Scotland’s chance to take the sting out of the centralized state
The outcome of the 18 September independence referendum, and what happens afterwards, will be decided by those who want ‘devo max’ – a compromise position which lies somewhere between devolution and full independence.
Neither unionists nor nationalists have big enough numbers to win without the support of these people, who want a weaker union but not a separate state.
Devo max is a variable proposition, but no version would give Scotland control over foreign policy, defence, immigration or macro-economics.
That means that devo max runs the risk of a continuation of the UK’s neo-colonial intervention and imposition of neoliberal economics around the world, delivered, where necessary, by force and justified by xenophobic moral panics at home.
Westminster governments of all political persuasions are highly centralized, and oriented around two square miles – the Square Mile of the City of London and the square mile (or so) of Faslane Naval Base.
No macro-economic policies of any parties likely to participate in government will act against the interests of the big investors of the City: the financiers, corporations, currency speculators, the sellers of hedge funds, futures derivatives and all manner of financial snake oil, the investment decision-makers in the global market. All policies are judged by what ‘the market’ will accept and what will attract fickle capital and prevent its flight.
At the same time, the UK’s nuclear arsenal at Faslane determines our defence and foreign policies. Although the Trident submarines are useless to protect against an attack on Britain, simply owning the weapons of mass destruction allows the UK to sit with the most powerful global actors and participate in their imperial adventures in Iraq, Afghanistan, North Africa, Ukraine, Palestine and wherever else they exert geopolitical influence to the detriment of local people.
Ironically, the Scottish National Party (SNP) in government has been moving its own policies on these issues closer to those of Westminster, to the chagrin of many supporters of independence. When the SNP decided that an independent Scotland would join NATO, two of its MSPs resigned in protest.
In the midst of the Israeli perpetration of war crimes in its ‘Operation Protective Edge’, SNP ministers distanced themselves from support for Palestine, refused to meet the Palestinian Archbishop of Jerusalem on a visit to Scotland, and started moving their government ever closer to a pro-Israel stance until mass protests forced a change of heart. Even its innovative Climate Justice fund is tainted by corporate capture.
It is possible that the SNP government has made the calculation that shifting closer to the UK on international policies might entice more devo-maxers to vote yes than yes-voters to renege.
The arithmetic is probably correct, although the politics is wrong. Many yes supporters are not nationalists but dream of a Scotland with a Norwegian economy, Icelandic democracy, Finnish education, Danish redistribution, Swedish diplomacy or whatever their favoured small country is doing better than we currently do. In other words, an opportunity to build a better politics.
There are many who want Scottish independence precisely in order to break up the centralized, aggressive, imperial, xenophobic and neoliberal state that the United Kingdom has become.
Such people are in England, Wales and Northern Ireland as well as Scotland, and would welcome the opportunity that Scottish independence would provide for them.
Many are active in civil society – in NGOs, trades unions, churches, mosques, community groups and social movements – and pursue their politics not just through the narrow choices of the ballot box or market place, but in the streets, in the workplace, in the places of worship and in the alternative enterprises that they are creating.
The forces of civil (and often ‘uncivil’) society, of class solidarity, equality and internationalism, have made considerable progress within the political union that is the UK, but are now responding to globalization by demanding greater subsidiarity and a flatter global playing field.
Scottish independence is now the best way to help move the United Kingdom from having a corrosive influence on the world stage as cheerleader for neoliberalism and hawkish imperialism, towards its constituent parts (England, Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland) co-operating with other equal partners across the globe.
This is not because Scotland is any ‘better’ than anywhere else – indeed, Scots of all classes disproportionately contributed to the British colonial effort over the 300 years of political union.
However, the momentum towards independence will contribute to taking the sting out of the centralized state’s over-inflated sense of self-importance.
Eurig Scandrett is an academic, educator and activist living in North Berwick. He is currently chair of Friends of the Earth Scotland, convenor of the Scottish Friends of Bhopal and active in trade union and Palestine solidarity campaigns. He is writing in a personal capacity.
This blog was commissioned as part of the 2014 Matters programme, a non-partisan group of Scottish organizations seeking to put global justice at the heart of the Independence debate. Visit 2014-matters.org to find out more.