1) Scotland Branch
The deep and historic local paradox of the “Independence Question” is that the ruling class in Scotland have always actually been in favour of independence from UK control- from 1707 to the present day. They think they’ve already got it. This, it may seem strange to say, is why they’re so overwhelmingly against our voting for it now.
The terms of the Treaty of Union that Our Ruling Class negotiated in 1707 meant that from the outset, the law, the kirk, the schools and Universities retained their functional distinctiveness and indeed, “independence” from the amalgamation of merely political power that happened when the Parliament voted itself out of existence. So, throughout the18th Century, while the Kirk provided universal schooling against the wiles of the Papacy, the land owners, crucially, kept right on owning the land, indeed kept a very tight hold of it indeed with the help of the rather more stringently feudal character of distinctive Scottish law.
Between them, these institutions fostered the growth of an argumentative, egalitarian, enlightened and yet sheepishly unambitious bourgeoisie, overwhelmingly loyal to the Empire and the broader culture offered by British trade and the English language. In the 19th century, this middle class was added to by the bureaucratic, mercantile and military employment prospects of the Empire and its civil service, so eagerly sought and filled by comparatively well-educated Scottish ” lad o pairts” – Scots at less than a tenth of the population of the UK provided fully a third of the colonial bureaucracy.
In the twentieth century, the secretariat of the welfare state, local government, nationalized industry and industrial scale education was a similar pool of opportunity for the advancement of a new clean-collared echelon of Scottish Labour Aristocracy.
Thus evolved a succession of unelected and anti-nationalist national hegemonies within an unsupervised outpost of a British state that granted functional independence to this succession of Scottish elites, who remained aloof from democratic oversight both from Westminster, which didn’t care that much, and, more importantly, from an electorate in Scotland which didn’t count for anything.
As a matter of the exercise of practical power, then, the Scottish Ruling Class are already “independent.” They are independent of an indifferent London, but also, crucially, they are independent of us. This is why, for them, political Independence is unnecessary. They already have “independence.”
That’s how they know so well it is far too good for the rest of us.
Scotland has been governed since the Union in 1707 by a series of locally unaccountable local elites each with their power derived from subservience to the bigger, wider, British elite of which they form the cadet branch, deriving satisfaction from being effective servants of that wider unaccountable interest. On the most banal level, this explains why our devolved politics at Holyrood have been both quietly efficient behind the scenes in private while resembling a screechy playground fight in public. “It’s Oor Baw!” they all cry, as if Scotland was a single piece of property to be screeched over in public and efficiently controlled in secret.
As indeed, in some senses, under the stewardships of successive hegemonies, it always has been run and screeched over. It is this pre-democratic sphere of privilege, safe from London because un-regarded by London, and still effectively unaccountable in Scotland, that is now seriously threatened.
The question in the referendum can be ultimately rephrased as: Do You Think that Political Power in Scotland should be in the gift of a sovereign Scottish People, or remain in the gift of sovereign power invested in the Westminster parliament? Put the question that way and you understand why they will move heaven and earth to stop us.
It is also why the anti-nationalist Scottish National Establishment is so steadfastly and paradoxically running away from power and responsibility. They are used to power without responsibility, is the explanation. They’ve come to prefer it that way. It is not power they fear, or even nationalism they oppose, ultimately. It is effective democratic oversight. It is democracy itself they’re afraid of.
There is something finally rather primitive at the base of our democratic under-development. The Scottish Middle Class, which includes the Labour-voting, publicly employed middle class, tends to support the Union because, ultimately, they don’t trust the people in the next street.
This is why from the Scottish Law Society to the BBC and CBI as well as Labour dominated local government, the powers that be in Scotland are in the No camp. Devolution has already exposed them and made them vulnerable and scrutinized in way they’re not used to, and they fear that independence might finish them. But “the people” was the fiefdom from which first the Scottish Unionists and then Labour drew their “deliverable” vote, once upon a time. And while first the Protestant Ascendancy, then the welfare state and mass employment and housing lasted, they did indeed deliver a stream of MPs and real leaders through their passive, un-consulted, barely visible and slavishly reliable electoral base. That this political base began to disintegrate, along with the collective provision and mass employment on which it was founded, was an obvious sequel, and it seems curious that Labour, for example, should have been taken so much by surprise. But they were. Even having lost two elections in a row they barely seem to credit it and act as if some terrible mistake will soon be corrected and everything will return to normal.
A return to normality is what they are gambling on in September. They only took the gamble because they were certain that our fearfulness, our inexperience of self-rule, would still slavishly deliver the vote they wanted. They are not so sure now. They will move heaven and earth to stop us. By contrast, if the Yes side can persuade the people of Scotland that it’s “Independence” that is “normal”, and the only real expression of sovereignty and of democracy, then heaven and earth can’t stop us.
2) London Branch
To dispense with the absurd before attempting the sublime, this week has seen the launch of both the Better Together and Yes Scotland constitutional pitches.
On the Yes Scotland side, this was in the form of the draft constitution presented by Nicola Sturgeon. On the “No Thanks” front we had a photo-op in front of a poorly designed, half built impersonation of the Parthenon in Athens, where real democracy was invented.
Passing over the symbolic imbecility in the name of kindness, I do wonder whether these New Powers they are talking about borrowing – “The Best of Both Worlds” as they have called them, have been signed off line by line at Westminster, where the power, as opposed to the power, will still remain. Have the PLP been squared? The 1922 Committee? After they deliver the No vote they promised to the senior branch of our representation, are they really sanguine that all those Welsh and English and Northern Irish MPs will be happy to see more sweeties given to the Scots, especially after we’ve just voted our only real bargaining card off the table? Michael Forsyth certainly seemed to think otherwise in the Daily Politics Studio. “Best of Both Worlds? Cake and Eat it, more like”, he seemed to say. And in the end, after a No vote, it won’t matter what they’ve promised the electorate in Scotland. What they can get through Westminster will be what matters.
It may be that a Yes Vote is the vote for certainty by comparison. Vote No and God knows what we’ll get. We certainly won’t have any say in it.
In any case, to loftier matters, or rhetoric, anyway.
“In Scotland , the People are sovereign” says the top line of the new Scottish Constitution proposed this week by Nicola Sturgeon. Well, I’ve looked it up. And in Scotland, in England in Wales and Northern Ireland, Elizabeth Windsor Saxe-Coburg Battenburg is sovereign.
To say otherwise is treason, I’m delighted to report.
The word “sovereign” is not just a word in a constitutional monarchy. It is the origin and principle of every authority in war making and law making, tax raising and spending. Our politicians are fond of describing Britain as a democracy. But Britain HAS democracy. Not IS a democracy. Democracy is just a way of administering. The crown exercises sovereignty through parliament. Parliament is a conduit of power, not the source of it.
Now some will say this is pedantry, that the Royal Family are just window dressing for the tourists, and they’d be right about that. The living individual members of the brood are incidental. What matters is that power in this country, by which I mean the UK, is ultimately unaccountable to the people. The people are not sovereign in the UK. Let alone the Scots in Scotland! The people are subject. You ask a lawyer.
Scotland, with its paradoxes of a powerful bourgeois culture with no aspiration to take charge of their own destiny, can stand for the whole for which it is, again paradoxically, the most representative historical constituent. It is a constituent part of the whole, under the crown, but it is just a bunch of constituencies under the Crown in Parliament at Westminster. In exists as an administrative unit. It does not exist, as such, in democratic terms at all. Let alone as a sovereignty.
(Glasgow Cathcart exists, as a parliamentary constituency. Scotland, like England, Wales and Northern Ireland, doesn’t. The parliament in Holyrood exists as democratic window dressing to the administrative devolution of powers that existed before 1999. These powers are loaned, not sovereign in themselves. Again, ask a lawyer.)
Unwritten results of old wars and horse-trading aside, the deeper crisis afflicting this pre-democratic polity of ours is the decision by its rulers that democracy, in the sense we have understood it, has rather had its day. Among those in the know, ever since Alan Greenspan, architect of the nineties and noughties speculative boom and bust, went into Bill Clinton’s office the day after his inauguration in 1993 and told him to forget everything he had promised by way of state action to improve the lives of the population during the campaign, the world’s elite have operated their casino on a post-democratic basis.
The market, Greenspan told Clinton, has replaced the polity as the arena of free choice. Extend participation in the market place and you serve freedom better than any occasional plebiscite. Wealth will accumulate hugely for the elite, while the extension of credit will mean that everybody can play within limits set by the rule makers of the market. The rule makers of the market will in every case outrank the rule makers who have been elected in the frankly antique exercise of “democracy.” There are laws in draft and about to come into place that will enshrine the interests and legal status of transnational corporations so that they will forever be able to ignore the merely voted for laws in the localities in which they happen to find themselves and sanction any government who attempt to stand up to them.
Underpinning this bleak enthronement of the dismal science, this sovereignty of the market, is the exhaustion and corruption of the Enlightenment Project. Smart people don’t believe in anything anymore. They talk about the Wisdom of Crowds, they talk about the money markets. They don’t talk about freedom and justice and truth. I should feel embarrassed even to type the words. Such ideas are fine for the public prints, but proper grown up folk only ever talk about power.
And it is this power, as ever, in its modern, weary guise, that guides the flow of what Kurt Vonnegut called “The Great Money River”, with that flow of capital being the only good, the only value that anyone believes in. Everything else is dust and ashes.
In this weary atmosphere of nihilism and wealth accumulation, the words “In Scotland, the People are sovereign” are not only treasonable, they are revolutionary. In six words, they potentially upset everything, like the five words from the beginning of the democratic era : “all men are created equal.”
They are a throwback, an absurdity, a joke. Aren’t they?
If we vote for them, on September the 18th, then we are not merely upsetting the apple-cart of our local elite, we are denying the very structure on which the glorious revolution of 1688 was founded, and of which the Treaty of Union was the capstone. We are fatally undermining the deal that built the Empire and that sustains the unrepresentative exercise of power in these islands and well beyond.
We are darting at the heart of the elite everywhere. What’s not to like about that?