Saturday, 24 October 2015

If we can win the emotional argument, we’ll need no other.

I keep coming across Scots from both sides who think the present dominance of the SNP is forever and that independence is inevitable. Of course the nationalists have a strategy of talking up their chances. It’s a good strategy too. But SNP optimism is no more grounded in reality than the defeatism of some Pro UK people who should be defending their country rather than helping their opponents. The truth is that we are not all caught up in a Greek play where the tragic outcome is already determined. We are free individuals and our actions determine the future. That’s why it is uncertain and impossible to predict.

There was an election in Canada last week. A couple of points are worth mentioning. Quebec separatists now poll 19%. Not very long ago they had the support of nearly 50% of the population of Quebec. They came within a whisker of winning a referendum on independence. They must have thought it was inevitable. But no. It’s people who control what happens in the future. Above all the people of Quebec have come to terms with the fact that they are going to remain a part of Canada.  Moreover they can be both Québécois and Canadians. Of course they can.

The other interesting point is that the Liberal Party in Canada did terribly in the election of 2011, but then came back to win this time. It moved from 18% to 39%. Things change and a few years is a long time in politics. So who knows who might win an election in the UK or in Scotland in a few years’ time? Who knows what unpredictable events might intervene? Labour might recover in Scotland. So too might the Lib Dems. So too might the Conservatives. We all have one seat at Westminster. But if you believe in your party, campaign for it. Perhaps few others do right now, but that doesn’t matter. Things change.

I’ve recently come out in support of the Conservatives. But that doesn’t mean I’m hostile to Pro UK people in Scotland who disagree. Moreover even when we campaign for different parties, we can still all and always campaign for the UK. But to change things around we need a bit of a rethink. We need to analyse the strengths and weaknesses of the Pro UK position. We need to do the same for our opponent.

The Pro UK side is very strong on economics. The case we all made during the referendum was clear and had reason behind it. The argument that Scotland was economically better off in the UK was overwhelming. That argument has become stronger since. From the perspective of rational self-interest no-one would vote for the SNP. Why are they doing so well then? The reason is obvious. While the SNP’s argument is weak in terms of the rational, it is massively strong in terms of the emotional. Most people make decisions not by coldly calculating self-interest. Rather to be human is to be swayed by emotion. Patriotism is a very powerful emotion. It isn’t in my rational self-interest to join the army and fight in a war. But we know from history that frequently an appeal to patriotic emotion can overcome this. When my heart says one thing I frequently will ignore what my head is saying, or rather find facts that support my heart. It is for this reason above all that so many nationalists object to anything in the “Mainstream media” that contradicts what their heart is saying. It is for this reason that they seek out alternative sources of information and alternative facts.  These facts may have soared so high that they've taken wing from reality, but everyone likes to confirm their beliefs rather than contradict them. It's only when the wings get too close to the sun, that we find out what they are made of. 

It is, of course, worth making economic arguments.  But we made the case so forcefully that it actually hurt our position. The nationalist head ignored our argument, or rather preferred an alternative which confirmed what his heart was feeling. But at the same time, the relentless economic arguments offended the nationalist heart. Every time one of us wrote something about how awful Scotland would be if we became independent, it got the nationalist backs up. We’ll show them, they said. Much of what we wrote was dishonest anyway. I don’t oppose independence because I think Scotland would be poorer. I would oppose it even if I thought it would be richer. The reason for this is that I think Scotland is an integral part of the UK. So why give economic arguments when they are not the reason for my support of the UK? Economics is contingent. In the seventies Scotland may have been better off financially with independence. Who knows what the future would bring? In any event Scotland could prosper as an independent country. But that is not the point. So too could California, or Bavaria.

So cease making relentlessly negative economic arguments. They don’t help the Pro UK position, they hurt it. The same goes for all the other negativity. We should never have said you can’t keep the pound. We should never have said the EU won’t let you in. All we needed to say is that these matters are uncertain. They are. Uncertainty is our friend, like a cheap forties horror flick that can’t afford to pay for the monster’s costume, but instead shows only shadows.

Where the nationalists are strong is on patriotism. The problem we have is that patriotism trumps everything else. They have succeeded in connecting Scottish patriotism with Scottish nationalism. Scottish nationalism is the desire for independence. But huge numbers of patriotic Scots now think that in order to be patriotic they have to support the SNP. Patriotism as a force will crush nearly anything in its path. It will certainly crush the idea that we are better together, or that we might be a bit poorer for a while in the future. It was patriotism that crushed Labour in Scotland. No other force could have done so.  It is for this reason also that the SNP are covered in Teflon. If they are the patriotic party, what does a nationalist care how they run the country? The answer is they don’t. They will keep voting for them, for they think it is patriotic to vote for independence and therefore patriotic to vote for the SNP. 
As I’ve said before. The SNP has only got one argument for independence, but it is a very good one:

Scotland is a country,
Countries ought to be independent,
Therefore Scotland ought to be independent.

Time and again I come across nationalists who implicitly make this argument. It’s worth remembering that such arguments are inevitably rather circular. What is contained in the premise implicitly will come out in the conclusion. But the point of analysing such an argument is that it can bring clarity to the meaning of the words we use.

The Pro UK person is left with a choice. Either we deny that Scotland is a country, or we deny that countries ought to be independent. The first is not very promising because everyone in Scotland thinks Scotland is a country. I frequently argue that Scotland is only called a country. What this amounts to is that Scotland was a country, until 1707 or perhaps 1603. I think this may well be the truth, but again I will have a problem convincing a patriotic Scot who fervently believes that Scotland is a country. It is for this reason that they frequently react with such fury to my logic.

Most Pro UK Scots would, I suspect, reject challenging the first premise. After all isn’t this why Pro UK Scots continue to support the Scottish rugby or football teams? They must think that Scotland is a country, that’s why they support the team, but that we ought not to be independent, for which reason they voted no. But do they really think that countries ought not to be independent? What about France, or Japan? Is it merely that although they think countries ought to be independent, they ought not to be so if it would make me personally poorer. If that is the nature of your argument it is very thin gruel indeed.

But I don’t think this need be the nature of the argument. There are after all in the world such things as multi-nation nations. There are rather a lot of these. They include Russia, the UK and Canada. What this means is that someone can support two or more nations existing at the same time. I can then support both Scotland and the UK and can describe them both as my country. The difference between this position and the position that Scotland is only called a country is very small indeed. But perhaps this position is more persuasive. As multi-nation nations exist it is perfectly possible to argue that Scotland is not merely called a country, but is in fact a country.

Some nationalists maintain that the UK is not a country, but rather some sort of construct. This puts them into an unfortunate position for two reasons. Firstly it denies that all sorts of places like China and India are countries. You try telling that to the Chinese. Secondly if the UK is not a country, then by definition Scotland is already independent. Why then campaign for something that you already have?

The crucial point however, is that the existence of a multi-nation nation is incompatible with the independence of its parts.  If all the parts of a multi-nation nation became independent the whole would, of course, cease to exist. It is therefore logical for me to argue that not all countries ought to be independent, namely those which are parts of a whole. There is nothing inconsistent with someone from Quebec, being both patriotic about Quebec and about Canada. Far from being consistent, this way of feeling is common all over the world.

It is this that Pro UK people need to work on. We already have Scottish patriotism. There is a temptation to get into a competition with the SNP over who is most Scottish. But this is to battle on ground on which they are strong and we are weak. Rather we must change the nature of the battle. Our task over the next few years is to point out the truth that there is nothing incompatible about being patriotic about Scotland and wanting the UK to continue. On this ground the nationalists are very weak indeed. Each of us in fact is a British citizen. No matter how much a Scottish nationalist denies this fact it nevertheless is true. But it is odd indeed not to feel something that you are. If I am cold, it is strange indeed to say I don’t feel cold. Likewise if I am British it is strange indeed to say I don’t feel it.  

There is a tendency in Scotland to deny our Britishness. Which of us has not at some point or other corrected someone who has called us British? I'm Scottish we maintain, even if we voted No. Well at some point we have to hear the cockerel crowing. That point is now. We must be comfortable with our dual identity. We must live it each and every day. Don’t think of our compatriots as somehow different. Don’t think of Scotland as something separate. Think and act as a person with two identities. Sure we have our own laws in Scotland, sure we have our own bank notes and our own football teams, but that is not a reason to break up our multi-nation nation it is an expression of it.

All over the world there are countries that are able to express difference within a whole. If they were all to break up into their various linguistic and ethnic groups there would be chaos. Quebec has got over its bout of nationalism and has settled down into being a part of Canada. People there can express their difference as well as their similarity. We in Scotland are far more similar to our neighbours than a French speaking person from Montreal and an English speaking person from Vancouver. Far less separates us in terms of language and in terms of distance. The nationalists in Scotland will continue to deny that they are British. Their movement is not founded on truth therefore and so will in time topple. We can bring that day nearer by expressing both the fact that we are Scottish and that we are British. But please put a little feeling into it. That is what our campaign has lacked for too long. If we can win the emotional argument, we’ll need no other.  


  1. Britain is both a nation and a communion of nations, which is better than solitary nationhood.

  2. The seperatists want me to be a Scottish citizen. My pasport says I am a British subject. As an English Republican living in Fife, what to do?

    1. Nothing to stop you staying British and English

  3. And we can be scottish, british, and european. Whether we in the future become part of a european federation for some will be about economics in the same way being in the uk was for many. Feeling in your meaning is not that important. My wife became british months before voting for scottish independence. The main sentiment was our joint feeling that a more socially just future and opportunities for our kids was more likely with a sovereign parliament in scotland.

    By the way, perhaps one problem is that unlike the position in most multi-nation states, our education here leads us to believe we voluntarily joined a union. If you told a brit they were not allowed to leave the eu, they wouldnt use the technicalities of eu law to argue against it. It would just contradict their beliefs that their country was in a union.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. "Britain is both a nation and a communion of nations, which is better than solitary nationhood." says one of your retinue.

    Really? Is this the case also for Europe? Or was this the case for the countries that were part of the Soviet Union? How about Yugoslavia?

    The truth is that's your opinion, nothing more, nothing less.

    I was quite impressed with this article, until the author admitted he didn't consider Scotland to be a country, which would automatically suggest that England is therefore not a country.

    Going by that rationale, people (from England) could hold up England against Germany or France and say "why would you consider them to be countries and not us?" Or indeed Scotland could do the same with Denmark, Israel or a host of other nations of similar size and with similar economic outputs.

    There's a reason your (shrinking band of) political allies don't try and argue (falsely) that Scotland isn't a country, because it's simply ridiculous. I will admit you were doing okay up til that point, though you weren't speaking for me or the overwhelming amount of Yes and SNP voters when you said many support their "country" governing itself because they're overcome with patriotism, infact if you'd have spent any half decent amount of time in the company of Yes voters or SNP voters you'd see their actions are driven by the very same cold, calculated facts you say drive you... one last thing, the reason why roughly 50% of Scotland's electorate pay no 'serious' heid to the nonesense churned out by the media is fairly easy to grasp, it's not because they're the 'UK media' and most of what they say is obviously biased, or because their anti SNP slurs and smears don't suit them, but simply put, it's because they're liars, and I'd hazard a guess and say that most of us accept that now.

    That's the reality of it... it may not be 'your' reality, but it's the reality of the overwhelming amount of voters who sent 56 out of 59 MPs back to London under the SNPs banner and it's the reality of (probably) over half of the electorate now who plan to vote Yes as soon as Scotland's second referendum comes around.

    But I like some of the points you picked out, for instance saying those representing the Quebecois nationals in Canada now have only 19% support of Quebec voters whereas they used to have almost 50%. The same might soon be said for those who told this "country" we were "better together" with the rest of the countries being governed by the city of London.

    And your "Either we deny that Scotland is a country, or we deny that countries ought to be independent." - well, take your pick.

    And please don't hold up this union as some sort of example, especially not in a week that's seen them scrap the chances to have four times the amount of clean green energy in favour of spending billions of taxpayer's money (is it ever anybody else's) building dirty nuclear reactors (well, the Chinese will decide who builds them).

    A week that's also seen legislation introduced to the Commons to criminalise those organising protests against the UK govt and they've actually passed legislation (didn't think they would do it) giving the MPs of England a veto over whether or not they allow MPs from Scotland, Wales and N.Ireland a vote on matters that will likely impact on the three devolved nations' budgets or some other area.

    Whoops, one more thing, a week that's also seen the UN open investigations into the UK government's alleged violations of Human Rights with their welfare policies. <<< and you think it's just patriots who want rid of this system, lol, a system the people here have absolutely no control over with our votes. Honestly, whose head is it that's really in the sand here? Ours, or yours?

    1. " ...The same might soon be said for those who told this "country" we were "better together" with the rest of the countries being governed by the city of London... "

      And exactly the same is said of Edinburgh by the Highlands and Islands. What is good for the goose, is good for the gander.

      I wish them well should they elect to liberate themselves from the clutches of those control-freaks in Edinburgh and take the powers back that were taken from them. I wonder how they might wish others refer to their new dominion, 'Free Scotland' might be most apt, differentiating them from their one-party-state neighbours.

      "which would automatically suggest that England is therefore not a country"

      I can tell you it will offend all but a few nationalists to hear this. England is a multi-faceted place and I expect people with English postcodes would answer they are British / UK citizen as it says on their passport. You are as likely to find the region within England carry greater prominence for instance as the 'place of their birth' (e.g. Yorkshire) and England simply as a sports team that may rouse them to turn on the telly once in a while.

      Scotland is only in reality a country in the sense of a nation state if and only if it opts for independence, until that time it is much the same as England / Wales / NI - not countries in the real sense of what matters in the world, that of being a nation state.

      It's no more complicated than that.

      "the reality of the overwhelming amount of voters who sent 56 out of 59 MPs back to London"

      English foxes are forever in their debt I expect.

      "Either we deny that Scotland is a country, or we deny that countries ought to be independent"

      Surely you are really not putting this on the table as an argument? It's just a play on words. For example Quebec was never a 'country' but it had a reasonable claim to independence.

      "giving the MPs of England a veto over whether or not they allow MPs from Scotland, Wales and N.Ireland a vote on matters that will likely impact on the three devolved nations' budgets or some other area"

      Either you or your crib sheet is grossly misinformed, or you deliberately mislead, or you know you are wrong and you tell porkies, which is it?

      They will all be able to vote on these matters.

      "the UN open investigations into the UK government's alleged violations of Human Rights with their welfare policies"

      The UN want rid of the UK too?!

      "clean green energy"

      I look forward to learning how Nichola will deliver the news of fracking in Scotland to her adoring fans post 2016.

    2. "I can tell you it will offend all but a few nationalists to hear this."

      Should of course read...

      "I can tell you it will offend nobody but a few nationalists to hear this."

  8. I read somewhere during 2014 one person saying how nationalists had no answer when a softer case for the UK rather than a reasoned logical one, I can't remember where I read it.

    Has to be tangible though, unlike similar arguments made for separation (which can be complete fantasy) those made for the UK have to be be rooted in reality, a much harder challenge!

    1. It's a good point. There's a lot of hostility in Scotland, but we are actually all British. It's our citizenship. If we can put this point without getting folks backs up, we win.

  9. Just want to bring up your point about the destruction of Labour. It was not patriotism that destroyed Labour. It was education.

    You say NO won the referendum. That may be true but the percentage of the population that now support independence has moved from around 32% to over 45%.

    A little uncomfortable fact for you Effie. An independent study has shown their has been NO RISE IN NATIONALISM during that time.

    45% may not be enough to win a referendum, but its more than enough to vote in a huge majority of MPs in a general election. It amazes me how few of you have worked that out yet. Nationalism indeed.

    In addition. Many in Scotland have been through a huge education about politics in 2014. We are now one of the most politically literate parts of the UK. Labour (who have been complacent and useless for decades) were hit hardest by this new found understanding. Especially in YES prediminant areas.

    1. "It was education"

      The nationalist re-educatioshun scheme where all roads lead to a better place.

    2. No the road where all their MP's go to London.....

  10. is this freak effie or what ever it actually on drugs