Lessons from Scotland: “Helplessness, not independence, is the false dream… “

If you’ve read nothing else about Scottish politics (or more precisely, Scottish political culture), Neil Ascherton in the Sunday Herald yesterday reveals what underwrites the appeal of the discourse around Scottish independence:

Some people now let themselves hope that the “independence dream is dead” or at least dying. In that Tuesday debate, Ruth Davidson and Kezia Dugdale were irritated, as well as surprised, to find that Sturgeon had merely shifted the next indyref along the calendar. They want the idea of Scotland’s independence to dwindle into a childish night fancy, wiped out of memory by the bright morning of “the day job”.

But that’s not how it works. What’s true is that the SNP and their leader have been seriously damaged – possibly holed below the waterline in ways which aren’t yet visible. What isn’t true is the assumption that independence sinks or swims with the SNP’s fortunes. It has its own buoyancy.

The First Minister’s most significant act on Tuesday was her turn towards the wider non-party independence movement –the place where the ideas and energy now seem to come from.

To switch the metaphor to biology, the idea of independence never leaves a body politic once it gets into the system. It can go quiet and almost dormant for long periods. Like many Scots today, many Czech, Irish and Polish people a century ago thought: “I’d be so proud to see my country take its own place among the nations, but with the world in this chaos, it’s not likely to happen.”

But then they changed their minds, or the world changed their minds for them, and the smouldering idea suddenly flamed. “Wake up ! It’s time, it’s now!”

The idea is irrevocably in the Scottish genome today. No longer a fancy-dress pageant or a “bourgeois deviation”, but a sober policy option. Hard to say when it entered the bloodstream decisively. Perhaps in the 1970s, as the SNP began to score victories.

Or perhaps, as I suspect, in the run-up years to the 1997 and 2014 referendums when – for the first time – campaigners asked the people what they wanted. “What sort of Scotland? Grass-roots local democracy? A land tax? An oil fund?”

No-one quite gets over the shock of being asked by politicians, instead of told. Invited to help design your own country? Devolution has thrown up many reform ideas, but not provided the tools to do enough about them. So the “independence infection” means that active people will continue to glance at what might be done better in a nation which could take all its own decisions.

But it’s in his conclusion I think he hits several nails on the head, for Scotland and one or two places much nearer to home…

Helplessness, not independence, is the false dream, the “sleep, wonderful sleep” now tempting Scotland again. But the alarm is going off. Time to wake and get back to the real day job, which is (apologies to Alasdair Gray’s famous line) to work as if you lived in the early days of an independent nation. Because if you do, that is exactly where you will be living.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty