Defining Yes and No



Psychologists tell us the mental process called rationalisation is a term which actually does not mean ‘being rational’.

We seek to justify our irrational beliefs or attitudes with high-minded motives. This leads to the No voter principle that somehow self-governance will only result in chaos because protest does more harm than good. Or put another way, “Gie us peace, an’ go hame!”

Given that warped thinking, I can hear Trotsky in the pub with Lenin saying, “This revolution idea, the Royal family are going to be ever so upset. Is there not another way we can get out of abject poverty without storming the Winter Palace?”

Psychologists suggest the real reason people voted No may be cowardice. They believed what they wanted to believe because it made them feel comfortable and safe. We rationalise the discreditable motive by inventing a creditable reason.

Of course, the same ‘rationalisation’ can be hurled back at Yes voters, but the people I debated with knew of the difficulties ahead and acknowledged full-self governance would take time. As far as they were concerned, it was a magnificent challenge, hope writ large.

How many reasons to vote No were enunciated? One daft justification was a Scotland independent is a Scotland bankrupt. Yet rUK is the nation with £1.5 trillion debt. Scotland has no debt.

Another piece of self-serving reasoning was, our trade with England was sure to get blocked … starving over 300,000 English resident in Scotland. To begin with, neo-liberals loving weak government – they call it ‘less’ government – should understand you need more government administration for that to be enforced, not less! The notion that company bosses will endanger their bonuses, or shareholder profits is unthinkable.

And there was one more: we would become foreigners in our own land – how that works is a mystery, but you know the ‘reasoning’ and all of it preposterous.

On and on goes the tortured thinking painting a bleak picture of impoverished Scots rummaging in rain sodden furrowed fields for turnips sheep rejected, a ceaseless grubbing for subsistence foods.

How does the opponent of full-democracy define sustainable self-determination? Have they forgotten we endure food banks under the Union?

England better without Europe

I always thought the United Kingdom was part of Europe. If  Westminster takes England out of Europe what are we to do with all our Italian and Spanish restaurants, kebab houses, and pizza parlours? What will the sons and daughters of European immigrants think about the country their parents and grandparents choose as tolerant and civilised?

Back in the day we used to refer to taking holidays ‘on the continent’ until millions of us sold up and went off to live on the continent. There are over one million English living in the south of Spain, and, it’s argued, few bother to learn Spanish beyond, ‘Una cerveza, por favor’, or pay their local taxes, or MOT their British-bought car. Sometimes I think Europe will be better off without England.

The public in Scotland, and a few worthy souls in England too, must be laughing up their sleeves to hear the same arguments Scotland gave for self-governance, the ones ridiculed and rejected, yet somehow fully applicable to the Englishman’s relationship with ‘Johnny Foreigner.’ One lovely piece of irony is the ‘it’s for life’ argument: leave Europe and there’s no going back. Walk away from the Euro and- no, wait! We don’t use the Euro.

Strange and bizarre: England wants to dump Europe, but is determined to keep Scotland. Scotland wants out of the UK tourniquet but to remain in Europe and friendly with England. Then again, England will be better off without France and Germany and those over-gesticulating Italians, but Scotland will be all the poorer with them. Confused?

English detest the French, envy the Germans, mock the Italians, and live in Spain.

A profound difference.

Scotland wants to re-join the international community as a mature nation state, no longer given growth retarding injections to keep it ever needful of its self-appointed nanny, whereas England looks inwards preferring isolationism, and east, west, England’s best.

That said, we had better be able to define what we mean by ‘better in Europe.’ To me it means cosmopolitanism, disappearing borders, common institutions, harmony, and shared prosperity. However, the savage neo-liberal stance imposed upon Greece’s woes opens up many questions about the redistribution of its wealth.

Nevertheless, it’s amusing to see the conviction with which English politicians beat the drum, how they can alter the meaning of a word or phrase to have a completely different meaning than assumed at first hearing, and then go home to continue with their miserable lives. For example, Cameron argues he will take the United Kingdom out of Europe while all the time arguing he wants to stay in – the craft of holding two opposing opinions at once. How can anybody define what’s good and bad about EU membership when the prime minster is working both ways?

Cameron is Dr Dolittle’s llama, a Push me-Pull you.

Semanticists can always make it clear to you that black is white.

  • The European Referendum result,
  • Seen from the proper point of view;
  • Eminent Unionists will undertake to show,
  • That ‘Yes’ is but a nearer form of ‘No.’

Scotland the fascist state

We have grown used to freewheeling unionists and neo-colonialists having a personal purpose other than the purely informative. They have propagandist aims, their meaning slanted according to their purpose.

That bias may not always be conscious. Take the ubiquitous use of ‘fascist’ thrown around Twitter every day. It can cover brutal repressive regimes, the authoritarian, the anti-socialistic, militaristic nationalism, various types of communism, or the democratically elected government of Scotland. Those who bandy it about like sweeties actually mean fascism as practised by Germany, and probably Italy during the Second World War.

The sheer stupidity of tarring a nation with Nazism beggars belief. We see the accusation appearing regularly, spat out of the mouths of supposedly sane politicians and journalists.

In the end, it’s all piss-poor propaganda.

Scotland ‘enjoying the greatest powers of any devolved nation’ really means we have fewer rights than the people of Quebec, Gibraltar, and in many regards Northern Ireland which is almost an autonomous state by itself. Our fate is deserved because, according to some extreme unionists, Scotland is not a nation but a subsumed province.

The freedoms we are reminded every day we enjoy -but never quantified – are limited to those of the consumer, but not the freedom of refusing our taxes go to criminal banks, or the freedom to remove our labour without threat of redundancy or recrimination.

Exactly what do you mean by, ‘what do you mean?’

I recall the BBC political interviewer Gordon Brewer asking an SNP panellist to define what he meant by a ‘fairer and more just society.’ As the SNP politician stumbled over what he thought was obvious to everybody, it was obvious to me he had not thought it through beyond that slogan, and no one had defined it for him.

On the subject of a fairer and just society I offered one aspect (of many) in the essay, ‘The Power and the Cringe’. I talked about illegitimate institutions unable to justify their power base being fit only for dismantling, and in an essay previous to that, the need for a set of beliefs that are moral and practical, simultaneously.

A common lack of definition heard often is over ‘values’ – our beliefs. Those values, we are told, are ‘values’ shared by people in the North of England, ‘so what’s so special about Scotland?’ – as if those living in Newcastle and Leeds are a nation state unto themselves, one with lochs and mountains. It is true we share a common humanity – put crudely, the leveller ‘we all use the toilet’, but that is not the same as political ambitions, or definitions of liberty, equality, and fraternity. That argument is the north of England seeing Scotland as, well, an extension of the north of England.

An everyday illustration of definition

A few days ago, in a fairly mundane discussion on the definition of art, I received the classic response to an innocuous remark – that there is ordinary graphic art, (illustration) and there is Albrecht Durer. By daring to state there has to be standards by which we can judge anything, never mind art, I got branded immediately an art snob … by a philistine.

Far from being elitist, I was making the point we don’t get an aesthetic education at school, we get two hours of painting classes a week. If we were better educated aesthetically we would be in a better position to tell what is good and what is bad art, what is good and bad architecture, and why. Knowing why means knowing what makes up the constituent parts of good and great art. We’ve all heard the expression, “I might know nothing about art, but I know what I like.” It’s a phrase that rejects knowledge. By the same token, running with an emotional reaction as a decision, as some did by blindly Voting No, isn’t a rational decision at all.

(On a purely practical level, a basic understanding of aesthetics helps overcome the panic at B&Q’s paint shelves, sweating over what wall colour goes with the carpet laid!)

Define ‘once in a generation’

Salmond’s incautious ‘once in a generation’ remark has been interpreted so many ways it’s exhausting to count them. The years vary wildly depending on how tough the speaker thinks they must be to keep Scotland in its place. Ten, fifteen, twenty, fifteen years, and in one spectacular case, over a hundred. Whatever the opponents of Scotland want it to be that suits their purpose, that’s what it is.

They transferred the remark to Sturgeon as her coinage, and then to the Yes supporters as a group. Salmond defined it. He meant a political generation, that is, five years, and he went on to point out the obvious, it was his opinion, not the opinion of the Scottish Government, and not that of the people of Scotland.

We’re told we have full democracy. What is the definition of full democracy? It seems to mean one thing to a unionist, another to an independence supporter. The former tells us genuine self-governance is impossible if Scotland retains the pound sterling. But what is his definition of self-governance? Sharing the pound sterling does not compromise basic freedom of choice. We choose which currency we wish to use. And we choose how to spend that money and our taxes. Interest rates fixed by the bank of England still leaves an independent Scotland with options as to how to mitigate anti-social constraints.

The democracy we are supposed to be delirious about doesn’t include keeping all we earn, vetoing wars Westminster instigates end-to-end, or having the right to administrate welfare. We are suppose to be sanguine about England exercising those powers because we are incapable of making grown-up decisions.

By the simple mechanism of retaining a considerable number of key democratic powers, England is not imposing slavery on Scotland, but it continues to exert an undue influence in almost all we do and say, and keeps a tight grip on any move towards real self-governance.  Westminster’s definition of ‘devolution’ is highly contestable.

I know my mind!

The point of this stroll around definitions is, we ought to know what we’re discussing before we discuss it. The philistine attitude to art, “If I think it’s nice, it’s nice” is a denial of understanding, a surface, bombastic, go by the looks, assessment of things.

When a political opponent dives in with the blunt dismissal of an absolutist, acting like a frog leaping from a safe lily pad into the beak of a waiting heron, he has forgotten to ask for, and acknowledge he understands, our meaning.

When we use abstractions, words like democracy, freedom, capitalism, socialism, or communism, be sure our meaning and theirs is clear. If it isn’t, don’t argue, move on.

  • See them bicker ower the Net,
  • Passion real, affection spent.
  • Do Indie or Yoon understand
  • Whit it means tae own yer land?
  • The Yoon does; his castle, his hame-
  • But no’ why Scots should do the same.

It was French philosopher Voltaire who said, “Before I will discuss anything with you, you must define your terms.” And so should we.

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11 Responses to Defining Yes and No

  1. More food for thought, Gb. Thanks.

    I’m rather enjoying these ‘mini lectures’ of yours. As someone not of academic background, it’s useful to be given these little intellect-sharpening tools.

    I don’t believe that people should be taught what to think but it can only be good for those of us with all these thoughts and ideas bouncing round the insides of our skulls to have some useful pointers on ‘how’ to conduct critical thinking.

    Being only 3-4 years truly politicised, it’s still a work in progress for this man. As a young policeman I was taught to remember ‘definitions’ in relation to criminal law, but the application of ‘definition’ extends way beyond that sphere as I’m increasingly realising.

    Whilst it’s very easy to get emotional about an issue we feel passionate about it’s clear that we will convince more people if we are clear about the definitions of our own case and terms and fully understand those ourselves.

    That’s what I’m taking away from this at least. As you allude, it’s like learning to interpret a work of art. And of course, as in drawing, the real skill goes beyond the mere technical; yes, learning to use your medium correctly is one thing but learning to look closely at your subject and interpret every aspect, every nuance of form, light and shade is quite another.

    Thanks again!

  2. Grouse Beater says:

    If you continue with comments of that quality you’ll be out-doing my essays!

    Except for the distasteful Rowling-Spanner spat, there’s not much going on in Scotland’s politics that isn’t banal repetition. I’ve not properly released this one onto the internet … will give it my usual ‘objective scrutiny’ after a few hours.

    WordPress has altered its layout making the search for a short link almost impossible, hence I have to wait until somebody tweets it to a friend, allowing me to see the short link on their tweet.

    Maybe trail it after midnight, plus a review of the new movie ‘Trumbo’ – two for the price of one. Good to hear from you, as ever, Max.

  3. daibhidhdeux says:

    Tweeted, as usual.

    Max, you, too like Grouse, are a philosopher in its widest Classical and Enlightenment sense.

    Always a joy to visit here:)

  4. hettyforindy says:

    Really enjoyed reading this thanks. I am a bit obsessed by Tarkovsky right now, particularly his diaries and interviews, having seen the films already.
    He has much to say about art, in all it’s forms, his words are incredibly honest. This documentary, with footage of the making of his last film, The Sacrifice, is not to be missed, it’s mesmerising. At 1hr41, it is long but worth the time spent.

  5. Grouse Beater says:

    You’re my first Tarkovsky fan!
    I liked The Sacrifice a lot! His camera technique got overtaken by the three second edit emanating from Hollywood, a style that all but destroyed a generation’s capacity to concentrate for more than a few minutes. (I think stand-up comics have benefitted from this sad trend.)
    The documentary is narrated by our own Brian Cox. Nice.

  6. hettyforindy says:

    Thank you. I hadn’t noticed, T seems to relish time stretching in his films.
    If you haven’t seen it, it is fascinating to watch how The Sacrifice was thought up, and made. Truly an artist who really thought about the depth of sincerity in his work. Rembrandt of course was a genius with paint and etching tool, my fave artist of all time.

    I was recently reading about Goya, my next fave artist, but learning about how in those days, as now, with some, he had to utilise certain kind of techniques for speed, it may have undermined the quality, I think. Such is life for artists, unless they reject the commercial, shallow, and fashionable wants of the uneducated public.

  7. Grouse Beater says:

    Well, we can say this, if Goya ever had to cut corners the result will be difficult to spot. He started from a sublime standard.

  8. hettyforindy says:

    Absolutely, and in fact his work was still top class, talking of class, I get the feeling he didn’t really like painting the rich at all, but had to make a living, his illnesses were so dreadful too. Amazing artist.

  9. hettyforindy says:

    Oh and yes, Brian Cox is excellent at the narration, it’s all the better for that.

  10. Para Handy says:

    Excellent point about what to teach people, Max. Teach people how to think, not what and the world will be a better place.

  11. papko says:

    When we use abstractions, words like democracy, freedom, capitalism, socialism, or communism, be sure our meaning and theirs is clear. If it isn’t, don’t argue, move on.”

    I think that sums it up really, but the devil is in the detail, and “be sure our meaning and theirs is clear ” is very vague.

    Surely lawyers have been debating since the dawn of time “what is meant by “.

    You could take anyone of those words and read a library of books on each of them and still not agree with someone who has read the same number, let alone someone who is plugged into to the TV all day. I see a lot of interventions in this EU referendum, from businessmen wanting the “facts “, Sir Tom Hunter, and Peter Hargreaves in particular, (both worth circa 1 billion?).

    They want it laid down on a piece of paper, so they can peruse the “facts “, the Govt has supplied figures, with the aid of 2000 civil servants and a host of academics (my guess) and their “facts” are challenged, the Govt confesses, they want us to stay in so assume that role .

    Why does not Billionaire Hargreaves, commission 200 accountants, lawyers academics to find out the facts and lay the matter to rest, at what cost, 10 million pounds? (For a Billionaire this figure is equivalent to the average Scot spending 2 grand, 1% of his net worth.) I would imagine the 2/3rds of Scots who own their own property, and the 80% of Scots who own their own vehicle have spent similar sums deliberating their decision to make a big purchase.

    My point is, if “The FACTS” were so important they could be sourced at a cost, whatever happens they will be contested, and therefore undermined.

    I can conclude, they say they want them but they do nothing to get them, perhaps its posturing or raising reasonable doubt.

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