Alistair Carmichael is making a keynote speech, which is Union-speak for “having a wee moan”. He’s allegedly upset that the Yes campaign have allegedly alleged that No voters are less Scottish than Yes voters.
The “Yes campaign” in question consisted of a carnaptious cooncillor from the SNP who had described Koalamichael as a “supposed Scot”. This was a sardonic reference to the cuddly cabinet meenister’s valiant defence of jobs in Govan, which consisted of assuring the shipyard workers that if they vote Yes next year they’ll lose their jobs, lose their homes, their children will be sent to sweep chimneys, and worst of all they’ll still have Ian Davidson as their MP.
I’ll say here and now that the cooncillor was wrong. There’s nothing supposed about the Koalamichael’s Caledonianosity. He is as Scottish as any other person born or brought up in Scotland, living in Scotland, or possessing a Scottish accent – and that last caveat is only required because of Tony Blair, absolutely no one wants to admit to him. But none of this applies to Ian Davidson, he’s not Scottish. He’s not British either, his nationality is Twattish. It’s a small island in the Ocean of Self-interest.
What’s interesting about this, if indeed there is ever anything of interest in what comes out of a LibDem’s gob, is that the supposed slight “supposed Scottish”, doesn’t work in reverse. Whatever you think of the Fife cooncillor’s remark, it’s understandable – perhaps not in the moral sense, but the linguistic sense. “Supposed Scot” is a phrase which has meaning. It is comprehensible, like “two faced Scottish Secretary”, “hypocritical MP”, or “lying Lib Dem”.
The opposite, “supposed British”, doesn’t make any sense when used with reference to independence supporters. The reaction of yer average indy supporter to being called “supposed British” by a Unionist would be “Eh?” It’s not at all clear what the phrase might mean. The utterings of apologists for Westminster are often nonsensical and frequently outrageous, but at least they consist of insults you can feel insulted by.
“Supposed British” is one of those zen koans devoid of lexical content that you find in the holy speeches of St Johann the Rarely Visible. Johann’s mangled syntax is the SLab equivalent of “What is the sound of one hand clapping, grasshopper”, before it slaps you across the mug.
The lack of sense of the phrase “supposed British” can only be because it doesn’t make sense without the “supposed” bit prefixed to it either. Britishness is for most Scots a vague and nebulous concept, which is why the Westminster parties are so determined to make out that they are the only body able to give the word any definite import – like they’re the Oxford English Dictionary or the Dictionary of Scots all of a sudden, and we instinctively turn to Johann Lamont, Ian Davidson or Magrit Curran for guidance on the finer points of linguistic usage.
The not at all supposed Scot Koalamichael is living proof that Scottish people are not immune to rank hypocrisy, wilful ignorance, or a truly astounding lack of self-awareness. He illustrated this by his warning that the Yes campaign are on dangerous ground by mixing “patriotism with politics”, saying without an apparent shred of irony: “I tell you this: once you start mixing up politics and patriotism you can quickly get into dangerous territory.”
No shit Alistair. All those exercises in flag waving, royal events, and Great British telly programmes are entirely coincidental. It’s not mixing politics with patriotism to repeatedly warn us that we’ll all become foreigners, because it’s well known that being foreign is a bad thing. And it’s not mixing politics with patriotism to declare like Jim Murphy that he’s a proud Scot but he’s also proud to be British with the “best armed forces in the world”. No patriotic grandstanding there then, oh no.
This raises an altogether deeper and more interesting question. To the No campaign, British patriotism is like British nationalism. Neither exists in their universe, and no amount of rationally pointing out to them that supporting the British state is a form of nationalism is going to penetrate their skulls. If they were truly non-nationalists and viscerally opposed to nationalism in all its incarnations they’d be arguing for the abolition of Westminster and its replacement by one world government.
Trying to demonstrate to a British nationalist that they are indeed a nationalist, and so hasn’t got a moral leg to stand on when they decry a Scottish desire for independence, is a bit like trying to demonstrate to a homophobe that they are indeed homophobic. It will not compute with them. In fact, they are liable to respond angrily, because some people believe that being called a homophobe is actually worse than being homophobic, just as the likes of George Galloway will fiercely reject any suggestion that he’s a British nationalist as he tours the length of the land exhorting us to “Just say naw” to indy. We’ll just say naw to George instead.
Certain people and organisations habitually define homophobia in such a way as to exclude themselves from it, allowing them free rein to argue that gay people shouldn’t be allowed to marry or have kids or have equal legal rights. Typically they redefine homophobia so it only means “physically assaulting a gay person out of malice or spite”. It’s a strategy for dealing with cognitive dissonance, allowing them to continue to discriminate without seeing themselves as discriminatory. The redefinition permits them to accuse the people they discriminate against as being the wrongdoers, and portray themselves as the victims.
This is in fact the exact tactic adopted by a number of Christian churches, not only do they believe they have the right to define the meaning of the word “marriage” for everyone, Christian or not, they also believe they have the right to define the meaning of the word “homophobia”. They discriminate against gay people because they believe a god of love tells them to do so, so it cannot possibly be homophobic for campaign against legal equality for LGBT folk. It’s gay people who are the bad guys, causing all that upset and fuss. And if you scratch a bit further, it’s because deep down they believe that only straight people are normal, gay people are abnormal. Only those who are themselves “normal” are entitled to define “normal” meaning.
The ability of humans to hold mutually contradictory ideas simultaneously is called cognitive dissonance, and the strategy of redefining meaning to suit oneself is a classic means of achieving it. Koalamichael’s pronouncements against “mixing patriotism with politics” are another example of the exact same cognitive dissonance, only this time applied to a different struggle for civil liberties, the Scottish independence debate.
The UK government and the Westminster parties want Scotland to continue as a country which isn’t properly a country, and a nation which isn’t properly a nation, without confronting the cognitive dissonance that this entails. They want to justify Scotland remaining a nation which doesn’t enjoy the full range of rights possessed by any normal nation. Unionists achieve this by being “proud Scots but”, and portraying themselves as victims of evil Scottish rupturists. Pointing out the disadvantages of Scotland remaining in the UK is a far worse crime than actually perpetrating those disadvantages upon Scotland.
Only Scottish independence is nationalist, and only mixing Scottish patriotism with the political desire for independence is dangerous. Westminster is normal, an independent Scotland is abnormal. Unionists argue that Scotland couldn’t possibly cope with the challenges that face any normal country, the subtext being that Scotland is not a normal country. Naturally only normal people like Johann Lamont or Alistair Carmichael can define these concepts normally, but that’s much harder sell for them.
This is certainly hypocritical of Unionists, but they’re not actually lying – at least not in this aspect of their arguments – because lying entails a conscious telling of a non-truth which is understood not to be true by the person making the statement. Unionist politicians don’t have that much self-awareness. They’re proud Scots … but.
Don’t expect any of this to change before September 2014. As the American socialist author Upton Sinclair said: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”