A Winning Strategy for Independence?

After the launch of the official Yes Scotland independence campaign, we are optimistic that this can be the beginning of a genuine and long overdue democratisation of Scotland.  But the Yes camp needs to send stronger signals about engagement, participation, and diversity to cultivate an appetite for transformation.

There were certainly positive noises on grassroots involvement.   Speakers promised the “biggest community campaign” in Scottish history, with an ambitious target to gain a million signatures on the declaration for independence by 2014.  Given the scale of the unionist backlash, involving a motley alliance of establishment figures from NATO Generals to Tony Blair to George Galloway, there will be no space for half measures.  Although there were few direct hints about how the campaign will be implemented, there are encouraging signs of a recognition of the scale, if not the specifics, of the task.  The point bears reiteration: although all the energy points to breaking up the old Westminster state, it must involve a social movement on an unheard of scale in Scotland.

While there were many unanswered questions about the dividing lines between the SNP and the official Yes campaign, the gestures were overwhelmingly towards a non-governmental and broad leadership.  Foregrounding critics of official SNP policy, such as Patrick Harvie MSP, helped to give the launch a refreshing feeling.  It was telling that Salmond was willing to hand the floor to Harvie, the first minister deferring the last word to the Green radical, hopefully the beginning of a broader recognition for independent leftist voices for independence. Salmond and Harvie were the only two politicians at an event which intentionally foregrounded “civil society”.  There was a clear intention to present the campaign as representing the broadest cross section of Scottish society.

This was, inevitably, a media launch rather than a campaign rally.  Organisational details were slim, spectacles and photo opportunities were prioritised.  Although there were a majority of non-SNP and extra-parliamentary voices on the platform, the audience as well as the speakers were unquestionably too white, too grey, and too male to constitute the foundations of a social movement.  Promises for engagement with “internet wizardry” are not sufficient – if independence is to become more than the preserve of old, white male anoraks, it must learn from the openness, inclusiveness, and diversity of the campaigning movements in Scotland.  These diversity problems are standard to all parliamentary politics and they could be resolved, relatively simply in this instance, by reaching out to include student campaigners, feminists, anti-racist, anti-cuts, anti-homophobia and peace activists alongside the standard range of cultural figures and civic notables.  The Yes campaign needs to find its energy in a younger audience, and this depends on a willingness to extend equal space to an edgier, more subversive set of campaigns for social change in Scotland.

We should not shy away from fraternal disagreements in the Yes camp.  There are some who believe, on the basis of opinion polls, that the referendum will be won or lost on an economic dividend of £500.  For these “pragmatic” voices, a winning campaign message is one which stresses continuity with existing arrangements, from keeping the pound to preserving a “Scottish” monarchy.  As Gerry Hassan has noted, some senior SNP officials desire a campaign that is “an expression of traditional Scotland, as being about continuity and preservation, rather than fundamental change…a kind of ‘devolution max plus’.”

Patrick Harvie has rightly warned against the dominance of these minimal pragmatic voices in the Yes campaign.  Fear of the Tories and economic instrumentalism will not be enough to generate a social movement to transform a state that, uniquely amongst its European neighbours, has lasted virtually unreformed for more than three centuries.

To win the referendum, we must accomplish two things.  Firstly, there must be a clear equation between the No campaign and the status quo of Westminster-style government.  Austerity and cuts, accepted by a cross-party consensus of Westminster parties, is a bankrupt economic model that has only served to exacerbate the already severe trend towards declining social mobility, youth alienation, and community devastation, particularly in former industrial areas.  In terms of economic and foreign policy, working class communities are still paying the price for Britain’s deranged desire to retain great power status after the loss of Empire.  The war on terror, Trident replacement, and sluggish progress on climate change are reflective of a cross-party consensus on free trade, open markets, and deregulation at all costs.

As issues like Iraq demonstrate, Westminster politics is deeply unpopular.  The MPs expenses scandal, the Murdoch affair and years of Alistair Campbell inspired spin have highlighted a sycophantic, corrupt and closed politics that the vast majority of people would sincerely hope to break from.  The danger is that the SNP leadership will move too far to placate the British establishment to “soften the blow” of revanchist voices.  Instead, they should trust in the fact that the majority of Scottish people want to see an end to imperial invasions, NHS privatisations, and venality in government.  The Yes campaign needs to be quite clear that Britain is unaffordable; the real risk for Scottish people is not the “leap in the dark” of independence but the tangible costs of remaining in Britain and having our resources drained to maintain American alliances and pro-City economics.

Secondly, the Yes campaign must present a positive alternative to blackmail of Westminster-style neoliberalism, with its stark message of “there is no alternative”.  We do not have any illusions in the royal socialism of Norway or the island autarky of Cuba.  But an independent Scotland could manage our existing resources in a much more economically sound and socially just manner.  Currently, about half of research and development spending goes on wasteful, government-subsidised military and pharamaceutical research.  A rational model of economic development could redirect resources away from war, finance, and moneyed interests towards investment in the renewal of infrastructure, “braining up” the population, and ensuring that we play a pioneering role in developing green technology to meet the urgent challenges of the 21st century.

Contrary to neoliberal wisdom, another Scotland is possible.  An older generation might remember the British state as a lovable technocrat supplying public services.  But for anyone under forty, this Britain never really existed – we have known nothing from Westminster government except cuts, Empire nostalgia, and decline.  There will surely be many fraternal disagreements in the Yes campaign to come, but we can unite on the urgency to break with the failures of Britain, at home and abroad, and restore the levers of popular power in Scottish society.

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  1. Good stuff – if it boils down to a tussle of gaining or losing £550 per year, I for one do not need an extra £550, can stand to lose £550 and would pay £550 in a progressive tax to those in need as long as it went no where near any kind of armaments or funding of wars.Could there be a campaign for a 550 redistribution tax with clear steer on exactly what it would be used for, how it would be targeted and what it would improve?

    1. Colin Dunn says:

      Agreed. If the price of fairer more democratic society means it actually costing me £550 rather than making me an extra £550, then I’m happy with that.

  2. longshanker says:

    If the pro-Independents can prove that we’re not going to leave England impoverished and embittered, I’m half way there. I quite like the idea of a new ipad and a couple of accessories every year though.

    1. pmcrek says:

      I think I can do that, there are 55 million people in the rest of the UK, and approx 5 million in Scotland, an extra £500 for us is around £2,500,000,000 away from the UK economy, or £45 a head for the rest of the UK, not exactly drastic, especially not when its offset with the savings from the fact there is nowhere to keep new nuclear weapon systems.

      Further, the right wing press in England will be unable to use Scotland as a scapegoat any longer and if we make a good go of it we could become a great example right next door to the rest of the UK, of a what a real social democratic country really is.

      Even if the worst comes to the worst, we can easily support a large influx of English migrants over the years, fleeing an unjust unexpressive parliamentary system and provide them hopefully with the kind of democracy they both crave and deserve.

      As it stands independence is the only option,Westminster will never be reformed, at least not unless we cripple it by leaving.

      1. longshanker says:

        Don’t agree with independence being the only option. Possibly the most attractive, but certainly not the only one. Not yet anyway.

        Considering current European/World events, I don’t think Scotland can afford to take the risk of a panoply of potentially detrimental repercussions from England regarding Independence.

        I’d prefer to see independence happen as a natural progression of devolution rather than a traumatic untimely separation (or whatever you want to call it).

        Interesting idea about large scale English immigration though. Adds scope to the currently discussed possibility of Greek borders being sealed in all but name should they plunge into further economic meltdown.

        Regards

      2. pmcrek says:

        I used to agree with your reasoning up until a while ago, the betrayal of the left by New Labour was hard to stomach but even then there were still options, but unfortunately the Lib Dems got in on the action and now we are left with three parties who poll around 80+% of the vote but are not interested in anything but themselves and the status quo.

        That said you are definetly right, independence isnt the only option just the most attractive however the chances of anything else are extremely slim hence the current attractiveness of independence. Devo Max for example has been an open option since the SNP’s victory in May and yet not one party has taken up the baton. I cant see one party doing so either, not even the one who’s key political reform policy is apparently a federal Britain. I think that says all there is to say about a reformed Westminster system to be frank.

        On immigration, I see a net influx of people from England as probably the best thing that could happen to Scotland’s economy long term.

    2. Doug Daniel says:

      Nothing in politics can be proven beforehand, all you can do is look at likelihood. The subsidy we pay into the UK is not so much that it would leave England impoverished, although it would be just enough to maybe give their politicians a kick up the backside. Remember, Scottish independence will give politicians in England cause to think, and maybe after 30 years of centre-right dominance, a genuine left-wing alternative will arise.

      And why would they be embittered? Those that accuse us of being “subsidy junkies” will have their wish. Those who don’t will be energised to try and take their country back. Don’t forget Wales and Northern Ireland either – our independence would give a shot in the arm to their non-establishment voices too.

      1. longshanker says:

        Of course nothing can be absolutely proven Doug. It’s a balance of probabilities. A compelling case would do for me, if you prefer it phrased that way. I wish someone would provide it.

        Hoewever.

        Taking away a major source of an effectively ‘free’ revenue stream would of course cause much embitterment. It bankrolled Thatcher and greatly assisted Blair and his nasty legacy.

        Worth remembering also that one of the first moves by Bullingdon Oik Osborne was to slap an unannounced tax on the North Sea for a hefty £2billion.

        The embitterment and potential hostility I fear is alluded to in the McCrone report. The principles established therein are still meaningful and resonant today.

        I remember listening to some high powered American economist on Good Morning Scotland circa 2008 at the height of the crisis. He told the interviewer that the reason the UK would suffer more than most nations from the banking crisis was due to UK net exports.

        He said that the only money making net exports were financial services and North Sea Oil. He further added, in a slightly mocking tone, that, “Your financial services are broke. So what’s going to save you? Oil?”.

        With a small laugh he said it wasn’t enough to save the UK from the inevitable pain and contraction coming its way.

        Takeaway the Oil through an independence vote and you leave rUK in dire straits. The McCrone Report concurs with that potential scenario for very similar reasons.

        You only have to look to the history of conflicts to understand that the root cause of most of them is who controls scarce resources.

        Believe me when I say that I want to be wrong about this Doug. But the idea of resurgent embittered Nationalism in England with Scotland as its focus gives me the willies.

        It sounds like mad stuff, but so did invading Iraq under the premise of Saddam possessing Weapons of Mass Destruction.

        And look what happened there.

  3. David Moynagh says:

    Nonsense to think that anyone would give up the chance of independence with all that it offers and promises for the sum of £500 or so. I would rather pay this sum than continue to be part of a westminster system which robs much more from the sick the disabled and the dying in order to feed the habits of the corporate rich.

  4. David Moynagh says:

    £500 is a tiny price to pay for the potential prosperity and social equity of an independent Scotland. To remain part of a sick and corrupt westminster system is a HUGE price to pay.

  5. Derick fae Yell says:

    Well, frankly I could do with the £500. Longshanker – our subsidy to England, while large in the Scottish context, is minimal in the English context. So they won’t be impoverished. And I have confidence that the citizens of the Green and Pleasant Land (well outside the Daily Mail brigade) will get over it very quickly.

  6. The City of London is built on a false economy, and is heavily dependent on Scotland’s oil….they are already squealing like stuck pigs…..the propaganda war against the Scots gaining any form of control will be sustained and hysterical..say goodbye to the NHS,Education, the cuts emanating from London are only just beginning and once they win the referendum, a swift return to feudal England for us all…sadly.

  7. The City of London is built on a false economy, and is now heavily dependent on Scotland’s oil, they are screaming like stuck pigs already, expect a sustained propaganda war increasingly hysterical, and when they win the referendum vote, then expect a campaign of massive cuts,….you will pay for their mistakes.

  8. Stanley, Slovakia says:

    If Scotland does not gain its deserved and historically hard-won independence in 2014, then the past sacrifices and endevors of your ancestors for independence, your fathers and mothers, would prove futile… They would definitely have done anything in favor of one occasion to gain independence peacefully! If
    “And dying in your beds many years from now, would you be willing
    to trade all the days from this day to that (“in autumn 2014″) for one chance…just one chance…to come back here and tell … that they’ll never take our freedom” (Braveheart, 1995)

    1. Stanley, Slovakia says:

      I am rooting for your independence, dear Scots! I am telling it from my experience when there are many in Slovakia here saying that there had been better times in communist socialist era under Moscow,.. public services were cheaper, etc…But we were slaves of somebody, for a piece of bread.. Shortle after 1989, with the iron curtain fallen, Slovakia’s economy was broke..Yes, independent life in capitalism brings about greater demands on personal responsibility Now, we are 20 years independent and our economy is thriving again. Moreover, I am sure that Scotland will not experience anything similar and harsh than we did after 1989 after the possible independence of S. in 2014 because the Scottish economy is strong, well-developed and has a long tradition, Scotland has access to sea (we do not have, unfortunately) and its markets will be still open to the EU and the world, whether independent or not… Independence is the issue of honor, not the economy and cheaper bread! I wish I could vote for you like we fortunately did in 1989…. Good luck! Regards from Slovakia!

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