Why is it like this? Why have we been forced into pretending we can solve the complex and many sided analogue reality we inhabit with the answer to a binary question?
A friend of a friend posted on Facebook commenting on a piece the friend had performed which he said was influenced by stuff of mine. (see above for the shared momentum that is political incest). This chap, Andrew Brown, who i have never met, commented:
" I think this feeling of ‘now or never’ has been the biggest hindrance to a healthy, measured debate throughout the process. It’s created a sense of panic from both sides that just never had to be there. Yes and No have been forced to go balls out, all in, when in reality, things should never have had to be so frantic."
He then asked:
"What would have been so bad about gradually devolving powers and unwinding shared services and policy over the next 10 years, creating a stable environment for change? We’ve basically been forced into a negotiation period of only 18 months to entirely rebuild a country’s central services. What other decision or transition would you make like that?"
He went on:
"I’m still voting Yes, because I don’t believe a No vote will bring the change I want to see. And if anything, I’m even more angry at the arrogance of Cameron in taking devo max off the ballot when it’s clearly what most people want.
But I feel like I’m taking an unnecessary plunge and it makes the whole thing a lot more scary – in the unknowns of leap itself, but also in the potential for disappointment and feeling like this was our only chance if it’s a No in September."
And I was almost startled at the reasonableness of that observation. You get trapped sometimes inside the "Daily Politics" as it were. You find yourself, like the professional politicians and their parasitic pundits, mistaking the political product for the historical process - which is, of course, far more important.
With some of that freshness of perspective still lingering in my mind, let me get the "process story" answer out of the way first.
The way that Andrew and many others are feeling trapped by the "Now or Never" rhetoric employed by both sides is just one of the ways in which the Union side of the debate has dictated the paradigm of the debate even while signally failing to dictate the terms of the argument itself. After all, Salmond had to ask Cameron's permission. And Cameron's interest in the referendum was that it would be a way of calling Scotland's bluff. Of settling and silencing the Scottish Question for "a generation" as they keep saying.
In other words, the referendum, in Westminster terms, demanded that we either Shut Up or Fuck Off. Now or Never.
Now, everybody knows that in fact neither of those scenarios is realistic. We will do neither whether the "product" is a Yes or No, We'll still be here and there will be loads to talk and think about. Everyone knows that it would have been far better, far less disruptive, for more "civilised" to have given a consensual mandate to a process for "Devo Max" which could then have consulted civic society in rather the way the Claim of Right led into the Constitutional Convention in the 90s.
That would have been much more rational. Rationality, however, was not and is not in the interests on the Union side of the argument. In the absence of a positive case for the Union, notoriously, boringly by now, we have been treated to one apocalyptic "death or safety" scenario after another,..the binary irrationality of which Andrew complains was always part of the paradigm that the self interest of the Union side demanded we accept.
The strategy is fear versus security...and the response of the Yes side in now in kind...pointing out that a future in which a No vote has given Cameron and Company our loyal permission to do whatever they like to us is odds on going to be unpleasant...is a natural, if not ultimately, perhaps, terribly objective response. It's simplistic. And politics is nothing if not the substitution of facile simplicities for complex realities.
(Except to say that I am genuinely afraid that the overwhelming agenda of british politics - the Austerity Agenda - as endorsed by all and sundry,Labour very much included, will go a damn sight smoother once we Scottish turkeys vote for David Cameron's Christmas - I think the left in England ought to hope, if they can't quite wish for a Yes, that it's bloody close and that bloody Scotland bloody well stays on the agenda!)
However, forced into an unaccustomed attempt at said objectivity by Andrew's observations above, I would like to identify maybe a little more precisely than I have perceived hitherto what has been an unequivocally positive result of the relative idiocy of the campaign's governing paradigm.
That is, the sheer richness and urgency of the thinking and speaking and acting and singing...that is going into the Yes campaign. This energy is itself in part at least, the product of that very binary urgency which Andrew rightfully identifies as an historical malapropism even while it is a spur to genuine invention, and a goad to the effective day dreaming we are all taking part in, from Commonweal to National Collective among many, many many others.This diversity is way more important in the campaign than the "official" Yes Scotland machinery. It is also, I would argue, of much more significance in the longer term.
Whichever way the Vote goes, the forces in this country that despise democracy (along with universal welfare) as a hangover from whjen the boss class had the Communists to worry about ... have already suffered an unsettling defeat.
You can tell how rattled they are...they're even appealing to "silent majorities" now (copyright RM Nixon) which is a sure sign of hitting rock bottom in your attempt to marginalise dissent.
There have been forces of imagination and hope unleashed in our Wee, fearty pre-democratic country of ours that are not going to go away. The genie of autonomy, of self rule on the individual and collective level is out of the bottle, and he ain't going back in whether or not we choose to formally extend our sovereignty as a polity on September 18th.
I think there is a sense that the narrow, almost stupid referendum we are campaigning about has accidently set free the very historical forces it was designed to forever silence. No matter which way we spring inside the binary trap that has been set for us on September 18th, in the real, analogue world, everything has already changed.
"Those in power sat safer without me
That was my hope
So passed away my time
Which was given to me on Earth."
Old BB. 1939