You have to love Martin Kettle, desperately seeking an intellectual case for Scotland to remain within the Union, and all the while he examines Scotland from afar through the wrong end of ink covered binoculars that leave him panda eyed. If Tian Tian isn’t pregnant after all, we could probably hire Martin to stand in as third panda. It would at least allow him to make a relevant contribution to Scottish discussions. Zoo visitors would even be prepared to look indulgently on Martin’s habit of ramming a bamboo shoot up his backside and calling it an insight. Aww ther a cute wee Guardian columnist, bless, inty lovely. Oh look, ther a monkey in a rid rosette throwin poo.
You can, if you put your mind to it, rustle up a suitably intellectual sounding justification for pretty much any proposition you care to mention. All it takes is some impressive sounding words, a liberal sprinkle of quotations, and a selectiveness with facts that makes a vegan with a wheat allergy seem like an unfussy dinner guest. This is why there are people in this world who sincerely believe that Native Americans are descended from the tribes of Israel who got lost on a package holiday to Miami, that the standing stones of Calanais were built by aliens as a landing strip (but without a Sunday service, of course), or even that Scotland 2014 is a programme worth watching. Well OK, maybe not that last one. No one with any understanding of Scotland believes that, not even Sarah Smith. Martin probably does though, and that explains why he is desperately trying to rustle up an intellectual case for the extraordinary proposition that a country shouldn’t govern itself and electing its own government is an extraordinary state of affairs. He does this by rebutting the arguments of a Scottish independence campaign which is even more phantom than a panda pregnancy and exists solely in the hormonal flushes of a senile UK establishment.
You can only maintain your intellectual pretence when your audience is in possession of even fewer facts than you are. What you can’t do is to put lipstick on a pig and pretend it’s a panda, with or without the benefit of inky binoculars, because the dedicated panda watchers of the referendum campaign will still spot the difference. Martin’s big problem is that referendum panda watching is now a mass participatory sport in Scotland, and even small children can tell the difference, leading commentators like Martin and Labour party candidates to mutter about Alicsammin der Pandaführer.
Martin argues that Scotland is a partner in the Union and has not been singled out for special mistreatment by Westminster. And this last bit would be true. Wales, Northern Ireland and the English regions have equally suffered from Westminster’s focus on developing London as a global centre of finance. But that is not the same as Scotland remaining a partner in the Union. Scotland along with all other parts of the UK have declined from being partners in this Union to being colonies of the financial industries of the City of London. Our resources are used to build infrastructure in London, our brightest children attracted to the opportunities the city presents – because there are no such opportunities for them at home in Scotland, or in Wales, or in Manchester or Liverpool. Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the English regions are all equally internal UK colonies who exist to service and further the development of the Global City.
If Martin really wanted some solid evidence that Scotland is not a partner in this Union, he only needs to look at the state-sponsored hoo-ha with which Westminster has surrounded the issue of a currency union. If we were truly a partner in the eyes of Westminster, a currency union would not even be subject to discussion – it would be seen as a perfectly logical and rational means of preserving and fostering cooperation between two neighbouring nations which have strong economic, personal and cultural links. Instead we have the bitter refusal to acknowledge that Scotland has played any role at all in “Westminster’s pound”.
If Scotland was truly a partner in the eyes of Martin and his Westminster chums, there would be no dispute that Scottish independence means the end of the Union of 1707, instead there is the insistance that Scotland was dissolved and abolished and Westminster not Holyrood represents the sole continuing state. That’s not partnership, that’s possession.
Back in the 1970s, the Marxist writer and thinker Michael Hechter published a highly influential book – at least it was influential on the Scottish left – called Internal Colonialism, in which he argued that the “Celtic peripheries” of the UK were internal colonies of the British state. At the time it was argued that Hechter’s analysis was mistaken, a Scotland which still preserved much of its traditional industry and was one of the centres of the UK economy could scarcely be said to be a colony. But then Thatcher happened. Scotland’s traditional heavy industry was decimated, along with that in the rest of the “British periphery” – in the English regions as much as Scotland or Wales. With the UK’s postwar failure to maintain itself as an industrial and military superpower, the new goal was for the UK to strut the world stage as a financial superpower. The regions and nations of the rest of the UK are the new colonies, serving the goal of maintaining London’s position as a leading centre of the financial industry, sources of revenues and labour to further those needs. That’s about as close to colonialism as you can get without actually being a colony. 40 years later the core of Hechter’s analysis has come true. But Scotland can choose another path, a path Martin can’t see, blinded by his pandanoculars.
There are only two exceptionalisms in the Scottish case for independence. The first is that the Scottish independence campaign is the only one in the history of the United Kingdom and its many colonial possessions where the party of UK government has been less fertile than a panda. Out-fucked by a panda, there’s an epitaph for the Union. The second is that unlike the rest of the UK, there is something Scotland can do to address the lamentable state of self serving affairs which passes for governance in the UK. The UK constitution exceptionally recognises the right of Scotland to self determination, and Scotland’s exceptionalism is the claim that Scotland can be a normal country like any other. Scotland’s exceptionalism is the exceptional ability to deliver Westminster a Glesca kiss and escape its strangling embrace.
It’s not really that exceptional in the cosmic scheme of things, but we can see why it’s got Martin worried. We have the exceptional ability to burst the bubble of the London commentariat. And we’re doing it for Wales, Northern Ireland and the English regions almost as much as we’re doing it for ourselves.
The real exceptionalism is Martin’s and his exceptional panda eyes. Vote Yes so Scotland can be a normal country.