly defined self-interest. This was coupled with a sense of occasion; they love a good spectacle, don't they, the 24-hour TV news and the papers? This sense of occasion prompted all the momentous "never be the same again" talk from the talking heads....

Still, it didn’t take long to die down, did it…?
Pre-referendum, there was plenty of “Don’t go, we’re stronger together, you’ll/we’ll be lost without us/you”, you know, the usual pleading/bargaining/threatening that goes on between lovers who fear a jilting.
And then, BAM! As soon as the result comes in, it’s all back-tracking on promises and “Why should THEY get more powers when WE haven’t got ANY?
The change from “we” to “US AND THEM” took about 12 hours, long enough for a bunch of numpties (or, according to some in my online social networks, “Rangers fans” - as they were known, pre-2012) to gather in George Square in Glasgow to triumphantly chant at and attack Yes campaigners, presumably to prove how brilliant Britain is.

The campaign for a better Scotland continues, according to those who worked for a Yes vote. Perhaps there's more to be done to assuage the fears of those who would vote No both to Independence and to the status quo - David Cameron was insistent during early negotiations that there would be no third option on the referendum ballot paper, which guaranteed the polarising Yes/No question. This was back in the days when he was confident of a clear No.
And then a campaign gained momentum, popular not least for offering the prospect of a Tory-free country, and he shat himself, along with many of his parliamentary colleagues, and offered more than would have been available on a "devo-max" option on the referendum. The offer was quickly rescinded once it had served its' purpose.
'No' voters who will admit to being taken in by this late bribe are rarer than Scottish Tories. Maybe they're wary of looking like the Tory MPs who complained after the invasion of Iraq that they believed the "weapons of mass destruction" line. Which was a bit like saying "I was born yesterday", or "Even though it's been my job to call the Prime Minister a smarmy liar for five years, I was wholly taken in by his smarmy lies". Or: " I had an interest in going along with the callous mass murder he ordered."

That the three "big" parties united in favour of "union" was no surprise, and neither was the media bias toward entrenched power and against big groups of wee people working amongst themselves for a change in their living circumstances, in a move toward genuine democracy. What was surprising to the centres of power, wealth and information/communication was the sophistication of the debate, the level of participation and the closeness of the polls and the final vote.
So, there was no shortage of patronizing editorializing, contragulating Scotland on its democratic participation - and then attempting to sweep it under the carpet as soon as the spectacle was over.

In Westminster, the "democracy in action" and "cannot ignore the wishes of the Scottish people" quickly gave way to business as usual: more cuts and privatisation for Britain, more bombs for Iraq.

Are we really going to let them get away with that?

The Westminster bullshitters were right, though: this campaign was of huge significance. How much is both too soon to tell, and dependent on what people do next, both inside and outside Scotland. The Yes campaign was a gallant defeat that could inspire a greater victory.

Who knows?

In his speech at the UN promoting the bombing of Iraq and/or Syria, the PM warned that "we should not let past mistakes be an excuse for inaction or indifference"

Hear, hear.

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