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By Jason Michael
CHRISTMAS IS A TIME for family – yada, yada, yada – and so it is, but I decided that this year I would use my festive break as an opportunity to get around Scotland talking to people in the independence movement. If much of the response on Twitter to my tweets is anything to go by, I made the mistake of talking to all the wrong people, because the mood was less than optimistic in many quarters – giving a few people the chance to blast me for being ‘negative.’ Still, we have to pay attention to people’s thoughts and opinions; even those we’d sometimes rather not hear. Listening to the pessimists and those presently down in the mouth is not in itself negative. In fact, ignoring the fact that reality bites can end up becoming one of the most profoundly negative things we can do. Ignoring the insights of those who see the obstacles may even lead the whole movement and the independence cause running aground on those very rocks.
Of course, the opinions expressed are not representative. This was not a scientific expedition. It was a personal tour. The people who spoke with me were just ordinary folk, activists and supporters. Yet, all the same, their opinions are valuable – and it matters not a jot whether or not you or I like them. This article is not intended to be a comprehensive discussion of all the thoughts aired. Rather, here I would like to deal with just one – the most troubling one – and over the next few days discuss some of the others. So, please, I crave your patience.
Opinion from south Scotland: Austerity is good for the poor. It's character building, makes them work - 'like we di… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…—
Jason Michael (@Jeggit) January 02, 2020
By far the most disturbing sentiment I encountered was what might best be described as a sneaking admiration for the new British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson – and, naturally, I have my own theory to explain this (which I will get to). This opinion was expressed in the Borders from a retired working-class man, from a guy who has ‘worked all [his] days.’ Boris Johnson, to him, was a man who promised to shake things up; he wanted to strip government of its hereditary, professional civil service, and replace it with a US-style technocracy-administration which could be hired and fired at will. ‘The working man knows,’ he shouted at me, ‘that the country is run best when it’s run like a well-run business.’ Conversation wasn’t exactly possible, and I had to suppress the urge to roar back an expletive or two. He was angry, and my job – the ‘pen-pushing little shite’ that I was – was to listen.
It wasn’t long before he thundered into the subject of austerity as he stabbed the air in my direction with his pointing finger. His love for the ‘business model’ certainly informed his worldview. ‘We can’t go on paying for them that won’t work,’ he said, ‘so, don’t give me this rubbish about the government being responsible for people.’ His fetishisation of the 80’s had formed in his head a notion that we were somehow better off working our way through government-imposed hardship. It was ‘character building,’ it ‘made men’ – not like ‘these weaklings we have now.’ The complaining only ‘comes from the lazy, them that won’t work.’ They all ‘want something for nothing,’ and ‘they will never work.’
Sure, I was shocked. I was shaken. But was it ‘negative’ of me to listen, to report this? No. These are not my opinions, but they are the opinions of at least some in the independence movement. That this man wants independence doesn’t not mean he must share my thoughts on Johnson’s brand of strong-man leadership and the effect of austerity or class war. Our movement is not a centralised organisation in which all members must subscribe to a single ideology and set of political beliefs. It’s a movement of individuals; each with their own priorities and ideas, rallying around the one idea that independence would by the best thing for Scotland. What worries me is the thought that if these particular priorities and ideas are advanced better by London than they are by Edinburgh, then men like this – voters – will shelve independence. It’s not unreasonable to imagine that concerns over immigration will appeal to independentistas of this ilk.
'EU bad' 'Scotland is shite' 'Boris is the boy to...' 'Trumph knows' God help me! I have to get back to Dublin.—
Jason Michael (@Jeggit) December 29, 2019
Do we pander to it? No. When it comes to class war, strong-man politics, neo-fascism, and anti-immigration, we’re out-matched by Westminster. We neither need nor want this politics. What this tells me is that the work of independence is incomplete in this vein of pro-independence opinion. Independence is not and cannot simply be a separation from England. At some point we must justify independence with something more substantial than the nebulous notions of nationhood. Our national identity, after centuries of proximity and three-hundred years of union, is entangled with a great deal of England’s national identity. Sure, in many respects we are quite different. But in many others, we are indistinguishable. This merger of identity will always lead to a situation in which English politics speak to Scots – even independentistas. Our salvation is not in divorce. It is in difference – a difference we must forge as part of the independence package.
Independence justified is an entire package of political, social, and economic assertions which we must make and have been making not only to the unconverted, but also to the converted. We must make the effort to instil in each member of the movement that England’s politics are foreign politics, that they are inimical to our interests. Austerity imposed on Scotland – and on England – by Westminster not only breaks down the individual. It attacks the fabric of the family and the community, all of the necessary supports the individual requires to thrive and to be a productive member of society. Independence will only be possible when we can resist Westminster in the deepest recesses of the fabric of Scotland, allowing us to defend the family and the community – and in so doing equip each member to stand up.
But why the appeal of Boris Johnson? Boomers! That, I’m afraid, is the answer. Scotland has boomers too; a generation who are still incapable of seeing ‘the man’ as anything other than the best possible leader – especially ‘the working man.’ In the past five years we’ve seen women in leadership, at the same time, in every part of the United Kingdom – and a segment of the manly boomer population have not taken well to this. They feel that this matriarchy has been forced on them, and they don’t like it. Boris Johnson is a man. That fact alone makes him a better leader. Well, there’s not much we can do about this. The angry boomer will be angry. Hard pigeon.
Baby Boomers: The Dumbest Generation?