The Early Days of a Better Nation

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Scottish independence

I'm for a No vote in the Scottish independence referendum. This sets me at odds with a lot of my friends, and against the grain of my demographic: if you're a left-wing writer or artist in Scotland, you're more or less expected to be a Yes voter.

Within the left Yes camp there are plenty of choices and voices: the broadly progressive, the Scandinavian-style social democratic, the artistic and creative, and the radical. There are others linked to on my sidebar, and at these sites yet more links. Uniting the political and cultural nationalist left is Bella Caledonia, a site difficult for me to evaluate because I can't read much of it without feeling sick.

There's a conservative case for the union of Scotland and England, ably articulated by (e.g.) Adam Tomkins and more plangently by Simon Schama. For those of us to the left of these scholars there's a lot to disagree with or question in their arguments, and much to consider -- depending on how much importance you attach to the mere material condition of the working class, which on any reckoning will take a big hit from a split. The official Better Together campaign argues along likewise conservative lines. It gets a lot of flack from the Yes side for being negative, a good indicator that being negative works.

There are also radical, left-wing arguments for a No vote. The pro-independence left has high hopes, stirring rhetoric and uplifting visions. Its radical wing is a raft lashed together from the wreckage of three (at the last count) far-left sects. The anti-independence left has page after page of dry facts and figures about ownership, finance, manufacturing, EU laws, employment patterns, energy production, and political and social attitudes. Its radical wing comes from the mainstream left of the labour movement.

The Red Paper group of academics, activists and trade unionists has gone into the details of Scotland's political and economic situation, and published a substantial body of evidence and argument that an independent Scotland would have even less 'control over its own affairs' than it has now, for the obvious reason that the big economic and political decisions would continue to be made outside it. The argument is concisely put by Tom Morrison in today's Morning Star. More of the broad (and some of the narrow) left case along these lines can be found at Socialism First.

The sociologist and media analyst Greg Philo has investigated social consciousness and attitudes north and south of the Border, and found little to cheer about. The prospect of a decade (at least) of bickering and blaming between a newly independent Scotland and an embittered and inward-looking rUK, with national differences deepening by the day, is a grim one for left or even liberal politics.

Ben Jackson, editor of the social-democratic journal Renewal, has published a fascinating analysis of The Political Thought of Scottish Nationalism (PDF), and a cutting and critical account of Alec Salmond's political journey, one that should give pause to those who've turned to the SNP in disappointment with Labour.

All this may be irrelevant to the outcome. Labour lawyer Ian Smart argues (from hard-won experience as an election foot-slogger) that debates, speeches and public meetings serve to enthuse your own side, not to convince the other. All the No campaign has to do, he says, is keep hammering away at the inadequacies of the SNP/Yes campaign, and get out the vote.

As he also likes to remind us, there is no room for complacency. I agree, but like him I still think the outcome will be No. If I'm wrong I'll accept that I'm living in the early days of a worse nation, and continue to work as if I lived in the early days of a better one.


I see your point, but there is so much possibility for change in a free Scotland.

I'm hardly original in saying this, but as a resident of one of the saner parts of the U.S. I might dream a bit of what we could do without the Confederates, but don't want to abandon my fellow citizens (of all races) who don't want to live in a Confederacy Triumphant.

Just give up and spoil the ballot. I can't imagine voting for the existing British system in itself (Queen, Lords, militarism etc), but a new Scottish state could come with all sorts of hideous EU terms and conditions. Rather like a choice between dogshit and birdshit.

Yet it will be a disaster if one side does not win convincingly and whatever state we're left with lacks democratic legitimacy. It will be a double disaster if the turnout is low.

The question on the ballot paper is: Should Scotland be an independent country?

Answering No doesn't imply a vote for the existing British system.

Ken, certainly voting no doesn't imply a vote for the existing system, but that is how it will be treated by those in power and their followers.

True, just as a Yes will be treated as a blanket endorsement of the White Paper and its commitments to the EU, NATO, a currency union and the monarchy.

Should Scotland be an independent country? Oh dear, if there's a No vote, they might take away its legal system as well. Scotland might be also barred from joining the EU - or at least according to the definition of "independence" in my dictionary. This referendum is never going to get very far with such an absurdly worded question.

Yes, you're quite right, and yet... it is rather difficult to look at the Union as something purely abstract. It is a choice between two different systems and political realities.

an independent Scotland would have even less 'control over its own affairs' than it has now

Quite. Tired of being held back by neoliberal big-capital austerians in London? Consign your comrades south of the border to extended Tory/UKIP rule in exchange for ... being held back by neoliberal big-capital austerians in Brussels. All I can figure is that too many of the progressive independence utopians haven't exactly been keeping up with recent events, during which the EU and its common currency have been used as a club against the working class and social democracy.

(An independent Scotland could conceivably try to "do a Norway," but (1) I suspect that would be more of an uphill struggle nowadays, and (2) that's not what the SNP have on offer.)

But what do YOU think? You say "There are also radical, left-wing arguments for a No vote" but what is it? Was it in one of the links you posted? I tried a few but they were just more of the fear-mongering, negativity without any substantive argument in favour of the empire.

What positive case would you make for us to continue as we are; a cash crop to fund london's self-obsessed mess? What positive case for empire would you put to Australia, Jamaica, India?

And certainly a vote No does endorse all of the present and past of the british empire.

In what way does a no vote endorse 'all the present and past of the British empire'? I can't see that on the proposed ballot paper.

Nobody on the no side needs to make an argument in favour of the empire (of which Scotland was not a victim but a perpetrator). They just have to argue against the absurd claims of the SNP and the left nationalists.

If all you found at the links was 'fearmongering negativity' I suggest you read more than a few and a bit longer. Get a copy of Class, Nation and Socialism and bone up on a few facts and figures before you repeat the drivel about Scotland's being a 'cash crop' for 'London's self-obsessed mass' (fine progressive outlook on English working people you have there, by the way).

If it's "fearmongering negativity" to point out that the openly-stated goal of the SNP is to make Scotland subject to the EU's self-obsessed mess, then so be it.

I think that if you consider scots to be perpetrators rather than victims of the british empire then you could also consider that of india, or any other now independent nation in which some benefited from cooperating with their brothers' oppressors. Sure, you could make that case.

It is in the nature of empires to divide and conquer. And it is our continued division that ensures we remain conquered. The no vote is indeed a vote to continue this oppression and so fully supports the oppression of ourselves up to now and that of others who were subject to empire and are now free of it.

Oh and my phrase was "self-obsessed mess" not ...mass. This misreading somewhat changes the meaning you may have picked up.

To be clear, the centre of empire, london and home counties, has profited by parasitising all other parts of its dominions: the previously held and now independent nations, the scots and also the english poor. Your siding with the oppressors is a betrayal of working class english much more than scots freeing ourselves would be.

I have by no means read all of the posts linked in the article but would say I have found not only fear mongering negativity in them but also a level of dishonesty that beggars belief. I'd like to highlight, not the article at socialism first itself, but the eloquent rebuttal of it in comments by Donald Reid, that point out the falseness of the no campaign's position:

Sorry, but your link to Class, Nation and Socialism seems to be broken. I get 'connection refused'.

But while I'm thinking about it, I seem to remember that the socialist ideal was for internationalism rather than imperialism. I think this cannot be achieved if imperialism is to be endorsed by anti-independence votes. We can only realise the goal of internationalism when we can approach out comrades in england and elsewhere as equals.

Some good points there eddie. Can't say I'm a regular reader of Bella Caledonia Ken, but to my knowledge I've never found anything there that would make me ill. However, your attaching credibility to the charlatan lefty Ian Smart nearly gave me the dry boak. Following his now infamous outburst on Twitter last year his own brother had this to say about him...

Eddie - the link is not broken, so I suggest you check your settings or try on another computer.

I shudder to think what comrades you must have in England and elsewhere, if they don't already treat you as equal.

Ian Smart's 'infamous outburst' was to say that when indy fails to deliver (which would not surprise me) we'll see a rise in racism and scapegoting (which would not surprise me either).

'Charlatan lefty' is an expression better applied to the indy left than to a long-standing member of the Labour Party who as far as I know makes no pretence of being on its left.

What are we to infer from his Twitter bio where he describes himself as a "lefty lawyer" then?

The No's on the left are losing site of their claimed internationalism, and are tying themselves in knots defending, or at least accepting, the actions of the British state. I'm voting Yes precisely because I'm an internationalist and a lefty. It's tragic that you or anyone else would consider Yes voters charlatans or more predisposed to racism for doing so.

I have enormous respect for you as a writer Ken, I'm a fan. But your views here simply astound me. Out of interest, would you consider someone like Robin McAlpine to be a fake lefty?

icmac -

Someone can be on the left of society and not be considered a leftwinger in the Labour Party. I know nothing of Ian Smart's political views other than what I read on his blog, and I have no idea why you call Ian Smart a charlatan lefty at all. As far as I can see, he isn't pretending to be anything he's not.

I didn't say Yes voters were more prone to racism. I said racism is likely to rise if independence fails to deliver.

In particular, I don't think independence will make life any easier for the working class, and I think it would inevitably result in deepening national divisions as the governments of each side squabbled, bickered, and dickered over assets, etc. On top of that the working class in Scotland has to (directly or indirectly) foot the bill for the establishment of a new capitalist state!

To urge that tedious prospect upon us as a step to socialism is charlatanry, regardless of the personal integrity (which I don't doubt) of the comrades involved.

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