‘Scotland 2021’ is a new book from Bella Caledonia, a collection of essays about Scotland’s future (edited by Mike Small and Simon Barrow). It’s available from Word Power Books and Waterstone’s. Over the next week we’re publishing extracts – here’s Irvine Welsh on five things to do over the next five years …
1. Challenge the Debt Economy Orthodoxy of Neoliberalism
Offer a clear guide to the dire consequences of being tied to the UK’s debtor economy, within a neoliberal, pro-austerity economic orthodoxy. And don’t fall into the trap of believing that our toy-town, toothless parliament in Edinburgh can do anything but administer this misery as humanely as possible. All forecasts till 2050 indicate that low growth, financial instability and lack of economic dynamism is all but guaranteed in the British economy, with growth heading towards 1% per annum.
A major failure of the Yes independence referendum campaign of 2014 was its failure to tackle the No camp on that long-term negative prognosis for the UK economy, and the Blairite-Tory neoliberal consensus that supported it. Salmond decided against taking this anti-debt line, as he thought it would be negative to campaign in this manner. In some ways he is correct, but every year Scotland is in the union, its debt rises. Every year is another one wasted, when it could be developing a stronger economy. Who ordained that we should be a debtor nation in this world order? Remember: Scotland has accrued deficits (the ones that give unionists such a hard-on) through its membership of the union, and attendant failure to develop a dynamic economy. This will continue to grow as long as we are in the union. Therefore, we should be asking of our central government (the ones that control our economic levers) now, as we ought to have asked then, exactly what do you plan to do about this?
“Scotland has less than six million people and is rich in natural and human resources. It currently has an invisible presence internationally, other than a vague, chronically underutilized goodwill. We are running out of excuses not to thrive. Being tethered to a crumbling, financialized one-trick pony economy (which only does that trick in South East of England) isn’t going to do that for us.”
Scotland has less than six million people and is rich in natural and human resources. It currently has an invisible presence internationally, other than a vague, chronically underutilized goodwill. We are running out of excuses not to thrive. Being tethered to a crumbling, financialized one-trick pony economy (which only does that trick in South East of England) isn’t going to do that for us. Financialization, privatization and the outsourcing of production have severely weakened the UK as a whole, and marginalized our status in it.
2. Supporting People in England, Wales and Northern Ireland
The secession of Scotland from the UK is going to alter the rest of it. We should not only recognize that, but embrace it from a perspective of opportunity, not threat. We should be making a common cause with radical forces in England, to look at how we can work together to break up the centralist, imperialist, elitist UK state. It shouldn’t be based on a ‘we’re alright – that’s England’s business’ mentality. I’m personally pro-independence as I’m an anti-British imperialist, and not a Scottish (nor English) nationalist. I see as many possibilities in the decline of the UK for England as I do for Scotland. I believe in dissolving the antiquated, elitist chains of UK government and letting smaller, more localized democracies breathe. We have to resist the narrative of ‘leaving them to face the entrenched Tory establishment’ and encourage the one of ‘inspirationally leading the way to get rid of the entrenched Tory establishment’.
The depressing picture of Sturgeon holding the Sun (yes, I know, ‘different paper, different editorial policy, Labour and Tory brown-nosed Murdoch much more, etc etc’) was a crass insult to the people of Liverpool, especially coming out right at the time of the result of the Hillsborough inquiry. People in this city have been as shabbily treated by the UK establishment as any part of Scotland. Please SNP, no more of that fucking bullshit, or you might soon find that the broad church you assembled after September 2014 will be getting considerably narrower.
There are many small indy/devolutionist/advocacy parties in England (MK in Cornwall, Yorkshire First, NEP, Wessex Regionalists etc) trying to gain traction for progressive, decentralist policies. Such groups should be supported by Scottish democrats just as much as PC in Wales. Yes, they might not be that significant in size, but neither was the SNP at one time.
3. Make a Noise. Make a Dirty, Vulgar, Noise.
Let’s argue and squabble, as that’s what democracy is about, but let’s try and keep a song in our hearts and a smile on our faces as we do it. Ignore all the windbag Tartan Tory piss about the ‘left’ –both outwith and within the SNP- shutting up. Thankfully, that’s never going to happen. If it had, the SNP would still be a taxi-load of MP’s from Angus and Perthshire, the Yes vote would have been 25%, not 45%, and a recent Strathclyde University study would not have found SNP supporters were to the left of Labour ones. The SNP deserve their position of prominence within the Yes movement, but also deserve and need to be challenged by other pro-independence voices. Their membership quadrupled in size after the referendum, as they appropriated much of that loud, unruly and beautiful mess of idealists. They shouldn’t be asked to shut up. The party needs to display humility and remember that dominance, in this era of political volatility, can be taken away as quickly as it’s bestowed.
Yes, the unionist parties are split, but only nominally, as Labour and the Conservatives, whatever they say, have effectively been one party in Scotland, all their firepower turned on the SNP and the Yes camp. This has been to Labour’s detriment, and despite some voices for change mooting the resurrection of devolution and home rule, it’s likely that the ostrich tendency will prevail and they will stay a Tory lite concern. As long as they remain caught in that trap, Labour will stagnate and the Tories will ossify as the main naysayers and slavish puppets of their Westminster masters. This will continue to present opportunities for the independence movement. So we don’t need one monolithic voice for everything on the Yes side. Therefore, we should mouth off. And we should seek to provoke, yes, but also inspire. ‘Don’t be a cunt just for the sake of it’, is a decent enough working mantra.
4. Don’t Hate On No Voters, Challenge Those Who Do
They made their choice, and they had their reasons. Engage, listen, and win hearts and minds. If every ‘no’ voter was a dyed-in-the-wool, right-wing, unionist Tory, ‘No’ would have polled 22% in September 2014, and we wouldn’t be having this discussion. That 22% of Tories don’t speak for all the No’s, and no matter how vocal they get, don’t ever make the mistake of feeding their delusional conceit by acting as if they do. Shouting at, or denigrating people who don’t agree with you –even if they happen to be the ones instigating this- isn’t going win them round. Yes, this is a pious and self righteous thing to say, and believe me it goes very much against my own instincts, but we have to be better. We have to take the high road. We are the dreamers, the builders, the creators. They are the ones who won’t let go, who are tied to the strings of elites that care nothing for them, and are driven by fear. Let that thought nourish you, yes, but keep it out of the discussion. We need to make the country work together. The shabby, declining UK isn’t going to inspire. The inspiration has to be provided by the Yessers. And we won’t do that with blaming, finger-pointing, victimhood-embracing and Bannockburn/Culloden fantasies.
“We are the dreamers, the builders, the creators. They are the ones who won’t let go, who are tied to the strings of elites that care nothing for them, and are driven by fear. Let that thought nourish you, yes, but keep it out of the discussion. We need to make the country work together. The shabby, declining UK isn’t going to inspire. The inspiration has to be provided by the Yessers. And we won’t do that with blaming, finger-pointing, victimhood-embracing and Bannockburn/Culloden fantasies.”
How then, do you inspire No voters to get with a project of change in tough times? By pointing out why those times are tough. By speaking the truth to power. I believe that there are still radical No voters who want to do that again, but have simply lost sight of how to go about it. They’ve been locked into an outdated partisan war with the SNP/Yes for so long, they can’t conceive of how it has shape-shifted to encompass so many of their own people and values. Some still believe that sniping at a government in a limited parliament with no strategic powers actually constitutes you doing this speaking the truth to power, rather than being misguided establishment mouthpieces. We need to convince them that their energy is all in the wrong place and encourage them to lift their heads up.
One practical example are the elderly voters, who voted overwhelmingly for the status quo. Amongst other reasons, they believed their pensions would be safer. Their pensions are not safer with Cameron and union, any more than their NHS was, or their grandchildren’s university education is. Let’s engage with them and push that message.
5. Define, Develop and Promote Radical Social Democracy
If there’s one consensus that’s developed around the SNP and the Yes movement, it’s the idea of a civic polity based on a radical social democracy. We have to try to continue to define what this is, and how it will help us negotiate the decline of capitalism, and assist us in the tricky maneuvering along a just and pragmatic route to that scary but exciting place of no paid work or profit, that technology seems to be driving us towards. This anarchistic conceptualist society is not just about the demise of capitalism, it’s also about the end of its industrial bedfellow, traditional tax-and-spend socialism. Keynesianism failed in the 70’s, and for reasons beyond the ‘union excess, amplified by media hysteria, let the bad guys in’ orthodox narrative. But fail it did.
So Corbyn’s socialism comes up short for the same reason as Osbourne’s capitalism; there won’t be enough people in paid work to be the taxpayers who will fund the spending projects, just as neoliberalism’s low wages and debt deflation destroys the number and power of consumers who buy goods and services. Simply moving from the myopia of ‘privatize and cut’ to ‘nationalize and spend’ is chasing fool’s gold. That strategy ran into difficulty when capitalism was in its buoyant productive prime, and will wither quickly if deployed in its wheezy old age. We certainly need a fairer, progressive tax system, but that won’t be anything like enough, as the wealth of the very rich isn’t largely derived from taxable income.
Therefore, radical social democracy has to as far from the insipid, neoliberal, brown-nosing Blairism as possible: it needs to be speaking the truth to power. That means looking at ways to prevent and reverse the 1%’s ongoing middle-class hammering asset-to-debt swapping project. It means wealth taxation and compulsory land purchase from absentee landlords. Because we need to redistribute wealth and property, not just income. To this end, it’s a step forward that we have a bigger Green Party influence, and we particularly need people like Andy Wightman in parliament. Yes, a strong, united, disciplined party is all very well, but there will never be a shortage of people who will want to conform to party lines. If we don’t have our share of mavericks, asking awkward questions, we stagnate and decline.
We need to be designing and developing models for the Scotland we want to see, and analyzing weakness as well as strengths. As I type this, I’m hoping that some University department or think tank are busy somewhere designing a Scottish currency and a Scottish central bank. The independence movement has come a long way through thought, intelligence, high principle and pragmatism. When the entrenched power of the state and media is lined up so resolutely up against you, to extent it was in the 2014 referendum, (and still is) you know that you are ruffling the right feathers. That’s the road by which we’ll continue to profit, not getting into shouting matches with the establishment’s stooge apologists.