It’s just 2 weeks until the Scottish referendum – and I’ve had only a handful of posts about the issue since the series I did 3 months ago – particularly Scotland –keeping an open mind and It’s the economy, stupid
And that’s despite about a dozen new books on the topic now facing me accusingly on the bookshelves – the most recent being The Scottish Question and Small Nations in a Big World
It’s almost exactly 40 years since my contribution “What Sort of Over-Government?” was published with a score of others in the famous Red Paper on Scotland which was edited by Gordon Brown destined some 32 years later to become British Prime Minister. Interesting to read all these years later the introduction he wrote to the book which attracted a long review in the New Left Review
Scotland has been putting on its spectacles with commendable eagerness to read the minute print of a ‘Red Paper’ or socialist symposium on the state of the nation, which has reached the best-seller lists. It is a collection of twenty-eight essays, edited by Edinburgh University’s student rector, Gordon Brown. A dozen of the authors are academics, seven writers or journalists—though many are political activists as well. There are two trade-unionists, two Labour MPS. Six pieces deal with social problems, five with devolution, local government or administration, three with North Sea oil, three others with industry and finance, three with land and the Highlands. Despite the comprehensive investigation of Scotland and Scottish nationalism contained in the book, some topics were bound to get left out. There might have been something on religion and the Churches, considering how near at hand Ulster is. There might have been something on women and the family. Still, their contributions, of very varying length, are all carefully thought out and well documented.
I was fresh then in my position as Secretary of the Labour Cabinet of the newly-created Strathclyde Regional Council which covered half of Scotland and ran a huge empire of teachers, socials workers, police, engineers etc. My piece drew on seven years’ experience as a leading Labour councillor in a shipbuilding town – active in challenging the paternalistic approach which characterised Labour councils in those days. The reference to “over-government” was partly to the fears then of a fourth (Scottish) layer of government being added to appease the upsurge of scottish nationalism but more to the style of government in those days – and the assumptions it made about the passivity of the citizen.
I famously said that “The debate (about devolution) has been a serious distraction” – from, that is, the poverty and inequities some of us were at least being enabled by the new system of regional government to tackle.
Flash forward 40 years to this recent contribution to the debate about independence
A Yes vote may get rid of the Tories - but that doesn’t mean you will get rid of Tory ideas, a few of which are front and centre in the SNP’s/Yes campaign’s independence manifesto (or white paper), titled ‘Scotland’s Future’. The positions laid out on corporation tax, the monarchy, and NATO membership would sit more than comfortably in the pages of a Tory manifesto.
More importantly, the idea that abandoning millions of people who’ve stood with us – and us with them – in trade union struggles, political campaigns, progressive movements, etc, for generations – the idea that this can be considered progress is anathema to me. The analogy of the Titanic applies, wherein rather than woman and children, it is Scots to the lifeboats and to hell with everybody else……In 2014 economic sovereignty does not lie with national governments as it once did. Today economic sovereignty lies with global capital under that extreme variant of capitalism known as neoliberalism – or the free market. The notion that separation from a larger state would allow said smaller state to forge a social democratic utopia without challenging said neoliberal nostrums is simply not credible.
A patchwork of smaller states plays into the hands of global capital, as it means more competition for inward investment, which means global corporations are able to negotiate more favourable terms in return for that investment. The inevitable result is a race to the bottom as workers in one state compete for jobs with workers in neighbouring states. In this regard it is surely no accident that Rupert Murdoch is a vocal supporter of Scottish independence.
Support for Scottish independence among progressives in Scotland is rooted in despair over a status quo of Tory barbarity. This is understandable. For the past three decades working class communities throughout the UK have suffered a relentless assault under both Conservative and Labour administrations. The Labour Party, under the baneful influence and leadership of Tony Blair and his New Labour clique, came to be unrecognizable from the party that created the welfare state, including the NHS, and the party that once held full employment as a guiding principle of its economic and social policy.
The embrace of free market nostrums under New Labour meant that the structural inequality that obtained after 18 years of Tory rule remained more or less intact. The market was now the undisputed master of all it surveyed. The consequence of Labour’s shift to the right has been to give rise to cynicism, disappointment, and lack of faith in politics among large swathes of voters, evinced in ever lower turnouts at elections. Issues such as the lies and subterfuge surrounding Britain going to war in Iraq in 2003, the MPs’ expenses scandal of 2011, followed by the phone hacking scandal – during which the unhealthy relationship between the owners and editors of tabloid newspapers and politicians was revealed – has only deepened this cynical disregard for politics and politicians in Britain, giving rise to anti-politics as the default position of many voters.
In Scotland – for decades a Labour Party stronghold – devolution has allowed a protest vote to make the electorate’s feelings towards this Labour Party betrayal of its founding principles known at the ballot box. Regardless, the most significant protest has been a non-vote, with turnouts at elections in Scotland following the pattern of the rest of the country in remaining low. For example, there was only a 50 percent turnout at the last Scottish Parliamentary elections in 2011, out of which the Scottish National Party (SNP) emerged with an overall majority, the first time any party has managed to do so since the Scottish Parliament came into existence in 1999.
The myth that Scotland is more left-leaning than rest of the UKHowever the argument that Scotland is more left-leaning than the rest of the UK is one that seeks to conflate conservatism with England in its entirety, rather than a specific region of the country, which in conjunction with the antiquated first past the post electoral system of Westminster elections has thrown up Tory governments that are unrepresentative of where the majority of England and the rest of the UK sits politically.
Scotland is no more left-leaning than the deindustrialised North East, North West, and Midlands of England. Nor is it any more left leaning than Wales. The working class in Scotland is not any more progressive than its English or Welsh counterpart.
There’s more of the same at this collective blog which I’ve just come across