Posted by: davidjmarlow | 19/08/2014

Voting for Scottish independence – the search for charity and redemption in a post-modernist world…

This blog has alluded several times, over the past eighteen month, to my nightmare of a ‘yes’ vote in Scotland’s independence referendum. This leads to  a little-Englander (rest of) UK government post-2015, taking us out of Europe, into an interminable xenophobic, insular, intolerant hell.

I have struggled with trying to find any compelling rationale for Scottish voters to make an act of reaffirmation of being ruled by the Etonian cabal, UKIP apologists, and ‘Nick Clegg’ (?)  who currently occupy the corridors of power in the UK.

I am not sure I can add much to the rationalist debates of the main campaigning protagonists (although this blog in May 2013 made an effort). But I do offer my ‘best shot’ on the decision that will face the Scottish voter, alone with the ballot box, thirty days from today.

I have not previously seen the Scotland referendum cast as  an opportunity for a supreme act of charity and redemption by a proud, honourable nation. In making that case, I hope Scottish voters on September 18th shall choose such a  (re-) affirmation of what it means to be a people of real merit in this post-modernist century.

What a fantastic month it has been for Glasgow. Fresh from the success of the Commonwealth Games (‘how is this still a thing?’), Celtic managed to get reinstated in the European Champions League despite losing 6-1 over two legs to Legia Warsaw. These two (admittedly somewhat flawed) ‘achievements’ suggest, at one level, a strong case for Scotland being able to take its place amongst independent nations in the ‘premier league’ of global activity.

However, such global and European ‘triumphs’ are arguably matched and joined by the singularly UK-centric advances of Glasgow joining the Core Cities Group of major English (now UK) cities outside London, and agreeing a city deal with the UK government. These measures place Glasgow at the forefront of enhanced devolution and city governance within the United Kingdom.

Glasgow is not Scotland – and we should not read too much into either strokes of fortune from UEFA, or strokes of patronage from the city deals programme of government. UEFA and government, respectively, can produce superficially coherent arguments for Celtic’s ECL readmission, and for the devolutionist character of city deals. However, deep down, in our ‘hearts’, we know both are just cover for decisions to reinforce the powers and self-interest of deeply unattractive, exclusive/excluding political elite(s) in their respective domains.

This is the problem and dilemma of any rationalist debate about the referendum – you can argue it either way – but the political elite always wins!

So, for me, the voter choice on September 18th comes down to an emotional decision.

It is very difficult to see a Scottish voter finding anything attractive, let alone compelling, in voting for continuing rule by the current bunch in Westminster – thereby remaining a 10% minority of the UK in population terms. This feeling becomes even more acute in the face of rising Tory (and to a lesser extent Labour) adoption of UKIP agendas and little-Englander populism.

The first emotional argument I offer, therefore, is an appeal to stay in the union as an ultimate act of charity – to save the more numerous (deeply inadequate) English from themselves and a repulsive insular English destiny. What a statement of national character that would be, if it becomes a defining element of the referendum’s outcome!

However, one suspects ‘charity’ to the English – on its own – will not persuade many Scottish ‘undecided’s’.

Researching this blog, I came across a curious Scottish homage to the opening scene of Reservoir Dogs – posted last year on the 21st anniversary of the release of Tarantino’s classic. It tells us, at a number of levels, much about the proposition that Scotland should become an independent nation.

Conard’s analysis of Reservoir Dogs – ‘Redemption in a Post-modern World’ – positions Tarantino as the ‘quintessential  postmodern neo-noir filmmaker’.  Reservoir Dogs  “reflect[s] a postmodern sensibility about our ability (or lack thereof) to know and understand the world, and about the value and significance (or lack thereof) that our lives and actions have”.

In the opening scene – remade in Glaswegian by Colin Ross Smith (a quintessential mix of traditional British, English and Scottish names) – the villains discuss the meaning of Madonna’s ‘Like a Virgin’ and the morality of tipping waitresses, before leaving for their bloody heist of a diamond store.

Tarantino’s postmodernism presents a visually compelling and unsettlingly engaging collection and juxtaposition of differing genres and reference points. But, Conard argues, the films have no underlying ethics and values to bring out deeper ‘meaning’. This lack of underlying morality and ‘meta narrative’ is even more evident in the centrepiece of the film – the slicing of Mr Orange’s ear to the soundtrack of Stealers Wheel’s ‘Stuck in the middle with you’ – and in its apocalyptic finale.

Is voting for Scotland’s independence really an archetypal postmodernist act – perhaps compelling at some levels, but with no deeper meaning?

Since Reservoir Dogs was released in 1992, eleven new ‘countries’ have asserted their independence. Five are derivatives of the former Yugoslavia – Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia and the partially-recognised Kosovo. Is the world really a better place for these (seven with Croatia and Slovenia) governments, compared to their predecessor, as a multi-national beacon and leader of the non-aligned movement? Similar points might be made about Czech Republic and Slovakia compared to Czechoslovakia.

Of the rest, Eritrea and Timor-Leste may have some positive meaning, but Palau in its ‘free association’ with the US, and South Sudan in its chaotic infancy, do not bode well for the primacy of national sovereignty.

None of this is to say the eleven new ‘states’ are bad, or that their predecessors were paragons. It is just that, in the overall scheme of things, formal nationhood and a seat at the UN is, of itself, no big deal in a postmodernist world.

Conard argues Reservoir Dogs protagonists ‘search for redemption’ is destined to fail in a world where debates about the meaning of ‘Like a Virgin’, tipping of waitresses, sit unresolved alongside robbery and violence in an overarching landscape of moral relativism.

The Glaswegian remake provides a ‘read-across’ to the decision of September 18th.

Yes, it might be engaging and superficially interesting for an independent Scotland to achieve an equivalent standing to the UEFAs, UK government and ‘South Sudans’ of this world – but it hardly delivers any deeper moral meaning.

Redemption, in a post-modern world, is much more likely to come from the charitable act of choosing to fight for a radical, progressive United Kingdom; for the deconstruction of English nationalism, and its intolerant top-down rule from Whitehall.

Glasgow’s global and European successes illustrate how shallow being in the ‘premier league’ of global exchange can be. Similarly, joining the Core Cities Group and agreeing a city deal might be no more than a tactical positioning device for a city government ‘hedging its bets’.

Yet, it could also be a deeply principled, transformational affirmation – ‘Redemption’ of the UK must hitherto lie with our cities and communities taking powers and resources away from national political elites – whether in London OR Edinburgh.

I still believe the independence referendum is too difficult to call thirty days out. I hope the September 18th demonstration of Scottish nationhood will be a statement of charity and redemption – for a progressive, radical, multi-national UK. It is a huge ‘ask’. But it is what one might expect of a truly great and wise nation.


  1. […] for meaning’ has been a consistent theme of this blog – most recently in the Scotland referendum. That cynical deceit spawned the current plethora of devolution debates across the UK, and […]

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