Radical Indy Conference 02: Scotland the brave? Radicalism and independence

The second article in our series in the run up to the Radical Independence Conference on 24th Nov is an extract from Gregor Gall’s forthcoming book, Scotland the Brave? Radicalism and Independence (Scottish Left Review Press, 2013).  Gregor Gall is Professor of Industrial Relations at the University of Hertfordshire.

Scotland the brave? Radicalism and independence

There is no point having a referendum on independence for Scotland unless social change – and substantial social change for the better – is on the agenda. No amount of constitutional change, no amount of changing the process of the political framework by which we are governed and no amount of switching the flag flown above public buildings from a Union Jack to a Saltire will improve the material conditions of the mass of citizens in Scotland.

Therefore, the key issue by which the case for independence stands or fall is whether it will – or can – deliver improvements in living standards and people’s life chances: working conditions, employment security, educational opportunities, well-being and mortality rates etc, etc.

The ability of independence to deliver this is a possibility – not a probability. It is merely a possibility because the domination of the independence campaign so far by the SNP means that it currently drowns out the radical voices that support independence as a vehicle for delivering substantial and beneficial social change.

The SNP’s approach to the independence debate is built upon maintaining the status quo. This – even for the SNP – must be something of an irony because it will not achieve its very goal unless it is willing to offer substantial social change. Otherwise there will be no substantial positive case for voting ‘yes’.

The SNP conceives the goal of independence as maintaining the current social fabric of Scotland from the clutches of the austerity attacks from the Unionist parties that dominate the Westminster parliament. Part and parcel of this is defending the advances obtained under devolution – the free prescriptions, no tuition fees, free care for the elderly and so on.

But even with these recent gains, there is still massive poverty and inequality in Scotland. It is a measure of the timidity of devolution and SNP policy that this has become the upper limit of what progress has been deemed to mean.

We can only envisage an end to the poverty and inequality that stalks Scotland if more radical policies are on offer as a result of independence. Radicals cannot then rely on the SNP – and they must do their utmost to not only get traction for the radical case for independence but also to begin to deliver on that promise by winning a substantial number of seats in the first Scottish parliamentary elections after independence in 2016.

SNP – party of the status quo

Let’s remind ourselves of the contours of what will stay the same under the SNP vision of an independent Scotland – the monarchy, membership of NATO, the currency of sterling (the pound), the Bank of England setting inflation rates and the Financial Services Authority lightly regulating finance capital and so on. In spirit and deed, this deliberately limits the potential for social change because maintaining the current financial regime maintains the dominance of finance capital.

SNP – party of regression

The SNP’s economic policy is thoroughly neo-liberal based as it is on trickledown, free market economics. The intention to reduce corporation tax to a Celtic Tiger level is the best indication of this. The idea is to stimulate economic growth in order to fund the limited social programme of the devolution settlement through tax receipts. Of course, there are two big problems here. The first is that economic growth is far from assured while we undergo the biggest depression since the 1930s and which has no end in sight. The second is that pursuing the path of neo-liberal deregulation so that capital has even greater freedom is to wilfully repeat the very mistakes of the recent past.

So not only is there no guarantee that the gamble on the free market would work – moreover, the free market will dictate as it has before that social programmes are slashed in order to create the right conditions for the economy. In other words, under the capitalist regime the SNP favours, the social will always come second to the economic and we will be no further forward.

SNP – triumph of process over outcome

Salmond’s big fist for his appeal for independence is that the people of Scotland are best placed to decide what happens in Scotland. That’s fair enough and represents a basic tenet of democracy. But it does not presuppose a fairer, more equal society because neither the economy inside or outside Scotland will be changed by a vote for independence itself. That requires a set of politics that the SNP does not hold and does not want to hold.

Radical options for radical times?

Currently, only a third of citizens are in favour of independence. The majority are against and a large number are as yet undecided. Whilst more radical policies for Scotland under independence will no doubt scare some off, far more will gained by bringing to the fold those that can see social justice is the key objective for a new Scotland and that it can far more fully be brought about under independence.  Social justice can only be attained by limiting the operation of the market – by socialising the market so that it is regulated in part and converted into public ownership in others.

So the questions become: are those living in Scotland brave enough to vote in 2014 for independence – based on a radical case for it – and then in 2016 will they follow through and vote for parties of the left to outflank the SNP and deliver upon the social justice case for independence? 

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Times and details for all the Radical Indy Conference sessions, including Gregor Gall’s, can be found here.

Tickets can be bought here.

Comments (15)

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  1. Macart says:

    The entire premise of this piece is that the SNP are the driving force behind all of these policies. Yet surely these policies on nato, retention of the pound, the monarchy are popular with the electorate themselves, yes? Like all parties the SNP seek to test the waters of public populism before committing to any policy and have adopted a number simply because that is what the public wants? Are they then to ignore the wishes of the electorate? The SNP are well known these days for a gradualist approach to independence, the very thing in the past which made them so unelectable was the image of radicalism which the article claims they now lack. This gradualist approach has brought us this chance in a lifetime.

    This is not to say they haven’t approached controversial social issues, equal rights marriage bill, sectarianism bill, minimum pricing for alcohol, the referendum bill itself, which gives us the chance to be as radical as we like in our own country post referendum. With independence there will be ample opportunity for any and all parties to do more of the same and go further. This piece equally fails to accept that the SNP itself is a broad church. The recent televised debate on nato is very much evidence of this. What the SNP and the wider YES campaign cannot do is drag the electorate kicking and screaming toward independence, they must respectfully invite a cautious public toward taking responsibility for their own future and ensure any transition is as pain/shock free as possible.

    Be as socially radical as you like, but get there first on the principle of independence.

    1. mrbfaethedee says:

      Indy first. Plenty time everything after.

  2. Ronald. says:

    I recall all this ‘radical Scotland’ stuff rearing its head in the sixties. Every time we start looking towards our national freedom these guys start banging their drums. Lets get our independence first please.

    1. Piobaire says:

      Absolutely spot on.

  3. mrbfaethedee says:

    The only thing on the agenda of an independence referendum is the consitutional status of Scotland wrt/ the UK.
    All else will follow after.
    For those who seek ‘left-wing’ change (radical or otherwise), they ought to find themselves better placed to put their case, as will those who seek to put a more ‘right-wing’ case.
    But neither side has any intrinsic part of the independence agenda. What is an intrinsic part of the indepence agenda is the ability of the Scottish people to make a choice between them (and whatever other socio-political views abound) in a fairer and more democratic way in an independent Scotland.
    By 2016 the ‘radical left’ won’t be seeking to deliver ‘the social justice case for independence’, but rather ‘the social justice case for Scotland’; independence will already be here (fingers crossed).

    In your list of the tokens of status quo, I can see how the ‘radical left’ might object to most of them; but I’m not clear what the beef is with sterling as the currency, what would the ‘radical left’ rather in the economic short term?

    You state that the SNP are neo-liberal, giving reduction of corporation tax as the ‘best indication of this. Do you have others, and are there no more ‘left wing’ policies the avow? Becuase on business friendly policy does not equal neo-liberal.

    Regression means going backwards – can enumerate the political, economic, and social events which the SNP have caused which demonstrate this.

    Conflating the constraints of devolution and SNP policy is cheap – show instead what costed measures within the constraints of devolution’s financial implications could be taken instead that would make your case.

    How does a socialised market work? I’m not clear how public ownership can constitute a market. If you mean that some things should not be part of the oxymoronic ‘free market’ i agree, but that’s not a socialised market, that jsut a market that doesn’t sell X.

    What is the roadmap of change from here to a ‘radically left’ Scotland, how does Scotland get from here to where you want it to be. What parts of your ‘radical left’ agenda might I want or not want? What parts might you get the regressive and neo-liberal SNP to agree with, and what of the blue-tory, red-tory, yellow-tory parties? Without revolution change comes only in pieces, so selling the whole cloth alone is no good.

    I would love for there to be a future without political parties, where individual policies are pursued by those who are for them, and presented to the nation without the baggage of party contexts. Where the nation’s communal discourse is on the actual points of discussion and not predicated on the cart-before-horse style ideological labelling of the preferences of nation, group and individuals as ‘radial left’ or ‘neoliberal’, but rather as a complex system of interdependant preferences and beliefs – each of which (and the connections between) can be argued for or against by facts and not post-it note labelling which artificially cleaves in both senses.

  4. mrbfaethedee says:

    Sorry, was in a hurry. Previous post is full of numerous typos and the liek omissions, please forgive them and base any opinions on my status as an idiot on the intended points and not my appalling typing 🙂

    1. Macart says:

      Naw that wiz jist fine as it is. 🙂

  5. mrbfaethedee says:

    Cheers Macart 🙂
    I notice my initial apology was also keech! I’ll stop commenting on my own comments now before I embarrass myself!

    1. Macart says:

      Hahaha. I’ve no excuses, I work in the print industry. 😀

  6. George Gunn says:

    I can’t make the conference but I wish it well. I disagree with Gregor, though, in as nuch as I believe social change and a fairer, more equal, redistributive society will emerge after indepndence; that it is a probability and not just a possibilty. Anything is a possibility but justice and equality are traditional Scottish values – that they have been hijacked and subsumed for several hundred years is another thing. Yet the history of socialism within the physical confines of John O Groats to Lands End has always had a substantial propotrional Scottish generation and influence – Muir, Hardie, Maclean and on and on. Walter Benjamin’s Angel of History may be propelled backwards into the future with the catastrophe of progress piled up before him but we have an opportunity in Scotland to turn our Angel of History around to look into the future. Open heart, open mind, open future.

    1. mrbfaethedee says:

      “justice and equality are traditional Scottish values – that they have been hijacked and subsumed for several hundred years is another thing”

      I agree. Socialism is a decent overlay for large parts of the Scottish character, so too to some extent are the innovative and entrepeneurial drives – I think that we have just about managed to keep that (to me, Scottish) sense that differing motivations can co-exist as long as they all ken their place. That’s one of the things thing I fear losing most by staying in the Union and its continuing social and political slide into anglo-american neo-liberal style policies across the board.

      Looking only left when you don’t like what you see on the right (and vice-versa) is no substitute for, as I take you to mean, looking ahead instead with an open spirit.

  7. This ‘radical left’ conference will not speak for me; I’m happy to get Scottish independence first, then let the Natural path of Scots’ society determine our future. A radical minority will never have any right what-so-ever to speak and represent the massive majority of Scots, and Scotland; especially a radical minority that lurches from philosophical doctrines of Marxism, to Communism, as it veers out of control within itself. I have to say this ‘radical left’ conference is very concerning !

    Far too many neo-con idealists in this radical left genre ‘believe’ they have the right to force their wierd radical loony-left minority issue policies upon tha massive majority of Scots’ society; not on yer bella, fella !

  8. Ronald. says:

    ”Radical Independence Conference”…yeah yeah yeah! blah blah blah! It’s just another diversion from the Cause, and it’s a nonsense. Independence FIRST please.

  9. wanvote says:

    For the benefit of Scots who are brave enough to vote for independence on the basis of a radical vision can you indicate where are those parties on the left of the SNP that you mention. Are they hiding out somewhere waiting to spring up in 2014 – but only if there is a yes win? They need to emerge NOW or are they scared of being useless in the event of a no result. It is easy to bemoan the Scottish Government but the SNP are the only party apart from the Greens who have been driving the independence issue and have been successful in getting it to this stage.

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