There is less than six months to go in the Scottish Independence Referendum. Attempts to paint Salmond as a vengeful nationalist in the spirit of Mugabe backed by Scottish neo-fascists look woefully unhinged when contrasted with the reality on the ground. But the ground is shifting, unsteady and a cataclysmic earthquake may be just below the surface, one far more dangerous to the established order than anything Robertson could dream up.
Recently people have started to point out that the offical campaign for independence “Yes Scotland” has lost control over the independence referendum and that they have been left behind in the struggle. I certainly wouldnt disagree with that analysis. Yes Scotland was always conceived as being a broad church of disparate forces who wanted independence, as such it was always going to tend to the bland, being all things to all wo/men. And in that regard it hasnt disappointed. The billboards are pretty, but vacant; the leaflets providing vital statistics in friendly fonts and glossy technicolour are appreciated, but the real conversations are happening elsewhere. What started out as a struggle for national liberation has become oh, so much bigger.
The traditional format of is as a very solid and definative image of the country to be newly created, led by a national hero constructed as a solid and definitive figure representing the nation that was to emerge. Determined, aggressive and forthright, this hero was to lead the oppressed masses to glorious liberation. The Nation – a 19th century western construct – is elevated to devotional status, all the hopes and dreams and ambitions of the population are foisted upon it, while one man is chosen to represent its embodiment and realise its destiny. Africa is battle scarred by the effects of these charismatic charmers. The “Braveheart”syndrome, where a noble Wallace is seen leading his charges towards FREEEEDOM!!! foisted upon us by Hollywood seeks to impose that same narrative on Holyrood.
Its closest modern simulcra in Scotland is probably Tommy Sheridan. Sheridan is notorious for his trips to Cupid’s sex club, which he attempted to sue the News of the World for writing about. It is now common knowledge although still stubbornly denied by Sheridan, that he did indeed visit sex clubs, yet for six long years a legal battle ensued as he attempted to sue the News of the World for publishing details of his trip. The private justification Sheridan gave for his actions was that exposure of his activities would destroy his carefully crafted image as a faithful family man, an image which was as popular as it was fake.
In Eros and Civilization, Marcuse considers that by a process of seeking to meet desire, people come up against the difficulty of achieving it within the context of a harsh environment and externally imposed discipline, and comes to realise that their desire will thus forever be thwarted, moderating their desire under the “reality principle”; learning what is acceptable and approved behavior, and what is harmful and forbidden, becoming
“a conscious, thinking subject, geared to a rationality which is imposed on him from outside”
Marcuse, Eros and Civilisation
Sheridan’s identity was uni-dimensional, incapable of integrating his liking of seedy activities in rundown clubs on Northern industrial estates into either his persona or his politics: a blatent denial followed. Here we see Marcuse’s “reality principle” at work – in order to conform to reality; reality is denied. In mainstream politics, sexual deviation is taboo. Homosexuality may be tolerated within the context of loving monogamous mortgaged respectability, an affair may be forgiven if accompanied by suitable platitudes, public repentance and a rejection of the scarlet woman, as an adjacent stoic wife with a fixed smile on a carefully made up face looks on. That “reality principle”taught Sheridan that if his desire cannot be integrated into hegemonic norms, it must be denied, through the courts if required.
It is considered that in the process of becoming a subject: a person who acts – the incorporation of the reality principle: the acceptable limits of thought and action – is a given, constraining inherent desire which rises only intermittently within the ideological hegemony in which it is born. To counter this, Marcuse posits the concept of “radical subjectivity”, a subjectivity which sits outside that hegemonic framework – that “out the box thinking” so beloved of management consultants who seek to capture it and wring it dry then stuff it back in as quickly as possible.
The proliferation of “[people with shared identity] for Yes” groups, is a testimony to that radical subjectivity starting to take root. People are considering independence not as an abstract political change of constitutional governance, but as an event which has an individual impact, and an impact on many different aspects of their identity. As such, it is an opportunity to allow these aspects of identity free reign to envisage, from employment identities, gender and sexual identities, racial identities, leisure identities, shifting from one to the other, their subjectivity integral to their consciousness.
When identities cross with political campaigns, it tends to be either within the narrow sphere of identity politics, where there is an overarching aim to obtain greater social justice for a marginalised community; in reaction to proposals which are oppressive, or to highlight differential impact on one sub-community rather than another. In most cases, the reality is a given – you are either fighting to challenge it or working within it to mitigate its impact. With Scottish independence however, hegemonic reality is suspended. Hegemonic reality in Scotland is British hegemony, and we are constructing an alternative future.
Tartan is the distinctive national cloth of Scotland. It’s made up of patterned threads of different colours. I like to think that Scottish identity is like the tartan. There are many colours, many threads, many strands to the Scottish tartan of identity.
Alex Salmond, Bruges Speech
A nation, in its modern conception at any rate, is a geographical entity. It is by its nature territorialized. We have already seen the Orkney/Shetland breakaway raised as a potential threat to our conception of that territory, and tabloid arguments will no doubt follow about the old chestnut of Berwick on Tweed. The boundaries that we impose, not just on our national border, but within it divide our regions, towns, cities, villages and parishes. Each has an local identity, but there is a fluidity between the geographic grouping made at any one time, dependent on the shifting priorities of the day; a radical subjectivity which makes the bounds of identity more fluid than mere mapped boundaries , living on within its residents who hold geographical allegiances elsewhere, kin scattered throughout the region, country, archipelago, continent and globe.
Beyond that within each person lives identities which connect them to people globally – some are very deliberately constructed as “political identities”, Queer, for example; some are hegemonic identities which may or may not take on a political hue – “woman” and “Muslim” are both examples of such; yet many more are relatively depoliticised terms – “cyclist” for example; “birdwatcher”, “clubber” are also identities that we take on to describe ourselves. It is in this time of change, however, that these identities are coming to the political fore. As people take time to consider the impact of independence, they consider it in the round -in relation to all aspects of their lives, actively seeking to politicise a previously neutral identity.
“We cannot live outside our bodies, our friends, some sort of human cluster, and at the same time, we are bursting out of this situation. The question which poses itself then is one of the conditions which allow the acceptance of the other, the acceptance of a subjective pluralism. It is a matter not only of tolerating another group, another ethnicity, another sex, but also of a desire for dissensus, otherness, difference. Accepting otherness is a question not so much of right as of desire. This acceptance is possible precisely on the condition of assuming the multiplicity within oneself.
Felix Guattari, The Guattari Reader
As Guattari later points out, although it is common sense to see an individual as …well …an individual, they are more properly considered a plurality, comprised of a number of multiples of which we are part. There is no identity that we can adopt as an individual without considering that identity as a group identity. Our own identity merely becomes the aggregation of these. As the undecideded scroll through these multiple identities and reconciling them with a national identity – trying on the Saltire and the Union Jack to see which goes best, multiple aspects are considered. People explore the issues both from a very particular focus, and a very general one, uniting the personal and the political when asking the question:
“Is Independence a positive move for me as a(n) [insert identity]“,
which leads on to the rarely encountered corrollary
“Is my identification with the British State a help or a hindrance for me as a(n) [insert identity]“
and the consequential
“What should an Independent Scotland look like in order to overcome the difficulties that I experience as a(n) [insert identity]”
This shape-shifting as people grapple with multiple identities goes far beyond the “Scottish or British” dichotomy that the press presents us with. It is a deterritorialization of the people of Scotland, allowing us to suspend our territorial hegemonic identitification and explore our other identities in relation to our governance.
Sheridan is still doing the rounds in the Scottish Independence debate, his remarkable oration and showmanship skills on full display. Yet like the propaganda organs of the British State once you see through the one-dimensional slick presentation, the substance has no depth, but an emotional appeal to the true and the good and the noble, all packaged with a red ribbon. The complexity of our struggle – not just for national liberation but international liberation is reflected in the diversity of the campaign and in the hearts and minds of those who are swither before finally taking the leap. The campaign for Scottish Independence has now gone beyond national liberation into full blown deterritorialization.