by Peter A Bell
Let me make one thing clear from the outset. I fully recognise the crucial nature of the climate crisis. I was persuaded by James Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis long before climate change became the stuff of mainstream media interest and global political significance. Nor am I one to minimise the not unrelated issue of zoonotic pathogens and the near certainty of further and probably much worse pandemics than the one we may have just survived. And I am well aware of serious issues closer to home in pretty much every area of public policy. But I cannot help but be concerned that in all of this there is a real risk that the constitutional issue will be side-lined. In so many ways questions around power precede all these other issues. And yet it seems to me that the tendency is that if any matter is to be relegated to a lower priority it is this core question of where power lies and how it is used. Whenever the discussion turns to the matter of Scotland’s constitutional status were immediately told that there are more important things we have to deal with. There’s always something more pressing; more deserving of our attention.
It’s hardly a new thought. Having been involved in Scotland’s cause since I was but a bairn I lived through decades when independence really was a fringe issue. Or should I say that this is how it was treated. In reality, of course, constitutional politics was as central in the 1960s and 1970s as it is now. The question of where ultimate power lies in society is the core concern of all politics and always has been. Which is precisely why we are discouraged from thinking about it. The interests which have the capacity to deter and divert public interest are the ones which currently hold power. It stands to reason that they wouldn’t want people thinking too deeply about whether they were actually entitled to hold power; or the nature of that power; or the way that power is used; or how that power was acquired; or how that power might be taken away.
There is no greater threat to established power than the awareness of the people. Should the popular conscious turn to questions of power, ruling elites rightly tremble.
That is why there’s aye somethin’ else. At least, we should be alert to the fact that whenever somebody with power or influence says to you “But what about…!” there’s a good chance that their true purpose is not to turn your attention to something that’s of more importance to you, but from something that’s very important to them. Whenever a politician says “The real issue here is…!” we should wonder what makes it more “real” than the issues they are so anxious to move us away from. When a politician insists we should look at this thing we would be wise to look instead for the that thing they are trying to distract us from.
Have you noticed the disconcerting contradiction in the political rhetoric around what has come to be referred to simply as ‘the pandemic’? It arises from there being two competing and to some degree mutually exclusive imperatives. On the one hand our political elites are keen to be perceived as having led us safely through the dark days of disease into the sunlight of wellness and life like it used to be when it was supposedly the life we wanted. On the other, the pandemic is such a useful excuse for inaction or cover for failure that the political elite are sorely reluctant to let it go. And, of course, those political elites compete fiercely to be credited with being the first and best of all those claiming to have safely led us through the valley of the shadow of death. Thus you’re likely to find the voice of established power – in whatever guise – telling you cheerfully that thanks to them you are now free to enjoy all the pleasures your well-honed craving for instant gratification may demand while simultaneously telling you in more sombre tones that you must forego this or that because of ‘the pandemic’.
Should you attend more closely than your eagerness to be part of a crowd in a pub or at a football match might allow, you’ll notice a curious coincidence between the things the powerful don’t want you to do and the things ‘the pandemic’ won’t let you do. This coincidence tending to amount to a perfect match.
I was put in mind of this when I saw some supposed pro-independence activist condemning plans to restart marches, rallies and demonstrations in support of the fight to restore Scotland’s independence on the grounds that such activities are irresponsible while we are still dealing with ‘the pandemic’. This was adjacent to another Tweet celebrating all the forms of gaitherin’ that will shortly cease be considered irresponsible. I can’t help but ask why it is always the activities of the Yes movement which are the exception. Why when things are supposed to be returning to somebody’s idea of ‘normal’, is there aye somethin’ that prevents the sort of activities that make established power feel uncomfortable?
Similar question have to be asked about other matters. Nobody has ever given me a satisfactory explanation of what it is about ‘the pandemic’ which makes a referendum impossible while having minimal impact on en election. Why is Scotland’s right of self-determination subject to the consent and cooperation of the British state when such interference by an external power would be unthinkable in relation to any other country? The list goes on. Always it is Scotland and Scotland’s interests which are the exception to the rule. Why?
Joanna Cherry is most assuredly not one of those who are trying to push the constitutional issue down the public’s agenda. I’ll put some emphasis on this point. Joanna Cherry is not trying to divert attention from the constitutional issue when she focuses on the climate change crisis in her column in The National today (Here’s a great way to get SNP-Green co-operation deal running). But we can be sure that there are those who want to do just that. If someone wanted to insist on indefinitely postponing a new referendum, Joanna Cherry’s article would provide them with some powerful arguments. It doesn’t matter that nothing could be further from her intention. But the nature of the climate change crisis makes it perhaps an even better excuse for inaction than ‘the pandemic’.
When it comes to the issue of who should decide how Scotland deals with all these other issues the other issues always seem to be an excuse for not addressing the first issue. As soon as it got too embarrassing to argue that it was to soon after the first referendum to have a second one, it became a matter that had to wait until after Brexit. First we had to wait until the terms of Brexit were known. Then we had to wait until the impact of Brexit began to penetrate the public conscious and the pain be reflected in the polls. Then there was the need to wait until folk in Scotland got truly pissed-off with Boris Johnson and the anger be reflected in the polls. Then there was ‘the pandemic’. In between, there were always elections etc. that had to be got out of the way first. There was aye somethin’! There is aye somethin’! It’s starting to look as if there always will be.
That is why organisations such as Now Scotland and groups such as White Rose Rising are essential. There must be a counter to this tendency to de-prioritise the constitutional issue. There must be something to maintain focus on the urgent need to #DissolveTheUnion and restore Scotland’s independence. When the usual suspects say now is not the time there must be somebody to argue that now is the time. This is not to diminish concerns about the climate crisis or other pressing issues. It is simply an attempt to afford the constitutional issue its proper place among those concerns.