By Mike Small
In the face of the austerity measures sweeping Europe, and the inevitable and formidable resistance it has evoked, the question of a socialist response has returned, not just in Scotland but across the world. But the nature of the debate has changed. Two things have altered fundamentally the stakes of what we are discussing. One is the more naked aggressive and exposed conduct of late capitalist society, it’s brutal inequalities, it’s obscenely commodified relations and its manifestation in Westminster social policy characterised as punishment of the poor and extended elite rule. The debate is no longer between capitalism and socialism: it’s between democracy and authoritarian kleptocracy. The second is the reality of climate change and the unfolding ecological crises.
With these two driving forces – come two counterbalancing forces, the relentless inferiorism of Scottish society, daily reinforced by those whose interest it serves, and in ecological terms, the endless addiction to materialism that we are all part of.
So what grounds have we to believe that any sort of change is possible here, and what would that change process look like? It might not be about replacing one system with another, it might not be about ‘one great heave’ and it might not draw on some pure cultural root of Caledonian collectivism. It’s likely to be chaotic, unexpected, diverse in motivations and outcomes and to draw on a much wider set of impulses and experiences.
Alongside these tensions – between the drive for self-determination and the Scottish cringe and the cycle of consumerism and productivism lies a profound disillusionment with the political process itself.
The collapse of faith in political processes, governance and conventional forms of leadership could feed into a positive loop of more radical and far-reaching changes, focusing on not just the economic goals and ends but the structures and processes too.
From Sheridan to Blair the outmoded icons of conventional political leaders have been exposed. After Peter Capaldi the contrived, compromised, born-to-lie structures and systems of power need no further satirisation. They are bare as bones before a world-weary electorate. The counter factual of the Obama-moment crushed in its absurdity and summed up in the pitiful (but tragically accurate) slogan of Sarah Palin‘How’s that hopey-changey stuff working out for you?’lies as a warning to anyone wanting to try to envisage a better Scotland.
The question we are all faced with, set against this backdrop of political failure is: can we aspire for better? Would we believe anyone who told us we could? The answer is probably not, and yet we all know in our heart of hearts that ‘continuity’ is not an option. The option remains ‘socialism or barbarism’.
If we could imagine a renewed Scotland, one that exemplifies a new set of standards, that would be Scotland 3.0. It’s one that’s created collectively, relies on open source social programming and crowd sources a new republic.
We can imagine this sequence:
‘Scotland’, as covering the period from the rise of Cínaed mac Ailpín (Kenneth McAlpine) circa 850 to 1707
‘Scotland 1.0′ as covering the period of Union 1707 – 1999 (this version was recalled after fundamental coding errors were revealed)
‘Scotland 2.0′ covering the brief period of devolution 1999 – 2014 and the subsequent emergence of Scotland 3.0 following independence.
Why will any of this happen? Why would change come to deeply-conservative Scotland which sometimes feels like its blighted by generations of inertia?
Paul Mason, author of Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere, has written:
There is something in the air that defies historical parallels: something new to do with technology, behaviour and popular culture. As well as a flowering of collective action in defence of democracy, and a resurgence of the struggles of the poor and oppressed, what’s going on is also about the expanded power of the individual. For the first time in decades, people are using methods of protest that do not seem archaic or at odds with the contemporary world; the protesters seem more in tune with modernity than the methods of their rulers. Sociologist Keith Kahn-Harris calls what we’re seeing the ‘movement without a name’: a trend, a direction, an idea-virus, a meme, a source of energy that can be traced through a large number of spaces and projects. (Paul Mason, ‘Global unrest: how the revolution went viral’, The Guardian, 3 January 2012. )
We’re not immune to this process, we are, as perpetual innovators lost in post-industrialism in a great place to explore this new landscape.
Deindustrialisation, Decentralisation and Democracy
Any Scottish manifestation of socialism would need to look beyond productivism and consumerism towards ideas of being and living. And, if the fires of industrialism fed the furnace of John Maclean, John Wheatley, Michael McGahey and Jimmy Reid, the wind and sun of post-industrialism need to power the new socialist movement. The task is not, as Salmond would have it, the ‘re-industrialisation’ but the ‘de-industrialisation’ of Scotland.
The structural consequence of re-imagining political systems that don’t lend themselves to corruption, secrecy and the self-delusion of power and the practical consequences of deindustrialisation are the same: a decentralisation of bodies, institutions, organisations and systems into smaller units and confederations. Democracy, economics and technology recast at a town, city and regional level as appropriate.
Both the scale, structure and technology of a socialist Scotland will be profoundly shaped by the reality of the networked age.
It may take us time to awaken to this. At the moment there are few icons of Scottish identity that we cling to more tightly than our industrial past: ‘Clydebuilt’. Perhaps only our military past is held as dear to us as the idea of Scotland as industrial nation.
One motivation for this process to kick-off is the spectacular re-framing of the national question into one of class war and society versus the state by the leaders of Labour and Conservative parties in late 2012. The ‘new realism’ of Lamont and Davidson may have a combustible effect when mixed with the flammable material of mockery that finds expression through the pages and screens of a feral union press and the Anglosphere.
What’s emerging is a response to the Bullingdon Club politics that asserts a ‘independence without nationalism’, that is becoming more open to possibility as the Unionist parties haemorrhage credibility. But there’s still a massive task to overcome the inferiorism that blights Scottish culture. While this culture is fed daily by the forces that wish to protect vested interests and the establishment values there’s also a palpable growing sense of possibility emerging as forces merge in the prospect of fundamentally disturbing the British State.
There’s a growing realisation that while we are a country of huge potential scarred by inequality but that this is not a poor nation:
- Scotland contributes 9.6% of total UK tax revenue, yet only 9.3% of total public spending is spent in Scotland (GERS)
- Scotland generates over £1,000 more tax per person than the UK average
- Over the past 30 years, Scotland has a cumulative relative surplus of £19 billion
- 95% of North Sea oil reserves and revenue are situated in Scottish waters; North Sea oil has been estimated by scientists to have over 60 years of production left
- Scottish North Sea oil and gas is an asset worth over £2.5 and 4 trillion
- In the next 5 years alone, North Sea oil revenues will be £54 billion
- Trident cost approx. £15 billion and continues to cost over £2 billion annually; removing Trident from Scottish waters would save billions which could be spent on hospitals, schools and the police
- A Scottish Defence Force would save Scottish taxpayers at least £1.5 billion; independence would reduce our spend on Defence from £3.3 bn annually in the UK, to £1.8 billion under independence (RUSI)
- The war in Iraq cost the UK nearly £10 billion; an independent Scotland would not take part in such expensive, destructive and potentially illegal wars (UK Govt figures)
- Scotland has an exceptionally strong exporting sector, including whisky and renewable energy sustaining thousands of jobs and livelihoods
- Scotland has 25% of the whole of Europe’s renewable energy potential; fully harnessing this great asset could create 28,000 quality jobs and attract £30 billion of investment to Scotland
These facts sit at odds with the daily diet of economic miserabilism and the extraordinary idea put forward that what Scotland really needs is to host weapons of mass destruction made in another country for the defence needs of a different century.
The emerging realisation is that Scotland needs to be liberated from the mindset and the dogma of neoliberal Britain, it needs to be creative about new economic models and social experiments to lead us out of the darkness of Union.
People quite rightly point out that a Yes or a No vote shouldn’t be cast solely on the exquisitely attractive option of permanently ridding this country of Tory rule. It’s about far more than that.
But the attacks on the gains of devolution, on the fabric of society, on the concept of univeralism and on the poor are not confined to this Coalition Govt, or that New Labour manifesto. They are built into the structure of the British State and the structure of power relations within it.
This is what needs to be understood about Britain, it is structurally incapable of being progressive. Why? Because of the concentration of power and privilege in the south-east and in the City of London, because of the power of the military establishment and because of the wholesale capture of government by private interests.
The reality is that south of the Severn-Wash line, outside London, Labour holds just ten of 197 seats. This is why, if Labour wants to win some of these back, Labour must be according to Ed Miliband: ‘the party of the private sector as much as the party of the public sector’ and the party of the ‘squeezed middle’ as well as those of those in poverty.
This is getting worse. As the Tory party begins to shed its veneer of respectability and organise around the far-right agenda of Britannia Unchained. MPs Kwasi Kwarteng, Priti Patel, Dominic Raab, Chris Skidmore and Elizabeth Truss call for a Britain of extreme economic liberalism in which, in the words of Labour’s Jon Cruddas, “their ideal worker is one prepared to work long hours, commute long distances and expect no employment protection and low pay”. The Financial Times called it “shock therapy for the country”, a quote the publishers apparently took as a compliment.
Is this all the preserve of right-wing think-tanks of London and the chattering classes? Not at all. This is co-ordinated and is unleashing a new throwback to a new Thatcherite policy surge. As the Reid Foundation has outlined:
We should not mistake the onslaught for the passing thoughts of a few individuals on the back of the announcement that Scottish Labour is to review what its leader calls ‘something for nothing’ benefits. This is a political programme actively supported by a number of groups. Right wing think tanks (and especially the David Hume Institute) has been gnawing away at the principle of the welfare state for ages, mainly using ‘public sector accounting’ as its method of attack. Likewise many parts of the Scottish media have been curating a story about ‘affordability’ and ‘maturity’ for ages, absolutely confident in their belief that accountants are the most valuable members of society when it comes to defining political ideology. What you don’t see is the use of the expensive lobbying budgets of organisations like SERCO or A4E or Atos Healthcare which are being used at all times to pressurise government to carry out more and more means testing (it’s one of their main sources of profit after all).
There is an extraordinary attack coming. The carving up of the NHS is one travesty, now in the hands of the private sector. The extension of a tax system staggering in it’s inequality is a central part of rip-off Britain. This is the future we have to avoid being drawn into.
As the date for the liberation poll is announced the need for clarity is needed. Liberation from what, for what? A replica mini-state is not what we need from this process. We need a new operating system, not a new computer. What social software do we need? What political apps are required? What could Scotland 3.0 look like?
Number one on my list – and I suspect the vast majority of us, is a response to the crisis in child poverty outlined recently as figures suggest 13 Scottish councils have wards where more than 30% of children live in pockets of severe poverty. Equality needs to be hard-coded into the new Scotland. The ‘worst areas were in Glasgow, the west of Scotland, Edinburgh, Dundee, Fife, Aberdeen and Stirling’, in other words right across the country.
The Campaign to End Child Poverty warned inflation, unemployment and cuts could see levels of deprivation spiral. The group has produced a map of child poverty for every ward, council and constituency.
It’s not a pretty picture. In fact, it’s a national disgrace.
The figures are matched for old people suffering from fuel poverty and the results of this poverty are seen in our disgraceful record of ill-health. This is a union dividend that needs to end. This isn’t going to change with new policies or a new constitution, it’s going to change with a new economics.
Second we need to create an open-source politics. This needs to be the new operating system, contrasting with Britain’s closed, elitist, feudal stratification. It needs to be an operating system called Scotland SD. Self-determination is about new emerging forms of democracy. Forms that reflect the kind of society we might want to create, ones that might be inclusive, participative and creative. So let’s build new systems where people want to participate in forming and shaping policy and running their towns and cities and communities. And that process itself has to be open to all. Crowd-sourcing our new constitution should be a key aim of the wider independence movement.
Third, we need to download a Peace App. We can start by scrapping the British States Weapons of Mass Destruction, and we can continue by withdrawing our troops from whatever theatre of war they are currently engaged in. Then we can offer a better option to our young men than the ‘adventure’ in Belfast, Helmand or Iraq as has been dangled by recruitment officers for hundreds of years. It’s a sick farce from Tory-Liberal and Labour alike to be opposing the extension of the vote to 16 and 17 year olds whilst young people have died in Blair’s Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Fourth we need to upgrade the anti-virus software that has affected our culture and leaves it marginalised, degraded or abandoned.
Optional additional software updates should include: the Republic (available shortly after 2014 – updates have been unavailable since 1603). Also in beta testing now the LandShare App (upgrade from previous 7:84 model).
Finally, this is like all upgrades need to be part of global network. The network is the thing. It’s not just about us. And there is no doubting that there are geopolitical consequences for what’s going on. Scotland is home to 5 million UK citizens, 5% of UK GDP, Europe’s sixth largest finance sector in Edinburgh, four Trident submarines (with around 200 nuclear warheads and 58 ballistic missiles), four regular British Army garrisons, three frontline RAF bases and six Royal Navy bases. On our North Sea coast lie oil reserves perhaps amounting to 30 billion barrels. So, it’s important not just for us.
Scotland has been the military playground, a place where the British elite are educated and where fossil fuel extraction has made oil barons rich and propped up 30 years of neoliberalism from Maggie to Tony to Dave.
All that’s got to go.
Install Scotland 3.0 now.
This is the first of a series of extract from a new collection launched May 2013 – Scotland’s Road to Socialism
Seven years after Is There a Scottish Road to Socialism? was published, we return to the question: “Is a better Scotland possible – and how do we get there?”. In Scotland’s Road to Socialism: Time to Choose, 24 writers give their answers. £7.99 inc. postage.
Contributors include: John Aberdein, Cat Boyd and James Foley, Pauline Bryan, Maggie Chetty, Jim and Margaret Cuthbert, Neil Davidson, Stuart Fairweather, Neil Findlay and Tommy Kane, John Foster, Colin Fox, Lynn Henderson, Bill Kidd, Richard Leonard, John McAllion, Mhairi McAlpine, Robin McAlpine, Conor McCabe, Peter McColl, Gordon Morgan, Mike Small and Dave Watson.