‘When I see an actual flesh and blood worker in conflict with his natural enemy, the policeman, I do not have to ask myself which side I am on’, wrote a young George Orwell, in Homage to Catalonia, in a simpler time when it was clear who the enemy was.
Since the mid-20th century, Orwell’s writing has been cited by people across the political spectrum as a prescient warning of the dangers lurking in the future. But, rather than lighting a path away from tyranny, the Etonian rebel’s work has simply become a Rorschach on to which we self-servingly project whatever story suits our needs.
Orwell never seems to be talking about us when he warns of the imminent tyranny. He’s always talking about the people we don’t like.
Increasingly, global events are viewed through the same self-serving prism.
Take last weekend for example. The world’s eyes were fixed on Europe on Sunday as news quickly spread that a rare consensus had emerged on Scottish Twitter. For the briefest of moments, people on both sides of the all-encompassing constitutional debate here in Scotland managed to agree that it’s not cool for balaclava-clad police officers to rough-up pensioners for trying to cast a vote.
Sadly, like all moments of reason and sanity in the homeland, the consensus was short-lived. Its cause was the events in the Spanish region of Catalonia, where we all got a little glimpse into what proto-fascism looks like up close; police officers smashing their way into polling stations, aggressively seizing ballot boxes, tossing people aside – if they were lucky – attempting to make a violent and humiliating example of citizens who were, essentially, engaging in a peaceful act of civil disobedience.
But after the brief ceasefire in Scotland, where most morally normal people felt a similar level of shock and upset at this galling display of police brutality, we soon returned to our regularly scheduled programming where everything that happens in the world is no more than a proxy in the ongoing cold war over Scottish independence.
Unpredictably – hope you’re sitting down for this one – most people’s opinion on the situation in Catalonia seemed to self-servingly correspond with their previous position on indyref. Almost as if the situation in Spain, like everything else, provided some kind of grand Shakespearean parable that allowed them to work through their unresolved indyref baggage; effortlessly demonstrating how they, personally, had been right about everything all along.
Sadly, like much like Shakespeare, the partisan hellscape of Scottish politics is rarely that straightforward. A great example of how it has infected our political discourse can be found in Labour activist Duncan Hothersall’s bizarre intervention. Hothersall claimed that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s sensible suggestion that Spanish authorities should “just let people vote” was, really a call to “just break the law”.
One can’t help thinking his half-cooked opinion, which completely ignores the necessary role law-breaking plays in eventual political enfranchisement, was informed by a need to demonstrate consistency on the matter of Scottish independence. His opinion, informed mainly by an instinctive partisan intuition is then justified by a post hoc rationalisation, which attempts to conceal the ulterior political motive. He says one thing, but really means another.
Sound familiar, anybody?
Rather than view the matter of Catalonia on its own merits, clear thinking is impaired by the more pressing need to take an adversarial posture towards anything our political adversaries say – no matter how sensible.
This sort of intellectual dishonesty is rife in Scottish political discourse. Orwell probably warned us about it.
Meanwhile, in Catalonia, thousands waited with bated breath for word on what Joanna Cherry thought of it all. With one eye on Sturgeon’s job, Cherry ‘observed’ the events as they unfolded, posting regular hymn sheets on social media which, conveniently, failed to acknowledge the substantial differences between how referendums are run in Spain and how they are run in the UK. For many nationalists, the struggle in Catalonia is of interest because it’s seen as analogous to the struggle for Scottish independence. This, of course, is the sort of pathological oversimplification that nationalism requires as a form of political propulsion and one which Orwell probably said something about.
It’s not much of a leap for a Scottish nationalist to cast themselves as the good guys in every scenario, tirelessly fighting against the tyranny of an occupying force. Of course, some are less likely to acknowledge that this affront to democracy took place within the European Union the SNP is so keen to remain a part of.
In contrast to the Spanish government’s violent overreaction to the referendum, in the UK we’re fatigued by how many we’ve been granted. If there is an analogy to be drawn, surely it ends at the fact that Scottish independence was not thwarted by a proto-fascist UK government, but by 55 per cent of the Scottish population who said No in a free and fair vote. It physically pains me to say that, but it’s true.
What of the Tories? Well, they were descending gleefully on Mordor for the annual human sacrifice, which this year looks increasingly like Theresa May. No doubt Jacob Rees-Mogg was paying particular attention to events in Spain, so enamoured men of his ilk appear to be at the sight of little people’s hopes and dreams being violently crushed by the boot of the state.
I’m pretty sure Orwell said something about that too.
Darren McGarvey is also known as Loki, a Scottish rapper and social commentator @lokiscottishrap