2007 - 2021

Saussure versus Hemphill

There are two ways to look at the current political context: the first allows discussion of the situation using the language of sociology and textual analysis derived from Saussure and Foucault and their study of media ; the second lets me explore the issues using the political theories of Hemphill and Kiernan. In the language of sociology, we can discuss the division of the situation at hand into binary oppositions: good/bad, black/white, right/left, right/wrong, nat/yoon, Corbyn/Blair, yes/no, in/out, male/female, straight/gay. In the Hemphill/Kiernan analysis, these binary oppositions can be defined in simpler terms: good guy or wank.

Obviously, if you are on the left, Tony Blair is bad, wrong, evil or a wank if we adhere to Hemphill and Kiernan’s methodology. In these binary times, what is right is easily identified by simply referring to our prejudices or our simple Scottish Socialist/Broad Left checklist – we no longer need to think, as the jerk of a knee will shed light on the most complex situation. As a matter of fact, there are no longer any complex situations: Brexit necessitates independence; Blair is a war criminal/Corbyn is a good guy; Corbyn’s supporters are the heart of the Labour movement/ Blairites are scum; Progressives are salt of the earth, conservatives are evil; The MSM is bad/ new media good.

I am a white, middle-aged, middle class (?) man. I am the personification of the patriarchal hegemony which has got this country (the UK or its constituent parts) into the desperate straits we find ourselves in. I voted yes in 2014 and I voted to remain. I am a democrat to my bones who has voted in every election I was eligible to vote in – council, Holyrood , general election and referenda. I cast my first vote in Kinnock’s Waterloo in 1987. I voted Labour in every election with the exception of voting for the SSP in the Scottish Parliament up until the destruction wrought by the permanent-tanned prophet – and voting SSP in the famous victory for John Mason in Glasgow East in 2008. I like to think my vote made a difference in Margaret Curran’s defeat.

I’ve always considered myself to be on the left. My yes vote was a vote based upon progressive principles. I parted company with the Labour Party during the Glasgow East campaign in 2008 in which arch-Blairite James Purnell (wank!) suggested the unemployed work for their benefits. At the time, I lived in Easterhouse and I knew Labour were going to get a hiding. So certain was I, that I waited outside the count in order to let the Labour apparatchiks know the incandescence of my fury at a party that had managed to so completely lose sight of their duty to the working class that were their core vote and the heart and soul of the Party.

Why do I write now? I write now because I despair at the simplistic binary political culture extant in Scotland , a culture where otherwise sensible people make fundamental political judgements based on simple knee-jerk, predetermined, pre-programmed responses to historical political stimuli. One of my dearest friends was so furious I did not consider Tony Blair to be an evil war criminal, that he could not continue a discussion with me. I believe Iraq was a disaster, a foreign policy fiasco in which Blair is, along with Bush, absolutely culpable, for decisions that caused the deaths of countless innocents and continue to claim countless other lives. The fact that I consider Jeremy Corbyn to be a genuinely awful leader and unelectable to boot, however, means that I am considered by many on the left to be a scumbag Blairite lickspittle. Any Labour MP who voted in favour of the Iraq war is forever tainted by their vote. Similarly, any Labour MP who abstained in any votes on austerity or benefits is now – and ever shall be – a Red Tory traitor.

I demonstrated against the invasion of Iraq. Indeed, in order to bump up my credibility in the eyes of those who will criticise this post, I was kettled in 2003. I consider the conduct of the Better Together campaign in 2014 to have been an affront to democracy. My feelings are the same with regard to the Leave campaign. Tony Blair is a a venal, compromised and supremely disappointing Labour leader whose legacy will forever be tainted by Iraq, but he is not Pinochet or Saddam Hussein. Nicola Sturgeon is a formidably talented politician at the height of her powers, but her policies with regard to education are disastrous.

I am suspicious of nationalism, but in a choice between an independent Scotland or a Tory UK majority with no EU to rein in their worst excesses, I reluctantly vote for independence. There have been times since the Indyref when I have been relieved we did not vote yes. Those are the times when I witness the absolute, unblinking certainty of the true believers in independence; the alacrity with which those who beg to differ are monstered; the labelling of yoons, the knee jerk dismissal of decent socialists or feminists based on their views on Trident or Iraq or Tony Blair or independence, the unthinking support for the madder decisions of the SNP ( OBFA anyone?)

We live in complicated, uncertain and frightening times. We need the space to question, we need the space to recognise that we don’t live in a black and white world where the good guys or wanks ( of all genders, ethnicities, nationalities and beliefs) are always easily and instantly identifiable. We are in a process of recovering from a traumatic referendum in which we were faced with a simple binary question: in or out? The future of this country is too important to be reduced to the simple binary oppositions that tend to divide, dismiss or diminish us.

I voted Labour and RISE at the Holyrood elections. Mad, eh? Maybe, but that was my choice. I think independence is inevitable in the wake of the Brexit. With this in mind, we need to transcend the simplistic binary oppositions generated by the Indyref, Iraq, Trident and all those other issues that get our knees jerking. We need passion, yes, but we also need cool heads, compassion, empathy and a recognition that this Scotland of ours contains multitudes and within each individual there are countless passions, prejudices, hopes and fears that make us the supremely complex, multi-faceted people we are.

Comments (10)

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  1. nick says:

    slavery bad, slave-owners good (if charasmatic/blokish)


    iraq war bad, leader who led us to such a disaster good (becos at least he led)

    1. nick says:

      binary oppositions make (social/lived) sense if and only if they issue from an understanding of (bourgeoise) idealist thought – namely that Kant made reason safe for science by seperating fact from value – or ‘is’ from ‘ought’ – i.e. the seperation of economics from politics and other such antinomies…ultimately based in the seperation of subject and object and reflected in the structure of the commodity – use value vs exchange value (the concrete vs the abstract)…

  2. Mach1 says:

    So there is no struggle then. Let’s just all vote Labour and Rise and everything will be rosy. The most simplistic thing about this analysis is how it hauls in Labour’s anti-SNP propaganda and portrays it as fact.
    The constitutional issue is a fundamental one about building a forum in which real debate can take place, it is therefore a clear choice between independence or dependence, and all its evils.

    Similarly Blair – who might as well change his name by deedpoll to Bliar – had a clear choice, to support the warmongering George Bush, or to put the brakes on him. He choose the former and ignored all opposition. The choice was binary, fight for peace or wage war. He waged war, and hundreds of thousands died.
    The internal ructions now affecting the Tories and Labour reflect internal dissension about the EU. That the choice for the Tories comes down to a pro-Brexit leader or a pro-Remain leader again reveals that most of politics is about simple binary choices. Similarly for Labour.

    Those confused souls who want to make a stand in no man’s land will be shot by both sides. The author of this Still Game v Structuralist sociology drivel is likely to find himself twisting in the wind, not realising that the tide has turned, and the only way ahead for social democracy in Scotland, is full statehood in Europe.

  3. Elizabeth Thomson says:

    Many back any decisions taken by the SNP because they think (and, in my opinion, are correct) that it is the only party which puts their constituency of Scotland first and foremost with regard to policy; the fact that some policies seem mad (in your opinion and others, no doubt) is a price worth paying for that piece of comfort. OBFA seems trivial in comparison to everything else that is happening and, in any case, can be reviewed, amended or otherwise and doesn’t seem important to the public generally.

    We have all seen the performance of the other parties masquerading as Scottish. The democratic deficit is ignored. Everyone knows that they are run by UK parties whose first allegiance is to England, specifically southern England. All other parts of the UK have to stand in the queue for attention and will only be suffered if it suits that wee corner of protected wealth and entitlement. To protect their interests, they have continued the dismantling of Scotland in an attempt to convince that Scotland is only viable if bound to them.

    “Simple knee-jerk” reactions are prevalent because of a sense of disenfranchisement. It is unacceptable that a country as a partner nation in this union (the UK) can vote so comprehensively one way and that vote is ignored by the other partner. It is nothing new, of course, as voting in Scotland is for the most part totally irrelevant when it comes to which party forms the government in Westminster. To gain democracy for Scotland, independence seems the only solution. That achieved, there will follow in time parties who which will do as the SNP now, focus their energies on Scotland and, hopefully, that will provide more representative government.

  4. Craig Miller says:

    True believers , cult ….blah unthinking shallow blah

  5. Justin Kenrick says:

    Yes the world is complex but, seeing beyond the complexities of parties and personalities

    . . . there is a very simple logic driving the destruction which is profit for the few, and

    . . . there is a very simple logic driving the choices people are making to resist their destruction:

    Each time choose the fork in the path that helps us regain our ability to choose for ourselves.

  6. Frank says:

    This is the worst article I have ever read on Bella. Utterly pointless. Time to raise the intellectual game Bella?

    1. Jim says:

      I don’t think you are ” raising the game” with your banal comments.

      1. Frank says:

        What annoys me Jim is when philosophers and intellectuals such as Foucault, who is the most cited intellectual in academia – are name dropped in essays but without any attempt made to engage or explain their ideas. It comes across as both arrogant and lazy and to paraphrase Orwell provides intellectual solidity to what is otherwise pure wind. Sorry about the rant but it’s a pet hate of mine.

  7. Patrick Gerard says:

    Can I just say, in my defence, that I was joking when I compared Saussure and Foucault to Hemphill and Kiernan. Obviously, the attempt at humour fell short, maybe I should have used more exclamation marks or a couple of emojis, but I stand by the serious point I was making. The economic case for independence was not made in 2014 – however, the economic case for Brexit was not made two weeks ago, either. The difference is the MSM in the UK were for Brexit and the result is, as has so often been said recently – we are where we are.
    The future of Scotland is uncertain within the UK. No one would bet against independence becoming a reality in the next few years. Even Alex Massie has conceded not just the possibility, but the inherent logic in Scotland going its own way. But, the absolute unrepentant certainty of those who voted to leave the UK, even in the face of the self-inflicted economic trauma which has resulted, is frightening. The role that immigration played in the campaign promoting leave is terrifying. I fear the passions that nationalism fans.
    The simple point I was making, in my ham-fisted way, is that the times are too complex to categorise in such a black and white or binary fashion. Alex Massie’s politics are diametrically opposed to mine, but, with regard to the OBFA and freedom of speech, I agree with him. I think the easy ride Ruth Davidson has had from the mainstream media is appalling, but her performance in the EU referendum , while unsuccessful, was sincere and honourable. With the stakes so high, we need to recognise that the binary thinking of both the Indyref and the EU referendum does not do justice to the complexity of the choices we are going to have to make in the future. The bear pit that is social media adds much heat, but sometimes little in the way of light.
    Finally, there is little logic in voting Labour and Rise, as I did. I simply wanted to illustrate that I am as emotional, illogical and contrary as my fellow Scots, but with the reality of independence happening in the next five years or so, I just wanted to make the point that JK Rowling is not my enemy, simply because she voted no, nor is Wings over Scotland my friend because he is yes. My point may well be trite, banal even, but it is sincere: we need to recognise that the situation we are heading into is complex and the tribalist simplicities of binary thinking do little to prepare us for the economic, political and cultural challenges that lie ahead.

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