Leading by Example

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Coverage of the independence debate has so far thrived on fear and smear – but is the truth more inspiring? JUSTIN KENRICK believes an independent Scotland could bring hope in a global, interconnected world.

When there is such a need to challenge the way financial interests are wrecking the global environment and pushing austerity on the poor (while taking our wealth into their tax heavens), surely Scottish independence should be the last thing on our minds? But the question is: How do we take control of those financial interests?

Not by voting for the three main UK parties who all embrace rather than challenge the financiers. And not by voting for the Scottish National Party.

However, a vote for Scottish independence is not a vote for the SNP. In fact, their main reason for existence would vanish on the day Scotland cut its ties with Westminster; and Labour in Scotland is likely to be the main beneficiary of independence, just as the SNP has been the main beneficiary of devolution.

Instead, this referendum is about whether people in Scotland think the current political system has served them well, and whether they think they can do better. It is about whether it is right to bring power back closer to the people. This is why we are witnessing – in Scotland at least – an unrelenting media campaign by corporate power to portray independence as a process of abandonment and insecurity.

So let’s look more rationally at each of the so-called terrible problems independence would supposedly generate:

1) “An independent Scotland might not be accepted into the European Union”

Scottish Society is the most pro-Europe in the UK . An independent Scotland by definition fulfils all the criteria for being a member of the EU and would be instantly accepted by other European peoples, as a Danish legal specialist recently confirmed. It is far more likely that a UK Government will take us out of Europe, and if not, that they will continue to reshape Europe for their corporate. friends, not for workers and refugees and environmental rights.

2) “Trident would be massively expensive to move to England, and so independence will cost us all hugely”

Eighty per cent of people in Scotland want to get rid of nuclear weapons , and the vast majority of MSPs in the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood reflect this settled will – yet can do nothing about defence issues, which are controlled by Westminster. An independent Scotland would be able set an example to the world.

If Westminster doesn’t want to pay the huge costs of building new facilities in England, there is a simple solution – spend those billions on rebuilding society instead of nuclear weapons.

3) “Scotland would be cutting itself off, turning friends and family south of the border into foreigners”

The main UK parties endlessly push a British nationalism based on fear – giving out the message that my sisters in London will be foreigners to me in Edinburgh if Scotland becomes independent. But in fact ‘foreigners’ is not the way to think of or relate to anyone, either in these islands or the wider world.

By contrast the SNP reflects the widespread civic nationalism in Scottish society – the idea that those who live in a particular place should decide about that place. This is not a nationalism that focuses on bloodlines, fear and ‘foreigners’, but one that is internationalist, one that welcomes asylum seeker and refugees.

In that sense, Scotland becoming independent would be about reconnecting with the world. My sisters and friends the world over are always my sisters and friends – while the neoliberalism that currently seeks to unite us only through what we choose to buy is a paltry shadow of who we are .

4) “Scotland becoming independent would mean abandoning England to permanent Tory rule”

Numerically, Scotland just isn’t that important in UK elections – indeed, research shows that Scottish MPs have NEVER turned what would have been a Conservative government into a Labour one, or vice versa. But if politics in Scotland can show that another way is possible then independence can certainly help progressive movements elsewhere in the world, including in England.

5) “Scotland cannot manage economically”

Those arguing for a No vote say that people in Scotland receive more funding per head than people in the rest of the UK. Those arguing for a Yes vote say Scotland contributes more to the UK economy, partly through the huge oil revenues that have flowed for decades. Perhaps both are right and perhaps both miss the point that oil is not the future.

It is certainly a huge shame that those oil revenues were not used to establish a fund for society as in Norway, but instead to plug the huge hole left in public finances by tax cuts for the very rich and the sell-off of public companies like BT. But ultimately we all need independence from oil. We all need the commitment to renewables that Scotland is demonstrating, albeit renewables owned by communities and wider society not by corporations.

What is needed is a transition from an energy intense economy driven for the profit of the few to a Nordic social democratic model such as that being put forward by the Commonweal Project in Glasgow . Will banks like RBS flourish in such a context? Hopefully not. If a Bank is too big too fail, it is too big. We don’t need a system in which the rich take all the profits when they succeed, but give us their debts when they fail .

6) “Why not just have more powers devolved to the Scottish Parliament?”

The Scottish Parliament was brought into existence to prevent the imposition of policies (like those of Margaret Thatcher) for which Scotland never voted. Currently it has power over areas like education and health, and supports social democratic values expressed through policies like rejecting tuition fees,.

But why just have the power to deal with some of the consequences of bad policies and not have the power to ensure good policies in the first place? Why not have the power to ensure inclusive and fair economic and social security policies, and the power to reject nuclear weapons and to refrain from participating in illegal wars?

7) “Is independence relevant in an interconnected world?

Absolutely. It makes sense that power is as close to people as possible so that when we see what is being done in our name we have the power to do something about it. In that sense, independence may be the democratic response to the way in which Tony Blair continued the privatisation of public goods, and completely ignored the huge majority who demonstrated against his Iraq war.

Our powers have been continually alienated from us to bodies like the World Trade Organisation, which makes the rules that favour huge corporations. Current governments lack the will to tackle this. What is needed is not for power to be devolved from above, but for it to be enabled by communities from below . We could then grant power to greater conglomerations for as long as they use it wisely, but withdraw it when larger bodies fail to act in our name.

8) “Negotiations over independence would mean huge disruption economically”

If those who currently rule at Westminster are reasonable, then there will be no difficulty in negotiating a post-independence settlement. If they are not reasonable then there is no way any of us should be ruled by them, and we need to end their rule starting with Scotland but not ending until we have replaced all governments that serve the financial elites rather than the people who elected them.

Scotland becoming independent guarantees nothing, but – going on the Scottish Parliament’s track record and given political will – it offers the real possibility of leading by example and helping all of us get out of this accelerating train before it hits the wall.

MEDIA BARRAGE

When there is something seriously at stake, when those who control finance (and through that control the media and so much of our politics) see that their interests might be seriously threatened, then a media barrage of fear becomes the incessant background noise of our daily lives. This happened at every election under Thatcher, until the Labour leadership embraced rather than sought to restrain the financiers and so elections instead became the empty rituals they have been since. Such a media barrage is what is happening currently in Scotland – day in and day out, with the referendum still a year away.

A third of people in Scotland will probably vote Yes to independence, and a third vote No, just because they believe that is right no matter what. It is the third of us in the middle who will swing it one way or the other.

What will persuade us is either the fear which is being pushed so relentlessly upon us, telling us we can’t manage our affairs – or the hope that through voting for a Parliament that is closer to the people we can help create a better world.

In a global context, voting for independence is a threat to the powers that be, and creates a space for hope. Voting for independence is not about nationalism and abandoning shared values; it’s about democracy and restoring those values.

This article was first published in www.thirdwaymagazine.com – in an exchange between Justin and Douglas Alexander MP. We are waiting for permission to re-publish Douglas’s article.

[1] http://newsnetscotland.com/index.php/scottish-opinion/6761-scotland-and-the-eu-the-polling-evidence

[2] Ref recent interview with Danish legal specialist from National Collective: http://nationalcollective.com/2013/07/10/exclusive-scottish-eu-membership-straightforward-and-in-denmarks-interest/

[3] http://www.heraldscotland.com/politics/referendum-news/even-pro-uk-voters-reject-trident-move.20481478

[4] http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/06/13/overview-effect-astronauts-looking-earth_n_3435379.html

[5] http://wingsoverscotland.com/why-labour-doesnt-need-scotland/

[6] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/scotland/9647948/Scots-receive-1600-more-per-head-in-state-spending-than-English.html

[7] http://www.heraldscotland.com/politics/referendum-news/new-report-scots-paying-more-tax-than-rest-of-uk.20777183

[8] Commonweal: http://reidfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/The-Common-Weal.pdf

[9] http://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2013/07/15/mismanaging-money/

[10] http://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2013/07/11/land-not-out-of-our-hands/

[11] http://www.scotsman.com/lifestyle/heritage/lesley-riddoch-pulling-together-for-better-future-1-3001166

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Categories: Commentary

17 replies

  1. One person in ten in Scotland was not born in Scotland. This isn’t about ethnicity, or where you were born. It is about those of us who live here breaking the hold of Westminster and running our own lives. Westminster is hopelessly corrupt. A majority of the Members of the Westminster parliament were not elected. A majority of them are Members of the House of Lords. Furthermore. the corruption that is the Lords also corrupts the Commons. MPs in the Commons can be kept in line by the hope that they may one day gain “promotion” to the place where they will never again have to stand for re-election.And it suits the leaders of the political parties at Westminster to keep it that way, because this gives them great powers of patronage. Independence would immediately rid us of the corruption of Westminster, and it would give us the opportunity to devise a new, written constitution which protects human rights. As such, an independent Scotland could be a beacon of hope, and an example, to people in other countries, and that would include being a beacon of hope, and an example, to people in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

    • Very good point about the role of patronage in Westminster. A friend from Wales was reminding me that we would need to guard against such elite capture being replicated closer to home. However that is surely something that would be much easier to highlight, object to and halt – precisely because it is so much closer to home.

  2. Our nationalism threatens no one. I am unashamedly a nationalist. I believe in our right to national sovereignty and the restoration of our neglected cultural patrimony. I believe we have much to give to and much to receive from other nations on this planet. We have had a unique experience as an active player in British imperialism. And as such have a fund of political insight into the hegemonic, manipulative and counter-democratic forces still at work at home and,for example, in the Middle East. For me independence is axiomatic and logical. It requires no justification, however, articulate. The noes seem to want a risk-free world. How sad that they have so little imagination or desire to see what lies beyond the pale.

    • If 51% of people in Scotland saw the world in the same way as you outline here then there would be no need to explain why independence makes sense. However, since it appears that (as yet) they don’t, how do we bring others on board?

      For me, what you say about our experience is crucial:
      “We have had a unique experience as an active player in British imperialism. And as such have a fund of political insight into the hegemonic, manipulative and counter-democratic forces still at work at home and, for example, in the Middle East”.

      This unique experience is one of not just being colonised but of participating in the colonisation of others. Can we learn as much from how we have been coerced and coaxed into going out to dominate others as from the way we have been dominated ourselves?

      • ‘Nationalism’ is a much-maligned term, because it’s generally associated, deliberately, in a Scottish context, with an ethnic form of patriotism.

        As a member of the SNP, I get a little irritated at being called a ‘nationalist’. It’s almost spat out!

        For those of us who have campaigned for decades to be in this current position, most did so under the guise of the SNP. It was the only major force dedicated to self-determination. It has never been about ethnicity. In fact, we were smart enough to see that the Union wasn’t working for Scotland long before non-SNP folk who are now pro-independence. In essence, we were decades ahead of many who are now campaigning alongside us. Despite being late, I’m glad they’ve seen the light.

        I always ask the question: what form of nationalism is the greater danger to peace in the world: Scottish nationalism or British nationalism?

        While I accept that there is a broad range of ideological differences across the Yes campaign, I hear or read regular criticism of the SNP from other pro-independence supporters, which occasionally baffles me.

        For example, Alex Salmond is a right winger, pandering to corporations. Now, we know that the FM is a business-friendly and economically savvy bloke, but let’s not confuse that with someone only interested in pursuing a right-wing corporatist agenda. Making money in business is not a bad thing; it’s what you do with tax revenues to improve investment, which ultimately provides jobs, that matters; or how corporation tax can be more fairly distributed by government among those who need the help. I think it’s safe to say, with the economic powers at its disposal, this SNP government has proved to be the most progressive political force in the British Isles. Under self-determination, I don’t see the SNP suddenly lurching to the right. The membership wouldn’t accept it.

        And I don’t see SNP members upping sticks and leaving the party to join Labour. There are many in the SNP who couldn’t stomach being in the same party as people who fought so bitterly to keep Scotland in the Union. Consequently, I expect to see the SNP and Labour continuing to battle over the centre-left vote.

        Essentially, SNP members desire the same things described in this article, and always have. We want a new state that can make a difference, both at home and abroad; a genuine force for good; a voice of reason in international affairs. We want to eradicate inequality and distribute the nation’s wealth more fairly, with living wages and living benefits. We want to move to a more sustainable social and economical model, as laid out in the Commonweal. It’s not new! It’s not as if some smart folk have just wandered into the independence fold with all the answers. We ‘nationalists’ have been preaching this for decades.

        I’m simply delighted that so many folk are joining us and contributing their ideas and visions, because that’s the Scotland I want to live in; not some former imperialist, war-mongering, right-wing totalitarian UK!

      • Hi Richard (I’m hoping this will appear under your September 1st response, but who knows!)

        Very good points, two thoughts:

        1. Nationalism: I work in Africa supporting communities to regain rights to their land so for me self-determination and love of the place you live and the right to govern it are key, BUT the whole language of nationhood is really problematic – it assumes an in and an out, an us and a them, which may be clear and simple to you but is anything but that to me.

        2. If independence is going to happen then it will be because those people for whom other issues are far more important see this as a route to achieve those goals. I have been criticised by some Yes campaigners who said my radical vision of how Scotland can tackle climate change would put off the majority of voters who would be fearful of such change. For me, avoiding extinction is definitely a higher priority than forms of governance, but I see the two as connected; and for me using this process to radically change society for the better is the point, otherwise what is self-determination?

        Will a Yes vote be based on a vision for the future rather than be based on fear of the alternative?

        I hope so, otherwise we end up with Holyrood reproducing the current Westminster system where we are all voting for the least worst rather than the best. Despite the polls (and maybe, ironically, because of them since they are reassuring a No campaign which can’t see it has lost the argument and hasn’t learnt that people don’t decide to vote for change until they have to, i.e. not until the last few weeks) Yes looks pretty certain to win. But the question is ‘Win on what basis?’. Win because people are more scared of the alternative? That would be equally ironic, since it would continue the same mind set that keeps us in thrall to fear.

        Back in 2007 many of us switched our constituency votes to the SNP, many more did in 2011. According to research at Strathclyde University, what tipped the votes to secure the SNP’s 2007 knife edge victory was anti-Trident Labour voters switching to the SNP. There is a much larger constituency of voters out there who can also shift to voting for independence, and so ensure a Positive Yes rather than a Negative Yes or No, IF the debate includes a recognition that we want something far more positive and radical than the undoubted competence of the SNP Government.

        So, we need to be clear not only where devolution has let us down and how much more could be done with independence, but also where the SNP has let us down, and how so much more can be done even now than they are willing to do.

        For example, Prof Hunter says: “We’re now six years into an SNP government which has so far done absolutely nothing legislatively about the fact that Scotland continues to be stuck with the most concentrated, most inequitable, most unreformed and most undemocratic land ownership system in the entire developed world.”

        According to Andy Wightman [http://www.andywightman.com/?p=2830]: “Alex Salmond . . . appeared to rule out the use of compulsory powers as part of any new measures to strengthen the rights of communities to buy land . . . [Alex Salmond] says: “If we tried to compulsorily purchase land, we’d end up for generations in the European Courts. I mean .. that’s very clear.” He is wrong. The European Convention on Human Rights (Article 1 of Protocol 1) makes perfectly clear that land can be acquired against the interests of the owner provided it is in the public interest to do so and that it is done in accordance with the law.”

        Being clear that voting for independence is not voting for the SNP, and being clear that voting for independence need have nothing to do with nationalism and everything to do with democracy, are surely ways of broadening the base of supporters needed to make this happen. Land Reform is one of those areas where these issues come together since unless independence is about addressing this inequitable anti-democratic state of affairs then it is simply about exchanging a British national elite for a Scottish national elite. Lesley Riddoch puts it very well in her new book ‘Blossom’ (launching today at 6pm in Jam House, Edinburgh): http://newsnetscotland.com/index.php/affairs-scotland/7933-an-extract-from-lesley-riddochs-new-book-blossom

      • I agree with a lot of what you say, Justin Kenrick. But there’s one point with which I have to take issue. You talk about the possibility that we might “end up with Holyrood reproducing the current Westminster system”.

        In one respect, that is impossible. The majority of Members of the Westminster system are not elected by anybody. The majority of Members of the Westminster system are members of the House of Lords. ALL of the political parties at Westminster, with the sole exception of the SNP I think, participate in the House of Lords. It suits the leaders of all of the parties at Westminster to do this. It gives them a system of patronage to keep their MPs in line. Many members of the House of Commons toe the party line because they know that is the best way to secure “promotion” to the House where they will never have to stand for re-election ever again. Thus, the House of Lords is not only corrupt in itself, but its very existence has a profoundly corrupting effect on the Commons.

        Whatever other benefits independence might bring later on, it would mean we would IMMEDIATELY be rid of the House of Lords. And having got rid of it, nobody will ever again seek to introduce anything so damn crazy. So, in that sense, it would be impossible to end up with Holyrood reproducing the current Westminster system.

        By the way, although I do care about this planet of ours, and although I have more than once voted Green in the past, I am disgusted with the Green Party for them joining the Tories, Labour, and the LibDems in going along with the House of Lords, and for them endorsing one of their members becoming a Member of the Lords.

      • Hi Dave,

        Hoping this appears under your Sept 4th post.

        As I said in reply to your earlier comment, I completely agree with you about the House of Lords.

        As for your being “disgusted with the Green Party for them joining the Tories, Labour, and the LibDems in going along with the House of Lords, and for them endorsing one of their members becoming a Member of the Lords” – they didn’t endorse, they ELECTED her on an open ballot of members (something none of the other parties did). Since the House of Lords has sometimes played critical role in relation to legislation under both Tory and Labour Governments I can see why they did it. However, Green party policy is for a wholly elected second chamber at Westminster, and personally I would completely oppose sending someone to the House of Lords not just from Scotland (for obvious reasons) but from anywhere.

        But I think it isn’t helpful to dismiss a whole party on the basis of one event.

        Although I was appalled when the SNP brought down the Labour Government by siding with Thatcher in that vote of no confidence, and thereby ushered in years of Tory rule, I can understand why they did it (they felt totally betrayed by Labour over the referendum) and I am not “disgusted” by the SNP as a whole, even if the event disgusted me as much as the Greens electing a member to the House of Lords seems to have disgusted you.

  3. “Labour in Scotland is likely to be the main beneficiary of independence” Maybe if they completely rebuild their party from top to bottom and start formulating policies people in Scotland actually want. I’d put my money on the SNP continuing as before – kind of Labour 2.0.

  4. You’ve got it.

  5. Justin Kenrick wrote :* Nationalism: I work in Africa supporting communities to regain rights to their land so for me self-determination and love of the place you live and the right to govern it are key , BUT the whole language of nationhood is really problematic – it assumes an in and an out, an us and a them, which may be clear and simple to you but is anything but that to me.*

    Very interesting point Justin …….. I think I’m right in saying all ( or most ) of “national” borders in Africa were imposed by european colonialists….yet some “national” liberation movements based themselves on those imposed borders ……… so YES to land rights , self-determination and love of place. …. and I agree with problematic language of “nationhood” and borders. Why should anybody who happens to live immediately south of an arbitary line between Solway and Tweed be excluded from independent Scotland ?

    I support “independence” – we’re all interdependent in increasingly globalised world – as a means of breaking up imperial UK state and devolving power closer to the people and hopefully in the long , long term of a future world without borders.

    • “Why should anybody who happens to live immediately south of an arbitrary line between Solway and Tweed be excluded from independent Scotland?” – Answer, because they don’t live in Scotland. The line may be fairly arbitrary, but, unlike Africa’s recently-imposed-by-imperialists boundaries, it is many hundreds of years old, and the very act of claiming independence for Scotland acknowledges that boundary. No PEOPLE are being excluded from independent Scotland. People do have the option of moving, and folk who want to take part in this adventure are welcome to do so! But TERRITORY is being excluded from independent Scotland, because, otherwise, you would get into an extremely messy and complicated border dispute, and there are some folk at Westminster, and in the Headquarters of British “Intelligence”, and amongst the British naval and military top brass, who would absolutely love that. Sorry, neither the SNP nor any of the more radical socialist movements to its left make any claim whatsoever on English territory. The territory for which independence is claimed is the territory where Scots Law applies, and where Scots Law has applied since long before the Union of 1707.

    • Hi Davey,

      Yes, and I guess I would also take this line of thinking in a different direction entirely.

      As I said in the article, there are some for whom Scottish independence is a self-evident truth that requires no further questioning, for them there can be no negatives, and there are plenty for whom the continuation of the British state is self-evidently a better option than the alternative. It is those in neither position that this article was aimed at when published opposite Douglas Alexander MP’s piece in the http://www.thirdwaymagazine.com.

      For me, if independence leads to stronger and stronger self-determination for people and communities then it is great, and if it replaces one elite with another then it can be counter-productive (whether it leads to one or the other is, of course, up to us). In Africa, many national liberation movements were skin deep, ending up replacing a colonial ruling elite with a national ruling elite that was and is as equally beholden to corporate power, but able to persuade people it wasn’t in a way that colonial powers never could have.

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