Rebellion, Referendum, Recovery
The sense of despair after watching the debacle in Kabul is palpable. War and western imperialism – the threat to women and children – and the panic and chaos of our disgraceful shambolic withdrawal from Afghanistan seem to be just the latest in a litany of critical problems we face.
In Scotland we suffer from a very specific series of interlocked problems. First of all we suffer from disfiguring and endemic poverty and inequality. Second we suffer from a democratic deficit: we are ruled by a government we didn’t elect, in fact we explicitly rejected. These two realities are intimately linked. But beyond this we share the global threats of catastrophic climate breakdown and the fallout from the corona virus. We can throw into the mix the ‘self-inflicted’ disaster of the Brexit settlement both in terms of its economic outcomes and its toxification of public discourse.
When we look at these problems as a set of connected issues rather than individual problems the need for a “just recovery” looks compelling. The need for “recovery” is ubiquitous. Whole industries that have been destroyed need to be recovered or replaced; the backlog of non-covid related illness is huge; the psychological impact is unknown and immeasurable; the social cost of the virus has amplified already obscene levels of inequality and exploitation; even the fabric of our cities has changed rapidly. All of this is self-evident, and I haven’t even approached the ecological disaster that we are witnessing before our eyes.
Yet with all this talk of living in “unprecedented times” – with all this extraordinary time that we have all just lived through – we keep returning to the old politics, the old systems and the old (already failing) ways of functioning. We already know that much our politics was broken and dysfunctional so why do we return to it?
Given all this I don’t understand why the attempt to frame the next movement towards independence as a “Referendum for Recovery” has evoked hostility.
The framing focuses on ‘rights’: your “right to decide how Scotland recovers, your right to decide who is in charge of the economy, your right to reject Tory cuts, your right to protect Scotland’s vital NHS, your right to escape this catastrophic Tory Brexit.”
It is both bang on the money and highly problematic. Two problems jump out. The idea that “your right to decide who is in charge of the economy” is a little more complex than the leaflet suggests (that’s an understatement) – and the idea that we can easily “escape this catastrophic Tory Brexit” while still formally advocating sterlingisation is completely deluded.
The case has been made by the former MSP Michael Russell who said: “As we look ahead to recovery from the pandemic, and the type of country we want to build after Covid, it’s certain that we can’t let a UK Tory government decide on that for us. “Our case has to demonstrate a relentless optimism and hope, grounded in the reality that shows how well an independent Scotland could do, freed of the UK Union.”
I don’t think it is remotely radical enough nor is it really stepping up to the scale of our crisis. But I agree that it is beginning to be framed in the right way. We need to begin to see our problems as deeply interconnected and any plausible solutions as similarly holistic and strategic. We have the fragments of a Scottish generalist tradition to draw on and reconstruct in this task of recovery. The “Referendum for Recovery” is also right to see the Conservative cuts and the need to “decide how Scotland recovers” as key and vital questions. If this is the start of a more joined-up understanding of where we are then it is to be welcomed however fragile and preliminary it all seems.
But what’s missing from the picture is the environment. While the leaflet is rightly making connections it is missing our climate crisis. It is right to see the British state and the Tories as an existential threat to be liberated from, but we need to understand climate breakdown in the same way. We need a radical new politics of resistance that steps up to the scale of our predicament.
We need to rebel.
As the writer Jay Griffiths has pointed out: “Because our footprint on the earth has never mattered more than now. How we treat the Earth, in the spirit of gift or of theft, has never been more important. Because we need a politics of kindness, but the very opposite is on the rise: libertarian fascism, with its triumphant brutalism, its racism and misogyny – a politics that loathes the living world. Because nature is not a hobby. It is the life on which we depend, as indigenous societies have never forgotten. Only when it is dark enough can you see the stars …”
We need a holistic generalist understanding of where we are – but we also need a roadmap out of there that is marked with urgency and a plan for radical action. We can’t use the same economic system and the same broken political system to solve the problems because they are the source of those problems. This is our predicament.
In this sense Scotland’s democracy movement is part of a far wider movement of movements. Perhaps the SNP-SGP coalition is a sign of that shifting realisation, that we need new alliances and ways of working. The move certainly cements our pro-independence majority and allows action towards a much more dynamic approach to campaigning and organisation. The draft shared policy programme states:
” … the boldest steps are needed when the challenges are greatest. The challenges we are facing have never been greater: a ‘code red’ warning for humanity of the consequences of the crises in our climate and in our natural world; recovery from a global pandemic; the repeated undermining by the UK Government of the powers of the Scottish Parliament; and the consequences for our economy and our international standing of a disastrous EU exit that Scotland did not vote for. This agreement represents a leap of faith for both parties, the Scottish Government and the Green Group in the Scottish Parliament. It pulls us both out of our comfort zones. For the Scottish Government, it commits to a process of close cooperation and collaboration with another parliamentary group in a way that has never been done before in Scottish politics. The benefit is a stable foundation from which to deliver our policy programme. For the Green Group, it gives Green politicians their first opportunity of the responsibility of ministerial office in Scotland, or anywhere in the UK.”
As our new Makar once wrote: “an upturned boat is a watershed”.
The cynical and the sceptical will have doubts and the understanding is fraught with difficulty. But operating consciously “out of our comfort zones” is precisely what we need to do because that’s precisely where we are.