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By Jason Michael
ONE OF THE MOST FREQUENTLY asked questions about Scottish independence, whether talking about another referendum or some other move towards ending our disastrous union with England, is: What will Westminster do? Westminster, what it thinks, does, and might do, is a spectre that looms large and menacing over the independence movement. When we talk of ‘Westminster’ what we are alluding to is, of course, the British government, and the British government thinks and does a great deal. It can do any number of things depending on what our next moves are. But what we know with absolute certainty is what it cannot do – it cannot stop Scotland leaving the union when the people of Scotland determine the time has come for them to leave. We spend so much time fretting about Westminster because we can’t get our heads around this simple fact, that London is not omnipotent.
Do not misunderstand me, this paranoid fixation we have with the behaviour and the possible response of the British government is natural. We are meant to be preoccupied with thoughts and fears of what Britain might or might not do because we have been conditioned to be preoccupied with what Britain does. We can think of Britain here as the mysterious court before which Josef K. in Kafka’s The Trial is on trial for his life. He does not know the nature of the charges against him and he is not permitted to face his accusers, yet, completely intimidated by the process and the unseen power, K. succumbs to the anxiety created by the inequality of the power relationship he accepts. Even when he has the opportunity to learn something of his case the information officer at his hearing, noting K.’s state of distraction, reprimands the clerk talking to him:
I don’t understand why you are telling this gentleman all these intimate details, or, rather, forcing them on him since he’s not interested in hearing them. Look at him sitting there, clearly preoccupied with his own affairs.
Like K., we too are on trial. We do not know the people in Whitehall tasked with our case, we know nothing of their motives, and less of what they know and don’t know. All we know – all we have chosen to accept – is that they constitute some dark and brooding authority that has power over us. Somewhere, we suspect, there is a line in the sand. No one knows where this line is, we are simply left to imagine that the moment we cross it – the moment we transgress – the British government will pounce. The imagination, of course, is where this control operates.
This whole situation shows that power is an illusion! When it comes down to it, a lot of these politicians are NOTHING! #grenfell—
Dave Williams (@TheDaveWilliams) June 17, 2017
Much like the inmates of the panopticon, we assume we are being watched and so modify our behaviour accordingly. This assumption has grown in our collective imagination into an authority which has near infinite – almost godlike – power. But, having never seen this power in operation, we have become the prisoners of the monsters of our own creation. This is where all power over us exists – in our minds. The British state will do nothing, and it will do nothing because it does not exist. Britain is a political construct. It exists, like all other state political constructs, because we agree to its existence. It has no power over us unless we first accept that it exists and, existing, that it has power over us. Only when we accept this and consent to its power are we right to be worried about its thoughts and actions. The moment we refuse to accept its reality and refuse to consent to its power. It becomes a ghost.
There is an obvious problem here. Phantasms can’t harm us. Any idiot can tell us blood-curdling tales of the crimes of the British state; how it can put men with guns and tanks on the street, how it has deprived people of basic rights and even their lives. This contradiction wasn’t lost on Kafka either. After the soul-destroying rigmarole of the bureaucratic circus comes to an end K. meets a gruesome end. Without ever seeing the judge or having his appeal heard in a higher court:
…the hands of one of the men were placed on K.’s throat, whilst the other plunged the knife into his heart and turned it round twice. As his sight faded, K. saw the two men leaning cheek to cheek close to his face as they observed the final verdict. ‘Like a dog!’
There is, however, no real contradiction here. When any power resorts to violence it achieves nothing but its own undoing. Consent to be governed qua the acceptance of power’s existence à la Rousseau ceases once power becomes coercive. Violence is the admission on the part of the violent that their power is no longer accepted, no longer recognised. The moment the British state employs violence to impress its power, as it has done so often to other nations in the past, it acknowledges two things; that it has no power and that it understands that those subjected to its violence no longer recognise its power – therefore confirming that its power is a ghost.
Violence is not power. It's a symptom of a lack of power. If you had power, you wouldn't need violence.—
Professor B (@cynthiaboaz) November 10, 2011
So, what will Westminster do? From the point of view of the Scottish independentista Westminster – the British government – can do as it pleases. It is of no concern to us. As power exists only in the imagination of the dominated, the very asking of the question – What will Westminster do? – is an act of capitulation. The independentista has no need of this question. It is unimportant to her. Rather, the independentista thinks of what is best for Scotland and acts to that end – ignoring the protests and tantrums of the British state. It may bring the force of the law down upon us. We ignore that. It may, ultimately, bring truncheons down on our heads as the Spanish state is presently doing to our sisters and brothers in Catalonia. We ignore this too. If violence comes we meet it with passive resistance, knowing that, in the end, we too can use force to protect ourselves. Either way, the power of the British state melts into thin air.
We need not concern ourselves with what Britain will do. All we must concern ourselves with is liberating Scotland from the false consciousness that Britain has any power over us. When we begin to think and act like this we will no longer be thinking and acting as slaves, but as free people. Our first task is to evict the master who has implanted himself in our heads.
The Illusion Of Power- From “A Bug’s Life”