Yes to our independent imagination

By John Hilley (Zen Politics)

Watching the recent Tory, Labour and LibDem collaborations on Calton Hill – Labour followers, take historical note – brought home just how deeply terrified the Unionist parties and wider No establishment are of a Yes outcome.

You! Yes, you! Stand still laddie!
You! Yes, you! Stand still laddie!

It was like some panicked assembly of headteachers trying to reinforce rote obedience in the face of creative insubordination.

With chief No ‘headie’ Alistair Darling losing credibility by the day, Better Together had also summoned John Major, no less, to issue more stern warnings and threats. ‘Call the schoolmaster’, indeed.

From the classroom to the workplace, the media box to the ballot box, the system cultivates conformity. So too with the referendum.

The hard negative may have been expediently softened – Saatchified – to ‘No thanks‘, the ‘more powers’ sop reluctantly peddled – how thankful we should be for added permission to ‘run the tuck shop’ – but the true intimation is still one of censorious warning: be in line, know your place, fear the consequences, don’t even risk contemplating another country, another system, another school of thought.

The No side’s worry isn’t just over the political, economic and social potentialities of independence, immense as they are. It’s the deeper alarm any establishment feels when watching a collective stirring of the independent imagination.

Just think for a moment about that kind of independence, that power to reject what’s laid down for us  as ‘safe’, ‘benign’ and ‘sensible’.

As Chomsky notes, people are systematically encouraged to feel dependent, passive and powerless:

 “All over the place, from the popular culture to the propaganda system, there is constant pressure to make people feel that they are helpless, that the only role they can have is to ratify decisions and to consume.”
It’s the very psychology of social control; a hegemony that works so effectively because we ourselves take refuge in the ‘comforting’ mitigation.

Thus, the same subservient mindset: we’re ‘too poor’, ‘too small’, ‘too alone’ to be independent. Even, in its ‘more astute’ version, the voice of ‘sober restraint’: we’re ‘too cautious’, ‘too prudent’, ‘too canny’ to make that kind of ‘leap’.

Parts of the No-sided left reinforce that sense of ‘unworthiness’, failing to grasp the imaginative idea that, beyond fair concerns over currency, Nato, monarchy and other such matters, something truly worthy could be crafted from this new, dynamic situation, much more than could ever be expected or hoped of from a conformist status quo.

Are we to dismiss the strategic opportunity of independence to help change these things? Or do we hold to the same old unionist mantras and clone party assurances that things can only be bettered through ‘staying together’? What is even meant by ‘together’?

The very notion of ‘Better Together’ is not just a political fiction – what ‘commonalty’ do austerity-afflicted people in Glasgow’s Shettleston share with financial elites in the City of London? – it’s the injunction to know your station, played out via the concoction that any political ‘bond’, any social ‘connection’, can only be realised through the artifice of a British state.

How have people fallen so long for that kind of mythology? Clue: look to generations of conformist party politics and a particular Labourist conditioning that instills aversion to radical thought and serious alternatives.

And yet, despite all this fear-inducing narrative we’re still engaged in a marvellous, inspiring debate. While conflict rages in other parts of a fracturing world, we’re immensely privileged to be having this great civilised discussion, not only about borders, parliaments and the like, but on the peaceful construction of the radically compassionate society.

Deeply concerned about this exciting chatter, the No heads are reduced to alleging abuse and bullying in the playground.

A dutiful media pitch in. On the day the Scottish government announced its intention to make the removal of nuclear weapons a constitutional certainty, this key story was relegated by the BBC to No-serving headlines about online abuse against No donor JK Rowling, and comments – one erroneous, the other factual – made by Salmond’s political aide about a Labour campaigner’s claim to be ‘just an ordinary mum’.

While pointing to the crass exploitation of these stories, and very likely involvement of UK intelligence forces in undermining the Yes campaign, Jim Sillars has issued a timely reminder of just how much the establishment welcome online abuse and the headline exaggerations that come with it.

The far greater abuse is that, while such vitriol remains marginal, and manifest on both sides, senior No figure Alistair Darling can get away with making much darker inferences about ‘blood and soil’ nationalism, and likening Salmond to Kim Jong-il.

Darling’s smears are part of a futile attempt to paint a nascent civic movement for meaningful change as ‘ethnic nationalism’. In contrast, the No campaign’s own rearguard promotion of British nationalism is being rumbled as the last line of a desperate propaganda.

Which is why we’re seeing this latest pandering on ‘more powers’. Yet, as a recent poll suggests, there’s already a deep distrust of such promises. It really does take some imagining to think that a No vote will result in Westminster rushing to ‘reward’ us, rather than wielding more political punishments.

Any falling for the ‘more powers’ line would also see discussion of Trident consigned to the political wilderness, while a Yes vote would, as the establishment acutely know, mean its certain termination. As Iain Macwhirter neatly tweeted:

John Major nails it. Independence means “the end of Britain’s nuclear weapons”.

Trident_boatComing around the Gareloch recently, I watched the dark sight of a nuclear submarine being escorted back to its bunker at Faslane. It’s monstrous presence on these beautiful waters, and the £100 billion required to maintain/upgrade it, has provoked many laudable reactions, from public disgust to active resistance. Yet, my own feeling on this occasion was one of excited anticipation, in realising the historic opportunity we have at this very moment, this small collective of people, to defy big power, rid this country of wicked weapons, and show others across a mad-militarised world what’s really possible.

Just imagine being able to say we did that for ourselves, for our children, for the greater humanity.  Just imagine how much that seriously pending prospect terrifies the No elite. Just imagine what kind of confidence that act would give people in seeking to build the progressive society.

These are not abstract thoughts. To imagine is not some passive indulgence in which we wish forlornly and abandon hope. It’s the very architecturing of the reality to be grasped.

There is, be reminded, the unambiguous reality of a commitment in any written Scottish constitution to banish all nuclear weapons from Scotland. Ponder that for a moment: how to disarm a nuclear bomb with a ballot pen. Imagine passing up on that opportunity. What futile imaginings to believe that such a goal would ever be possible under the current political arrangement of a warmongering UK state.

Imagine also, having helped deliver a No outcome, how you might feel in 2015, watching the likely return of another Tory government or a further right-lurching Labour variation. Things can only get better?

Much better alternatives are before us. And in taking them, we can be a benign and progressive model for others to follow. With a little imagination, the tremendous potential for building some real togetherness can begin.

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