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Don’t Blame the Folking Bankers

zulu-paramount-film_791122cPrior to his descent to Edinburgh’s Charlotte Square, the Governor of the Bank of England (the UK central bank) Mark Carney had sat awaiting the world’s politicians as they climbed the mountains of Davos to consult their gurus. There Peter Sutherand, a Goldmann Sachs non-executive chairman gave this grim warning ahead of the European elections:

 “It is already evident that in the European elections there has been a significant rise for parties which I would consider to be advocating xenophobic responses rather than positive responses to migration.

Right across Europe there is a negative view about migration which not merely contradicts some of the values which many of us associate particularly with the European Union but more generally with civilized society.”

 However, this subject of Europe troubles me deeply, for a deeply personal reason. There is a spectre haunting Europe – not just of financiers telling people how to vote, and warning them of wrong answers – which again stalks the land, the spectre of enthusiasm in a political world which tells us “Enthusiasm is bad.”1 Similarly, a spectre is haunting me. Over the past week I haven’t been able to get a tune out of my head, a familiar form of madness. Its more than a tune, its a whole space, a whole idea, it in some sense embodies the idea of enthusiasm. Its with me as I walk around the streets of Glasgow, working, delivering letters, thinking. Sometimes the sun comes out a little – as though a positive poll had burst from the cover of clouds –  its the fourth movement of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, the choral depiction of ‘universal humanity‘ from Schiller’s ‘Ode to Joy’ (‘An die Freude’). Everytime I think I’ve defeated it, pop! pop! its back in my head. It is ubiquitous, the sign of European Enlightenment culture, taken up as the anthem of the European Union. For young Alex in Clockwork Orange:

“Oh bliss! Bliss and heaven! Oh, it was gorgeousness and gorgeousity made flesh. It was like a bird of rarest-spun heaven metal or like silvery wine flowing in a spaceship, gravity all nonsense now. As I slooshied, I knew such lovely pictures!”

In his book on Beethoven, Theodor Adorno makes some grand claims. Beethoven’s music is “truer than [Hegelian] philosophy… it is informed by the conviction that the self reproduction of society as self-identical identity is not enough, indeed it is false” (p. 14). For Adorno Beethoven “uses technique to manufacture transcendence” (p. 78) depicting the hopes of revolution, of Napoleon, of the fundamental change to a withered social order, but also makes manifest the coercion and the violence that come with such invocations.  What are the values of the European Union except ‘looking at the rest of the world and thinking ‘thats ours’? Europe is capable of as much empire building as were, historically, the nations of which it is composed. The Labour Party’s switch from resistance to European integration, as a handbrake against Thatcherism, has played out as a tragedy – instead we have the E.U. enforcing the kind of fiscal reorganization originally meted out by the I.M.F. against the global south. The project of empire has turned against home subjects – just as watercannon were once reserved for the Indians and the Irish, today they are finding their way to London. What is the difference between the flashmob of singers in a Catalonian square, belting out Ode to Joy, and the inspiring young chap singing for the beer garden in Cabaret? Can the European National anthem not be sung in the same manner? Could the same not be done with Flower of Scotland? Does Sutherland not depict a potential future for Europe that an independent Scotland – historically intertwined with European thought – must have a part in heading off?

Appeals to European values are a limited internationalism that ends were ‘Fortress Europe’ begins, just as current British values are a limited and contorted intra-nationalism which ends every time the U.K. Border Agency kicks in the door of an asylum claimant. What remains of the European project is, for its intellectuals, bound up with the question of what remains of the Enlightenment project. Within Britain this resolves into the question – what remains of the Whig tendency today? Rory Scothorn correctly identifies that the maximal limit of this imagination at the U.K. level is the Labour and Liberal Democrat hopes for ‘federalism’, a federalism which extends not only into the U.K., but outwards towards Europe. No longer a Scandanavian, but instead a German Scotland. This is a hard limit project that, even if possible, is as patently insufficient for achieving the latent hopes the ‘100 voices’ of National Collective as is the current likely outcome of a Yes vote. At the level of a European polity, European federalism has already shown itself bereft of solutions to social collapse. Scotland imagines itself entering a European community of progressive opportunities, failing to realise that just as the era of easy credit for mortgages did not reflect real wealth, the era of cheap travel to foreign capitals and beach resorts did not reflect growing European social integration. Scotland must do better than this, not just for itself, but for Europe. What, for example, would it feel like to imagine once again not a federalist horizon, not even a Scottish horizon, but even an internationalist communist horizon? Once scores have been settled with a withered British establishment, what does Scotland’s contribution outwards look like?

There is a collapse of the centre within European polities, but also the collapse of European polities. Nowhere more obvious than Spain, the UK, and Ukraine. Whereas in the Ukraine the two supra-national tendencies pulling the nations apart are Russian and European capital, in Scotland it is a tension between British/Global capital, and an imaginary Scottish/Global capital. Sutherland imagines a resurgent fascism, one which thinks of itself as a defence of European culture, blood and soil – but more likely for Scotland, and for the 100 voices of National Collective, is a thistle on your bank card.

Is the current offer to an independent Scotland anything other than a global bank with a folk tune as a soundtrack? Singing songs that seem to be about human emotions, but their content is the valorization of capital? It must try to be.



  1. Adorno and Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment, p.75 []

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