On the Scottish Referendum

We all want in on Independence


It seems that at the heart of the campaign for Scottish independence lies the desire for increased local control of resources, politics, society and economy, devolving these from a national centre. The creation of a new nation state, or the revival of an old one, is a means of realising these desires for local autonomy. It is thus that the ‘Yes’ campaign becomes tripped up the trappings of the nation state, the national currency having been the most effective challenge so far.


These desires are evident in the ten ‘Reasons to Say Yes’ listed by the Campaign for an Independent Scotland, first among which is ‘taking more responsibility’ by moving decision making away from Westminster in the creation of a ‘local Scottish democracy’. We are of course theoretically already living in a democracy where the decisions of ‘local’ populations are represented in the national parliament through our MPs. Like the Scottish however, I feel, voters up and down and from side to side of the UK increasingly feel that they lack the capacity to have a say in the spaces they inhabit, and the human activities, like employment, government or politics, that take shape them.


The fact that most Scots didn’t vote for the Conservatives takes second place amidst the ‘reasons to say yes’. Just over a million of the 5 million Scottish voters are located in Glasgow and Edinburgh, which as other post-industrial northern cities in the UK, vote labour. Dissatisfaction with the economic clampdown realised by the coalition government after the last election, with its erosion of social benefits, has been widespread across the UK.


The third reason is ceasing the construction of nuclear weapons in Scotland, as this is “unethical and morally wrong… if you believe in peace not war, let’s stop building weapons of mass destruction and care for people and the planet”. The production of armaments both to contribute to our own stockpiles, and to sell abroad, is ever more a keystone of the UK economy, and many in the country have reservations about the morality of basing our economy on objects designed to bring about suffering and fear.


I feel that the Scottish agenda is well expressed through the concept of territory, the right of a people to determine what happens in their surrounding ‘landscape’, comprising the places we live in and all the human activity- economic, social and so on- that make them what they are. It is used frequently in Latin America by indigenous peoples as a way of opposing the encroachment of extractive industries and a nation state on their natural resources. It fits neatly with the fourth ‘reason to say yes’, which is control over income from North Sea oil. The Scottish people, as many others, are seeking the right to live, and live well from, the resources of the space they inhabit, even where this means challenging the right of the state or business to these resources. The counter claim from the ‘stay together’ perspective is that Scotland cannot live from such resources, which is refuted in the fifth ‘reason to say yes’. Indeed, if we cannot live from the resources of the world around us, as human beings have done throughout the millennia of our evolution, then what are we expecting to live from? The notion that self-sufficiency is impossible is bound up with the colonial past, when we came to live from the lands of others.


The sixth reason to say yes, the creation of more jobs, expresses the desire to be involved in and to benefit from the economy. Reaping economic benefits is also expressed in the Independence demand for more equal wages. Over the last few decades, inequality has grown in the UK, USA and many countries worldwide, expressing the failure of neoliberal politics to deliver the ‘trickle down’ wealth thought to come as a consequence of allowing big business to have a free rein.


The seventh reason to say yes is to keep the social welfare state we have developed post WW2, including the minimum wage, a well-funded public health service free to all at point of delivery, child and pensions benefits. These benefits have been increasingly eroded recently with the neoliberal argument that they are impossible to maintain in a market driven economy. One might argue that these changes go against the wishes of all but the wealthiest sectors of the populace, those who employ others, or those with the largest incomes and capital who are benefitting from decreased taxes.


It seems that what separates the Scottish people from the rest of the UK is the existence of a nation which can be resurrected to express contemporary desires to have a say in our local spaces and economies. I think this reflects a feeling of increasing marginalisation from the centres of the economy, which controls the spaces we live in, and a subsequent alienation, a feeling that we can’t make the world we live in. We would do well in the rest of the UK reflect on how our current model can address these concerns.