Cheap and easy “reconciliation”

Bitterness is like cancer.  It eats upon the host.  But anger is like fire.  It burns it all clean. – Maya Angelou

There is much talk from some quarters about “reconciliation” after the referendum, and the need for politicians to move the country forward, and so on.  I’ve seen these discussions on Twitter and on Facebook and elsewhere.

One particularly prominent exponent of this has been the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, John Chalmers, who has argued a need for No and Yes voters to work together for Scotland.  He was doing this even before the referendum.  It is a classical political move (and though I have met John several times and like him, he really is a political churchman – some in Holyrood could be tutored by the likes of him!).

This is lovely, but misses the point.  In fact, it misses several points, because I think it’s not really meaningful societal reconciliation, but a form of cheap and easy pseudo-reconciliation:

  1. we should celebrate, not regret what happened in the broad context of the referendum.  Across the country, record numbers of voters turned out to vote: this was a vote that mattered, and people could have a voice.  Many first-time voters engaged with political questions in a meaningful way because they had the chance to influence the situation, something that they normally don’t see themselves having in ordinary elections.  The wide-ranging discussions that took place for months and years in advance are too precious to lose, and even though the No campaign never wanted this debate in the first place, even arguing for apathy in the last stages of the campaign (‘if you don’t know, vote No’ is one of the most shameful lines that a democracy can produce), I would hope that all embrace the further conscientisation of the wider populace (yes, I’m referring to Paulo Freire).  That’s democracy – and it is wonderful for the people, and hopefully scares (in a good way) the comfortable ruling classes on all sides, who in many cases need to rediscover that feeling of accountability to the voters.
  2. any need there might be for reconciliation is not something to be “led” by the bruisers who led the campaign (eg “Scottish Labour’s” Alastair Darling saying to Alex Salmond: “You lost the argument. You lost the referendum. You lost office and now you have lost the plot” – this kind of ungracious sentiment is hardly an indication that there’s a desire for any kind of lessening of rivalry on the part of “Labour”).  If individuals have argued and are in need of reconciliation, let them do it themselves.  One of the great things about this referendum debate has been that so many people, at least on the Yes side (which I know well), have not felt the need for “leaders” but have just got on with things themselves.  We don’t need permission for anything – we can just do it.  Let’s not lose that.  If the No campaign didn’t operate in that way (and my impression as an outsider is that it happened far less), then that is something that Yes can show them!  It’s called participatory democracy.
  3. most importantly, the key divide is not Yes and No.  The key divide is poverty/disenfranchisement and wealth/engagement.  The way the votes were counted – by local councils – was to some extent arbitrary, since local votes one way or the other don’t matter in a national referendum.  However, what the council area votes revealed was important: the four areas that voted Yes are those with the highest levels of poverty, the poorest housing, the worst health, the lowest life expectancy, the fewest educational and employment opportunities.  The majority of commentators are rightly making a connection here between these factors and the desire to create a new state: the UK is quite simply not working for the poor in our country, and the opportunity to try something new was a great attraction.  The Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland notes that 20% (220,000) of our children are in poverty, with that number expected to grow by a further 100,000.  Our state is quite simply not working for people who are poor: rather, the UK is driving more people into poverty.  That is a key reason why I and so many others sought to bring about a change in the system, one that might be interested and able to address that division.

So calls for national reconciliation as currently framed ring somewhat hollow to me.  We have far deeper, systemic divisions in our society than can be addressed by pseudo-peace making on the part of John Chalmers and the like.  Forget that.  If you need reconciling with your neighbour, your family, your friends, then do it – and if you want a free tip, my recommendation is always for large slabs of chocolate cake to accompany any such move.

Whatever you need to do in this regard, just get on with it.

The current system is pushing 100,000 more children in this country into poverty.  Every child has only one childhood, and for it to be unnecessarily spent in poverty is not merely neglectful, but completely immoral.  I’m sure the situation in rUK is no better than in Scotland, though I don’t have figures to hand.  We have so far, under the present system, failed in our society to do anything about this – mostly we are reduced to the equivalent of applying sticking plasters.  Voters who chose No need to fully participate in making sure that this division – poverty/disenfranchisement vs wealth/engagement – can be overcome.

That’s meaningful reconciliation.



4 thoughts on “Cheap and easy “reconciliation”

  1. Spot on. Inundated by ‘reconciliation requests’ within hours of the vote, I responded in one instance as follows: “It’s a deep fault within middle-class Christianity to want immediately to cry ‘peace, peace’ where it does not dwell, in order to avoid the pain involved (which those at the sharp end have no choice about facing, of course). True reconciliation is tougher than that. It requires us first to contend with and for justice, with love. I’m not putting the oh-so-nice-and-easy (for some) C of S ‘One’ badge on just yet. It would be an insult to many thousands of people in impoverished communities whose hopes of the possibility of change have been denied in the past 24 hours. There is peace to be sought in this, but not by rushing for piously therapeutic sticking plasters.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. For me, my Yes vote was a vote for fairness and democracy, social justice and equality. It seems to me that the reasons for voting No did not extend beyond the No voter’s own skin. Their vote was about their own circumstance and personal identity, money and nostalgia, not the greater good of their country and community.

    I find these opposing views to be irreconcilable. One is an egalitarian world view and the other has a nasty whiff of Thatcher’s ‘no such thing as society’ individualism. That is why Yes voters have not slunk into the shadows. The politics driving their Yes votes are much too big to be forgotten because one section of the community, no matter how big, has been too scared, misinformed or selfish to do what was just.

    To suggest that a major political movement like the Yes campaign should be compliant and shut up is to misunderstand its momentum. It’s not like choosing margarine or butter. At certain points in history you don’t choose your politics, they choose you. Now is such a time.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Pingback: Why ‘the 45′ is no longer fit for purpose | Thinking In The Public Sphere

  4. Pingback: After the Referendum: A Gazetteer for Scottish NGOs | Ric Lander

Comments are closed.