Graham of Anywhere
Graham's blog: politics, poetry, and introspection

Scottish independence: Independence is evolution

There is sadness in separation and there is pain in divorce. I think that holds true quite generally, irrelevant of scale, and irrelevant of whatever events brought you there. Division represents failure and it takes both reflection and bravery to look beyond and to find hope in change. And, even if that change, for you, is an exhilarating prospect, even a little perspective should reveal at least some sense of loss. For there is, unquestionably, loss with every ending.

In the context of Scotland, a nation looking to escape a toxic relationship with its more powerful neighbour, those who most ardently support independence would do well to seek out a fuller and more balanced understanding of where we’ve come from and where we’re going. The independent future may well seem exciting but there are some profound tradeoffs — and ultimately there is division, and there is loss, and there is hurt. Even leaving aside those most entrenched in the unionist camp, there will be millions of Scots who remain, to a greater or lesser degree, emotionally attached to idea of being British. They were born and grew up British. They are British citizens and they carry British passports. They likely have relatives who are from different British nations, and they themselves are likely to have a complex genealogy. They might have lived, loved, and worked throughout these isles, without ever being a foreigner, without ever stopping at a border. To be British is to be from this island.

With Scotland’s mainland being geographically located on the island of Great Britain, in a sense its people will always be British regardless of citizenship, but the term is intrinsically linked with the state, with the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. For me, Britishness now carries a negative connotation due to the repeated and continued moral failings of the state. Due to the cronyism and corruption. Due to the sentimentality for colonialism. Due to the pervasive belief in English superiority. Due to an institutional desire to maintain the system and the positions of the people who run it and benefit from it — at the expense of everyone else. The UK might be seen internationally by many as a beacon of freedom and fairness, and the reasons for that could be debated in their own right, but all I see is a country being led towards a more raw version of capitalism and a more serious state of societal dysfunction. If Britain is to be America with a monarchy, then I reject Britishness. It has been a creeping rejection, increasing with every successive Tory government voted into Westminster by the English electorate. And then there was hard Brexit, explicitly and emphatically rejected by Scotland. And, for me, that was that.

I don’t believe Scotland’s governments are more competent, and nor do I think Scotland is fundamentally more progressive. Indeed, despite my view that Scotland will almost certainly seek to be a fairer and more equal society, I don’t see that as something we can take for granted. The Scots are just as capable as anyone else of falling for populism. Moreover, whilst I would say that I feel loyalty towards Scotland, I don’t feel pride per se. Personally, I think there’s a lack of innovation, and that progress in many areas can be painfully slow. I think we’re a very long way from the heights of the Scottish Enlightenment. But this isn’t about loyalty, and this isn’t simply about political disenchantment, and nor even is it just about an emotional disconnection from my British identity. As important as those things are, and as much as they are contributing factors, they alone aren’t enough for me — perhaps specifically as a would-be expat living in London — to support Scotland leaving the union and therefore the potential withdrawal of my inherent right to reside in England.

For some perspective on where we find ourselves, let’s acknowledge that the Union is neither intrinsic nor ancient relative to Scotland itself. The UK finally came to be in 1707, and that makes it barely older than the United States, born 1776. The Kingdom of Scotland, by comparison, is regarded to have consolidated as a nation in 843 — version 1.0, if you like. That sovereign state, for the sake of simplicity, voluntarily entered into a union with England nearly 900 years later to create Scotland 2.0 — The Kingdom of Scotland existed for triple the length of time as an independent country as compared to the age of the United Kingdom. The Acts of Union, despite the controversy and the hurt at the time, did create something extraordinary. Within the union, the Scots would shape the modern world with an unprecedented outpouring of intellectual and scientific discoveries. Perhaps this would’ve happened regardless, but it certainly took both Watt and Boulton to kick start the industrial revolution. Jacobite rebellions and cultural warfare aside, Scotland and England did learn to live as one. Integrating, building, colonising, and fighting wars together. It was only in the latter part of the 20th century that paths began to diverge.

Scotland hasn’t voted Conservative at a Westminster election since 1955, but have nevertheless endured Tory governments for the majority of the time since. That in itself is a good reason to look twice at the current constitutional setup. Call it a democratic deficit if you like, but it undeniably indicates that the Scottish electorate have different priorities to England. That argument was then underscored by the 2016 referendum on leaving the EU, which, again, exposed a stark difference in opinion between the nations. This time, however, instead of the democratic process resulting in a decision that Scotland could hope to overturn at the next general election, the result was that Westminster would force upon Scotland a fundamental, constitutional change that it had expressly voted against. That resonates with me, personally, in a very powerful way. That decision stripped me, and my fellow European-minded countrymen, of our European citizenship. Constitutional politics very suddenly lost its somewhat abstract meaning, and became very concrete. The idea of Scottish independence, at that moment, ceased to be a purely emotional desire, and became something of a moral necessity.

If Scotland so resolutely wants the exact opposite future from England, we need to accept that the Union has had a good run, and that now we have to move on. Scotland is the far smaller nation and will have the most work to do upon separation, but to shy away from this challenge would be to submit to the dominance of an overbearing partner. It would be to disregard the majority, collective will of the people and to further enforce the feeling of irrelevance. The biggest risk in this scenario isn’t change, then, but the status quo. It’s risking a perpetual national inferiority complex and, worse, it’s risking increased influence of Westminster in Scottish affairs. That process has already begun with the Internal Market Bill and it will continue with direct investments by Westminster in Scotland which bypass the devolution settlement, and it’ll end with weakened and stymied Scottish institutions. In no way can that result be seen as good for Scotland. You could try to argue that it won’t happen, but it’s happening now. How do we protect the Scottish institutions and how do we insulate Scottish society from the dystopian inequality that awaits Brexit England? How do we get closer to the Nordic-style social democracies that Scotland leans towards? We start by voting for independence. We start with Scotland 3.0.

In so doing, we’ll be choosing to be ultra-brave. And we’ll be accepting some inevitable tradeoffs. First up, the remaining nations of the union, rUK, will become a foreign country. Considering how integrated we are on the island of Great Britain, this is a highly significant change. In terms of families and businesses, there will be pain. Emotional, and financial, hurt. At least while Scotland is waiting to rejoin the EU, assuming that is indeed the path chosen, it should be possible to keep borders open as part of the Common Travel Area, but this will get tricker upon accession to the European Union. We have to consider that the problems facing Northern Ireland today will be Scotland’s problems tomorrow. Then, of course, the perennial elephant in the room, iScotland’s currency and economy. Today, The Scottish Parliament is not permitted to run a deficit, and so, it doesn’t. Scotland’s notional deficit as recorded by GERS is due to Westminster spending as allocated to Scotland and cannot reflect the future spending of a different institution. But still, it will always be uncertain until we’re there. In one sense, it’s a leap of faith that the politicians in an independent Scotland will competently manage the fledgling country’s finances — but, on the other hand, there’s no sound reason to believe that the country is destined to be poor. For an eye-opening perspective on how things should work, Modern Monetary Theory provides the insights. Richard Murphy of Tax Research UK goes into detail in a very accessible way on his YouTube channel so I’ll spare myself the embarrassment of trying to relay the lessons of MMT in relation to this topic.

Ultimately, though, the biggest risk lies in planning. Everything is achievable with methodical, collaborative, and detailed planning. The SNP and the independence cause are not one and the same, but the SNP are the biggest driver of the movement and the ones inherently responsible for pulling together both the people and the plans. It’s hard to have confidence in their ability to do that, especially considering their somewhat shambolic approach to the big questions during the 2014 independence campaign. Did the people of Scotland even know what to expect on the day of a Yes result? I suspect not. Without a clear — and widely understood — prospectus with timelines and actions, there will be some degree of disorder. I think Scotland 3.0 deserves as smooth a start as its possible for us to forge. That means doing better, and doing it now — right now. Planning, planning, and more planning. There should be absolutely no doubt about what we’re voting for to happen in the short term. The medium term depends on future discussions — for example, the creation of a constitution — but it should be understood from the outset how we get to that point. If Brexit taught us anything, its that unplanned constitutional changes are chaotic and damaging. For a state to go through that once is disheartening, but to go through it twice in under a decade would be soul destroying. We need to do so much better.

Scotland 3.0 can be an evolution. It can be a way to achieve the sort of society that Scotland seems to yearn for. It can be a way to disconnect itself from the direction of travel in which England is pulling it. And let’s be in no doubt, with England being ten times larger, it will always get its way unless we choose to stand on our own two feet. If we don’t trust the Westminster establishment and if we accept that — in the face of opposing opinion in England — Westminster can never and will never act in the best interests of Scotland, then we must choose change. We must look to the future with a vision. An occasional Labour government in Westminster is not a valid vision. Devo-max is not a valid vision. We must have a vision of our own, and that means leaving nothing reserved to Westminster. At the very minimum, such a vision must mean building a nation of people who are comfortable and secure in their Scottishness, in addition to any other identities that people hold. As for the aspirational goal, I think we can all agree that we’re aiming to build a fairer, more compassionate, more cohesive society. The aim is to take Scotland, moulded by version 1.0, contoured by version 2.0, and evolve it into a mature and confident version 3.0.

Denmark. Norway. Ireland. Scotland.
Copenhagen. Oslo. Dublin. Edinburgh.

Let’s believe in ourselves again.
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