We sometimes lament the ‘dumbing down’ of modern UK and Scottish society. This is widely perceived as a critique of those who think EastEnders is high culture, McDonald’s cordon bleu cookery, and that The Daily Star is a newspaper. In other words it’s a form of intellectual snobbery. I think our society is dumbing down in many ways, but something happened this week that brought me to the shocking realisation that in Scotland, what we are faced with is not primarily the dumbing down of ordinary people, but the dumbing down of Scottish intellectualism.
Patronising the Poor
Of course the upper echelons of the Middle Class don’t see themselves like this. They are too busy lamenting the stupidity of the poor and passing laws to protect the poor from themselves. Apparently lots of poor people don’t really know how to feed or bring up their children, until they are ‘educated’ by their superiors. Indicative of this is the SNP’s ‘radical reboot’ which includes the great idea to ban smoking in prisons! The real issue in prisons is drugs not cigs. And perhaps most importantly of all there is a general understanding that the plebes were too dumb to understand what was going on in the Brexit vote and really should never have been given the vote. When Richard Dawkins complained that the EU issue was too complex for people like him and should have been left to the experts – that is of course not what he meant. He thought that he was quite capable of understanding the issues – it’s just the proles who are too thick to work out what is true and not and who are apparently entirely reliant on The Daily Mail and The Sun to instruct them how to vote.
Brexit Determines Your Intelligence
They are not usually as explicit as this but the attitude is clearly there. In the leafy suburbs of Kensington, Oxford, Edinburgh, Cambridge and St Andrews where everyone is ‘educated’ they just know that anyone with any integrity and intelligence is going to be pro-EU. If you want to create shock at a suburban dinner party don’t come out as gay, come out as pro-Brexit! Try being a pro-Brexit comedian on the Edinburgh fringe and see what happens to you! The trouble is that this is a genuinely ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ moment in our culture. The educated (people who read Prospect, the Economist and the Guardian) are those who support the EU…therefore if you don’t support the EU you are not educated. You have either become one of the great unwashed, or you are a complete hypocrite and/or some weird kind of UKIP nationalist. It reminds me so much of the occasional person I meet who can hardly string two words together, proudly proclaiming themselves to be atheists just because they think it is intelligent.
The Enlightened Scots?
Which brings me on to the state of the Scottish intelligentsia. This is the land of David Hume and the Scottish Enlightenment. The land which produced missionaries like David Livingstone, politicians of the calibre of John Smith and medical innovators like Sir James Young Simpson. We are the land which createed writers like Burns, Stevenson, Scott, Conon-Doyle and George MacDonald. We are the land of the radical Christianity of Knox, Chalmers and Mary Slessor. This is the land where a railway workers son like James Mackay can rise to become the highest legal official in the land. This is a land that even today produces composers like James MacMillan. Scotland has thrived because of its intellectuals. So how have we descended to the state where several of our leading intellectuals manage to produce a letter of such vacuity and banality, that if a student in college had produced it, they should have been failed?!
Thick as Mince
Two days ago the Herald published as its front page article a report on a letter within from ’60 leading intellectuals’. This was apparently big news. Game changing news. Earth shattering news. As the Herald itself put it “Senior figures from the worlds of politics, business, academia and the arts have signed a landmark letter to The Herald breaking a fragile consensus accepting the referendum”. (incidentally the Herald does the middle class type of fake news quite well – ‘the fragile consensus accepting the referendum’ was not broken. It never existed). They were apparently a ” Who’s Who of Scotland’s intellectual elite”. In case you didn’t get the message the same story carried an item about David Davies being called ““thick as mince, lazy as a toad and vain as Narcissus”. So on the one hand we have the intelligent wise, all-seeing, all-knowing Scottish intellectuals, on the other we have the ‘thick as mince’ UK Brexit minister. You have to admire the chutzpah if not the subtlety of it. I mean whose side would you want to be on- the leading intellectuals or the ‘thick as mince’ brigade? There’s nothing like objective reporting – and this was nothing like objective reporting.
World War 3 is Coming!
And just in case you missed the point there was an opinion piece published that same day (does the Herald now make any distinction between opinion and factual news?) by Kenny Macaskill suggesting that the triggering of Article 50 could be compared with the shooting of Archduke Ferdinand – an event which started the First World War and left tens of millions dead! I did a double take on that one, thinking it must be satire…but no, he even went on to call for a Saviour to save us from ourselves. Our intellectuals really believe that the sky is falling and war is not far away. If at least if not war, famine (as we had been warned about in an earlier report on food security). Within a couple of months I expect to hear of a plague of locusts or at least midges about to descend on Scotland thanks to Brexit.
The Herald went on to say “The letter represents a significant challenge to both Labour and the Conservatives at Westminster.” It doesn’t. But that’s not the point. The people who wrote it and the Herald believe it does and therefore it must. This is what Scotlands metro-elites regard as intelligent debate nowadays – they talk to each other, tell themselves how important their conversation must be and so they continue in their wee circular world. There was no analysis of the letter but let us have a look at what the best of Scotland’s intelligentsia can give to us.
Here is a key part of this letter –
“We see our society, economy and politics becoming ever more undermined due to the impact of Brexit. We recognise a narrow majority voted to leave the European Union, but the disastrous consequences are now becoming ever clearer – every day.
“Even before the UK has left the EU, we face falling living standards, rising inflation, slowing growth and lower productivity. In a democracy, it is always possible to think again and choose a different direction.
“We need to think again about Brexit, to have a UK-wide debate about calling a halt to the process and changing our minds.”
There is a basic problem with this letter, which, if the Herald actually believed in serious journalism and wasn’t committed to the Pravda concept of truth, they would have pointed out. All of the signatories in this letter have been fanatically pro-EU before, during and after the referendum. They have never accepted the result of it. Indeed they are furious because even in Scotland where all of ‘Civic Scotland’ urged everyone to vote to remain in – only 1.6 million out of an electorate of 4 million bothered to vote yes (1 million no). Several of the signatories (if not the vast majority of them) owe their wealth and income directly or indirectly to the EU. The idea that ‘MEP supports EU’ is news, makes as much sense as “Ivanka Trump says that Trump towers is a great business”!
Listen to the Experts
What was the reason in stressing the ‘intellectual’ qualifications of the signatories? They are the experts. They must know what they are talking about. Thats what enables them and the Herald to talk down to others and dismiss out of hand anyone who does not share their expertise. Unfortunately for them they day they published their letter warning about a tanking UK economy and rampant inflation, figures came out showing inflation was falling and employment was doing very well – neither normally regarded as signs of a failing economy. Undetered by anything so inconvenient as facts they assure us “don’t worry the sky may not be falling just now, and there wasn’t an immediate crash and emergency budget after the vote…..but it will one day!” These people are the worst kind of cultural Calvinists – they don’t believe in God or redemption, but they sure can dish out the prophets of doom stuff. We are all predestined to crash. Believe me Calvinism without Christ ain’t much fun!
We’re All Doomed!
Of course what they are seeking to do is engender the panic which would cause people to turn against Brexit and change their minds. It’s a tactic that might work but it’s hardly an intellectual argument. And its hardly one that helps the country. Why don’t they forget their own petty self- interests (however grandiously they dress them up), accept the result of a democratic referendum (can you imagine the fuss these very same intellectuals would be making if after the Scottish Referendum was won by the Yes side, there was a demand for a re-run because the people were too stupid to know what they are were doing, they had been lied too and now we ‘know’ the economic consequences will be disastrous?!).
And they lie. They don’t want a UK wide debate. For them there is nothing to debate. EU=good. Brexit = bad. End of. They just simply want Brexit to be stopped. In true EU Commission style they want us to keep voting until we get the ‘right’ result and then they will make sure we never get the chance to vote again.
Follow the Money!
Ah – but the universities are overwhelmingly pro-EU and they are the intelligent ones. Really? Might there not be another motive? The EU is very good at providing largesse to UK universities providing those Universities know where there bread is buttered. Why do you think Edinburgh University for example spoke out against Brexit, even telling students how to vote, but remained ‘neutral’ on the Scottish Independence Referendum? Money in both cases. Now in one sense I have no problem with that motivation – but I do have a major problem with them pretending that it is all about knowledge, ideology and intellect. Commercialism and self-interest is a far bigger aspect in todays Uni market.
I don’t doubt that there are honest academics who think that leaving the EU is a bad idea for other than financial reasons. I don’t doubt that there is a debate to be had and that my opinions on this could be entirely wrong. But if this letter and the accompanying propaganda in The Herald is the best that Scottish intellectuals can produce, then there is no hope of any kind of intelligent debate taking place.
The Closed Bubble of Civic Scotland
There is a small largely closed bubble which forms civic Scotland – it’s not much more than a few thousand people. They are not a secret society and they don’t conspire together. But they just all know each other, went to the same Unis, belong on the same quangos, meet in the same studios. They don’t allow debate they can’t control. They don’t really like votes, preferring ‘consultations’. And they have no concept of real plurality or any desire to allow differences of views. We may not live in a one party state – but if you have a one philosophy Establishment the only difference is one of degree. ‘
Despair and Hope
Scotland’s intellectuals may be dumbing down, but the rest of us can rise up!
I despair for my country if this is the state of our intellectuals; I despair if this is the state of our journalism (the BBC that same day carried this as a lead item and like the Herald carried it as news without any critical analysis); I despair for the state of the Church and I despair for the state of our politics. And yet I don’t despair totally. Why? Because there are many intellectuals and leading figures who do take a more nuanced, balanced and serious view of life (and I don’t mean by that that they are pro-Brexit – I just want people to think for themselves and not go along with the group-think). Because the future of Scotland does not depend on its intellectuals but all its people. Scotland’s intellectuals may be dumbing down, but the rest of us can rise up! As a farmworkers son who was able to go to University because of the Knoxian vision of education, I think that we can still have many ‘lads (and lasses) o’parts’. Please stop the social engineering and let people flourish in their own space. And of course ultimately I believe that God is not finished with us yet as a nation.
Here is my letter to the Herald which as yet has not been published.
The sky must be falling! After all 60 independent experts, Scottish academics and politicians no less, have told us so. In a letter to The Herald (18th July) they tell us “even before the UK has left the EU, we face falling living standards, rising inflation, slowing growth and lower productivity.” This is apparently so important that it deserved to the main page. But when you look at the list of signatories, MEPS, pro-EU politicians, senior academic administrators, journalists, who all campaigned for Remain; it is as newsworthy as headlines blaring “Unionist think tank warns government about costs of Scottish Independence”!
The idea that this puts ‘pressure on the government’ is fanciful – what might put pressure is if anyone actually believed the headline – but in an era of fake news and staged propaganda headlines to on-side newspapers it is doubtful it will make any difference. Ironic that on the day these experts write warning us about an economy that is already tanking with inflation rising – the UK inflation figures came out showing a significant fall as with the employment figures.
One wonders what people will listen – the political opinions of the ‘experts’, or the facts? But this has never been about facts. It is about political ideologies and the replacement of religion with the worship of the EU. How else can one explain the hyperbole in today’s paper of Kenny Macaskill comparing triggering Article 50 to starting World War One? Or previous warnings of ‘reports’ of food shortage? Famine? What next? Brexit causing a plague of locusts?! The letter calls for a mature debate. If this is what they mean then we are all in trouble.
But of course they don’t want a debate. They just want to stop Brexit. Why? It may be that they are just good citizens who help to help the poor and their societies? Or it may be because almost all of them or the organisations they represent, are directly or indirectly funded from the EU? Could we please have a mature and honest debate that doesn’t treat the rest of us ordinary voters like idiots,