Scotland the Brave?

scotbraveI thought I took a gamble in publishing my short book, Scotland the Brave? Independence and radical social change, just before the launch of the SNP government’s White Paper on independence. It turned out there was no gamble at all.

The hypothetical gamble was that after analysing all the policy statements as well as behaviour of the SNP over the last few years, I had written a text that robustly and rigorously critiqued the moderation and conservatism of the SNP – moderation and conservatism in terms of what is needed to not only significantly reduce social inequality in Scotland but also provide a sufficiently compelling (and, thus, radical) case for independence.

With the massive build up to the self-proclaimed White Paper to end all White Papers, I thought there was just a possibility that the SNP would pull something unexpected out of the bag and, so, invalidate my argument. It did not (except on maybe childcare). It was a case of restating what we already knew in all its good and not-so-good parts.

In my view, the strength of the argument in Scotland the Brave? Independence and radical social change remains undimmed. And it was the right decision to have it ready to be on sale for the second RIC conference on 23 November 2013 where genuine radicalism was on display.

So what is the argument? Essentially that to both reduce social inequality and win the case for independence the prospect of a radically changed – a radically progressive – society is vital. Put more bluntly, the vast majority of citizens need to be convinced that they will be significantly better off in material terms as a result of independence.

The SNP has yet to make this case. Saying as Salmond did on the day that citizens would be £600pa better off was to merely dance around the edges of what is needed. Like much of what the SNP says, that was necessary but wholly insufficient to make the case compelling (as the latest Ipsos-Mori poll seems to show with just a 3% increase in support). Of course, underlying this is the belief that it is a relatively easier – but still very difficult – task to break the hold of neo-liberalism at the Scottish rather than British level.

Consequently, arguments about scrapping Trident and developing anti-imperialism (while not unimportant for a small milieu – especially amongst the activists) are regarded as fringe issues which are not capable of motivating the vast majority to vote yes and to vote yes to a radical Scotland.

But underlying this argument is another key one – namely that having the right policies/demands/ideas is not synonymous with those policies/demands/ideas becoming credible and convincing. We can all spout policies/demands/ideas that are full of the proverbial ‘motherhood and apple pie’. But what makes citizens see them as realisable – and see that they have a part in achieving them (other than just by voting 18 September 2014 or even voting on 5 May 2016)?

The answer is when the material grievances of citizens lead them to become involved in campaigns (even their own campaigns) to gain social justice and out of these they begin to see the bigger picture of changing society as a whole to meet their own interests. So unless the campaign for a yes vote connects in this way – or becomes part of those campaigns – it is unlikely to win at all or win on the basis that it surely must – one of being for a radical version of society and not a sense of conservatism, moderation and plus ça change.

Along the way Scotland the Brave? Independence and radical social change examines

a) why the reclaim Labour attempt by the Unite union is (whether before or after Falkirk) simply not up to the scale of the task of changing Labour and moving us down a British road to socialism,
b) the red herrings of splitting the working class and
c) what the limitations to the extent to which independence can deliver radical outcomes (because of global capitalist geo-politics).

Scotland the Brave? Independence and radical social change is published by Scottish Left Review Press, priced £4.99 and available from

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  1. Perfidy Prober says:

    I cannot agree that Trident is a minor issue. Ignoring the fact that we in Scotland have the biggest concentration of nuclear weapons In Western Europe sitting there waiting for the USA to give the word and the colossal cost to a nation which cannot feed its people – is not the very FACT of the UK’s obsession with WMD, military hardware, war, a major part of the argument for independence?

  2. Peter A Bell says:

    I would put a question to Professor Gall. If the roadmap set out by the Scottish Government in its White Paper is not the necessary first step on the road to radical change, then what is?

    Don’t get me wrong! I am delighted that political discourse in Scotland has opened up to the extent that it has as a consequence of the referendum debate. I am, even at my time of life, exited and invigorated by the radical thinking of the Jimmy Reid Foundation, RIC and the rest. I am more than sympathetic to the gist of the progressive ideas being generated in forums across Scotland. But I am cautious.

    I am wary of any attempt to sell the idea that the referendum is a vote for radical change in social and economic policy when, in fact, it cannot be more than a vote for constitutional change. I am concerned that, by conflating and confusing the processes of becoming and being independent there is a danger that promises will be made on behalf of the referendum which simply cannot be honoured.

    In a curious way, the radicals and progressives in the Yes campaign have something in common with the reactionaries of the anti-independence campaign. Both criticise, condemn or dismiss the plans set out by the Scottish Government. But neither offer an alternative. I long since learned that it is futile to demand of the No campaign that they provide some sort of vision for Scotland’s future. But I think it is not unreasonable to ask of what we might call the left wing of the independence movement what they would propose as an alternative to the Scottish Government’s plan for securing independence.

    At present, their arguments seem to go straight from rejecting the route to independence developed by the SNP to describing what they want to see after independence – skipping the rather critical stage of actually getting independence and the powers to achieve their unquestionably worthy vision.

    So, I ask again. How does Gregor Gall suggest we go about securing a Yes vote next year while still being honest with the people of Scotland about what that simple act of voting Yes will mean for them in the first months and years of independence?

  3. Dave McEwan Hill says:

    Self indulgent with little understanding of what is required to actually carry a majority of our people to win the referendum. Most of us have huge ambitions of what we can do – when we get to independence. We only get there on a promise of a plural democracy which appeals to the widest possible consensus.

    1. Well said Dave, my thoughts exactly. ‘Scotland the Brave?’ is one book I won’t be buying to understand the debate.

  4. ‘the vast majority of citizens need to be convinced that they will be significantly better off in material terms as a result of independence.’
    is it not enough to be making for ourselves the decisions that will make that the possibility that it so clearly will never be under Westminster.
    Is it not enough to promote social justice in a way that Westminster has clearly and increasingly turned its back on?
    And, as the gentleman above says, do you really believe that Trident and foreign wars mean so little to people in Scotland?
    Would we not prefer to spend this obscene waste on healthcare, education and our elderly, the hallmarks of a just pre-Thatcherite society?

  5. John Souter says:

    Yes, we would all like to see the yoke of nurtured passivity shattered and a radical reformation of the principles of democracy advanced and acted on.

    But, while there are times when the oratory of a fire brand would be welcome, the induced passivity of slumber is often best served when the awakening is gentle and its need allowed to quietly sink in.

    Scotland has a date with destiny in September 14; but win,lose or draw it will not give in. The independence cat is out of the bag, won’t go back in, and Westminster knows it.

  6. Derek Coghill says:

    I’m not sure that what happens after can be stated beforehand as, after a yes vote, there’d be enormous upheaval as political parties realign (or re-invent) themselves. There needs to be a framework to allow this to happen, however.

    I, too, disagree that Trident is a small issue; as well as de-militarization, I think it’s also part of a statement of what kind of country we’d like Scotland to be.

  7. Well, Gregor is either right or wrong – and how can we know for sure?

    My guess is that we do need a more radical idea of how we are going to transform this society, and that this is what is motivating people to get engaged with this democratic process and push for Yes.

    Maybe folk responding here are right and we should just see this as a constitutional question, and this will be enough to gradually persuade people to vote Yes. But I don’t experience people in general being interested either way in constitutional questions unless they have a real impact on our lives. Those who I know who have shifted to Yes (as opposed to those who have always been for independence) have shifted out of hope that this can enable a real response to the devastation of inequality and poverty.

    Peter writes that:
    “I am wary of any attempt to sell the idea that the referendum is a vote for radical change in social and economic policy when, in fact, it cannot be more than a vote for constitutional change. I am concerned that, by conflating and confusing the processes of becoming and being independent there is a danger that promises will be made on behalf of the referendum which simply cannot be honoured.”

    If that is right then I guess that means we should just explain that “decisions about Scotland should be made by people who live and work in Scotland” and effectively leave it at that.

    And if it is wrong? If it is wrong then do we need to open up the possibility of radical change, and then fulfill that promise through our actions?

    Who is it who is going to decide whether those promises are going to be honoured but us? If we are relying on someone else then we are taking the Blairite approach: all big rhetoric and moderate moves towards social justice that are swept away by a logic that is devastating our society and the world.

    Julie McDowall’s piece over on Wings over Scotland today ( makes clear what we’re up against. If becoming independent isn’t about changing the world she describes then it is not going to be of interest to the very people who need to be on board for it to happen.

    1. Peter A Bell says:

      If you’d read my whole comment you would realise that I have no issue whatever with people talking about their vision for the future of an independent Scotland. My point is that this becomes problematic only if and when the impression is given that the referendum relates to aspect of this vision.

      People need to know exactly what they are voting for. Just as importantly, they must not be led to believe that a Yes vote will, in itself, deliver something that it will not and cannot.

      The referendum will not decide the character of independent Scotland. It will decide what forces will shape that character. Saying this does not preclude anyone seeking to describe what that character might be. Nor does it prevent them vying to be among the influences on that character. It simply means that they should assiduously avoid giving the impression that the referendum is about deciding among a number of competing visions. It most assuredly is not. It is about taking the power to decide among a range of competing visions. No more than that, But that is enough. That is the crucial first step.

      1. Peter, I did read the whole of your comment, and did see that you welcome these visions.

        And by the way I do welcome the White Paper and don’t think the Scottish Government should be doing anything differently – they are the midwife of this process and need to proceed cautiously. I have no problem with that – quite the opposite – and what I find interesting is that their caution (e.g. ‘maybe we should have a third question?’, ‘maybe we should keep the £?’, ‘let’s keep the Queen’, ‘NATO is no problem’, etc.) is either pretty much ignored – meaning that issue is neutralised as a reason to vote No, or makes clear that a more radical route is needed. They seem to me to be being completely pragmatic, and their populism doesn’t reflect right-wing newspapers but reflects a society’s desire for social justice, including the majority’s abhorrence (in the whole of the UK) for illegal wars, and (in Scotland) for weapons of mass destruction.

        Re-reading your post, and thinking back over the many many posts you have written, I am wondering whether your concern “that promises will be made on behalf of the referendum which simply cannot be honoured” concerns promises made by the Sottish Government? That’s a crucial perspective, obviously, but I wonder how many of us are thinking from that point of view? The promises the Scottish Government make for after independence concerns me less than the demands and solutions the movement for autonomy, independence and self-determination is proposing. And there is some extraordinary thinking going on here which WE need to develop into a strategy for ensuring that post-independence we don’t end up with just another State where capitalism channels wealth from the increasingly poor to the already fabulously wealthy.

  8. douglas clark says:


    I think that all this talk about independence and the futures that it might lead us to is a good thing in itself.

    Maybe we should look on it as a bonus, those of us that think almost any future away from Westminster ought to be better, at least to a degree. Cynical, perhaps.

    For the more visions of a Scottish future that are predicated on independence for Scotland, the more people that will vote for that Independence. It hardly matters the nuancé of their opinion, they all want the opportunity for their vote to count.

    As long as these visions compete, as long as these visions are at least credible, they will attract competing voices, and votes, to ‘Yes’. Which ought to swell that vote.

    Because all of them want the same thing.

    To fashion our future, free of a Westminster nexus.

    Given the range of possible players in that game, there is not one credible party whose manifesto I would not read with genuine interest. Greens, SSP, SNP or even a re-invigorated Labour.

    OK, perhaps not the last one….

  9. Puzzled says:

    Questions to Gregor
    1) will you be voting in the referendum, seeing as you no longer live in Scotland (or the UK for that matter). Presumably you planned to leave Scotland before you wrote the book??????
    2) Is your departure from Scotland the real reason why your book had to come out before the White paper?
    4) Thirdly, if you don’t like Scotland enough to live there, why write a book about it and expect people’s political actions to be informed by your opinions?

    All seems a bit weird to me.

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