Classical references are the new big thing these days, what with Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson name dropping Ancient Greeks and Romans at every opportunity in a vain attempt to convince us that he’s not merely an expensively educated boor. So here’s a quote from the Roman author Publilius Syrus, which has direct relevance to a Scotland under the thumb of that upper class exercise in artfully tousled arrogance. And it’s this – Cave furorem patientis – beware the fury of the patient one. Scotland is patient. We are patient still. But the anger is rising and our reserves of patience are not infinite.
A more modern savant, Gloria Steinem, said that the truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off. Scotland doesn’t need anger management. It just needs Westminster to stop pissing us off. Since that’s as likely to happen as it is that Boris Johnson will tell us how many children he has or that Michael Gove is going to stop being an oleaginous irritant, we must ensure that the truth that Westminster will always continue to piss Scotland off is directed into the movement to set Scotland free from Westminster. At the moment, we are faced with a Boris Johnson who is doing his utmost to piss Scotland off in the misplaced belief that there’s nothing we can do about it. He is aided in his delusion by a media which is happy to continue to parrot the line that the 2014 referendum was a once in a generation affair after which democracy stopped in Scotland, and which is equally happy to insist that Scotland requires the permission of the UK Prime Minister in order to ask itself about its own future.
There are those within the independence movement who are telling us that we must stay calm, that we must resist anger. They are correct, up to a point. We must indeed avoid the red hot anger of rage that leads to foolish and precipitous choices. We must refrain from allowing our anger to cloud our judgement. Taking action without carefully thinking through the consequences is likely to rebound upon us. Demanding that something be done before the conditions are correct isn’t going to help us achieve our goal of an independent Scotland. It will merely play into the hands of the smirking tousled liar.
However not all anger is the anger of rage, of rash decisions taken in the heat of the moment. Not all anger is ill-considered or a knee-jerk response to a provocation. There is a cold anger, a controlled anger, an anger which burns like ice, an anger which is carefully directed and aimed with precision, an anger which carefully and patiently bides its time until it is unleashed in a tidal wave of calculated and appropriate revenge. That anger is a careful anger, a considered anger, a proportionate and determined anger. That second kind of anger is the one that the Scottish independence movement needs to cultivate. That second kind of anger is the one that Pubilius Syrus warned about all those many centuries ago. His lesson still holds today.
So it is not a matter of calming down. It is good and proper, it is a moral imperative, to rage rage against the lying of the right. However it’s a matter of controlling one’s rage and directing it into a productive channel, so that when the rage is finally released it will have the correct effect and will be aimed squarely and directly at its proper target. That kind of anger is effective and productive anger. It is positive anger. Anger is an energy that we can channel into our campaigning, a fuel that will drive us through the bullshit and lies that Westminster and its allies will throw at us, but only if we contain it, direct it, and channel it properly, otherwise it’s wasted in an explosion of impotence. A carefully considered anger is the motivating force that will see the independence movement triumph.
There are going to be plenty more provocations in the weeks and months ahead. They are intentional. The Tories want us to lose control, to explode in an impotent and useless fury that will only damage our own cause. They want us to lose our own battle, because then they won’t have to campaign to protect their privilege. We must remain resolute in refusing to accept that Westminster has a right to veto Scotland’s inalienable right to self-determination, and we must direct our righteous anger at their proddings and provocations into campaigning, canvassing, protesting, marching.
However campaigning all the harder in the face of a repeated no is not going to be enough. Eventually there will come a time when ultimatums must be made, challenges put, and Westminster’s dictats must be faced down. If Boris Johnson refuses to concede that Scotland has provided the SNP with a clear and unequivocal mandate for another independence referendum, there must be immediate steps to a legal challenge to establish the lawfulness of a referendum without a Section 30 order. The leadership of the SNP must demonstrate that they’re not going to accept that denial of Scotland’s inalienable right by simply accepting that they must campaign harder and win yet more mandates that can be ignored.
Secondly, the SNP leadership must be resolute in calling out anti-independence parties and a media which routinely refer to such a referendum as illegal or wildcat when the only legal fact right now is that no one knows what the legal status of such a referendum would be. It needs to be tested in the courts first. The Scottish Government must ensure that the British Government understands that its permission is not required, but rather that agreeing to a Section 30 order is the only hope in hell that so-called Unionists have of proving that Scotland is indeed a partner in a union. Do not confuse our politeness with weakness.
Finally the wider movement must start to build toward using the 2021 Holyrood election not as a means to provide yet another mandate for a referendum to put on the mantlepiece along with all the other mandates for a referendum that the SNP already possesses. We must start to operate on the assumption that in 2021 we will be fighting an election based upon securing a mandate for independence itself. Because Westminster and the international community cannot ignore that election, the anti-independence parties can’t boycott it, local authorities controlled by the Tories or Labour can’t refuse to facilitate it. This is not Spain. We will fight that election campaign against British nationalist opponents who will have proven that Scotland is in their eyes not a partner in a union, but a possession that can be dictated to. We will fight that election campaign against opponents who have already lost the moral and democratic argument.
Above all, what we must do is to respond to Boris Johnson’s refusals with a determination that displays the unshakeable conviction that whether Scotland has its say on its own future is not for Boris Johnson to decide. The future of our country is not his gift to give. It is for us to take. It’s not so much a question of how cautious or bold the SNP leadership is, but how bold we are. Our determined anger is what will see us through. Boris Johnson should beware our fury, because it will be calculated, cold, and tightly focussed. Beware the fury of a patient nation.
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