In one sense, the way in which Nicola Sturgeon is repeatedly asked about another independence referendum is not so different from the way in which politicians of all stripes are repeatedly asked the same question over and over again (“will you do a deal with the SNP, Mr Miliband?”, “is your party racist, Mr Farage?”, “why did you break your pledge on tuition fees, Mr Clegg?”, “are you going to cut child benefit, Mr Cameron?”). But, in another sense, this insistence on the question of a second referendum is starting to become a kind of discursive waterboarding: whereas those other questions are asked of the unionist leaders as a way of making them squirm a little, I can’t help escape the feeling that Sturgeon is repeatedly asked the #indyref2 question in order to drown and suffocate her.
Whereas the unionist leaders are asked repetitive questions about individual policies or about the character of the party they represent, Sturgeon is being forced to answer for the Yes movement even whilst it is impossible for her to do so. Prior to last year’s referendum, the SNP were essentially the caretakers of the independence question and, in that sense, it was reasonable for them to make statements such as saying things like the referendum would be the “opportunity of a lifetime” (even if this doesn’t actually imply that a voter should expect only one referendum in their lifetime); but in the post-indyref world, the SNP are no longer the exclusive caretakers of the question. Forces have been unleashed which extend far beyond the SNP. Instead of a caretaker role, the SNP is much more like Freud’s carefully controlled “ego” which entertains an ambivalent relationship with the pressure it feels from the more unruly set of drives that Freud called “the Id” (i.e. the wider Yes movement). Bombarded with questions about another independence referendum, Sturgeon, as the SNP’s internal “ego”, is suffocated between these questions and the impossibility of answering on behalf of a movement which extends far beyond her party.
Of course, the policies offered by most political parties take a form which is remarkably similar to the commodity. Sections of the electorate (the elderly, home-owners, first-time buyers et cetera) are targeted in much the same way that companies target particular demographic groups with advertising and branding. Independence is not at all like this. We desire independence in the same way that we desire fresh air, clean water and beautiful sunsets. Unlike so many other political desires, it is impossible to give it a commodified form. And this resistance to the commodity form is, I believe, one reason why independence has thrown up such a progressive character i.e. a willingness to explore heterodox political ideas and put into question the dominant economic and political discourse which places the commodity and “the market” at the heart of everything i.e. neo-liberalism.
If we can marginalise Labour and the other unionist parties at the 2016 Holyrood elections, we may be lucky enough to end up with a so-called “rainbow” parliament of pro-independence parties willing to engage in honest debate with each other, finally burying the tribalism that is being brought to head with Scottish Labour’s looming “extinction event” this Thursday. If it happens, that will be yet another breath of fresh air in our new and exciting political discourse, on the long journey to independence. May the hellish waterboarding finally end…