By Dale Street (cross-posted with Workers Liberty)
The Guardian (3 Sept, print edition) carried a truly dire article by George Monbiot entitled “Scots voting no to independence would be an astonishing act of self-harm – England is dysfunctional, corrupt and vastly unequal. Who on earth would want to be tied to such a country?”
Monbiot begins by inviting his readers to “imagine the question posed the other way around”, i.e. what if Scotland were independent and the referendum were on whether to “surrender its sovereignty to a larger union.”
In terms of formal logic, he may as well have invited his readers to “imagine” that the referendum on 18th September is about whether Scotland should vote to join Putin’s territory-grabbing Russian Federation or the head-chopping Islamic State.
Arguing about how people should vote in a real referendum about (a) on the basis of how you think they would or should vote in a non-existent referendum about (b) is just plain nonsensical.
And evasive. And politically dishonest. Because instead of addressing the actual issues raised by the referendum, it allows Monbiot to take refuge in flights of imagination.
“What would you say about a country that exchanged an economy based on enterprise and distribution for one based on speculation and rent?” asks Monbiot, as if that was the choice on offer (in reverse) on 18th September.
And an economy based on attracting low-pay employers through cuts in corporation tax in a country without a reserve central bank and a currency of its own – the SNP’s actual economic policies – is not the same as “an economy based on enterprise and distribution.”
But Monbiot simply and majestically declares: “How is the argument altered by the fact that Scotland is considering whether to gain independence rather than whether to lose it? It’s not.”
As in: “How is the argument that we are all at risk of falling off the edge of the earth if we walk too far in a straight line altered by the fact that the earth is round, not flat? It’s not.”
The next ‘link’ in Monbiot’s ‘chain of argument’ (which is in fact a succession of unsubstantiated assertions and factual inaccuracies tied together by logical incoherencies) is the statement: “Those who would vote no could be suffering from system justification.”
System justification, as Monbiot explains, is when victims of injustice rationalize and legitimize the injustice they suffer, e.g. when women think that it is right that they are paid less than men.
Having provided an explanation of the term, Monbiot writes: “It might help to explain why so many people in Scotland are inclined to vote no.”
Monbiot offers no evidence at all for this conclusion. But his total lack of evidence is secondary to the utter arrogance of the conclusion.
Without bothering to look at the real and entirely rational reasons why real people in the real world will be voting no on 18th September, Monbiot dismisses such people as self-deluding and self-harming imbibers of the ideology of the ruling classes.
(English writer living in Wales writes article for London paper calling for a yes vote on 18th September. English writer living in Wales writing article for London paper denounces Westminster arrogance towards Scots. English writer living in Wales writing article for London paper dismisses millions of Scots as psychologically damaged. You couldn’t make it up.)
By contrast, yes voters – those who want to keep the pound, the monarchy, EU membership, NATO membership and capitalism in general – are not subject to any Monbiotesque foray into cod-psychology.
Then Monbiot homes in on the contradiction in UKIP’s policies: They want the UK to quit Europe (and thereby regain its sovereignty) but oppose independence for Scotland (which means Scotland continues to lack sovereignty).
But UKIP is not the no campaign. It’s an easy target for Monbiot, and one he homes in on. But this is just another act of political evasion on his part. It allows him to sidestep the fact that the overwhelming majority of no campaigners are for continued membership of the European Union.
Why does Monbiot use UKIP as emblematic of the no campaign rather than the rather larger Labour Party? Because its suits his polemical purposes and is another element of the political dishonesty in which his article is steeped.
And if UKIP’s inconsistencies can be cited by Monbiot as “a crashing contradiction in the politics of such groups”, why is he silent on those yes voters who want Scotland out of Britain and out of the EU?
True, there is no contradiction between wanting Scotland out of Britain and out of the EU. But it does demonstrate the one driving force within the yes campaign is not the noble goals which Monbiot attributes to it but a narrow inward-looking nationalism.
A “crashing contradiction” if ever there was one.
There then follows a lengthy treatise by Monbiot on all the evils of the current British political system: inequality, neo-liberal economics, freedom of the rich to exploit, numberless abuses of power, royal prerogative, first-past-the-post voting … … And so the list goes on, and on, and on.
“Broken, corrupt, dysfunctional, retentive: you want to be part of this?” asks Monbiot with a rhetorical flourish.
No, socialists don’t want to be part of it.
But our answer to the evils of capitalism tediously listed by Monbiot – as if the vote on 18th September was a referendum on whether to scrap capitalism – is not to create another border in the world, to pander to the nationalist lie that Scots and English cannot live side by side in the same state, and to create another unit of capitalist accumulation in the world.
Monbiot also gets so carried away by his denunciations of the evils of capitalism that he is blind to his own factual inaccuracies. He describes, for example, first-past-the-post voting as “another triumph for the no brigade”.
Scottish elections are based on proportional representation – thanks to the “no brigade” (Labour and Lib-Dems). And the “no brigade” Lib-Dems also back PR for Westminster elections. So too – surely the ultimate humiliation for Monbiot – does UKIP.
Monbiot also overlooks the fact that the Scottish Parliament which legislated for the referendum on 18th September owes rather a lot to the “no brigade” (i.e. its creation by the last Labour government) and was created by the very British state which, according to Monbiot’s article, is simply beyond reform.
But why allow anything as vulgar as a fact to stand in the way of yet another incoherent rambling diatribe that misrepresents a nationalist project to divide peoples along national lines as a left-wing challenge to capitalism.