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By Jason Michael
ON SUNDAY LAST our friends at the Edinburgh Yes Hub raised an interesting, if contentious, point on social media. ‘Some so called Yessers or SNP members,’ they tweeted, ‘risk splitting the movement on a few issues.’ The Scottish government’s proposed Gender Recognition Act, the Hate Crime Bill, the recent behaviour of the SNP’s National Executive Committee, and ‘wokeism’ have got independence supporters at each other’s throats, and these are concerns which have very much occupied my own thoughts on the state of the movement in the past weeks. But I am not in agreement with the abovementioned opinion. I am one of those ‘so-called Yessers’ who refuse to surrender my right to dissent according to the demands of my conscience and intellect.
What those calling for unwavering unity fail to recognise is that the Scottish independence movement is already split. It has always been a coalition of tens of thousands of people – all with their own thoughts and opinions – who find common cause in their desire for Scottish independence. What they also fail to grasp is that the Scottish National Party occupies two distinct political grounds; as the largest pro-independence political party it is the de facto leader of the independence movement and as the largest party in Holyrood it forms the de jure government of Scotland. Independentistas, as movement members, can support the SNP as a means to winning independence and, as citizens, can criticise their elected representatives and their government.
In failing to appreciate these distinctions, the ‘whisht for indy’ battalion cannot see, let alone understand, the contradictions exposed when the national government formed by our movement’s leadership begins to introduce policies informed by an ideology deeply at odds with the sincerely held beliefs and opinions of movement members. What has the GRA or the Hate Crime Bill got to do with wanting independence? Not every independence supporter will be on board with these policies, and many of those will prioritise their opinions on these matters over the constitution. So, we have to ask: Who is splitting the movement?
The contradictions expose a clash of ideologies. What these policies have in common, the thread that runs through them, is progressivism, and not all independentistas subscribe to so-called progressive politics – and for good reason. It will come as no surprise that I do not consider myself a progressive. In fact, I tend to see progressive politics as a crisis in political philosophy. Worse, following Jan-Werner Müller’s analysis, I am persuaded that progressivism as we understand it in the early twenty-first century is a form of left-wing populism. Immediately, then, we have two things to unpack; the understandable but circular claim that progressive politics is good because it is ‘progressive’ and the particular nature of progressivism.
Before getting into this, however, we really ought to talk about ‘wokeism’ and the abuse it is receiving from so many independentistas I would consider members of the faction of the movement to which I belong. ‘Woke’ is a term of social resistance white middle-class liberals have co-opted from African Americans in the United States, from a context in which it means wakening up to and being aware of the specific oppressions black people and people of colour experience in the white supremacist state. Once again, the comfortable white kids have appropriated the language of the oppressed to deploy it themselves in their significantly less important causes. This is abusive and serves only to devalue the term in its original context. We too devalue it, and the struggle of African Americans, when we accept the legitimacy of the white liberals’ ownership of it and turn it into a term of derision.
Our issue with progressive politics is that progress is an abstract notion. On the face of it, progress sounds like a good thing. Like, who doesn’t want progress? This is an imperfect world and we would all like things to be a little bit better. Progress implies making things better, but ‘better,’ as an adjective, is highly subjective. Better for who? Better for what? Those who identify themselves as progressives rarely, if ever, define what they mean by progress, and this is a serious problem. How do we explain a vague and ill-defined vision of ‘progress’ to voters? Once upon a time eugenics was touted by academics in the US and Britain as social and scientific progress, in Germany in the 1930s and 40s a state euthanasia programme was seen as progress, and progress was the watchword of Soviet collectivisation. Progress without definition is meaningless.
Tom Morello, a black American musician and political activist, probably offers us the best definition of what it means to be a progressive in 2020:
To be a progressive means that you are better off than a mealy-mouthed liberal, and yet you are too afraid to take person risk to become a radical or a revolutionary. You are on the right side of most of the issues, but aren’t willing to go all the way.
Progressive politics is a package deal. It is a political set menu with cult-like or at least communitarian characteristics. It is a tribal political identity rather than a series of beliefs and policy ideas people can weigh up and decide on based on their individual merits. Defending the rights of racial and ethnic minorities is both progressive and objectively right. The same is true of cutting carbon emissions and seeking greater economic justice for the poorest people in society, but the same cannot necessarily be said of other complex legal and social issues – issues like abortion, euthanasia, and gender self-identification, and yet they are part of the progressive bundle.
Someone may be lauded as a progressive by progressives for being anti-racist, for protesting the government’s treatment of asylum-seekers and refugees, and for supporting the rights of same-sex couples to marry and establish a family. But the same person can and will be ‘called-out,’ excommunicated, and branded a heretic by progressives for being pro-life or gender critical. Progressivism is a package the content of which seems to change due to fashion, due to the changing consensus of the wider progressive movement. And the result of this mechanism is concerning; people who adopt the progressive political identity are forced to self-censor and delegate their moral responsibility to rationalise issues for themselves to the group.
Our problem in the Scottish independence movement is that the largest pro-independence party, the Scottish National Party, has effectively been captured by people subscribing to this package of progressive politics to the extant that the party is now marketing itself as a progressive party and pushing progressive policies not everyone in the movement can or will accept. Someone can support independence for Scotland, support social justice, and still be pro-life or gender critical – and, given the cult-like nature of progressivism as a tribal political identity, this is causing problems.
For any number of moral and ethical reasons people will draw lines around their views on gender identity or the sanctity of human life and prioritise these views over constitutional politics. Women, for example, who do not want the legal definition of their biological sex diluted and possibly erased by ideology and legislation which would see the distinction between women and transwomen removed will prioritise their sexual politics over constitutional politics and vote accordingly. Still, the progressivism that refuses to accept dissent refuses to listen to them, further weakening the solidarity of the independence movement.
Unlike this vague an undefined idea of progress, independence actually is defined. It means something. Granted, it would be foolish and wrong to seek independence at any cost. The truth of the matter is that some costs are simply too much and, as we have seen time and again in the past, too damaging. Independence has to be a process through which Scotland is disentangled from the United Kingdom is a way that is just and good for Scotland and Scottish people. Yet, the politics of independence remains discrete; it is defined and quantifiable. The independence movement is not a package deal, rather it is a goal many different people with different social and political priorities are working towards. It is only in this singular objective can the movement be said to be united. The moment membership of this movement becomes a package deal forcing people to lay aside their qualms of moral conscience for the sake of unity the movement will die, and with its parting the dream of independence will once again be put on ice.
‘Unlike this vague an undefined idea of progress, independence actually is defined. It means something.’Tweet
What Does It Mean To Be A Progressive?
20 thoughts on “Progressive Politics and Independence”
Nice piece as always Jason.
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It probably is time for YES to get politically savvy (and grow up).
For too long YES has been playing politics like it is a church fete. It wanted to be everyones friend, and are glass jawed about every false slight (even the English claiming any focusing on Scottish interests is anti-English). This playing nice has let forces co-opt their own movement and in a sense trap them in a permanent – just over the next hill…one that never comes
The question is will YES choose to rip the bandage of quickly or will YES let it fester.
At some point YES is going to have to wrestle back its movement and give it some backbone. But I fear, too many have been subconsciously acting like 2014 means it will fall in their lap. Very few in YES have done the hard work to built the intellectual and political scaffold that will make the next push work and so many have actually shouted down those who have tried.
I have yet to see YES showing it has a clear vision of a campaign or even the momentum that would enable it to withstand the media and state barrage that is sure to come.. YES’s message is confused, its language lazy and it has no ability to call out Westminster and its supporters in ways that cut like a scalpel. YES needs to start being prepared to expend some political capital so it can set the running forcing Westminster to chase or be left flat footed.
P.S>. Everything that is not INDY is a discussion for Scots to decide for themselves after that event. It is almost unconscionable to bind people’s desire for indy as a means of pushing through agendas that knowingly wouldn’t hold the majority.
Why do you not then send out clear messages and start to build a clear vision for a campaign?
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@Isabel – given that request rather than responding with the current message, I am so glad others see it too.
Happy to start the discussion here.
** Have you already got that one clear message on the YES’s case this time (i.e. why and and more importantly why now).
** What do you see as the risks and have you thought how the campaign would need to guard against them
For me, the first step is YES needs to clarify its position – Is Scotland in a Union, a fake Union, or a prisoner. Because people keep switching between them and the language and attach for each is different…and everything stems from this fundamental point.
Salmond fully understood this Jason.
The SNP is not a normal party political party. It’s purpose is ” catch all”. That’s why Salmond defined it as left of centre. He saw that as the majority of Scotland!
Too left or too right and it becomes exclusive.
We cannot have controversial niche policies in a broad movement. It is necessary to keep it simple and non partisan.
The niche policies are for party politics after independence. Sturgeon has forgotten these golden rules. Or is she happy being the leader of a party, rather than leader of a country?
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We have one united goal and that is independence for Scotland. This has to remain the priority. Once we gain this objective then those unhappy with SNP will no doubt have many other political parties to choose from.
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And in the meantime should everyone just put up and shut up?
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No indeed far from it. I’m not shy of giving views but I don’t expect to get them delivered. The goal must remain the priority.
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Excellent article. Puts into words what I feel. I will certainly hang on in there until Independence is real. Then I will happily for the first time in years, get involved in Party politics.
Thanks for this, Jason! It needs to be widely shared.
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Reblogged this on Ramblings of a 50+ Female.
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Totally agree. I fear the SNP has been infiltrated by those who want to split the party and stop Independence. Years ago when I was out canvassing for my local SNP councillors, MPs or MSPs we’d often meet people who said they voted Tory or Labour. The answer from the SNP was almost always “Vote for us and you can vote for Tory or Labour all you want in an independent Scotland”.
Remember this nugget: ” A vote for the SNP, is not necessarily a vote for independence” Pretty sure that was one of their catch all slogans.
When Salmond said it , we all knew he didn’t mean it. Alas it seems that it was a self fulfilling prophecy. Now under Nicola she appears to mean it.
As I said before she is more interested in micro politics than the number 1 priority of independence. She is running the SNP like New Labour. The SNP should never become a party with too many controversial policies. It was and is intended to be the vehicle for independence. That requires absolute focus on independence.
We will need a new leader if the SNP is to return to it’s original purpose.
Always love your replies. Perhaps you can assist with my question about the YES position:
– Is Scotland in a Union, a fake Union, or a prisoner.
Because people keep switching between them and the language and attach for each is different…and everything stems from this fundamental point.
Actually, it’s fake progressivism. Deeply regressive. The hate crime bill is a return of the blasphemy law in fake progresive language. Gender reform is a roll-back of wonens’ rights that would make the taliban proud.
What do you think the vatican would think of such policies?
The answer I think to my question is that the twisting of progressive language for regressive ends has come from the postmodernism, deconstructionism movement in philosophy. This has been dominated by the french schools of philosophy. This in turn has come about as a result of the undue influence the catholic church has had on the french academies. See the new Discourses site for much discussion on how this movement had twisted progressive language.
I believe the vatican has for a long time run a campaign to roll-back the enlightenment and return us to feudal serfdom 😦
Absolutely agree, Eddie. That is how I see it too: a rolling back of good, worthy achievements to suit what I see as a totalitarian mindset of the left. I also think that a lot of people are taking the mickey with the trans thing, seeing how far they can push the boundaries out of vicious nihilism. As for the ‘hate crime’ legislation, it stinks. There is already legislation in place in the Equality Act 2010 and in the Scottish Common Law. Independence cannot be set aside until the ‘wokerati’ decide it is okay. As a woman, I will vote on the constituency SNP (my local MSP is excellent) but I am still not sure about my second vote. If it would be wasted and mean that my local MSP might lose his seat, I will give the SNP my second vote, too. I have supported independence and the SNP for years, but, as a woman, I am worried that we will enter independence as a country hostile to women but salivating over trans women. It hurts – deeply – and is beyond stupid.
Whilst I am in favour of most progressive policies, “now is not the time”. There is one issue only that matters that is independence. Every other issue will not come to pass, upto and till independence has been achieved. So to those people and groups who are pushing their own agendas, pull your heads in or move on.
Edinburgh Yes Hub is one man only. Always first to find excuses.
The whole point of democracy is the right to have an opinion differing from the political hierarchy.
I disagree with the SNP on many issues.
I have no problem with the thinking behind GRA but am deeply suspicious of the motives and likely implementation from a party controlled by a group that set out to corruptly frame Salmond, so I simply don’t trust them on that issue. It’s an issue that should be left until after independence.
My prime purpose in voting for the SNP is independence, nothing else.
If I think they are dropping the ball then I’ll vote for another pro indy party.
At the moment that choice is limited to the Greens.
Unless they campaign on a platform of actually implementing independence, I will not vote for them.
We have given them how many mandates in the last 6 years? They will not get my vote if they are asking for another mandate.
Implementation, not Mandates.
Fail us and I’ll regard them in the same light as two other parties who promised Home Rule, Labour and the Liberals. and never vote for them again.
Fool us once, fool us twice, but never thrice.