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By Jason Michael
ANY FAIR ASSESSMENT of the state of the Scottish independence campaign would be forced to concede we are in a dire predicament. The Scottish National Party has hidden behind one undelivered promise of a referendum after another ahead of every election since 2014 to the point we are now at where no one really believes them anymore. Ms Sturgeon has placed herself at the helm of a bourgeois election-winning machine not at all unlike Tony Blair’s New Labour, an administration which just manages to stay in power at each election by making promises to a predominantly working-class and politically naïve independence movement — always to the benefit of its preferred constituency; its comfortable middle-class and crypto-unionist target audience.
The Scottish Greens, while they currently support independence for Scotland, have made it clear they are not defined by their position on independence. In a struggle against the British state; a state which has now interned one pro-independence blogger and which has a long and bloody history of violence against independence movements, the Greens are worse than useless. They are fair weather friends who will be second only to the SNP in their flight from any significant confrontation or clash with the business end of the British government.
We can have more faith in the Scottish Socialists — a pro-independence Republican party that chimes well with my own vision for the future of independence. But the SSP can only ever be an auxiliary in the cause of independence. Not everyone in the movement is a Republican or even a Socialist, and certainly most Socialists are not as deeply red or as radically Socialist as the SSP. Frustratingly, we have the same issue with both the ISP and ALBA. Regardless of the party lines and policy proposals of these explicitly pro-independence parties, both have attracted to themselves the support of trans-exclusionary radical Feminists; a deeply socially conservative movement with a number of concerning connections to the far-right. Irrespective of the sincere disavowal of the far-right of many in this movement, their biological essentialism and the aroma of the political right around them does not appeal to the majority of independence-minded and left-leaning Scottish voters.
So, in this mess the independence cause in Scotland has reached an impasse. No forward movement is possible without either a profound shift within the SNP or the emergence of a viable alternative; a party committed singularly to independence. This could be ALBA, but it has to make a decision — it cannot serve two masters.
Regular readers of the Random Public Journal will no doubt be aware of the personal crisis I have experienced in the aftermath of the last election. My desire to see the creation of a supermajority for independence in Holyrood was crushed. Once again the movement lapped up the honeyed promises of the SNP, and once again the SNP stopped talking about independence as soon as the election was over. This and the endless vitriol from gender critical activists online — people who imagine it is acceptable to describe transgender people as ‘repugnant,’ ‘narcissistic,’ ‘disgusting,’ and ‘imbecilic’ — have driven me into a pit of despair. With the best lacking all conviction and the worst filled with passionate intensity, I withdrew to the security of my interior life — to wandering over Ireland and to chess — to escape, to search for some answers.
They are "repugnant," "narcissistic," "disgusting" and "imbecilic" ... "why ought they to be treated with dignity a… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…—
Jason Michael (@Jeggit) August 26, 2021
At length, I believe I am ready to start writing again. In my travels and over the board I didn’t find any answers, but I was reminded of how to play the game; how to keep going in such a way that solutions arise from the terrain and from the changing positions of the pieces over that terrain. Without getting too technical, let me introduce you to a swine of a chess position called ‘The Old Fried Liver:’
This begins with the Two Knights variation of the Italian Game. What does this mean? This is a well-established position three moves into a chess game when white has advanced his or her king’s pawn to the centre, the light square bishop to the fourth row, and the king-side knight out to f3 to attack black’s king’s pawn. Black has met this by bringing out both of his or her knights. There’s nothing out of the ordinary here. Every chess player is familiar with this — it’s the Italian Game. The Fried Liver begins on the fourth move when white moves the knight on f3 to g5. Now white’s knight and bishop both attack the weak f7 square in front of black’s king. This is a horrific position for an inexperienced black player. Sure, it’s a major pain in the arse for an experienced player. Essentially, white is trying either to fork black’s queen and rook with the knight or check black with the bishop, forcing him or her to surrender the option to castle the king to safety. Many playing black at this point — only four moves into the game — panic and resign.
When Giulio Cesare Polerio introduced the world to this devious little bastard in his game against Domenico in 1610 he knew what he was doing. He was doing what all great tacticians do. He was transforming the familiar and safe into the unfamiliar and dangerous. Drawing an opponent into the unknown is a principle of warfare understood and explained by the great Sun Tsu. Shock and confusion produce fright, and fright panic, and from panic springs disaster. It goes entirely without saying Polerio won, and from that moment the Old Fried Liver became a staple in the repertoire of masters and patzers alike.
It wasn’t until Traxler vs Reinisch (Prague, 1890) — two hundred and eighty years later — that a surprising and brilliant answer to the Fried Liver was played. Completely ignoring the threat from white’s bishop and knight combination, the Czech problemist, Karl Traxler, played the Italian Game as if nothing had happened. He simply slid his dark square bishop out to c5. Reinisch smiled. He took the black pawn on f7 and forked Traxler’s queen and rook. But again, Traxler ignored the threat. Rather than move his queen to safety, he checked the white king with his bishop — his undefended bishop. Now Reinisch was getting a bishop and a queen or a rook. It couldn’t have been sweeter. He took the wayward bishop with his king and … well, the trap was sprung. Traxler took the pawn on e4 with his knight, again checking the white king … and opening a path down the d8 to h4 diagonal for the black queen. Reinisch’s smile melted. The focus of the game shifted in an instant. No longer was the attention on the forking white knight. White’s king was fighting for his life.
When beginners look at chess they see two players moving pieces around a board. But when masters look at the same thing, what they see are two people thinking about moving pieces around a board — two very different things. Winning, at every level of the game, demands an understanding of the rules and the board and enough imagination and creativity to pull the odd rabbit out of the hat; to do something unexpected. What this requires is thought. It is the thinking that decides the outcome of the game. Pieces are not simply moved, they are projected — first in the mind of the player and then by his or her hand. Talking about the future of activism, this is exactly what Žižek said: We must think more and act less.
At the moment I feel forked. The future of Scottish independence appears to be locked between the SNP and ALBA, and this is our Fried Liver. The frustration of this bind has paralysed the movement. It has paralysed me. We can follow our friends, follow the crowd, we can toss a coin. We could resign. Or we could think. What is the object of the game, to protect our major pieces — our queen and our rook — or to checkmate our opponent? If our pieces are what matter to us most, then we have already lost. Both have their strengths and weaknesses. Neither can win the game for us at this point. But if winning is what matters, then we must think. We must look at the arrangement of the board and seek a solution which moves us from stalemate to victory. This might well involve our queen and our rook, but, equally, it might not. It is winning independence that counts. Are there other areas of interest in the present arrangement of the pieces that might prove useful in the development of a new strategy or strategies? There are infinite possibilities. Our task is to find one that works.