Alex Salmond has made a mistake. He has tried to convince the Scottish people that he has all the answers about how an independent Scotland would work. But surely the point of the ‘yes’ campaign is that all future questions about Scotland are for its people to decide. It is, in other words, a matter of principle rather than of policies and agendas calculated in advance of the event. As such, it might be better to start the debate with questions rather than with the bold assertion of answers. To start, that is, by embracing uncertainty. When looked at in this way, the question of Scottish independence can properly be understood as an example of what the French political philosopher Jacques Rancière refers to as ‘dissensus’.
As the term implies, Rancière’s concept of dissensus is radically opposed to a form of political consensus, but it makes manifest this opposition in a very particular way. Consensus, in Rancière’s account of it, should not be taken to refer to an assumed commonality of thinking or to the process of engineering an electoral majority to answer a given question.
His concept of consensus is not of this order at all; the Scottish example shows that no such simplistic majority exists in any culture. Consensus then refers not to the achievement of majority thinking, but to the way a range of different functions and spheres within a given society are distributed as if it were ‘normal’ or even ‘natural’ to separate them in such a way. Consensus, that is, refers to the distinct demarcation of social life into the separated spheres of politics, culture, the economy, welfare, industry and so on.