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!
I imagine you expect a reply to the article.
Firstly, this campaign has not been about ‘nationalists’ as you would define the word. Yes, it is an opportunity which has been given to us by the SNP government whose raison d’etre is to gain independence so Scotlland can order its own affairs-which is the normal state of affairs for the majority of the nations on earth. Scotland is a nation- not, as Lord Robertson (good Dunoon boy) said last week, “a minor entity in the north of Britain”. That is his vision of Scotland if independence follows the vote on Thursday.
I’m sorry you still feel that the whole campaign is to “paint a picture of Scotland defined against our nearest neighbours” and that it is about “thumbing our noses at the big, oppressive cousins down south”. I wonder what sources of information you have looked at. There are many groups for independence which are solely or contain English people. English people for Scottish Independence is only one of them as an example. Feel free to talk to some of the campaigners locally-lots of them are English too. Actually, it is the future of Scotland that is our concern-not neighbour bashing. A group in the north of England recently held a tea party in support of Scottish independence in a layby just south of the border and people from all over Britain popped in and were welcomed. Of course, there are some who do want kilts and Braveheart and that is their right. Most of us are concerned with social justice.Nobody is suggesting Utopia will arise on Friday morning. There is a lot of hard work to come but many of us are actually excited by the chance to try something positive, to fight locally for what we believe is right.The Labour party has deserted us-not the other way round. They have said they will continue the dire, harmful austerity measures. There is no longer any chance that a Labour government would be much better than the current incumbents.
“Rise up the Saltire, conjure up Bannockburn and Bonnie Prince Charlie. Damn the English and may their football team continue to fail”. Well-I think that says more about your view of Scots than anything else! As I have said, it can’t be denied that there are some who do think like that. I have been involved since the beginning of this campaign, and quite a lot recently, and while I have had a lot of interesting and stimulating debate, none of it has been about these things except perhaps the Saltire. The thing that seems to elude people is that, actually, this is not in any way, shape or form, about England. It is Mr Milliband who suggested putting up border crossings!!
You ask where the new ideas are? I guess the Reid Foundation and Common Weal would be a good place to start. http://allofusfirst.org/
The ideas might not be brand new to you, but they are well explained and presented.
Billy Bragg said the following in an article in The Guardian on 23/4/14,
“If the Scots want to show some solidarity with the people of England who feel trapped in a centralised state where cheap credit, privatisation and deregulation are the only solutions offered, they should vote yes to independence and set us all free.”
Whatever your view on whether or not Scotland should join the family of nations who make their own decisions for good or ill, please do not reduce the argument to people with flags harping on about Bannockburn.That is NOT what is happening out there.
As a foreigner, Australian, who has spent a great deal of time in England and Scotland and kept a ‘weather-eye’ on the place, as well as doing a lot of ancestry research into English and Scottish ancestors, which really has no relevance to this, my sense is that the push for independence has come because the Scots have been ‘short-changed’ by this virtually forced union with England and not because they are rampant and rabid about being Scots.
In other words, if the union had not been so geared in favour of England, I don’t believe this push for independence would ever have arisen. I could be wrong of course.
Having said that, there is no doubt that being Scottish and being English are two very different things despite an often-shared history and experience.
It is interesting to read the history of Scotland, as well of course those of England, Wales and Ireland, and to see that really the Scots for many centuries have ‘punched far above their weight’ in terms of achievements – scientific, academic, cultural – and that England has probably gained more from the ‘marriage’ than Scotland has.
For such a small country the Scots really have made their mark historically on the world. I suppose it is a bit like cousins sharing a detached ‘house’ and then one deciding they prefer more privacy and decide to return it to the ‘two semis’ it was originally.
My instinct is that Scotland would do very well on it own and I cannot believe, given the ties that do bind England and Scotland together, that this would be raised as a possibility without serious, necessary and practical reasons.
Even with an independent Scotland there will still be ‘ties that bind’ and necessary links but that is what the EU is about. And if the English throw a hissy-fit over the pound, there is always the Euro.
What I do find extremely odd, and wonder if it might just ‘sway’ the results toward a No vote, is the fact that anyone living in Scotland, even if not a citizen, has a right to vote and Scots working and living outside Scotland do not!
Who came up with that ridiculous idea? I mean, at the end of the day, Scotland’s future may be decided by a bunch of Pakistani students and English residents.
Having said that, who knows. It will be interesting to see what happens.
Just goes to show that this is not ‘nationalism’ which is ethnically based but about the people who live here. 🙂
Good point Audrey. I presume you mean in regard to who gets to vote.
I do, Ross. A lot of thought went into it. It would probably be easier to get a yes vote with Scots outside voting-absence makes the heart grow fonder, and all that!
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