Tag Archives: yes campaign

Nietzsche Versus Darling on Scottish Independence

The philosophical concept of eternal recurrence is a complex one. Friedrich Nietzsche used it to put forward an interesting hypothesis about the existential plight of human beings.

His aim was to capture the idea that we could be forever locked into a fatalistic cycle of continually recurring events. There are times when life comes close to feeling like that; most of the time British politics feels exactly like that – the former Chancellor, Alistair Darling might be able to shed some light on that.

But first Nietzsche, who invited us to imagine how awful and frightening it would be to suddenly realise that everything that had already happened to us in this world would happen over and over again, down to the minutest detail, with no variation and no opportunity to escape.

In Nietzsche’s fatalistic scenario, it would take an exceptional person to recognise that this is what human existence was like. Rather than fall into a state of despair, his superior strength of mind would enable him to embrace eternal recurrence and learn to love his fate.

We don’t need to be fatalists nowadays to appreciate why eternal recurrence might actually seem like a comforting idea to many people. Not necessarily in a metaphysical sense, but in an everyday sense that captures the belief that our core patterns of social, political and economic exchange ought to be reliable, predictable and guaranteed to be in place again tomorrow.

It would be entirely natural to feel a sense of dread when trying to imagine what it would be like if these predictable patterns were suddenly disrupted for good. And in the event that there were insufficient detail available to understand exactly how that disruption would affect our lives, our fears would start to fall quite neatly into the gaps opened up by our unconstrained imaginings.

This is how Scottish independence is depicted in some quarters, with a great deal being made about the horrible uncertainty that would follow. Alistair Darling invited us to imagine how awful and frightening it would be to buy a one-way ticket to an uncertain destination. And despite his disastrous spell in charge of the United Kingdom’s bank balance, he still tries hard to spook us about the turbulent and troubled world we would be inviting into our lives if we voted against the absolute certainty of the union.

But rather than run away from it, it is actually worth remembering there is an important place for uncertainty in our lives: exceptional outcomes are often achieved when a major change comes along to shock us out of our old routines.

The psychological discomfort that accompanies major change, and the feeling of uncertainty it creates, can be the catalyst for unexpected growth, whether for an individual previously afraid to deviate from an established routine, or for a nation hitherto not even permitted that basic right.

Unlike the set up in Nietzsche’s fatalistic landscape, and despite Darling’s apocalyptic warnings, it is perfectly possible, and highly desirable, that the ordinary man in the street should disrupt the eternally recurring political manoeuvres that continually conspire to have a detrimental effect on Scottish society.

Of course, and with Thatcherism to one side, it is not that these manoeuvres were purposely designed to damage Scotland, or other parts of the United Kingdom for that matter; far from it. It is rather that the absolute supremacy of Westminster, and the London centric policies its politicians are slave to, means that we will be unable to maximise the potential of our natural resources for the benefit of our people for as long as we remain locked into this rigid union.

There is something to be said for embracing uncertainty, particularly when the certainty we are being urged to stick with is for the benefit of a union that has gone so far down a one way track that it can do nothing else now, other than feed its powerful and insatiable economic centre, whilst telling the story that is in the best interest of our country that we are set up this way.

The underlying reality is as rock solid and certain as you could ever imagine it to be; in this respect, Darling is right on the money (for once).

It is a reality in which Scotland’s democratic deficit is guaranteed for evermore; it is a reality in which we know that Scotland’s position on social equality and welfare will never be driven by the people of Scotland but by a Government in Westminster with entirely different priorities and allegiances; it is a reality in which we can be assured that Scotland’s true wealth will never be used for the benefit of the people of Scotland, but to help pay for colossal infrastructure projects with no benefit to Scotland, support illegal wars we did not agree to, and host weapons of mass destruction we neither need, nor want.

Now, I am no fatalist. Yet I feel more inclined to heed the words of Nietzsche over Darling: how awful and frightening it would be to suddenly realise that everything that had already happened to us in this world would happen over and over again, down to the minutest detail, with no variation and no opportunity to escape…

As far as I concerned, this is the most exciting year in Scotland’s history.

Let’s hope 2014 is an exceptional one.

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A Fine Array of Academics

A fine array of academics led by Professor Hugh Pennington have quite clearly been banging their learned heads together to come up with a few more ‘reasons’ why it is better that Scotland does not have the right to make all of its own decisions on issues of great importance to the people who live here.

The primary one appears to be that the excellent tradition of great Scottish thinkers contributing to global problems would come to a regrettable end with independence; in other words, our world leading reputation for innovation and discovery could be irreparably damaged because we would no longer be able to share ideas outside of Scotland and would no longer be able to benefit from UK funding.

Professor Pennington is quoted in various newspapers as saying that ‘the absence of barriers allows not just funding and people, but ideas and innovation, to flow freely across borders’.

I find it incredible that he would make this type of comment whilst arguing against independence. Which type of barriers does Professor Pennington think would suddenly be erected in an independent Scotland that would create a hermetically sealed bubble around Scottish ideas and innovative thinking?

More than that, I find it utterly astonishing that he would think that we would believe that two or more independent countries could not collaborate on significant international research programmes and access appropriate funding for that purpose! How on earth would we have progressed thus far?

Good ideas are not stopped at the borders of an independent country any more than disease causing bacteria are held up for checks at passport control; but unfortunately, when it comes to political interest, it seems to be much easier for influential thinkers to spread bad ideas that frighten people today, than it is for the rest of us to share good ideas that will bring real benefits in the future.

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Definitely Better Together

The Edinburgh Agreement confirmed that a section 30 order will be laid in the Scottish and United Kingdom Parliaments to allow the Scottish Government to hold a referendum before the end of 2014 to decide the country’s constitutional future.

With very good reason, it has been billed as the most important decision the people of Scotland will have had to make in more than three hundred years.

Notwithstanding the fact that the ordinary people of Scotland had little or no input to the original decision that established the United Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707, the decision to be made in 2014 will indeed be momentous.

Public opinion appears to be divided. Many people in Scotland feel that their strong emotional and cultural ties to the United Kingdom, together with the perceived economic benefits of being part of a larger entity, means that the continuation of the Union must be achieved.

Many have a strong belief in Scotland’s right to determine its own future and regain the autonomy it gave up when it entered into political union with England three hundred years ago; the crux is that only by doing so will the country be able to maximise its own resources and build a stronger economic and social future than it would have if it remained within the restrictions of the Union.

Others are still to be persuaded either way and are likely to delay their decision until more precise details are provided. They may be waiting for quite some time. For most, the decision will be an emotional one and the Yes Campaign and Better Together Campaign will build their arguments around that fact.

It has been said that one of the problems with the Yes Campaign is that it still needs to create a clear and credible account of what an independent Scotland would look like. We are told that the detail will be worked out in due course.

But in the meantime the Better Together Campaign is likely to trade on this lack of clarity and create a feeling of uncertainty around the very idea of independence. It will exploit the fact that many of us are subconsciously reluctant to take a chance on moving towards the unknown, when what we already have is a feeling of security within the Union. We know our place.

Ironically, this is the fear that also lies at the heart of the Unionist agenda – the current economic status, political stability and national security of the United Kingdom will be challenged by the removal of an economically significant and politically important part of the equation.

Facing up to the daunting prospect of having to dismantle the United Kingdom is likely to cause a great deal of anxiety in Westminster. It is likely to throw up many difficult challenges with very few experts around to guide the process. It will be horrendously complex. It will be ridiculously expensive. And it will be psychologically unsettling.

And going by the scare mongering tone of the Better Together Campaign’s arguments, this is the angst that has been shaping their view from the beginning. Their arguments against Scottish independence would seem to reflect their own concerns about dealing with the aftermath, and protecting what they already have as career politicians, rather than a genuine concern for Scotland’s best interests.

The deciding factor for me is simply that every country has the right to self-determination. Through regaining that right Scotland will enjoy the same opportunity that almost every other country in the world enjoys – to make its own decisions and shape its own future; and this includes not knowing all the answers. It includes making mistakes and getting things wrong. That is part of the life of an autonomous nation. It is not to be feared.

That said, I think there is a sense in which we are definitely better together. But I am not talking about the sense promoted by the Unionist campaigners. I believe that Scotland will be better when the people living in this country come together to achieve a common purpose. It is the purpose of making this country better than it has ever been before.

That is the true sense in which we are better together.

Together in an independent Scotland.

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Some More Thoughts on ‘Better Together’

When Alistair Darling urged us to believe in the dictum that we are ‘better together’, I think there is probably a very strong sense in which he genuinely believes that to be the case (but I also think, quite cynically, that he is using a very clever tactic here, which may turn out to be a master stroke).

In fairness to Darling, and those behind the ‘no campaign’, the arguments given in favour of maintaining the political status quo, whilst weak, probably still reflect a deeply held conviction, that the best future for Scotland will be one which is secured through an unaltered position within the United Kingdom.

But rather than simply rhyme off the benefits we apparently enjoy as part of the United Kingdom, and remind us of the impending uncertainty that independence would bring, it might help the case somewhat to promote a positive vision for the future.

My view is that the key problems with the unionist strategy are that it fails to offer one single reason why Scotland should not want to regain full responsibility for its own affairs; and it fails to take cognisance of the growing conviction in many quarters that some form of structural change would need to occur in the United Kingdom if the ‘better together’ promise were ever to be fulfilled.

Even if we were better together in the sense promoted by the ‘no campaign’ – the senses in which we are supposed to benefit, such as having a stronger voice in Europe, or a stronger defence arrangement, for example, are all areas in which the current devolution agreement prevents Scotland from autonomously participating and building any strength in the first place – there would still be an urgent need to address the fundamental flaws in the United Kingdom’s corrupt political, economic and sociocultural frameworks.

It might be possible to muster a little sympathy for the ‘better together’ campaigners themselves – because, after all, we are talking about some people’s deeply held beliefs, which ought to be given due consideration and respect – if what they believed in really did have a promising message to deliver for Scotland. But as far as I can see, it doesn’t; and as far as the spin has gone so far, there is little prospect of a positive message being delivered any time soon.

However, here is a cautionary note to finish with: it is one thing to recognise that our current constitutional arrangement is not perfect, and that there are serious problems that need to be addressed in the United Kingdom as it stands; every day the news greets us with another one, piled up on top of another one.

But until the ‘yes campaign’ is in a position to present a detailed and unambiguous vision of what an independent Scotland would look like, and how it would positively improve the personal circumstances of the people of Scotland, doubts will remain in the minds of those waiting to be convinced that a yes vote would be in their best interests.

We live in a society where most people have simply given up on politicians and have little or no interest in the details of our constitutional arrangement. If the ‘yes campaign’ focuses exclusively on the need to change the latter, without clearly justifying it in terms of improved personal circumstances, it may lose some ground.

For many people, the decision will simply come down to what is better for their own individual circumstances, what is left in their pocket after tax, rather than what is better for Scotland as a nation. And that is exactly what Alistair Darling and company are playing on when they talk about being ‘better together’. It is an attempt to make us feel more secure by not changing anything. I hope it doesn’t turn out to be a master stroke for the ‘no campaign’.

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The Independence Debate & The Politics of Rogues

Various questionable arguments have been thrown into the debate about Scottish Independence in recent months; so much so that it is now becoming amusing to see predictions of economic ruin sitting right next to forecasts of previously unachievable wealth and prosperity.

It is almost as if we are being told, ‘don’t listen to the other side’s nonsense, it will lead you in the wrong direction; now, here are the facts, on which you need to make your decision’. In this respect, both are as bad as each other.

Encouraging others to adopt a course action by exaggerating benefits and making grand promises that may never be fulfilled, looks remarkably similar to some of the unscrupulous sales tactics adopted by individuals operating at the gutter end of the market.

Whilst encouraging others against that same course of action by instilling disproportionate fear in their minds, reveals much more about the psychology, and personal circumstances, of the scare mongering individuals than it does about the reality of the situation.

It makes you want to ask the question, what do the latter really think they are going to lose by acknowledging that it would be better for Scotland to make its own decisions, and why do they really want the rest of us to feel the fear of that loss too, in the way that they pretend to?

And it makes you want to ask of the former, why do they feel the need to spin a fabulous, sometimes confusingly mixed, story around a couple of facts and stats, immediately casting their credibility in doubt and raising questions about whether they are indeed the people to take this country forward in the right direction?

Perhaps the only reality we can work with in entering this debate is that being an independent country is simply about taking full responsibility for your own affairs, and nothing less than that.
Everything else we have been told, and will be told countless times over, about how damaging independence would be for Scotland’s position in the world, or how wonderful it would be for our economy, is imaginative conjecture.

It is an attempt to manipulate our emotions by individuals who know that they have too much to lose.

Both campaigns recognise that they have, in fact, too much to lose; not just from a political point of view, but also from a personal, selfish point of view. Their obsession with winning this game at all costs is beginning to ruin what should otherwise have been the build-up to a momentous event in our country’s history.

In fact the event itself – regaining independence or reinforcing the union – is beginning to look like it will be spoiled. Either way, it is beginning to look like it will turn into a reflection of the politics of self-interested rogues, than a reflection of the best interests of the ordinary people of Scotland.

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