Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron, with a meagre nine MPs in the Commons, sets out in his general election campaign with the ambitious goal of not only over-turning the Labour Party, but of going further and beating Theresa May to Downing Street. “If you don’t want to run the country,” he asks, “why are you in politics?” Power is both the point and the end of all politics; and – notwithstanding our natural desire to appear humble – denying this serves no purpose. We do not vote for candidates who hope to be elected to parliamentary seats to be a “good opposition.” We vote because we want our political priorities to be the priority of government. Never in the history of democracy has this been achieved by an opposition.
Self-effacing claptrap has all but become a political convention in the modern liberal democracy. Candidates fear, often rightly, that naked ambition will have them rated negatively by public opinion. The ever begrudging public has never much liked one of their own wanting too much. It is barely acceptable that one is successful, but if one shows signs of wanting to succeed – especially in the realm of politics – then one can expect an immediate and negative impact on one’s popularity ratings.
This public tendency almost forces the politico to steer a course directed to giving voters what they want, or – as is more often the case – appearing to give the people what they want. Such bread and circuses politics is the first step on the dangerous road to populism, leaping on every conceivable bandwagon to curry favour. In a world where politics is a career for the scions of that fragment of society immediately inferior to the dominant ruling élite that strategy has proven, in the liberal democracy, to be particularly useful. Yet, it is ultimately toxic to the body politic.
Civil society is a naturally cautious and conservative set of relations and institutions, and when it is governed – if we can even describe such as governance – by the unambitious and women and men who are essentially followers of whimsical public demand it loses any forward momentum that theretofore existed. It gives way to socio-political inertia and begins to atrophy. There exists no better example of this than Brexit Britain.
There was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
As a consequence of successive governments marked by abortive leadership, since at least the New Labour government of Tony Blair, the United Kingdom has stalled as a political machine and as a collection of social and political hopes. In this sense it has, as a state, become – à la David Cameron – “aspirationless.” Brexit and the entire social and political working out of isolationist and neo-imperialist fantasies is the product of a depoliticised society, convinced of its own superiority, languishing on its cot in its own private Bedlam while feverishly pleasuring itself over confused and distorted memories of its past. It is the decadence and end of any Lord of the Flies society left without guidance and leadership. In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
People must be afforded the freedom to do what is right in their own eyes, but society and the state are not people. Following the Hegelian principal of governance, the freedom of the individual to seek his or her own good and to pursue his or her own interests is guaranteed only by the state, and so to a greater or lesser extent the individual must accommodate him or herself to the power of the state because only when the state functions as a state can the person truly be free.
This freedom is rendered impossible when the state is governed not for the good of the state but for the affection of the mob. This is government populism. This is Brexit Britain.
Scotland is tethered to a dominant state apparatus now quite advanced in its deterioration.
In Scotland governance has not succumbed to this disease, but it is a state-becoming that by virtue of its state-constitutional latency has reached an impasse. Scotland is tethered to a dominant state apparatus now quite advanced in its deterioration; a foreign constitutional body in which it has – according to the allocation of its parliamentary assembly seats – no more than a legislative maximum of nine per cent of the state representation. It does have its own semi-autonomous parliament at Holyrood in Edinburgh, but the power to untether itself from England is a power reserved to this other parliament at Westminster.
Given the worsening condition of the United Kingdom, it is a foregone conclusion that Scotland too will – sooner or later – become infected by this political zombie virus. Still it remains, “if you don’t want to run the country, why are you in politics?” The Scottish National Party – Scotland’s government party in Edinburgh – does indeed run the country; represented at Westminster by fifty-six of Scotland’s fifty-nine parliamentary seats, but has no possibility of running the state – a distinction unapparent to Tim Farron because for the English politician the country and the state are synonyms.
The deadlock Scotland has reached can and must be broken. It must be broken by the sheer will of political ambition to take the state. Scotland cannot take a state that is not its own. Britain, as the political extension of England’s historical hegemonic ambitions, is an English state. What Scotland can take is its own state – the incipient state of the Scottish nation. No other avenue is open to Scotland. Great Britain is in terminal decline, and the departure of Scotland from the asymmetric Union to which it has been bound is the least of the English state’s worries.