Nigeria 2 Scotland 0

Georg Lukacs, Hungarian Marxist philosopher, enthused in his “The Historical Novel”, and it was to become the standard work on the subject, that Sir Walter Scott managed despite his inordinately reactionary, pro-aristocratic stance to write progressive literature. Lukacs claimed that Scott developed “typical’ characters in his novels, and these characters dramatized major social conflicts, highlighting the flux of transformation – the moment in ‘time’, in history – rather than depicting stasis. Lukacs championed such novels over what was for him the aberrant experimentation of a Franz Kafka or a James Joyce – formal innovation changed nothing, he opined. If he saw how Sir Walter Scott’s heritage is being used by a campaign for formal innovation called ‘independence’ and described in the words of “a day when we can decide our future” uttered by Alex Salmond.

We can of course do that every day. But we often choose not to. We delegate such actions to politicians. And we have to accept that sometimes our views are represented by a majority and sometimes are not. Be the representatives in Westminster or in Holyrood. (Indeed, in this context there are perhaps grounds for assuming that if there had been a strong Labour government in Westminster, driven by John Smith, may he rest in peace on Iona, the SNP would not be pushing quite so hard to sever its links with Westminster.) Whereas at present, Holyrood is waging a war-by-proxy against the upper class toffs ruling under Big Ben and is prepared to split a local populace in the process. To return to literature, the SNP may wish to de-Cameronize Scotland, but do they wish to do so at the price of a real De-Camerone, telling tales to recreate a lost and glorious past, when men were men and always wore kilts, and the present offers little cause for joy, something that has been the case in Glasgow for far too long already.

EU as the goal

Salmond, and sometimes I think he added the “d” to his name to make himself seem less slippery, is hungry for real power, whereby for power read: the ability to decide how all the cash is spent and the ability to decide how to spent it, all by and for himself. In the process he wants to have his cake and eat it too. He wants independence from Westminster, but he doesn’t want to spend the North Sea oil revenues, for example on repaying the sovereign debt used to bail out RBS, let alone the infrastructure built using it. He wants to rejoin the EU, to continue to rely on all the subsidies the EU grants Scotland, without paying into the EU. He wants to keep the pound but not keep the bank policies that govern it. He wants defence cover from NATO but he doesn’t want ‘their’ tactical nuclear weapons in his lochs. He wants the money from North Sea oil and he wants it to flow forever. He wants Scottish, but he campaigns in English.

In my league table of philanthropic terms, “evolutionist” and “Social Darwinist” both come pretty close to the bottom. Because my gut feeling tells me that human society, if it is to be sustainable, hinges on the stronger helping the weaker, the richer helping the poorer. One of the reasons I have often found Cameronist Tories so distasteful is that they seem to think they live in a world where such a social contract is not necessary, where the rich can gladly get richer, and beggar or bugger the poor. In this respect, Salmond is deeply Cameronist and is a social Darwinist. He wants the money from the oil. But he doesn’t want to share it with those not fortunate enough to have such a source of wealth. Because he says it is ‘his’. Maybe if massive gold deposits had been found just south of Hadrian’s Wall he would now be arguing that the Wall be moved slightly south, as the line had not been drawn correctly.

Separate or stay?

For let us be honest, separatism in Europe today, and New Russia is a prime example, is all about laying claim to the cherries (or the wheat and the mines) and leaving everyone else with the rotting vegetables. Separatism, dressed up as national identity, is a bland excuse for egotism. Vaguely Germanic Northern Italians don’t want ‘their’ tax money spent on ‘lazy’ Southerners, hard-working (or was that hard-partying?) catty Catalans don’t want ‘their’ tax money spent on ‘lazy’ (read: unemployed) Spaniards, decidedly unphlegmatic Flems don’t want ‘their’ tax money spent on ‘lazy’ (read: unemployed) Walloons. And Alex Salmond certainly does not want to spend the oil revenue on the NHS south of the border. Wave the flags, roll out the bunting, decorate the idea in whichever colours apply, blue-and-white, red-and-yellow, red-and-black, the idea remains the same: I want it only for myself.

Oil for all

Alex Salmond has no notion of society as something where you create balances. His is a deeply unsustainable business model that he must have known for a long time would exclude a large part of the people he claims to represent. He evidently does not understand how Euroland works, although he ostensibly wants to join it – there a few carry the can for a many, they complain now and again, but they continue to do the heavy lifting. He does not understand how the EU works, where the richer countries pay to help the poorer ones develop. And he certainly does not understand the rationale of a peaceful country that has evolved from a deeply problematic feudal past such as Germany, where some federal states happily pay for their less wealthy fellow states. In those structures, the equivalent of the oil revenues automatically get shared, as the insight is that this way society and peace prevail, and you don’t divide society into two camps.

Nor does Alex Salmond have a sense of history, although all he does is band about history as a source of identity. Georg Lukacs suggested that history only served as a source of identity if it told you things changed, meaning identities evolve in line with decisions taken, that we could create a better society. Sadly, Salmond does not seem to know this, He certainly does not know what it means for a colonial Lord Lugard to bundle you together with others with whom you have little in common and for that colonial master, a few generations later, to leave you to get on with it. Alex Salmond should have read up on where his forbear Mungo Park first ended up, far up the Benue River, in the shit, and without a paddle, having mistaken the Benue for the Niger, and by extension Nigeria for Mali.

Nigerian federalism

n Nigeria the Northerners, the Hausas and the Fulanis, their feudal kingdoms thrashed in the battlefield by mercenaries’ Enfields, found themselves in a nation in 1960 that they shared with Southerners, who not only did not share their language, they did not share their religion either. And no this was not a Protestant v. Catholic affair, like Rangers v. Celtic, this was a Muslims v. Christians. Ahmadu Bello and Tafewa Balewa, the pre-eminent Northern leaders of the young Nigerian Republic, understood that history had to be put aside if this new country was to succeed. They realized, as commercial oil started to bubble up out of the Southeastern wells on a scale that would turn the North Sea black, that a balance had to be struck. Not much later Nigerians fought a Civil War over the oil/identity/ownership issue. The Republicans won, insisting that the oil be used for everyone’s benefit. In the late-Noughties it was a Northerner called Umaru Yar’Adua as President who insisted the “boys” in the Delta, where the oil still bubbled up so copiously, be given a greater share of the proceeds in order to recognize the fact that there was where the oil was. And he was succeeded by a man from the Delta who has done his best to make certain the oil proceeds are spent throughout the country – albeit ignoring the Northeast.


Nigerian society, for all its factions and fractions, for all the oil violence in the Southeast and for all the zealot thug violence in the Northeast, has nevertheless remained united. Sure, the oil revenue has spawned oligarchs and a fast-growing middle class. Sure, there are millions still living below the poverty line. But the country’s politicians, however they lambast one another in public, however they try to yell one another down in private, have still kept their country together, have still shared. Despite all being brilliant negotiators who know every trick of the trade of persuasion, thrust and counter-thrust. And despite some being Muslim and others being Christians, their arguments don’t get conducted in dualities, in yes/no, right/wrong, you/us. They do their utmost not to divide their nation.

Alex Salmond could easily know all of this. In fact, he has no excuse for not knowing it all. After all, it was in 2005 in the hotel at Gleneagles which Salmond enjoys frequenting that President Obasanjo pushed through the “aid deal” at the G8 that gave countries like Nigeria a new lease of life, not throttled by debts no one could repay. And the G8, chaired by Tony Blair, graciously realized that social stability depended on their agreeing to reschedule or cancel the debt. History is not made by choosing egoism and dressing it up in separatist, nationalist adjectives, but by knowing that generosity, sharing, is the key to the future. The former is an own goal. Moving the score up a notch: Nigeria 2, Scotland 0.