It’s nearly the Rugby World Cup (I use italics because it’s Very Important to me, OK?). Our team is improving a bit at a time and I’m pretty sure will overcome the easier teams in their group. They will at least give a good account of themselves because they’ve learned to believe in their abilities. They’ve realised I think that the acceptance of defeat in which failure is a kind of learned behaviour, is not good enough and has led to an embarrassingly bad set of results season on season.
Rugby has found leaders recently, notably Gregor Townsend at Glasgow and now Vern Cotter at Murrayfield (sorry – BT Murrayfield) who have opened the way to a new approach. The players responded by rising to the challenge, trying harder, running faster, doing the basic things well and, critically, defending furiously. In fact, for all the appropriate chat about how enterprising and entertaining Glasgow Warriors are, I believe it is the quality of their defence that is the platform for their attacking play. Their tackling is definitive, so much so that it is in itself a form of attack. The players are comfortable defending, rarely look panicked and as a result are constantly eyeing the long-range attack option when the ball becomes free. As boys we were always told to do the simple things well, don’t make mistakes and let the rest take care of itself.
There is about Scottish rugby teams today self-assurance, mutual trust, enjoyment in the task and the early signs of a more successful era ahead. It doesn’t guarantee anything but it gives you a start and, you know what? It makes you feel good – good about the game, about yourself and about Scotland.
Don’t care about the rugby? Well this is my crude analogy for Scotland the country, not just our rugby team.
There is a different feel about the place, one that says the improbable is possible. Scotland winning the World Cup may be going too far just as creating our own fair and prosperous democracy any time soon is unlikely. But we have the leaders who brought a British Prime Minister to Edinburgh to sign the agreement for an official referendum; we got close; we learned how it feels to sniff success and we re-wrote the rules by ridding almost all of Scotland of the Labour Party, the Liberals and the Tories. We signed up the missing voters, engaged whole sections of our society to a political dream, got them to change generations of voting behaviour and asked them to consider the most radical act of their lives or the life of our nation since 1707 – to step outside the threadbare comfort blanket of relative failure and become a nation again…small, successful, sovereign Scotland.
The last two years did change Scotland and one thing we learned was how fragile our opponents and long-time masters really were. We confronted them with vigour, went toe to toe and pushed them hard. That’s when we found out that they lied to us about just about any aspect of our lives. They connived with foreign governments and international institutions to undermine us, resorted to threatening big business to scare us. They ridiculed our ambitions, even our ability or desire to defend ourselves, and conspired to withdraw access to our own currency. (The proud Scot behind this chicanery is now heading, hilariously, to the Lords where he undoubtedly belongs).
But we defended ourselves well. We met in the halls and marched on the streets. We took to social media to laugh at their assertions and point out to silent Labour voters who was bankrolling their campaign and what that said about them. In the near clean sweep since last September, we have been vindicated as ever more voters dessert Labour and the voice of those remaining is bitter and recriminatory, encapsulated by the new leader, unable to define herself until she knows who the real leader will be in London.
Like the rugby players, we have been flexible, imaginative and content within ourselves with the knowledge that, continuing to win the argument, the great day will come yet.
I’m responding too to those who argue that the SNP somehow isn’t doing enough, isn’t radical and is conning us all when its record is poor. I’ve addressed all this before so won’t go over old ground but Gerry Hassan is writing again on how we’re all somehow missing a bigger picture that only he can see. Continuing to attack Labour for example is ‘displacement activity.’
‘They are easy and obvious targets for those so minded, and more simple than assessing why the indyref was won for the forces of the union, or getting down to more serious, long term political activities. Much easier and attractive to continue to seek revenge against the Labour Party and BBC.
This isn’t exactly the embodiment of the best of the democratic spirit of the indyref, and masks the exact opposite: an age of conformity and anger which hides a strange noisy passivity: of waiting for the next wave of change to come along after the SNP win in 2016, which begs the question: then what?’
The first obvious response is that, as my rugby metaphor displays, most of us aren’t quite as intellectually sophisticated as Gerry and deal in imagery and ideas that are easier to understand. (And I think you’ll find are, as a result, more likely to be digested by ordinary voters wrestling with complex issues. A friend told me how Yes canvassers on her doorstep suggested further reading by visiting Wings Over Scotland or Derek Bateman. I’ve yet to hear any activist recommend to a floating voter reading Gerry’s collected essays…at least not without translation). But then that’s the job of a Professor, to be Google Earth to us Earthlings, circling overhead with an unblinking eye, acting ethereal and celestial. He thinks nobody is working out the next independence offer, just wishfully thinking our way into ‘Pot Noodle radicalism: just add water, and hey presto, you can have your own Nordic designed Scottish social democracy.’ Insulting, no?
I think he wants us to find ‘new spaces’ in which to discuss how to run society and it has been his abiding wish for years to destroy the neo liberal consensus.
We need to identify “the official future” – the mantra of globalisation wherever it is – nationally, internationally, in the public and private realms, and critique it, defeat it and supplant it according to a Compass paper he wrote with Anthony Barnett.
Policy literalism is increasingly recognised as a problematic way of doing politics. There is a direct link between the micro-policy and management of the Blair-Brown years – legislation “overload” and command and control – and the suffocating consensus of the mainstream, which shuts down open discussion of the macro-questions about the economy and society.
Now I kind of see where he’s going and he has a point. But are we supposed not to challenge Labour assertions in the mainstream media, because from where I’m sitting that’s precisely why so many have been forced to see the truth and make the switch. It’s called politics. He wants us to stop standing up to the insults and manufactured complaints of opponents? I’ve heard Gerry in hostile debate and he does exactly that. Maybe that was before he became Professor. But does he honestly not see that so much of the Yes movement and its aftermath is asking the questions? Never has the British state had its raison d’etre so ruthlessly and microscopically scrutinised. It is true that that the SNP isn’t the Marxist reforming machine it might be but that’s at least partly due to an old fashioned desire to win elections – without which all of the airy sentiments evaporate. I always end up sounding like the Pub Bore when the torrent of (recent) complaint starts about the Nats being so successful and yet somehow not achieving very much. But the judge of that isn’t me, or Gerry, but Mr and Mrs Scotland and – oh, look – they’re really happy with the SNP, they’re proud of Nicola and they can’t stand the Labour Party. Yet so many of the commentators can’t wait for them to ride their various hobby horses or, to return to the sporting start, try and play fancy rugby without first winning a scrum or making a tackle. Do the basics well. Keep it simple.
It isn’t just that Scotland changed…it continues to change and as it does so, we’ll find our own solutions to blockages. Isn’t that what New Media does – challenges the corporate and the institutional?
I’m sorry for those who don’t feel good about Scotland and its journey and I have to conclude they’re either professional critics – with a living to make – or folk who’ll never be happy.
Whatever the limitations, and there are many under this regime, I can live with it. I like the government, see no comparison between them and their opponents in terms of quality and I enjoy being a winner for a change. I used to worry ahead of a big tournament but I don’t now. Scotland will do just fine.by