The Posters That Won’t Come Down

This is my first post on the referendum since the result nearly two months ago. As Jonathan Shafi said, the old and the affluent came out in force – not that I blame older voters themselves; they were victims of a campaign which telephoned many of them at home, warning that a Yes vote would decimate their pension (a complete lie, obviously). Combine that with a BBC News “working at propaganda strength” and then it’s no surprise that the No campaign won the crucial ‘grey vote’.

Still, there something to be said for losing in the fashion that the Yes movement did. The closeness of the vote was in part due to the rebirth a radical street politics that could have quickly withered away in the event of a Yes vote (or in the event of a more decisive victory for the No side). Now, there is every reason for those radical forces to put down roots and expand in anticipation of a further referendum or some other route to independence. Except this time, the result really is likely to be Yes and the radicals will be a well-established force in Scottish politics, ready to hit the ground running after independence.

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Some of the Yes posters have come down, but many of them have stayed up (including on my own front door and car). In simple terms, it’s an act which says ‘we’re not going anywhere’, ‘this issue isn’t resolved’, and perhaps it also says ‘another Scotland is still possible’. Of course, none of these things are true unless the people behind the posters are actively involved today in working towards national liberation tomorrow. But what interests me about this phenomenon of the Yes poster which stubbornly refuses to be taken down is the way in which the threshold between private space and public space is politicised. We find the same politicisation of the public/private threshold with the supporters “Twibbons” and so forth added to profile pictures on social media. What’s noticeable is that the No Thanks posters and Twibbons have come down (in reality, most of the No Thanks window posters were only put up for a few days prior to the vote). It’s hard to buy into the theory that this is because victorious No supporters no longer feel any need to actively protect the Union. They must be aware of the level of dysfunction that is about to swamp electoral politics in Scotland. The containment strategy pursued by Better Together leaders of stating that the independence question has been “put to bed for a generation” is TV-studio spin that even the most gullible of No supporters couldn’t possibly be suckered into believing if they could be persuaded to indulge themselves in a moment of honesty.

But the No posters have almost universally come down. Why? Perhaps the answer is to be found in the Hobbesian assumptions which were so much a part of the case for the Union. As theorists of hegemony such as Ernesto Laclau emphasise, the Hobbesian lie is that the process of creating the state of law and transcending the state of nature is, firstly, complete and, secondly, neutral with respect to political differences and struggles (thus permitting all the different political visions to compete and struggle with each other within the established state of law without prejudice). This was the argument which said it didn’t matter that the Yes movement was a broad church of progressives proposing that independence was an opportunity for the country turn its back on forms of neoliberal governance that Scotland never votes for: the UK system, Better Together claimed, is totally neutral with respect to political differences.

Theorists of hegemony such as Laclau focus on the Hobbesian vision as an ideology, but in Deleuze and Guattari’s work, the process of establishing a state of law and order is not – as they say (referring to the logic of Oedipus as an attempt by the state of law to contain uncoded flows) “only an ideological process, but the result of a destruction of the environment, the habitat, etc.” They cite an example from the work of the ethnologist, Robert Jaulin, and his study of the Bari people of Colombia/Venezuela:

Jaulin analyzes the situation of those Indians whom the Capucines “persuaded” to abandon the collective house in favor of “small personal houses”. In the collective house the familial apartment and personal intimacy were based on a relationship with the neighbor defined as an ally, so that interfamilial relations were coextensive with the social field. In the new situation, on the contrary, “there occurred an excessive ferment of the elements of the couple affecting the couple itself” and the children, so that the restrictive family closes into an expressive microcosm where each person reflects his own lineage, while the social and productive destiny escapes him more and more. For Oedipus is not only an ideological process, but the result of a destruction of the environment, the habitat, etc. – Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, Continuum 2004 Edition, p. 185

In such circumstances – where there is a conflict between a side which needs to rely on Hobbesian lies and another side which needs to expose those lies – it becomes critical to maintain a politicisation of the threshold between private space and public space. This is why almost all the No posters have come down and a large proportion of the Yes posters have stayed up. The neighbour may yet, against the grain of the Oedipal paranoia of suburbanisation, be redefined as an ally.

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