The problem with revolutions is that they are rejections of what’s gone before, without any clear idea of what should replace it. Something important is overlooked, and a problem festers for years or decades afterwards, before something drastic occurs: a civil war; or a newer, different, repressive autocracy; or collapse; or counter-revolution.
It’s easy to reject what you’re against; to make a difference you have to know what you are for – and make it appealing to others.
“Every revolutionary ends up as an oppressor or a heretic”
– Albert Camus
The alternative is slow, gradual change – blindly grasping towards the future, keeping what works and rejecting what doesn’t – political evolution instead of revolution. The problem is, this is an ongoing process, lifetime after lifetime. People (voters and politicians) are impatient, and can barely consider anything past the next election, let alone their own lifespan.
It’s this impatience that leads to revolution. Why stick around to fix a problem, when one can simply leave and start over?
During the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum, I knew that I liked the benefits of being in the UK: one of the world’s largest economies (although not without its problems); a sense of kinship with friends, family, and coworkers in (or from) England, Wales, and Northern Ireland; being part of a country that had some clout in world politics (far beyond what its population alone might suggest). Yet, I’m not blind to the UK’s problems: a remote Westminster government alienating those who did not vote for it with counterproductive laws; inequality between the richer and poorer regions; and a troubling (to me) groundswell of socially-conservative authoritarianism egged on by populist politicians. But, as I said, I ranked the benefits as being greater than the costs.
During the 2016 Brexit Referendum, I knew that I liked the benefits of being in the EU: one of the world’s largest economic groups (although not without its problems); a sense of kinship with friends, family, and coworkers in (or from) the Netherlands, Ireland, Germany, Scandinavia, Italy, France, Spain, Poland, and Greece; being part of a union that had some clout in world politics (far beyond what a single country alone might achieve). Yet, I’m not blind to the EU’s problems: a remote Brussels government alienating those who did not vote for it with counterproductive laws; inequality between the richer and poorer nations; and a troubling (to me) groundswell of socially-conservative authoritarianism egged on by populist politicians. But, as I said, I ranked the benefits as being greater than the costs.
In both Indyref and Brexit campaigns, I felt that the sides who wanted to leave each union were far more vociferous and passionate, but I was unclear what vision of the future they were trying to entice me towards. Seemingly anyone who thought that departing a political union would be complex and difficult, and would bring about a number of problems that needed to be resolved, was deemed to be part of ‘Project Fear’ (and by attacking their questioners, those in favour of leaving could shift attention away from the fact that certain questions were left unanswered).
At the same time, I was desperately underwhelmed by each ‘remain’ group’s inability to make it obvious that remaining in their respective unions was a more desirable outcome. I hoped it would be easier to stay and fix whatever problems there were with the UK or EU (which would take unglamourous ‘evolution’ rather than ‘revolution’), rather than leave and create a whole new set of problems which hadn’t been encountered before.
The lack of precision about the manner of departure from each union, and what future we were going to aim for, meant that each leave campaign could draw bizarre alliances of people who each thought that ‘their vision’ was the one that would be made real:
- Scottish Independence attracted both environmentalists, and those reliant on the oil industry; economic left-wingers, and those wishing to cut corporate taxes in order to draw big businesses away from the rest of the UK; those who wanted Scotland to be independent of both the EU and UK, and those who wished to remain in the EU.
- The Brexit campaign united globalists who thought the UK could strike better deals for itself with the rest of the world (and maybe open its borders), and those who wanted to protect ‘British jobs for British workers’ (and maybe close the borders); those who wished the UK parliament and British laws to be sovereign, and those who wished it only to obey the dictates of the populists; those who thought the UK could spend more money on the NHS, and those who would stop spending money on it.
In the aftermath of Brexit, the 37% of the electorate who voted for it are now finding that ‘Brexit means Brexit’ is a load of horseshit. Will it be a ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ Brexit? If Parliament is to be sovereign, will it have final say of the terms by which the UK will leave? The vagueness of the campaign will come back to haunt us all.
I generally dislike nationalism – quite simply, on an emotional level, I find it disagreeable – and I regard it more as arbitrary and divisive than as a positive thing. I think nationalism comes from a very partial view of one’s country’s history. In the aftermath of Brexit, I find the direction taken by the British government to be deeply troubling.
And whatever financial chaos might have been caused to Scotland by a ‘Yes’ result in the Indyref looks like it might well happen anyway thanks to Brexit.
Looking at the outcome of Brexit across each region, one finds that on the issue of Europe, Scotland clusters quite distinctly and consistently in a pro-EU way which the other nations do not:
Does this mean I would support a second Scottish Independence Referendum?
I want to see what happens with Brexit first. But my vote would certainly be up for grabs. I would need some serious persuading though. The UK hasn’t left the EU yet and its economy is undoubtedly bigger and stronger than Scotland’s alone – so I imagine it would weather the negative effects of leaving the EU better than Scotland would of leaving the UK. But what if an independent Scotland rejoined the EU? I have no idea how its economy would fare. I couldn’t even begin to guess.
Nor can I predict what future shape UK politics would take in any outcome. There is no guarantee the SNP will remain as powerful as it is in the Holyrood Parliament, and no guarantee that the current brand of Conservatism in government at Westminster will dominate for long. As objectionable as I find the present UK government, I know that it cannot last; everything passes, given long enough.
That doesn’t make it any more bearable in the meantime.
There’s something about the state of the world right now – the dominance of ‘post-truth’, populist politics in the UK and the USA (and elsewhere) – that makes me deeply uneasy.
Friends have shared the glib observation that 2016 looks like one of those years in history books before you get several pages of maps with arrows on them; you know – like The Great War.
The other joke doing the rounds is that history books will record “…2014, 2015, 2017, 2018…”
What happened to 2016? “We don’t talk about 2016.”