We haven’t done a “We said, he said” argument transcript for months and months, because as a rule they’re of extremely limited interest to anyone outside the political nerdosphere who isn’t familiar with the people involved.
But you don’t need any background to follow this one. So buckle up and do your best to wade past the obvious personal antagonism, because you won’t get a better illustration of the tortured mental twisting and squirming of the No campaign this year.
Participants: ourselves and “Better Together”/Labour activist Duncan Hothersall, with one of his usual proclamations that even though Scotland hasn’t voted Conservative in 60 years, becoming independent and ending the influence of millions of English Tory voters WOULDN’T be a good way to get fewer Tory governments in future.
HOTHERSALL: “Vote Yes to get rid of Tories”? Vacuous idiocy.
WINGS: And yet, so inconveniently for you, a real option. You can form no rational argument against it. England needs no Scottish votes to be free of Tories. So why force them on Scots? Why, Duncan? Why?
HOTHERSALL: Of course I can. This is a referendum on where national power lies, not an election.
WINGS: That’s not a rational argument for forcing Tory governments on Scots, even from a Labour perspective.
HOTHERSALL: No “forcing”. UK elections may be imperfect but they are democratic. Tories won the election.
WINGS: Yet again I say “Scotland”, yet you mysteriously hear “UK”. Is there even one day a year when you actually debate honestly? If so, do give me some advance notice.
HOTHERSALL: I’m debating honestly right now. You’re pretending UK elections are Scottish elections.
WINGS: Dear God. No I’m not. I don’t want Scotland to be be a part of UK elections at all. Dodge, dodge, dodge.
HOTHERSALL: You refer to a UK election. You can’t just pretend it was a Scottish election. You think UK elections should be decided on Scottish votes only?
WINGS: No, Duncan. We think the government of SCOTLAND should. Hence this whole “referendum” thing.
HOTHERSALL: I know that. That doesn’t mean you can pretend a UK election was a Scottish election, which you did.
WINGS: Comical. I asked you to justify Scotland being governed by Tories. What’s the REASON?
HOTHERSALL: The UK is governed by Tories because the Tories won the UK election. It’s really not complicated.
WINGS: Amazing. You just did it again. I asked for the reason SCOTLAND had to be.
HOTHERSALL: Scotland is part of the UK. I’m astonished you hadn’t noticed.
WINGS: Dodge, dodge, dodge. I’m asking you for ideology, you give me geography. Pathetic.
So far so meh. But at this point, the discussion took a weird turn.
HOTHERSALL: You really are struggling with the idea that a country can contain countries. How odd. The UK is a country. Astonishingly, in Scotland that statement has become controversial. Yet it is a plain fact.
WINGS: So clear it up for us. Which of these are “countries”: (a) the UK (b) Scotland (c) England (d) Europe?
HOTHERSALL: a, b and c. Europe is a continent. I thought you had work to do, sweetcheeks?
WINGS: So you say Scotland is a country. That means English, Welsh and Irish people must be “foreigners”, right? Because a “foreigner” is a person who lives outside any given country.
HOTHERSALL: Not to me. Perhaps to you.
WINGS: So you’ve single-handedly redefined the word “foreigner”? Righto. Do share with us your definition.
HOTHERSALL: Someone who is foreign. x
WINGS: Too good. [You’re] now reduced to redefining “foreign” as no longer meaning “from another country”.
HOTHERSALL: Now you’re just lying about what I’ve said. Pity.
WINGS: Correct me. Does “foreign” mean “from another country” or not?
HOTHERSALL: I just did, petal.
WINGS: I’ll play along. So what’s the definition of “foreign”?
HOTHERSALL: Different, other.
WINGS: Right. So Frankie Boyle and Ruth Davidson, say, who are very different, are “foreigners” to each other?
HOTHERSALL: Not in my opinion, perhaps in yours.
WINGS: Wait, I can’t keep up with these contradictions. “Foreign” means “different”, yet two people who are different AREN’T foreign?
HOTHERSALL: I’m saying they aren’t in my opinion. Foreignness changes depending on whose perspective is chosen.
WINGS: So, to nail down your position definitively: a “foreigner” is someone who’s different to you, but may or may not come from a different country, but someone who’s different to you might also NOT be “foreign”? In other words, it has literally no meaning whatsoever, because it can mean anything? That about it?
And that was that. So let’s recap what we’ve learned:
1. Scotland is a country. But people who live in countries outside Scotland are NOT “foreign”.
2. Unless, of course, they’re in some way different to the person making the statement. In which case they might or might not be foreign.
3. They might also be foreign, or not, if they ARE from Scotland.
4. The reason that Scotland should stay in the UK, and have its governments imposed on it by the votes of people who don’t live in Scotland, is that Scotland is in the UK.
Now, it’s almost never not fun to watch poor Duncan flipping the meanings of words back and forth from moment to moment like Alistair Darling with second homes. But behind such slapstick comedy lies something deadly serious – the desperate depths of semantic madness the No campaign will descend to in order to hide the enormous deceptions its case is built on.
When “foreign” no longer means “from another country”, then both the words “foreign” and “country” have, pretty much by definition, lost all meaning. So when Labour make a cornerstone of their campaign the nonsensical, borderline-racist assertion that anyone living in the rest of the UK would be made a “foreigner” by Scottish independence, even they don’t have a clue what they actually mean.
More to the point, we never did get an answer to our original question: given that Scotland and the rUK are each perfectly capable of electing Labour governments without the other, why – even if you’re looking at it from the perspective of a Labour supporter – does Scotland have to stay in the Union in the name of “solidarity”?
The truth, of course, is that it doesn’t. It’s never necessary for Scotland to have a Tory government just because England wanted one, yet that’s exactly what’s happened for 38 of the last 63 years, and it’s what Labour are desperate to preserve.
If anyone ever offers us a reason for that which isn’t to do with maintaining the cushy lives, salaries and careers of Scottish Labour MPs (and those who would one day seek to become Scottish Labour MPs), we’ll have a serious think about whether we still support independence. Even if they’re a foreigner. Whatever one of those is.