On Being Good
Independence ‘at any cost’ and under any set of conditions is a profoundly dangerous idea, and there is no shortage of historical examples to help us understand this. There are, as I have said umpteen times in the past, different kinds of independence. Sure, it’s an extreme example, but North Korea is an ‘independent’ state, but there are few in Scotland today would prefer the conditions of life for the vast majority of North Koreans to life in a political union with England.
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By Jason Michael
THE CHATTER ON SOCIAL MEDIA from Nicola Sturgeon’s most loyal followers, over the last few days, has been rather disturbing. We now find ourselves – the whole of the independence movement, that is – in the uncomfortable spot where in a judicial review the Scottish government has been found to have acted unlawfully in its handling of complaints against Alex Salmond. It is now accepted and well known that someone in the First Minister’s inner circle criminally leaked internal government details of his case to the Daily Record – a unionist tabloid, and that people inside the Scottish government, working with the Crown Office, collaborated with members of the British government-appointed civil service in what now looks very much like a criminal conspiracy to have Mr Salmond, the former First Minister of Scotland, convicted of dubious charges (the government’s own legal counsel advised that the government’s case was ‘unstateable’) and imprisoned.
This is not the stuff of opinion or speculation. These are the facts, and we have to deal with the facts. So far, it does appear as though we are dealing with the facts – which is to say we have accepted them, but quite how we are dealing with them has exposed a serious problem; Sturgeon’s closest lieutenants have circled the wagons and closed ranks, and her most ardent supporters are chirping the message that the effort to win a majority in May is a more pressing concern than facing up to what such a conspiracy might imply. No one – or very few, it must be added, are now denying that these are the facts, that the Scottish government did all this. But rather than taking a long, hard look in the mirror, the faithful are prepared to accept the truth, ignore it, and plough ahead regardless.
Their attitude is essential this: Who cares? By paying this scandal any attention we risk losing an all-important SNP majority in the upcoming elections and thereby jeopardise the promised referendum and independence.
They are prepared to prioritise this majority and the achievement of independence over and against truth and justice. No doubt, many readers will not see the problem here. After all, independence is what we want and we are willing to win independence ‘by any means necessary,’ right? Well, we have to be careful – there are different kinds of independence, and some kinds of independence are simply not worth having – because, and this may come as a shock, there are worse political realities than being an English colony (bear with me).
…an independence established on the lofty ideal of ‘the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of government best suited to their needs.’
It is important to stress that I believe in Scottish independence and desperately want independence. The independence I want is that of a Scottish Republic – not everyone’s cup of tea – and an independence established on the lofty ideal of ‘the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of government best suited to their needs (Claim of Right, 1989);’ an independence that will bring about the conditions required to forge a better future for everyone in Scotland. Under no circumstances I am prepared to compromise aught of these conditions.
Independence ‘at any cost’ and under any set of conditions is a profoundly dangerous idea, and there is no shortage of historical examples to help us understand this. There are, as I have said umpteen times in the past, different kinds of independence. Sure, it’s an extreme example, but North Korea is an ‘independent’ state, but there are few in Scotland today would prefer the conditions of life for the vast majority of North Koreans to life in a political union with England. And while this is, admittedly, an extreme example, the one common thread that runs through all the historical examples of undesirable independences is the matter of compromise. When peoples and nations compromise the better angels of their natures, as a matter of expedience, to gain their freedom, what, in the end, they achieve is neither freedom nor true independence.
Before the outbreak of the Second World War – in the same historical milieu in which the Scottish National Party was formed, when the Nazis overran and created the Reich’s Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia – present day Czechia and then the western part of Czecho-Slovakia, the small nation of Slovakia seized the opportunity to declare its own independence. Knowing full well Hungary, Poland, and Germany had their eyes on Slovak territory, the Slovaks under the leadership Jozef Tiso understood their independence would depend on the support of their most powerful neighbour – Hitler’s Germany. So, independence at any price for the first Slovak Republic meant acquiescing to the Third Reich’s condition that it become a vassal state and an ally of the Reich; guaranteeing it security from its neighbours to the south and west. Tiso, a priest, was under no illusions what being a puppet to Nazi Germany would mean. He and 2.6 million Slovaks knew perfectly well their ‘independence’ would require the compromise of their values, and the decision to make this compromise led to the introduction of antisemitic laws and the eventual deportation of Slovakia’s Jews to Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1942 – an appalling episode in which the Slovak government organised the transports and paid Germany 500 Reichsmarks for every Jew taken.
Thankfully, the campaign for Scottish independence is not faced with this compromise. But we are in real danger of being asked to compromise our values; to compromise our highest ideals as a people and a nation in order to secure an independence. This is a deal with the devil reasoning whereby we are prepared to sacrifice certain of our virtues with a view to them magically being restored ‘after May’ or ‘after independence.’ Yet, one does not need to be familiar with the story of Rumpelstiltskin to appreciate that such deals never pan out.
Still, this was exactly the reasoning of Chris McCusker, the vice-convener of the SNP Socialists NEC. Despite acknowledging his allegiance to Ms Sturgeon in his social media bio, he accepts the facts of the Scottish government’s present predicament, and yet he argues:
Why can’t the bloggers join in for the calls for unity & solidarity? Then expose any corruption after we achieve a super majority for the next term of office. Plenty of time for recrimination after we get it.– ‘Nicola’s No1 Comrade‘ on Twitter
Doesn’t this thinking remind of us of that dialogue between the Duke of Norfolk and Thomas More in Robert Bolt’s masterpiece, A Man for All Seasons (1960), where Norfolk pleads with More to betray his conscience and sign the document that will cast the Pope from England and establish Henry VIII as the head of the church:
DUKE OF NORFOLK: …damn it, Thomas, look at those names … You know those men! Can’t you do what I did, and come with us, for fellowship?A Man for All Season (Act Two), Robert Bolt, 1960
SIR THOMAS MORE: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship?
In this is the dilemma. McCusker is asking me, one of those ‘bloggers,’ to rally behind a government we both know to have broken the law and to have concerted itself with the British government in order to destroy a man as symbolically important to the independence movement as Alex Salmond for the sake of ‘unity & solidarity’ – for fellowship. And when I am damned for not doing according to my conscience, will good socialists like Chris McCusker join with me for the unity and solidarity of Judas and all such betrayers? It’s not Salmond we are betraying. We are being asked to sell out on our principles; our belief that we, as members of an independence movement, do not treat with the enemy, and we do not discard truth and justice to shore up our power. Nothing good can ever come of this.
We, as members of an independence movement, do not treat with the enemy, and we do not discard truth and justice to shore up our power.
Cui bono? I will not compromise on this because, of course, someone stands to benefit from the crime. Someone always benefits. These compromises so many are right now so willing to make will benefit the very perpetrators of the crime – the same people who propose to lead us to independence and in so doing form the first government of an independent Scotland; a state founded on the dispensation of the highest ideas of truth and justice. Will these people suddenly rediscover their consciences ‘after May’ or ‘after independence?’ And, if not, what sort of independence will their duplicity and injustice make for the future of Scotland and the Scottish people? It will do nothing but hand the reins of our country – the rightful property of all Scots – from one set of gangsters to another. This is not the independence I want, and neither is it the independence envisioned by the Yes movement born in the crucible of the 2014 referendum.
Rejecting this is not rejecting that independence, the independence we all imagined together. If anything, it is a reaffirmation of the dream of independence we all dreamt together in ‘Freedom Square.’ In buying into this false belief that we are risking independence, once again we are surrendering to fear – and that is not who we are! FEAR? False Evidence Appearing as Real.
We demand of our government that it embody the values of the Scottish people and nation, that it is honest, and good, and just – that only when it embodies this, our country, will we be worthy to cross over the threshold of hope and realise in an independent state the nation and people we know ourselves to be. Everything short of this is not good enough – it is a fraud. And this need not be a condemnation of the Scottish National Party. Rather, it must be an invitation to every member of the party to take the reins and make the reforms necessary to put the show back on the road. And we have ‘plenty of time’ to do this, because every road to independence sullied by bad faith and injustice is a lie. It is only when we are on the road where we can be true to ourselves that independence will be possible. So, we have plenty of time. We have oceans of it.
Cornel West on Pursuing Truth in Politics