Wednesday, 11 August 2010
Brief Thoughts on Scottish Independence
Brief Thoughts on Scottish Independence Aug 2010
By Steve Arnott. Steve is the Editorial Co-ordinator of Democratic Green Socialist
1. The lessons of history are hard learned and hard earned. In some cases they are burned into the soul. For over two generations now – the biggest part of an adult lifetime – the political landscape of Scotland has been shaped, not by the free will of its own people, but the outlook, attitudes, media and voting patterns of the UK state as dominated and defined by London and the South of England; an area which has historically soaked up the wealth of Empire and post – consensus neo-liberalism like a sponge, and whose political ideologues wasted a generation of young people, and billions of barrels of valuable North Sea oil, in smashing public ownership and manufacturing industry, driving down wages and expectations using mass unemployment as a weapon, and creating a speculation and consumption driven, debt fuelled economy.
2. Voting patterns based on a post war period of rising prosperity in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s and the division between unionist Presbyterianism and a catholic minority supported Labour party that allowed significant numbers of Tory MPs to be elected in Scotland have gone – permanently, thank goodness, though some unpleasant cultural and political remnants remain. For the last 4 decades Scotland has voted in huge numbers for social democratic parties either of the unionist (Labour) or independence (SNP) types. In an era of capitalist counter reform and retrenchment Scottish people have voted for these parties in the belief or hope that they would protect themselves from the ravages of Thatcherism and her ideological successors. What they got instead was right wing Tory government from 1979-1997 and from 2010 the current Con Dem coalition carrying out nothing less than an all out ideological assault against the state and the public sector. Sandwiched in-between, the Blair-Brown Government of New Labour had so adjusted itself to the memes of middle England and worship of the market that it became in effect, capitalism’s second eleven. In a final act of political bankruptcy in the crisis of 2007-2009 it mortgaged the future services and jobs of working class families throughout the UK to save British capitalism.
3. The granting of a Scottish Parliament with limited devolved powers in 1999 was both a step forward for democracy and a concession on behalf of unionism and the ruling class who mistakenly thought it would put independence on the back burner for a generation. But far from acting as a safety valve for the democratic and social democratic aspirations of the Scottish people, the existence of a Scottish Government – even in ‘wee pretendy Parliament’ form – has shifted the axis of debate to one between independence and a Scottish Parliament with enhanced powers including and up to full fiscal autonomy in what would effectively become a federal UK.
4. The barbarians with Eton accents are once again at the gate, however. Plans to reduce the structural deficit caused by New Labour’s bailout of the banks and obsession with PPP/PFI are partly ideologically driven but no less real. Along with working class people and ordinary families throughout the rest of the UK, Scots face a decimation of public services, capital projects and jobs that will scar this country for a generation. And this in a country with just one Tory MP and where less than 1 in 10 of the populace voted Tory. Of course, a similar proportion voted Lib-Dem, blissfully unaware that they were, in effect, voting for a Tory government. ‘No mandate’ and ‘democratic deficit’ are, in this context, understated terms.
5. A mass popular campaign against the cuts is necessary – but we also have to learn the painful lesson of history. Any notion of a genuine socialist labour government at a UK level is surely a pipe dream at the present time, as is the idea of the unions or union leaders – with a few honourable exceptions – breaking with Labour and creating a new mass working class party. Even the election of a left leaning Labour government would not be a guarantee against the election of a future Tory government further down the line. The conclusion is simple – the only way now for the majority of Scots to get the stable left of centre social democratic government they consistently vote for is through independence.
6. Independence in the modern era takes the form therefore of a principled democratic demand rather than being driven by notions of national exceptionalism.
7. Socialists will want to move an independent Scotland beyond the mixed economy social democratic model that Scotland will inevitably vote for initially, given its freedom. We will want see out major industries and financial institutions taken into democratic public ownership. We will want to see huge public investment in developing a renewables economy and building social housing. We will want to re-establish a genuine comprehensive National Health Service and a Higher education service free at the point of need. We will want to create an irreversible shift in wealth and power in favour of the millions rather than the millionaires. But the point is this: on the first day of an independent capitalist Scotland the struggle for socialism in Scotland begins anew with renewed and increased vigour, with the intellectual obstacles of unionism and Westminster politics removed, and the real possibility of meaningful mass realignment in Scottish politics.
8. Consequently, for the left, independence is not only the correct and principled democratic demand, but the best strategic way to progress its own political agenda.
9. Some on the left should stop obsessing and worrying over problems that are largely their own mental creation with no basis in reality, in particular, that to support independence unconditionally without framing it in terms of an ‘independent socialist Scotland’ or whatever the current shibboleth is, is to run the danger of sowing ‘illusions’ in a capitalist independent Scotland, or that the SNP can solve all the problems facing the working class. Where is the evidence that such illusions exist? Perhaps the Scottish working class is a little more pragmatic than some of its would be ‘vanguard’ imagines.
10. Similiarly, sections of the left should stop echoing the New Labour/unionist mantra that, in this or that poll, only 25% or 33% of Scots support independence, therefore the conclusion should be drawn that people aren’t really interested, and that independence is somehow ‘not a priority’, or ‘secondary’ to class questions, as if the class questions themselves have not been fundamentally decided by the ‘national question’ of the existence of the British state over the last 40 years! Such arguments are self-defeating. No socialist would seriously argue that because socialists aren’t doing well in the polls right now we should conclude that people don’t want or need socialism. We would rightly point out the role of the media and all the political apparatus of state in normalising capitalism and skewing the political debate to the right, and argue that socialists have to sometimes swim against the tide for what they believe in. Instead of making such banal non-points, socialists have a duty to point to the continued domination of Scottish politics by a unionist Westminster agenda and in particular the shameful role of the opportunist Labour party in Scotland and its nepotistic relationship with an SNP/independence hating media, particularly the mass circulation Daily Record. Even if a multi-option referendum were held tomorrow, fiscal autonomy would win with independence second, and the status quo third. This hardly indicates a lack of desire for change, and in conditions of narrative
and media fairness, or conditions of desperation as the Con-Dem cuts begin to
bite, or both, an independence referendum could certainly be won.
11. Independence is not principally a strategic or tactical question, though there may be good strategic or tactical arguments for it. It is in itself a ‘good’ that progressives should fight for. Scotland is a nation, albeit one whose identity has been consciously merged/submerged into a British identity by the British ruling class over hundreds of years. It has a right, even a duty, as a modern nation to run and be responsible for its own affairs as it sees fit.
12. A huge welcome by product and side benefit of independence would be the acceleration of the development of socialist ideas in Scotland.
13. A huge welcome by product and side benefit of Scottish independence internationally would be the break up of the British state.
14. So, what are we waiting for? Come all ye at hame wi’ freedom.
My Response to “Brief Thoughts on Scottish Independence Aug 2010”
August 11, 2010 at 1:57 pm
Good article Steve yes without independence we cannot put right the democratic deficit and so be ruled by neo liberal government that Scots never voted for. Scotland is heavily dependant on public services so the cuts will hurt and damage the economy. The only answer is for the Scottish people to recognise the need for change. You see under the union history repeats itself and now we have the Con-Dems which Scots did not vote for.
A mass fight back against the cuts should be tied to the fight for Scottish independence. An independent Scotland with a social democratic government would be ideal for socialists to campaign for a republic and struggle for a Socialist Republic. In order for this to happen Scottish independence has to be top of the political agenda of the Scottish left. The DGS are putting forward the correct analyse and arguments in favour of independence It just require some action from the pro-independence parties and instead of standing candidates against the SNP they should be entering talks with them, about not standing candidates in the Scottish election next year, and a united front against cuts, how to work together against the unionists and unionist media and presenting the Scottish people a real alternative. And the campaigning for a referendum with a Yes vote which will require being practicle, and a united front between both the Nationalists and the Scottish left. The trust would have to be built and this would require some real effort. After all the pro-independence parties are linked with the Scottish Independence Convention.