Brexit. There was an interesting poll conducted by The Observer. When asked “Do you think leaving the European Union will ultimately be good or bad for the UK?” – the answer was 34%/39% Good/Bad – for the next few years but 51%/25% Good/Bad in 10-20 years time. Also that there is little appetite for a second referendum or remaining in the EU now. I resonate with this. Actually the way the EU has acted toward the UK since the referendum has turned me from a Remainer into a Leaver. The EU can, no doubt, take a revenge on the citizens of this country which makes the leaving process nasty. I suspect this wouldn’t be forgotten and would leave a profound and bitter anti European sentiment in the UK. In any event, lets remind ourselves that – we have a negative trade deficit of c £70bn per annum with the EU and contribute a net £20bn for the privilege. We just couldn’t continue like that anyway. It only benefits the City of London with it’s mobile super-rich. .. and for these continuing payments, what have we received?Though we have always obeyed the EU rules (unlike for instance many mediterranean countries) we have been castigated over decades as “un-European” (whatever that means).
What seems to me more important than the fact that we are leaving, is what kind of country will we become. What is our vision? Please, Lord, can it be something different from a see-saw between bankrupting Labour nonsense and venal Conservativism.
Do you know how the EU works? Watch Jeremy Paxman’s BBC documentary. So..
Laws are framed and developed by the Council and Commission. In each of these the UK has one vote out of 28 (by the way Luxembourg has the same status in voting). That means that UK has something like a 3% voice (we are around 12% of EU population). The Parliament ratifies these laws (yes, it always does). We have 73 out of 750 MEP’s, around 10% (we are around 12% of EU population). These laws are then simply instructed to our (democratic) parliament as Directives or simply written into UK law by the EU as Regulations. Around 59% of our laws are imposed like that.
Yup, Britain is ruled by unelected Europeans.
By the way, the European Court of Justice is the supreme arbiter of these laws (not any kind of UK court). And guess what – these judges are appointed not elected.
For those of you who believe that the EU is always going to be a socialist institution, so in some way moderating elected conservative UK governments, consider this; only 70 years ago the European trend was fascism (Italy, Germany, Spain as small examples). Austria is about to elect a hard right president. So for you Guardian readers, imagine it’s fascist laws imposed on us. Still ok with letting democracy go?
Those voices, like mine, who want us to consider these issues are castigated as somehow “little England”, prejudiced. This reminds me of the attempt to join us up to the Euro. Remember how the same people (the European elite who have their snouts in our trough) played out the same slur. By the way the same people back then told warned us of armaggedon if we failed to join the Euro.
Wonder Full. The Australian reaction to the terrible attack by a self-styled Islamic extremist was just that – wonderful. At the moment of grief – they deliberately reached out to all in their society, particularly in fact to peaceful Muslims. Peace is surely the anti-dote to terror. We knew that “an eye for an eye” failed over two thousand years ago.
The bearded men (men, funny that..) who machine gun children in Pakistan, hack soldiers in London and behead and sell women in Iraq – aren’t religious – Islamic or any other type; any more than were the IRA Christian Catholics when they bombed civilians indiscriminately.
Vladimir Soloviev put it like this (contemporary for him was the 1870’s):
“ I shall not dispute those who maintain a negative attitude toward the religious principle. I shall not argue with the contemporary opponents of religion, because they are right. I say that those who reject religion are right because the contemporary state of religion calls for rejection.. Speaking generally and abstractly, religion is the connection of humanity and the world with the absolute principle and focus of all that exists. Contemporary religion is a pitiful thing. Strictly speaking, religion does not exist as the dominant principle, as the centre of spiritual attraction. Instead, our so-called religiosity is a personal mood, a personal taste. Some people have this taste, others do no, just as some people like music and others do not…” Vladimir Soloviev. Lectures on Divine Humanity. St Petersburg 1878.
His point of course, is that true connection to the Divine is quite different from a self-styling religiosity. It’s easy to tell one from the other. Peace or war. Tolerance or dictatorship. Social justice or division. Joy or hatred.
As Christ said: “by their fruits shall you know them”. As Teilhard de Chardin said “Joy is the unmistakable sign of the presence of God”.
So – glory to Australia – for their wonderful reaction. Peace, compassion and social cohesion in the face of terror. Thank you. We’re not even on seven – never mind seventy times seven.
Wilfred Bion believed that societies operate according to one of three basic assumptions. These are – dependent – broadly where society looks to a leader to depend upon; flight- flight – where there is a perceived external threat where the leader galvanises and curdles (my word) society; and the pairing group – where there are two leaders (archetypal parents). In this latter group system there is a hopeful expectation because the true leader, the future leader, is yet to be born. Bion termed this the messianic idea.
Bion observed that we are each as humans essentially social animals. We have these group structural tendencies within us, even before we are operating within a group.
“Our individual psychic make-up is intimately related to others, both the tendency to form constructively working groups and the potential for forming any of the basic assumption mental states when in a physical group setting with others”.
Societies do seem to me, practically to group as Bion suggests. It also seems to me that there is a tendency for dependent societies to flip to fight-flight and back, and that pairing groups emerge only after a period of stability. A quick personal review:
Russia (now) – under Putin. Dependent, but he introduces external enemies because he is failing to provide (the basic function of a dependent leader) – therefore moving toward fight-flight. This is also reflected across many middle-eastern countries, the difference being the “religious” archetype that their leaders draw upon, introducing a twisted and unreconstructed medieval view of Islam to create an enemy (all of the rest of the world). In Britain I would suggest we had a dependent/fight-fight society right through to Margaret Thatcher, but that this moved with Blair-Brown and now Cameron-Clegg toward a pairing group society. (Who will the future Messiah be for British politics, we sure are looking for one!). The USA was perhaps set up in the first place as a pairing group society (checks and balances!). It’s why it doesn’t (it seems to me) work so well when either the Democrats or Republicans have ALL the levers of power – Senate, President, Supreme Court, Congress – and why this happens so seldom. The leaders in Scotland, most recently of course attempted to carve out a new fiefdom by drawing on the dependent and fight-flight models. We are now moving back to a pairing group structure between Salmond-Sturgeon – which reflects the reality of the fundamental pairing group of Scotland-England. (Salmond as a UK MP, Sturgeon as First Minister of Scotland).
Foundational to Bion’s view is that humans are interdependent, part of one-whole.
The chapter on Bion’s study of groups in Symington’s review of Bion’s work has a quote from Vladimir Soloviev (Russian 19th century Christian mystic and philosopher), which sums up this basic tenet.
“The self-deception in virtue of which a human individual regards himself as real in his separateness from all things, and presupposes this fictitious isolation to be the true ground and only starting-point for all his relations – this self-deception of abstract subjectivisim plays terrible havoc not only in the domain of metaphysics – which, indeed, it abolishes altogether – but also in the domain of the moral and political life”.
Soloviev, though, goes much further, and prefigures Teilhard de Chardin with his observation that all is connected and interdependent, all part of one.
Let us fight for the idea of Europe. Let it though be a Europe as a democracy.
The current path is toward a politicracy – rule by and in the interests of the chattering and political elite. What we need, and will happen peacefully or violently – is to get back to rule by hoi poloi.. An Old concept that we seem to be forgetting. Invented in Greece not Brussels. Democracy.
Odd isn’t it that Britain is reviled by the continental political classes as being “uneuropean” . Yet we are the peoples who actually obey the club rules, we are the biggest per capita net contributor 11.3 BIllion euros in 2013 and rising.. And we fought for European freedoms last century.
Britons won’t stand for ever for this nonsense. But. It’s the cosy smoke filled room decision making that must be swept away. Not the concept of cooperation and peaceful non nationalistic communion. Europe as a USA style federal democracy.. not oh NOT rule by Brussels fat cat insiders …
If Europe is not reformed so that the people are re-empowered then I’m rather afraid we’ll have to go through the nasty taste of nationalism again with all of its attendant division and ultimately of violence.
So, let us fight for the ideal of a democratic Europe.
Considered and thought provoking article from Jock Encombe…psychologist and psychotherapist living in Edinburgh in these interesting times..
“In his groundbreaking 1901 book ‘The Psychopathology of Everyday Life’, Freud introduced the world to the ways in which the unconscious intrudes upon our superficially rational lives. 100 years on his ideas are now embedded in how we try to understand reality. It is curious, therefore, that there has been so little examination of the nationalistic psychology that underpins the Yes campaign. There are perhaps two main reasons for this. Firstly the very use of the word ‘Yes’ has given it the advantage of positive unconscious bias. A No vote really does feel more negative. And secondly, ably served by its deniable cybernat shock troops, the Yes campaign has played a skillful and aggressive hand in accusing Better Together supporters of various thought crimes. Not believing in Scotland or the Scottish people. Not having ‘Scottish’ left of centre values. Not believing in social justice. Being in effect bourgeois, fearful and selfish. There have even been SNP posters that suggest voting for Better Together equals supporting child poverty. The result of this is a powerful combination of intimidation and sentimentality that has made many Better Together supporters nervous about putting their heads above the parapet.
Psychotherapy teaches us that when people are attracted to visions of a perfect future and then become aggressive towards people who do not buy into their fantasy, they are in denial about some aspect of themselves. So what, therefore, might a psychological understanding of the appeal of Scottish nationalism look like?
From a broad historical perspective there are many episodes in Scottish history that have inflicted trauma on our collective psyche: The Jacobite rebellion. The Darien Venture. The Act of Union. The clearances. The impact of rapid, massive industrialisation and de-industrialisation (much more than any other European country experienced). The sectarianism that continues to scar the West of Scotland. The humiliating collapse of our banking industry.
When a patient comes to therapy with a similar personal history, an underlying pattern of narcissism and magical thinking is often revealed as the psychological process by which they have learnt to cope with their experiences. The process works by seeking to avoid unbearable feelings of worthlessness by either angrily projecting them onto others (‘You don’t believe in Scotland’), or by escaping into grandiose fantasies of wholeness and perfection (‘Independence will make us the wealthiest small country in the world’). While providing temporary relief, however, magical thinking is ultimately doomed to fail. The return to reality is always painful and often destructive. Furthermore it is a pattern of behaviour which, if the underlying psychological hard work of acquiring self-knowledge is not undertaken, is destined to repeat itself. It is perhaps worth noting that middle-aged men seem particularly vulnerable to these kinds of behaviour.
The cataclysmic collapse of RBS – which ensnared many of its employees and shareholders in its inflated vision of world domination – is a vivid example of the dangers of narcissism that has led to shame and economic misery for millions of people. It is interesting to note that George Mathewson, the former Chairman of RBS who notoriously recruited Fred Goodwin as his successor, has long been a Yes supporter. While Alex Salmond was of course also employed there as an economist in the 1980s. Another interesting parallel is between Goodwin’s ‘Make it Happen’ slogan and Salmond’s similarly vague and aspirational ‘this is our moment’ language.
While imaginative fantasy can have a psychopathological dimension it is of course also the raw material of creative work. This explains the appeal of independence to many of Scotland’s artists. Imagination alone, however, will not provide the economic stability or jobs without which any kind of sustainable, agreeable national life is possible. Or without which child poverty has any chance of being alleviated. We should not forget, either, that many of the least attractive nationalistic figures in history were skilful weavers of propaganda and romance. Or that dangerous ideologies have always found artistic support. The quasi-racist attack by Alasdair Gray on Vicky Featherstone, the English founder of the National Theatre of Scotland, is one example of this. There is a tone of romantic totalitarianism to much of the Yes language, a kind of hectoring misty-eyed kitsch that needs challenging. As Milan Kundera observed in ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’:
“Kitsch is the aesthetic ideal of all politicians and all political parties and movements… In the realm of totalitarian kitsch all answers are given in advance and preclude any questions. It follows, then, that the true opponent of totalitarian kitsch is the person who asks questions.”
The great British psychotherapist Donald Winnicott believed that to live happily and well we need sufficient psychological maturity to accept the messy ‘good enough’ nature of relationships and life. The Union is by no means perfect but it is certainly good enough – and with the enhancements of further devolution is likely to get better. Writing in the 1930s Winnicott also believed that such a realistic and mature approach to life, in time, would always overcome the seductive pull of nationalistic and totalitarian ideologies.
Being part of something that provides security and stability, for all its imperfections, is surely a wiser choice than gambling on an outcome that carries such a high risk of division and regret?
For the sake of balance it is necessary to concede that some aspects of the psychology of Better Together can also be legitimately criticised. As can the negativity of some of its campaign tactics. But the need for balance should not obscure the central point that, in Orwell’s words, “Nationalism is power hunger tempered by self-deception” – or that many of the SNP’s tactics have created a climate of fear and deception in Scotland.
Beyond the macro-economic arguments there are important questions to be answered about some of the SNP Government’s other activities: The frightening centralisation and undemocratic arming of our police force. The politicisation of our Civil Service. The harrying of business leaders and other public figures who oppose independence. What we need now, therefore, is less sentimentality and more clear thinking. All of us who have a vote, or the opportunity to influence people who have one, need to ensure that realism and generosity of spirit prevail over illusion and intimidation.”
Jock Encombe is a psychologist and psychotherapist based in Edinburgh. The views in this article do not represent those of any organisation with which he is associated.