The Early Days of a Better Nation

Friday, February 21, 2014

Scottish Independence and the Left

On this year’s MA Creative Writing course at Napier University about half the students come from the US or Germany, and at commencement last September I felt like telling them how lucky they were as writers to be spending the next year in a country whose future was up for grabs in that very year, and how the buzz of argument and excitement around them would light up their work for years to come. How often, outside of outright revolutionary situations, do writers have a chance to overhear or take part in passionate and wide-ranging debate about politics and society in every café or pub or bus queue?

If I’d said that, of course, the students from Scotland would have laughed in my face, and the students from other countries would by now have five months of perplexed disappointment behind them. This month, though, with a few polls showing a small shift to Yes followed (not coincidentally) by a drumbeat of solemn warnings from businessmen, bankers, a united front of past, present and would-be future Chancellors of the Exchequer, and a past Prime Minister about the economic consequences of separation has set the land loud at last with the sound of tables thumped, pints splashed and cups and keyboards rattling.

Well, up to a point…

Anyway, my contributions so far have been my widely unremarked essay in Unstated and a recent blog piece for the social research site  TheFuture of the UK and Scotland looking forward to Scotland After No, with Pat Kane putting the case for the other side. We each gave it our best shot, and raised not so much as a twitterstorm among the zealots.

So I was delighted to get an invitation from the illustrious Edinburgh University Socialist Society to take part next Wednesday, 26 March, in:
a panel-style debate on Scottish Independence , with a socialist twist. We will have four speakers, all from the left, from both pro- and anti-independence positions but not attached to the two main campaigns.
Questions will be taken both in advance and from the floor - You can send in your questions to the panel to Rory Scothorne ( who will be chairing, or with the hashtag #redindyref on twitter.

The speakers are:

Jim Sillars, former SNP deputy leader and author of "In Place of Fear II: A Socialist Programme for an Independent Scotland".

Cat Boyd, trade union activist and member of the 'Radical Independence Campaign', a coalition of the left and far-left seeking independence as a means to achieving a greener, more equal society.

Pauline Bryan, labour movement activist and member of the 'Red Paper Collective', a labour-movement campaign seeking to emphasise class above nation in the referendum debate.

Ken MacLeod, science fiction writer and "techno-utopian socialist".’

 Time: 17:45 until 20:00.

Place: Appleton Tower Lecture Theatre 4


At the very least, I hope you arrange to put "techno-utopian socialist" on some business cards.

To this outsider, the matter of Scotland does indeed seem fraught from a left perspective. One encounters a possibly similar tension in some wishful thinking on the US left. One the one hand, imagine saying good riddance to the "red states" whose disproportionate electoral influence is part of the reason we can't have nice things. On the other hand, it's not called "The Nationale." There is an unavoidable perception of taking one's social democratic marbles and going home in a huff. And I imagine there are plenty of people who would prefer not to live in an England where the sole electoral concern of the Tories is avoiding being outflanked by the UKIP. I doubt a Republic of Scotland would accommodate the immigration of all of them.

Ken - just read yr interview over at LA Review Of Books and was pleasantly surprised to see you say - "I have a joke that I should do a show on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this summer billed as the last left-wing Unionist novelist in Scotland."

And I thought that I was the only one! We must have a chinwag at Eastercon!

Mike - we must indeed. I wonder how many others think they're the only one! Maybe we should start a campaign group.

Dammit, this is confusing. Does "No" mean: "Yes, we want Scottish independence"? Or is it the opposite?

The question in the referendum is:

'Should Scotland be an independent country?'

The answer I would make and recommend is No.

Not being au courant with the debate inside Scotland, I'd like to know which argument from the general Left (as opposed to those to your Left) have been made against the Tory-opoly that would be the Rump U.K. without Scotland

No sooner asked than answered! (I hope.)

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