An article in today’s Herald reports on the decision of the Scotland Office to temporarily block the publication of certain files relating to the Scottish devolution process, with Whitehall ministers having the final say on their release. SNP MSP Jamie Hepburn describes it as “cheating Scotland of its history”:
It is unsurprising that this would happen, of course, given that the independence referendum is not that far away and there are likely to be vital pieces of information – which quiet deals were made, when and by whom, who gave away what and why – that could have an effect on how the people of Scotland vote in 2014.
One of the difficulties we have when trying to make sense of key political events today is that their causes, and reasons for occurring, may be inextricably linked to certain people and events in the past, the motives of whom, and the significance of which, are not always easy to understand.
The problem is not necessarily that we are poor at understanding occurrences in the past. Sometimes it is that we are simply unable to arrive at a true account of events because of inherent ambiguities and compelling alternative interpretations, with no means of corroborating any of the versions given.
Other times it is because the truth – as in the case cited above – has been deliberately withheld for political reasons, with lighter and more digestible accounts of events offered up to us in their place through carefully controlled press releases and media coverage.
All of which can make it difficult to fully understand why certain political decisions are being made today – or why some key ones were made in the recent past – and therefore deny us the opportunity to make informed judgements about our country’s future.
The sickening part is that it is perfectly legal for our ‘democratically elected’ Government to manage the truth in this manner on our behalf, and as a result, through the variety of institutions in which we are immersed, control the history we think we lived through in the past, and manipulate the present we believe we are experiencing today.
Almost on a daily basis we have representatives of the United Kingdom and Scottish Governments accusing each other of peddling dangerous myths about independence or otherwise and attempting to mislead the people of Scotland through their own particular slant on events.
Whilst the passage of time will help to loosen the grip of the political and economic myths we build our lives around today, we may never achieve complete transparency in these matters until it is too late for the truth to make a difference. That’s just how this country operates.
When we elect a Government, we are not simply authorising politicians to make decisions on our behalf; we are also gifting them the right to manage the truth behind those decisions. And when a Government appoints itself, as the case may be, we may find that the value systems they carve out from the truths they have been entrusted with begin to diverge from our own in drastic fashion.
In 2014, Scotland’s choice is not simply about where the ultimate seat of political and economic decision making for this country should be. It is about choosing the values that best reflect Scottish interests and the needs of the people of Scotland.
It is about choosing Scottish priorities, such as free education and welfare policies to support social justice, over Westminster ones, such as dismantling the NHS, engaging in illegal wars and keeping Trident out of harm’s way of London.
But the problem is this: these values are easily lost in the mix of dangerous myths and historical inaccuracies we are asked to accept as fact; they are easily promoted by clever rhetoric as the root cause of our economic problems and the reasons behind many of our social ills.
When you manage the truth behind political decisions, you ultimately manage the country’s value systems. And when you manage that, you are a short step away, not only from ‘cheating a country of its history’, but also depriving it of a better future.