Who are the Scots?

poll-tax-scotland
By Peter Arnott

Those who live and work in Scotland – those who contribute to it and depend on it – are those who ought to have the governing say in who runs the place. These are the electorate both for the future and for the current campaign.  These are the people we say are “sovereign” – to be entrusted now and in future with our political decision making.

That is, we say that : -

a) Scotland constitutes a “polity”, a political entity, and that

b) democracy is in principle and practice the best way to run a polity.

Therefore

c)  we ought to have an elected parliament in Edinburgh that can actually take the decisions on taxation and welfare and war and peace that the parliament of any other, “normal” political entity should expect to do.

We believe that if one accepts that Scotland is a real country, and that democracy is the best (least worst) form of government, then, within that definition,  a Yes vote is logically the inescapable choice to make.  We are, perhaps unreasonably, bewildered, frankly, that anyone thinks differently.

To vote No on September the 18th you have to contend either that Scotland does NOT constitute a polity or that democracy is too good for it.

Normality? What’s that when it’s at home?
We in the Yes camp argue, that is, from a position of what we perceive as “normality”  – not that Scotland is a BETTER place than anywhere else, but that it is most definitely a “place” and that those of us who live here ought really, normally, to make the decisions as to what happens here.

Our current political situation is not “normal.” Normality is not normal.  It doesn’t exist yet.  We have to argue”as if.” That “as if” is both the strength and weakness of our position. But people in Scotland are beginning to look at “how things are”as being rather peculiar.

The No campaign have been reduced, more or less, to repeated variations on a theme of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” or “why take the risk of change?” or “don’t rock the boat”.

We can say : “Tell them that at the Food Bank!”

Or “Look at the level of child poverty in wealthy Scotland”

Or “Look at our disabled people being subjected to the agenda of “austerity plus terrorism” regime currently run by the now hateful and privatised government departments charged with their welfare. “

“But what guarantee is there that any of that would be better with independence?” is the question No voters ask.

And Yes voters should answer:  “WE are the guarantee.  YOU are the guarantee. If, WE, the Scottish electorate elected then re-elected a government that did this to our people, then hell mend us. But do you really think we would do that? The point is not WHAT we would choose, but the fact that WE would have the choice. And if it we found that a government wasn’t to our choice any more, we could vote against the cruelty and incompetence and hatred were doing all this to us…and, unlike now,  it would make a difference. It would matter what we did and what we chose. The government would actually change. Right now, we can’t do anything except complain about it  in the pub.  We want to make sure that our opinions count.  We want to make sure that YOUR opinions count. Come with us!”

Democracy too Dangerous

The only real argument the No side have got is that democratic choice like that is too dangerous for us. The real powers in the world will punish  wee Scotland if we insist on our self determination.  In terms of trade, the EU, the currency…all that…a newly independent Scotland will find itself more less at war with the rest of the world, they say..and we’d lose.

Underlying almost all of Project Fear is this very specific injunction that we mustn’t vote “against” Britain, we mustn’t vote “against” the neighbours because otherwise “they might hurt us”.

This seems to be  a very negative opinion to hold of the character of the “neighbours” if you really think that their response to our self-determination and adulthood will be one of vengeance and spite.   Apparently it’s not the nationalists who have a low opinion of our cousins.  It doesn’t make much a positive case for the Union! Yes voters have much more faith that the rest of the UK and the rest of the world will behave pragmatically.

When I’ve been working in England, I find that most people don’t really understand what’s going on, but they don’t wish us any harm – they don’t think we wish them any harm – and they’re sure “It’ll all work out.”

I expect nothing less of our neighbours.

As for us, I believe that if we say No to self government, it will almost immediately seem like an absurd thing to have turned down. This is because regardless of the product of the referendum, the process of the referendum campaign has established popular sovereignty in Scotland once and for all .

Besides, as I’ve argued elsewhere, I don’t believe that a No vote in September constitutes the foundation for anything like a sustainable political settlement. I think from philosophical first principles of democratic practice it is an accident waiting to happen.

Autonomy/self-rule/sovereignty – What’s in a name?
From first principles, then ; we, as free individuals, autonomous, “sovereign” individuals choose to pool our individual autonomy at our chosen levels of administrative convenience and democratic accountability.

We do this in cities, regions, nation-states and associations of nation states.

The new “normal” that has emerged during this campaign surely redefines “the Scots” as what, by any criteria, does indeed constitute a polity or nation.  We have defined ourselves.  The process of this campaign, and especially the huge popular swell of enthusiasm and hope and purposeful thinking it has unleashed all over the country and in every social sphere has entirely confirmed our perception of ourselves as being sovereign in our own country.

The future doesn’t come with guarantees.  We know that.  But a Yes vote can guarantee  that the choice would remain in our hands.

Are we really going to give that away on September 18th?  Are we really going to vote to leave the power in these islands exactly where it is?  Are we really going back to Westminster to ask for another a loan of political power when we have experienced having political power ourselves? Are we really going to vote to give all this away?

Isn’t it time to think about devolving power in the other direction.  To begin thinking, and acting “as if” all power comes form the people, and that we loan that power to governments of our own choosing?  Isn’t it time to be citizens and not subjects? Sovereigns and not beggars?

Our cultural distinction as Scots is now entrenched not in tartan and shortbread but in how we read and experience the world every day.  We are already independent in everything except the name.

We are already a nation.  Not “again” but for the very first time. A nation in the 21st century. Who are the Scots? We are.  And we are not climbing back in the bottle.



Categories: Commentary

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23 replies

  1. The problem with this article is that “Scotland ” could be replaced with anything from Auchtermuchty to Great Britain and it would still read the same logically. The point that is not addressed is what is so determining about the squiggly line between the Solway and the Tweed.

    • What is determining is the determination (self-determination).

      QED.

      When Auchtermuchty has a referendum…

      • All the polling indications are that Fife will vote substantially for the No option. Why then should they fall within the orbit of Holyrood when the voters will have opted for Westminster?

        Is that self-determination?

      • You should come canvassing with us, that’s not going to happen : )

    • Phil, the problem with stating that there is a problem is that there is no problem apart from the fact that you don’t like the position of the article. Also QED.

      I would further suggest that you are stating that there is a problem because you would like there to be a problem. That is, in essence, your problem.

  2. The problem with your comment Phil is that it is simply disingenuous.

  3. There is no real need to address the “squiggly line between the Solway and the Tweed£. This border has existed for hundreds of years, as has the country of Scotland. The only question asked by the Referendum of the people who live here is ,
    “Do we want to run our own affairs or do we want to continue to be governed by Westminster?”,

    • So nationality is determined solely by residency?

      • IMO, in essence, yes. if you want to see how this works, come to Toronto. We’re not doing so badly along these lines.

        This is actually one of my great hopes for an independent Scotland, that it can take what Canada (ironically expat Scots, in many cases) got right, and build further. Here we don’t give a crap about where your from, we care about your contribution.

      • Nationality determined by residency is exactly the trap in this vote. It is the basis for kicking aside that part of our national community that resides outside the country, the expat relatives of many of us, including Scots born in exile to expat parents. Who moved, maybe economically reluctantly, without forseeing any threat to their kids’ citizenship, and now we have a Yes campaign that won’t budge on refusing to promise them unrefusable citizenship.

        If we are already independent in all but name, then we have that while still having the Union’s citizenship union. So keep it that way, to keep the citizenship union. Acquire the name and you lose the citizenship union, and divide families and scar our history with rejections of Scots from Scotland – that’s a very bad trade.

  4. Reblogged this on Are We Really Better Together? and commented:
    “The future doesn’t come with guarantees. We know that. But a Yes vote can guarantee that the choice would remain in our hands.”

  5. Canuckistan
    ‘…Here we don’t give a crap about where your from, WE CARE ABOUT YOUR CONTRIBUTION.’

    Well said!!

  6. I can tell you what you are not. The modern day Scot’s would not be recognized by any previous generation as their own, or want to be. But then that’s the price for exchanging Scottish gold for English sand by becoming more and more Anglicised and less distinctive, which has always been the desire of the English mandarin’s.
    Scotland the scared
    Land of the cringing coward
    An undeniable fact

  7. I think the attitude of Unionists toward human nature, us, themselves & the wider world comes out of a long tradition of conservatism- if we go to the very roots of the conservative ideological tradition, even beyond, Locke, Mills or Bentham, we arrive at Hobbes. Most of us are acquainted with Hobbes concept of the strong King who controls with the threat of terror- very much a centralized conception of absolute power; Hobbes himself legitimized this idea by arguing that human beings were essentially evil & the purpose of society was to control this core evil at the heart of humanity. In essence it is a paranoid, pessimistic & fatalistic worldview that generates all the demons, phantoms, enemies etcetera that it fears the most- we end up projecting the shadow of our darkest fears onto everyone & everything. This sort of ideological strain runs right through the seams & strata of British history & up to this day still colours much of how we perceive our neighbours- it is not appropriate to an outward looking world of liberal values of democracy to label ‘other’ people & nations as motivated primarily by brutal self interest. The conservative concept of self-interest itself is an interesting one as on one side some assert that rational self-interest will mean that England would not put up a border as it would damage business & hence private profit; on the other hand other Unionists say that Scots will become ‘foreign’ & ‘Other’ the day after Independence & it’s ‘rational’ to erect barriers- & many Unionists alternate between these positive & negative concepts of self interest whenever it suits them. Overwhelmingly the Better Together mob use the pessimistically flavoured of rational self-interest that overtly emphasizes the core primitive selfishness of human nature- the problem with perpetual pessimism is that it’s ultimately self-defeating.

    • Likewise Burke’s dictum that there is no situation so bad that well intentioned intervention cannot make it worse is the only respectable argument for conservatism…and it falls down too at the human test.

  8. We already exercise democratic rights in three polities, at Scottish, UK and EU levels. There are good reasons for that: crucial decisions that affect our lives are made at all three levels (and this will be the case regardless of the outcome of the referendum or any decision about EU membership). The referendum is simply about whether it would be in our best interests to end (on a permanent basis) our participation in the UK polity (accepting the loss of influence and consideration which that would entail) in order to gain powers for the Scottish polity (accepting that some of the most important of these will be constrained by decisions made within the UK polity of which we are no longer part).

    • You say we exercise democratic rights through the medium of three polities- a very limited one in Edinburgh; vicariously at Westminster ( lets be honest this is a system heavily weighted against the interests of Scotland); & lastly in the EU through the representation we receive via the UK- I really don’t see how this is acceptable for anyone, never mind for a nation with its own specific socio-geo-political needs. There might well be some democracy in the UK political system but is there enough & is it relevant to the needs of Scotland? Can there ever be enough democracy? Can we gain more democracy under independence? That is the key question- yes, I believe we can. It will hopefully be a more local, demographically specific form of democracy tailored to the unique set of variables that make Scotland what it is, in comparison to the rest of the UK. It will need to deliver: greater accountability; it needs to be smaller & more manageable than the monster of Westminster; greater potential for a localized democratic participation; a wider & deeper consensus- all that is manifestly possible in an Independent Scotland. What after all is the point of rolling back progress for the mass of ordinary people if we have right wing parties in power every few years or in perpetuity?
      We need to set out what we want as a people & communicate our concerns to the Parliament how to achieve those aims- other nations do it & just because it’s not possible within the UK system doesn’t mean we can’t do it- we can & we will.

      • “a more local, demographically specific form of democracy tailored to the unique set of variables that make Scotland what it is”
        If you judge that this is the overriding character of the democratic deficit, then that does indeed lend support to the case for independence. But that same independence, of course, would also be granted the United Kingdom vis a vis Scotland.

        “lets be honest this is a system heavily weighted against the interests of Scotland”
        Only if you assume that these interests rarely coincide with those of others within the UK. And such a situation would only be exacerbated by Scottish withdrawal from the UK polity. While Scotland would gain the powers currently held at UK level, the exercise of some of the most important of these would then be constrained by the impact of decisions made independently within the UK.

        “There might well be some democracy in the UK political system but is there enough”
        The last referendum we had was on a proposal which sought to renovate the UK electoral system; and had this been successful it would then have unleashed reform of the House of Lords. Regrettably, the voters of Scotland rejected it just as firmly as did those of the rest of the UK.

        “What after all is the point of rolling back progress for the mass of ordinary people if we have right wing parties in power every few years or in perpetuity?”
        Over the last few years I’ve spent some of my time working in Norway and Sweden. Believe me, it they can elect right-wing parties, so can an independent Scotland.

  9. We ain’t ever going to agree here pal so what’s the point? Right now Scotland as a nation has virtually no power. The very limited, almost token ‘power’ it has at Holyrood- that’s it. That’s all we have as a Nation. No real voice at a UK level. No voice at a UK level. Certainly no voice at an international level. We’re a region ultimately ruled from London. Unless of course you believe the UK represents the interests of Scotland- if you do then we wildly diverge & will find absolutely no common ground- my only conclusion is that you’re either disingenuous or simply naive.

    As for the reform of the House of Lords I must admit that I hadn’t heard of this referendum- I plainly admit to this: if I had done then I would have certainly voted for it, as I think most ordinary working people would ( who agrees with unelected representatives making decisions that affect your life?). I’m also not disputing the possibility of an Indenpendent Scotland voting in a centre right government ( although I think it fairly unlikely) although that is conjecture, as is your point. Norway & Sweden have higher standards of living than us, have traditional conservative cores & greater affluence- generally when people are comfortable, secure & want things to stay that way they become conservative; that seems to be human nature- are the centre right parties in these countries as rabidly neo-liberal as the Tory Party, UKIP or even the diluted marketeers of New Labour?

    I cannot understand this @I know what will happen, so I will not even try’ mentality that so many people in this country seem to possess- try something & see if it works- if you believe we can’t do better than where we are now then what can I say to that? Pessimism is often a tactic used by those in power to produce & maintain apathy, so that nothing changes- cynicism is most often more or less an excuse not to change on an individual level: “What’s the point as it will always be the same anyway”- well if that’s true then why try anything? Alternatives are always possible it’s just that we need the imagination to recognize them.

    • “Alternatives are always possible it’s just that we need the imagination to recognize them.”
      I agree entirely. Where I disagree is (1) with your privileging of Scottishness over other bases for social solidarity, and (2) with your assumption that withdrawing from one of the three polities (one that currently enables us to form wider alliances to influence decisons that will continue to affect us greatly even if we withdraw) is a constructive step towards achieving social democratic goals.

      “We ain’t ever going to agree here pal so what’s the point?”
      Dialogue is the basis on which democracy is built.

      • “Are the centre right parties in these countries as rabidly neo-liberal”

        Here’s an example that should make you think again about some of your preconceptions:
        “Although health services in the Swedish health system were once entirely publicly provided, since the 1990s Sweden has seen the expansion of private sector provision within the public system on a scale unmatched in many other traditional public provision health systems. For example, several large former public hospitals and over a quarter of Swedish primary care clinics are now run by the private sector, though they remain taxpayer-funded and broadly accessible to all residents and the political centre-left in Sweden is beginning to accept the trend on this basis.”

        http://www.civitas.org.uk/nhs/download/SwedenBrief2013

  10. At what point in anything I said did I advance “privileging of Scottishness over other bases for social solidarity”? When someone projects views into you don’t have then it betrays their own bad faith. You’re being deliberately obtuse in order to project your own preconceptions onto me because you suspect my profile is somehow consistent with some stereotype of a YES supporters. “they’re all nationalists at heart & they put the good of Scotland before the poor in the rest of the UK” kind of insincere garbage you hear all the time for sanctimoniously magnanimous ‘internationalists’. How can anyone sincerely believe we could ever make any progress within the framework of the UK political machine at Westminster; a system so fused to a neo-liberal consensus for 35 years that all parties are now identikit versions of each other? Labour are dead. There is no alternative within the rUK. Scottish independence is the only alternative. Independence will hit the British establishments conceited presumption of itself as a “world player” by diminishing its reach on these islands; it has the possibility of waking up the working classes in the rUK, especially if they see an alternative to neo-liberalism is possible.

    You also say “with your assumption that withdrawing from one of the three polities (one that currently enables us to form wider alliances to influence decisons that will continue to affect us greatly even if we withdraw). This is unbelievably disingenuous when we consider the imminent in/out referendum coming via UKIP-Tory back bench pressure. If Scotland is in the EU as an independent nation we have a seat at the top table, as we would at the UN & NATO, as well arguably an improved negotiating status in terms of the Bank of England ( where we have nothing now at any of these). It’s the same argument the unionists use for the Oil-Gas reserves: they may be volatile blah blah blah…but would you rather have them than not have them? It’s the same as saying my leg is stiff when I get up in the morning, it’s sore, painful sometimes, I can get cramp & might even hurt it sometimes- so are you better off without a leg? Just because something has disadvantages doesn’t mean it’s not an advantage in the overall scheme of things. Why can’t an independent nation state on these islands internationally be a beacon for workers rights, human rights & be critical of the worst excesses of corporatism?

    Are you one of these people who think the only difference between Scotland & England is the “accent”? There are massive differences, particularly in voting patterns, culturally, politically ( as is evidenced in the massive amount of people sick of Westminster etc)- again if you do then we’re back to you being very disingenuous & dangerously naive.

    PS

    I knew I had made a mistake including the point I made about Sweden as less right wing as I was sure you would come back with something about privatization of care etc- yes I know all that, but again it’s hypocritical to compare any of the Scandinavian nations to the UK in terms of labour rights, union rights, standard/quality of life, minimum wage, quality of public services etc.

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  1. A game of loyalties: the Scottish independence debate is about belonging, not policy. » Spectator Blogs

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