What ever your views on Scottish Independence, one of the most compelling arguments that I have been grappling with is the one that deals with social justice. Independent Scotland, it is said, will be a more just society, free from the Tory party, controlled as it is by the super rich clustered in the golden South East, and in London in particular. We can go it alone, responsible for our own fate, and become a more compassionate caring place…
In truth the decision most of us make next Thursday has little to do with economic arguments, little to do with whether or not Alex will keep the pound or stay in the EU- for most it is an instinctive feeling around which facts are bent. It is about national passion, deep identity and a sense that after all these years we can thumb our noses at the big oppressive cousins down south. Forget the nuances, we have a set of goggles to simplify all those years of shared history and broken dreams… Raise up the Saltire, conjure up Bannockburn and Bonnie Prince Charlie. Damn the English and may their football team continue to fail.
Because of this, I feel an unreality in the air which deeply troubles many of us. I can not feel the same sense of identity in an idea of nationhood- it is simply not possible given my mongrel origins (English/Irish, living in Scotland.) Therefore the actual arguments often seem entirely hollow. As an outsider to national pride, I fear it’s dark side, and struggle to find much that is positive in it. Relationship to place, to culture, to our deep roots in the soil- I envy this, but this is not what is being conjured up in much of the nationalist debate. Rather it seems to paint a version of Scotland defined AGAINST our nearest neighbours. I hate this kind of in/out thinking. So what in all this might I focus on?
What is left for me is to try to wonder how an independent Scotland changes things not just for the poor in Easterhouse, but also the poor in Bangkok and Birmingham. How does an independent Scotland (whose economic future is dependent on oil production above all else) turn us from our addiction to fossil fuels? How does an independent Scotland break our addiction to consumption or distraction by facile entertainment?
Yes campaigners promise me that it can do all these things.
I hope this might be true- but I fear also that the power wielded by international capital and the dominant ideology of so-called free market capitalism will simply not notice the border. It has hardly been impeded by those put up elsewhere. And this kind of focus on the poor/the environment/change to the way we consume has hardly been the centre of the political debate. Where are the genuinely new ideas? Rather the Yes campaign treads that familiar difficult middle ground- things will be the same, but better.
I fear distraction. Divide and rule. The natural opposition to the forces of capital have been on the back foot for many years in this country. Blair’s government broke our hearts and now in Scotland, hot bed of left wing ideas in the past, we have a splintering of the radicals because of the simplistic polarity of yes/no.
Meanwhile, here are a few interesting facts about we Scots.
Research repeatedly shows that the English, Welsh and Scots have very similar attitudes to most things – welfare, Europe, immigration, liberty versus authority and the rest.
The point is different from political divergences. We all know old party allegiances are fracturing for a lot of reasons, but not the kind the yes camp promotes. Put it another way, a Ukip MEP was elected in Scotland this year.
Also, as Ferguson puts it, the Daily Mail sells more copies in Scotland than its loftier Scottish rivals.
The issues remain for me though- social justice. Weak people being used as pawns in other peoples power games. Change that might change the window display, whilst in everything else it is business as usual. And the rich will still get richer…
Which bring me back to the point of the piece. I read this article today and found myself seething with anger. Here are some of the main points;
If the national minimum wage had kept pace with FTSE 100 CEO salaries since 1999, it would now be £18.89 per hour instead of £6.50. However, for some reason broadcasters rarely ask CEOs about the gulf between their pay and that of the poorest staff in their organisations. The unstated implication is that the lowest-paid staff are lucky to have any job at all, and only have what they have thanks to the benevolence of the 1%, with their superior leadership skills.
If the top 1% actually created more jobs as they became wealthier, then ordinary people would be surrounded by employment opportunities in both the US and the UK. Instead, it is in Germany, where the wealthiest 1% receives in pay and bonuses half as much as their counterparts in the US, that unemployment is at a 20-year low. In countries that keep their top 1% in check, the highest earners work more effectively for the good of all, or at the very least create a little less misery.
The article goes on to say what we mostly already know- that the tax regime that allows the rich to get richer contributes to a de-humanisation of poor people, and allows us to ignore them as undeserving, feckless and responsible for their own fate.
The change to this requires some kind of tipping point. Marx used to call it ‘class consciousness’. He thought sooner or later we would see it all for what it was and say ‘enough!’
Can this happen in isolation north of the border?
Or do we just break down the problem into smaller and smaller segments so that the one truly international force in our midst (international capital) can just carry on more or less the same?
There is one thing that gives me some continued hope- here in Scotland, things are changing. People are engaged in something, for good or ill. I just wish I could believe that it is the former…
Either way, after Thursday we have to live together. We have to find ways to solve the problems affecting our nation, our communities, our broken. Perhaps we will no longer be able to blame the English- and this will be a good thing!