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Dealing In Certainty

UncertaintyIt’s the big stick with which they like to beat us, and the one they’ll continue to beat us with all the way up to the day of the referendum itself.

Our plans place the country in a state of grave uncertainty. What currency will we use? Will we be members of the European Union? Will we be accepted into NATO?

Will we have border posts? Will we have Dr Who?

Will we be vulnerable to nuclear attack? Or invasion by space monsters? All this uncertainty … it’s not good for you.

No-one likes uncertainty. I don’t like it myself, even if I do say that life gets a little bit boring if it’s too predictable. You want things to be entertaining, but it’s not for nothing that there’s an ancient Chinese curse that goes “May you live in interesting times.”

So we get asked stupid questions. We get asked the same stupid questions over and over again, because although we can give good answers we can’t guarantee them. This is not death or taxes. Everything has a degree of “maybe, if” about it, even if the “maybe, if” goes something like, “maybe, if the government of rUK is clinically insane (not a great stretch, it has to be said) currency union might not go according to plan …”

It seems that our opponents want certainty in an uncertain world. Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could grant them that? Wouldn’t it be equally lovely if they could grant it to us?

After all, don’t we live in perpetual uncertainty? I’ve spoken many times about how every generation believes the shape of the world to be solid, like the ground under their feet. All have believed, to a certain degree, that “what’s now is forever”, and every generation has found itself on the wrong end of events that swept the rug from under its feet.

Ask the Romans. Once there were orgies in the bath-houses. The following year they had barbarians at the gates. Ask the citizens of Berlin. One day they lived on opposite sides of the wall. The following day it was gone. Change can come quickly, sweeping through societies and across the world like a hurricane, or it can creep up on you before you know it’s happening.

But it always comes. Always. Only a fool forgets that.

So uncertainty is part of our lives, and our culture, and our world, and it’s integral to the development, and to the ultimate destiny, of our species. They know what they’re asking for here. They’re asking unanswerable questions, by demanding of us something that, even with the best will in the world, we could not in all honesty give them.

Will independence result in things getting better or things getting worse? Who knows? Economists can give us their best guess, but that’s all that it is. Politicians can give us their best efforts, but in the end that’s all they’ve got. The tide of change, the steady inexorable march of history, might sweep over it all, regardless of what giant strides we take.

You know what though? That could all happen anyway. If a meteor is going to strike the Earth or the Yellowstone Super Volcano really is about to erupt, or some solar flare is going to fry every electrical system on the planet, do you really think the Act of the Union is going to save us? George Galloway had it right when he said that Trident being based in Newcastle and not Glasgow will do us little good if we end up in a shooting war with the Russians or the Chinese 20 years down the line, and so we might be sleepwalking towards Armageddon either way.

None of this is important to the overall debate. If I might commit a sacrilege for the moment, and quote Donald Rumsfeld, “as we know, there are known knowns; there are things that we know that we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

(I did that because I get a kick out of having a paranoid, self-regarding crazy left-winger in one paragraph and a paranoid, self-regarding crazy right winger in the next. They sort of compliment each other, in some way, don’t you think?)

Rummy might not have known the difference between a WMD and a box full of Chlorex, but he knew what Better Together don’t want to admit they know; that uncertainty is always going to be with us, and it didn’t matter how many phones he and his buddies were going to have to tap to prove that point once and for all.

They don’t exactly deal in certainty themselves, of course, and they know it too.

I was asked some of these barmy “uncertainty” questions recently, by a guy who’s always asking me barmy questions about what Scotland will look like if it’s no longer being suffocated by the big Westminster pillow. (You see what I did there? I took something comfortable and cosy and I made it into something threatening instead. Think Better Together would have me?) I tried to answer as best I could, but as I couldn’t even give him an assurance that we’d all be waking up tomorrow morning I knew I wasn’t going to win the argument.

So, I switched tactics. “Presuming,” I said, “that we all live to see it, let’s throw uncertainty overboard completely. You accuse me of dealing in uncertainty … let’s see what happens when I switch to dealing in certainty instead.”

What do we know, for certain? If we vote Yes, there’s not much we can put our finger on except that from now on Scotland will get what it votes for, instead of having governments we didn’t elect rammed down our throats, and their policies with them.

If we vote No, though, well, there are definitely some things we can say for sure we’ll get.

Food banks for one. They will continue to proliferate in Scotland, and beyond, for at least the next few years. Trident is another. The decision has been made, because none of the three major Westminster parties is holding out any longer. So we’re definitely getting that. What else? Oh yes, austerity. For sure. Cuts to public spending, already at its lowest levels as percentage of GDP since the 1930’s. Bravo to all the London parties for their plans to bite down even deeper. They have to be applauded for their honesty if nothing else.

We get to keep London, or London gets to keep us. Depending on your point of view. Which largely depends on whether your live in, or outside, London itself. Hooray for London, that big Black Hole at the centre of our national life, sucking everything towards it. Especially money. We stay tied to that, or chained to it, wherever lets you sleep at night.

We get to keep the Westminster system, and who could live without that? Not the MP’s anyway. They are the real benefit cheats, the real scroungers living off the public tit. In what other profession can you shamelessly break the law, trouser vast sums, mouth a ridiculous half apology and keep your job, or at the very least swan off into the sunset with a nice fat payoff and pension? The financial services industry maybe. Is it a wonder so many of them end up there after they resign in disgrace?

We get to keep the BBC! Until the Tories, or Labour, privatise it. We love the BBC. All those repeats of crap films, bad soap operas, reality shows and biased political programs … what would we spend the license fee on if we didn’t have you? Sky? Giving the money to Rupert Murdoch instead of Chris Patten? Talk about Hobson’s Choice … Jesus.

We’ll get a posh, privately educated Prime Minister! How cool is that? It doesn’t matter if it’s David Cameron or Ed Miliband, Honest Nick or even Crazy Nigel. All cut from the same cloth these people, and forever on it will go. We’ll also get a new band of careerists, a new crop of clones and patronising, soul crushing “commentary” about every female who looks good on camera being the “new Margaret Thatcher” or the “British Hillary Clinton” (God forbid). Every black Member of Parliament who coins a decent sound bite will, of course, be hailed as the “British Obama”, whether he’s from the right or the left, as if those distinctions matter anymore.

We’ll also get to keep the media class who are obsessed with celebrity to the extent it thinks these vacuous showbiz appellations mean anything to the average voter. They’ll be every bit as bad as they are today, except that on 19 September these people really will be justified in holding a large section of our electorate in utter contempt. If you think that’ll change their behaviour for the better … guess again. Wait until 2015, when they try to convince us that our vote still matters if we want real change. They’ll have us rolling in the aisles.

We’ll also get an in-out referendum on the European Union, and if you want to delve into uncertainty for a moment, try that for an example writ large. A public debate that was made for UKIP if ever there was one, and Crazy Nigel in front of a camera every night.

We also get to keep the House of Lords, and isn’t that a fine reason for keeping the status quo?

What else do we get, do we definitely get, if we vote No on 18 September? Is what I’ve already written an exhaustive list? Of course not. It barely scratches the surface.

We get a UN Security Council membership, and a vote which we can cast, and then ignore. We get the Special Relationship, which basically consists of whoever the US President is leading our PM around like a dog on a leash. We get to be bound to a nation that thinks every football match against Germany is a recasting of the Battle of the Bulge, and don’t even get me started on Argentina. It makes me weep thinking about Match of the Day opening with a Harrier taking off from an aircraft carrier. (I actually saw this a few years ago, and I’ve never gotten over it.)

So yes, of course, we also get every failed star from this fair land described as “Scotland’s …” and every victorious individual at the top of his or her game shamelessly appropriated for “Britain …” even if they’ve spent their whole lives in Dumfries, whilst knowing if they’d been born south of the border they’d be referred to as England’s own, no matter how slight their accomplishment.

We also get Dr Who, which is balanced, I’m sure by the equal certainty of a rise in the state pension age and the free TV license which lets us watch it without throwing good money after bad.

We get to claim Victoria Beckham as our own, but with the understanding that there are no shared assets and that she, like the pound, is merely on loan to us, and only as long as we’re staying under this roof. By the same token, we also get Britain’s Got Talent, which is good, because despite a long list of artists, writers, musicians, sculptors, actors and actresses, Scotland has none, at least if you believe the doom merchants and prophets who think independence means the end of all progress. We get to keep Susan Boyle too, because, of course, she would never have been discovered had she not been down in London when she got her chance to sing.

These are just some of the certainties which are ours for the taking if we stick with what we know, and vote to be Better Together. If we vote Yes, however all bets are off.

The uncertainty of whether we can afford a welfare state and needless military spending. Whether we can afford renewable energy, or the bill that comes due when the oil runs out. The uncertainty of whether we are allowed straight into Europe as opposed to negotiating entry … which is kinda balanced off by the uncertainty of whether or not we find ourselves in a negotiated exit from the same. The uncertainty over whether Labour will reform itself or whether the left will simply build a brand new political movement from the remains.

Uncertainty everywhere we turn, and questions arising everywhere we look. What do we really want in the first written constitution on these islands? What do we really want to include in our Citizens Bill of Rights? Do we want to strengthen worker participation in the economy, or just extend union rights across the board?

There’s a lot to be said for dealing in certainty, but there’s a lot to be said about uncertainty too. Do we want the country we have right now, or the one we could have tomorrow?

I can’t give you the answer, but one thing is for … sure.

A change is gonna come.

This generation might be the one to grab it … but that’s uncertain.

I’ll tell you what though; the numbers are starting to look a hell of a lot better.

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8 comments to “Dealing In Certainty”
  1. Well James having got to the age when you are uncertain that you will wake in the morning, I kind of look at this referendum as at the very least my legacy, you know the sort of thing that those fine Politicians in Westminster talk about. When we win and win we will, I can look at it and say that is was a long road but we finally made it, started at eighteenish and will be sixty seven, (where did those years go) when we get to the 19th September and uncertainty will be over.

  2. Helena … I’m sure you’ll be around to see where this great project of ours is going! I like the notion of leaving this as a legacy though … I think we all feel the same way. As I said in another article, I am haunted, as many others are, by what happened in Iraq … I personally see this as a kind of karmic restitution for that in some ways. I want to be able to say that although we didn’t stop a catastrophe that we did, at least, change the world for the better.

    • Indeed James and as I have always said I am going to be around for a long time, think of the amount of trouble I can cause and I like to think some good. I know that our intervention in Iraq caused more heart break than leaving the old dictator Saddam would have, like many before and since removing him just made matters worse, and it was not our business in the first place. Scotland can be a force for good in the world but we need to change Scotland first. We need to give our people a reason for getting up in the morning and get them working. Too many have been left to dwell at the bottom of a heap and that is just so wrong. Many of these self same people built the British (?) Empire.

  3. Great article James. I wish I could share it with some No friends who harp on about certainty all the time but I know they won’t bother taking the time to read it because it interferes with their narrow world view. ‘My mind is made up, you can’t confuse me with the facts’ as me old mum would say…

  4. Uncertainty and fear of change are the two main pillars of the Better Together campaign.

    The two thing that life pretty well guarantees after death and taxes. As you say, there is as much uncertainty if we stay I the union as if we vote for independence. The fear of change lessens as we move towards the normalisation of independence . We must win this and we will.

  5. Well said. The uncertainty bogeyman worries the easily feart and hard of thinking among us. It is a leap of faith and we must have faith in ourselves, our neighbours and those we vote for. Countries with a democratic system get the government they deserve.

  6. Well said James.
    Bob Dylan said it in the early 1960s in his prophetic song “The Times They Are Achanging”. Great song , appropriate lyrics for an independence referendum .Have a look, refresh your memory.

  7. Thanks for this James – hope it gets wide distribution. We have had so many ‘big business’ leaders talk up ‘uncertainty’ scares about independence when managing in the face of uncertainty is actually their stock in trade.

    And I completely agree about ‘leaving our legacy’.

    Just come across by chance this quote from Barack Obama in 2008 today which kind of touched a nerve: “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”

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