2007 - 2022

Crises Capitalism and Independence Doctrines

“The interest of the oppressors lie in changing the consciousness of the oppressed not the situation which oppresses them.”

Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 1968

Intended as an opening up of dialogue focused on participation as empowerment, this contribution aims toward a critical intervention or provocation to much that has passed for public debate amongst progressives and leftists on Scottish independence in the context of the build up to the 2014 referendum.

It centres on the need for praxis – for theoretically informed, critically reflective action which is oriented towards social justice across the integrated economic, political, cultural, kinship and ecological spheres of our existence.

Social justice is a contested concept, open to contradictory interpretations. Here, in redressing forms of injustices, our conception is of an integrated approach that simultaneously encompasses both a politics of redistribution and a politics of recognition, without reducing either one to the other nor immortalising the assumption of a false antitheses; an approach oriented to “changing both the economic structure and the status order of society”i (Nancy Fraser). Recognising the integrated nature of the injustices of contemporary society – also between societies – our conception of social justice is one oriented towards the transformation of all spheres of society in the interests of liberation/emancipation.

Without a recognition of modern societies as integrated structures of political, economic and social power and inequality, it would be difficult (perhaps impossible) to consider strategies to advance social justice in a discernible and lasting manner. Thus the strategy of participatory change proposed here necessitates exposing and addressing intersectional oppressions – how biological, social and cultural categories such as gender, race, ability, class (its status component), etc., interact on multiple often simultaneous levels with capitalist economic relations to contribute to systemic inequality.

Our motivation is the concern that while the independence referendum could be an opportunity for dialogical participation it is instead functioning as a process of closure, where independence is posited as ipso facto ‘progressive’ – as if “independence (give or take all the known variables) is a known quality”ii (Gerry Hassan). This habit of thinking serves to co-opt struggles and movements working for social justice in ways that demand critical attention.

Rather than taking a pro- or an anti-stance to voting (if at all) in the referendum, here we seek to problematise the central terms, narratives, limits, assumptions and promises of the independence campaigns, in a spirit of critical dialogue foregrounding the evolution of an empowered and engaged populous. This cannot occur in isolation – an abiding concern is the importance of acknowledging wider contexts, influences and consequences such that we cannot separate the assumed ‘interest-bearing unit’ of Scotland from its global socio-economic contexts.

For meaningful debate of what ‘independence’ could mean, in attempting to move beyond any simplistic yes/no approach, we ask:

What is meant by independence, by whom, and what kind of society is any given positioning likely to produce? What kinds of independence are under discussion?
How might people go about working towards social justice through these debates/ communicative processes – if indeed it is possible within a nation state framework, especially one so intimately and comfortably tied to capitalism – and through what communications technologies?
What is the role of nationalism(s) in the campaigns?
What of the (progressives’) appeal to notions/ claims of ‘self-determination’ and of social democracy?
What of other intersectional concerns than those of ‘Scottish’ ethnicity/ race/ nationality (‘ethnogenesis’)?

Much independence rhetoric across the ‘Yes’ campaign(s) is superficial and internally contradictory – insisting that ‘Scots’ should vote yes whatever our competing conceptions of a desirable future society. ‘Independence’ here functions as a utopian category into which people pour their desires, hopes and aspirations – such as for freedom/ equality/ democracy. This condition is to be achieved, it seems, not through struggle but passive support for hierarchical campaigns derivative of parliamentarians and electoral strategists. As such, campaigning organisations assume and entrench the alienation of people’s own capacity to effect transformation, affirming the empty paradigm of capitalist/ nation state/ representative ‘democracy’ – with power, wealth and resources consequently continuing to be determined by capitalist relations, and thus the perpetuation, indeed likely intensification, of oppressions.

1. ‘Democracy’

Representation is a mythical form of ‘democracy’. Indeed ‘representative democracy’ is neither representative of (or accountable to) those whom it claims to be, nor is it democratic; in that it does not lead to the people of a given state being the decision makers – to people having the ultimate power over policies to the extent that they are affected by them.

Rather, it tends towards hierarchical, authoritarian, centralised rule through a set of institutions, systems and relations – electoral systems, political parties, constitutional structures and powers, limits on political ‘debate’, voice and participation etc. These, as we see across much of the supposedly democratic world today, leave real power in the hands of wealthy elites and corporations both internal and external to the states in question.

The fundamental ‘legitimising’ institution of representative democracy is the electoral system. Voting (usually only every few years) serves to elect politicians from within parties, proposing policies within an increasingly limited spectrum. The people themselves do not engage in politics; they do not directly propose or decide policies and their role between elections is predominantly passive. (Which is not to deny the contested nature of a system that reflects gains/benefits towards greater participation/democracy through reforms won through struggle – from extension of the suffrage to the recognition of limited human rights.)

Further, as outlined elsewhere in this piece, it is vital to recognise that ‘representative democracies’ are set within (and indeed serve to maintain and evolve) much wider formal and informal, internal and external networks and structures of institutional and relational power that serve to further foreclose notions of legitimacy, accountability and participation.

Discussing contemporary British foreign policy, Mark Curtis notes: “Polyarchy is generally what British leaders mean when they speak of promoting ‘democracy’ abroad. This is a system in which a small group actually rules and mass participation is confined to choosing leaders in elections managed by competing elites.”iii ‘Particracy’ is a de facto form of government where one or more political parties dominate the political process, rather than citizens and/or individual politicians. The tendency is to deteriorate towards an oligarchy (rule by elite) or plutocracy (by wealthy elite).

Even within this ‘representative’ paradigm, if tomorrow ‘contains only that which we put into it today’, Scotland has yet to attain and/or maintain ‘normative’ levels of European democracy: “At the local level Scotland is the least democratic country in Europe. The state of local democracy in Scotland means that it is virtually impossible for any community to make any decision about itself”iv (The Silent Crisis, Reid Foundation 2012).

Debates around a sovereign parliament for Scotland tend to neglect the contemporary culture of intense corporate lobbying at Holyrood, as David Miller asserts: “For some on the left discussion of the power of Westminster may well be code for the power of the Transnational Corporations, but it is not enough to leave matters there. Big business does not just rule Scotland via Westminster, it also rules by direct if often low profile and covert engagement in Scottish politics.”v

Moreover, such critical oversight for informing debate has been further foreclosed by the increasing neoliberalisation of the Scottish education system. Alongside corporate media influence, this has led not merely to the curtailment of holding power to account but – exemplifying how corporate power is accomplished through integration into governance – ‘education’, including its research roles, is being more thoroughly folded into facilitating a hegemonic model of contemporary capitalism. Indeed, the dominant policy trend is to regard education as an ‘industry’ driving national economic growth.

Returning to conflations of voting with participatory politics, it seems important to emphasise referenda are not liberating acts of direct democracy. Capitalism isn’t actually being threatened here; it’s accepted with the hope of greater left-fieldvi state intervention and welfare. Campaigning merely for a ‘Yes’ vote at the referendum displaces and forestalls current popular struggle for transformation against current very real threats onto an underdetermined yet supposedly more promising future territory.

Campaigning rhetoric proposes that we should vote ‘yes’ to distinguish ourselves from, indeed to break from governance by Westminster. Yet the Westminster bar is set so low (and being taken lower by the day) that this represents little beyond a replacement of the race-to-the-bottom with a race-to-stand-still. Clinging to the vestiges of Welfarism (portrayed as Social Democracy, or the ‘Nordic Model’; as though it is what it was) within an increasingly neoliberal and globalised capitalist paradigm, these ‘civic nationalist’ reformist positions operate within discourses and policies of competition, markets and growth.

This is made obvious by the SNP and others’ corporate agenda-setting (e.g. the policy of cutting Corporation Tax, drawing on the boom-time image of Ireland’s ‘Celtic Tiger’ economy), the consensus around ‘competitive nationalism’ (where aspects of life and identity, including education, arts, sports and culture, are harnessed as marks of distinction; as competitive factors of national economic advantage), and on the continuity-exploitation of oil and imperative of infinite growth on a finite planet (their claims to creating an ecologically friendly Scotland are clearly exposed by such unsustainable policies in practice).

Such agenda setting is buttressed by the content and structural realities of a corporate-commercial and corporatised-public media. Seemingly in contradiction, this overwhelmingly pro-unionist media opposes independence while promulgating the SNP’s underlying stance as to neoliberal political economy. Perhaps unsurprisingly, as the individuals involved comprise aspects of the very elite on whom they claim to hold to account.

The progressives’ appeal to the paradoxical doctrine of ‘self-determination’ maintains a referent to a state-foundational individualism – that is, where the presumed free will of the individual and that of the people are conflated as one-and-the-same; as a ‘collective individual’ possessing its own sovereign free will, realised at a societal level through the single discourse of the nation. As such, these appeals to ‘self-determination’ serve to legitimise pre-conceived claims by the residing ‘self-appointed’ political elite to “act under the assumption that their own sovereign free wills can not but be identical with sovereign free will of the people and therefore with sovereign free will of the individual”vii (Zlatko Hadžidedić).

So how can any progressive appeal to ‘self-determination’ be distinguished from the nationalist position of ‘popular sovereignty’ problematised here? Is it not the case that through a conflation of scales that presupposes a seamless continuity between individuals and nation – an assumed oneness of will – it buttresses the nationalist position(s), further masking relations of power? As Hadžidedić states: “Such shifts [onto the concepts of which the discourse of the nation was composed] have created the illusion of two fundamentally opposed – civic-individualistic and ethnic-collectivist – concepts of the nation. In fact, these are only minor modifications in the counter-elites’ adaptation of particular societal givens to the projected discourse of nation.”

Actual self-determination concerns individual and collective autonomy as articulated through participatory democratic decision-making – the difficult process of changing what the reproduction of life means in both pragmatic and phantasmatic terms – none of which is conspicuous in the campaigns thus far. Democracy, when conceived of as the theory and practice of collective freedom, is central to addressing intersectional oppressions through the transformation of society in the interests of social justice. Democracy here is a value (self-management), a means (participatory), and an objective (collective freedom), where change occurs through a process of participation and empowerment oriented towards achieving a just society as an iterative process of being and becoming. Praxis, then, involves a prefiguring or foreshadowing – a reflection of the values espoused and goals hoped to achieve – in the struggles of the present. This is not what’s presently proposed as the route to, and subsequent realities of, independence. Further, the content and form of independence is purposefully being left as unproblematised, and thus as myth. In consequence, if not always intent, current ‘progressive’ assumptions of independence support the status quo, providing a continuity of capitalist and other relations of oppression. In contrast, we affirm that political, economic and social transformation has to be communicated, contested, struggled for – as transformation is not inherent to ‘independence’ as a matter of fact.

2. ‘Cultural Intimacy’ & ‘Imagined Communities’

A ‘national citizenry’ is not a fixed, static, coherent and indivisible entity but composed of different people with different positions and interests, with the state’s functionaries also reflecting internal divisions of composition. ‘Cultural intimacy’viii (Michael Herzfeld) refers to the often seemingly contradictory ways in which state and local practices interact in creating and institutionalising national imagery and sentiment in the construction of nation-state formations – the processes of the organisation of territory (national boundaries), ethnos, and government apparatus.

‘Cultural intimacy’ emphasises a complex co-existence of ideologies and actions between various elements of the state and its citizenry – a symbiosis of actions such that each side’s ‘life’ is constantly challenged or contradicted by the other, and in doing so their very existence is mutually based upon and reinforced by each other even when they appear to stand in opposition. This includes ‘unpalatable phenomena’ – aspects of national feeling, Herzfeld argues, that may cause ‘external embarrassment’ – which is why at the same time it is these features through which the nation-state often secures the loyalty of its citizens.

For example, Homecoming Scotland 2009 was a (then) Scottish Executive initiative to develop business networks and Diaspora Markets, with its TV ad seen “by over 60% of the Scottish population in the week over St Andrews Day 2008″ix. Homecoming used ‘traditional’ culture (such as Highland games, a largely Victorian invention, developed after the Highland Clearances) whisky and golf themes as a pretext to define an export brand geared towards its main, white, North American ancestral diasporas. The invitation ‘to come home to the old country’ was noticeably not colour blind. “No-one from Jamaica was officially invited to any festivities although many view themselves as part of the global Scots Diaspora.” As Stephen Mullen argues: “…the Homecoming initiative had no option but to exclude the Scots Diaspora in the Caribbean considering the denial surrounding Scots’ involvement in slavery.”x

It is through these interactions and conflicts that cultural intimacy and national conscious are manifested, contested, and reformulated. Processes resulting in nationalist feelings lodging in social consciousness, with disparate groups often invoking similar rhetoric/ images/ tropes to justify contradictory actions or ideologies – e.g. the state’s use of a language of kin, family, and body to lend an immediacy of proximity to its pronouncements, from which both the state and citizenry derive their persuasiveness in striving to naturalise affective ties with the national community.

‘Cultural intimacy’ thus recognises the nation as an imagined thing – including ideas about language, common origin, blood, and various conceptions of ethnos – emotively shaped through cultural self-imaging and self-narrativising processes, with state-entities eventually containing opposing sides within the most intimate metaphor based on family and bloodline.

Zlatko Hadžidedić also has the nation as a paradoxical, contingent event, but where “the discourse of nation attempts to permanently press individuals to abandon their multiple identities and opt for the single, national one”. For Hadžidedić, “these individuals are permanently being suggested by the omni-present discourse of nation that the nation is the only proper unit within which they are to calculate their interests”. Yet individuals only occasionally “massively behave the nation” and then “only in times of social crises.” The nation’s ‘main enemy’, then, is not ‘alien’ symbolic content or its assumed non-national carriers, “the main enemy, which dissolves the singleness of the nation into the multiplicity of other identities, is political and social stability. … Conversely, in times of political and social unrest … the nation (to paraphrase [Elie] Kedouriexi) is offered – and, indeed, may seem to arise – as the key to salvation.”

And this is where we locate crises capitalism and concomitant capitalist restructuring as ultimately informing affective attachments (intersubjective relations, feelings and emotions) as the aspiration for transcendental securitisation – be that ‘martial culture’ and a deepening militarisation or the re-assertion of the politics of Fordism (‘re-industrialisation’, “though not in any actual material sense”, as Angela Mitropoulos states, “since the [local/global] conditions which made that possible have long been surpassed by various struggles”xii).

The appeal to nationalism involving the construction of a nostalgic and mythical, homogenous ‘Britishness’ – be it Royal Weddings, ER II’s Jubilee or 2012 Olympics, to be sold at home and abroad, and wielded as a disciplinary and marketing tool for the manufacture, maintenance and evolution of consent – is replaced by a terribly similar ‘Scottishness’. As such, it’s a sterile nationalism, remaining firmly within the dialectic of coloniser-colonised, portrayed as a wish “to throw off imperialist rule in order to assert already established national identity, whose only flaw is to have been contaminated and repressed by the presence of the colonialists”xiii (Kristin Ross), avoiding both local and global realities.

Benedict Anderson maintains all communities are in fact ‘imagined’ political communities: “imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion”xiv. Indeed, can ‘true’ authentic communities with which to juxtapose to nations exist at all? – if as Anderson claims communities are to “be distinguished, not by their falsity/genuineness, but by the style in which they are imagined”. It is this ‘imagining’ that helps ‘create’ symbols, history and values that make a community of any size appear ‘real’.

3. Geographical Communities

Focusing on nationalism – on national/ethnic identity – homogenises and flattens our multiple, complex and mutable identities thus masking oppressions, repressions and exploitations centred on them – as these axes of identity interact on multiple and often simultaneous levels, contributing to systematic social inequality. Surely this is dangerous territory indeed for those of us focusing on social justice?

This flattened discourse on oppressions has a strange, strangled even, way of representing ‘power’; always just out of view, as if the political class and its interests were merely just so ‘geographically’ bound, and spatial proximity was the real concern. The SNP have clearly decided that a ‘spatialised’ discourse is more palatable than alternatives; thus it’s about bringing power ‘home’, and ensuring decisions concerning Scotland are taken ‘in’ Scotland. The protectionism of the ‘globalisation’ spectre appeals to ‘national intimacy’; and is more akin to rallying behind the ‘national interest’ (in reality the short-term economic interests of an elite few) than any self-reflective analysis of the situatedness of power in intersectionality. Is there any sense of how to ‘politically’ redistribute power or hold it to account? Instead this spatial cleaving sets up a disingenuous ‘location’ of the interests of the co-ordinator/political class – and so also locationally legitimises them closer to home as the ‘solver’ of the internal effects of now ‘external’ problems. Is it thereby fundamentally anti-political? A post-politics for post-independence? Erik Swyngedouw explains “the post-political condition is one in which consensus has been built around the inevitability of neo-liberal capitalism as an economic system” – that is, “a political formation that actually forecloses the political”xv. Swyngedouw insists “that this post-political condition in fact annuls democracy”, as we are presently seeing in Ireland, Italy and Greece: “the forefront of a growing global power grab: a ‘technocratic revolution’ in which even the trappings of formal democracy are pushed aside in favour of a government subservient to unelected councils of supranational institutions and global financial interests.” A future of increasingly predatory finance capital, repressed surplus populations, militarised green zones, universal precarity, and widespread economic depression is already here. “Recovery,” for most of us, means “a new round of social devastation,” as Naomi Klein makes clearxvi. Post-independence, understood in these terms, becomes an exercise in managing conceptions of governance – claiming consensual participation and community democracy for a process that delivers a de-composed, once-dissensual public to neoliberalism, limiting public debate and influence to how such policies will be implemented within a prefigured ‘end of history’ acceptance of TINA (Margaret Thatcher’s widely repeated assertion/dictum that “there is no alternative”) with regard to both capitalism and European/US ‘representative democracy’.

Regarding scale, and an assumption of familial proximity; having the political class closer to home doesn’t necessarily make replacing them any easier, never mind challenging the idea of a political class per se. If anything, the intensification of the nationalist-centred independence project championed by much apparently ‘progressive’ opinion could have a significant effect in mystifying power and oppressive relations and undermining self-organisation through their replacement by a passive support for – for a inter-causal link between the discourses of independence and liberalism, joined under the umbrella-concept of ‘the nation’.

We stress, the proposed reforms are not new forms of ‘failed’ ideas; as Naomi Klein explains, neoliberalism never failedxvii – it is better understood as an evolving form of governmentality and re-organisation of the state itself: “a mode of intervention that profoundly re-shapes social forms by acting on the conditions, especially the legal conditions, under which society operates” (Benjamin Noys). Who is offering actual alternatives to the disaster capitalism of continued and entrenched ‘austerity’ – in reality, the rapid-fire corporate-state re-engineering of societies reeling from shock? Alternatives to the privatisations (of public services, utilities and jobs, including frontal assaults on what remains of a welfare settlement), enclosures of the commons (a continual precondition for capitalist accumulation), deregulations, tax cuts/exemptions for the wealthy and corporations on top of corporate-welfare ‘bailouts’, accompanied by state and corporate securitisation/ militarisation and concomitant rise of a ‘surveillance society’. Thus attacks on the remnants of the limited freedoms and rights achieved through struggle – on free speech and assembly, and wider workers’ and human rights – are being ‘justified’. These reflect the debt-creating, extractionist, sovereignty-destructive, race-to-the-bottom, neoliberal ‘structural adjustment’ polices of the Washington consensus enforced on much of the Global South for decades. These are now selectively brought to bear ‘at home’ with a vengeance, under the cover of ‘necessary responses’ to contemporary crises. Crises they will inevitably continue to exacerbate in a downward spiral of deepening poverty, inequality, and oppressions.

4. Incidental heirs?

Nation states are not natural but historically contingent, ongoing political constructs, reflective of power struggles of empire and colonialism. ‘Scots’ have been and are both the foot-soldiers for, and leaders and beneficiaries of, empire and neocolonialism in the present, not just historically. Scotland’s institutions, systems of law and governance, its pursuance of economics and politics, sit within that, not aside separate from it, but as fundamental functioning, reproductive participants in it. Scotland is not simply some colonially-tainted otherwise-bastion-of-virtue that can be removed from the history upon which where we are today is contingent – it is a product of and participant in both producing, being produced by, and reproducing the effects and conditions of contemporary capitalism. A view of ‘independence’ as mystical ‘release’ per se won’t change that, ‘we’ have to change that.

Scottish nationalism is presented as a civic form of nationalism. ‘Civic Nationalism’ – differentiated from ethnic nationalism where citizenship is characterised by jus sanguinis (law of blood) in contrast to jus soli (law of the soil) – is an ideology premised on ‘social partnership’ – a governance arrangement predicated upon new formal and informal institutional configurations managing the appearance of public participation within a wider ‘liberal’ notion of a territorially based ‘social contract’. If this is what occurs it seems more about delivering people to policy – to the imperatives of neoliberal capitalism. If independence is ‘achieved’ on these terms we will merely have replaced one set of post-democratic political governors/managers with another.
In international law, sovereignty means that a government possesses full control over affairs within a territorial or geographical area or limit. Scottish nationalists’ claim to sovereignty is posed as political decentralisation in wresting further jurisdiction from Westminster to Holyrood, which in turn gets equated to civic empowerment. Yet such perceived ‘decentralisation’ at one scale retains and even becomes the means for its centralisation at another. What’s actually proposed is the re-territorialisation of the burden of risk the public continues to bear in a strong continuity of formal and informal (i.e. corporate) state institutional powers/relations. Moreover, if ‘Scotland’ remains as fully within and reproducing international capital relations, then to what extent can it be ‘sovereign’ (within the realities of a nexus of powerful governments, institutions and financial interests: US, EU, NATO, UN, IMF, World Bank, WTO)?
At the risk of stating the obvious, Scotland is part of the capitalist and neocolonial order. Its institutions and systems of law and governance operate within the logic of that order, which did not ‘happen to’ some hitherto-undefiled Scotland after 1707. Scotland participated in, and reproduced, modes of oppression many nationalists would like to externalise as ‘alien’ to claimed core national social democratic values, the remedy to which figures ‘independence’ as mystical ‘release’. It is therefore not about converting alleged shame or inferiority into pride; following Lauren Berlant, “it requires a hard confrontation with and a very difficult process of changing what the reproduction of life means in both pragmatic and phantasmatic terms.”xviii

We are therefore left asking if it is at all possible to seek transformation for social justice through voting for independence if any campaigning for any new nation state is ipso facto nation building?

Beyond State and Capital?

Does social justice contraindicate Nation States/ Scottish Independence? If a world without borders and without capital – a vision of a worldwide federation of free peoples without oppressions (classless and stateless), of self-governing communities where production based on need is more conducive to our environments – is conceived of as ultimately constitutive of social justice, then it is incumbent to ask: What roles, if any, can exist for notions of independence/ national self-determination?

If such roles are possible (thereby raising transitionary issues), can a conception of independence for a Scotland provide a useful opportunity in struggles for social justice? Further, if it can be, is it at present? And if not, how could it be – what would such a process look like?

How can a process for and beyond independence take an anti-imperialist/ anti(neo)colonialist stance – one that acknowledges the realities of historic and contemporary projects of empire and neo-colonialism? One that is also necessarily anti-capitalist/anti-corporate? For the oppressions both produce (throughout, across, between societies) are intertwined. As post-Soviet ‘new’ states exemplify, multinational interests can and do thrive on smaller ‘centralised’ interdependent states, as well as through the old concept of the powerful nation.

Must such stances lead to a position, in the here and now, that rejects states and nations or do/can/should such stances accept the tactical or strategic necessity/ desirability of transitional arrangements (perhaps even viewed as necessarily pre-conditional) that encompass the (re)creation of nation states?

How, if at all, do such considerations play out with regard to actual and potential moves towards independence for a Scotland? If social justice is the vision, what strategies and tactics, based in our contemporary contextual realities, can get us from this here to those there-s?

How pertinent is the claim of Iain McKay et al that “a new national state would not bring any fundamental change in the lives of most people, who would still be powerless both economically and socially”?

“…looking around the world at all the many nation-states in existence, we see the same gross disparities in power, influence and wealth restricting self-determination for working-class people, even if they are free ‘nationally'”, if a “major problem with national liberation struggles is that they usually counterpoise the common interests of ‘the nation’ to those of an oppressor, but assume that class is irrelevant. Although nationalist movements often cut across classes, they still seek to increase autonomy for certain parts of society while ignoring that of other parts.”xix

What we perceive in much of the contemporary framings is a separating out or division appearing between state-building (the political classes and continuity of their privileges/interests) and securing a referendum ‘win’ through identitarian myth building. What is to be the relationship between the state and society? Who is to decide? How? – and if not in the ‘doing’ then when?

It would be a bit pointless ‘breaking’ the British state only for it to come back in multiple forms of itself, replicating the self-same interests/ powers/ privileges. So it’s not just a case of voting to dismantle a British state structure, while leaving concurrent interests intact, but of politicising the processes and realising the participatory potentials of actually disassembling state power. Taking an active role, as agents in these processes, cannot be postponed out of perceived/projected ‘fragility’ in the present, nor in the name of ‘unity’. ‘Independence’ is not a ‘moment’ to vote for, but a process of state formation to participate in (or be excluded from) or to resist: that thorny question posed by Holloway, amongst others, of, “how to change the world without taking power?”xx


Alert to Chomsky and others’ complementary holis mxxi – an acceptance of integrated spheres of society: polity, economy, kinship, culture, ecology, international relations – means that to achieve social justice we must ensure we work towards transformation in all spheres. Bearing in mind the likely consequences were independence as proposed by much of the ‘Yes’ campaigns to occur, what instead needs to be achieved with regard to each sphere? What possible visions of social justice might we have for these spheres if we create and evolve that which we have called for here: a participatory democratic process of empowerment through engagement with ‘independence’? A process that prefigures the very values and objectives that it espouses – of solidarity, diversity, equality, participatory democracy/self-management and sustainability.

In replacing authoritarian electoral politics, what might a politics based in genuine participatory democracy look like? One where everyone has a voice in decisions proportional to the forseeable effects of that decision upon them, where hierarchical arrangements and relationships are replaced by processes and outcomes based on autonomy and collective self-management for individuals and communities. A politics without political hierarchies, a politics without ruling and being ruled.

In replacing capitalism, what might a just economics look like? One where production, allocation and consumption are fairly influenced by all. Where the needs of all, not the dictates or advance of a few should guide processes and outcomes. Where social and ecological impacts are assayed. Where divisions of labour as well as considerations of ownership and earnings feature in conceptions and understandings of class, are addressed in working towards a classless society. An economics without class rule and without exploitation and alienation.

In replacing patriarchy, what might just gender, sexual and family relations look like? A society in which we procreate and nurture, socialise, explore sexuality and relate justly across genders, ages and preferences such that no groups are subordinated to any other. A kinship without denial and denigration, without sexist hierarchy.

In replacing community hierarchies/oppressions based on culture and identity, what might a genuinely intercommunalist society look like? One which encourages autonomy/self-determination within solidarity and encourages diversity, where identities and cultures co-exist, evolve, hybridise. Community without rigid boundaries and identitarian oppressions, culture without subordination and superiority, without cultural hierarchies.

In replacing ecologically unsustainable practices and ways of living, what might relations with(in) our environment that place the needs of people and planet as paramount look like? Relations in which ecological and social practices accept humanity as with and within an ecosystem, taking account of the ecological implications of our options.

In replacing relationships between nations and communities based on war, conflict, colonialism and competition, what might just international relations look like based on co-operation and relations of solidarity? Relations in which the many are no longer impoverished, excluded, exploited and oppressed.

In significant part, these are broadly conceived educational tasks and opportunities – as centred on critical conscientisation (Fanon, Freirexxii) and praxis, on considered action in an iterative, critically-reflective process informed by theory and previous experience. Education as concerned with evolving understandings of self and others, and the relationships between them; allied to an appreciation of our individual and collective agency, and an orientation to act in and on the world to change it in the interests of social justice.

In evolving educations intended to globalise social justice – equity not poverty, equality and fairness not oppression and injustice, solidarity and empathy not anti-sociality and selfish exploitation, diversity and democracy not conformity and repression, sustainability and ecological balance not environmental degradation and destruction – what might such alternative, critical educations look like?

A central factor in supporting the hegemony of our contemporary capitalist paradigm is the mainstream media’s manufacture, maintenance and evolution of consent. (To what extent does a Holyrood-identified crisis of Scottish media both reflect and shape a non-critical naively conscious citizenry?) To challenge this ownership/transmission model of media, to diversify and democratise communication, replacing them with genuine opportunities for critical dialogue, what might such alternative medias look like?


Alert to falling prey to vague clichés about in-between spaces and multiplicities, we acknowledge the compellingness of John Holloway and others’ advocations to act “in, against and beyond” both capitalism and the nation state.

Our concern with the ‘Yes’ campaigns’ consensualism (‘optimism’, ‘confidence’, and forced positivity generally), and significant sections of progressive positionality, is the consequences if not always intent of their proposals; if they were successful, they should leave us in, with, and for the nexus of capitalism/ nation-state/ representative ‘democracy’.

Our proposal is for a clearer orientation of not just ‘against’, but ‘beyond’ – speaking to a society and world that is post- both capitalism and nation state (a dissolving rather than a devolving of the state – which may include independence). A proposal for the evolution of processes of collective grass-roots empowerment, of praxis for social justice, that include dialogues of engagement with the issues of independence, nationalism and self-determination allowing for the divergences and possible futures on the way. Processes that continue whatever the results of the referendum. These debates need to be about being and becoming, rather than accepting a flattening assertion of who ‘we’ are as premised on a mythical, ‘natural’, homogenised and non-conflicted past and promised future. It is not about envisaging/imagining a better capitalism – though non-reformist reforms will be essential to achieving transformational change – it is about working towards a post-capitalist society. It is about other, better, worlds that are possible, necessary and under construction.

Yes, against the plodding redundancy of positivism
Yes, to something more than a contingently agreed upon consensus only
Yes, to concerns that political action is denied any space for critical self-reflection
Yes, to the interrogation of existing circumstances and contexts
Yes, to going forward in terms which do not confirm the social status quo
Yes, let dialogue and discussion proliferate, disrespectful of authority
Yes, against merely reproducing the categories which underwrite existing alienations – the existing order of social things
Yes, let’s undermine the hegemonic ‘common sense’– that which appears obvious beyond question
Yes, to politicising a social or ‘public’ world, thinking through and articulating the changes before us
Yes, to the free exchange and dissemination of ideas, to processes always alive to the circumstances of change, to possibilities and potential – to hope
Yes, to practical reflexivity, to place at issue anything and everything
Yes to exposing the power of language and to education for social justice and democracy
Yes, not as a seamless monolith but as the movements of contradiction and tension
Yes, to propagation of critical thought, to unearth the hidden, the obscured, the mythical
Yes, to questioning the adequacy of traditional political theory and practice, to the status of the law, and to the supposed benefits of the capitalist social democratic state
Yes, to a recognition of our individual and collective agency
Yes, to participatory democracy, and to an anti-capitalist stance to the economy
Yes, to an intercommunalist stance to community, culture and identity, and to a queer/feminist one to patriachy and gender/sex relations
Yes, to sustainable ecology and to relations between nations being peaceful and just
Yes, to praxis, to new ways of thinking, talking and acting, living and relating – of being and becoming

We would like to additionally acknowledge the influence of the ideas and writings of: Michael Albert, Stephen Brookfield, Glasgow Anarchist, Common Sense journal, and everyone else unreferenced in our brevity.)

A version of this text appears on Ground Left :
Crises Capitalism and Independence Doctrines

We would like to thank Scott Hames for his dialogical encouragment and contributions – a shorter version of this text will appear in Scott’s forthcoming collection on Scottish independence and self-determination, to be published by Word Power, November 2012.

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  2. John Souter says:

    This article sets the bar far too high. Its terms are evolutionary rather than pragmatically possible within the terms and timespan of Scotland’s push for independence.

    But, that said, is no reflection on the validity of its comments and aspirations towards a better future once a large enough consortium of nations can be formed to take on the present hegemony of power mongers.

    For the here and now and in the parochial limits of Scotland a debate on a proposed Scottish Constitution and how it embraces the sovereignty of the people would be enough to start with.

    I suspect few of us want independence limited to a change of nameplates, titles and the enhancement of the Scottish political free loaders.

    1. Leigh & Gordy says:

      Hi John re. “sets the bar far too high” – as you allude to, one way to consider it is with regard to minimum and maximum demands (what we advocate is not a demand but rather a means and direction of travel) and so with even the minimum basic expectation being thrown awry (e.g. a non-monarchical republic) with what passes for public ‘debate’ being dragged further towards the needs of the right, instead of playing cat-and-mouse with neoliberalism we wished to propose something more than “the minimal conditions for social justice, dissent, and democratic expression” by asking questions to prompt a reconsideration towards what our maximal citizenry needs might be! And if the flattering rhetoric of a more socially democratic Scottish public is to be relied upon for a post-independence left-rejuvenation, retaining a viable vestige of moral and social responsibility weathering the now external imposition of neoliberalism, then might we expect some positive engagement in the present? However, experientially, we do not believe this necessarily to be the case, and in the absence of public critical conscientisation — which “focuses on achieving an in-depth understanding of the world, allowing for the perception and exposure of social and political contradictions; critical consciousness also includes taking action against the oppressive elements in one’s life that are illuminated by that understanding” — our concern remains that “in their desperation people try to ride the wave of the forms they know, even when there is no water beneath them nor air to float them”. (This of course is in the context where the ‘right to work’ slogan has been fundamentally reduced down from the previous demand for the ‘right to decent work’ — the ‘good life’ it seems is already a sacrifice.) However, while Freire states conscientisation “implies overcoming ‘false consciousness’ [or perhaps more kindly and accurately ‘naive’ consciousness], overcoming, that is, a semi-intransitive or naive transitive state of consciousness, [and] it implies further the critical insertion of the conscientized person into a demythologized reality”, we feel this explanation may remain insufficient. (Alert to feminist criticisms of ‘false consciousness’ in counter-hegemonic calls, of it being a self-superior moral authority devaluing others’ ‘choices’ as ‘inauthentic’, we’d still like to explore what Freire means by ‘semi-intransitive’ perhaps with regard to ‘cynical reason’ – also as a source of creative tension where there isn’t any place “behind History’s back”!) Fundamentally, we feel it concerns the ‘conversion’ of a stunned public into a demanding one; taking the leap into the beyond of ‘comfort’ in the unreliability of the world, a world where people fantasise securing everyday happiness under regimes of crisis. Given the broken circuit of reciprocity, as Berlant asks, “Can people bear to fight themselves for better versions of the good life for everyone?” At what point can we afford not to in the now?

  3. Svenja says:

    I agree largely with Mike’s critique above, and have a couple of points to add.

    Firstly, I found the ‘Crises’ article difficult to read and I study at postgraduate level – perhaps that’s why I found it difficult to figure out where you stand? Where do you stand?

    The other point – in fact Mike’s incorrect in that there is another reference to a piece pro-indy writers have contributed to – the Jimmy Reid Foundation’s Silent Crisis, which I’ve just started reading and which seems excellent. And the point that it makes, the fact that Scotland’s local politics are currently not very democratic, has been taken out of context in the ‘Crises’ piece – instrumental in claiming that Scotland’s not gonna do any differently/ better/ fairer than Britain has done (crisis of confidence anyone?). However, Silent Crisis makes the point in its introduction that the weakness of local democracies in Scotland are partly a result of Thatcherite politics, symptomatic of the Union. An independent Scotland is much better suited to resist the long-term impacts of Thatcherism and their renewal, as we seem to be coming full circle in terms of Westminster’s politics.

    I guess my third point would be that I felt the need to respond to this because I am fiercely pro-indy, yet I couldn’t find myself at all in the article’s assertions (accusations almost) – that the pro-indy movement is uncritical towards neoliberalism, nationalistic, ‘Scottish’ (I’m not) and shallow. Heh? Perhaps we should go for a pint and you can make your mind up afterwards.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      That sounds like a good idea. Leigh? Gordon? Svenja’s buying…

      1. we could hopefully make a chat and a pint 🙂

    2. Leigh & Gordy says:

      Hi Svenja re. “crisis of confidence anyone” – equating it with a contemporary management ‘leadership’ agenda, as well as the ‘happiness industry’: , we address in relating it with affirming the political class as the solver of now presented as ‘external’ problems remaining firmly within the dialectic of coloniser-colonised. (Which we position as fundamentally anti- ‘political economy’.) Rather than repeating and in doing so going some way to cementing such pathologising as fact, isn’t it instead about “trying to imagine another way of relating to others and to our own optimism”, and therefore not about converting alleged shame or inferiority into pride, but, following Lauren Berlant, “it requires a hard confrontation with and a very difficult process of changing what the reproduction of life means in both pragmatic and phantasmatic terms”. We appreciate that’s quite dense and there wasn’t space to do more here, so for an unpacking of that see the footnote ref: http://www.variant.org.uk/39_40texts/berlant39_40.html
      The censorship that politically contestational groups currently face, harassment of FRFI! for example, is not reducible to just being “symptomatic of the Union”, nor is Holyrood’s lobbying ‘culture’.
      Re: “An independent Scotland is much better suited to resist the long-term impacts of Thatcherism and their renewal” – other than wishful thinking re-stated as fact, might you address this assumption to how we have problematised it? (Perhaps over that pint?)
      We are not saying that all ‘progressive’ aspects of the ‘pro-indy movement’ are uncritical towards neoliberalism or nationalism — we highlight notable public exceptions, and must add Glasgow AF member, ‘Independent and free? A Glasgow anarchist’s take on Scottish independence’: — but to make universal the claim that a ‘pro-indy movement’ is critical in these ways is inaccurate, as the SNP leadership’s retrograde move on the ‘new normal’ of NATO membership clearly exposes.

  4. George Gunn says:

    Like svenja I found the dalek-like prose of the piece difficult to enter into; but once inside the rather grim aesthetics of the word hoard I found much to agree with, especially about democracy and local representation. The problem is we can have as many of these intellectual exercises in style – praxis – as we like but until we are independent we, as a people, are going nowhere shackled to the corporate fascists of the British state – and I mean the c and f words exactly. What are we expected to do? Vote No until our consciousness and positionare both changed and better, or Vote Yes and get on with trying to build a better Scotland for our children? We do the latter, of course. Piece by piece we build our dream.

    1. Leigh & Gordy says:

      Hi George re. “we can have as many of these intellectual exercises in style – praxis…” Praxis is diametrically opposed to an “intellectual exercise” – it involves theoretically informed action and reflection in an iterative process. Similarly, it is action in the getting along to, not a place but a movement, not an exercise (which we feel a ‘rubber stamping’ in keeping quiet is) and not a suspension of action now for some blueprint future, but about how through a discourse of critique and possibility we create the future through how we get there – one that recognises that without an informed citizenry, collective struggle, and dynamic social movements, hope for a viable democratic future will slip out of reach.
      Re: Homecoming – as we said: “It is through these interactions and conflicts that cultural intimacy and national conscious are manifested, contested, and reformulated.”

  5. George Gunn says:

    On the Homecoming 2009 front. I was commissioned to write this for it

    The herring drifter skippers’ used to use
    Morven as their guide for home
    surfing through the river-jaws
    of Wick harbour in the sepia years
    before the war to end all wars

    We spread our people like a net upon the sea
    & haul our history
    from where the fish have gone
    finding that poverty is the absence of our own
    & tyranny better organised than freedom

    We see the horizon & sail on
    witness a man cut a way for his wife
    through the Manitoba snow of eighteen fifty-seven
    “What” he asks “are the wages in Caithness now?”
    Ohio, Virginia, Alberta, the life

    searched for – is it ever found?
    “Tell the boys back in Bowermadden
    the crop in New Zealand is people!
    I have always been making up my mind
    to have a look home for a little”

    In Otago in eighteen ninety-four
    Scotland was as close as the Moon
    now the wild geese return to firth & beach
    we know our past came too soon
    no people for Scotland are out of reach

  6. douglas clark says:

    I slogged my way through this article. It appears to imply that we should take no steps unless we can have a perfect democracy without at any point dealing with the baby steps that have to be taken first. It is a tad too visionary for me. Personally, I’d prefer to live in Ian M Banks ‘Culture’ but, what the hell…..

    What I would say is that there is no prospect whatsoever of achieving even a smidgeon of what the authors want within the current settlement.

    Perhaps, rather than theorise, the authors should stand for the first independent Scottish Parliament on the agenda they list at the end and we’ll see how they get on?

    1. Leigh & Gordy says:

      Hi Douglas re. “we should take no steps unless we can have a perfect democracy without at any point dealing with the baby steps that have to be taken first”, is the opposite of what we ask for, whereas what we ask for is fuller engagement now that informs and is informed by the terrains of civic literacy (critical conscientisation) – so it is not theorising in isolation but in the doing, which is what we (hopefully) interpret and explain ‘praxis’ to be. We also believe that orientation/direction is important to consider before and while moving/taking steps. Considering our comments on representative democracy – we thank you for proposing our potential candidacy but would consider continued theoretically informed engagement as hopefully more productive.

  7. pat kane says:

    I respect, & in some aspects share, your anarchist & autonomist vision for a fully-engaged, -informed, & -directly empowered populace. Yet I don’t share your sense that a Yes to independence is really just rubber-stamping a local version of Neo-liberalism. The illumination of the left-green-feminist spectrum through their participation in the Yes Scotland campaign, seeing a democratically-forged nation state as a opportunity for significant policy reform, will (& is already) bringing genuine pluralism into political debate in Scotland. Witness the current furore about NATO membership & anti-Trident (strangely not mentioned in your essay). ‘Transcendental securitisation’ is here actually a very specific argument about security – whether the geopolitical agency of a new polity can really affect global non-proliferation, & relatedly, a demilitarisation of Scottish society. The work of Lesley Riddoch & Andy Wightman on crofting, land control & hutting in Scotland http://internationalsocialist.org.uk/index.php/2012/07/the-prospects-for-real-democracy-in-an-independent-scotland-interview-with-andy-wightman/ – & their aspirations towards an independent parliament being a legislative lever towards progress on that agenda – is a concrete example of how deep local empowerment might be entrenched by independence. The point I’m generally making is that the independence movement is much broader & more heterogenous than even any of the parties (strange omission also in your piece of Greens & SSP) currently advocating independence. See the ISG’s Britain Must Break pamphlet http://internationalsocialist.org.uk/index.php/2012/02/isg-britain-must-break-discussion-forums/ or Neil Davidson http://internationalsocialist.org.uk/index.php/2012/05/nationalism-independence-and-the-break-up-of-britain-an-interview-with-neil-davidson/ for evidence of this.

    Endless critique, & a vision of being & becoming in praxis – that’s my own tendency. But a rare opportunity is coming for that to mesh with a standard political process, as a turbulent voice in a broader nationally-self-determinist movement. James Kelman seems to see the opportunity http://www.scottishreviewofbooks.org/index.php/back-issues/volume-8-2012/volume-eight-issue-three/491-james-kelman-the-srb-interview2

    But in any case, many thanks for a useful, learned & penetrating essay.

    1. Leigh & Gordy says:

      Many thanks Pat for your quick and dialogical response – which is much appreciated.

      It would appear we have different understandings of what constitutes ‘democratic’ — we have tried to clearly articulate (in a relatively short space) what we undertake it to mean.

      While we do posit one or two examples for clarity, it’s quite clear we weren’t undertaking a micro-analysis of SNP policy points as regards NATO, retaining the monarchy, the pound and BoE monetary policy along with it. With what passes for public ‘debate’ being dragged further towards the needs of the right, instead of playing cat-and-mouse with neoliberalism we wished to propose something more than “the minimal conditions for social justice, dissent, and democratic expression” by asking questions to prompt a reconsideration towards what our maximal citizenry needs might be!

      The example your raise of the SNP leadership’s retrograde move on the ‘new normal’ of NATO membership (which had only just been made public as we were concluding writing, so wasn’t possible to address specifically but nor was it the focus of the article in any case) does actually expose just how contingent the SNP leadership’s civic-nationalism is, with their ‘pragmatic’ betrayal of such a key policy around which there was understood to be much ‘civic’ agreement jettisoned so nonchalantly by the top. As such, it’s an example which reinforces the hierarchical, univocal nature of these political processes. Ditching Trident while continuing to support a military, interventionist alliance that maintains a first-use nuclear strike policy seems to us disingenuous/contradictory. Retroactively responding to political leaderships’ lurches to the right which destabilise a seeming civic consensualism is not participatory democracy, but it does throw into disarray notions of ‘social contract’.

      (We would also like to advance a related, focused critique of ‘communitarianism’, but that’s perhaps for a future post and was outwith our capacity here.)

      We were also quite explicit in stating in this instance we were wishing to address progressive leftists — which if we were to additionally undertake a lengthier analysis (which is not what we set out to do here) would include the state organisation of military violence and raise the issue of the demilitarisation of Scotland, as you do, and not just the SNP leadership’s policy change in attempting to secure against the wrath of the Whitehouse. The discussion we would encourage on demilitarisation, in a way which is demonstrable of the participatory processes we begin to outline, might also look to CND’s ‘Fortress Scotland’ report (though which doesn’t begin to look at the more indirect military ties such as those of HE) as well as Andy Wightman and others’ work on land reform which you highlight (we might also cite Alyson Pollock’s work on PFI for further exploration). In short, we would need to consider the state’s institutional monopoly of violence (and taxation) — as the Scottish government seeks to transfer core state powers (economic, political and military) from the UK to a new Scottish state — as Alex Law did in his Inaugural Lecture, Dundee, May 2012,’The end of civilisation as we know it? : Symbolic violence and the de-civilising process’.

      As we clearly state at the start, we are appreciative of the handful of current critical interventions (and must add Glasgow AF member, ‘Independent and free? A Glasgow anarchist’s take on Scottish independence’: ) which would include aspects of Neil Davidson’s and James Kelman’s arguments — expressly where Kelman raises a challenge to any Nationalist implied cohesion and identity across classes, which we only just started to unpick but omitted for brevity. We also looked to acknowledging Kelman’s work on asbestosis and the brutalism (violence) of labour lacking from independence reindustrialisation nostalgia, as well as how reindustrialisation rhetoric may relate to structural misogyny — as ‘Prokofiev’ recently wrote on national identity, feminism and the Scottish Radical Left: “conjuring up spirits of the past relies on the historical basis of a patriarchal movement”.

      So while we may not name all the Political Parties directly in our relative brevity, and there is much more we identified but have yet to make space to try unpack, we are hardly silent on what underpins either the Green’s or SSP’s or others’ policies on independence — but rather we attempt, to begin with, to address many of the underlying assumptions. ISG’s pamphlet also came out as we were finishing writing — we now have a hard copy, but if it were freely available to download it might give us easier access…

      Again, thank you for the constructiveness of the dialogue.

  8. Pretentious neo-con media-mentoring rubbish.

  9. Lucy says:

    The existing radical independence ‘praxis’ surely merits consideration too… http://radicalindependence.org/index.php/view-opening-statement/

  10. Leo Panitch on the role of the state with/under/alongside capitalism – evolving positions of integration and complementarity, and of tension and contradiction?
    Much of which seems most relevant to debates around Scottish (or other) independences?


  11. Stan Reeves says:

    As someone who has spent 30 odd years immersed in Freirian practice, this article fundamental misunderstands the notion of “Praxis” and descends into what Freire describes as “Verbalism” Freire understood and developed theory, but he also knew when it was time to act. One of his key questions dialogical questions was “How much do we need to know, before we can act. How long did this enormous piece take to write? Who will it convince to vote yes? That is the historic imperative. Get out from behind your computers and dialogue.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Hey Stan, that was what I was trying to say here: https://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2012/08/28/lost/

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