Thursday, 13 February 2014

Watching the pronouns

I don’t know how sincere Cameron really was in saying to the Scots that “we want you to stay”.  He may have been as sincere as he looked and sounded – one can never tell with politicians – or he may just have been saying what he (or more probably his advisors) felt that he needed to say.
It’s hard – perhaps impossible – to find the right words which will resonate with the target audience for this sort of message.  I’m probably not part of that target audience, of course, but there was something about the use of the two pronouns in that one short, simple sentence which underlined the gulf in thinking between the two sides of this particular debate.
The very use of ‘we’ and ‘you’ actually succeeds in emphasising the differentness between ‘Scots’ and ‘the rest’ in a way which was probably entirely unintended.  And it may well, at a subconscious level, actually strengthen the will for independence as a result.
And where does it leave those of us who feel that we’re neither part of the ‘we’ nor the ‘you’?  I can’t identify with either the subject or the object of Cameron’s statement, and I’d guess that there are quite a few more like me.  I suppose that makes us disconnected bystanders from Cameron’s perspective; again, unlikely to be a productive approach in the long term.
The other words which are interesting in the statement were “to stay”.  I don’t think that Scotland is actually ‘going’ anywhere, but again, the verb reveals more about Cameron’s perspective – and the perspective of those who think like him – than it adds to debate.  Just as in the question of ‘allowing’ Scotland to keep the pound, it starts from an assumption that ‘we’ own the UK, and ‘you’ are thinking about opting out.
I can’t help thinking that the case for the union would be better served if its supporters made at least an effort to recognise that the assets of the union are jointly owned; but the language they use suggests that the thought hasn’t even crossed their minds.

1 comment:

'ö-Dzin Tridral said...

I think this is very well put.

Something I've not seen discussed (although I'm sure it has been somewhere) is whether what is left when Scotland is independent could still be called 'the UK'.

This doesn't seem work as an equation:

UK = UK - Scotland

unless Scotland has no value.

If what's left is *not* the UK what happens to treaties between the UK and other states? Would 'what's left' need to renegotiate its membership of the EU?

Scottish independence may not involve so much it 'leaving' the UK as dissolving the UK.