16 August 2014

Jenny Hjul's demonic toys

Discourse analysts are going to have a whale of a time unpicking the referendum campaign, when it is all over.  Both campaigns have exhibited an acute awareness of the power, and perils, of language. It is no accident, for example, that all the Better Together bods alighted on the term "separation" for independence, and have employed it relentlessly.

After all, in ordinary usage, the concept of independence has an unforgettably positive ring to it. Your children flee the nest, live independently, find freedom in the big wide world. Independence summons up sturdiness, self-reliance, freedom from the interfering lets and hindrances of others. The concept of separation, by contrast, recalls the bitterness of the end of a relationship; the lovelorn soldier, casting longing eyes back to Blighty having been conscripted overseas; the involuntary loss of your favourite toe on a rusty spike.

The phenomenon of the cybernat has been summoned and taken on substance from a puff of imagination, transforming your online, off-colour pub style conversation and inevitable internet zoomers into a homogeneous, integrated and organised campaign of hate, allegedly unique to the independence movement. The Yes campaign has gone, hook line and sinker, for the sunshine language of affirmation: hope, opportunity, change -- though increasingly, you're struck but the emergence of tougher lines on the implications of continuing union (presumably the "must" dimension, of the Nationalists' tripartite mantra that we can, should and must be independence).

But one of the weirder discursive constructions in the campaign - usually exhibited by your ultramontane, black-hearted Unionist - is the refusal to countenance the idea that anybody could possibly be in favour independence without being a member of the Scottish National Party. In the latest of her string of fevered diatribes, La Passionara of the Better Together campaign (and La Cochrane), Jenny Hjul, knocks up a classic of the genre. 

Having overcome her irrational aversion to proximity to the mild, pro-independence David Hayman, Hjul wonders "have the Scottish Nationalists taken over the Edinburgh Fringe?" No, this isn't a tale of the organised, malevolent ranks of Salmond's army descending on the capital to force Britain's artists to perform endless renditions of Flowers of the Forest, and Freedom Come A' Ye, late into the night - though as ever with Hjul, you suspect the anxiety simmers just under the surface.

Today's missive from the house that reaction built ponders the ghastly poseurs and talentless, insufferable pro-independence artistes deluging Edinburgh during August (I paraphrase), and throughout, uses capital N "Nationalism" to characterise anything and everything associated with support for independence. (Sacrificing felicity of expression to the overriding desire to be on-message, Hjul suggests that Alan Bissett is "a leading light in the artists for separatism movement" - an unhappily cumbersome sentence if ever one was hammered out).

So we are told, for example, "Scottish Nationalists have long claimed to have a monopoly on passion," though helpfully, no evidence is adduced to substantiate this claim, nor is it clear who these mysterious Scottish Nationalists - and Hjul uses the term indiscriminately to cover anyone from Nicola Sturgeon to the most dyed in the wool pro-independence Labour voter - might be. 

From my perch, plenty of those intending to vote No seem pretty enthusiastic about their cause, but who am I to interfere with Hjul's sweat-beaded parallel reality? She also tells us that the man behind All Back to Bowie's - David Greig - is a "Nationalist playwright." This is, I fancy, information which will be news to David. What luck that there are helpful strangers like Hjul on hand, to diagnose what one really is.

In point of fact, I have it on good authority that David Greig is actually an elaborate SNP front. Conceived of by Alex Salmond's inner circle in the early 1980s, with the assistance of a Mrs Doubtfire style latex mask, wig and body suit, Alex Neil has been moonlighting as the playwright for the last three decades, squeezing in his ghostwriting between his parliamentary duties.

Oh. And National Collective. All of those sprightly young things and separatist hipsters are also an SNP front. That Alex Neil is a talented mimic. Oh, and I'm an SNP front too. And if you're reading this while supporting independence, chances are that you're one too, you silly sausage Scottish Nationalist you. Your unsolicited membership chit is in the post.

Unlike Greig, I am a member of the SNP, but this determination - in the teeth of all the evidence - to find Scottish Nationalists everywhere in the independence campaign is profoundly odd. Why is it so difficult to conceive of the idea that those who find nationalistic sensibilities do little for them politically might sympathise with a Yes vote in September? Or that the case for independence finds support from across folk of different political proclivities? Salmond has better things to be doing, that plucking on the strings of thousands of guileless marionettes.

It is remarkable, even down to the level of language, how far folk like Hjul are prepared to go, to hang onto the idea that self-government is a pathological enthusiasm, limited to a tiny band of vaguely disreputable Scottish eccentrics. If you can't find your preferred opponent in the real world? Use your imagination. Project them into existence. Conjure them, in language, from the ether. Like demon toys.


  1. Ah because British Nationalism trumps all other nationalist movements only they don't like being called that, a strange bunch.

    1. No, no - you misunderstand. British nationalism is unique, in that it isn't a nationalism but a form of internationalism in one country. That's the theory anyway. Confuses me too.

  2. I gave up on la Cochrane after her serial diatribes in the SoS on en suite bathrooms ( they are terrible -I.e she doesn't have one) and her defence of second homes ( she has one, but it is ok because its only rented -presumably it also doesn't have en suite). That was a long time ago. I have not bought the rag since.

    1. I'm a sucker for clickbait, even in the days before social media. When in secondary school, I used to read Hjul regularly in the school library to get my blood pressure up.

  3. I will be annoying and compare thee to Kenneth Roy, and say that if there is an anthology of indy debate wit at some future point, you would both feature prominently.

    Can't get worked up about the Horrible Hjulk or her luvvie enemies - I would guess very few Scots have heard of or care about any of them. This is a classic goldfish bowl stushie.

    Here's something that makes me ponder -

    'Or that the case for independence finds support from across folk of different political proclivities?'

    It's occurred to me before that the Yes campaign made a strategic mistake in focusing on the idea of 'Progressive Scotland' and regarding the large number of conservative Scots as beneath the kale.

    Here's the thing - Salmond turned a parochial conservative party into the left-leaning beast it is now, yet it is all skin deep - and in the 70s when it was arguably still not quite even a social democratic party it could do pretty well at Westminster.

    One of the papers - I have forgotten which already - has a big piece on Colin Fox and alternatives to the SNP lefty policies. Somehow, the idea has inexplicably gained ground that the future of Scotland is between a left wing world view and a more left wing world view.

    For a start, Fox's SSP is an extremely marginal outfit - I would assume they don;'t even have Sheridan's extended family votes. They count for virtually nothing in the real world, yet the indy-inclined conservatives who do exist in the real world are regarded as not part of the Yes spectrum.

    One for the post mortem.

    1. Just to be clear, I've nowt against Roy in general, and have enjoyed some of his writing, so shan't be too vexed by comparisons! On the leftward drift of the Yes campaign, I disagree. It is the only viable strategy, in the current circumstances (and that doesn't mean we're going to win anyhoo). There really is bugger all use appealing to the remaining crop of Tory voters to back independence. If we lose this referendum, then there may be use in the longer run of trying to decouple British nationalism from the British state, but until that difficult task gains any traction, the British nationalists which dominate conservative ranks in Scotland will be independence's most inveterate foes. Better to try to make some political capital from bashing Tory rule, than trying to accommodate this uninterested section of the electorate.