As I write, I am storming across Middle England: sitting on the early morning coach from London to Oxford. Any minute now, Guildford will fly by. With this angle on Britain, the future can appear pretty bleak: I struggle not to see landscapes unfold like electoral maps, and as I look out of the window it’s hard not to be overcome by the Tory blues.
That isn’t what’s depressing though. I’m 26. I can barely remember the last Conservative government. I can cope with The Enemy getting a go at trashing things every now and then. What’s depressing is the alternative: I live in East Oxford these days. Along with Brighton, we are the radical hub of the South East of England. Yet both the city council and the Westminster seat are controlled by staid Labour politicians with little vision and few ideas.
When my radical friends down here ask about Scottish independence, their first question is almost always the same: “won’t that completely screw us?”. Sometimes I answer with psephology: Labour has rarely won a Westminster majority without also winning an English majority, etc. But a much better answer is this: When I talk to people in England about tuition fees, I tell them I didn’t pay any – in Scotland, we don’t have them. Scotland’s potential potency as a good example is huge.
That point isn’t new though, and certainly not to readers of Bella, so let’s take it as read. Here’s what I want to say as the Yes campaign is launched: The Western world is in the middle of an economic storm. Capital is rapidly being ripped from communities and handed to an elite to be burnt in the bonfire of the bond markets. When a storm strikes, it’s time to dig a bunker, and to build defences: to build bastions of resistance.
In the 1980s, as Brazil was ruled by neo-liberals, the Workers’ Party learnt this. They took control of cities and they handed this control to the people: most famously by allowing residents of Porto Alegre to set the $200 million city budget each year in a series of mass meetings and discussion groups. In doing so, they empowered a population who had been forced out of the political process to come together, and from these power bases were able to build a powerful mass movement.
In Europe, now is the time to build such bastions of resistance. Scotland is no more progressive than most of England – if one region of the UK is exceptional, it is the right wing South East through which I’m travelling. But unlike the North or the Midlands, Scotland has a chance – an opportunity to separate itself from the stifling, post-colonian, centralised power of Westminster, and to begin to learn again how to be creative, how to build, how to empower.
The ideological grip of financialised capital has a firm grasp on all of Western Europe, but it holds most tightly onto the South East of England. If Scotland manages to wrestle herself free of that clasping fist, to use independence as a chance to truly hand power to communities and to people until they can map for themselves a route out of these stormy seas then perhaps, just perhaps, the rest of us can be persuaded to follow.
If all of this is too pie-in-the-sky, then the independence referendum will at least remind us all of this: nothing is permanent. Anything made by humans can be unmade by humans. That’s a lesson every generation needs to be taught: especially the young people here in the South East.