A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to speak at the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) Scotland‘s Conference on why I support Scottish Independence. As well as being a good opportunity to visit Aberdeen, I was delighted to participate in the political debate about Scotland’s constitutional future, as I think it poses some very exciting opportunities for the radical left, and for Scotland as a whole. This is the gist of what I said.
There are a lot of good reasons for Scotland to become independent, but for me, nationalism is not one of them (I hope to explain in a later post what national identity means to me). What matters to me are political structures that engage people, that enable the participation of the citizens that they claim to serve; economic principles that are not stacked against the majority; and community organising that has a voice that is heard.
The British state is broken.
It has been totally captured by corporate and imperial interests. The last decent (and I say decent, not good) British government left office more that forty years ago. I refer, of course, to the first Wilson government; it invested in British technology, pursued full employment, abolished the death penalty, legalised abortion and homosexuality, and so on. That is, it was economically competent and socially progressive.
Since then, we’ve had a combination of aggressive right wing governments under Thatcher and Cameron, and largely ineffective Labour governments under Callaghan, Blair and Brown. There has been the odd ray of sunshine (the minimum wage, for example), but these have not been backed up with systematic reform required to actually change things for better for the majority for the long term.
Over the last few decades, both Labour and the Conservatives have had the same prescription for the future of Britain: more privatisation, more benefit cuts, more wealth to the wealthy. There is ample evidence and analysis elsewhere on why successive governments have gone down these dead-ends, so I won’t go into that here. But I think it is generally agreed that it is impossible to see any other political party winning a UK election, or at least having a major share of a coalition.
Whilst it is possible to imagine a situation where extra parliamentary movements make gains, or even overthrow the state, this both seems unlikely, and supersedes any debate over Scottish independence.
What is clear is that the Scottish working classes have rejected the Unionist Parties, with a majority voting SNP in 2011 (60% of trade unionists voted SNP). The SNP have clearly articulated a political vision much closer to that of the Scottish people, particularly the working class, than Labour’s cuts and knife crime agenda. Indeed, Johann Lamont’s attack on universal benefits make it clear that Labour has moved further away from this vision.
But this is not just about electoral politics. We are here, in Aberdeen, as NCAFC Scotland activists, because we believe in profound social change. Profound social change comes from social movements, and one of the social movements of our time will be that for Scotland to maintain a more egalitarian political settlement through independence.
As students, social justice advocates, equalities campaigners, we have to be a part of that. The Radical Independence Conference last autumn, and the huge attendance at the launch of Yes Glasgow, show that there is excitement and enthusiasm about this political project. We need to ensure that our ideas for radical workers in the parliament, free education, and a more participatory political system are at the heart of this.
We could stand apart from this collective movement and make rarefied arguments based on a notion of the industrial working class that has not existed since the 1960s/70s. However, this does not benefit Scottish people. (Indeed, I am utterly unconvinced by people’s claims of “borders divide workers” trumping “improving social/environmental/economic justice for all”.) Scotland is clearly more progressive than England; repeated Holyrood elections tell us this: when there is no chance of the Conservatives winning, Scotland votes left.
And, to me, the argument that economy is ‘British’ is not only a red herring, but indicates a tragic lack of awareness of how the economy actually functions. The economy is not British, it is global. Rather than having a British government that we know will be in the pockets of corporate interests, we should use independence to create the political momentum for a government that will stand up for us, ordinary, everyday people. We need to control the economy on a global scale, and the UK government is making absolutely no effort to do this; in fact, it is actively ensuring that corporations control the economy, and encouraging them to do so.
So, the independence debate gives us a real opportunity to engage in and help direct the debate about Scotland’s future: to build a progressive Scotland, and I believe that supporting independence is the means that can deliver the Scotland in which I hope to live.