Michael Gray @GrayInGlasgow
Scottish Independence is the the greatest opportunity for political change in our lifetime. The UK faces another generation of fear and failure: austerity cuts, the end of the NHS and war with Iran. The people of Scotland must choose an aspirational alternative. We must hold hope in Scottish social democracy and ideas of a more equal society. Our choice is between self-governance and apathy for the foreseeable future. It is complex and I don’t support Independence boldly without years of introspection. Yet when we pause and consider the past and the future, Independence is our means to the greater end of a just society. It’s time Scotland regained its courage and voted yes.
Britain, as a state, was once a powerful military Empire. It was once a great community with a proud welfare state that cared for the vulnerable. It is neither of these any more. This Britain is on track to become the most unequal nation in the developed world. Danny Dorling, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett provide pivotal research on the fracturing of Britain between the rich and poor. This harms us all – and it’s getting worse. Those in power lie largely silent. English high streets were smashed, looted and burnt. For a few seconds inequality was real and then, again, as is custom, it was forgotten.
The politics of the UK should make everyone angry. Britain, to Billy Bragg, lost its way “in the 80s which the great and the good gave way to the greedy and the mean.” There is a lot of truth in that. Since 1979 the accumulation of wealth, whatever the cost, has mattered most. For a few this has brought luxury and success beyond the limits of human history. The richest 10% earn £200 billion (see 8:20) more per year than they did in 1970; while the income of the other 90% remains stagnant in real terms. The City of London at its peak was the pinnacle of this dream. It was born from a system of free capital, deregulation and low personal taxation. This imbalanced economy gorged on the discovery of North Sea oil and the fruits of free flowing finance, for a while at least.
This process came at an immediate price. Old institutions of stability were crushed. State industries were sold and closed, trade unions were lobotomised and council housing was abandoned. Mass unemployment, welfare dependency and homelessness was born on an industrial scale. State spending rose to fund the dole queues. British Gas and British Rail succumbed to make way for sickening fuel poverty and the most expensive train network in Europe. Falklands patriotism went some way to pacifying the people as The Ghost Towns emerged. Thatcher’s horrific consensus had triumphed. The good state was dead. Society was dead.
We inherit this mess. Not only do the Brixton riots of the 1980s repeat today, but austerity stretches the dole queues towards another lost generation. And still, cut after cut, the financial markets shake, years after their unregulated free-fall caused taxes to dry up. Worst of all there is no alternative UK Government to change this system. The Labour Party – once a proud movement which built the health service and much of good Britain – died under Tony Blair. Labour lost 5 million voters between 1997 and 2010, most of them working class. Labour lost its principles. The Iraq war. Trident weapons of mass destruction. Privatization of public services. The imposition of tuition fees. Prawn cocktails with bankers. In thirteen years Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were never brave enough to articulate a more equal society like Clement Atlee did before them. No full employment; no redistribution. Thatcher’s policies, although diluted, were left largely unchanged. Inequality increased. That is the harsh reality of New Labour.
Scotland’s social democratic tradition was once entwined with Labour’s. Keir Hardie, James Maxton, and John Smith all stand as testament to a proud history. That’s been lost. In 2011 the SNP gained 47% of the working class vote to Labour’s 33%. Following the sad deaths of John Smith, Donald Dewar and Robin Cook Labour in Scotland faltered. Scotland was without a popular British party to represent it for the first time. A growing aspiration for self-determination was born in its place. This is what leads Scotland’s future to Independence.
Scotland’s alternative is a more equal society. A society, like Scandinavia, where people proudly pay more tax so all receive a fair chance of a happy life. Our social problems effect every family – our higher rates of crime, poor attainment in schools, ill health, a lack of work and satisfaction. In a just society pervasive injustices of life are not determined by accidents of birth and your parents’ wealth. This is the Scottish Nation to build: one determined by pride of worth and opportunity not privilege and poverty.
It is difficult to prove that Scotland would definitely become a more just society after Independence. People are rightly sceptical. There are however signs, to myself overwhelming signs, that people would be governed better with a modern, sovereign Scottish Parliament. It is not only that this argument is gaining momentum – receiving sympathetic consideration from figures such as Joseph Stiglitz (Nobel Prize Winner in Economics, commenting on North Sea oil), political commentators such as Gerry Hassan, Iain McWhirter and Pat Kane, cultural icons such as Alasdair Gray, James Kelman and Liz Lochhead, alongside Scottish Green support. This vision of a just Scotland has been demonstrated in the Parliament’s first decade. Prescriptions, universal education and personal care were prioritised for the young and old, in stark contrast to Blairite atomisation of the common good (continued this week by ‘Scottish Labour’). Every election has returned a social democratic consensus. The challenge for the future is to create a centre-left that can change Scotland rather than protect it. Initiatives such as Nordic Horizons, the Jimmy Reid Foundation, writing on Bella Caledonia, the creative enthusiasm of National Collective and especially the Radical Independence Conference demonstrate promise, but there remains much work to do to demonstrate what the powers of Independence are for.
For example murmurings of disapproval on the UK Welfare Bill’s treatment of the disabled and Osbourne’s public pensions raid must translate into real policies. From 2014 implement a Living Wage across the public sector, form a new, fair pensions settlement, cancel all contracts with Atos. This is the leadership and ideas required to demonstrate that Scotland can do things differently and better than Tory MPs outnumbered two to one by Scottish pandas.
On defence Independence brings immediate success: nae nuclear weapons. This has a convincing policy platform. Alex Salmond is on record: Scotland would ditch weapons designed to kill the inhabitants of Moscow. Studies demonstrate that this would mean the end for Trident in the UK. No other mainstream party offers this change in politics.
Independence means a re-evaluation of all defence policy. Britain has been continuously at war since 1962. Scotland’s alternative is to promote a path of peace in the world as opposed to the military adventurism of Afghanistan and Iraq. Scotland could not and would not wish to continue this form of policy. Enough people have died (See Lancet study for harrowing details of this). It’s time for a different defence strategy and that is only guaranteed with Independence.
Uncertainty and Hope
When we vote on Independence we will be faced with uncertain versions of the future. I cannot guarantee that a future Scottish Government will dramatically reduce inequality and in doing so reduce the social ills which stem from it. I can however believe that the aspiration of communities in Scotland to change this is far greater than it ever will be from the Tories or Labour at Westminster. For thirty years UK politics has failed us all. Most of all it has failed the poorest. This will get worse. Uncertainty does not come from Scottish Independence. It comes from maintaining a political system of inequality, warmongering and alienation. Those who suffered through each unemployment wave, the war in Iraq and privatisation had no Independence vote. They protested, pleaded and sought reform, and all of it was in vain. Now our uncertainty comes from austerity cuts, a health service under attack and a looming war with Iran. Scotland must act. Otherwise this will continue. Fear, violence and poverty will triumph to the detriment of all within the UK within a system which is structurally corrupt. There is only one certain way to change this. It will be the only opportunity we have. For a more equal society, for a better future, for peace: It’s time for Scottish Independence.