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Leading by example

Justin Kenrick

Coverage of the independence debate has thrived on fear and smear - but is the truth more inspiring? Justin Kenrick believes an independent Scotland could bring hope in an interconnected world.


When financial interests are wrecking the global environment and pushing austerity on the poor (while taking our wealth into their tax heavens), it may seem that next year's Scottish referendum should be the last thing on our minds. But could an independent Scotland help challenge those financial interests?

It's clear that the three main UK parties are not going to do so, as all of them embrace the financiers - and the Scottish National Party is not much better. However, a vote for Scottish independence is not a vote for the SNP. In fact, that party's main reason for existence would vanish on the day Scotland cut its ties with Westminster; and Labour in Scotland is likely to be the main beneficiary of independence, just as the SNP has been the main beneficiary of devolution.

Instead, the referendum of September 18th 2014 is about whether people in Scotland think the current political system has served them well, and whether they think they can do better. It is about whether it is right to bring power back closer to the people. This is why we are witnessing - in Scotland at least - an unrelenting media campaign by corporate power to portray independence as a process of abandonment and insecurity.

So let's look more rationally at each of the so-called terrible problems independence would supposedly generate:


An independent Scotland might not be accepted into the European Union

Scottish Society is the most pro-Europe in the UK1. An independent Scotland by definition fulfils all the criteria for being a member of the EU and would be instantly accepted by other European peoples, as a Danish legal specialist recently confirmed2. It is far more likely that a UK Government will take us out of Europe, and if not, that they will continue to reshape Europe for their corporate. friends, not for workers and refugees and environmental rights.


Trident would be massively expensive to move to England, and so independence will cost us all hugely

Eighty per cent of people in Scotland want to get rid of nuclear weapons3, and the vast majority of MSPs in the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood reflect this settled will - yet can do nothing about defence issues, which are controlled by Westminster. An independent Scotland would be able set an example to the world.

If Westminster doesn't want to pay the huge costs of building new facilities in England, there is a simple solution - spend those billions on rebuilding society instead of nuclear weapons.


Scotland would be cutting itself off, turning friends and family south of the border into foreigners

The main UK parties endlessly push a British nationalism based on fear - giving out the message that my sisters in London will be foreigners to me in Edinburgh if Scotland becomes independent. But in fact 'foreigners' is not the way I think of or relate to anyone, either in these islands or the wider world.

By contrast the SNP reflects the widespread civic nationalism in Scottish society - the idea that those who live in a particular place should decide about that place. This is not a nationalism that focuses on bloodlines, fear and 'foreigners', but one that is internationalist, one that welcomes asylum seeker and refugees.

In that sense, Scotland becoming independent would be about reconnecting with the world. My sisters and friends the world over are always my sisters and friends - while the neoliberalism that currently seeks to unite us only through what we choose to buy is a paltry shadow of who we are4.


Scotland becoming independent would mean abandoning England to permanent Tory rule

Numerically, Scotland just isn't that important in UK elections - indeed, research shows that Scottish MPs have NEVER turned what would have been a Conservative government into a Labour one, or vice versa5. But if politics in Scotland can show that another way is possible then independence can certainly help progressive movements elsewhere in the world, including in England.


Scotland cannot manage economically

Those arguing for a No vote say that people in Scotland receive more funding per head than people in the rest of the UK6. Those arguing for a Yes vote say Scotland contributes more to the UK economy, partly through the huge oil revenues that have flowed for decades7. Perhaps both are right and perhaps both miss the point that oil is not the future.

It is certainly a huge shame that those oil revenues were not used to establish a fund for society as in Norway, but instead to plug the huge hole left in public finances by tax cuts for the very rich and the sell-off of public companies like BT. But ultimately we all need independence from oil. Weall need the commitment to renewables that Scotland is demonstrating, albeit renewables owned by communities and wider society not by corporations.

What is needed is a transition from an energy intense economy driven for the profit of the few to a Nordic social democratic model such as that being put forward by the Commonweal Project in Glasgow8. Will banks like RBS flourish in such a context? Hopefully not. If a Bank is too big too fail, it is too big. We don't need a system in which the rich take all the profits when they succeed, but give us their debts when they fail9.


Why not just have more powers devolved to the Scottish Parliament?

The Scottish Parliament was brought into existence to prevent the imposition of policies (like those of Margaret Thatcher) for which Scotland never voted. Currently it has power over areas like education and health, and supports social democratic values expressed through policies like rejecting tuition fees.

But why just have the power to deal with some of the consequences of bad policies and not have the power to ensure good policies in the first place? Why not have the power to ensure inclusive and fair economic and social security policies, and the power to reject nuclear weapons and to refrain from participating in illegal wars?


Is independence relevant in an interconnected world?

Absolutely. It makes sense that power is as close to people as possible so that when we see what is being done in our name we have the power to do something about it. In that sense, independence may be the democratic response to the way in which Tony Blair continued the privatisation of public goods, and completely ignored the huge majority who demonstrated against his Iraq war.

Our powers have been continually alienated from us to bodies like the World Trade Organisation, which makes the rules that favour huge corporations. Current governments lack the will to tackle this. What is needed is not for power to be devolved from above, but for it to be enabled by communities from below10 11. We could then grant power to greater conglomerations for as long as they use it wisely, but withdraw it when larger bodies fail to act in our name.


Negotiations over independence would mean huge disruption economically

If those who currently rule at Westminster are reasonable, then there will be no difficulty in negotiating a post-independence settlement. If they are not reasonable then there is no way any of us should be ruled by them, and we need to end their rule starting with Scotland but not ending until we have replaced all governments that serve the financial elites rather than the people who elected them.

Scotland becoming independent guarantees nothing, but - going on the Scottish Parliament's track record and given political will - it offers the real possibility of leading by example and helping all of us get out of this accelerating train before it hits the wall.



When there is something seriously at stake, when those who control finance (and through that control the media and so much of our politics) see that their interests might be seriously threatened, then a media barrage of fear becomes the incessant background noise of our daily lives. This happened at every election under Thatcher, until the Labour leadership embraced rather than sought to restrain the financiers and so elections instead became the empty rituals they have been since. We now face a similar media barrage in Scotland - day in and day out, with the referendum still a year away.

A third of people in Scotland will probably vote Yes to independence, and a third vote No, just because they believe that is right no matter what. It is the third in the middle who will swing it. What will persuade us is either the fear being pushed so relentlessly, telling us we can't manage our affairs - or the hope that by voting for a Parliament that is closer to the people we can help create a better world.

In a global context, voting for independence is a threat to the powers that be, and creates a space for hope. Voting for independence is not about nationalism and abandoning shared values; it's about democracy and restoring those values.


1 6761-scotland-and-the-eu-the-polling-evidence

2 Ref recent interview with Danish legal specialist from National Collective: scottish-eu-membership-straightforward-and-in-denmarks- interest/

3 even-pro-uk-voters-reject-trident-move.20481478

4 astronauts-looking-earth_n_3435379.html


6 9647948/Scots-receive-1600-more-per-head-in-statespending- than-English.html

7 new-report-scots-paying-more-tax-than-rest-of-uk.20777183

8 Commonweal: uploads/2013/05/The-Common-Weal.pdf

9 money/

10 hands/

11 pulling-together-for-better-future-1-3001166