I recall from younger days when I had time to read that Leopold Bloom in Joyce’s Ulysses revelled in the sound of words. One of his favourites was the word foetus which he just loved the way it sounded. The harmonic of it is very suggestive. And so it is with the word ‘no’. It is a powerful and beautiful word and one that has had a bad rap over recent years. Listening to ABC Radio National this morning I heard Fran Kelly interviewing a social media expert from the United Kingdom about the referendum in Scotland. He commented that social media has a bias to yes and positivity and can be quite unforgiving of any no bias which runs counter to the current cult of ‘affirmation at all costs’.
Those of us who have raised children in the post Dr Spock (think Paediatrician not Vulcan) generation have very much used affirmation as our under-pinning principle. Heaping praise on a developing mind has been seen as a good thing. This approach to child-rearing has not unsurprisingly made its way into managing people. In fact I’ve often heard it described as the ‘compliments sandwich’, especially in relation to performance appraisal. As tantalising as this approach sounds on the surface, we know from research that the recipient of a few compliment sandwiches in their time will filter out the ‘compliment’ bread and just concentrate on the ‘areas for improvement’ filling. Those new to the approach will be so enamoured of the regard in which they are held, will likely filter out the filling while still wallowing in the ‘compliment’ bread. This calls to mind my daughter who at around the age of one burst out crying when I told her ‘NO’ to stop her putting a fork into an electrical socket. The emotional response to this seemed way out of proportion to the stimulus, until I reflected that it was the first time I had ever said ‘no’ to her. It seems that I too had succumbed to the cult of affirmation.
So when considering the Scottish referendum (and especially through the prism of social media) the ‘NO’ camp have had a hard job to do. Perhaps a better message than the NO would have been vote YES – to stay in the Union. Obviously those worried in the NO camp by poor levels of literacy and comprehension in their population have shied away from a message that required the voter to choose between ‘yes’ and ‘yes’. Misunderstanding at the ballot box in any numbers would hand the victory (and the spoils) to the YES for independence camp. So the retention of the Union (NO) camp has had to bear the mantle of the naysayer, the negative, the Luddite.
In the latter stages of the debate approaching the referendum the intelligentsia and the artistic elite have come out pretty much in favour of independence. It is must easier to rally around nationalistic images of Scotland’s greatest leader (Mel Gibson) than it is to swallow another prosaic diatribe from Gordon Brown, or the appropriately named old Tory Alistair Darling. The intellectual elite are always going to have a bias to independence; especially in the arts community, which by default requires an independence of thought and a confidence in one’s own ability…pretty much the platform of the YES campaign. Yet at the end of the campaign and at some distance I am none the wiser as to whether a YES vote will take Scotland down the path to financial wrack and ruin or be the stimulus for an unparalleled period of economic, social and artistic ferment. Part of the reason for this I think is because we have been fixated with the stereotyping of what it means to fall into one camp or the other. Social media, by all accounts, has failed to provide much depth to the debate. In fact some pundits have said that the quality of the debate would have been much better had it occurred in the 1940s before the advent of television. No-one can tell my wife now (who holds a British passport because of her Scottish father) whether she gets a Scottish passport on the delivery of a YES vote. As a proud Scot, retention of a British passport (whatever that means after Thursday) without the essential representation of Caledonia will cause her much angst. Without answers to fundamental questions is it wrong then to vote for the negative? Will Scotland be forever remembered as a nation who were so dour that they couldn’t even vote to free themselves from the shackles of the English?
If you recalibrate your feelings towards NO then maybe a vote to stay in the Union can be a positive thing. ‘No’ isn’t always bad. As a word it can have a simple beauty. We said NO to Hitler. We are saying NO to Islamic State (IS), although perhaps ironically not Scotland after Thursday. Luddites have historically been considered a very negative group and the word has heavy pejorative overtones. Those in the NO camp have had this description levelled at them on many occasions. A closer examination of the Luddite movement actually reveals that they were a socially progressive people concerned with the disconnection between man and the fruits of his labour, a primary concern of Marx. In fact the Luddites and the Scottish people have a lot in common.
A socially progressive people, Scots are also very proud (although are they really prouder than the English, the Welsh or the Irish?) and like to do things their way. Their senses of community is strong and the push for socially ambitious ideas in relation to the world of work and education are features of the Scottish people. At a geo-political level doing things on their own without interference from Westminster is what underpins the YES campaign. At a macro level, in terms of management (after all this is what my blogs are about), this could mean working without oppressive oversight or supervision, like for example, working from home. Wasn’t that what the Luddites were fighting for all those years ago?
Be happy being a Luddite. Embrace the beauty of NO. Keep Scotland as part of the Union. After all its the progressive thing to do!