I think Mhairi McAlpin and Paul Kingsnorth have done us a great service (see Mhairi’s previous post – Unite?) with the discussion they have provoked on independence as a route to (Mhairi) or a distraction from (Paul) the political, social and cultural changes we (all) need.
I don’t, however, think that – on the most crucial point – they disagree.
Mhairi’s fury is with the way the British State has been used in order to murder and dominate ‘abroad’, and to disempower and oppress at ‘home’.
Paul’s point is that the three mainstream parties in the UK “have, in their different way (and arguably Labour has been most successful at it) made their peace with the power of global capital”, and points out that one way of countering this is to address the root reasons for racism and fear of immigration, and one way might involve “re-rooting power in local communities in order to create a barrier to the power of rootless finance and big business”.
Like most here I look forward to independence from the United Kingdom happening (in effect) in 2014, and deeply hope that independence for Scotland will also mean the start of independence for England and for Wales too.
At the moment in Scotland, the resistance to the power of rootless capital, and resistance to a history of domination (at ‘home’ and ‘abroad’) by the British State, are both fruitfully connected.
My fear – to echo Paul’s point – is that once independence for Scotland happens it will indeed be independence-lite.
My fear is that Scotland will have all the structural forms of an independent state, but it will be independent in the way that the UK is currently independent. It will be independent to do anything as long as it is in keeping with the needs of global capital.
In that world, we might not engage in wars in Iraq and a hundred other criminal actions, but we would continue to rapidly destroying ecosystems and societies throughout the world, we would continue with a capitalism/ consumerism that excludes those who don’t have money and enslaves those who do (Caroline Lucas in her conference speech last week to the Green Party of England and Wales).
I am writing from Central Africa where I work to support ‘self determination’ for forest peoples. Indigenous people throughout the world are very rarely asking to be independent of the States they are in, they are asking to be allowed to live as they live and to develop as they wish to develop, rather than having their lands taken from them, their relationships destroyed, and their futures funnelled into feeding the machine of global capital that gives only a stark choice between being included in (and ‘benefiting from’) its destructive ways, or being excluded by it, standing in the way of it, and suffering the consequences.
Being for independence and self determination and autonomy need not be about drawing a boundary on a map and ignoring the rest of the world, it can be about asserting the right of people in a self-defined area to determine their own affairs in a way that enhances the independence, self determination and autonomy of others. People on Eigg worked to ensure it gained its ‘independence’ and inspired others to do likewise. People in the Transition initiative in Portobello are working to develop local resilience (to halt our destruction of the ecosystem, and to prepare for huge economic collapse) and have helped inspire other communities to do likewise.
Real independence, self determination and autonomy are not things you achieve, dates in history – they are born from a passionate desire that all people (all beings?) be free to develop and flourish. This is what Darwin meant by ‘survival of the fittest’: survival of those who fit best with their environment, who experience their environment not as a limiting form but as an enabling condition.
For me independence, self determination and autonomy are fundamentally rooted in ecology. Not in some supposedly biologically notion of racial or ethnic distinction, nor in some fabricated ‘cultural’ sense of self. But rooted in the impulse of all creatures to survive, and in the awareness that for our locality to survive we need to enable the survival and well-being of all others in their localities.
Independence is not a date in history; it is an opening to possibility – it is a process of regaining self determination and exercising autonomy: global capital not in my back yard and not in anybodies back yard.
When Paul called Svenja’s idea that ‘Scotland was never a colonial power’ “risible”, he is right to say that “Scots were up to their necks in the British (not English) Empire, just as the English were, and to pretend otherwise is very dishonest”, but he misses her point.
She actually said that “Scotland tried and failed to be a colonial power, which led to its absorption in the UK state”. To seek to dominate others leaves one at the mercy of all who seek to dominate. ‘Scotland’ was never a colonial power, though the resources and people of Scotland were used (by many in Scotland and by the British state) to build that British Empire, just as many are used to retain it still.
This is the key distinction we need to be making again and again: not a distinction between ‘my’ country and ‘yours’, but a distinction between when localities, bio-regions and peoples are able to act autonomously and when they are not – identifying when the structures we continually recreate need to be recreated differently in order to enable autonomy.
There is a hopelessness in those places and people that define themselves as the ‘UK” – and I’d include Paul Kingsnorth’s otherwise wonderful Dark Mountain project in that – about our ability to recreate these conditions in a transformative way.
There is a hopefulness in those places and people that define themselves as Scotland about our ability to recreate our conditions in a transformative way.
I believe that the SNP can and will help deliver a date for independence (2014, followed by some years to untangle state structures) but to deliver real independence, self determination and autonomy, we need to not be outward looking in the dominant SNP sense of welcoming global capital, but in the profoundly transformative sense of working with all who – in a multitude of places kept invisible by the mainstream media – are seeking to help us remember who we are.
We are not primarily Scottish or English or Welsh or Irish – those projects of self-definition can be used to fuel or to resist empires: they can be used to divide and rule, or to bridge and connect. We are primarily alive in a particular place and a particular time and needing to pay attention to caring for our localities and each other, pay attention to unhooking ourselves from the machine that is destroying the conditions for life.
Part of what can help this are the stories we tell about who we really are.
The story being told in those places and people that define themselves as Scotland are about our ability to transform our world, and an awareness of the need to shake off structures that disempower, partly through promising and entangling people in the power that comes from seeking to control others.
This belief in our ability to transform our world is rooted in a powerful sense that we wish to care for each other, to show hospitality, to not be determined by the colonising power and politics of an imperial state.
But if we are to become independent in a way that enables communities, families and individuals to exercise and so develop our self-determination and autonomy, then we need a far more powerful independence than a date in history.
History is what you get when you can no longer make your future.
The future is what you can make when you believe you are far more than being defined by your history.
Yet you can only make the future well and with care for others when you can see just how powerfully your actions and beliefs are shaped by your history.
In recognising our limitations, our localities – our histories of different, interweaving, sometimes conflicting struggles to be free – we can use them to restore our world.
If we simply seek to transcend our limitations, and resolve our contradictions – as people do in pursuing the ‘American dream’ for example – then in the process we destroy the very conditions that allow us to flourish.
Independence can be an inspiring reminder that we can reclaim our world, and it can help create far better conditions for restoring our world, but only if independence is not the goal, only if independence is a means to help people to flourish here, and a means to support people to flourish everywhere.
(p.s. There is a Scottish Green Party members meeting in Perth on 30th October, partly to think through how the Green Party negotiates the territory of who we are and where we are going. At the last count – which was admittedly a while ago – none of the elected representatives were coming, but we had to shift it to a much bigger venue to accommodate those who want to . . . see some of you there?!)