Tuesday, 14 October 2014

What Do Yes Voters Mean By Independence. Is it Worth A Candle?

After the Union of 1707 was signed, Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun, known to Scottish history as "The Patriot", was in the act of mounting his horse to leave Edinburgh - and politics - when he was asked, "Will you forsake your country?" He responded, "It is fit only for the slaves who sold it." There has been a bit of that attitude in the aftermath of the Referendum, as fingers have been pointed at "the over 55's" or "Edinburgh" or more generally, "the haves". The truth is even more unpalatable for anyone who has spent years campaigning for independence, because a map of the voting patterns shows in stark detail just how widespread, was the opposition to what was presented as independence. Even in parts of the country which have produced a solid vote for the SNP for many years, the size of the No vote came as a surprise. We were not asked to vote for the SNP but the association of that party with independence, albeit it has hardly been the party's priority since Alex Salmond was elected leader in 1990, led most people, commentators included, to assume that a vote for Yes and a vote for the SNP were one and the same. In Aberdeenshire, Perth & Kinross, Angus and Moray for example, the No vote was either very close to, or in excess of 60% of the votes cast.

It is now generally accepted by the Yes side, that "Project Fear" triumphed and there is no doubt there was a strong element of fear - over pensions, currency, jobs - in many of the stated reasons for voting No. Sir Alexander Malcolm MacEwan, the first leader of the SNP 1934-36, made two observations that are just as apposite today as they were then. He said, "It is plain truth that no great national movement was ever founded on caution and half-hearted measures..." and "The objections to Home Rule are not so much reasoned arguments as vague apprehensions, but fear is often more potent than reason, and must be dealt with...". There has been no shortage of comment since the referendum, much of it made in anger, but there is little sign of any great analysis of either the campaign or the way forward. Candidates for the deputy leadership of the SNP are reported to be split, with Angela Constance claiming her campaign will concentrate on "Independence", while Stewart Hosie and Keith Brown are both reported as being in favour of accepting that independence is lost for a generation.

Some on the Yes side, along with a few on the No side, argue that the majority of Scots really want "Devo-Max" which is apparently different from "Devo-Plus", although quite what the differences are is not explained. Others, including Nicola Sturgeon who wants "control of everything except defence and foreign policy", claim that what is wanted is "fiscal autonomy". It has still not registered there is no such thing as fiscal autonomy because without control of monetary policy, there can be no control of taxation, unless we are prepared to have the same kind of debacle that has been created in the Euro zone. We are still being bludgeoned with assertions of how important membership of the EU is to Scotland, how many jobs depend on that membership. Again there is no discussion of the fears being expressed, that the EU is heading for a "lost decade", as the largest economies enter their third recession in six years. Many of the problems have been created as a consequence of the rigidity of the euro, a currency union not a million miles away from the currency union with the rest of the UK, defended to the death - literally - by the Yes side. As yet, the contradictions in demanding the end of one Union with England while cementing "ever closer Union" with the EU, have been either ignored or glossed over, a stance which UKIP will exploit with a vengeance. There is still little if any understanding of the difference between internationalism and supranationalism, but it is something those who demand "independence" are going to have to engage.

Perhaps the greatest problem faced by the Yes side, and the most obvious problem, is how to get Scotland's middle classes to support independence. I have already said I believe the Yes campaign was a class campaign, from the constant repetition of "we want to create a fairer and more just society" to the concentration on "poverty" to the appeals to "the Labour vote". The rallies which have taken place since the Referendum have continued with the theme, with Tommy Sheridan continuing to play a leading role. Let me get this straight, before I am accused of being anti-working class or of ignoring the social problems in Scotland. I have always been on the "left" of Scottish politics and been recognised as such, but if independence is the priority, and it should be, a successful campaign for independence MAY result in a socialist or social democratic government in an independent Scottish state. A class campaign where socialism is the priority, is unlikely to lead to independence. From what has been said both prior to the referendum and since, many Scots feared the type of government an independent Scotland would produce, as much as feared independence per se. That is not to say the problems of poverty, unemployment, poor housing, health and all the other social ills of Scotland should be ignored but the message has to be tempered in such a way, that the middle classes are not excluded, that they are shown they will have an important part to play in an independent Scotland.

Another Referendum is not just around the corner, unless Scots react with sufficient anger to the "increased powers" Westminster deigns to hand down to us. We now have the time to decide what we mean by independence. There will be any number among us who will claim, "Independence does not mean what it used to mean", without ever explaining what their version does mean, as they settle for some form of devolution. But for those who believe that to be independent, means to have control of our own affairs without interference from outside organisations, the question of membership of the EU must be an issue. In an increasingly interdependent world, sovereign states have accepted specific treaty limitations to their law-making rights but continue to determine their own priorities within the constraints imposed by their external environment. However, at any level of integration or interdependence, a community of people must ask itself how important it is to retain the right to make its own choices between the options with which they are faced. Membership of the EU denies us that right.

Despite the issue of the currency union being raised right at the outset of the Referendum campaign, and warnings being given of the fact that such a union would deny us independence, the leadership of the SNP refused to discuss the possibility of a Scottish currency, without ever explaining why. The Yes campaign fell into line but there is no excuse now, not to have it discussed and papers prepared to explain why it would not only be a possible option, but would be the best long term option for an independent Scotland. I have grave doubts that there will ever be another Edinburgh Agreement, which means independence may have to be won by winning a majority of seats in parliament, the original policy of the SNP. Whatever method is used, we have to be better prepared for the type of onslaught we experienced during the last campaign. The starting point however, has to be what we mean by independence and whether it is worth having.

There was hardly a statement from any of the leaders of the No side, which did not include the words, "I am a proud Scot but..." or "I am very proud to be a Scot but..." None of them ever explained exactly what it was about Scotland or about being Scots, that made them proud. Given the catalogue of inevitable failures that they claimed would befall an independent Scotland, from failure to sell our products abroad, to failure to support our banks, to failure at just about everything, it is difficult to see what there was in which to have any pride. Real pride was reserved for British nationalism and British identity while Scottish nationalism was narrow, isolationist, even racist, while Scottish culture and those things which make up our distinct identity, ware demeaned or mocked. Too many leaders of the SNP and the Yes campaign were only too ready to deny both nationalism and identity, adding to the lack of confidence in the desire to be "just Scottish". Just as devolution and independence are not different degrees of the same thing, Scottish nationalism and a recognition of our distinct identity, have nothing to do with racism, chauvinism or imperialism. If Scotland is ever to be independent, Scots must learn to want independence for its own sake.

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