Becoming the Established Power

At times of natural disasters, there can often open a space for deep seated political change to occur. The chaos born of these disasters create an opportunity, somehow, for seismic political change to occur as we begin to think about our recovery. Simpson & Serafini’s study of earthquakes, noted that this is a common response, as society often seizes an opportunity to reset itself. And that this change often becomes long term and structural.

I think we can all see how our recent events can be reflected in this perspective. Scotland’s situation is actually more complicated, reflecting how a man-made crisis can also initiate such changes. Because we are not only trying to navigate a huge natural disaster, we are also forced to deal with the man-made political disaster of Brexit. Rupture from all sides. Both disasters are forced upon us, however, and both bring with it a re-setting of society. But there is no single option for that reset, because Scotland now has to consider two competing paths; A post-brexit UK or an independent Scotland. Either way, the reset happens.

Eric Hobsbawm would describe this moment as a power struggle between two competing ideologies. One who is the established power (the UK state) and the emergent power – ready to seize the historical moment and overthrow the old power (independence). It is the historical push and pull of ideologies (and the movements that drive them). Ideologies and movements come and go. Old ideologies are swept away as new ones emerge. The political parties of Scotland’s history show this example well. Liberalism gave way to a labour movement – who held strong, and sometimes noble, power in Scotland for almost a century. But the turn of this century, however, labourism failed to deliver and thus, Scotland ushered in the era of independence and the SNP.

Parties only reflect the much wider & deeper changes and transitions occurring, of course. The changes are always deep-seated, however. So, on the back of a Brexiteering Covid period of chaos, Scotland is trying to define our reconstruction. And that reconstruction is being defined by an independent Scotland, not the Union. Our next historical shift is independence. And the reason this seems to be, is that the discourse of independence leads the terms of what our recovery looks like.

Everywhere we look in Scotland, the post-Covid recovery is an increasingly independence-driven one. For if we look at the issues that are occupying us as a society, independence builds the base of change that drives these very issues forward. We have been hugely successful as a movement. Enormously so. We have successfully managed to move the concept of independence from being a somewhat fringe idea  to being a huge force of  political change. So powerful is this force that independence feels almost inevitable just a decade later.

For over this past decade, independence has increasingly defined the narratives of struggle that have occupied Scottish society. The post-Brexit Scotland increasingly shifted towards independence. But, as we begin to blearily stagger out of Covid, it is an independent Scotland that sits pretty clear on our horizon.

We should congratulate ourselves as a movement. We have done phenomenally well; by any objective standard. For we are no longer sitting alongside society trying to change it, but rather have managed to define the ever-inevitable way of looking at the world. We are less a movement now, more just an increasingly normal expression of Scottish society. We are winning the ideological battle because independence does, indeed, feel increasingly normal.

The discourse of independence is defining Scotland’s recovery in three key areas of Scottish society; Europe, the climate crisis and an infrastructure for rebuilding society & economy. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that independence has actually defined the very nature of this recovery through these areas. Independence drives the narrative in these areas now.

The Independence movement’s relationship with the European movement is a brilliant example of this. Since 2016, Europe has defined Scotland’s struggle. Scotland want Europe. It wants it more than independence. It also wants it more than the Union, and that put us in a position where we had to make a choice. Inevitably, the Union bungled its way forward with Brexit, and the independence movement offered European membership – as part of an independence deal. The more despairingly chaotic Westminster got the discourse of a European Scotland increased in its certainty. Europe and independence become increasingly aligned then.

This interconnection between Europe and independence has only strengthened recently, as a specifically UK return to Europe disintegrated. The Conservatives literally fought for the right to drag us out. Labour fudged all the way. And the Lib Dems proudly fought for Europe – until one day they didn’t. So, it has really left pro Europeans with only one option for returning. For those who want Europe, then,  Independence has literally become the last ideology standing, as Europe and Independence are left walking the same path.

These combined political issues are now solidified by the SNP-Green agreement. Not only has this catapulted us much closer to independence, it has shifted our gaze further to Europe. The deal just felt so very European, and Nicola Sturgeon’s numerous references to Europe when announcing this deal highlighted that. The Greens are a quintessentially European phenomenon, and the Scottish Green’s alignment places the Scottish parliament much more within the political and cultural space of Europe, rather than Westminster. Europe and independence have never been so intertwined as it is now.

The agreement also brings a solidity to our government of course, and – at a time of crisis – becomes vitally important. And it aligns solidity with a wider economic shift that pushes a more people centred strategy that recentres how our very economics and society work. The shift into a more wellbeing centred economy reflects a shift away from UK traditional economics, but also indicates a wider global shift away from the globalisation model that has reigned for nearly four decades. An independent Scotland becomes part of a much wider emerging global economic shift, then. We are part of the international stage.

The SNP/Green’s programme for government  – with its minimum income guarantee to trails of the shorter working week have recalibrated and modernised a Scottish left discourse that has actually defined the movement since the referendum. And as the traditional & Unionist left voice in Scotland becomes increasingly smaller and isolated within the political discourse, independence provides the strategy, plan and infrastructure for this new emerging economic model. Indeed, were increasingly becoming to look like leaders in this global shift.

The final – and perhaps most important area –  is that of the global climate crisis. And the SNP-Green agreement has consolidated the navigation of this again, in and through the discourse of independence. As the floundering of the Westminster government shifts hope of any UK- initiated climate recovery, Scotland has shown leadership across Europe on this issue. The infrastructure of climate revival, then, becomes steered by the discourse of independence. For the more urgent this issue becomes the more it will dominate our recovery, and our understanding of what independence can mean.

Our movement has done what any successful movement should do. They have built consensus on the broad issues that Scottish society has engaged with over the last decade. The crises that beset us strengthened rather than dispersed our consensus across these issues. And we have done this so successfully, that Scotland’s recovery is almost synonymous with independence. Scotland is settling on the path of independence.

Stakes are high, though. And, as far as we have come, we should be mindful that many historical movements have been this close and failed. This has not been won. But we are at that last push. The hardest one when your muscles are literally screaming at you to stop. And there are a million historical stones that can be chucked at us to set us off course. Some are obvious- some will likely be total curveballs. But we are so close, so close. Heads down, and let’s get this done.



Comments (5)

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  1. Squigglypen says:

    Agreed. Excellent article.
    So what’s the problem?……creatures in their ermine trimmed robes telling us what Scotland should have?…grrrrr!
    Heads up! ( you need to hold your head up so you can keep a watchful eye on the things that crawl about trying to take control) We are Scotland we will determine what we want… white settlers or foreigners voting for us.
    Nicola was her usual brilliant self yesterday… Independence hen.

  2. Tom Ultuous says:

    Good article Siobhan.
    Even if the majority in England mobilised and campaigned to re-join the EU would the EU migrants ever come back? Who would want to work in a country where nearly half the population think they’re too good for Europe and would treat you as a second class citizen. We wouldn’t have that problem in Scotland because the Scottish govt has always been welcoming to migrants. Independence really is the only way back into the EU.

  3. Malcolm Kerr says:

    Thanks for this positive analysis, Siobhan. Positivity can sometimes approach complacency, however, and I fear this is getting near the watershed. We are so close. But arguably not as close as we were in 2014. If the Scottish People are sovereign, we cannot (a) arrive at an internal consensus that losing a second referendum would be the end of the story, and (b) cede the timing of Indyref 2 to our opponents. Until the turn of the century, the SNP held that sovereignty could be expressed at any general election. There is a sense of strategic naivety around our political leadership. You’d think this would be a time to reach out to allies (without whom we will lose a referendum again) and also to our opponents (whose acquiescence we will require if we win).

  4. Ewen A Morrison says:

    With thanks to Mr Siobhan Tolland, for his clear and concise words – while acknowledging that there are no guarantees in politics – I certainly agree that “Scotland’s recovery is almost synonymous with independence”… it does seem that “Scotland is settling on the path of independence”!

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