Thursday, 26 January 2012

Alex Salmond and political sophistry

"No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as a manor of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. "

- John Donne

The political genius that is Mr Salmond has managed to craftily construe an excellent question for his Scottish referendum. As a person of the United Kingdom with blood from both sides of Hadrian's Wall I would like to say that I could not care less about the whole debate. The political rhetoric on the issue has brought out all the usual racism one would expect on both sides. It is quite striking that racist slurs made against the Scots would be unheard of if we were debating Jamaica's desire to drop the Queen as head of state with the same fervour. But alas I digress.

"Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?"

This is a brilliantly crafted question. One which a whole team of rhetoricians must have slaved over for days. It collapses all the conditionality from Scottish independence into one elusive and emotive sentiment. A voter could rightly ask "well, what will this 'independent' Scotland look like if it doesnt have its own currency? Will this independent Scotland have all the oil? What will be the role of this independent Scotland be in the EU?" But alas your sole option in this fine and elevated democratic debate is this incredibly reductive question.

Note also that the question is formed as if the one asking the question were implying that others already believe Scotland should be this way and thus you should join them. Otherwise the question would be;

"Should Scotland be an independent country?"

So more clever politics for Salmond and less democratic power and legitimacy to the Scottish people. If you ask a question on a divisive issue you should at least outline the proposed vision for your independent country. Hence the question should probably read something like;

"Should Scotland be an independent country under the terms presented in the attached manifesto?"

Obviously with a little help from the team of rhetoricians you can make that phrase somewhat less cumbersome or further you could add five or six other questions allowing a popular vote on how the new independent country should be structured. The likelihood of this happening is approximately zero.

Power to the people.

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