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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.
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.
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.
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
9 thoughts on “Criticism and Negativity”
This is a rare post from you where your language and logic is not fully aligned. I have always loved the way your mind is like a laser – the logic always cuts to the core of the arguments leaving chancers and our own delusions naked…but not here. Perhaps your “mean reds” are really playing havoc.
…”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”…
This contradicts your earlier paragraphs about indy. Sure being happy is their right. However, if those who are trapped in a 2014 reminiscence do so by ignoring new realities swirling from the depths of Westminster – then sadly they are currently not about Independence. They are potentially in danger of being steamrolled deeper into the Union clutches ..undoing the hard won gains of 2014. Their desire for comfort is no use to YES in staving of a rampant Westminster.
Given the lack of urgency or real understandings of the risks or current issues, this trance is I think is where large swathes of the YES movement are actually.
I just want to reiterate….THIS IS NOT 2014. There is no status quo and this time it looks like Westminster plans to eat Scotland whole.
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You are absolutely right, this is a contradiction. But I will argue that it is not my contradiction, but a contradiction of reality over which we have no control. “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Jeggit without razor sharp logic is like Wings going soft on Unionist pish….it is just not on. 😉
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It finally hit me – this is SNP’s BIG FAILURE.
It has not spent the last 3 years distilling the new narrative at every opportunity…driving home just how/where the Union is no longer consistent with Scottish sovereignty. Instead SNP playing dead has left the majority of YES back in 2014 mode…and dangerously conflating 2014 and now.
The big telltale sign is the “once in a generation” still gets traction. The new risks mean this is not a re-run of 2014…it’s far more serious.
THIS is where the SNP have failed as a mechanism for YES.
A mechanism that doesn’t work is just a paperweight with a yellow rosette.
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When the idea of a 2nd Brexit referendum was first mooted, Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP leadership did not support it. When they did a volte-face I was astonished. Instead of using the turmoil in the English parliament of the UK to advance the cause of independence, they chose to support a cause that would hinder independence.
The reasoning was that the failure of the UK because of Brexit would not be good for Scotland; we don’t want a neighbour in distress when we do become independent. It seemed to me that the respectful thing to do was to let England have its Brexit, and for Scotland to resile the Treaty of Union and revoke the Act of Union. it seemed weird for Scots to try impose economic and political salvation on England. It still does seem weird to me.
With the Act of Union Bill in the Lords, Gove threatening to further diminish the powers of Holyrood, and now the three mousketeers, a Court certified liar, and two MPs from parties that lied and made false promises about the consitiution in 2014, proposing to tinker with the UK’s constitution to keep Scotland in the Union, the Scottish parliament needs to act fast to avoid more lies and false promises to Scotland which would entrap us in servitude to England. I think that when Brexit actually happens the Unionists will fast-track the Bill in the Lords, the Westminster government and Parliament will quickly enact Gove’s threats, and the Court certified liar and his side-kicks will make it next to impossible for the Scottish parliament to act under International Law for independence.
The SNP needs to wake up and act!
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This is the BIG…HUGE…CATASTROPHIC failure of the SNP.
It has not spent the last 3 years communicating the new case for Indy – making sure YES and Scotland is fully aligned on the risks and threats. Instead SNP have been playing dead and left the majority of YES in a post 2014 stupor. The big tell is that the “once in a generation” still has traction. This time has nothing to do with 2014 – it’s far more serious.
This is where the SNP has failed to be an instrument for YES and
An instrument that doesn’t function is just a paperweight with a yellow rosette.
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Perhaps the cause of independence needs to be taken out of the hands of SNP. Could the Scottish Independence or All Under One Banner, or some other YES group organise People’s Referendum requiring the Scottish Parliament to resile the Treaty of Union and revoke the Act of Union?
Yes, I agree with all of this. I wrote a blog in 2016 the day before Nicola Sturgeon published her “answer to Brexit” I called it ” A road Map To Unionism” The day after when the document was published I wrote another blog and titled it ” I told you so” The SNP have been on this save the Union crusade ever since Nicola was crowned Queen of the SNP. They have put many obstacles in the way of campaigning, in fact, we in Dundee as members of the Yes Bus Team encountered hugely damaging resistance to arranging rallies by the SNP controlled Council. Things have to change or a new party has to be formed, and as soon as possible.
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The SNP have spent the last years in a state of inertia. Caught in a trap of their own making.
Instead of driving Scotland to independence, they sat in the back seat while the UK took them up a cul de sac.
The reason people feel as you do Jeggit. Is because we have no confidence in Nicola . We are fed up with platitudes and no action. We simply don’t believe she will deliver a referendum. We also don’t think she has a contingency plan. There is no magic wand, no rabbit in a hat.
Right now the SNP are in a strategic omnishambles.
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