By Jason Michael

EVERY INTRODUCTION TO PSYCHOLOGY course begins, or should begin, with the twisted tale of Pavlov’s dogs.  This is a grim and cruel story of the most awful kind of animal experimentation. It goes without saying, then, that students love it. This Nobel Prize winning Russian scientist, Ivan Pavlov, wasn’t exactly a dog lover. In order to better understand conditioned behaviour, so the story goes, he locked a group of dogs in a room with an electrified floor – not a great start to an animal story, I know. He would then turn on the power and shock the poor creatures. As one would expect, they barked and howled and jumped around trying to escape the pain. After repeated shocks the dogs learnt there was no way out. They gave up, stopped barking and howling and just lay down. In the next phase of the experiment he divided the room in half. The dogs were put on one side with an electrified floor and on the other side, over a small barrier, was a non-electrified wooden floor. This time when he turned the power on, rather than leap over the barrier to the safety of the wooden floor, the dogs simply gave up and lay down. They had been conditioned.

Sad as this story is for the dogs, it does tell us something about the psychology of behavioural conditioning – something people are subjected to also. Over decades and centuries of union with England the people of Scotland have been subjected to a programme of unrelenting cultural and media conditioning. As John MacCormick wrote in his 1955 history of the national movement of Scotland, The Flag in the Wind, our taught history after Culloden had been reduced to an extension of early English history. Like Wessex, Mercia, or Kent, Scotland was merely a north British kingdom that was slow on the uptake. Nothing of this has really changed. The BBC has spearheaded the media narrative that Scotland is utterly dependent on the broad shoulders of England. Even its new Scottish channel has picked the very worst sort of “nationalist” to be fairer and more balanced for its Scottish audience. The first task of the independence movement, having recognised this problem, is to undue the conditioning of centuries.

What it is tasked with, before anything else, is asking about the nature of independence for a conditioned or colonised people. Our conditioning means that we are internally formed by our education, media, politics, and social expectations. Our place in the British understanding of things has sunk deep into the roots of who we are as people and as a nation. We are British in spite of our desire to be free because centuries of this state formation process have imposed Britishness upon us. It is this British history that is, as James Joyce said of Ireland, the “nightmare from which I am trying to awake.” Our conditioning must be overcome, fully overcome, before we can be free.

Sure, we can gain national independence before we have overcome this conditioning. That is far from impossible. But it will have certain devastating consequences. Conditioned as a nation to be North Britons, in an independent Scotland we will be completely incapable of building anything other than a little Britain in the north. All we will be able to do, as conditioned people, is replicate in miniature the only thing we have been conditioned to know. Like the dogs, in the above lesson, we will quickly give up and lie down defeated – because we have been taught to be defeated. This, and I am sad to say, is my impression of Ireland. In this I have the agreement of many Irish nationalists and republicans. Ireland is an incomplete revolution. It has not as yet lived up to the 1916 Easter Proclamation of the Irish Republic:

We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible. The long usurpation of that right by a foreign people and government has not extinguished the right, nor can it ever be extinguished except by the destruction of the Irish people.

In 2019 the people of Ireland are still without the ownership of Ireland, still without unfettered control of their own destinies, and still subject to the control of foreign people. Landlordism, long the instrument of British dominance in Ireland, still ensures there is no right to a home for every woman, man, and child of the nation. The wealth of the country is still very much in the hands of economic masters, banking and financial institutions, and an élite and privileged class. To this day the policy of the Irish government in Dublin is dictated by foreign globalised corporations which pay next to nothing into the common purse of the country while removing every penny they make in profit. By no stretch of the imagination was this the independence envisioned by the men and women who went out to fight for their freedom and the Republic on Easter week 1916. What they got instead was a partial independence, and, until now, an incomplete revolution. This “New Ireland” was the work of reactionaries who took it upon themselves to temper the zeal of revolution and so produce a state made in the image and likeness of that of their former colonial master.

Ireland is a nation still on the journey of self-becoming. It is an independent nation, for sure, but its independence is dependent on its national and colonial memory of domination. We in Scotland are yet to set out on that journey, and so we must ask: What does independence mean? Are we to be merely independent as a state, free to reproduce all the ills England has for three centuries foisted upon us? Is that what independence means? Surely this was the independence feared by Mather Byles when he asked those seeking American independence: “Which is better, to be ruled by one tyrant three thousand miles away or by three thousand tyrants one mile away?” If the greater part of our nation’s psyche is conditioned to reproduce Britain’s mode of rule, then isn’t it better to be ruled by one Britain far away than a whole country of little Britons down the road?

The solution to this problem; being free and independent without reproducing the conditions we hope independence will free us from, is to free ourselves before we gain independence. What I mean by this is that independence is for the free. We must be free of Britain and Britishness before we can win the independence we need and want. Independence – true independence – presupposes freedom. We must be mentally, and physically, and spiritually free. We must reclaim our intellectual freedom and our freedom to dissent. We must be fully autonomous human beings, and not just members of another herd, before we will have the wherewithal to claim and to build a new nation-state founded on the very principles of freedom. No one who is not already free – truly free – can lay the foundations of a new nation precisely because the unfree do not know the principles of freedom.

Why am I writing this – again? I asked a simple question earlier tonight:

In the event that the SNP doesn’t use the mandate and we end up out the EU despite our rejection of Brexit, is it time for another single-platform pro-independence party?

No sooner was it asked than people on social media were suggesting I was a “unionist plant.” Folk were reminding me that I wasn’t around in the ’60s, that I hadn’t worked as hard as them, that I wasn’t in the SNP for as long as them, that I was splitting the party, splitting the vote, that I was playing Westminster’s game, et cetera ad nauseum. What they were telling me was that questions were not really allowed. They had joined a community in which free thinking, intellectual freedom, and freedom of conscience were not really welcome. Others were chiming in that they “had suspicions about me.” One guy, “Wullie,” came right out and said it in plain English: “Look mate, I’m not interested in you’re [sic] highfaluting opinions. I’m just a working man who didn’t finish high school or go to Uni…” Thinking for one’s self is dangerous. Intellectual freedom is “highfaluting,” it caused dis-ease in the conditioned mind. It introduces something that frightens the servile mind. ‘Sit down and shut up,’ it says ‘and follow the leader.’

I’m not against the SNP. Far from it. I am critical sometimes of the SNP – and so should I be. So too must we all be. Being critical is nothing other than “expressing an analysis of something’s merits and faults,” and like every other political party and human institution the SNP has its merits and faults. I support the SNP because, even after subjecting its merits and faults to rigorous critique in my own mind, on balance, I believe it to be the best option. But, as a free person, I reserve the right to change my mind in the future after further consideration. As a free person, I reserve the right to ask questions – no matter how difficult others may find those questions. That is freedom. It doesn’t matter what the actual question was, or even that it was my question. I am only truly free when my sister and brother is also free. We have a right and a duty to ask questions, to know the truth. Sitting down and shutting up and following the leader is, in this regard, no different to the dog who sits down when the electricity is turned on. We must reject the conditioning of our captivity.


Classical Conditioning in High School

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17 thoughts on “What Does Independence Mean?

  1. Jason
    The first one to smell smoke is not crazy…they may just be more sensitive to it.

    You probably always knew what you are doing would not go down well with everyone….I know that doesn’t make it any easier (plato’s cave was there well before you).

    All I can proffer is – Change always starts small. Even on days when it feels a little lonely, remember to take strength from those who share the road with you and hope others will join you along the way.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Jason
      People seam to have missed that your question started with an IF condition.
      “…In the event that the SNP doesn’t use the mandate….”

      It is worth asking the question:
      If the fundamental SNP tenant is Scottish independence and the SNP won’t use a mandate given by the Scottish people in a time where the constitutional relationship is being re-written without Scottish consent….WHAT IS IT FOR?

      Sure, NS may be working behind the scenes…but YES can not sit back. YES’s job is to agitate for the action….to make the space for SNP to act. It is the SNP’s job to do the constitutional act (in time before it can be stifled from acting).

      IF SNP fails it is up to YES to ask questions of how to best achieve independence – not to protect any political party just because it exists or used to act for independence.

      I wish Scotland strength and encourage people to RUN….Run as fast as you can.

      Liked by 4 people

  2. Thanks for this Jason! I’m deeply disappointed at the SNP’s attempts to save Britain (i.e. England and its colonies) from Brexit. This tme of chaos in the English parliament of the UK seems to me to be the ideal time to follow Craig Murray’s advice.
    I’m concerned that if we don’t do it before Brexit actually happens, then the English government of the UK will make it all but impossible for us to act for independence.

    I’ve asked the question on several Independence FB sites, “Is it time to take independence out of the hands of the SNP? Should all the YES movement groups get together and call a referendum?” I wish someone would take the lead!

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I’m an SNP member and totally agree with the article, however, in all the SNP meetings I have attended there were plenty of people asking awkward questions of the high heid yins. There were plenty who wanted to toe the line and have a quiet life but you never saw them out canvassing or distributing leaflets. After the last referendum, it was great to see all the new blood join the party many were very passionate and the party did lose a few members thereafter but I believe those that stayed are those that will make a difference. The big difference between Ireland and Scotland will be if we adopt the constitution proposed by Professor McNaught and blockchain for democracy.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. You should tell this to all the SNP-can-do-no-wrong fanatics on Facebook who stifle any free discussion or get blogs banned (as they have done two of mine) for daring to dissent.


  5. Voted SNP all my adult life as to me they are the best political vehicle to achieve a basis for independence. However I have never joined any party and have no plans to ever as I prefer to be ‘on the outside looking in’; to be able to criticise, and /or hold to account, any and all forms of government, which to my mind is the duty of a citizen. I am neither demanding nor advocating that everyone should do this, think for yourself, form your own conclusions and if they mirror that fine but always question. From a very young age I instilled in my children the principle to always question everything and never accept anything blindly as a basis not only for their education but for a life perspective as without questioning we do not learn, change or evolve. Even if initially you agree with it, look at it again, you might find something you and perhaps others have overlooked or a flaw that can be improved on for the betterment of the whole. To me this is sound reasoning and the basis of free thinking. In its’ simplest form ‘free your mind and your ass will follow’ is a sound maxim. The right to question is the most fundamental basics of any freedom and without it something inside us dies.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. One of your very best Jason. As you say the conditioning goes deep and I sometimes find myself doubting if we are “up to this” if indeed “we can” do this…and it sometimes takes a conscious effort to examine those thoughts and dismiss them for the conditioning they really are. And like you I don’t want a replica UK-like state where the only difference is our government sits in Edinburgh rather than London. It will take effort and bravery to achieve a different Scotland and some time too but I firmly believe we will prevail.


  7. Great piece, I agree with what you say , but you are stepping ahead of yourself, this proposition of yours is something for after independence, it’s not a discussion we need or want right now because it splits the people in favour of Scottish independence, let’s get the independence then we can sort things in Scotland in full knowledge that it is Scottish votes and only Scottish votes that are determining our future .


  8. Whilst the SNP owes its current electoral success to Yes voters who might not necessarily agree with other SNP policies and that many zealous Yes supporters are rightly unhappy with their lack of aggressiveness on the issue of independence…

    We have to remember that the SNP’s ultimate objective is to win over a popular majority of the entire electorate. Its current strategy makes absolutely perfect sense once you realise they have been trying their hardest to give the No-Remainers what they arguably voted for – a Scotland inside both the UK and EU.


    Why? That should be obvious. They are the only source of swing No>Yes voters big enough to tip the scales – even if strongly eurosceptic Yes-Leavers turn away from independence. Because the Brexit decision is out of our hands and always has been in Westminster’s.

    When/if Westminster finally drags all those Scottish No-Remainers out of the EU… they could be nailing the UK’s coffin shut. Will it be enough to win IndyRef2? I don’t know. But I think it’s the best chance we have. Looking back, I don’t really see any point during the last two years that an IndyRef2 could have taken place with any clarity of the consequences and thus it would have been lost.

    And we really do have to reach out to those No-Remainers. Try to give them what they want, even if that means sacrificing our current mandate(if we succeed and somehow stop Brexit). It’s an unlikely scenario, but we are now only two years away from the next Holyrood election when the SNP will definitely seek an unambigious mandate for independence and an aborted Brexit will cause all sorts of disruption in rUK politics.

    If Yes supporters can’t see that we need to give goodwill to non-Yessers first in order to get some back later, then the cause is already lost for a long time. A hardline Sinn Fein-style party is more likely to repel the softer No voters we need.


  9. I wonder if the Easter Rising would ever have taken place had the BBC existed in 1916.

    Also, are the SNP in danger of becoming like the old Irish Parliamentary Party? Could they be replaced by a Scottish equivalent of (pre 1922) Sinn Fein?


  10. I appreciate what you say and can understand the conditioning reflex. Your questions are appropriate but before they can be answered we have to gain Independence. It is clear that Scotland must reinvent itself after Independence and the arguments regarding what direction to go in can and should be discussed as soon as an Independence vote is won. There will be a period between the vote and actual separation and some of the answers need to be found then. My main problem is that there will not be enough dogs to jump that small fence when they are given the choice.


  11. Independence will be when all politcal parties are registered in Edinburgh and Westminster parties are excluded as foreign. Calling a political party Scottish when it is registered in London is a ridiculous sham.


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