“You’re from Australia, what does it matter to you whether Scotland votes for independence?” When this question was posed to me, I saw a clear illustration of what the Common Weal Project has aptly termed “Me Politics.” Only Scots should care about the referendum; and you should only become politically engaged with issues that directly impact your family, your income or your business. Leave the broader questions – nuclear weapons, the funding of public services, energy policy – to the experts. Your job is to cast your vote every five years and then go back to your living rooms and watch the political theatre unfold on the BBC. Israel’s assault on Gaza is too complex for you; you can only understand public policy if you have an economics or law degree (preferably from Oxford or Cambridge); the world is dangerous – so make sure you stay at home, lock your doors, and let GCHQ access all of your private communications. They will protect you, and you will be passive and obedient.
Scotland is revolting against this corrosive political model. Scotland is asking why Britain is the world’s sixth largest military spender when hundreds of thousands of its citizens have come to rely on food banks. It is asking why society’s most vulnerable are the victims of austerity, when a 0.1% tax on financial transactions could raise billions of pounds worth of tax revenue; and why the British government spends thirty times more research money on weapons than it does on renewable energy. Scotland is fundamentally questioning what Westminster has come to represent: a vehicle for corporate and financial interests, completely divorced from the majority of its people, and entirely captive to the City of London.
Why does this matter to me? Because Britain’s secretive and elite political class is not only an affront to democracy, but an extraordinary purveyor of global violence. A greater number of UK MPs voted against a ban on fox-hunting than the invasion of Iraq. Britain bombed Yugoslavia in 1999 without a whimper of debate in the House of Commons. Parliament has never debated nuclear weapons: whether we should have them, where they should be, and what they could be used for. These are the most supreme powers of government – the authority to carry out acts that kill and harm fellow human beings – and thus they should be held to the highest level of scrutiny. Westminster routinely ignores this elementary tenet of democratic rule. Why should we accept this? Scotland has woken up to the reality: we shouldn’t.
Whether in the ideas of National Collective and the Radical Independence Campaign, or in the voices of the young voters I have spoken to in the past month, I see genuine hope for a new politics in this country. But here is the crucial point: this campaign goes well beyond Scotland. It obviously stretches to London, where the old guard – from the politicians and financiers, to the corporate executives – see a threat to its privileges and interests. It stretches across the entire Western world – not to mention my home country, Australia, where we are facing the same struggles: a crisis of participation in politics, a dismantling of the welfare state, and a militarisation of public space. The voices for Yes send a ripple of hope even further – to the Middle East, forever fighting the torture and terror of Western geopolitics; and across Europe, where governments have increasingly degenerated into guarantors of the IMF and international bond markets.
Something new can be built in Scotland. I could say I have been won over since returning to Edinburgh at the end of July after a year-long absence, but I was already convinced: no one believes that a Yes vote will magically transform this country; indeed everyone knows that Yes is only the beginning. The Scottish elite will not simply hand over their power – we must fight for it. We must fight for a more just and egalitarian society; and fight to claim real democratic government. This is not about escaping from the UK – it is about writing a constitution; it is about empowering the disempowered; and it is about absolutely ending the notion that the average citizen is incapable of political action. The past month that I have spent in Scotland has filled my mind with the timeless graffiti of the great Paris uprisings in 1968: “The revolution is incredible because it’s really happening.”
Across the world, Scotland, those who have watched this debate – I mean really watched it, not seen it filtered through the Murdoch press – are all saying the same thing: go for it. Unleash the incredible energy and the revolutionary ideas; reclaim not just your resources but your history. Above all, embrace that inspiring message engraved on the burial ground of the weavers who rose up in Glasgow’s first industrial strike in 1787: “They are unworthy of freedom who expect it from other hands than their own.”
Photo: Peter McNally / Documenting Yes