It’s Democracy Stupid

youngie66_2012-10-10_jpg1350037994One of the most telling phrases in modern politics, “It’s the economy, stupid”, was coined by a strategist within Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign office to keep party activists on message.

The more that I listen to proponents for and against a Yes vote; the more I find myself wanting to pan away from economics. Everyone accepts that an independent Scotland would be viable: we now need to move on to why we should become independent.

Or to quote Alastair Darling:

We are being asked to make the choice for Scotland’s future in the most uncertain of economic times. But it has to be about more than just economics.

This is a referendum not an election. That’s why we need to develop an ever sharper focus on the real issue in hand: democracy.

We’ve found out a lot in recent weeks about issues that are likely to affect Scotland’s finances. Whether in the form of a timid Scottish Government report or a note from Ernest & Young, it seems that, whatever is going on with the constitution, it isn’t affecting investment.

On the other hand the sustained onslaught against everything that Yes Scotland stands for often makes its measured tones sound insipid, especially on issues like currency or revenue vs spending. For when it comes to economics, nobody can make any promises and everything is hypothetical.

Though received wisdom and the polls tell us that economics is the be all and end all of the referendum debate, we need to be cautious about the implications of placing too much weight on such a flimsy foundation. The point that is forgotten with ever more regularity is the democratic imperative that has brought us to this pass. It is that and nothing else that we will vote on next year.

In a large part because finance has dominated news coverage, the debate itself risks becoming as arcane and futile as such subject matter. The old and distinctly illiberal forces of the free market do not offer hope, and seldom have.

The importance of the “economics of independence” takes in everything from macro-economic policy to an individual’s chances of finding a job. In the UK the connection between these two extremes has all but perished. The gap between the abstraction of the markets and the reality of their impact has never been greater.

At the same time individualism engendered by focusing on economics (what will happen to my pension, my house, my career?) is mirrored at a vast and global level. If the wealthiest organisations on the planet do not have to chip in why should we expect voters to have a more altruistic outlook? A Yes vote simply cannot be achieved based on our collective selfishness, chatter about £500 here or there only occurs to cheapen a debate that is, ultimately, of far great significance.

I’m not seeking to tar all economists with the same brush: just those most at home in today’s crisis. Adam Smith, for example, would have been appalled at the attitude of Amazon, Google and Apple, who have done so much to portray taxpaying as a relic of the last century. The Kirkaldy born economist famously stated:

Every tax, however, is to the person who pays it a badge, not of slavery but of liberty.

The City of London consensus and all of its narcotic little false economies has destroyed countless lives since 2008 and is inadequate on many levels. It is especially so when seeking a decent framework for a debate about the future. Framing the debate around the possibility of natural disasters would probably involve similar language.

We should emphasise that Scotland has, against the odds, become an interesting example. Its current government supports universalism and scorns the austerity punted by all the unionist parties. The importance of greater income equality, as gestured to by its Fiscal Commission, needs to be taken up with force.

The nature of the world that we live in is one in which the power of states is increasingly eroded in favour of extra-territorial forces. No one can guarantee whether any multinational will choose to base operations in Scotland. For such decisions will be taken by organisations with no stake in the Scottish economy. In some cases, as with Amazon, we have to pay for the privilege of having this fact demonstrated.

That’s why endless talk about lowering corporation tax by three per cent on the one hand, or the tenuous concept of “shared risk” on the other, misses the point entirely.

I’d hazard that the desire for decent homes, decent jobs, and decent communities are at the crux of what most people want from politicians and economists. Instead the millions pray for these basic necessities at the altar of the terrible deity that is free market economics; only a few high priests dare claim to know the mind of God.

For behind all economics, is politics; the promise of something; of change or reconfiguration. Take, for example, the roots of today’s orthodoxy, monetarism, which can be found in the deeply politicized writings of Friedrich Hayek.

If politicians are to be more than mere managers of the market cult, they need to be earthed by local needs and popular sovereignty. That is what 2014 will about.

Each individual will take his or her picture of the future that they want to see into the voting booth with them: a noble exercise, regardless of what outcome you wish to see.

This is why, instead of platitudes to the free market, Yes Scotland need to emphasise that, given the current divisive politics of the UK, independence is increasingly likely to forge more social cohesion in Scotland. For whatever her liabilities, Scotland already has this asset – the principle that no one who lives here is set before anyone else. On such a foundation the possibilities are limitless.

At the same time the global forecast – in terms of population, climate and equality, is bleak. It demands profound change at all levels. If we’re to have a conversation premised solely on a “new” Scotland drunk on oil and the glut of an inflated financial sector, we will have wasted our time. We need to equip a new Scotland with a new and better understanding of what wealth is.

If we do not use independence as a precious opportunity to enlighten the rest of the world, with our own example, it will have been wasted. On the face of it this may sound ambitious. Our past tells us otherwise.

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  1. Alasdair Frew-Bell says:

    it is about democracy. As a minority people within the English controlled British state the authentic democratic voice of the Scottish people is virtually inaudible. Scots operate within the structure in politics, business, media etc but they function as individuals within the context of the dominant culture and in playing the British charade are influenced by it and largely conform to its norms. They rarely reflect the nation from which they originate. In an independent and democratic Scotland the game of charades will be over.

  2. Charles Patrick O'Brien says:

    Aye its democracy+freedom+economy+YES.

  3. Charles Patrick O'Brien says:

    Sorry meant =YES.

  4. Really excellent piece. Thanks.

  5. Indion says:

    A plea. This is not the first of blogposts on Bella’s cleaner look that I have been unable to see and so been put-off giving the attention they deserve because the background colour is too strong to read if not pitch black text. Request either dark text on light background or vice versa for that reason and also highlighted links that stand out rather than be at the vanishing point of no return to.

    OTOH, if it’s only me who is experiencing the problem, what’s the solution at my end, short of copy pasting to a contrast, so I’m not alone in being unable to at least read the message and if in agreement get it?

    BTW, suggest “it’s the economy, stupid” that is uppermost in the minds of most because of (un)successive periods of financially induced democratic deficit and debt and consequent cost to our societies – the greatest debt we owe each other – being jeopordized by misconceived and mismanaged ‘stupid political economies’.

    First in the post-WW Part 2 failure of the ultra-conservative ‘spend to save’ overdone nationalisation leading to the post-1979 second
    of the ultra-liberal ‘save to spend’ sell-out and sold-off to squander the providence of Marshall loaned aid and North Sea Oil & Gas, by
    the chronic short termism of propping up and paying out dole
    respectively, instead of investing in people and work for the lasting long term – no thanks to the UK’s political system of Old Lab, Con and New Lab duopoly turns in turn and turn about to bugger us through during their (un)successive mal-administration.

    What’s the point of winning a war of necessity only to lose the peace in unnecessary? Compare and contrast the UK and Germany then and now. Time for their kind of social democratic political economy methinks. Fact is that’s the prevention of failing to cure we’d best get on with earning our keep with a safety net for those who contribute, not a hammock for those at the top to set a piss all over poor example by ripping-off instead of delivering the legimate tax due for their over-representation of by and for ‘them’ until we have restored the balance of equality by being just and so strongly resilient societies in mutually beneficial economies of our democracies of, for and by we, all the people in our communities of families with friends and fellow folk in union at home and with our neighbours near and further afield across seas in other lands

    That’s union as a state of mind, not a state minded to remain unitary lacking de-centralization to equip our diversity with the requiste authority, responsibility and resouces of bottom-up powers in being to attain, maintain and promote husbanded and fostered natural growth all round and rounded, not subbject to top-down imposition by the evidently cupable in their doings, but not negligent unless they knew not in their temerity to implant their arse about face views on our societies rather than reflect them.

    Civilization is the aggregate of societies built from grounded in the foundations of bottom-up, not the trickle down of the all too high and mighty divining of devolution to divide in mis-rule over.

    We, all the people’s sovereingty of being in person and plural is going to be a great leveller.

    Or did I misread something in not seeing it?

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Hi Indion
      sorry to hear you are having problems. This layout is a staging post to a bigger overhaul coming but we have not had other complaints and our viewing figures are way up.

      What browser are you using and on what device(s)?

      1. Indion says:

        Hi Bellissmaw

        Nae bother now in plain black and white being better than grey for now.

        As elswhere has never been with my Windows XP / Internet Explorer 8 combination and other browsers fronted with separarate security systems.

        thanks for the rapid response I woke to.

      2. Indion says:

        Hi Bellissmaw 🙂

        Nae bother now in plain black and white being best to gather grey “Don’t Know” yet.

        As elswhere has never been with my Windows XP / Internet Explorer 8 combination and other browsers fronted with separate security systems.

        Whatever you do with the site, please remember we need the young hearts auld heids than new systems vote! Like mine (ok, at a stretch), writing this unseen behind the e-mail name and website block!!

        Thanks all the same for the contrasting rapid response I woke to, but not quite enough to get right first time in response too, and so now request deletion of my hitherto bad, sigh 🙁 .

  6. George Gunn says:

    Dear Bella
    tome it read as black on white, a bit like the article. A very straight to the heart of the matter piece. Christopher has it true.

  7. Laurence Davies says:

    Dear Bella,

    What an excellent post. Bickering and whickering about economic unknowables is a sure way to bog us down. Good on you, Christopher Silver.

  8. Doug Daniel says:

    I was talking to someone who is undecided when I was out at the weekend (chasing Yes votes is proving far more effective than chasing phone numbers), and her caution was all about economics. We can’t ignore the fact that the decades of propaganda this country has been subjected to has all been about how Scotland “cannae afford it”. It makes no difference if the various players currently on the No side admit that Scotland could afford to be independent – they know fine the damage is done, the seed has been planted, and they can continue to get mileage out of it by saying other things that trigger the “too poor” response.

    It *should* be all about democracy. But it’s not – it’s about what people want it to be about. Ironically, that’s democracy for you…

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