Wednesday, November 18, 2015

A (Nationalist) sinner repents

I heartily dislike the politics of identity.

I believe in the politics of values. 

The creation on a political credo based on some assumed identity is, to my mind an exclusive, dangerous thing. Making judgements of others based on identity very quickly becomes dangerous: national identities create nationalist a nationalist agenda, class identities creates a revolutionary agenda, religious identity - well, we have all seen what that can create. In fact all can quickly lead at best to discrimination and at worst to violence and death. The politics of identity builds walls. It diminishes our sense of collective responsibility.

The politics of values, on the other hand is not an exclusive identity- one simply chooses to agree or disagree with a given position and there is no sense of intrinsic exclusivity- in fact the politics of values are inclusive and transcend national, social or religious identities.

Scotland has been undergoing a convulsion over the past few years. The politics of Scottish national identity have, under the SNP, become the litmus test for almost all aspects of political and social choice. The centralisation of the police force and emergency services was done, not to deliver better or safer services, but to reinforce the power of nationalist politicians in Edinburgh against the perceived threat of London. The gradual stripping of the independence of the Scottish University system eliminates dissent, again in support of the nationalist agenda of the SNP, rather than to the benefit of Scottish academic life.

Yet the anti-democratic centralising discipline being imposed by the SNP on Scotland's public affairs has just reached a serious problem: reality is beginning to contradict the SNP's stated economic and political positions.

One of the major reasons for the defeat of the Yes campaign in the referendum last year was that the SNP and their allies were so desperately unconvincing on economic policy. Their position was that a newly separate rUK would nevertheless continue to support a common currency with a newly independent separate Scotland. Yet this was not only at total variance with the stated explicitly stated British position, but even the shortest pause would have made it clear that it was simply economic nonsense. It was attempt to convince the Scottish voters that independence would not require major economic changes, when it was becoming all too clear that the entire structure of the public sector, of finance, of economic policy in general would have to undergo wrenching change in order to avoid a serious economic breakdown. 

The SNP's blustering answer was that all of the North Sea oil revenue would accrue to Scotland and off set any problems. Even if that were true, and under the law of the sea, it would have been debatable, the fact is that when those of us who opposed separation pointed out that oil is a volatile and unreliable commodity, and that the economics of the North Sea were precarious even at $75/bbl we were denounced with extraordinary venom. We were laughed at and told that the oil price would hold up at above $100/bbl for the foreseeable future. As I write, Brent North Sea crude is trading at just above $43/bbl and large chunks of North Sea production is being mothballed. To say that the SNP forecasts have been utterly discredited is simply a statement of the blindingly obvious.

Not that the SNP leadership would agree- they continue to act as though the referendum was just a way station on the inevitable road to separation. The fact is, though, that many, if not most, people now recognise how close we came to disaster last year. Alex Bell, the former policy director of the SNP has come out with a pretty obvious statement, that the case that was made for independence is simply dead. It is a simple statement of truth, and naturally has sent the Nats into a frenzy of recrimination and witch hunting.

Personally the intellectual case for Scottish independence was sketchy at best, and as the The Economist noted, it was routed in a kind of Scottish Peronism.  The subordination of all things to the goal of separation is dangerous and poses a threat to the prosperity and the the intellectual freedom of all Scots. It will also fail.

Personally I continue to hope that Scotland can rediscover a more open minded political agenda, one which does not rely on the exclusivity of small minded separation and instead trusts to a more open and innovative political culture. Any intellectual justification for Scottish Nationalism is being weakened by the day. The blustering SNP point to the polls, which suggest that notwithstanding the death of their economic policy, the SNP may even make gains in the May 2016 elections for the Scottish Parliament. 

This may be small comfort. 

As we found in May 2015 polls can be wrong. Even if they are accurate, it can not be too long before the blind refusal to accept the need to a wholesale change in direction will lead to the SNP hitting the political buffers. Discipline is easy when you are winning. When things fall apart, identity politics tend to be pretty thin on new ideas.

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