Deferring to Old Masters
Scotland is a nation full of contradictions. The Growth Commission report acknowledges some of them. The line: “Scotland is a wealthy nation, with 1 in 4 children living in poverty” exposes our national paradoxes. But Scotland’s fault lines don’t just manifest socially, they mark our political landscape too. And these are undoubtedly exposed in the report.
Take Sterlingisation. It’s probably the most right wing proposal yet to come to come from what is ostensibly the most left wing government in devolution’s history. Sterlingisation shackles Scotland to the failed economic model that has dominated the U.K. for decades. Without control over monetary policy, we would be at the beck and call of the banks and the financial services industry instead of the needs of the Scottish people. Many of whom are in desperate need of real economic transformation.
Although the outcome of the Growth Commission is no surprise, the proposals clash with 2014’s mood: anti-austerity and anti-establishment. This was a report brought together by the establishment itself. For example, Andrew Wilson, founder of the corporate lobby group Charlotte Street Partners. The Scottish Trades Union Congress and pro-independence think tanks like Common Weal were cast aside in favour of suave corporate interests. In the end, despite the fluff, it is a report for the banks and the boardrooms.
Many people can’t bring themselves to the conclusion that the SNP have anything other than the interests of Scottish people at heart. Of course, in rhetorical terms this is true. But a big problem still lies within. The SNP leaders and special advisors believe, like Tony Blair did, that authentic social democratic polices are a vote loser.
The voices that influence the SNP think that in the end the dogmatic orthodoxies of the crest of the neoliberal wave remain dominant. It is as if the 2008 crash didn’t happen. One might assume by that the authors of the report were put in a locked room for the last ten years, where said orthodoxies are presented as a new path. And yet these ideas have been thoroughly trashed.
You might also assume that when it comes to independence, and genuine autonomy, we are better deferring to our old masters. We would be handing Westminster and the Bank of England total control over Scotland’s Corporation Tax. We would be passing over monetary policy, including bank regulation. We would be cemented to the UK tax system. In the end we would be giving the financial services sector a veto over a future Scottish currency.
What is autonomy and what was it that energised the Scottish people in 2014? They did not face down project fear for more of the same. They did not register to vote, many for the first time in their lives, because they thought nothing would change. Nor did they form their own groups, set up their own public meetings, or indeed save the Yes campaign, because they thought a Yes vote would represent a simple changing of the flags.
Instead this movement was fired up by the possibility of change. In this respect the grassroots was always ahead of the leadership. 2014 turned into a carnival of change. Against austerity, against the Tories and against New Labour. The surge of mass democratic action remains of historic importance.
What was best about the 2014 referendum was the atmosphere that Yes represented the antithesis of everything wrong with world politics today. In Radical Independence particularly, we had respect for the SNP’s role in creating the referendum but maintained a ruthless intellectual opposition to its view on NATO and corporation tax. It was a movement which emerged from contradictions. And that’s what lies at the heart of the Growth Commission: in its exposure of Scotland’s contradictions lies renewed hope for a renewed movement for independence.
In truth, it’s painful to watch the corporate lobby and the Scottish establishment throw dust in the eyes of this process. It’s not that the growth commission fails to advocate our vision of a socialist utopia. That’s just false framing designed to stymie debate. It is that the proposals are so out of sync with mainstream Scotland.
They come at the precise moment when social democratic policies are needed and popular. And yet it is now that SNP leaders decide to turn away from them. In truth George Osborne wouldn’t turn his nose up at this report. It grants a huge victory to those who have inflicted austerity upon us for the least ten years by placing the emphasis on deficit reduction.
That is not what an economy that works for the people is based on. We need transformation, we need hope. Hope that Scotland can define its own future – one free of failed dogma that makes the bankers happy, but results in the continuing immiseration of the poor.
It is interesting to see unionist commentators warm towards the report. But this is nothing to do with independence. Instead they feel vindicated about their economic world view. They feel it represents a victory that will shift Scottish economic debates to the right. That is what they are truly happy about. And of course, they are pleased to egg on a fight with the “radical left”.
A debate is a good thing. The 2014 movement showed that unity built on unanimity is shallow and false, and that real unity requires honest, rational criticism. The Growth Commission atleast provides us an opportunity to re-define the progressive approach to independence.
From 2012, our movement for independence broke so many British political taboos. It was very working class and yet very pro-immigration. It was anti-austerity and anti-Trident at a time when that was essentially unspeakable in Britain. The Growth commission maintains the worst of British taboos: the economy works when we deliver it through market forces and financialisation.
In truth our proposals have never been that radical. They only appeared to be because the centre had moved so far to the right. But now that centre is undergoing a political collapse. The SNP leadership don’t seem to realise this. We are trade union members or housing activists or volunteers who help the homeless. The poverty in our society is as ingrained as its alienation. Why would we support a report that seeks to maintain this decaying social order?
Some believe that the 45% who voted Yes last time round are in the bag. This is not the case. If the dynamic in the debates next time is independence plus the economic status quo, versus the union but with a radical challenge to the banks and to neoliberalism, we will lose support where we need to win it.
We need the Yes voting areas to vote in greater margins in our favour next time. That is where the road to victory is. It is not through the boardrooms, most of whom will not shift. The anti-establishment part of Scotland still more or less supports independence, but a growing, quiet minority are simply defecting their hopes to Corbyn, and many pro-Indy activists feel a lack of moral oomph in their politics. The type of Independence offered in the Growth Commission isn’t the radical movement it was in 2012. That’s a dangerous position for us to be in.
The Growth Commission’s ideas and ideology are the old ones that we’ve trying to break away from. Written by the old establishment with the interests of the old order at heart, it doesn’t represent the possibilities for an independent Scotland. “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born,” Gramsci famously wrote. To allow the new to be born, we need to break with the old that has held us back for so long.