I am about to break a cardinal rule of semantics, if not grammar. I am going to put the words ‘honest’ and ‘sincere’ in a sentence alongside the name Michael Gove. There! I’ve done it! The things I do for you people! It’s not easy even to hold words like ‘honest’ and ‘sincere’ in ones head while thinking about Michael Gove. Or any members of the British political elite, for that matter. The mismatch is just too jarring. But this is one occasion when it is possible to say that Michael Gove is being honest and sincere while maintaining a decent argument against being sectioned.
When Michael Gove says “this party and this government will never allow” anyone to “break up this family of nations” he is being perfectly honest and totally sincere.
They will not permit it. It will not be allowed to happen. No qualifying clause saying ‘unless the people of those nations vote for it’. It simply will not be tolerated. You might dismiss this as empty rhetoric, pointing out that it was said in a speech to the British Conservative Party conference and that Gove is a ‘fluffer’ whose job it is to get the assembled faithful’s hearts good and hard. He knows which bits to tickle in order to achieve the standing ovation he wants. And nothing tickles a Tory mob’s fancy so much as a bit of Jock-bashing. It’s political pornography. If Gove was a magazine he’d be stuffed under some teenager’s mattress with several of his pages stuck together.
What makes it more than mere Tory titillation is the fact that the rhetoric is backed by actual power. The power over Scotland afforded the likes of Michael Gove by the Union. When he intimates that the British government will never allow Scotland to exit the Union, he knows that the Union guarantees the British state the ability to overrule the democratically expressed will of Scotland’s people. British politicians aren’t in the habit of stating this quite so baldly. It’s usually considered politic to maintain the pretence that British democracy is as would be commonly understood by the term. It isn’t, of course. As has been amply demonstrated by Brexit. Although the ‘managed’ nature of British democracy (demockracy?) was already obvious from the infrequency with which we actually get the government we vote for.
Wikipedia’s definition of managed – or guided – democracy is wonderfully concise.
Guided democracy, also called managed democracy, is a formally democratic government that functions as a de facto autocracy. Such governments are legitimized by elections that are free and fair, but do not change the state’s policies, motives, and goals
Here in Scotland we can vote for anything we want and may well get what we vote for – just so long as getting what we vote for doesn’t significantly compromise the interests of the British ruling elites. Should we vote for such a thing then our democratic choice will be ‘guided’ into some more acceptable alternative while the British propaganda machine works in various ways to ensure the undemocratic reality is concealed or disguised.
Devolution provides a perfect example of managed democracy in action. Scotland voted for devolution. Scotland got devolution. Perfectly democratic? You might think so. I couldn’t possibly refrain from commenting. We were supposed to think we’d got what we wanted. And for the most part, people were convinced. But the devolution we got was only what the British were prepared to give in order to ‘guide’ us away from choices which would have put the Union, and thereby the British state, in serious jeopardy. Devolution was never about restoring powers to Scotland. Devolution was only and always a device by which the power differential between Scotland and England-as-Britain could be maintained while – with the aid of the British media – giving the appearance of creating a better balance.
The British have always been surpassingly good at creating these concepts of convenience. The very idea of ‘Great Britain’ is just such a concept. A screen to sit between the people and the reality of managed democracy, obscuring and distorting their perception. We in Scotland look to Holyrood as the locus of rightful political authority. We have been encouraged to do so both because this suited the egos of the politicians who sit in the Scottish Parliament and because this made it more difficult to discern the British wizard behind the curtain operating all the main levers of power.
The British regime now in power has little patience for political niceties. To the extent that this regime is informed by an ideology rather than moment-to-moment self-serving expediency that ideology is best described as hard-line British Nationalism – with the cerebral bits excised. Not because the regime or any of those who art part of it are necessarily persuaded by or committed to this or any other political ideology. But because hard-line British Nationalism plays well with the constituency whose votes keep them in power. Jock-bashing plays well with this same constituency. So the Jock-bashing grows more explicit. More blatant. More honest and sincere.
Michael Gove is being honest and sincere when he proclaims that the British state will never allow real democracy in Scotland. He really means it when he implies that the British will seek to preserve the Union at absolutely any cost. He genuinely believes that the British government has the power to prevent the people of Scotland making any democratic choices which might threaten the Union. The power which is enshrined in the Union.
Scotland cannot have both democracy and the Union. The Union is fundamentally anti-democratic. The Union must be broken for democracy to prevail. Democracy cannot prevail while Scotland’s Government and Parliament operate strictly within the legal and constitutional frameworks established by the Union for its own protection. So long as our elected representatives accept the British Crown in the British Parliament as the source of all legitimate political authority then democracy cannot exist because democracy relies on the principle that all legitimate political authority derives from the people. The people are sovereign.
Our political leaders must heed Michael Gove when he says the regime he serves will never allow Scotland to end the Union. The idea that this same regime might willingly and honestly cooperate in a process which might result in the Union being dissolved would be laughable were it not so tragically stupid. The SNP+SGP/Scottish Government must purge itself of such notions and do so openly. The Yes movement should be entirely focused on demanding that our Government explicitly reject the authority that Michael Gove asserts.
It’s no use merely reciting the the principle that the people of Scotland are sovereign. Our political leaders must act as the democratically elected representatives of the sovereign people of Scotland.