Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Scotland the Brave?

Literally none of you have begged me for enlightenment about the Scottish Independence Referendum. In the face of this overwhelming public demand, here's my two cents in a random and confusing fashion.

Obviously not being Scottish I neither have a vote nor quite such a pressing interest, but my views are shaped by my deeply-held socialist views, by my Irish background and by my post-colonial and post-Enlightenment ideology. All this pulls me both ways.

It's like this: I think that the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has been one of the most pernicious states on the planet. Pick up any globe from before about 1945 and you'll see a massive area of the globe under British domination. Despite the propaganda of Empire Loyalists, it was a ruthless killing machine designed to extract commodities, labour and obeisance from Wales, Scotland and Ireland to the South Sandwich Isles and everywhere in between. Civilisations were crushed, economies wrecked, development stalled, languages made extinct, borders artificially imposed – much of the current world's problems were caused by the foundation and dismantling of the Empire.

So a small part of me wants to see the final disarmament of a state that's never come to terms with its crimes against humanity. Sundered, the English, Welsh and Scots won't be able to exert this kind of dominion, or even influence, ever again. I also think it's a good opportunity for the constituent nations of the UK to rediscover some of what it lost in the process, including the Celtic languages. It's weird: I find myself for once agreeing with that repulsive old racist Nick Griffin of the British Nationalist Party:

I might be a cricket-loving, Marmite-slurpiing, real ale-drinking fully paid-up member of the bourgeoisie, but I'm definitely a Marxist Fenian at heart. Nick uses the term like it's a bad thing! As for why 'British Nationalists' aren't working hard: they're too fixated on racial purity to make an argument about a union which is at least in part successfully multi-cultural.

One of the arguments against Scottish independence that does weigh heavily on me is the old socialist rallying cry of solidarity between the workers in all nations: that what binds the proletariat together around the world is stronger than the bonds between classes in any particular state or nation. Certainly I don't see the Scottish establishment having much love or concern for the unemployed of Glasgow: Salmond's disgracefully close to the likes of Murdoch and Trump who want independence because bite-size countries are easier to digest. On the other hand, it's hard to promote socialism in all countries when the Labour party isn't at all interested in socialism in any country, and in a global economy which depends on slavery (yes it does: where do you think the minerals in your iPhone come from, and who puts them together? How much was the person who made your clothes or fished for your dinner paid?).

The idea of a small, nimble, green and egalitarian state really appeals: the radical independence campaign paints a seductive image of a Republican, small-scale country at ease with itself – a McScandinavia if you will, though it's an image which requires us to discount the tensions underlying social conditions in many of those nations. I also think it rather overlooks the tensions within Scotland: there's the conservative (not Conservative) Catholic working-class, the ultra-loyalist Protestant working-class (will Rangers fans become a revanchist, Union-flag waving bunch or transfer allegiance to independent Scotland?), and the much posher Protestant elite, let alone the cultures of the Highlands and Islands and the multicultural communities of the big cities. If the social and political elites get their feet under the table, supported by the banking and oil industries, Scotland might be a much less comfortable place for the poor and minorities.

I don't think states are or should be permanent (and in my syndicalist fantasies, the state is reduced as altruistic people aid each other and lose the need for oppressive structures of control – this is what makes me an optimist and not a Tory). The UK is fairly recent: the last big change was Irish independence in 1922. It's an instructive model which hasn't been explored enough in the current debate. Ireland fought a short and bloody war in 1916, followed by a vicious Civil War in 1922, the social and political consequences of which are still being felt. Nevertheless, independence was negotiated with the British. A currency agreement was struck: the Irish punt was pegged to the UK pound until 1979, yet nobody claimed that Ireland wasn't properly independent or in charge of its own economy. The Free State gradually became the Republic without further tensions with the UK other than over the Six Counties. When TV came, people in the East and near the North picked up BBC programming and now everybody receives it. If Ireland could succeed after its bloody imperial entanglements, Scotland definitely can.

The obvious rejoinder to the Irish model proclaimed by Salmond when he thought the Celtic Tiger was real (which should call into question his judgement) is that Ireland was a poverty-stricken, repressive, misogynist, priest-ridden and massively corrupt rotten state for much of the twentieth-century, only to become a greedy, credit-junkie, sexually-corrupt cowboy state which helped crash the global economy in the 21st. All true of course: but in a sense, so what? The economic argument is in a sense beside the point of independence. If you think that a nation is more than its economy, you should vote yes even if it means getting poorer.

I like small states (but big government). They do run the risk of becoming crony oligarchies, but they do make for more responsive governments and I suspect more peaceful ones. In Scotland's case, I'd vote yes partly on moral principles: I'm a long-term supporter of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and Scotland will expel the British nuclear fleet. On the other hand, I do agree that larger blocs are more influential and when we're facing environmental and economic collapse, we should be working together.

What will happen to the rest of the UK? For purely selfish reasons, I'm hoping Scotland votes no. I don't want Wales and nationalist Northern Ireland, the British working-classes and Northern England to be trapped in an abusive relationship with the Tory and UKIP-voting bigots of the south. UK politics will be dragged to the right: goodbye to the Human Rights Act, farewell to EU membership, what remains of worker protection and to environmental politics. Hello to a dystopia of golf course fascism, ever-reducing wages, isolationism and reactionary culture.

I would think that Welsh nationalism would become ascendant, even if an independent Scotland didn't thrive, because England would be so utterly dominant and so rightwing: I can't see the feeble milk-sop Labour party we have now holding back the tide of leftwing Plaid nationalism or the Old Labour strands of Welsh socialism – the valleys might decide that they can build socialism in one small country. I have no idea what would happen to NI. Its unionist population is so invested in the British monarchy, but its core cultural and religious identity is Scottish - it's hard for me to work out how these tensions would play out there. The English and Northern Irish have little in common and little understanding of each other. Perhaps Northern Ireland would vote for union with Scotland? Or maybe a successful independent Scotland would persuade Northern Irish unionists that life in a Federal Republic of Ireland would be bearable after all.

So ultimately my heart says yes, my head says maybe for the Scots. The rest of us have a lot to fear, I think: though the unionist establishment will be wounded, the combined forces of the landed elites, the financial oligarchs and the reactionary right will bear down on the rump UK's progressive forces more heavily than ever.

My utopia would be a world socialist state with responsive local units elected by proportional representation, fully representative of nationalisation of core activities, a steady-state green economy and industrial sector, strong trades unions, ingrained respect for all cultures, languages and ethnicities and largely disarmed. No dependency on oil, or on the vile countries which produce it. State-funded healthcare, childcare and education. Total political transparency, and no more monarch, lobbyists, state religions or Lords. With a moon colony for Mr Farage. Unless the UK is feeling really vindictive. It could lobby the EU nations to refuse Scotland entry to the EU. Then Nigel would feel compelled to emigrate to Scotland to live in a European-free paradise. Sorry Scotland!

I don't know if an independent Scotland would be a richer, poorer, nicer or nastier place. If your imagined nation is based on shared culture then I don't think these things even matter so much. But at least its people get a chance – for the very first time – to decide the shape of their state. Their ancestors didn't vote for Union, after all.

So vote for me. Or wake up one day in a Vole Re-education Camp.


Grumpy Bob said...

Well, I'm effectively an economic migrant from Scotland to England and as such I don't qualify for a vote under the arrangements that the idiotic Cameron struck with the wily Salmond. This saddens me since I always intended to go back there.

I'm a bit annoyed that debate seems to now depend on the fact that the Tories are hated in Scotland rather than on the merits or demerits of independence.

Jake said...

I think it's slightly unfortunate that nobody's really paying attention to the questions this raises about cultural identity in the rest of the UK, specifically just how artificial England really is as a polity.

I mean, I'm a native son of the Midlands. How much of a culture do I really have in common with someone from Yorkshire, or Cornwall, or London for that matter? Tea and football?

Maybe it's time to take a second look at the idea of regional parliaments.