In just a few weeks, two contrasting visions of a Scottish future have taken shape. In Lamont’s new order, Scotland will observe a diplomatic silence on nuclear weapons, human rights, and wars. The social rights we took for granted in happier times will have to go, although means-tested vouchers will keep starvation at bay. We will mock the monarchy and the old corruption in private. But we won’t protest the old British regime. Like naughty schoolboys at assembly, we will roll our eyes when nobody is watching.
On the bright side, we can modernise. Scotland will hire expert consultants to revamp departments, and think tanks will produce glossy reports on how to adapt to global competition. We will compete as a regional economy of the UK. In short, under Lamont, we will have business as usual: more of more of the same. We can call this neo-Blairism.
The Scottish government finds itself to the left of Lamont on every issue. This was not by choice; it was Labour who moved right. The Westminster establishment is using all its force to push Holyrood back into line. They desire, most of all, to crush the case for independence.
Sadly, some of this pressure is paying off. The SNP’s vote on NATO, under heavy duress, is a signal of this. Britain wants to normalise the terms of independence. They want to ensure that, in reality, there is no choice about the society we want to live in. So they are intensifying pressure on the SNP, to make sure that the distance between the status quo and a Scottish future narrows to trivial contrasts of branding and consumer identities.
I do not think this is what the debate should be about. I am not a nationalist, so my support for independence is not just a reflex. I have taken all the factors into consideration. But I can find no way in which the status quo in Britain is defensible. I don’t want to glorify other European countries. But in every league table of social justice, Britain is in the relegation zone. All the values we cherish are threatened by the British state – and this applies across the globe.
Of course, I worry about dividing the British working class. I am fully aware that the only rights worth having are those you can defend. And trade unions are our last line of defence. But I also think pro-Labour figures are misleading us here. The British working class is already, by law, divided in the British state. Thatcher’s anti-union laws made solidarity illegal. Workers in Britain can only withdraw their labour to defend their own self-interest, narrowly defined. This is a travesty of human rights. And lavishing money on Labour governments did not change it one bit.
There is no way around this. We need to confront the British state and its international alliances if we want to make things better for the majority in society. However, breaking up the British state does not mean breaking the British unions. That is a completely separate debate. Cross-border unions are a great idea. They already work between Britain and Ireland, and between America and Canada. We need to weaken the militarist British state that stands for the interests of the elite. And strengthen cross-border ties with English workers. We can do both.
I am happy that the 2014 debate is full of subversive implications. Our task is to act as a catalyst for all the awkward questions that the establishment wants to keep out of the debate. What would it feel like to live in a country that supported Palestinian rights rather than subsidising Israeli apartheid? How would it feel to be the first nation in the northern hemisphere to unilaterally scrap nuclear bombs? Can we use our resources for social need, not private profit, and act as a beacon to progressives in England, Wales, and beyond? With the right organisation, we can ensure this is all in the mix. If we fail, the agenda for independence will be set by think tanks, “security experts”, and lazy pundits.
This is why I have got involved in calling the Radical Independence Conference. It is about keeping the space for a different Scotland alive. I want to ensure that we can challenge consensus politics in words and in action. That means bringing the radical energy of the protest movements into the discourse of 2014.
I am not pessimistic about the polls. Yes, things have gone against us in the last twelve months. But things can change. 52 percent of Scots will vote for independence if they believe the next Westminster government will be Tory or Con-Dem. Clearly, there are still illusions in Labour. And yet Scottish Labour, in its neo-Blairite phase, is still getting hammered, even in mid-term. There is a lot of space to convince people. If Lamont’s vision is the status quo, then things can only get better: really.
But this all means we’ve got work to do. I don’t want to tell you how to run the campaign for independence. But I think there is a consensus that we need to keep the spirit of autonomy alive. I hope we can agree that this referendum should mark the beginning of a new democratic politics in Scotland. It might seem like autumn right now. But I hope this conference is the start of a Scottish spring.
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Times and details for all the Radical Indy Conference sessions, including Jonathon’s, can be found here.