The idea of an independent Scotland is scary.
Scary enough that sometimes the thought keeps me up at night. We have been part of the United Kingdom for 300 years. In that time we became part of the industrial powerhouse of the world. I mean we invented things, and exported both knowledge and actual tangible stuff! In fact we invented pretty much all of the things. So many things that we had to go forth and share them with the world.
Others at times envied us and our empire. First the French and the Dutch (they were brushed away with muskets and cavalry charges, the Russians in Crimea too). The Americans got a little big for their boots, but we let them go, no hard feelings and all that. Others were more difficult to persuade so we had to fight a couple of the world’s biggest wars and sacrifice an Empire, in reality if not in our minds.
In recent times we have been beset with all sorts of stuff. The liberating of financial markets has shown us that capital is fleeting, and globalisation has proven that jobs are even more so. International terrorism has shown us that the best way to defend against the ‘asymmetric threats’ of this brave new world is by acting first, asserting our authority before they can and maintaining a deterrent that would be just as effective if it didn’t work but we just told folk it did (think about it, those missile tubes could be empty and it would do the job just as well).
At home the economy became the thing. The ‘market’ became all important, and if you didn’t know what that was then you better wise up and learn all about it because the era of the Government deciding how your life would turn out was over. We have new rules now and these rules are irrefutable. We have maths and stuff to back them up, and principals like ‘perfect information’, ‘free movement of capital’, ‘rational actors’, ‘no barriers to entry.’ Don’t worry that they all don’t apply right now. Give us time, we will sort them out. For all of us. It’ll trickle down to you. Just you wait.
We all learned this and we all know this. This is “the way things are”, it can’t be changed. It’s like the laws of physics. They are social structures but they aren’t controlled by people, governments and least of all policy. Even parties who thought that they could control them admitted (late, around 1997) that all we can do is tinker around the edges.
There. Is. No. Alternative.
Except there is. Or maybe there might be.
The funny thing about the independence referendum in Scotland is that it is difficult to pin down what exactly it is promising. There is the party of “government”, the SNP, that is offering us a manifesto of policies, the way they would like to do things if they had free reign over the governance of the country. I, like you possibly, am uneasy with that because it sounds like one group angling for total control. It would sound less like that if one or two of the other major groups/parties would offer a vision too, but that frankly isn’t going to happen for political reasons, so let it go.
So what are we left with?
We are left an alternative vision for a way of doing things differently, offered by lots of people and meaning different things to pretty much all of them. There’s a funny thing about visions, lots of people have them.
We live in a world where Blair promised that ‘things can only get better’. But we also live in a world where JFK promised that we will go to the moon by the end of the decade, where Dr King had a dream and where Dr Beveridge envisioned a National Health Service available to everyone and free at the point of use. There are lots of visions promised for an independent Scotland, and many of them may not come true, but no one ever achieved anything by succumbing to fear of the unknown.
What we do know is what succumbing to the fear will bring, we have evidence from the past for that.
The ‘security’ of the British state has led to the squandering of our natural resources, the decimation of of industry, the subordination of our culture and the loss of of our democratic voice. It arguably may have sheltered us from some of the storms that battered the 20th century but it has made us complicit in just as many.
Now we are promised more of the vicious austerity that has battered the least fortunate. We are promised greater autonomy but not only are the promises muddled they are similar to those we have had before and never been met. Ironically the same people who are feeding us stories of uncertainty and chaos in the event of independence are increasingly facilitating the possibility of leaving the European Union. We are told that something that we have shared for the last 300 years will no longer be ours and we will have no choice over the money we carry in our pockets. So what are we left to do? Do we chose the uncertainty and hope of striking out on our own and giving it a shot? Of trying to do things differently, even if we don’t know what those things might be? Or do we stick with the known, the familiar and the knowledge that while things will be more certain, that certainty brings with it the continuation down a road that many of us do not want to travel.
In 2016 we will potentially hold our first general election in an independent Scotland. That will be our next big choice but it will be a choice we all make together, in our interests and on our terms. That is incredibly exciting, and scary but in a good way. I’m going to take that leap, come join me.
(All photographs copyright Lewis Brown)