A Radical Plea for Scottish Independence

IMAGE: Wattie Cheung

IMAGE: Wattie Cheung

Pluto are excited to be adding to the debate on Scottish Independence this March with the publication of Yes: The Radical Case for Scottish IndependenceThe authors, both committed activists in the Radical Independence Campaign, have whetted our appetites for their argument in a recent Comment is Free piece in the Guardian, reproduced below.

James Foley is a founding member of the Radical Independence Campaign. His essay ‘Out of the Ghetto’ was published in The Scottish Road to Socialism (2013). Pete Ramand has written and spoken extensively on the question of Scottish independence and is a founding member of the Radical Independence Campaign.

Copies of the book are available to pre-order here.

Scotland’s Labour traditions are the real battleground for the yes vote

The independence referendum reflects longstanding societal divisions about the British state’s direction

‘This week’s Scottish Social Attitudes survey shows a strong correlation between support for independence and social class. Some 40% of households earning under £14,300 are likely to vote yes, while wealthy Scots are resolutely hostile, and 72% of business leaders are hostile to independence. Contrary to the views of many Labour supporters and liberals, the referendum is not about blood and soil separatism. It reflects longstanding societal divisions about the British state’s direction.

These trends began before the poll tax, before Thatcher consigned Scottish industries to oblivion. For decades, the poorest voters, those most dependent on government aid, have seen constitutional change as a better guarantee of living standards than a Labour vote. Whatever the outcome of 2014, that pattern will continue, because British politics has little to offer hard-up communities.

In Westminster elections, working class voters are drilled by fear of Tory rule. Labour can assume “tribal” support, and concentrate on winning swing constituencies with authoritarian and aspirational rhetoric. But where alternatives exist, as in Holyrood, low-income households will switch to their rivals, leaving Labour as the rightwing opposition. Thus, Salmond’s team gained 42% of working class votes in 2011, compared with 36% for Labour. Moreover, “Labour’s vote,” noted Professor John Curtice, “fell more heavily in areas with more working class voters and in areas with relatively high levels of social deprivation.”

Independence is not merely reducible to working class desperation. It also reflects broad progressive values. Compared with the Scottish average, yes supporters are much more likely to favour spending on people with disabilities, on pensioners, and on the unemployed. They back taxation for redistribution, and other long-forgotten “Old Labour” principles, like universalism. And while the new wave of English nationalism, in all its varieties, seeks to win poor voters by blaming immigrants and Europe, Yes Scotland and SNP rhetoric has been free of bigotry and prejudice. Only 20% of Scots wish to leave the EU.

It seems that independence is a movement of Scotland’s societal left, the part that used to profess undying fealty to Labour. It’s not a socialist programme, but it reflects revulsion at Westminster’s equation of “realism” with free markets. True, we can observe outlying exceptions, from tax-slashing neoliberals in the SNP cabinet to trade union militants who equate a united British working class with a united British state. But the overall trend is clear.

Of course, many doubt if Scotland’s social democratic aspirations are realistic. The most widespread critique of the yes campaign, in all its varieties, condemns its false promises and its illusions in financing a Scandinavian future. The SNP’s confused messages have added to this, since its programme appears to mix American-style corporation tax cuts with Nordic-style welfare.

Nevertheless, if critics truly believe that combining higher living standards with greater equity is impossible, they must discount Scandinavia, the Netherlands, and every small economy in northern Europe. By comparison with them, Britain combines low growth, high inequality, and, worst of all, irrational waste of resources on nuclear weapons and wars. Can Scotland do better? That question needs no answering. Can Yes Scotland and Salmond persuade Scotland of this? They have yet to offer convincing answers.

To win, nationalists must acknowledge that Scotland is not one nation, but many. A hardcore of Scotland is rich, authoritarian, or militarist; where these households vote yes, they are statistical flukes. Salmond’s team has sacrificed far too much to them already. Independence can, and must, be won by flouting and even alienating Scotland’s landowners, businesspeople, and leafy suburbanites.

In 2014, Scotland’s Labour traditions are the real battleground. Many heartland supporters have already defected, and a smattering of leading trade unionists and Labour socialists have professed reluctant support for yes. In coming months, closet-dwelling Labour traditionalists face a tough choice. Sacrificing their loyalties to the British state might be a necessary price to keep what remains of Britain’s social democratic decency.’

This article was first published in the Guardian, 23rd January 2014.

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