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By Jason Michael

“THE BIG-TENT BROAD CHURCH Yes movement of [the] 2014 #indyref,” tweets writer, commentator, and academic Gerry Hassan, “was always going to splinter.” His comment came in the wake of the former First Minister, Alex Salmond’s, announcement that he had resigned from the SNP. While he sees the fragmentation of the Scottish independence movement as an inevitability, he questions whether this will come about over partisan disputes between what he classifies as “Salmond loyalists” and “non-Salmond believers.” Rather, he predicts that broader philosophical differences in the movement will ultimately bring this about; between the camps of “faith politics” and those with a “more pragmatic approach.” The superior attitude and sneering demeanour of how he has chosen to articulate this dire prediction are unmistakable, but is he right?

He goes on to support his assertion:

Yes has been in decline since the indyref. Some of this is to be expected. Less [groups], less people. Second, the division is all around you. Just saying people who share your opinion are united doesn’t eradicate divisions. Yes, as a movement was always [likely] to fracture or differentiate into [different] spectrums [sic] of Yes. Without an indyref on the horizon other differences come to the fore.

In order to make sense of this there is a fair amount of unpacking to be done, so please do bear with me as I set out some terms of reference before discussing what he has said in further detail. Straight away Hassan falls into the terminology trap, treating the “big-tent broad church” Yes movement and the independence movement as interchangeable labels. Almost everyone does this, but this doesn’t make it less wrong. It so happens to be one of my pet peeves.

“Yes” was a political campaign with mass popular support across Scotland, and so can – to some extent – be described as a movement. Up until 18 September 2014 the Yes movement was a real social and political movement, the dovetailing of the many previously existing strands of the Scottish independence movement together with other groupings and individuals which, for reasons other than independence as an end in itself, hitched their wagons to the campaign for a Yes vote. This movement was, of course, always going to break apart. It was never a truly organic social and political movement, but the product of a specific referendum campaign. In this regard Hassan is correct, the Yes movement always had a shelf life. In fact, we can go further and say that, in the strictest possible sense, Yes ceased to exist once the political campaign for a Yes vote ended.

The confusion arises when we fail to differentiate between this movement and the prior existing organic independence movement. After 18 September the independence movement, albeit disappointed, continued on with many – due to the identity of the Yes campaign – now thinking of the independence movement as the “Yes movement.” So, yes, without a defined and centrally led campaign it was the case that the number of people vocally and visibly identifying as Yes movement members decreased. But this says nothing of the numbers of those who still considered themselves independentistas – as members of the wider independence movement.

Next there is Hassan’s assumption of messianism; his rather contemptuous claim to there being “Salmond loyalists” and “non-Salmond believers” in the movement with their philosophical partners in “faith politics” and the “pragmatic approach.” Perhaps Gerry can’t see his logical inconsistency here, but he is almost begging the question (assuming the premise), but not exactly – they are the same things. Just as the “non-Salmond believers” are the pragmatists, the faithful are the “Salmond loyalists.” He has singularly failed to draw a distinction between what he thinks will not cause the movement to splinter and that which he thinks will.

There is more going on here than first meets the eye. Obviously, Hassan, the writer and academic, sees himself as one of the “more pragmatic,” and in so doing he puts himself in contradistinction to the “faith politics” of the “Salmond loyalists.” In case the subtlety of this was missed, what Gerry is saying – in the most pompous way – is that he knows better. But who are the “Salmond loyalists?” What does Gerry Hassan mean when he speaks of these and “faith politics?” Well, we can infer from his self-positioning as one of the enlightened ones that “faith politics” is the philosophy of the neophyte; the beginner, the uneducated – the great unwashed.

What Hassan is doing, in effect, is imposing the political division he would prefer to see realised – the class division. There are those with education who know what they are doing because of where they were born into in society – “the more pragmatic,” and then there are those who are emotive, driven by passion and blind faith in a charismatic leader. This is why I have described his comment as both superior and sneering. Hassan’s “philosophical” gripe is that the movement appears to have transcended his class-based assumption and that he and others of the educated, “more pragmatic approach” are not leading it.

It is only to be expected that those with less formal or academic education – for whatever reason – and those who were first introduced to politics within the Yes movement would look for leadership. This is the smart thing to do. Isn’t this why the young Gerry Hassan had teachers, lecturers, and mentors? Everyone needs leadership, guidance, and encouragement before they can find their feet in the world of politics. By making this social distinction and suggesting that the fanatics qua working class independentistas (that’s really what “faith” means here) are threatening to destroy the movement (because that’s who he’s blaming), Gerry is merely trying to shift the goal posts because, by accident of birth and social privilege, his class got there first.

Welcome to the Gramscian concept of hegemony – the use of power through society by the dominant class to keep its grip on power. Taking Hassan’s comment to its logical conclusion we get a glimpse of his idea of independence. This is an independence in which power passes from one ruling or dominant class to another – much like what happened in Ireland, where the class status quo is maintained and people like Gerry still get to be the dominant voice in society.

The reality is that there are no new divisions in the independence movement. I say “new” because there have always been political and other ideological differences between groups and individuals who support self-determination. We can see from the polls that over-all support for independence since 2014 has not, as Hassan claims, “been in decline.” In fact, looking at this question from a wider angle over the past fifty years, support for independence has increased exponentially and today it is holding well to its current level. So, to conclude, yes, the Yes movement has declined. It no longer exists. The independence movement, however – the backbone of the Yes campaign, has continued as before, and those who support independence – for pragmatic reasons – have only just added to the political mass. Gerry Hassan is only put out because he senses, given the popular and anarchistic nature of the “butterfly rebellion,” that the old order that has guaranteed him privilege and place in society is being fundamentally challenged by… us.

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Hegemony – 10 Minute Philosophy – Terms


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6 thoughts on “Gerry Hassan’s House Divided

  1. Nail’s head well and truly hit. As usual. We must however guard against (what will be seen as, and gleefully reported by the media as) in-fighting. Gerry has enough of a “serious commentator” track-record though that this forensic analysis of his position should be rightly tackled.

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  2. Gerry Hassan is not worth the time you spend writing about his puerile thoughts.

    But I wonder where I fit into his narrative: I have been a believer in the Scottish Independence from long before I had even heard of the person, Alex Salmond. And I have supported the SNP for much longer than my awareness of Alex Salmond as a politician has been a factor in my voting. I happen to respect Mr Salmond as a highly capable and astute politician and leader of the political party that I support but, having met him on a couple of occasions, I cannot say I particularly like the man. Now that may be unfair of me to come to that conclusion as I can hardly be said to know him, but that is where I am right now. And as for this current situation, I have no idea and no opinion on his guilt in relation to these (as yet unspecified) allegations but I utterly support him taking the process to court as it appears to be utterly unfair. So what does this make me; a “Salmond Loyalist” or a “pragmatic non-believer”?

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  3. Listened to and read his stuff during the referendum campaigning. I haven’t bothered since. Changes his opinions depending on the audience and likes to keep a foot in both camps, could write a book when a couple of sentences would do. Not particularly interested in Scotland the country and has never demonstrated that he has a grasp of on the issues that motivate people to vote and campaign for independence.

    What, at the end of the day has independence to offer a gobshite, a chancer and a fud? I would be a surprised if he became a genuine supporter of Scottish Independence.

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  4. I believe in Independence for Scotland. I will work with any movement that works to achieve that end.

    To be brutally frank Mr Hassan bores me stiff. He is what I call a fringe radical and like most of them full he is self-importance. Fortunately the majority of people are totally unimpressed.

    Liked by 1 person

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