Saturday, 16 April 2016

Defeating the SNP from first principles


Why are the SNP so popular? Some pro UK people think it’s because people in Scotland have taken leave of their senses. Opponents of the SNP sometimes describe their supporters as deluded fools. But as SNP support keeps going up, it becomes harder to maintain that over half the population of Scotland is less intelligent than the rest. Unless something very odd happens, the SNP are once more going to gain a very large majority at Holyrood. Is this going to happen because of their policies? Is it because they have been running Scotland especially well for the last few years? Is it because their politicians are better than those from the other parties? No. It’s for none of these reasons. Most people recognise that Nicola Sturgeon is a talented politician, but it’s not because of her talent that she draws adoring crowds. It’s because of her patriotism.

The SNP have become the Scottish Patriotic Party. Where I live there’s a little SNP shop that sells framed pictures of Alex Salmond, leaflets, posters and the rest. I’ve never been inside, but even from a distance you can’t miss all the saltires. Along with the SNP kitsch it sells all the other sort of touristy stuff you expect to find on the Royal Mile. It sells flags and mugs and tea towels all of which tell you that if you are Scottish and if you are remotely patriotic you ought to vote for the SNP. This is why the SNP are so popular.

Most of us in Scotland from the youngest age possible can remember it being drilled into us that we are Scottish. I remember as a child having badges saying things like ‘I’m proud to be a Scot’. It was only later that I was able to reflect on the peculiarity of being proud of something I wasn’t responsible for. We’ve always emphasised our difference and our national identity. Many of us on holiday will carefully explain that we are Scottish. Most of us talk about Scotland in the same way that we talk about France or Germany. We do this to such an extent that many people from abroad are surprised to find out that Scotland isn’t an independent sovereign nation state.

The logic of Scottish politics is relentless. It began with the idea that it is unfair that Scotland votes Labour while the rest of the UK votes Tory. From this we demanded a Scottish parliament. But this just increased our sense of separateness and our sense of Scottishness only increased especially as our parliament was so grand and called itself a government. Well if we can have our own parliament why can’t we have our own independent country? Why not indeed? Once you go down the route of making people feel separate, don’t be surprised when they actually do feel separate.

It seems like a distant memory that at one point sometimes Scotland used to vote the same way as the UK. Whenever there was a Labour government, Scots could be happy that they got the government they voted for. Now even that becomes impossible for the simple reason that the SNP doesn’t stand in other parts of the UK. So from now on so long as we vote SNP we can be guaranteed that Scotland won’t get the government of our choice. We can then feel aggrieved about this, for this too is an expression of our patriotism.

At the moment in Scotland we have somewhat less than half of the population who might actually vote for independence. Rather more than this however votes for the SNP. Nearly all Scots though feel patriotic about Scotland. The problem Pro UK people have is that feeling patriotic about Scotland has become a path that will inevitably set you on the route to wanting independence. The logic of this is inexorable. As I’ve pointed out before the argument for independence boils down to the following:

Scotland is a country.
Countries ought to be independent.
Therefore Scotland ought to be independent.

This is why people support the SNP.  What have we got as an answer? Well we all remember the Better Together campaign. It was mainly negative. It involved telling people in Scotland that life wouldn’t be the same if we voted for independence. We wouldn’t get to keep the pound. We wouldn’t etc. etc. This continues. What we hear now is that if Scotland became independent today we would have a massive deficit. This would mean taxes would rise a great deal and spending would fall. No doubt this is all true. The problem however is that it’s a contingent argument. It may not always be true and anyway it doesn’t matter.

What if gold were discovered in the Highlands or if a Scot invented a new form of mobile telephone that was better than the one made by Apple? What if Scotland were making a decent profit? Would that mean that we should now all vote for independence? If our argument against Scottish nationalism depends on contingencies like Scotland always being poor and dependent on money from the UK, we make ourselves a hostage to fortune. In the 1970s Scotland transferred more money to the other parts of the UK than we spent. Who is to say that this will not happen again? Moreover it is as if Pro UK people hope that Scotland remains poor and dependent, for this is the only way we can remain ‘better together’. It’s a rotten argument.

Countries have been willing to fight revolutions and wars to become independent. When enough people feel sufficiently patriotic about their country no negative arguments will prevent them. Patriotism is far more powerful than economics.

The only way to defeat Scottish nationalism is to tell a better story. This is difficult because the SNP now control education. But still we have no choice. We must defeat them from first principles. The argument we make must not be contingent, but rather work always. No one would dream of saying that the United States is ‘better together’. No-one cares if Maine votes Republican but the US as a whole votes Democrat. No-one suggests that it would be a disadvantage economically for California to secede from the Union. All of these arguments are irrelevant. The reason for this is simple, most Americans feel patriotic about the country of which they are citizens. This is the default position for most people wherever they live all over the world.

What is a country? What is a nation? These words are used loosely sometimes. But for most people in most parts of the world, these words are used to describe a sovereign state.

For instance the Oxford English dictionary defines a nation like this:










A country likewise is defined in this way:







Well my political state is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I am a citizen of that state too. I am not a citizen of Scotland. It is simply incorrect to suppose that I am for the simple reason that Scotland is not an independent sovereign state. It is therefore perverse and an attempt to twist language to suggest that the UK is not a country or a nation. The UK is just as much a nation as any of the other countries in Europe that were formed from the joining together of formerly independent countries. Saxony has just as good a claim to being a country as Scotland does. In fact it has a better claim as it was independent enough to be fighting a war against its fellow Germans as recently as 1866. To suppose that there is something unusual about Scotland in the context of European history is to simply display ignorance of the process by which modern European countries were formed. 

I can say that I was born in the UK in just the same way that a German says he was born in Germany. I have a common language with people in the UK in just the same way that an Italian has a common language with other Italians. I have a shared history in just the same way a French person has a shared history with other people from France. We in the UK are one people in just the same way that Poles are one people. Alternatively if Scottish nationalists disagree they are duty bound to point out wherein lies the difference. To do this they must point out a real difference between, for example, Bavaria and Scotland that is not merely linguistic and they must do so without first making the assumption that Scotland is already an independent sovereign nation state. 

Going back to my syllogism, Pro UK people have two choices. You can either argue that Scotland is not a country, or you can argue that not all countries should be independent. There isn’t a third option. If you think that Scotland is a country and countries ought to be independent, then you’ve already joined the SNP. Alternatively you can think Scotland ought not to be independent until we can’t afford it. This amounts to the ‘better together’ argument.

The logic of the argument depends on hiding something. What is contained in the conclusion has to be in the premiss. If that were not so it would be illogical. For example,  Unless we assume 'man' to mean someone who is mortal, we cannot prove that Socrates is mortal from the fact that he is a man. Amusingly the argument for Scottish independence turns out to amount to is this:

Scotland is an independent country.
Independent countries ought to be independent.
Therefore Scotland ought to be independent.

By using the word “country” to imply independence the SNP always includes in its premiss what it wants to include in its conclusion. If independence were not already in the premiss, it could not be derived by the syllogism. Refuting the SNP argument therefore is simply a matter of pointing out that they are assuming what they are trying to prove. Scotland is not a country in the sense that they are implying in their assumption, for it is not an independent country. It is not a political state in the sense that Germany or France is. This is how nearly everyone in the world uses the word ‘country’. While Scotland is called a ‘country’ this is a matter of rather odd usage. It is a sort of archaism derived from the fact that Scotland once was an independent country. But the fact that somewhere once was an independent country does not imply that it is or ought to be so now. If that were the case even Scotland would dissolve into its former constituent parts and places like Germany would become once more a collection of tiny statelets. Once we recognise that the whole of Europe is made up of formerly independent countries, it becomes obvious that not all countries should be independent, namely not all those countries that formerly were independent, but now are not.  For too long the SNP have been allowed to get away with talking about Scotland as if it were already an independent sovereign state. For too long, too many Pro UK people have gone along with this, trying to match the SNP on patriotism. This just makes the SNP’s argument for them. They only have one argument, defeat that and we defeat them. 

In the fullest sense of the word 'country' in the sense in which everyone else in the world uses the world, there is only one country in which we live. It is called the UK. This will remain the case until and unless a part of the UK becomes a sovereign state in its own right. But you cannot become what you already are. The desire that Scotland should become a sovereign, independent state shows that it isn't one now.  The sovereign state is the UK. It is the UK that is at present a member of the EU and at present is a member of the UN. But what follows from this with regard to my feelings? Americans feel loyalty to their nation state. As do Germans, French etc. Well from this it follows that because the UK is my country, then I ought to feel patriotic about it. The argument against Scottish independence becomes simply this. It is unpatriotic. The problem we have in Scotland however is that while nearly all Scots feel patriotic only about Scotland almost none feel patriotic about the UK. It is for this reason that we went down the Better Together route in the first place. 

Too many Scots think of the UK as four countries joined together by a loose relationship rather like the EU. So long as it’s to our advantage to remain in these unions we do so. But these arguments are entirely contingent. What if it ceases to be advantageous to stay in the UK or in the EU? Ought we to leave? What if we could do better on our own?

But the EU is not remotely the same as the UK for the EU is made up of many different peoples. We know that there are many peoples in the EU, because Germans will not transfer money without limit to Greeks, for the simple reason that Greeks are not Germans. On the other hand the SNP has argued that the UK should continue to transfer money to Scotland? Why should people from other parts of the UK do this if we are not one people? By demanding that fiscal transfers continue in the UK, the SNP are acknowledging that we are one people. But to then threaten to break up that people is deeply hypocritical. A currency union that requires fiscal transfers requires a common identity, for otherwise it becomes politically untenable to transfer the money. But given that there is a common identity in the UK , the argument for independence collapses in and of itself. Political union and currency union amount to the same thing in the long run. The SNP's argument that an independent Scotland should keep the pound was self-defeating. Our common language, common history and common identity are the reason that the UK succeeds as a country and a currency union while the Eurozone is in continual turmoil. It succeeds, that is, so long as the SNP doesn't turn Scots into the equivalent of Greeks and English people into the equivalent of Germans. You can indeed turn a common identity into one of enmity so that people who didn't think of themselves as particularly different end up thinking of each other as strangers. There are some wonderful examples of how nationalism can do this in places like Ukraine and Serbia. Better by far that we in the UK continue to think of ourselves as one people. The alternative is far less inviting and far less friendly. 

The EU project will fail because it is trying to create political union between many different peoples who feel no common identity. If they did have a common identity there would be no problem whatsoever in setting up a single currency, complete with fiscal transfers. Even as the EU has attempted to move closer together politically and monetarily it has made next to no progress on creating a common European identity. This identity would only really be possible if we all spoke the same language at least in the work place. The fact is though that the common identity within Frances is far stronger than between France and Germany. Until and unless that changes the EU will lack the defining qualities of both a nation and a country. But trying to create a political union that lacks the one thing necessary for its success means that either it will fail or it will be held together by force. It's not accidental therefore that the EU decision making tends to be undemocratic. It's not accidental that it tends to ignore the votes and wishes of the various peoples that make up the EU. The EU project could not succeed if it depended on the consent of the peoples of Europe and so does not depend on it. The EU is good for us whether we like it or not. It is for this reason that the whole EU establishment is coming out so strongly against Brexit. Just this once we have a choice. For the sake of everyone in Europe who doesn't have a choice we must must show that there is an alternative to being in the EU.  

The UK is a nation, a country and a people and the fundamental quality of being such a thing is that we are not subordinate to anyone else. Our laws should not be subordinate to the laws of the EU, for this is to diminish what we are. The argument for leaving the EU then becomes simply a matter of defending our status as a free, sovereign nation state. It has nothing whatsoever to do with economics, or whether we are better off in the EU or not. All these things are contingent and subject to change. Our country on the other hand has existed for centuries and fought many wars to defend our freedom. Luckily this time we can fully regain our sovereignty simply by ticking a box. 

Once we realise that the UK is our country and the place about which we ought to feel patriotic then the reason why the the SNP dominates Scottish politics becomes clear. It is as if someone from Massachusetts hated the United States and felt only patriotic about his own state because it was a 'commonwealth'. It's as if people in Fife hated Scotland and loved only Fife because it was a 'kingdom'. Fife may be called a 'kingdom', but it lacks the defining quality of being a kingdom, because it doesn't have a king. In the same way Scotland lacks the defining quality of being a country because it is not independent. The fundamental basis for the SNP's massive support is that Scotland is treated by both supporters and opponents of Scottish independence as if it already were an independent country. This simply makes their argument for them. The key is not to agree with the SNP's error, but to refute it. Far too many Scots from all parties, far too many people who think of themselves as opposed to independence have forgotten the fact that the UK is our country. If we all felt about the UK like Americans feel about the USA we would have no problem with Scottish nationalism, nor for that matter would there be any question that we'd vote to leave the EU. No American that I've ever heard of would subordinate his country to anything or anyone for the simple reason that it would be unpatriotic to do so. 


16 comments:

  1. "Scotland is a nation, a country and a people and the fundamental quality of being such a thing is that we are not subordinate to anyone else. Our laws should not be subordinate to the laws of the UK, for this is to diminish what we are. The argument for leaving the UK then becomes simply a matter of re-establishing our status as a free, sovereign nation state. It has nothing whatsoever to do with economics, or whether we are better off in the UK or not. All these things are contingent and subject to change. Our country on the other hand has existed for centuries and fought many wars to defend our freedom. Luckily this time we can fully regain our sovereignty simply by ticking a box."

    I may have changed a word here or there.

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    1. Scotland is not a nation, it is merely a collection of regions.

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  2. Excellent article but I would suggest our country should be referred to as Great Britain rather than the UK. People identify with being British. What do you call a citizen of the UK?

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    1. They aren't the same thing.

      Great Britain is England, Scotland and Wales, the UK includes NI.

      Citizens of the UK are British.

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  3. It is interesting that you mention all the key components of what is required to define a nation. Shared language, history, culture. Institutions and infastructure. All these are mentioned by political theorists as essential components of nationhood but they also mention one more. The most important element of all.

    A nation should be defined by its people. I.e Whatever I say I am thats what I am. I choose my own identity and future. And you admit the majority of us pick 'Scottish'. This is by far the most important factor for defining a robust and civic minded nation. As long as people 'feel' Scottish, our nation should indeed be Scotland. To say otherwise is a identity imposed, top down. Hardly a recipie for a strong social contract.

    Independence is not relevent to defining nationhood. Well defined nations should be independent.

    You have things mixed up, like saying I should be the leader because..well..I am a leader. No! we choose leadership based on leadership qualities and we choose imdependent sovereign states based on nationhood qualities of which Scotland has far more of than the United Kingdom including the key quality - we feel Scottish.

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    1. "Well defined nations should be independent."

      As independent as... Greece?

      Scotland has not always been 'united' and once 'independence' (which is inevitable, so the mantra goes) this will test how united it actually is.

      The SNP has championed the cause of self determination / secession and I look forward to the day it is consumed by the very forces it stoked. Karma for the SNP.

      "we feel Scottish"

      Are you counting everyone? Even Shetlanders?

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    2. Fairly convinced in fact, yes. The clueless "Tavish Scott" gambit is often wheeled out by hard of thinking (or just desperate..?) unionists as some slam dunk argument against independence. Sadly for them there is precisely zero evidence supporting their Cassandra like predictions of the balkanisation of Scotland post independence.

      Shetland isn't about to vote for UDI, any more than the Borders or the People's Republic of Morningside. The only polling I've seen in relation to the question being asked in the Northern Isles as a whole (which was in Aberdeen P&J a few years ago with a relatively small sample, but it's all we have to go on...) showed >80% in favour of remaining part of Scotland post independence. Awkward for you that, huh?

      Of course, few supporters of independence would have any problem with the principle; sauce for the goose etc. I'm sure if the islanders aren't satisfied with the prospect of being part of an independent Scotland, they'd be welcomed by the UK. As an exclave of the UK within the Scottish EEZ however, international law would dictate they were only entitled to a 12 mile limit, so they might not find that as attractive. Probably better to go for full UDI and negotiate their own EEZ with Norway, Denmark and Scotland.

      As folk say...be careful what you wish for. The Faeroese voted for independence in 1946 I believe, but the Danes refused to accept it. I don't think they are that concerned now, as they have a pretty full measure of self-government. Perhaps that's an example the Shetlands might emulate? If only the unionists in London had delivered on the promised Vow, the SNP might not be heading for another majority at Holyrood, eh?

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    3. ndls61 has covered the Sheland/Balkanisation myth pretty well (thanks).
      However I would add. I would support any successionist movement post independent Scotland. Provided the region in question truly wanted it and qualified for nationhood defined by the sort of criteria we have been discussing. I do not think the likes of "Sealand" or indeed Shetland would qualify right now.

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  4. A lot of truth there Effie, but too long winded.

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  5. "Too many Scots think of the UK as four countries joined together by a loose relationship rather like the EU."

    It's going to be hard if not impossible to change that.
    I think most unionists do consider Scotland as a country if not a nation state. And the union as an actual union, not a merger.

    The problem with seeing the UK as one country and one identity is the huge population difference and the fact the capital and parliament are in London.
    It would feel like rejecting Scotland, and just becoming English under a different name.

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  6. If Scotland could not be rubbed out by 300 years of North Brtishisation it certainly won't be now. Get comfotable with it.

    I suspect those across the UK who are British first and component nation second are a small minority with maybe the exception of Northern Ireland.

    Britishness can be dipped into at specific times but its more and more forced via BBC Royal Gala nonsense or the Olympics or Davis cup. At other times its used a lazy metaphor for English

    A dying beast.....

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  7. Like today in fact, hope you are all enjoying the Queen's birthday. What it is to be British eehh ?

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  8. Effie- as always an interesting argument. I always enjoy reading them (even if I disagree on some).
    I would actually like to see some real positive thinking from Unionists as to how they propose to woo the 40+% of voters in the North of the U.K. into a Unionist viewpoint. How do you propose to re-build a "British" identity for the future? The Empire, for all its good and bad, allowed a sense of Britishness to flourish.
    The post-war consensus kept it going with things like British Steel,British Steel, BMC/BL and the other nationalised industries but that seems less relevant now. (I actually think the post war Nationalisations ended up fuelling nationalism but that's another reply)
    Given that how do you create Britishness now in Scotland? Without that you are probably fighting a losing battle because without that it seems like as AJ80 says"It would feel like rejecting Scotland, and just becoming English under a different name".

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  9. The standard abbreviations for The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland are UK and Britain (yielding the linguistic anomaly that Britain is greater than Great Britain). We are British and our country is Britain: I prefer Britain to UK. We could do with more talking up Britain, and pulling up Nats when they talk Britain down.

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    1. I agree. United Kingdom sounds so technical and difficult to be emotional about. Britain isn't much better. Great Britain on the other hand sounds a lot better and more likely to inspire some loyalty. I wholeheartedly agree with your last point. The Japanese Ministry of Trade and Industry (MITI) conducted a survey a few years ago which estimated that the number of commercially viable inventions invented post-WW2 by the British was somewhere in the region of 40%. That should make us proud to be British.

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