In reply to George Monbiot

By Dale Street

 

Today’s “Guardian” carries 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”.

Pardon?

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.

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5 comments

  1. Bob Carey-Grieve

    “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…” A truly horrible article, but this last point reveals the author’s true intention. That Scots should be for ever grateful to the generosity of the British State. It’s a very them and us scenario, we give and you receive, which is why so many Scots want to leave the Union. We don’t receive, we give a lot more than we get back. We have nothing to thank the UK or Labour Party for, the Scottish people created their Parliament, Labour and the UK merely granted us a concession. This article thinks we are subservient, and should remain subservient to UK rule, to parties not elected by us. I’d consider myself an internationalist, but given thats not an option on the table, all socialists should want to see power devolved to local people, should want to see a written constitution enshrining the protection of the NHS, should want to see the decommissioning of nuclear weapons. This article offers no hope for the future. It just wants Scots to go back, cap in hand to their overlords and thank them for everything they give us.

  2. Dale street

    Why do so many ‘yes’ advocates have such a problem understanding the simplest of arguments and plain statements of fact?
    It is no more than a statement of fact that the last (thoroughly right-wing) Labour government introduced legislation to stage a referendum in Scotland, and that this subsequently resulted in the creation of a Scottish Parliament.
    The only reason this is mentioned in the article is to counter Monbiot’s simplistic (not to say ignorant) attempts to portray ‘no’ supporters as the forces of darkness and ‘yes’ supporters as the forces of sweetness and light.
    But Bob knows better!
    The sentence, he writes, “reveals the author’s true intention. That Scots should be forever grateful to the generosity of the British state.”
    (Isn’t it amazing how many ‘yes’ advocates are able to uncover the hidden, inner, deeper, subterranean and subconscious meanings of words and actions? Indeed, the ‘yes’ campaign has created a veritable cottage industry of cod-psychology. It could be called: Monbiot Mindreaders Inc.)
    Having read something into the article that simply isn’t there, Bob can then retreat further into a parallel universe of his own creation: “The article thinks we are subservient, and should remain subservient to UK rule. … It (the article) just wants Scots to go back, cap in hand, to their overlords and thank them for everything they give us.”
    This is obviously contradicted by the paragraph in the article which states the exact opposite:
    “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 then we get to Bob’s own politics, encapsulated in the sentence: “We don’t receive, we give a lot more than we get back.”
    Let’s not quibble about figures. For the sake of argument, let’s just accept this as a statement of fact. Because the conclusion which Bob draws from it (vote ‘yes’) sums up the difference between nationalism and socialism.
    Socialism is, in part, about the redistribution of wealth between rich and poor. That’s why socialists support progressive taxation. That’s why socialists support rich EU states paying money into the EU, for example, so that the EU can then pay grants to poor EU states and regions. (It’s the strings we’re against, not the redistributive grants themselves.)
    Nationalism and nationalist/regionalist separatism are about something different. Their basic approach is: “We are rich here. We don’t receive, we give a lot more than we get back. Let’s go our own way.”
    Bob’s statement could just as easily have emanated from a member of the Lega Nord. It is, after all, exactly what they say. (And at one time their battlecry was “Roma ladrona” – “Rome: big thief”. The SNP and their supporters have simply replaced “Rome” by “Westminster”.)
    Or, in relation to the European Union, Bob’s statement could have been uttered by a member of UKIP: “We don’t receive, we give a lot more than we get back.”
    But if Scotland were independent, runs the obvious counter-argument, then within its borders Scotland could carry out progressive policies to reduce inequalities. The problem with that counter-argument is:
    – A promise to cut corporation tax and a refusal to raise income tax (remind me again: which party is it that opposes a top tax-rate of even 50p?) is not a promising start to reducing inequalities.
    – Socialists are generally in favour of ‘bigger units’ (i.e. the creation of states covering a greater area) because the bigger the state, the greater the resources which can be redistributed to challenge inequalities.
    – Capitalism is an economic and social system which, by its very nature, generates inequality. Attacking inequality means attacking the rule of capital – not creating yet another border in the world.
    – The agency of any such attack on the rule of capital is the working class organized as the labour movement. But the pro-independence campaign replaces a political discourse based on class by one based on national identity: “We (Scots) don’t receive, we give a lot more than we get back.” It therefore weakens the only agency capable of challenging the rule of capital.
    Bob writes that he considers himself an internationalist but that that is not an option on the table.
    In fact, being an internationalist is an option every day of the week. And on 18th September there’s certainly nothing internationalist about adding another border to the world.

    • Bob Carey-Grieve

      The point about giving more than we receive was to counter the idea that runs through the original article and the entire British media, that Scots should be thankful for all the concessions bestowed upon them by the British State and Labour Party. It is not England’s gifts to give, and those who think like that have misunderstood the whole point of what the union was supposed to be, equal partners. Scots have been repeatedly told that they owe everything to England, including even devolution according to the author. Devolution was not some great generosity bestowed upon us by lovely Labour. It was a cynical attempt to quash the West Lothian Question once and for all.

      The Labour Party are not the magnanimous agents of change here, they are not the answer to Scotland’s social issues, they are the problem. They’re failure to deliver social equality is the driver behind Scottish nationalism. And incidentally, the SNP are not the progressive party who have designs on cutting corporate tax to woo business. As I said, given that we are not in the throes of a worldwide socialist revolution, Scottish people deserve the opportunity to build a society on social democratic principals, rather than the neoliberal values of Westminster. Asking them to submit to more austerity (promised by both Labour and the Conservatives), the bedroom tax (unopposed by Labour), and divert money from social services to fund redundant nuclear weapons (again Labour Policy), complemented by the occasional foray into an illegal war (Labour Labour Labour), is not Socialism by any stretch of the imagination, it’s asking them to prop up a system based on elitism, privilege and cronyism – House of Lords anyone? Should we have opposed the self determination of all the former colonies of The British Empire for some misplaced sentiment about borders? Should we be trying to bring Australia, Jamaica, Fiji, Kenya et al back into the fold since the author so opposes any form of self determination for anyone? Like the rest of the BT campaign, this author offers no hope for the future, only more of the same bleak misery. Maybe he should go and talk to some people queuing at a Foodbank, or the terminally ill forced back into work, or the disabled who have lost their homes due to the bedroom tax all about Milliblands plans to continue austerity, about the Conservatives promising to make Scotland pay, about the probability of being pulled out of Europe by a UKIP campaign. Maybe he should talk to the parents of any soldier who died in Blair’s war. Now compare that to the idea of paying for a childcare revolution on the back of weapons of mass destruction. There is hope one way, there is only misery the other.

  3. Dale Street

    Yawn.

    Empty tedious bombast. (From beginning to end)

    Cheap and transparent attempts at emotional blackmail. (“Why don’t you go and talk to …”)

    Factual inaccuracies (“the bedroom tax (unopposed by Labour”))

    Total misrepresentation of what is being argued. (“The author so opposes any form of self determination for anyone.”)

    Logical incoherence. (Socialism is not on the agenda. So let’s collapse into Scottish nationalism. As if the latter could ever be some kind of surrogate for the former.)

    The case for a ‘yes’ vote on 18th September in a nutshell.

    Bob’s latest contribution sums up what’s wrong with the case for ‘yes’ better than I ever could.

  4. Bob Carey-Grieve

    I could say your arrogant replies are typical of the way BT debates. Typical Labour apologist, refuses to contemplate that Labour could have defeated the Bedroom Tax but decided not to bother showing up on the day. But what really speaks volumes is how you haven’t put forward one single positive idea, dismissing the Tory agenda, your campaign partners, with a wave of your hand. You won’t discuss the Tories because it’s emotional blackmail? Disgraceful.

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