Scottish Independence – Politics, Labour & The Left

Today, those of us living in Scotland have quite a heavy question to answer; ‘do you think Scotland should be an independent country?’ It’s been in the headlines north of the border for a number of months, and south for a couple of weeks. It’s on the edge of everyones lips. So should Scotland be an independent country? Here are my thoughts.

Also, I’m going to put in wonderful pictures of the Scottish Highlands between these sections because I’ve just been up there on holiday, and it was beautiful! Never seen anything like it!

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Politics, Labour & The Left

We no longer have three main political parties in the UK. The three parties are alarmingly similar, and the strong differences between Labour and Conservative have eroded quickly in the last few years. Labour is no longer Labour, it has eased itself into the more comfortable middle ground, leaving the space on the left of the political spectrum very empty. The right has become cluttered with various parties; the Conservatives, Lib Dem (through their inability to stand firm against Conservative policies), and UKIP. Unfortunately, Labour is still (in the current political climate, with the current system) the only real option for left leaning individuals in the UK; their size and support base means they have a chance of gaining a majority in the next election – but although a victory for Labour would be be better for the left than another Conservative/Coalition government, we would simply see a slower implementation of the neoliberal agenda. Labour have done little to combat the privatisation of the NHS, have shown little or no support for those affected by the Bedroom Tax, and have failed to express solidarity with unions over strike actions. If you moved to the country in the last few months you wouldn’t think Labour a left-leaning party, nor, indeed, a strong one. The Greens are an alternative option, but though support for the Greens are growing in the UK I think they’re still a way off from being able to take enough seats in Parliament. They may have been possible under the AV, but we don’t have AV…

So how does this relate to the question; ‘should Scotland be an independent country?’ Well, Scotland has historically leant towards left-leaning policies. It has a history of strong support for Labour, and in 2010 voters voted heavily in favour of Labour with the Conservative Party coming last – with one seat (ha!). Yet, this strong Labour vote failed to counter the Conservative votes south of the border, the impact of which was that Scotland, despite voting heavily for Labour, would find itself governed by the ConDem government. Browsing through past elections you’ll find a clear ideological divide between the North and South; the counties south of the border shuffle between Conservative and Labour, whilst Scotland perseveres with Labour (as do the industrial cities of Birmingham, Manchester, etc). There is a clear political and ideological divide between North and South. So if Scotland were an independent country, it would arguably be a country dominated by left of centre political parties – which probably sounds rather appealing to the average left-leaning Labour-voting Scottish resident. This does however mean that Britain could/would be dominated by right leaning political parties, but I think this is an oversimplified view of the effect of Scottish Independence.

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Scottish Independence could have a rather dramatic effect on politics both North and South. Labour north of the border may attempt to adjust to a stronger leftist ideology/culture by shifting further to the left, whilst Labour south of the border – finding itself battling against the Conservatives – may very well continue trying to appeal to centre left/right voters by moving closer to the centre (no change from the present, really). In a sense, what is ‘left’ and ‘right’ in politics will slowly be redefined in both countries as they both adapt to the shifting views of the general public. The smaller number of voters in both countries gives each individual more influence over the elected political party, and has the potential to shift parties away from making general, vague promises that sound appealing to voters of all stances (I’m looking at you, Lib Dems). This has another potential benefit; it may very well shake awake the apathetic, and lead to increased involvement in politics on a public level in both countries. In Scotland post-independence this high level of engagement is almost guaranteed (we’ve already seen a huge number of voters registering to vote in the referendum), but a country seeking definition so close to another, will almost certainly cause ripples of the same in the country nearby.

In short, what I’m saying is if you’re a Labour voter living in Scotland, you may want to think carefully about where you put your cross tomorrow. Labour as a party are taking a No stance – but isn’t it interesting how, earlier in the year, there was the ‘Labour for Yes’ movement? It didn’t exist for very long – not long afterward Labour confirmed its devotion to the No campaign, and so ‘Labour for Yes’ drifted into obscurity. What would Yes mean to a Labour voter in Scotland? Likely a Labour government, if not that then certainly not a Tory or Lib Dem one – Greens, perhaps? This would encourage any other parties – new or old – to take a left stance politically, giving those Labour voters more options on the left side of the fence. What about No? Well, not a whole lot changes – Labour has the potential to win the next general election, but the rise of the far right in Europe and of UKIP here in the UK makes any kind of prediction difficult. Labour lacks a strong leader and a strong stance on modern issues, and thus appears dwarfed by the larger personalities of Cameron and Farage (even if they are a little unlikeable). No means Labour as the only left of centre option, and an option that is slowly drifting towards the right. Yes means near definite Labour north of the border, as well as a plethora of other, more specific, left leaning parties and ideologies. Perhaps even alternative systems, like the Common Weal.

Much has been made of the plight of the left-leaning in the rUK, because if Scotland were to go independent a large number of Labour voters would go with it. This is problematic for those who still have faith in Labour south of the border. However, for those who have lost faith in Labour this is not a problem at all. If politics is important enough to you that you’d seek to prevent a country from declaring itself independent purely for the effect it may have on the politics of your own country, then you’re likely very interested/invested in politics – but (and this has been bugging me from the very beginning), you’re also acting rather selfishly. If we work on the assumption that an Independent Scotland would largely consist of left-leaning parties in power, then the rUK will find itself sharing a border with a consistently left-wing country. This could actually be of benefit to the left-wing in the rUK; the close proximity of the two countries will no doubt lead to a bleed/sharing of political ideology, and allows for a kind of political escape (which sounds more dramatic than it is – what I mean by this is that Scotland is an English speaking country that shares many of the same cultural, ideological and political standpoints as the rUK and it’s close proximity to the rUK allows ease of movement from one country to another. We in the UK have never had the opportunity to step between borders without having to cross water first; other than in Ireland, and so have been unable to step from one political system into another. Such an opportunity allows those living in the rUK and Scotland to move easily from the control of one government to another.).

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Personal & Ideological

When I left home a year and a half ago I moved to Scotland for various reasons. I moved up here because there are mountains. I moved up here because the city was particularly welcoming to writers, because there was a huge festival in the summer, because I had a great experience when I visited the year before – but I also moved up here as a test. I wanted to see how I’d get on moving to another country far from home outside of a university environment. Scotland was meant to be a test, you see. I was going to stay here for a year or so, then leave for Iceland, Norway, or Sweden – the idea was to research and visit countries which I felt I might be comfortable in politically, culturally and ideologically. I’d spent so much time trying to change things back at home – through protests, occupations, campaigning… yet not much had changed. The huge anti-Iraq protests were ignored by the government despite a huge turnout. The student protests were met with force rather than dialogue. I’d burnt myself out, and like a number of other activists, I decided I’d had enough and planned to jump ship. I never did though. I got as far as here; Edinburgh, and then I saw the potential for real democratic change – the system here, being so new, meant it was flexible and open to new ideas, I entered a country keen on defining itself, in engaging and discussing issues, a country that (unlike a number of areas in the south) still had a strong sense of community and togetherness. Here, politics could actually be of the people again, rather than controlled by the sad plutocracy we currently have. Independence doesn’t just shake up the Scottish system but that of the whole UK – it weakens traditional political foundations and has the potential to put the power back into the hands of the people.

If this sounds like idealistic bullshit to you that’s because it is. There’s nothing to back this up. Nothing to back up the idea that an Independent Scotland would actually be able to continue running the NHS, than an Independent Scotland would manage to avoid the austerity measures put in place by Westminster, even that the country would make ends meet economically. Yet, for me, there’s more to life than money and more to a country than economic power. A country that can just about make ends meet, with a reasonable health service, good social mobility, a sense of community, an interest in caring for the elderly, for the disabled, for the young is a far richer nation than one sitting on piles of gold lacking all of the qualities mentioned above. A country that struggles towards solving social concerns is of far greater value to its people than a country with a government that pushes the interests of big business, banks, and corporations over the health and wellbeing of its residents. What if it fails? I’m not sure, personally I can’t see ourselves entering much worse a state than the one we’re already in – and there’s also the difficulty of what exactly ‘fails’ means. Does failing mean failing economically? Does it mean everyone leaving the country? Does it mean high taxes? It all seems so dangerously relative – and that’s true of both sides, both Yes and No. What happens if Scotland stays within the UK? Austerity, Tories, potential exit from the EU, further privatisation – more powers? Doubtful. And Yes? Potential stable left-wing government, potential saving of NHS, potential setting up of new political system, potential implementation of Nordic model of governance, potential implementation of Common Weal… and if that doesn’t work out? More of what we have now – austerity, plutocracy, corporate manipulation of politics, etc etc.

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Conclusion

There are actually so many other factors at play here – I could talk at length about my personal experiences south of the border, of Londoncentrism, of the horrible images of how few MP’s turn up to discuss topics compared to how many turn up to discuss their own pay rise and expenses, about political corruption, about the City of London Corporation’s lawlessness, about how the sense of community has drained in many areas in the south – and how this differs to the sense of community found in Wales (which I encountered after studying there for 3 years) and Scotland. I could talk about senses of national identity, I could focus more on the damaging effects of the far right and their growth in Europe and now in the UK, about the damage the EU referendum could do should the UK choose to leave the EU, about the civilian casualties caused by the Iraq war… I could talk about the more positive – the feeling of community here in Scotland, it’s eager potential to focus on renewable energy, it’s value through tourism, how independence may help other nations consider seeking definition from their own governments, how decentralised powers lead to strong localised and politicised communities that actively engage with one another; that quickly seek and solve local problems.

But there’s not enough space, there’s not enough time, and my opinion on these matters varies too. They shift daily. The only thing I know for certain is that tomorrow I will be voting for independence, because it’s the only hope I have of seeing a government truly representative of the people, the only chance I have of finally unsettling Westminster power and putting it back in the hands of the people. What begins as a cross in a box, echoes in eternity. Regardless of which way the vote swings, there will be changes. Nothing is certain – Yes, or No.

 

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