Segundo ato: A vote for Scottish independence is just the start


 Dermot Barr, Phd Candidate at Manchester University.

Researching the causes and consequences of the 2011 UK Riots

I was a little taken aback when asked to write this blog post. At first I was tempted to decline the offer. I was asked why I was voting yes, as an Irish man living in England, I don’t have the right to vote in the referendum. The only people that have the right to vote in the referendum are the people of Scotland and rightly so. The Scottish people are best placed to choose who governs them and how they are governed, not Westminster and the international elite they represent. That said, I agreed to write the post as a sympathetic outsider wishing Scotland the best of luck as it grows in confidence, defies its English imperial masters and forges what I hope will be a new path of national social justice

After many years laying the groundwork for independence, on the 18th of September 2014, Scotland will finally be faced with the opportunity to discard the corrupt neo-liberal politics of Westminster and embark on a new course that benefits the many not just the few. Scotland has a glorious history of scholars, inventors and artists that few countries it size can boast. It should be confident in its ability to make the best decisions for its people. Aside from its considerable contribution to science, arts and culture, Scotland has consistently voted for progressive left of centre parties and policies. Yet for the last three decades it has been saddled with neo-liberal governments in Westminster that cared little for Scottish people.

Scotland was decimated by Thatcher’s program of de-industrialisation with whole communities abandoned. New Labour’s light touch regulation of the finance industry enabled the Bank of Scotland to take obscene risks, ultimately contributing to the global economic implosion in 2008. Now Scottish people are faced with a Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government it did not vote for. To repeat a well-worn truism, there are more pandas in Scotland than Conservative MPs. Despite the fact that Scottish people did not vote for this government, they have been faced with policies that have allowed inequality to soar. In 2014 the richest 1000 people in the UK have increased their wealth by 15.4% to £519 billion; meanwhile hundreds of thousands of people rely on foodbanks for survival. The piece-by-piece privatisation of the National Health Service, which started under New Labour, continues apace, and the NHS may be fully privatised under the upcoming Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreement which insures corporations are above governments.

Scottish people now have a chance to reject the privatisation agenda and embrace politics which works for the Scottish people, rather than the global corporate interests served by Westminster. No doubt there will be many people voting Yes out of sheer hatred of the Tories, but that is not the central reasoning of the Yes campaign. The Yes campaign have conducted a very positive campaign centring on the hope of a new future for Scottish people in which decisions affecting Scotland will be made in Scotland by people living in Scotland. Some have attempted to portray the nationalism represented by the Yes campaign as being rightwing, isolationist and chauvanist. But this is a progressive nationalism. The Yes campaign encompasses a wide range of progressive Scottish voices, from Africans for independence to LGBTQ people for independence. Progressive and radical people are amongst those calling most loudly for independence.

Yet one must not get carried away on a tide of hope. I remember the hope that surrounded Barak Obama’s election. Dr Cornel West recently described the devestating disappointment of the Obama presidency as like hoping for John Coltrane and getting Kenny G with dark skin. So it could be for Scotland. The hope that surrounds the campaign for independence is buoyed by the understanding that a new Scotland will reject the old imperial masters, not just in person but in policy as well. My understanding is that the Yes campaign are selling people a fairer society, a more equal society and hopefully a greener society. Yet the Scottish National Party (SNP) are far from the left wing revolutionaries I would like to see in power after Scotland votes yes.

The rejection of Westminster rule is just the start, but it would be a good start. It would provide the opportunity for debate on what kind of country Scottish people want to live in. This type of basic debate is usually reserved for the aftermath of wars or revolutions, yet this could take place in Scotland without a drop of blood being spilt. Seamus Milne reports that the SNP are backed by the usual cartel of “tax avoiders, hedge funders, privateers and Rupert Murdoch.” It also seeks to cut corporation tax to attract investment. Milne also reports that an independent Scotland is signed up to “the monarchy, NATO, the EU and a currency controlled from London.”

These are all real concerns for progressive Scots, yet they are not reasons to reject independence. With independence comes the chance to withdraw from aggressive establishment alliances if Scottish people decide to do so. Without independence Scottish people would still be forced to accept the status quo, to accept NATO, the EU, the monarchy and currency controlled by London—as it already does—without any real hope of change. With independence comes the chance to rid Scotland of the most dangerous weapons of mass destruction: nuclear bombs and rampant neo-liberal capitalism. It is a chance to reduce inequality and its effects: foodbanks, poor physical and mental health, drug abuse, poor education, imprisonment, obesity, lack of social mobility, eroded communities, violence, teenage pregnancies, and wretched child well-being outcomes. This is a possibility that even a Labour party victory in UK elections in 2015 will not be able to offer.

Other people will be affected by the referendum, and while there have been a few calls for English people to participate in the vote, this makes no sense. The relationship between England and Scotland is not one of equal partnership and respect. It is a master-slave relationship. It is the relationship of the coloniser and the colonised, the oppressor and the oppressed. Once the power relationship within the union is understood, it becomes clear why the English should have no say in the future of Scotland. Of course they can support one side or the other, much as I am doing, but the best people to decide the future of Scotland are Scottish people.

Many on the left in England and Wales have argued that English, Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish workers have more in common than dividing them. They argue that if Scotland leaves the union then England and Wales will be faced with a perpetual conservative government. Yet this argument reflects colonial self-interest (no matter how progressive). If the Better Together campaign argued that the UK should have kept its other colonies on the basis that the people of the colonising nation would be better off with the plantations in the Caribbean, the oil riches of Nigeria or the vast wealth of India they would rightly be derided as self-serving colonialists. Why should the people of Scotland forgo their right to national self determination and the prospect of a more equal society for the good of the English and Welsh? Besides, how well has the Union succeeded in insuring the rights of workers so far? Currently British workers face zero-hour contracts, cutbacks to legal aid that mean workers cannot challenge unfair dismissals, and house prices that mean only those with access to the ‘bank of mum and dad’ have a chance of buying property. The Union’s policies has allowed the 5 richest families in the UK to amass the same wealth as the 12 million poorest people in the UK. The Union has failed the workers by empowering the self-serving establishment. The Union has failed the workers by allowing inequality to soar to unprecedented levels. The Union has failed the workers. It is thus ridiculous to argue that Scotland retain the Union for the sake of workers’ interests.

Other less progressive forces have preyed on the anxieties associated with the uncertainty surrounding independence. “The banks will leave!” they cry. What, the same banks that plunged the world into an economic crisis to rival the Great Depression? The same banking mafia that consistently break laws on insider trading, that engages in what can only be described as fraud, that facilitates Mexican drug cartels, that fixes the LIBOR rate? The same banking mafia that value profit over people? Good, let them go. The prospect of getting rid of an economy based on corrupt profiteering financial industries and replacing it with an economy based on manufacturing and social equality sound like paradise in comparison.

However, as Milne points out, independence is not a shortcut to utopia. The Scots will no doubt heavily exploit the North Sea oil and gas reserves, which will contribute to an impending climate catastrophe. Yes, the reserves are already exploited, are already contributing to the prospect of catastrophic climate change, and with independence the Scottish people will see more of the profits—but that is not good enough. Scotland has a wealth of renewable energy on and off-shore. A new independent Scotland must abandon fossil fuels and exploit renewable forms of energy if we are to survive as a species for much longer. A new independent Scotland must insure that a race to the bottom regarding workers rights and pay does not ensue. A new independent Scotland must work towards drastically reducing inequality, tax avoidance and building a new fairer society. A new Scotland is possible. It is possible because, finally, voters have been offered a real choice. 97.5% of eligible voters have registered to vote. The Yes campaign has conducted an impressive grassroots campaign that has proved that people are interested in politics. With this momentum people are organised and energised. With independence they will have the ability and realistic possibility of forcing the internal Scottish elite to cede power to the people. With this power, the Scottish people can protect their rights and insure a more equal society.

So how will an independent Scotland affect other people in the Union? The most immediate effect of Scottish independence will be to slap the three main political parties in England square in the face. The empire will be dealt a severe blow. Trident, the American-owned nuclear deterrent based in Scotland, will be forced out. If it is not located somewhere else in England, England may lose its seat at the top table in the UN and NATO. In my mind these are not bad outcomes. England should stop acting like it still controls two-thirds of the world. It should stop stirring up hatred in the Middle East with its neo-colonial energy wars.

An independent Scotland may force the dismantling of the monarchy, the purest symbol of inequality known. The example of a bloodless transition to independence in Scotland may encourage Irish republicans in Northern Ireland to push for a united Ireland through peaceful means. If the radical independence movement in combination with progressive forces such as the Greens can insure that the new independent Scotland is a fairer, more equal society it will serve as an example, just next door, of what England, Wales and Ireland could become. It would prove that there is an alternative to neo-liberal economics. It could lead the way in developing renewable energy and help to avoid the looming climate cataclysm. The prospect of Scottish independence has already shaken the establishment to its core. It already has demonstrated that people are interested in politics when faced with real alternatives. It must invigorate the left in England to come up with a positive alternative message.

Voting Yes to independence is just the start. People in Scotland and the rest of Britain and Ireland must start organising at community levels to force fairer, more equal societies for all citizens. The current economic path in unsustainable both in terms of people’s living conditions and the impact of fossil fuel dependency on the climate. A fundamental change is needed. Voting Yes to independence is the beginning of that change.

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