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.


Comments (12)

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  1. Mark Bevis says:

    A most radical act for a parliament (whether Scottish, Welsh, Irish or English) is to repeal all the Enclosures Acts, every single one of them, going back to the 1600s.
    Returning the land to the Commons would be a great step in rebuilding resilience to a local level.

    Has anyone ever done a study on what effect repealing and reversing Enclosures acts would have? I suspect a lot of communities would end up owning car parks, but even that has a use. The landed gentry might be a bit miffed though….

    1. Mary MacCallum Sullivan says:

      If only…. But you are absolutely right, and it would really help to focus on the roots of the interconnected problems if we could bear that in mind.

    2. SleepingDog says:

      @Mark Bevis, I imagine Andy Wightman has looked at repealing enclosure legislation:
      although I am still on an early chapter of his book, The Poor Had No Lawyers.

    3. Colin Robinson says:

      I’d love to see land ownership around here being transferred to my local community. That community is numerically quite small; so, head-for-head, we’d own quite a lot of it. My neighbours and I could make quite a fortune from renting it out for sheep farming, mineral extraction, and/or leisure use.

      I’m not sure what the good people of Craigmillar could do with their acres.

  2. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    A measured, and sensible response to the hysteria of opposition politicians and their allies in the media. But, it is also a response to some of those who profess to seek radical change.

    We have to recognise where we are now and work towards creating the kind of society – in Scotland and globally . We have to have a sense of direction (‘eyes on the prize’), but, we have to deal with the here and now. In the case of oil and gas, for example, or nuclear energy, the industrial processes are in operation and they support jobs and society, so, Greens and others have to recognise and accept that, while managing the transition. There will still be greenhouse gas emissions and potential oil spills and cracks in reactors, and these will have to be dealt with. In such circumstances, a minister from the Greens or any other group, would have to do things which will lead to charges of hypocrisy, and selling out.

    I welcome the agreement between the SNP and Greens, because, it is a step in changing the way we govern ourselves and also, because it will encourage other groups to engage in the argument, with a sense that they can, indeed, get things to be done differently. So, I hope that the members of the Greens, as SNP members have done, endorse the agreement.

    I am a member of neither party, but, like many other residents of Scotland, I have used the voting systems to vote for both parties in the past 20 years. Politics has to be pragmatic, and, sometimes, short- term, too.

  3. Tom Ultuous says:

    Is sterlingisation (like the royals) not something to be rid of AFTER the referendum?

    1. Robert Thomson says:

      I wholly concur with your sentiments

  4. Cathie Lloyd says:

    I”ve just finished reading Mark Harvey’s Climate Emergency (2021), using a historical materialist approach. Its clear that there are different dynamics at work in different parts of the world, but one clear conclusion we can work on is that different forms of inequality drive environmental degradation. Well worth a read, its so important to understand more about how this has happened. Our attempts to reduce inequality will be crucial to any (necessarily limited) success in this endeavour.

  5. Carol (Mothership Empathy) says:

    Steered towards Mike Small by Pat Kane, a light shone from another ship captained by a similar – soul searching “Star”, in the night sky. (Thank you Mike)
    Being an empath, my words are different as I openly and honestly (seek) to speak from the heart.

    “Do souls sleep soundly in the stars, away beyond the planet Mars”? (I have asked from childhood)
    I’m still seeking (too) that Gene Roddenberry – Star Trek vision for humanity. (From the sixties)
    You know the one that ends by saying,
    “To boldly go where no one has gone before”! (The Next Generation)

    So, for (ME) a Natural connection was made, when I witnessed a new “Creation”.
    Words written many years ago, sees a dream wish from imagination, come true –
    (Cooperation between SNP and The Greens)
    When reading these words,

    ” … the boldest steps are needed when the challenges are greatest”.

    May I leave this?
    Written, when Nicola Sturgeon took command of our Scottish Independence destiny,
    In,” The Starship Inclusion”.


    It’s time for Scot’s folk with that fairer intention,
    So, let’s go and open another dimension
    The “YES” people have spoken they are stars in my eyes
    And I’ve turned to them ‘cos they’re our ENTERPRISE.

    Nicola Sturgeon now you’re in control
    You’ve got to go back there to get a fair poll
    That Voyage for Fairness is now a bit longer
    But with you as our leader “SCOTLAND IS STRONGER”!

    Hello Patrick Harvie the logic you talk
    Green blood flows through you, you’re our Mr Spock
    A mind that is balanced for planet and people
    There’s hope for our species if things are more equal.

    A few days ago, Gene Roddenberry would have been one hundred years old.
    Reading his son (Rod) with words on his father’s vision,

    “Rod: Star Trek’s backbone philosophy is IDIC—Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations. The idea is that we’re never going to evolve intellectually until we realize that it is the differences between us that are what are special, and learning about those differences and growing from them is how we make the Star Trek future a reality.
    Rod also said he learned a lot about his father from making the Trek Nation documentary, which helped him with his own process of grieving the loss of his dad. Sharing some of his father’s viewpoints, which are also touchstones for Star Trek fans, allowed him to feel closer to his enigmatic but busy father. One of those touchstones is the importance of empathy”.

    My moral compass, now encased in an aging fading fantasy, witnessed changing possibilities,
    (from childhood)
    knowing they were meant to be!

    Recently I purchased Indra Adnan’s new book (WAKING UP)
    Today I read these words,

    “It was like we were on the Starship Enterprise heading for new territory. It took me back to the earliest days of my spiritual journey when I was standing in front of a void, not knowing how to make sense of what was going on. Yet just as I had then, there was also a feeling of deep connectedness with life itself, and a readiness to be with whatever emerges”.

    Pat and Indra p-I, have given their many Gaia gifts in an equation with this, for (ME)
    What is pi used for?

    In basic mathematics, pi is used to find the area and circumference of a circle (amongst other things)
    (Leaving love to both)

    Circles and Balance, “The true meaning of life”!


    1. Carol says:

      Sorry, the full title of Indra Adnan’s new book is “The Politics of Waking Up”.

  6. SleepingDog says:

    I would go along with a lot of this, up to a point, but it should be stressed that the problem is humanist politics (even if they serve a smaller subset than humanity) and humanist ideologies (and I include the Scottish Green Party in this). The solution would involved integrating the natural, living world into globally-referent collective decision-making processes. One anti-pattern we have become accustomed to is the sound of human voices in political theatre. We don’t tend to have this predominance of public debate in other (perhaps more closed and hierarchical) UK organizations, and we may take it for democracy. But even if political theatre was democracy (rather than largely debating-school posturing, say), it is not the same thing as collective decision-making, which will currently tend to be made on information less available to the public, in locations off-limits to cameras and microphones. Whole areas of British policy are effectively off-limits to democracy anyway, like most of foreign and military policy, and large parts of finance and economics, and the quasi-Constitution itself.

    In order to integrate the natural, living world into globally-referent decision-making processes, a revolutionary openness and destruction of the powers of current human political classes will be required. This is not something I see any Scottish political party calling for. It is perfectly possible to give the natural, living world a voice, along with the artificially bred crops and animals human use. This voice will not sound like political theatre as we are accustomed to, but will nonetheless be interpreted for human understanding, just as the wellbeing of ecological systems, species, social groups and individual animals and plants can be studied today. Perhaps new sciences of political zoology and political botany and political ecology will emerge through these processes.

  7. Judy Rankin says:

    Please let’s just get independence done first before you all disappear up your own arses intellectualising what can be thrashed out afterwards.
    Certainly general ‘Green’ policies have been & can be implemented in the meantime but we can’t really get into the nitty-gritty of it all until we have complete control of all our laws & policy making & economy.

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