As a philosopher and political scientist specialising in peace policy, and with a PhD in the psychohistorical dimensions of conflict resolution, I find myself living in Scotland during this referendum campaign. I have met numerous friends on both sides of the debate. I have met idealist pacifists who support the YES vote because they genuinely believe that by forcing trident out of Scotland it would kick start global nuclear disarmament. I have also met YES voters who are like nationalists everywhere, and who seem to have founded their own cult, in which reason counts for far less than emotion and “heart”. As a British-Canadian dual citizen, who has spent 7 years of my life in Canada, 7 years in the Cotswolds, 10 years in Wales, 10 years in London, and 10 years in Sussex, worked as a secondary school teacher of religious studies and philosophy for ten years, and lectured for the Universities of London and the University of Oxford in the history of ideas, plus travelled to lecture and conduct research in about 35 countries around the world, I have a somewhat more global perspective on this issue that is currently dividing our country, that might be of interest to others.
The first comment is that most Scottish nationalists I have met do not want to debate ideas. They literally interrupt you when you start speaking. Rather than answer rational points raised, they “emote”. So as a result the tone of this debate has been rather one sided and low level. This was summed up by the rudeness and heckling character of Alex Salmond’s behaviour in his TV appearances. Likewise by the behaviour of the audiences. Their attitude is: we are right, you are wrong, if you don’t get it, get out of our way, and suffer the consequences. This kind of behaviour has also been recently commented on by author Ewan Morrison, who at one point leaned towards voting YES, but then experienced that the act of thinking, questioning and debating was openly frowned on among YES supporters, who were operating more as a feeling based cult, in which to question the “faith” was seen as heresy (see http://wakeupscotland.wordpress.com/2014/09/15/ewan-morrison-yes-why-i-joined-yes-and-why-i-changed-to-no/)
As someone who has always greatly respected the Scots for their intellect, and rationality, and for the contributions to the European enlightenment, and as someone who was taught philosophy by a Scottish Kantian at Bristol University, I am puzzled as to why the debate has not been on a higher level. Where are the profound philosophical and spiritual dimensions of this agonising choice being spelled out and discussed in detail ? Why has it instead descended into a kind of schoolboy bullying barrage of anti-English rhetoric, coupled with anti-establishment conspiracy theory, and anti-Tory-establishment especially? The fact is that Conservativism as a political idea was partly the creation of Scotland (Sir Walter Scott, Thomas Carlyle) as well as Ireland (Sir Edmund Burke) is totally glossed over. So is the contribution that Scottish conservative thinkers and politicians have made to the UK as a whole, such as Balfour (Prime Minister from 1902-1905), Harold Macmillan (Prime Minister from 1957-1965) from a line of Scottish publishers, and Alec Douglas-Home (Prime Minister from 1970-1974). Gladstone (Prime Minister for much of the later 19th century) was not only of Scottish origins, but also started out as a conservative in politics before shifting over to the Liberals. The silence in the media about the position of the Scottish Conservative tradition is all the more puzzling when you actually consider the demographics of modern Scotland’s people. At the May 2010 general election (which was the year I moved to Scotland from Wales, via Sussex – long story) the results cast in Scotland were as follows: Conservatives won 412,855 votes, Lib Dems won 465,471 votes, Scottish National Party won 491,386 votes, and Labour won 1,035,528 votes. Among minor parties, UKIP won 17,223 votes, The Green Party won 16,827 votes, The British national Party won 8,910, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition won 3,530, The Scottish Socialist Party won 3,157, The Socialist labour Party won 1,673, The Christian Party won 835, The Trust Party won 534, The Liberal Party won 389, The Scottish Jacobite Party won 290 votes and the Communist Party won 237 votes. These minor party results are all-important indicators of Scottish political opinion, especially as the result in the present referendum is expected to be very close, so a few votes here and there may swing it either way. What I do think is so interesting about these figures, if that the Conservative vote was quite as large as it is. While Labour shows as the dominant political party in Scotland, the Conservatives, the Liberals and the Scottish Nationalist Party are all more or less getting similar results, somewhere around the 400,000 mark. This makes the silencing of the Conservative electorate in the present referendum debate al the more puzzling. So far as i am aware not a single interview has been carried on the BBC or any other mainstream media organisation covering the referendum interviewing any senior Scottish conservative leaders in depth about their political thought and their hopes and fears for the future of Scotland in the UK. Instead, the media has virtually totally ignored the existence of any Conservative voters north of Hadrian’s Wall. It is as if they have neither voice nor vote, and have been already disenfranchised by the media establishment. Why is this, one wonders ? The reasons are complex and various, and deserve thorough analysis. So are the possibly momentous consequences. One obvious reason is that the Guardian reading classes, who by and large run the media in London, simply share the same anti Conservative bias as the SNP, whether consciously or unconsciously. It has become fashionable to present the Conservatism tradition as something out of a horror movie, which is a total caricature and indeed inversion of the reality. Most actual Conservatives I have met have been rather sweet old ladies and refined elder gentlemen. The result has been to present Scotland as a nation as a far left country, whose only legitimate political choice, for thinking people, is between left nationalist (SNP) and left unionist (Labour). The media has largely played along with this myth. But why have the 412,855 natural conservative voters in Scotland not challenged this myth as it is presented in the media ? One reason, probably, is that they are naturally reticent and their style of politics will be very different to the brash, bullying and self-proclaiming messiahship of the Scottish nationalists. Conservatism emphasises politeness, kindness, and rigorous intellectual discourse, rather than sound-byte demagoguery, as its preferred style of political debate. But these skills seem to be dying arts nowadays, in an era of facebook punches and twitter-wits. To whom could one actually demand that they read Edmund Burke, or Sir Walter Scott, or the Earl of Shaftesbury’s Patriot Prince, or Russell Kirk’s writing, whose DLitt was from St Andrews University, or Thomas Carlyle’s thoughts on the French Revolution and the workings of the Divine Mind in History, or Hegel on Aesthetics, or the writings of the Duke of Argyll, or the works of Michael Oakeshott, and all the other panoply of thinkers that have contributed to the rich Conservative intellectual tradition herein Scotland. Another reason for their apparent invisibility is that Conservatives perhaps tend to be older in age and less familiar with the cut and thrust of today’s cyber generation. Another is that the very ideas and message of conservatism are much harder and more complex to “sell” than the short, nasty and brutish ideology of anti-English Scottish nationalism, preferably delivered with a punch to the air and a scowl posing as a laugh. But how has it come to this ? It is as if an entire history of a nation is being rewritten before our eyes, and the entire history of Scottish contributions to Conservatism is being air brushed out of collective memory, much as Stalinists would often retouch their adulatory photographs depending on who was out or who was in, power. David Cameron made an important contribution to the debate, when he said “ I love my country more than I love my party”. But the Scottish nationalists, and all who are voting for independence, seem to be saying “I hate the Tories more than I love the UK”. This Tory-Hatred is a serious factor in politics up here in Scotland that is all the more puzzling given the rich and diverse history of the Scottish conservative tradition itself. Scottish soldiers and sailors fought with Nelson at Trafalgar and at Waterloo with Wellington as we decided, collectively, as a nation, not to go down the root of nationalist political-correctness, thought police in the name of the “People” and mob rule, that the French Revolution had unleashed. Even Robert Burns said he would rather stand and fight with the Union than let the Jacobins take over his beloved land. Scottish and English fought together against the Hitlerite attempt to impose another version of national socialist ideology, with a particularly virulent strain of anti-intellectualism at its root, and a kind of mystical occultist veneration of the blood and the land. Are we really going to say the Union that challenged that world view should now be dismantled and a version of the very ideology that it defeated, should be elevated in its stead ? I think not, good people…
The fact is, to repeat, that the whole history of conservatism in the modern world, in its thinking and intellectual dimensions, owes a great deal to Scotland. As I mentioned above, many important Prime Ministers have had Scottish identities, but also the whole tradition of what one can call “Romantic Conservatism” was very much a Scottish thing. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert fell in love with the myth of Scottish Romanticism, and the Victoria age saw a flourishing of what could be called High Victorian Romanticism, in which all that was best about absolute Victorian idealism (Christian Platonism) blended with Scottish down-to earthness. Victorian intellectuals such as the Duke of Argyll, who wrote books about the creative intelligence of the Divine Mind, and how evolution in nature was compatible with an overarching divine consciousness guiding the whole process, and who dared to cross swords with Darwin over this – and who was a friend and correspondent of Prof Max Muller at Oxford University – was also a friend of Queen Victoria and used to entertain her at Inverary Castle. Indeed, her youngest daughter, Princess Louisa, went on to marry his son – they were that friendly ! Or take the Earl of Bute, who rebuilt Mount Stewart, and became a Roman Catholic under the influence of Cardinal Newman at Oxford University, and whose heart is buried outside the Golden Gate in Jerusalem and who contributed greatly to the life and letters of Scotland, giving to both Glasgow and St Andrews Universities with generous largesse. Scotland is littered with cultural and intellectual heroes of Romantic Conservatism, who were part and parcel of the whole Victorian age of achievement, and who contributed to what it meant to be “British” at the height of Pax Britannica, when civil servants educated at Scottish Universities went to serve abroad with a sense of values and moral duty and fair play that were essential core components of this ideal of Romantic Conservatism ? Is all that utterly dead ? Is all that irrelevant ? Are all those values outmoded and to be cast into the fire and replaced by Scottish-nationalist-socialist rhetoric ? In the 20th century, many Scottish conservatives served proudly in the struggles that Britain had to cope with collectively both in World War One and Two, and the original figure on which James Bond was based seems to have been, partly , Sir Fitzroy MacLean, a friend of Sir Winston Churchill, and who on returning from active service in the war, went to run a hotel and inn at beautiful Loch Fyne. His ancestral clan, the MacLean’s, still own Duart Castle on the Isle of Mull, which guards the entrance to the Great Glen, and one of the most beautiful castles in Britain. Proud of their Jacobite heritage, they had long since settled down into genteel Scottish Romantic Conservatives. It is ironic that whereas Sean Connery, the ersatz James Bond may well be for the Scottish Nationalists, the actual original, from which the copy was made, was a proud Scottish Conservative.
The contribution of Scottish thinkers to liberal thought is also profound, from Gladstone to Sir David Steel. Yet I have yet to hear any really profound contributions from the Scottish liberal tradition to the referendum debate. Again, it is as if they have been mesmerised by all the nationalist and Socialist rhetoric and decided to remain mute. Why hasn’t Sir David Steel spoken out against independence more strongly ? In fact, he did say back in May that there should be a UK constitutional convention to transfer more powers to Holyrood if the No vote wins, and he made clear that he personally is indeed intending to vote NO. So too did his colleague Baroness Williams speak against separation, another senior Liberal democratic Peer, at an event in Edinburgh titled In Praise Of The Union. So the Liberal Democrats have been speaking out, but this has hardly been repeated in the press or the media. Instead, the voices of intelligent liberalism and intelligent conservatism have been almost totally muted and silenced. The idea of a UK Constitutional Convention, by the way, is quite a good one.
Another reason for this, might be because political spin doctors have decided that since the demographic shift of Labour voters to the SNP is what is the key battleground in this election, and since all SNP activists by definition simply hate the Tories, as they call them, and their Liberal scum, bag supporters, so it was felt politic not to dare to mention that in fact quite a lot of Scottish people are either liberal in their thinking, with deep roots back in time, and by and large not only have supported the UK, but indeed helped to bring it into being. And as for mentioning that a few Scots (412,855 at the last general election) might be Conservatives, well, that would amount to heresy since it might prick a fee bubbles.
Preeminent in education, science, literature, philosophy and the arts, the Scottish liberal mind has helped shape the very concept of what it is to be a tolerant, enlightenment and humane person, balancing faith and scepticism with humour and intelligence. We also ought to add to the list of notable Scottish thinkers King James V1, David Hume, Michael Scott, Duns Scotus, all of whom were British and European in their scope, rather than narrowly Scottish in a tribal sense. And it is always worth remembering: St Columba was an Irishman, while St Patrick came from Dumbarton on the Clyde at a time when it was the capital of the Welsh (British) speaking Kingdom of Strathclyde. St Mungo (Kentigern), founder of Glasgow, was also Welsh (British) speaking. It was another Irishman, St Aidan, trained in Iona, who brought Christianity to Lindisfarne, and brought Christian values and principles to the English. First and foremost of these surely is the duty to love one’s neighbours as oneself. This hardly smacks of ethno-nationalism.. (Worth remembering that Kant, the great moral philosopher, was of partly Scottish descent, and proud of it, and he urged us towards genuine cosmopolitanism in our political thought). This rich spiritual and intellectual heritage is really what has made Scotland great, and what has made Britain Great, and why keeping us all together makes more sense than breaking us apart.
But instead of this wider view of Scotland’s identity prevailing, proud to make their contribution to the wider sphere of British identity as a whole, in which our Englishness, Welshness, Irishness and Scotishness blend into a whole greater than the sum of its parts – we are instead reduced to a level of head-butting rhetoric of debasement and innuendo, conspiracy and anti-establishment “us and them” in which the cult of the YES bandwagon aims to demonise all who venture a timid “NO BUT”..
Can I offer a few belated observations about the origin of this in relation to a psycho-historical study of Alex Salmond himself? If the Yes vote wins on 18 September and leads to the demise of the United Kingdom, then political scientists and psychologists will no doubt pore over the causes for decades to come. Even if the YES vote loses, research is needed into how come they came so close. So can I offer a few research areas worth studying, before time:
Firstly, a study is needed of Alex Salmond’s own personal biography: exactly how was it possible that a young boy could be fed stories of heroic Scottishness and anti Englishness, without ever being educated to the other side of the equation ? Did he only listen to the tales his Stalinist grandfather told him, filling his head with traditional hard left rhetoric, in which the English were the demons responsible for everything that has ever gone wrong in history? Did he sleep through his history lessons ? Did he never learn that William Wallace was also undoubtedly a war criminal who butchered innocent civilians when he could get his hands on them ? Did he never learn the Robert the Bruce murdered his opponent (John Comyn) in cold blood in a cathedral at the very altar ? Another war criminal and murderer then. In those days, no one was squeaky clean, so why pretend all the Scots were Saints and all the English murderers ? How is it possible that a young man could take such fierce pride in never even visiting England before he was an adult, and even then, is proud of minimising his contact with “the enemy”.
What about his self-identification with Bonnie Prince Charlie ? How important to his own personal mythology is the fact that he and the Prince share the same birthday (31st December) ? In the quiet recesses of his own consciousness is he truly trying to avenge the field of Culloden ? But does he not realise that the consensus of modern historical research is that Bonnie Prince Charlie was neither Bonnie, nor Scottish, nor behaved like a true Prince, but rather an alcoholic whiskey soaked man-on-a-mission who wouldn’t listen to anyone’s advice, who never actually dared show up at the field of Culloden, and who hid in fear a long way from the battlefield, before running away as the slaughter started. A slaughter of the very clans he had managed to talk into supporting his own forlorn cause, even though wiser heads had counselled it would lead to their doom.
In actual fact, the whole Bonnie Prince Charlie episode was, (wait for it) a real French plot (gosh, call in James Bond please), in which King Louis XV wanted to undermine the protestant Kingdom of Great Britain since it was daring to oppose the French on the Battlefields of Europe and North America and India and challenge the French bid for global hegemony (plus ca change…) Does Alex Salmond actually know this ? ( Is he actually receiving French and EU gold for his efforts ? Someone ought to check his bank accounts…?)
It is interesting to learn that one Captain James Wolfe was among the stalwarts who defeated the army of the Bonnie Prince, and a few years later, he went on to capture Canada from the French. (Since I was born in Montreal, I was brought up to think of Wolfe as a hero, who died capturing Quebec after his daring night-time ascent onto the Heights of Abraham. Only later did I learn of his role at Culloden.).
Two books in particular I would draw to the readers attention – one is Bonnie Prince Charlie: A Biography of Charles Edward Stuart, by Susan Maclean Kybett ( Dodd Mead and Co. New York, `1988) which reveals the folly underlying the Prince’s grandiosity. The other is Salmond: Against The Odds, by David Torrance (Birlinn, Edinburgh, 2010). One of the many interesting snippets that this book reveals is the fact that we owe Alex Salmond nationalist leader to a minor slip up in the Primary school he was a pupil at. There were mock elections being held, and all the other chief boys had decided to stand as the candidate for the main parties (Labour, Conservative, Liberal) and only the vacant seat of the Scottish Nationalist Party remained. So the little pupil Alex Salmond decided to be a Nationalist candidate. He won the election by shouting louder than everyone else, and also by promising free cream to all the pupils, if he was elected. In a sense, he is still hoping to win the referendum on September 18, which could decide the fate of the entire country of the UK for ever, by offering the people of Scotland free cream, free everything. The question is: will enough people wake up in time out of this nightmare and realise that we need to remember the rationalism and scepticism that is the hallmark of the Scottish, and indeed the British character, at our best. Oh, and don’t forget the humour.
One final point: there seems to be a kind of self-destruction about the headlong flight of the Yes Camp away from reason. The more you slowly and painstakingly explain that taking Scotland out of the Union would lead to economic turbulence, capital flight from Scotland even from the UK, greater all round poverty for people both in Scotland and the UK, would lead to defence vulnerability on a possible fatal scale, to opening up risks of cyber attacks from international bullies, would only make our worst enemies around the world happy (North Korea is already toasting) and as a project has been condemned by all the leading financial institutions, economists, artists, intellectuals, politicians and thinkers not just in the UK but all around the world, the more you explain all this – the more they put on a maniacal laugh, get a steely look in their eye, and say that only makes them more determined than ever. (And if you add that the project of Scottish independence has also been rejected by Pope Francis, president Obama, the Prime Ministers of Canada and Australia, Hilary Clinton, Queen Elizabeth 2nd and a host of other decent and wise global leaders, they just add; “proves my point, they’re all lizards…”
Clinically speaking, there is only one diagnosis possible at this point, and it is what Freud called the Thanatos instinct. The will to destruction. The will to death. Now it is a sad truth insufficiently enumerated in the minds of people, that most suffering is self caused, and most pathologies are brought about by one’s own will to self destruction. As the Greek tragedians put it: “Whom the Gods wish to destroy, they first make mad”. What does the UK have to be so guilty about ? Why would we wish to self destruct? It is as if the Scottish nationalists believe they are carrying the weight of the entire history of British imperialism and they have become the self-appointed guilty conscience for all of us. They invented capitalism (Adam Smith) so they want to make amends by destroying it. Their physicists helped contribute to making the atomic bomb possible (Lord Kelvin) so they want to get rid of it first among nations, and to quit a successful defensive union that has won victories at home and abroad since 1603, when the two crowns were united, and 1703, since the two parliaments were united – and open up an age of insecurity, precisely as global political instabilities go into hyper-drive. Because Tony Blair (a Scot) led Britain into an illegal and unjustifiable military adventure, so the logic goes, therefore I will vote YES and destroy the country that he led – the UK). I have heard people actually arguing all the above points up here in Scotland. Because capitalism is unethical, so we must all become socialists (and only the SNP is truly socialist) and see off the big banks, the shopping malls, the industries, the financial institutions, and all that corrupt capitalist machinery that exploits people. We as a nation of proud YES voters are going to rise up against all that and usher in an age of glorious socialism. It is surprising that the SNP haven’t yet added the second S into their name and called themselves the Scottish Nationalist Socialist Party – but perhaps that would be too much even for their more intelligent members to swallow, even if more honest.
But in fact, and here is another topic for future researchers trying to make sense of this orgy of self-destruction, the Scottish Nationalist Party was in fact founded exactly in the 1930’s when to many thinkers around Europe nationalists did indeed seem the solution to the main enemies facing civilisations: poverty, unemployment, social breakdown, etc. Many of these parties flirted with occultism and a kind of racist nationalism, , in which their own Volk were elevated to special nation status. In the birth of the SNP, the occultist Lewis Spence played a leading role, before eventually realising the folly of his ways, and moving down to London and forsaking the very movement he had helped to create. He realised, perhaps just in time, or was it as the Nazi bombs started to rain down on London and Glasgow, that he had been in error, and that pure nationalism leads only to the utter folly of warfare, rivalry and ultimately orgies of death, destruction and hatred. The recent Conflict Research Society conference at the University of Leeds, revealed that of the wars waging currently in the world, or in the recent past, the vast majority have been caused by what social scientists call “ethno-nationalism”. This is precisely and exactly what the SNP are peddling,. No wonder it is making so many people uneasy.
In the 1930’s what started out as a cult of salvation from the evils of capitalism then, soon turned into a pernicious movement that used force and violence to round up the Jews across Europe perceived to be behind the evil of capitalism itself. The moral righteousness of the Nazi cohorts and their absolute self-belief in their Fuehrer for leading them against all possible enemies and doubters, should be something that should make all those YES voters pause and think next Thursday. It was precisely a Conservative British Prime Minister (Boo hiss) who led our country against the evils that this kind of narrow and conspiratorial nationalism had generated for us. When people cast their vote next Thursday, let them reflect on this.
Do we really have to shoulder the follies and crimes of capitalism by self-destroying our entire nation ? Is the only way we can atone for our recent military blunder in Iraq to self-destruct our entire nation and tear up 400 years of common mythmaking and common history ? Shall we do this exactly as the forces of ISIL rampage around beheading and killing innocents ? Shall we consign to the flames all of Shakespeare, or Wordsworth, or Kipling, or Jane Austen and be fed on a forced diet of Hugh MacDiarmid and Scottish nationalist writers ?
There has to be another way. Voting No on Thursday would at least give us the breathing space to stand up against all this folly of self-destruction, and enable us to ask together, as a whole country, what kind of constitution, and what kind of a peace policy do we really want ? If we want to get rid of our nuclear weapons, for instance, as a whole country, then let there be a UK wide referendum. If we want to leave the EU, then let there be a UK wide referendum. Or if we have a more positive policy to get the EU back on track, then let us pioneer this together, let us devise a European Union Mediation Service, for example, and enshrine it in law in the fabric of the EU itself.
We need positive visions to solve our complex social and economic and political problems. But first we have to learn to say NO to those bent on self destruction, whether they know it or not. Oh, and I suggest we hold fire on self-destructing our country, at least until the Chilcot Report comes out. Then we might at last discover what those Scottish Labour war leaders were up to behind the backs of the people. Now surely that was a plot if ever there was one, or as Ezekiel would say, plots within plots… if the YES camp lose the next election, maybe we can send both Tony Blair and Alex Salmond, two fine Scottish conviction-politicians, over to Iraq to set up a peace centre, and to retrain as Church of Scotland missionaries. They would both be more use there than in their current roles.
Dr Thomas Clough Daffern is Director of the International Institute of Peace Studies and Global Philosophy (IIPSGP), based in Loch Goil, Argyll, Scotland. To address the spiritual and philosophical dilemmas of the referendum, he has recorded a 10 hour long series of reflections on the Institute‘s You Tube channel at IIPSPG1