Independence, the Queen and the Scottish Greens
I said Charles, don’t you ever crave
To appear on the front of the Daily Mail Dressed in your Mother’s bridal veil?
Every new announcement from the Westminster government seems to add yet another argument in favour of Scottish independence. Whether it’s by highlighting the massive schism between Scottish and English attitudes to provision of public services by privatising the NHS and making university education based on ability to pay rather than ability to learn, or by putting through legislation that will have a devastating impact on Scots like cutting taxes for the rich while cutting benefits for the needy, everything they currently do seems to come from a book titled “policies that will guarantee Scottish Independence”. We have two full more years of this, and the actual effects of these dogmatic social engineering experiments have yet to be felt, so it’s hard to imagine the political scene in 2014 being anything other than completely hostile to continued Westminster neo-liberal government (which now comes in three flavours). Surely the only thing that can derail the charge towards independence is self-inflicted sabotage, and there’s no way that’s going to happen, is there?So why am I feeling increasingly worried that this is exactly what will happen?
One of the biggest obstacles that independence is on the way to clearing is the notion that it is the premise of people with their heads in the clouds, looking back wistfully on the good old days when Scotland was an independent nation, when we all had haggis and shortbread for breakfast, washed down with a bottle of Irn Bru, before donning our kilts to go out hunting Englishmen, shouting “och aye the noo!” along the way. I’ll resist the temptation to paraphrase Alan Partridge in I’m Alan Partridge series 1 episode 5 (“dere’s more to Oirland dan dis”) and simply say that independence has never been about this, at least not for me, but this is how it has been characterised, which is why many nationalists, myself included, for many years would shy away from declaring our view that Scotland should be an independent country, simply because (in my case) I didn’t need to give people another reason to think I was strange. But we’re getting past this – it is being “normalised”, if you like – and independence is increasingly being seen as a valid, and most importantly practical, direction for Scotland in the future.
This is the biggest battle, and it is indeed a big one. All ideas that the sky will fall down if all our political decisions are made in Holyrood rather than Westminster need to be eradicated, in order to combat the fear people have. It needs to be the overriding priority of anyone who wants independence. Keep the eyes on the prize, and think about what is practical and what is not. The SNP get this, which is why they have softened their stance on things like the monarchy. But other parties do not seem to understand this concept, and are instead intent on making grand statements about how if we don’t create the perfect state from the start, then there is no point in gaining independence at all. The most prominent example of this is the monarchy, although other things like the currency, NATO membership and Europe all contain potential for cracks to appear. It is imperative that we remain pragmatic and don’t let ourselves be victims to the divide & conquer tactics so loved by unionists. Yet Scottish Greens, who should be one of the independence movement’s trump cards, seem intent on getting caught up in other issues – take, for example, their former press officer James Mackenzie on Better Nation last year in an article which quickly became an epic off-topic debate about James’ implied stance that he would not vote for independence if it did not include abolishing the monarchy, or Patrick Harvie tweeting that any debate on independence must include a debate on how to appoint the head of state. There are numerous other examples of other people (some even SNP members) getting hung up on an issue which is completely separate from the question at hand: do we want Scotland to be governed by the Scottish Government, or by Westminster?
Some people want an independent republic (I’m one of them), while others are actually kind of attached to the Queen, but still want independence. The views being espoused by the Scottish Greens in particular (as well as current and former members of the SSP) suggest that we should ignore the views of those who share part of our view, and only pay attention to those who agree with us 100%. By trying to tie republicanism in with independence, all we do is give the unionists a lifeline. We expose a crack which they will then pounce on, relentlessly jabbing their fingers in to create a gaping hole between the various parts of the independence movement. This is particularly frustrating when it comes from socialists, who must surely be only too aware of what happens when a political movement allows itself to become focused on areas of disagreement, rather than the common goal. There are some fantastic politicians and people throughout all areas of the independence movement, but some of them need to recognise that this debate is about convincing the general public about what is best for their future, and the general public are, in the main, not concerned with political naval-gazing.
Even more importantly, it simply isn’t practical to try and resolve these two issues (or any other issues) at once, so the pragmatic approach is to choose your battles depending on how they can be won. The UK is not going to vote to end the monarchy, so even if every person in Scotland wanted rid of the Queen, it will not happen under the union. However, if there is indeed a republican majority in Scotland after independence, then abolishing the monarchy is simple next step. But if we don’t have that majority, then who are fundamentalist republicans to deny the rest of us independence by cutting their nose off to spite their face?
Independence is about providing a practical alternative to the status quo. We must not allow it to become derailed by ideologues. Don’t forget why we are doing this, and remember that nobody ever gets everything they want all at once.