Things fall apart. Willing or no, Greece will exit the Euro. With perhaps Portugal next, and then Spain, and then…
Christine Lagarde of the IMF tells us in a BBC interview that “the Greek population has made huge efforts. But they have more to do. There are more structural reforms to be had, there is more tax to be collected.”
Lagarde, who pays no tax on her current income, makes it very clear that “somebody has to pay the price” and we can be certain that everything possible will be done to ensure that it’s the Greeks who pay and not the financial markets. This is textbook ‘Chicago School’ economics: crisis as an opportunity to dismantle the state and social supports, sell off assets of value and privatise everything.
It is not, however, the only possible response. Greece is fighting back. Alexis Tsipras, leader of the Syriza party nails it when he says, in an interview with ‘The Guardian’, that his country is on the frontline of a battle: “On the one side there are workers and the majority of people and on the other are global capitalists, bankers, profiteers on stock exchanges, the big funds. It’s a war between peoples and capitalism.”
Same as it ever was, of course. But there’s a sense now of something buckling; of the financial system being warped to an extreme by the pressures of its own desperate need to remain intact.
Yet it can’t remain intact, not under the crippling weight of debt and the added stresses of resource depletion and accelerating climate change. And this unravelling will undoubtedly have an impact on Scotland’s independence referendum.
It would be a mistake, however, to portray the referendum as a kind of general election: a choice between a Tory-led Westminster Government pushing for ‘growth at all costs’ – the turbo capitalism demanded by the market – or an SNP Holyrood Government offering a slightly more palatable – though absurdly oxymoronic – vision of ‘sustainable growth’.
The referendum is much more important than that. It’s a civic choice, and this is what I find most exciting. We have a rare opportunity to decide on our system of governance, as opposed to simply choosing its political flavour. This should be stressed again and again. Along with many other things, the referendum is about the possibility of systemic change. It’s about choosing to become a small modern democracy with a representative voting system; or it’s choosing to remain part of the UK, playing out the last days of Empire with ‘first past the post’ and its endless see-sawing between Labour and Conservative.
There are many reasons to vote for or against independence – emotional, cultural and practical – but witnessing the resistance to the IMF and the ECB in Greece and Spain, not to mention the events of the Arab Spring, it may be that if Scotland votes ‘yes’ it will be doing so as part of an ongoing paradigm shift away from hegemony and towards a more engaged self-determination.
I’m not naive enough to suggest that an independent Scotland will find it easy to cope in this era of ‘catabolic collapse’ – a term coined by John Michael Greer to describe a period of decline punctuated by repeated crises and partial recoveries. I simply believe that a more modest and more participative democracy is better suited to such times. And given that the ‘UK’ remains a symbol of our expansionist, exploitative past, it would be a fine thing for all concerned, and in keeping with those times, if Scotland could finally lay that symbol to rest.
Naomi Klein, writing in The Shock Doctrine, her study of ‘disaster capitalism’, suggests that “we do not always respond to shocks with regression. Sometimes in the face of crisis, we grow up – fast.”
This is the challenge: not to regress, to grow up – fast. I believe that voting ‘yes’ in the referendum would be part of that process.