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By Jason Michael
NOW SEEMS LIKE a good time to explain some of the terminology I have been using of late. In a recent article, Educating Cameron Archibald, I used the term ‘crypto-unionist’ to describe the pro-independence blogger James Kelly, Ross Greer, and Cameron Archibald – people who claim to be on our side in the Scottish independence debate. This does not mean they are unionists or closet unionists as the case may be. It simply means that they are hidden unionists. They may indeed believe they support independence, and we have no reason to doubt that, given the opportunity, they would vote Yes to independence in another referendum. But, at this stage of the campaign – independence limbo, there is more to it. The why of independence has to be justified. We cannot simply want independence for its own sake. Such thinking is purely nationalistic; it lends itself too easily to exceptionalism, xenophobia, and regionalism.
The cause for Scotland’s independence must be justified by an ideology – which is not a bad word; we all have ideologies. England dominates Scotland, Wales, and the occupied counties with a right-wing capitalist-imperialist ideology. Justifying our independence, then, demands the articulation of ideological difference. We must demonstrate to ourselves and to others that our cultural and political ideology is incompatible with that of England. Failure to do this simply undermines the case for independence – why bother with the heartache and stress of fighting for independence when its achievement means no change to what we already have under London rule?
Ideological difference, therefore, must be at the centre of any argument for independence. We must understand why the ideas and assumptions which govern Scottish culture and our people’s attitudes are different from and incompatible with England’s. State ideology and counter-ideologies are expressed in the form of narratives; the stories and accepted norms and customs of our ideological groups. In order to explain this, allow me to share a passage from my notebook:
Narrative: Our hegemon, the British state, has constructed a narrative – a complex political, historical, moral and even religious-mythical narrative of ‘Great Britain.’ By this narrative it explains – much like any national foundation myth – why the British state exists and why it exists as it does; with Scotland, Wales, and part of the island of Ireland under the control of England. This myth is reproduced by the civic institutions produced by the state; the education system, the legal system, in all the instruments of culture, and in every sphere of the media. This manufactured narrative is the ‘propaganda’ of the union state qua greater England. It is so ubiquitous that it is reproduced in the minds of the people formed by the state – and so it is accepted as normative; this is the gold standard of citizenship, the canon of politeness and respectability. Everything else, then, is by definition deviant.
Perhaps now we can better appreciate why the idea of Scottish independence must be counter-cultural; it must have a distinct narrative to that of the British state – and one which is incompatible with the demands of British state ideology. Only those people who have processed this and who have either entrenched themselves in their Scottishness (as an inherited or encultured ideology of national belonging) or who have been ideologically converted to Scottishness can be thought independentistas. But this is not everyone in the independence movement. While it is wrong to think of them as ‘traitors’ or ‘collaborators,’ there are people who support independence and who would, given the chance, vote for independence who still accept the assumptions of British state ideology. These independence supporters accept the British narrative as normative, as polite, and respectable. This is what makes them ‘crypto-unionists’ – they believe in a very British Scottish independence, and the independence they believe they want, deprived of an ideology of independence, is merely a superficial independence; one based on a combination of economics and other activities of the state. Their want is for a generic state, not one in character and spirit distinguishable from the British state. Independent statehood, however, cannot be justified by activities. Villages have economies.
Frustratingly, the Scottish independence movement has no shortage of crypto-unionists – many of whom are in positions of power and influence in the Scottish National Party and throughout the wider movement. In my previous article we looked at the attitude of Cameron Archibald, James Kelly, and Ross Greer towards Ireland and the Irish struggle for independence. Their assumption is that Ireland’s armed resistance to British occupation and aggression is deviant in nature, that it is somehow un-British, and that Scotland cannot and must not do anything which would risk a violent conflict with the British state. This is exactly the British narrative of its colonial history in Ireland; the assumption that it is irregular, rude, and uncivilised – the opposite of Britishness (normative, polite, and respectable) – to resist Britain (the most violent and aggressive state in human history). Such a ‘British’ attitude towards Ireland tells us much about their attitude towards Scottish independence. It informs us that they would much rather remain ‘British’ than resist British aggression. And we must bear in mind here that neither Irish nor Scottish independence are acts of aggression. They are acts of national self-confidence and assertion. The aggression, in the case of Ireland, came from Britain. Yet, the crypto-unionist sees resistance as ‘violence.’
Another excellent example of crypto-unionism comes from Tom Arthur, the SNP MSP no one had ever heard of until a few days ago. His idea of independence is, according to his tweets, based on some vague notion of a ‘better future’ and not settling the scores of ‘an imagined past.’ He and I agree at least on one thing; we should not base the independence cause on the politics of grievance. If grievance is all we have, then what we need is psychotherapy and not a referendum. But what, we must ask, does he imagine we are imagining about our past? Officially, Scotland has no past. It was deliberately not taught to us in school – in a very British Scottish education system (a ‘colonial’ education system). But, in reality, we do have a past. Following the Jacobite rebellions Scotland was occupied and extensively garrisoned by British troops. Inspired by English racial assumptions of ‘Britishness,’ the Highland Gaels were systematically persecuted, their language and culture subjected to genocidal British state action, before being violently Cleared from their land to benefit the British economy. Scottish independence campaigner and socialist John Mclean was imprisoned, tortured, and ultimately driven to madness by a vindictive British state – and we were never taught about him. Our oil and gas resources were plundered, against our will, to fund the wholesale deindustrialisation of Scotland and the construction of the City of London financial services ‘powerhouse.’ The British state conspired to obfuscate its economic abuse of Scotland in the years after the discovery of North Sea oil, ensuring Scotland would become the only oil producing nation in the world to get poorer after discovering ‘black gold.’ So, just what of this does Mr Arthur think we have imagined?
Again, this is the British narrative of its colonial project in Scotland – and yes, it has been colonial and exploitative in nature. Just how is Tom Arthur’s justification – for a better future – better than Lancashire’s justification for independence, or Ayrshire’s? It’s not. His is a spurious and superficial justification – one based on a British ideology which would only see an independent Scotland made in the image and likeness of Britain, where power is transferred from one dominant class to another. This is not the independence Scotland wants or needs.
Crypto-unionism cannot justify what needs to be justified – independence. In fact, crypto-unionism and crypto-unionists undermine the case for independence and ultimately make the case for the union; that case being a simple and unchallenging preservation of the status quo. Where they may want independence, they do not want the Britishness of how Scotland is governed to change – they are natural conservatives in this sense, and they certainly do not want to see this ‘Britishness’ – that which is assumed to be normative, polite, and respectable (the bourgeoise or middle-class consensus) – to be seen as a bad thing for Scotland and Scottish national identity. It is in crypto-unionism that we find the greatest resistance to any alternative route to independence which does not accept as right, good, and proper the rules laid down by their ideal parliament – Westminster. Given that independence is now the majority opinion in Scotland, unionism and unionists are not the greatest obstacle to independence. Crypto-unionists and crypto-unionism are.
Hegemony: WTF? An introduction to Gramsci and cultural hegemony