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By Jason Michael
TUCKING INTO MY SECOND Croque Madame it occurred to me I had been whining quite a bit for a Saturday. The washing machine has gone on the blink again, forcing me to haul what felt like every item of clothing I own over to the self-service laundry. Nothing, it seems, has been going my way, and the only remedy was to saunter on into Café Delice for some quality nosh and a builder’s brew while my clothes were being washed next door. Delice is a smart little eatery close to Harold’s Cross owned by a friend of mine from Algeria. He’s an observant Muslim and this is the holy month of Ramadan – he’s fasting. What I was hoping for was that knowing he would be watching me eat with an empty stomach would cheer me up. The desire to gain some small pleasure from Muhammad’s hungry misery drove me to order a second helping, but none of it worked. I was in the doldrums. Finally, I gave up and tweeted to the universe: “I need to quit whining. I’ll take the day off and see how things are on Monday.”
Less than an hour later some smart arse responded with “Good, your negativity is doing my head in.” This chancer – a “JamesM” with 67 followers – was not referring to my blue, self-pitying Saturday afternoon. He knew nothing of it. He was, of course, talking about the constant “negativity” of my commentary on Scotland’s pro-independence politics, the independence movement, and the antics of a few infantile head-bangers in the SNP. Naturally, I reminded this internet sensation that he was under no obligation to follow me. If people prefer their echo chambers, the constant and increasingly meaningless rounds of applause, and self-congratulation they don’t actually need to follow deeply committed curmudgeons like me.
@Jeggit Good your negativity is doing my head in 🤔—
JamesM (@JamesM1001964) May 11, 2019
Life is too short. Really, it is. Earlier in the week I was contacted by a lovely friend when her son – a young man in his 20s with a small child – was killed in a road traffic accident. Sometimes it takes awful and sobering news like this to put things into perspective. Life is short, and it is precious. If people would prefer their social media feeds to be populated with unicorns and happy endings, then that is what they should have. If that describes you, then here’s some advice: Stop reading this now, unfollow or block me on social media, and go find your bliss.
Sadly, however, some of us just aren’t wired to seek contentment. We’re not thrill seekers or pleasure enthusiasts. What drives us is the want of perfection, the perfectly and perennially unattainable ideal. Our search for perfection, our endless striving to make things better, will always – in an imperfect world – lead to frustration. Nothing will ever be perfect, but this does not absolve us of trying to make things perfect because things can always be better. The result is that we, the perfectionists, are always grumpy. When everyone else is clapping and jumping up and down with joy we see a problem, we pour cold water on the fires of exuberance, we are negative.
Don’t get me wrong, I see why this annoys people. It sure as hell annoys me. Scottish political Twitter and Facebook are still social media, and what most people want from the experience is something social – albeit a cyber sociality. Most, committed as they are to independence and to the movement, are here for the craic and the banter. They want all the good news stories, they want to see unionist politicians and trolls being doled out smack-downs from witty bloggers and the edge lords of the SNP. Everyone loves a bit of that. Sometimes we need it. That’s why I will admit to being a fan of some of even the most vile “cybernats.” They make me “lol” too. But the politics of independence isn’t just about the patter. This is a real national political struggle. It may come as a surprise to some, but most of us don’t think of ourselves as national actors. More typically we position ourselves and our online political activism within the framework of our social network; those we know and interact with on social media and meet at marches around the country. For most people this is the nation and the Yes movement – it’s their community.
@Jeggit Definitely something in the water. Critical thinking, whether on politics or gender, is definitely frowned upon right now.—
Robbie 🏴🇪🇺🇸🇪🏁#DissolveTheUnion (@wildswim) May 11, 2019
Yet, the fact remains that the politics of independence is a national movement locked in an existential struggle with the British state and all the poison that that can bring to the fight. Not being the most social of people, “Jihadi Jason” – iScot Magazine’s witty new epithet for me – is all about winning the fight. Truth be told, I don’t feel particularly loyal to the Scottish National Party or to any pro-independence party. Political parties are useful instruments, but we mustn’t forget that they are also very human institutions. They attract professionals and careerists – journeymen. Too often they remind me of the community development people Darren McGarvey describes in Poverty Safari, wage-earners who depend on the poverty industry for a living. They may be committed to the cause, but they know a solution would wreck their gravy train. In a national independence movement such as ours there has to be people on the outside shouting in.
These outsiders shouting in are the critics. People see this term “criticism” and read “condemnation,” and this is why they see nothing but negativity in what critical commenters say and write. Folk here for the social life and the craic then take every form of criticism as an insult, as something fundamentally opposed to independence. But they couldn’t be further from the truth. My suspicion is that they have confused the movement and the party with the cause, when in fact these are entirely different things. My commitment is to the cause, to the independence of Scotland, and so sometimes – and sometimes rather often – I feel obliged to set my critical sights on the SNP and on the actions of elements of the movement. Yes, the SNP is “the vehicle” that will get us independence – I sort of agree with this – but it will only manage this if it is kept good and on track. Putting independence first, I fail to see how saving England from a Brexit it clearly wants will get us where we want to go. As far as I can gather, saving England from Brexit will only achieve the salvation of the union. So, I feel conscience bound to comment and cast a shade over the party’s premature celebrations.
We've reached a point in the movement at which defending ourselves and our reputations from the attacks of the poli… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…—
Jason Michael (@Jeggit) May 10, 2019
Not all criticism is the same. We know the British nationalist parties are critical of the SNP and the movement. I don’t feel much need to address them. They are liars and scoundrels. What good would it do for me to waste time arguing with them? If we win a debate they will flip-flop and are still as unionist as they were before the argument. Nothing can be gained by locking horns with these people. Something can be gained by challenging people on our own side. A mirror can be held up to them, we can see in each other the hope of independence and trust that the other does actually want the same thing. Loyal criticism – or “negativity” – has the power to keep us good. Having the courage to tell those whose objectives we support that they are sometimes wrong will never weaken the movement or push our goal further away. It will strengthen us and make us better. No perfect, but better.
Sure, even I should accept the words of my friendly critics. Knowing that I am doing people’s heads in is encouraging. It tells me I’m doing something right. Still, not everyone wants their head nipped by some outsider upstart with notions and ideas above his station. No one needs a guy from a housing scheme in Kilmarnock telling them things they don’t want to hear when they can have someone better from SNP HQ telling them independence is inevitable and to just ignore the “trash.” No one should have to be totally engaged in the realities of this struggle, not if they don’t want to be. If all some movement members want is to be happy by preserving the atmosphere of 2014, then let them knock themselves out. Being happy is no bad thing. But if you’re here to put your hand to the plough and do some of the heavy lifting to make this happen, then set your face like flint – there might be some criticism.
Criticism: What’s Wrong with TED Talks? by Benjamin Bratton