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Let’s take the High Road!

The one place in Britain where politics is really on the edge, where identity and leadership is being reviewed in a creative way, is just across the border.

Here is a land where there exist more than five million ‘semi-foreigners,’ 89% of whom were described in the 2011 census as Scottish. They now have a fine new Assembly building and a majority nationalist party. Where once it was a gesture of wishful disdain, Scotland is taking the idea of independence from the UK very seriously, and thinking of setting itself up as a kind of Scandinavian nation – Scotland’s populations and weather are rather similar to some parts of Scandinavia.

As is the case with Europe, our chief Wounded Leader, David Cameron, just does not get it.

How could he? As an ex-boarder, Cameron has not had enough of belonging at home and so fails to understand what is going on, what such deep movements in community feeling might mean. Most of his Westminster colleagues are equally bemused. Some think that bullying the Scots is the best response: a recent article in The Telegraph took the low road, reminding us of how much covert bullying  is just beneath the surface and normalised in Britain, (see Wounded Leaders Chapter 3).

Common as such gross entitlement attitudes unfortunately are, they are out of step with the majority in Britain, who might welcome Westminster been given the severe kick up the pants that Scottish Independence would deliver, just to feel that someone is listening to the rest of us!

Once you have developed the psychological eyes to see such bullying as it is, it becomes apparent that the very same people who appear to fear and loathe foreigners are also fervently committed to the so-called ‘traditions’ of the Union. Here’s Lord Paddy Ashdown wrestling with this problem:

“The Eurosceptics are now in control of the referendum agenda. And Mr Cameron has given them a much more powerful argument: if being in results in such isolation, then why not be out? Alex Salmond, too, has been given an un-covenanted gift. If England is to be out of Europe, why should Scotland not be in?”

Ashdown is pointing to the limits of British elite leadership: drowning in the Entitlement Illusion, they can only come up with fear-driven reactions to change, rather than hold a broad picture that encompasses history and the future. It has to do with the kind of wounded leadership that the British have come to take for granted and that is currently being challenged in Scotland. And what is going on in Scotland has much deeper reverberations for all us British, I argue.

Many psychotherapists suggest that the psyche’s leadership can come from one of two posited organisational centres, depending on its self-awareness and maturity: the Ego or the Self. Of course there is much debate as to the nature of these structural concepts, since neither yield to Cartesian measurement, and there are as many psychological schools as there are religious sects. In general, the Ego is more like the state: it is understood as having responsibility for the survival and defence of the realm (or organism), and sometimes as the one who primarily wants things to be seen to be done. In ultra-protective mode, it is the creator of the False Self (which includes the ex-boarders’ Strategic Survival Personality), as my first book shows.

The Self, by contrast, concerns itself with values beyond statehood, as it were. Recognising that survival has been achieved, is a more mature locus of intra-psychic governance that assesses choice, direction and values by which to live, often for the good of more than just the individual organism. Pushing the metaphor towards its limits, one might say that the self is concerned with what in current political terms would be called its ‘legacy.’ The shift from the earlier organising centre to the riper one is what Carl Jung meant by his idea of individuation.

Another word for a sense of deeper leadership is ‘Soul’ and soul, as the radical eco-philosopher Alastair McIntosh, author of the splendid Soul and Soil, reminds us, has to do with soil or place or belonging. Scotland is radically different from England in this respect, because there remains something noteworthy about the indigenous nature of Scotland. An indigenous culture rests on an emotional and cultural reality of a people belonging in their soil, in their identification with place. Despite having been overrun and annexed by their southern neighbours, Scotland retains a huge, live and authentic well of belonging. It is visible in the clan system, in the cultural transition of music and poetry, in dress, in local legend and in landscape, all of which have a unifying function.

McIntosh, political activist and academic, founder of the Centre for Human Ecology at the University of Strathclyde, calls this “ensoulment of people and place.” He writes eloquently about the psychic confusion on the excellent Independence blog bellacaledonia. And in Human Ecology: Intercultural and Indigenous Approaches, an introduction to an extraordinary compilation of interdisciplinary ideas that make up what he calls ‘radical [i.e. to do with radices= roots] human ecology.’

McIntosh explains: “The ideas are consistent with what I think of as ‘the Scottish School of Human Ecology’ as part of an implicit worldwide Indigenous School – one that takes its bearings from the perennial ensoulment of people and place. They arise from a grounding that is cultural in the lives of the people in my land who have either been born with, or have come through adoption to acquire, footholds in its bio-regionally bounded communities of place. Some of these people are figures of international repute; others are little known firth of [beyond] their native soil. What melds them into the semi-homogenous compost of a worldview that I would see as Human Ecology of the Scottish School is the essential relationship between people and their place, their ecology: the experience of being and/or becoming what the Isle of Lewis poet Iain Crichton Smith described as ‘real people in a real place.’ ”

This grounded reality principle is very much in evidence in the Scottish question. If it were really honoured, it could lead toward a politics that takes its cue from the community and the land and results in a pragmatic set of desires and aspirations differentiated from the English entitlement mentality.

Wouldn’t it be great if the bullying were to backfire and the northern folk said YES! So let’s take the High Road!


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