The second article in our series in the run up to the Radical Independence Conference on 24th Nov is an extract from Gregor Gall’s forthcoming book, Scotland the Brave? Radicalism and Independence (Scottish Left Review Press, 2013).  Gregor Gall is Professor of Industrial Relations at the University of Hertfordshire.

Scotland the brave? Radicalism and independence

There is no point having a referendum on independence for Scotland unless social change – and substantial social change for the better – is on the agenda. No amount of constitutional change, no amount of changing the process of the political framework by which we are governed and no amount of switching the flag flown above public buildings from a Union Jack to a Saltire will improve the material conditions of the mass of citizens in Scotland.

Therefore, the key issue by which the case for independence stands or fall is whether it will – or can – deliver improvements in living standards and people’s life chances: working conditions, employment security, educational opportunities, well-being and mortality rates etc, etc.

The ability of independence to deliver this is a possibility – not a probability. It is merely a possibility because the domination of the independence campaign so far by the SNP means that it currently drowns out the radical voices that support independence as a vehicle for delivering substantial and beneficial social change.

The SNP’s approach to the independence debate is built upon maintaining the status quo. This – even for the SNP – must be something of an irony because it will not achieve its very goal unless it is willing to offer substantial social change. Otherwise there will be no substantial positive case for voting ‘yes’.

The SNP conceives the goal of independence as maintaining the current social fabric of Scotland from the clutches of the austerity attacks from the Unionist parties that dominate the Westminster parliament. Part and parcel of this is defending the advances obtained under devolution – the free prescriptions, no tuition fees, free care for the elderly and so on.

But even with these recent gains, there is still massive poverty and inequality in Scotland. It is a measure of the timidity of devolution and SNP policy that this has become the upper limit of what progress has been deemed to mean.

We can only envisage an end to the poverty and inequality that stalks Scotland if more radical policies are on offer as a result of independence. Radicals cannot then rely on the SNP – and they must do their utmost to not only get traction for the radical case for independence but also to begin to deliver on that promise by winning a substantial number of seats in the first Scottish parliamentary elections after independence in 2016.

SNP – party of the status quo

Let’s remind ourselves of the contours of what will stay the same under the SNP vision of an independent Scotland – the monarchy, membership of NATO, the currency of sterling (the pound), the Bank of England setting inflation rates and the Financial Services Authority lightly regulating finance capital and so on. In spirit and deed, this deliberately limits the potential for social change because maintaining the current financial regime maintains the dominance of finance capital.

SNP – party of regression

The SNP’s economic policy is thoroughly neo-liberal based as it is on trickledown, free market economics. The intention to reduce corporation tax to a Celtic Tiger level is the best indication of this. The idea is to stimulate economic growth in order to fund the limited social programme of the devolution settlement through tax receipts. Of course, there are two big problems here. The first is that economic growth is far from assured while we undergo the biggest depression since the 1930s and which has no end in sight. The second is that pursuing the path of neo-liberal deregulation so that capital has even greater freedom is to wilfully repeat the very mistakes of the recent past.

So not only is there no guarantee that the gamble on the free market would work – moreover, the free market will dictate as it has before that social programmes are slashed in order to create the right conditions for the economy. In other words, under the capitalist regime the SNP favours, the social will always come second to the economic and we will be no further forward.

SNP – triumph of process over outcome

Salmond’s big fist for his appeal for independence is that the people of Scotland are best placed to decide what happens in Scotland. That’s fair enough and represents a basic tenet of democracy. But it does not presuppose a fairer, more equal society because neither the economy inside or outside Scotland will be changed by a vote for independence itself. That requires a set of politics that the SNP does not hold and does not want to hold.

Radical options for radical times?

Currently, only a third of citizens are in favour of independence. The majority are against and a large number are as yet undecided. Whilst more radical policies for Scotland under independence will no doubt scare some off, far more will gained by bringing to the fold those that can see social justice is the key objective for a new Scotland and that it can far more fully be brought about under independence.  Social justice can only be attained by limiting the operation of the market – by socialising the market so that it is regulated in part and converted into public ownership in others.

So the questions become: are those living in Scotland brave enough to vote in 2014 for independence – based on a radical case for it – and then in 2016 will they follow through and vote for parties of the left to outflank the SNP and deliver upon the social justice case for independence? 

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Times and details for all the Radical Indy Conference sessions, including Gregor Gall’s, can be found here.

Tickets can be bought here.