One thing we can be sure of is that London is extremely jealous of Madrid’s constitutional power over Catalonia and would dearly like to have similar means to ‘discourage’ Scotland’s civic nationalist movement. But this would inevitably alter the political space in which the campaign for independence is conducted. And that should be a matter of serious concern to everyone.
This is a topic that I addressed in a recent article for iScot Magazine. What follows is an edited extract from that article.
Society comprises various power centres. For our purposes, we will consider only two general categories – prevailing, or established power; and countervailing power. The point is that the form taken by countervailing power is defined by prevailing power. To put it simply, established authority ‘decides’ the nature of any challenge to that authority. The countervailing power can only be what the prevailing power ‘allows’ it to be.
We might think of it as a liquid filling a vessel. The liquid, or countervailence, must take the shape of the space defined by the vessel, or prevailing power.
Not in any absolute sense, of course. Things are rarely that simple. Human affairs are not commonly mechanistic. The vessel may be flexible and/or elastic. The degree of flexibility and/or elasticity may vary across the internal surface which constrains the countervailing power. The countervailing power itself may not be a homogeneous mass. It may not entirely fill the vessel. It may, therefore, only be defined by certain parts of that internal surface. And it need not be of a regular consistency. It may be, in whole or part, more or less viscous.
The overarching rule is that, to qualify as such, countervailing power must exist and function within the confines of of the space defined by prevailing power. The form and nature and effect of countervailence ultimately depends on the form and nature and effect of established authority.
There are lessons in this concept of prevailing/countervailing power for all of us. Not least, and by way of an illustrative example, for a Yes movement in Scotland which, if these theories are at all valid, has become the positive, peaceful aspirational political force that it is in large part due to the space allowed it by the British state. Some will claim, with considerable justification, that this was down to the complacency of firmly entrenched traditional power rather than any respect for the democratic process. But both sides in this political interplay should be mindful that all actions have consequences.
The fight to restore Scotland’s independence is being conducted in a political space which is not fixed. That space can change. It is most likely to change due to the actions of the prevailing power. For the simple reason that it is the prevailing power and, therefore, has the greatest capacity to effect change. Let’s all just pause to appreciate the space that we have. And to reflect on what implications changes to this space might imply for the nature of countervailing power in our little corner of history’s ocean.Views: 2690
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