vendredi, mai 16, 2014

Scots Independence: Response to Nigel Biggar

RESPONSE by Fearghas MacFhionnlaigh
being a STANDPOINT article by NIGEL BIGGAR

I'm sorry, but as a lifelong advocate of the honorable cause of Scottish self-determination I find this article overwritten ("female genital mutilation" etc??), suffocating, and dispiriting. Where increasing numbers of Scots perceive green shoots of hope, you see only noxious weeds. Defoliating disparagement is heaped on by the shovel-load: "opportunistic", "visceral", "spurious", "not-so-noble", "narcissistic", "little serious thought", "smug", "resentment", "fester", "distort", "scapegoat", "victimhood", "disease", "corrupting", "deluded", "negligent", "recklessly ignore", "irresponsible", "only a fool", "false hope", "fool's gold", "disillusion", "shipwreck". If there is any affection shown towards Scotland, I guess I missed it. Having endured this finger-jabbing tirade I would, were I a teenager, slam the door as I left. As an ostensibly mature adult I sit here attempting a measured response. 

Your article's allegation that the disparate Yes community "so often react to criticism by tackling the man and not the ball" is an absurdly unbalanced lunge. This accusation is veritably jaw-dropping given the ongoing and grossly cynical reductionism regarding the Yes campaign perpetrated by the mainstream media (and indeed by the UK Government itself). I am in my mid sixties; the relentless front-page mockery and demonisation of one man (Alex Salmond) for countless months (or is it years?) is entirely unprecedented in my experience. The caricature dominating your own article-page is mired in the same. The visual syllogism is kindergarten-friendly: Scottish independence is about Alex Salmond. Alex Salmond is a loony. So Scottish independence is loony.

You move thence to debunking the "stories" the Yes campaign tell "to make their visceral conviction plausible". The "hard evidence" of the British Social Attitudes survey (2010) is invoked: " seems that Scotland is not so different after all". Anything culturally worthwhile going on up here you claim as a product of the Union: "the British connection has evidently been host, not hostile, to a revival of Scotland's cultural vitality". You seem to have it all sewn up. And yet...and yet...the foregoing seems strangely at variance with the fact that so many of our artists, musicians, and writers (some eschewing English), have been and remain at the forefront of the call for independence.

So what else can you club us with? Oh yes, "violence"! Not that there has been any, but that inconvenient piece of "hard evidence" is over-ridden in your eagerness to alarm: "there is the risk of a serious souring of relations between the Scots and the English... Perhaps the mutual alienation would only last a generation or two, perhaps no blood would be shed — but perhaps not... imagination is no constraint upon possibility... And as we know from the troubles in Northern Ireland, history can roll alarmingly backwards. The process of separation carries real and serious risks, which its supporters recklessly ignore". 

Let us contrast this dubious (indeed reprehensible) hysteria-incitement with the following from First Minister Alex Salmond in a 2013 speech to the Carnegie Council in New York (bearing in mind that he is the one portrayed by your article as, shall we say, "ungrounded"): "For the best part of a century Scotland has been on a constitutional journey. Despite the passion of the argument not a single person has lost their lives arguing for or against Scottish independence – indeed nobody has suffered so much as a nosebleed... Even in modern times this is a rare and precious process and one which stands as an exemplar to the rest of the world".

A significant segment of your article is taken up with issues of empire, defence and international affairs. You clearly feel that the ethical complexity of such deep subject-matter eludes the simplistic  pro-independence side: "The existence of the Commonwealth is evidence that the empire's historical record was not simply execrable. Rather, it was morally mixed — as was Scotland's before the Union and as it would be after it". You accurately identify the pro-independence desire to shed the role of "imperialist global policeman", but chide that: "This moralistic reading of imperial history and international relations is facile". Moreover, you contend: "The irony here — and it's a damning one — is that the issue that is supposed to make the rationale for Scottish independence clearest is one to which Gay has evidently given little serious thought. And this is symptomatic of Scottish nationalism more generally." So yet again our bonehead dimity damns us in your eyes and incurs summary reproof.

(Happily though, as in the foregoing quote, you do give passing mention to Doug Gay's recent "Honey from the Lion: Christianity and the Ethics of Nationalism", albeit with a couple of unmerited backhanders. I would commend this timely and deeply thoughtful book to anyone concerned with the theology of nationhood and governance. While it is of course immersed in the Scottish experience in particular, many of the issues raised are generic.)

You stress that an awareness of moral complexity informs your own worldview. That is respectfully acknowledged. The question therefore is whether your portrayal of Scottish independence thinkers as monocular dullards is perceptively accurate or a worrisome blindspot on your own part. Or, less flatteringly, a failure of generosity.

Your key conviction as presented is that it is both morally defensible and necessary for Britain to operate as a "global policeman", employing "hard power" to intervene in censurable foreign territories. The nub of your outrage against the independence constitutionalists, it seems, is that while the latter would insist on the prior endorsement of international law, you would not. This leaves you espousing a doctrine ("article of faith"?) which one might justifiably term "Britannia ex lex", or "Anglia supra legis". Scotland beware? It was ever thus. But we are all much wiser now, right?