Four non-nationalist reasons for independence, and one reason against
For those voters who could swing the referendum to independence, independence is not about nations and national pride; it is about society and social justice or – put more simply – about living in a society where people care.
- Protecting a social democratic society:
The ‘lost’ referendum for devolution of 1979 meant Scotland was not protected from the ravages of Thatcher’s anti-society policies. The fact the referendum was ‘lost’ despite a majority voting for devolution led to the SNP immediately withdrawing their support from the then Labour government, and the resulting election brought Thatcher and her policies to power. The won referendum of 1997 – following Labour’s 1997 victory as speedily as the ‘lost’ one had preceded Labour’s 1979 defeat – enabled a Parliament that has brought in positive social policies and the best climate change targets, that has resisted the privatisation of health and education, but has not been able to protect us from participation in globally destructive wars. The strongest motivation non-nationalists have for voting for independence is to protect and strengthen a society where the well-being of others – locally and globally – matters, as against a UK state that so obviously doesn’t care.
- Challenging British nationalism:
Becoming independent would involve removing the ‘British’ weapons of mass destruction from the Clyde, and refusing to participate in wars that are internationally illegal and immoral. These wars are only made possible by the US and UK maintaining the illusion that they are above the rules that other countries should abide by. Independence would help to shatter the illusion that the UK can act with impunity. It would show that there are direct consequences of such behaviour. That ultimately invading other countries means the disintegration of your own.
- Enabling social democracy across the British Isles:
For a decade or more the argument has been that the left can win ‘Britishness’ back, that we can regain the social ideals that created the Welfare state and sought a commonwealth of nations. That argument is over. It is clear that to regain social democracy across these islands requires ditching a Westminster system in which one of three neoliberal parties will always govern us. If we shatter the illusion that that the system is impregnable, if we vote for an independence that can enable Scotland to retain and build a socially caring internationally peaceful society, then we create the possibility that people in England and Wales and Northern Ireland will see that there IS an alternative on their doorstep, will see that they have been conned into a neoliberal path, by being persuaded there is no alternative except more of the same.
- Catalysing Transformation through ‘Indy Max’:
Maybe non-nationalists do need a third question on the ballot paper: not one offering ‘Devo Max’ but ‘Indy Max’. A Devo Max question might read: ‘Do you agree that the Scottish Parliament should have full responsibility for of all areas of economic and social policy?’ Independence goes further to reclaims responsibility for defence and international relations. But Indy Max takes independence further still. Nationalists argue that Scotland has the right to be a normal independent country able to decide its own affairs, and that is fair enough. But do we really want to live in a ‘normal’ country given that currently ‘normal’ countries are ruled by a financial and economic system that deepens social and global inequality, accelerates the destruction of ecosystems and rapidly diminishes our chances of avoiding catastrophic climate change? Don’t we need this society to become a trailblazer, demonstrating a socially and ecologically sustainable way forward? Is this the moment to make this possible, given people’s awareness of the destruction the financial system is wrecking, and given that we have so little time to pull back onto a sustainable path? A third question on the ballot paper could ask: ‘In addition to agreeing to Scotland becoming an independent country, do you agree that Scotland should respond to the ecological and economic crises by reigning in the financial sector and rapidly rebuilding community resilience?’
One reason to be against Independence is if independence enmeshes us further in the status quo
Many nationalists argue that the nature of an independent Scotland should be decided by people in Scotland once independence is achieved, and they understandably fear that different visions of an independent Scotland – from low-tax Celtic tiger to Socialist equality – will enable those opposing independence to split the movement and stop independence from happening.
However, how independence happens, the driving force making it happen, determines the kind of society independence delivers. At the moment the driving force from the SNP increasingly promises that independence will maintain the status quo. In which case the status quo – where the financiers have the final say – is what we’ll get; and this could intensify rather than mitigate this status quo. A Scottish elite delivering neoliberalism would do a much better job at ensuring compliance than the clumsy moves of a London elite where we can see the cracks in their argument because they are not attuned to the stories and perspectives of here. There is a reason why Murdoch seems to be backing independence.
The SNP may increasingly focus on maintaining the status quo because they fear alienating voters. They may fear that people who have changed their minds and now support independence will bottle it and vote against when the time comes. But there are not yet enough votes on the independence side, and promising not to replace the Bank of England, not to alienate big business, is no route to securing the votes of the social democratic majority.
There is surely a much greater danger than not securing independence. Like the long awaited and long struggled for Labour Government of 1997, the danger is that, when it finally comes, independence will turn out to be no better than what went before. Or will be even worse because – like New Labour – in place of its previous role (Labour then, SNP now) as a rallying point for opposition to the steamrolling of society and care by the greed of the powers that be, it will become a powerful conduit of the latter: in the process removing the one place in the mainstream that seemed to be holding out against the greed logic.
Believing that the milestone achieved (Labour in 1997 or independence in 2014) means job done and we can let them get on with it, was and would be to totally mistake how power works, and how such moments are only beginnings, opportunities, possible openings for radical change to the kinder society we want. If we leave it up to them we just get more of the same: an intensification of dystopia.
The SNP, despite being in Government, is still in many ways in opposition to the destructive status quo, still articulates people’s increasing sense that their voice is not heard, that current arrangements deny people sovereignty.
For those voters who could come in and swing the referendum to independence, this is not about nations and national pride: it is about society and social justice. Or – to put it simply – about living in a society where people care.
If that deep care – that affinity between a Government promising the removal of Trident and a people passionate about being better than the toxic policies of greed and division that have emanated from the Government in the City of London since 1979. If that deep care and connection continues to deepen post-2014 then that will be a move as liberating for people in England and Wales as for people in Scotland.
If it doesn’t (in other words if we miss the nature of the hopes that could swing the referendum) then 2014 will bring us back into the era of a parcel of rogues not a parliament for the people.
The current parliament is aligned with the people. It may be a mild form of radicalism that unites the parties in the Scottish Parliament who try so hard to sound in opposition to each other, it may not be the radicalism we urgently need – but it nevertheless is a parliament speaking in opposition to the destructive logic of the City of London and Westminster.
Ironically post-2014 Holyrood could stop being a Parliament of opposition and take its place as a ‘normal’ Sovereign Parliament doing what normal Parliaments seem to do: which is to role onto their backs and obey the wishes of the financiers through perpetuating the myth that being out for yourself builds a better future than building a society in which everyone has a real stake.
How do we ensure that a Yes vote in 2014 means the continuation of the struggle for humanity – for a humane politics in a humane society – rather than the end of the current coalition between society in Scotland and parties in the Scottish Parliament? How do we ensure 2014 helps spring us free, not entrap us further?