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By Jason Michael

WHENEVER THERE IS THE SLIGHTEST disagreement between pro-independence voices there is an immediate response across social media demanding “unity” and asking the same predictable question: Why can’t we all just get along? Journalists, bloggers, and other writers and content producers in the independence movement are people who often run the gauntlet of being labelled “divisive” for their thoughts, opinions, and comments. In fact, anyone who takes it upon themselves to speak up and speak out runs this same risk. Only tonight on Twitter someone asked me if there was “a bit of the fifth colomnist [sic]” about me over the head of my recent criticism of one particular pro-independence group. Peter Bell even – a great champion of the movement – asked if the next thing I was going to suggest was “fucking aliens.”

Not everyone is going to agree with or even like what we say all of the time. Sometimes we have to say difficult things, uncomfortable things, and sometimes we just plain get it wrong. Getting along all the time and being in perfect unity is simply not possible, and this is so for a number of reasons. Discounting the most human of reasons – the personality clash, we are operating within a social and political movement of a considerable size for a country of its size. In September 2014 some 1.6 million people voted for independence. Since then the number of people in support of ending our political union with England has risen. We all agree on one thing – independence, but that is pretty much all we agree on. But that’s normal. That’s healthy.

Everyone in the independence movement wants independence qua self-determination for Scotland, but not everyone agrees on what “independence” will be. Simply put: We are all using the same word, but what is meant by it – what our vision of it is – changes from person to person. Allow me then to put my cards on the table. An independent Scotland, to me – beyond the vote, is a democratic republic. I am hoping for a peaceful and orderly democratic transition from the constitutional monarchy of the United Kingdom to a fully autonomous Republic of Scotland. Ideally it will have a parliament that fairly represents everyone in Scotland and a senate or upper house to safeguard against any arising lower house excesses. Whether or not we have a head of state in the form of a president or an elected monarch like Poland of old is unimportant to me.

Not everyone shares my vision. To some, my vision poses a serious challenge to their own and perhaps even to their ambitions. Certainly, the visions of some cause me considerable concern. There are independentistas who would like to see an effective Free State Scotland, a self-governing nation-state with the Queen – “her heirs and successors” – as head of state. There are others who are working towards something akin to a workers’ soviet republic where all dissent is treated as treason and punished accordingly. There are others still who would prefer independence to be some class of populist demagoguery. Independence, as a political goal, has a surplus of meaning, and we do not all share the same vision.

All of this raises some really interesting questions about “unity.” What do we mean when we demand unity? Looking at some of the criticism I receive and that levelled against other pro-independence writers and bloggers, one prevailing understanding of unity is an absolutist style of conformity; that, focusing entirely “on the goal,” there must be no dissent, disagreement, and definitely no airing of dirty laundry in public. We have to ask ourselves if the people insisting on this “unity” have ever experienced the rare delights of a Scottish Christmas dinner. People in the same family, members of the same group, and activists in the same movement often dissent, disagree, and dish the dirt. That is not to say that it is always good, but it is healthy and normal for a free and open society to have the odd internal set-to.

Openness and transparency do not undermine unity. They strengthen it. Lovers, brothers, sisters, and friends can tell one another uncomfortable truths. They can exchange cross words. They can even – and often do – have open pitched battled. But real and authentic relationships are not destroyed by such openness. They are strengthened. Silence, avoidance of the hard truths, disequilibria of power, and abuse foster environments which are highly toxic and inimical to true unity. If we desire a meaningful unity of purpose within our movement then we must reject this naïve notion of “unity” as a hypocritical conspiracy of silence and conformity for the sake of independence. We have nothing to fear from honesty, openness, scrutiny, and dissent. These are the things, certainly for my own vision of Scottish independence, we should be embracing.

Open societies are self-correcting societies. Closed societies are societies of fear and repression. As we are right now on the threshold of independence perhaps we should be behaving, as a movement, how we hope to behave as an independent, mature democracy. This is why I distinguish between “unity” – in quotation marks – and unity of purpose. These are not the same thing. “Unity,” if we are perfectly honest with ourselves, is a fiction. We don’t all want the exact same thing. We don’t all share the exact same vision of independence. Rather, what we have is a unity of purpose – unicity as opposed to unity – in that we share one common goal; independence qua self-determination for Scotland. That’s it! One moment. One solitary political act. What we individually mean by that independence and how we each envision it to be creates disunity – but disunity in the movement does not mean we cannot have unicity, a common unity of purpose.

Disagree with me. I am not always right. According to some, I am never right. If you become aware that I am committing fraud, embezzling money, abusing fellow independentistas – or anyone, or doing things which will damage the independence movement or its reputation – expose me. You have my permission (not that you need it)! Yes, this is disunity, but it is a healthy expression of openness that in no way harms the unicity of the movement. It strengthens it. Demanding “unity” without any real or meaningful understanding of what this entails – especially when it involves protecting a culture of silence – is politically naïve. It is infantile and incredibly short-sighted.

Our demand for silence and unity has, at least in some parts of the movement, brought about the evolution of petty fiefdoms – little cliques dominated by controlling and megalomaniacal nutters. What sort of vision is that for an independent Scotland? What do undecided voters and people on the cusp of making the journey from No to Yes think of independence and what it will mean for the future when they see and experience this? Their answer won’t be far from that given to American independence by the Boston tory clergyman Mather Byles:

Which is better, to be ruled by one tyrant three thousand miles away or by three thousand tyrants one mile away?

We are not a nation of petits tyrans. Scotland has shown itself, both in 2014 and at the Brexit referendum, to be an amazingly open and progressive country. The independence movement, in spite of its all too human failings and other shortcomings, is the actual embodiment of that openness and progressiveness. We have every reason to trust the intelligence of the average Scot – we’re a smart bunch. This means we can be open and transparent, we can even disagree and have the odd “spat.” Your average Scot is clever enough to weigh up the facts for her or himself and make up their own mind. We don’t have to hide things to keep people on board or to attract them to the movement. We won’t always get along and we won’t always agree, but that doesn’t mean we can’t achieve the one thing we are all in this movement for – independence. I suspect, rather, that it will better equip us to win it and improve the quality of the independence we win.

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6 thoughts on “Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?

  1. Jason,

    I suspect the desire for conformity is people only seeing political movements through the lens of Westminster and British party politics. Its centralised control – winners and losers.

    As I posted on Peter Bell’s blog – given Westminster’s known tactics, one of YES’s greatest assets is that it is not networked from a central command. They cannot capture the supply/communication lines if they don’t exist. In effect, YES is a mirror of the disaggregated structure of French Resistance.

    The centralised political model would also fail as it could not can not understand or deploy the real strengths within the movement. YES is blessed with natural talents that don’t fit within an organised structure…actually organised structures would push these people out as they are too “risky”.
    – Wings is a relentless attacking player…he is small, nimble and appears to fear no one.
    – Phantom Power – a one person star maker
    – WeeGingerDug is part of its social heart…his gift for story draws you in only to whack you between the eyes.
    – YES has those with a brutal tongue not fit for polite publications but perfect at evicerating imbeciles.

    With in this swirling mass of Scottish creativity and drive sits its political arm. YES has very cleverly siloed its political arm (SNP) from the broader YES movement who are independent with their own agency.
    Think how much It must frustrate Westminster (and their media acolytes) that YES’s political arm is able to keep so much clean air without having to be labeled as responsible for every action of the YES movement.

    I fear for YES if there is a centralised model. It does not sit well the the idea of Scottish as a sovereign people. It also means no one in the movement can have any personal agency due to the risk. Westminster and their media would run smear story after smear story and bog the leaders down calling for the leaders to condemn its own members……

    Whenever anyone is calling for a centralised model of compliance what they are saying is, lets play the game the way Westminster does. (the one Westminster knows how to win)

    Liked by 2 people

  2. the movement was always in danger of being infiltrated by thieves after all bank accounts get hacked people get fooled so easily to hand over money and the Independence movement is far more vulnerable all you have to do is to think of a name that attracts people organize a meeting then a date for some marches buy some buckets put on some group name stickers open a crowd funder then hey presto you can make a fortune.

    Like

  3. Excellent article. Without openness and transparency, and promotion of truth, we are no better than the corrupt so-called Union and MSM that we bitterly complain about and want to detach ourselves from. Start as we mean to go on, I say.

    Like

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