Independence Without Nationalism


Kevin McKenna, a man not associated with the cause of self-determination, has written a remarkable column for the Guardian, in which he states: “Unionists, me included, have talked loftily about dangers of break-up and separation in a world that is thirsting for continuity and stability.Yet we conveniently overlook the fact that London has already broken away from the United Kingdom and now exists as a world super-state governed by the greed of unhindered capitalism and recognisable as British only by its taxis and bad service.”

Another writer, Joyce McMillan, also an avowedly non-nationalist (‘I am not a political nationalist of any stripe, and never will be’) writes this past week too: “What I see at Westminster is not an alternative politics that avoids the pitfalls of nationalism, but an instinctive, backward-looking British nationalism that is even worse: a farrago of double standards about Westminster and Holyrood, and of reactionary nonsense about the nature of national identity in the 21st century, combined with a complete vacuum of progressive policy, and an instinctive willingness – on the part of the Labour Party – to side in this debate with what is perhaps the most privileged and reactionary government the UK has seen in a century.”

What we are seeing emerging is not a nationalist movement, it is a movement for self-determination, it is going to become – it has got to become – a movement defined more by our ability to to articulate a different set of values, and from them, a different set of policies, concrete, credible and sovereign. To be clear, the choice is between ongoing sustained and institutionalised austerity or control over own affairs. There is no, and there is not going to be, a third way.

The newly formed 60% Gang  promise jam tomorrow, but few would hold faith that the set of contingencies would hang together. For the undead Devo Plus to become reality we’d need first, the Labour Party or Liberals to adopt it, second for these parties to be in a position to implement it, thirdly for those realignments of taxation between NI, Wales, England and Scotland to be accepted – none of which seems remotely likely. But examining the argument is worthwhile anyway. The Institute for Public Policy Research this week publishes a new report proposing that MSPs get far more control over the taxes we pay. The IPPR’s director, Guy Lodge, warns that there are “real risks” that without such a concrete plan in place, many voters could be tempted to opt for independence in 2014. The ‘risk’ bit’s a bit of  a giveaway, but what does this look like?

The IPPR report, written by leading devolution expert Professor Alan Trench, does not propose devolving corporation tax or North Sea oil revenues (that would apparently cause ‘instability’) but it does back the idea of giving MSPs complete control over income tax. It also suggests that MSPs should be “assigned” a large chunk of VAT revenues, and the windfall “sin” taxes, such as alcohol and tobacco revenue, which are collected in Scotland. Trench argues around 60 per cent of the money that Scottish ministers currently spend on schools, hospitals and transport should come directly from Scottish tax revenue – around £22 ­billion. Now this isn’t going to happen. This is a fudge and a ruse to try and confuse matters, but even conceptually it is comically flawed. Try this out: your boss tells you that you’ll get 60% of your salary – as giving you the full amount would be unsettling. Sound good?

Britain is spiraling into further austerity-driven economic crisis. Despite the war on the feckless poor, the reality is (according to Joseph Rowntree) 6.1 million people in poverty are in working households. Excluding pensioners, in-work poverty now outstrips workless poverty at 5.1 million households. In other words the whole war on scroungers narrative is not just offensive, it’s objectively wrong, it doesn’t make sense. The government, which we didn’t elect, has the wrong target, and is wrecking the economy, which we can’t control.

As the Child Poverty Action Group has pointed out, in addition to the 800,000 children that the Institute for Fiscal Studies says will also be in relative poverty by 2020 due to the tax credits and benefits squeeze and the impact of universal credit – a further 200,000 will be hit. So coalition policies are set to increase child poverty by at least a million children by 2020. We’re neither ‘in it together’ nor ‘Better Together’. Whatever happened to the cross-party goal of ending child poverty by 2020?

Our Kevin, puts it in sharp relief:

In Glasgow, the boss of a council-run regeneration agency was given a £500k pay-off at a time when the Citizens Advice Bureau is reporting almost 1,000 calls a day from people whose families have been impoverished by the benefit cuts. Life for millions of people under the most rapacious and reactionary government in 150 years has diminished. To prevent the peasants revolting, however, they have been treated to exaggerated displays of unity euphoria such as the Olympics and assorted royal jubilees.

You can read the full piece here.

The evidence for a broken society, distorted and by poverty lies everywhere around us. The latest report suggests 14 million people or a staggering 37% of people unable to meet unexpected financial expenses.

This is about the Raploch, not Bannockburn.

Comments (15)

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  1. Elljay says:

    “To be clear, the choice is between ongoing sustained and institutionalised austerity or control over own affairs.”

    I’m not convinced sure that the two situations in this sentence are, in fact, opposites. Scotland could have control over it’s own affairs yet still experience a period of austerity because a political party comes to power in an independent Scotland that, for whatever reason, advocates a policy of low public spending. It could happen!

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      That’s true. With a No vote this outcome is certain. With a Yes vote this outcome is highly unlikely, but theoretically possible.

  2. Stevie says:

    As usual Mike — superior journalism.
    I truly fear for Scotland if the NOs win. Westminster will make 100% certain that a referendum never darkens their doorstep again. The Scottish block grant will be steadily destroyed and replaced with a ‘needs based’ funding system (a whole nation being maens tested — the Tory dream).

    The first BritNat Labour Scottish government will return powers to Westminster in the blink of an eye and devolve powers to local councils thus making the Scottish parliament basically a large talky administrative building with no teeth.

    In contrast, a YES win will allow us to create a country that puts people at the heart of policy and have a government that serves the people rather than a UK government that expects the people to serve it.

    We will enshrine in our constitution the rights to free water, education and shelter and for those in need free clothes, food and electricity.

    The BritNats have all scowled and scoffed saying it can’t be done. In fact, it mostly is done but as an establishing principle of rights in a constitution, Scotland can become the first nation to establish a charter of human social rights.

    The BritNats say it can’t be done, in truth they just don’t want to do it. It can be done and we’ll do it if it’s a YES.

  3. syzygy says:

    I personally couldnt give a toss about antiquated Ukania. The nationalist route is the only way to get rid of this liability. We have more in common with our Irish cousins than the self-serving cliques, left, right or centre that historically have managed and
    run England for England’s proper advantage. The Irish learned the lesson the very hard way. We have a straight route opening before us. We should not complicate the journey with extraneous baggage. The English are quite capable of running their own domain, and sorting their problems, without “altruistic concern” on our part. Lets be enlightenedly selfish as a nation for a change. It really is about time. Hardline Jingoistic British nationalism is on the rise and the only antidote is the unjingoistic, reasoned Scottish
    variety. Let it rip!

  4. piobaire says:

    Kevin Mckenna makes a suprising comment for one professing to occupy a position on the left of the political spectrum. “.. a world that is thirsting for continuity and stability”. The exact opposite is true. We need change like we’ve rarely needed it before.
    Here is an extract from the joint manifesto of the Highland Land League and the Scottish Labour Party, from 1919.
    “The Scottish Labour Party and the Highland Land League, believing that Scotland’s interests can best be secured by the re-establishment of the Scottish Parliament and by the land of Scotland being owned and controlled by the Scottish state, desire your support. Since the Union of Scotland with England in 1707, Scotland has experienced ever increasing difficulty in obtaining from Westminster that attention to her needs which she demands they deserve. Most of the efforts for reform by Scotland have been spoiled or defeated by overwhelming English votes.The English people show a marked disposition to conservatism, while the Scottish people on the other hand are undoubtedly progessive in political thought and action. The result of the Union has been that Celtic culture and Scottish ideals have been discouraged, while the tendency is for the ideals and culture of England to be thrust upon our country. Large areas of Scottish land have been denuded of people in order to provide sporting grounds for the idle rich”.
    This is what continuity and stability produce, more of the same iniquity.

  5. Aye, it’s looking more and more like we HAVE to secure a Yes vote – if we don’t, we’ll surely be punished for causing such a palaver in the first place.

    1. muttley79 says:

      Correct Ian. You only need to have saw a 30 second clip of Sarwar berating the Scottish Parliament as an institution, calling Salmond a dictator, and all the other British Nationalists foaming at the mouth last week, to realise what is in store if we vote No. Even Terry Butcher was castigated for the temerity of living in Scotland, and presumably being on the electoral register here. Once again we are getting the old 1979 esque promises of Jam Tomorrow. Hopefully, this time their deceit and lies will be ignored. We are already seeing their media buddies heavily promoting their latest ‘promises.’

  6. Mloclam says:

    An interesting weekend for the news. McKenna must really bloody mean it, or not care a jot what people think of him. He is getting a hazing from No camp on twitter. Quite a thing to risk your reputation for. Especially considering the Guardian sees SNP as a threat to the triumphant return of Labour. Short memories.

  7. felibrilu says:

    Austerity is not a certain outcome of a ‘No’ vote; the next UK parliamentary election is scheduled for May 2015 (though it could be before then if the Government collapses) and there’s no guarantee that Con-Dem Coalition will continue in power.

    I do agree that, at the present time, it’s hard to see a viable UK-wide political party offering a programme that doesn’t include some element of austerity. But even if there’s a ‘yes’ vote in autumn 2014, Scotland will still be living under the devolution arrangements, including the financial settlements, until 2016 at the very least. And probably beyond that too as negotiations continue. So a ‘Yes’ vote does not signal an immediate exit from austerity.

    Personally I think that an ‘austere’ approach will continue to be needed in an independent Scotland, in the sense that Government income will need to spent very carefully if we are serious about tackling issues of deprivation and poverty. I concur that it’s likely (though again not certain) that there will be a fairer distribution of the tax burden but I don’t think that Scottish middle class families will feel that they are less ‘squeezed’ than they are currently. And, in fact, when that reality bumps up against the fact that they persuaded themselves that independence promised escape from austerity, they’ll feel they were misled.

  8. Lee Eisenberg says:

    I’ve never thought of the UK as a country. I’ve always thought of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (which should be part of Ireland) as totally separate countries.

  9. joycemcmillan says:

    Agree with much of what you say, Mike, but it’s quite wrong to describe the IPPR scheme as a “fudge”and a “ruse”. They are a perfectly reputable think-tank trying to contribute to the debate, in a way that would actually have been quite useful a couple of years ago. Now, though, they’re just way behind the game, and don’t even seem to realise it . And of course unionist politicians may try to use the scheme as a fudge and a ruse, which is a different matter.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      I take your point. My point was that this is going to be manipulated, not that it isn’t a legitimate policy.

    2. muttley79 says:

      I can’t agree with that at all. This is the exact same cynicism from Scottish Labour that saw them abandon their commitment to Home Rule in the 1950s/ early 1960s, only to support it once again when the SNP made their breakthrough in the late 1960s. This time they had from May 2011 to October 2012 to develop, and support, further powers for the Scottish Parliament. They had the chance to support a second question and spurred it. Now they think they can get away with saying they support more powers if we only vote No. Therefore, we are back into the 1979 scenario. The question arises, if we vote No in the referendum, where is the motivation for the No parties to give more powers to the Scottish Parliament? They are intent on defeating Salmond. History proves that Scottish Labour in particular only move on greater autonomy for Scotland when they are threatened by the SNP. Take away the threat of independence and the careerists in London will revert to their usual ways.

  10. ich bin ein burdiehouser says:

    Nice bit of strategic fence sitting upthread, delivered with the chutzpah only the writer of a thundering article on economic inequality for a gallery that doesn’t pay its own interns could muster, Bravo.
    The IPPR are a labour think thank – the proposition that out of the goodness of their hearts, they just happen to be proposing a wee carrot for us all with no intention of dissembling or muddying the waters is nonsense.
    It would be laughable but for the realisation that even people in Labour think that’s all the Scots are worth – 60% of their own fag money.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Not sure what you mean by ‘strategic fence sitting’?

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