The Matrix vs. Braveheart – A Parable for Scottish Politics

Chris Napier

The other night as I sat up to do the late shift with my newborn son (it’s so much easier to stay up till 1am for the last feed than it is to go to sleep and get up again) I was presented with a choice between two of my favourite movies, the Matrix and Braveheart to kill the time.

Despite the evident differences in setting, cinematography etc. there is a certain similarity between the films, both dealing with groups of desperate rebels combating an authoritarian and exploitative oppressor – a theme which has always been close to my heart, and a theme which tallies nicely with modern Scottish politics.

In identifying with the protagonists of the movies (Wallace / Neo & company) rather than the antagonists (Longshanks & the Nobles / Agent Smith & the Machines) it’s clear that I’m on the progressive, pro independence side of the ever widening schism which characterizes Scottish politics, but my choice between the films says something a little more nuanced.

Braveheart would be the movie of choice for the diehard nationalist, the kind of person who sees independence at all costs as the be all and end all endgame of Scottish politics. Motivated by a sense of personal injustice, enflamed by a dubious interpretation of history and ultimately hell bent on freedom from the oppressor and vengeance against those they feel to be traitors, no matter what the bodycount is along the way.

By contrast, The Matrix would be the choice of the progressive, perhaps convinced of the case for nationalism but not as fundamentalist in the position, seeing it as a possible route to reform and generally concerned more with opening minds than smiting enemies. Indeed, by the end of the Matrix series, peace had broken out between the combatants…

In the end, I went with watching the Matrix (again) and in making that choice I reflected on why it also reflected my views on the whole political debate in Scotland.

I’m a Yes voter, staunchly opposed to the undemocratic and amoral culture that pervades British politics and wish fervently for things to be better.

However, I have come to see the attitude of many on ‘my side’ of the debate to be counterproductive. It’s actually become more common for me to have a constructive discussion with a No voter who cleaves to a unionist party than it has for me to have a similarly pleasing conversation with a Yes voter that I didn’t already know.

It seems that anything other than blind-SNP loyalty, hatred for the English, Westminster parties and anyone who votes for them and an immediate demand for a unilateral declaration of independence marks me out as a traitor these days…

Be it SNP hardliners who decry the Greens as traitors for having the temerity to stand against them in the recent Westminster elections, the kind of folks who think the Scottish Independence party was a good idea or people who are so quick to attack Jeremy Corbyn simply for being a unionist (blind to the fact that he would aid the progressive cause across Britain and be willing to work with the SNP in achieving that) I’ve come to find that the ‘Braveheart’ camp are a divisive, insular hindrance, rather than the stormtroopers of the progressive movement as they might like to think themselves.

The case for independence will not be won on a platform of hate, by attacking all those who disagree and lionizing dubious individuals who have hitched their banner to the cause.

If you want 45% to become 60% or better (because the SNP are canny enough not to risk a second referendum until the result is certain – we don’t want to emulate Quebec’s two-time failure) then you need to make the case of why Scotland can be better and make it compellingly, conclusively and most of all… compassionately.

A better Scotland IS possible, but we won’t get there by being insular, aggressive and vengeful. What’s more, a better Scotland could come as part of a better United Kingdom, however unlikely that prospect is. It could also come as part of a federal Europe or a world without borders or nation-states.

For me, independence was always a stepping stone to progressive reform, a representative democracy, a sustainable and equalitarian society. If that isbn’t what floats your boat and what you REALLY focus on is your nationality… do you really need a piece of official notepaper to tell you that you’re Scottish?

So, I chose the Matrix. Opening minds and seeking true freedom from the constraints of an unfair system, rather than hate, vengeance and the perpetuation of feudalism.

As Neo says at the end of the Matrix…

“I know you’re out there. I can feel you now. I know that you’re afraid. You’re afraid of us. You’re afraid of change. I don’t know the future. I didn’t come here to tell you how this is going to end. I came here to tell you how it’s going to begin. I’m going to hang up this phone, and then I’m going to show these people what you don’t want them to see. I’m going to show them a world … without you. A world without rules and controls, without borders or boundaries. A world where anything is possible. Where we go from there is a choice I leave to you.”


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