Pat Kane: Ancien regime meets Salmond's Juggernaut of Joy
Extraordinary times, which drive even the most immersed book-writer to his keyboard. We might be seriously facing a scenario within the next few years, sketched out by Gerry Hassan in his recent article in Open Democracy, where a Eurosceptic Tory party forces a referendum on the UK's relationship to Europe - and a coherent, democratically-mandated SNP runs a referendum that promises to realise the "Independence in Europe" dreams of the last 30 years.
It matters a bit which referendum comes first - but certainly, the prospect of an RUK/England wriggling free of the next round of Euro-integration will be enough to bring an extra dimension of worldliness to the independence case in Scotland. Winnie Ewing's fantastic old one-liner "stop the world, we want to get on", might finally connect with the hearts and minds of a Scottish majority.
What's also fascinating me is the deep tactics of the SNP's inner core around the referendum questions. Watching the three Scottish Labour leader candidates on BBC's Politics Show on Sunday, I had a real sense of them walking blindly into a bear trap. Each one of them sang in unison about the "Devo Max" option being a Nationalist ruse - a way to get increased powers for the Scottish Parliament no matter what the vote, indicating the SNP's fundamental insecurity about the possibility of securing a majority for independence.
It's likely that all the Unionist parties will fall in line with a critique of Devo Max as an SNP fudge (even Murdo Fraser and his re-branded McTory vision seems to be reverting to type), and push for a single-vote referendum on independence. This will allow Salmond to portray them as unwilling to grant a range of sensible, widely-approved extra powers (such as fiscal autonomy and the Crown Estate) to Holyrood.
But you guess Alec knew this would happen all along. Look at the pitiful spectacle of the AV campaign, rooted in the cross-party turpitude on non-Celtic constitutional change that characterised the New Labour era. You wouldn't need to be a genius to conclude that the Unionist parties would be utterly incapable of a "federal" response to the SNP's demands. Remember Salmond's post-UK General Election call to make up a "progressive" Rainbow coalition? That was undoubtedly another marker put down to indicate the SNP's democratic generosity towards political affairs on these islands. Eck plays a long, subterranean game.
And in the meantime, the SNP's Juggernaut of Joy rumbles out of its hangar again, with its databases and sentiment management systems, its army of activists and its mastery of the big cultural narratives. The aim, like 2011, will be to corral as much of the nation's cognitive and emotional mindspace as possible, and steer it towards the hopeful, can-do, progress-oriented prospect of a prosperous, secure independence: Scotland Forward, indeed (or #scotfwd, as it will reverberate round Twitter).
"Nae Limits", "Scotland: it's Starting". The appeal to a shining, inspiring horizon, using local and familiar language, is what cognitive scientists like George Lakoff and Mark Westen would called "priming", "framing" and "embodiment". It's of course entirely possible that the Unionists will realise the nature of the consciousness-politics that the SNP is practising, and try to build up their own Juggernaut of Joy.
But as comrade Hassan often says, where is the energy in the Unionist argument? The sheer instability of the Coalition, the cross-ideological disgruntlement of middle-England with their status in the world (evidenced by Euro-phobia and immigration-scepticism), the hapless nature of the UK Labour leadership (never mind the nativising of the Scottish Labour Party)... Would even the massed celebrity ranks of Ewan McGregor, Billy Connolly and Annie Lennox be enough to make the emotional case for Scotland in the Union?
In their best lights, the SNP have a case to make about independence as the eventual achievement of political and economic modernity in Scotland: the expertise, values, traditions and resources of the country finally getting their appropriate and effective structures of power and democracy. That was the case, articulated by Jim Sillars in the mid 80's, that brought this particular Labour die-hard into the independence fold. But it seems as if the ancien regime is accomodating the vision, by crumbling to pieces around about us.