Jock Encombe – Tomorrow Belongs to Who?

One of the most important and troubling features of the past few days has been the outing of the SNP’s nationalistic agenda. If it calls itself nationalism, looks like nationalism and acts like nationalism …

Like many people I woke early today wondering what kind of future we will have chosen on Friday. In my semi-conscious state I remembered a lunch with one of Alex Salmond’s special advisers last year. He told me they’d play the dirty nationalism card if the polls got tight. Have they done this? There is certainly more unashamedly nationalist rhetoric in the air. The anti-Nick Robinson protest outside BBC Scotland had an orchestrated feel to it. Even the wonderful Elaine C Smith asked ‘What’s wrong with Scottish nationalism?’ during the last TV debate – as if the answer was nothing.

The puzzle for me is that I have several dear friends who are still committed to voting Yes. They are gentle, kind and thoughtful people. What have they seen that I’ve missed? What is the riddle of the machair?

My theory is that the SNP have been extremely clever propagandists. They have based their communications strategy on three separate pillars. The first is a deliberately undefined utopianism, a blank archetypal sheet onto which all kinds of yearning for a better world can be projected. The second is the politics of grievance, whether legitimate or manufactured. And the third is threat, whether implied and deniable or explicit. The unifying and multiplying factor, as Carol Craig identified in her analysis of the role of positive psychology in the Yes campaign, is positive emotion.

So the equation might look like this:

(U + G + T) x P = Communications Strategy
Where U = Utopianism, G = Grievance, T = Threat, and P = Positive emotion.

The brilliance of the strategy is that if one of the components gets knocked down in a debate then their spokesperson can change the game by arguing from a different one. While as voters, our capacity for fragmented thinking means we can sign up to one without feeling we are supporting either of the others.

The title of this article refers of course to the famous scene in Cabaret when an enchanting song celebrating the stag in the forest and the babe in the cradle morphs into a chilling foreshadowing of a dystopian future. As they leave the scene, Brian (Michael York) says to Max, ‘Still think you can control them?’ I watched it again this morning, just after reading Ewan Morrison’s extraordinarily powerful article about his journey from Yes to No. If you’ve not read it yet, please do. And spread the word.

Even in the event of what many people believe would be the disastrous outcome of a Yes vote we need to celebrate the fact that the referendum has been largely conducted in a civilised manner. I hope to wake up on Friday to a country that will have chosen the inclusive, life-affirming sensibility of Billy Connolly rather than the bullying divisiveness of Frankie Boyle. Whatever happens I look forward to sharing a glass of Stuart Ebdy’s Reconciliation Beer with anyone who’ll join me.

Jock Encombe is a psychologist and psychotherapist based in Edinburgh. The views in this article do not represent those of any organisation with which he is associated.

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