I haven’t been writing here as often as I thought I would do. After I posted “An Open Letter” a few months ago it started to do the rounds online and I thought maybe I would start to write more often about the Scottish Independence referendum. The problem is that I have a full time job, I like to spend my spare time running or on the bike, and have no inclination to be starting crowdfunding campaigns, spending hours online chasing sources or arguing with minor Labour Party functionaries on Twitter.
I have however been doing a lot of talking to people and reading of views on both sides and have been becoming increasingly frustrated at a line of argument that I am coming across again and again. This argument, usually from No voting Labour supporters, is summed up by this blog post by broadcaster Tom Morton. It essentially boils down to saying a combination of the principal of old fashioned left-wing solidarity is combined with an inherent distrust of what is termed ‘nationalism’.
I am in no way attacking Tom Morton here, he is entitled to his opinion as everyone is, even if I totally disagree. I reference his post here only because it was while reading this that I was tipped over the edge into needing to write my response.
It is important when thinking about this to distinguish between ‘nationalism’ and ‘nationality’. Everyone has a nationality whether they like it or not, it is about identity yes, but on a basic level it is just administrative. In Scotland some see themselves as Scottish, others as British, but whatever side you are on you have a nationality and under the current arrangement we are all living in the ‘UK’ at present.
But what if my nationality being ‘UK’ leads to me living in a political and economic system which I consider to be increasingly unequal, undemocratic and illegitimate? What if I look at how things are arranged and run where I live and feel that to continue the way things are going the possibility of changing these things is an increasing impossibility? What if in that in my desire to change that political paradigm I see the best and most viable (in fact only possible) way to do that is to vote Yes in September?
What if most of the arguments that me and many like me put forward for this course of action are based on this desire to remake the way we are governed and that the definition of ‘we’ includes anyone who lives, works and resides in the area we call Scotland? Because THAT is the case that is being put by so many of those who are dismissed as ‘nationalists’.
Tom’s blog (and so many others, including those in national newspapers) are full of evocative language designed to create an emotive response to something that in my experience exists primarily in the minds of those like Tom Morton who are fighting an enemy that isn’t there. It is argument full of big and scary words that is swinging into thin air because the problem most Yes voters have with being part of the UK isn’t based on pride, nationalism, separation or hatred, but in a desire to create fundamental change in the way the decisions that shape our lives are organised.
When starting these ‘Scotland’ vs ‘Britian’ identity arguments the term that is thrown around so often is ‘proud Scot’, I don’t call myself that, and I likely won’t even after a Yes. What I will be proud of, if we do decide to take control of our lives fully and with a desire to change things, is the people of Scotland for thinking perhaps things can be different.
The next part of the argument is always that old chestnut solidarity. If I’m not a nationalist, I hear you say, then how can I not want to stay together in solidarity with all the left thinking brothers and sisters in the rest of the UK who face the same problems as us in Scotland? I honestly think that for the ‘politically aware’, and certainly liberal/left, at least that is the essential argument between Yes and No votes, and in the end it comes down to your faith in how things can be changed for the better. Everyone agrees that we need change. Some still think there is a chance that this is possible across the UK and within its governing systems, others think that it is too far gone and drastic change is needed.
I look around the UK and what I see are ruling elites that are so entrenched in the realms of class, wealth and big business that change from inside the current structures has passed the point of no-return. I fully include the Labour Party in this and consider any suggestion that the solution is simply to vote them in again and all will be fixed to be utterly laughable, they are as fully captured by the establishment as any other group. For these reasons I reject the ‘solidarity’ argument as one that is outdated and completely impossible under the current ‘rules of the game’.
The only way to bring about the change is a fundamental undermining of the governing structures of these islands, and I believe in my heart of hearts that the independence of Scotland will lead to a remaking of politics across the British Isles for the good of everyone.
If you still believe that the power of solidarity (whatever that even means), the current Labour Party and whatever other levers of democracy currently available to the ‘people’ have a chance of overturning the decade long march towards corporate/establishment hegemony then by all means vote no. If we all come together we can override the privatisation, the obsession with profit over people, the powered of big business and finance and the City of London, the moneyed elites, the unelected Lords, the gerrymandered and unrepresentative first past the post voting system, the main political parties who are more interested in their triangulated positions in the centre right than following their principles. I just don’t see it, but I see a possibility with Yes.
If Scotland votes Yes then all of these structures will be up for negotiation. There will be a need to re-examine and remake the structures of governance across these islands. The United Kingdom is a construct, a system of ruling that has been honed over hundreds of years to protect the status quo, the powerful, the entitled. No one is saying that Scots are inherently ‘different’ to those in the rest of the UK, that we are more caring, more intelligent, in some way exceptional, but the act of asserting our independence and taking responsibility for our future will be an act of democratic will which can remind those in power who they are really working for.
My No voting left wing friends, that is the real solidarity of the independence debate, that is how the system can be changed in a way that might actually happen, because under the system we have it just isn’t no matter how often you rebrand the Labour Party.
What annoys me so much about pieces like the Tom Morton one because this rampant attacking of an invented ‘nationalism’ is cheap, crass and unnecessary and appeals to the very nationalism it purports to be so afraid of. It paints supporters of independence as something they are so often not and misses the crux of the argument entirely. The ‘solidarity’ he talks of can exist across administrative borders in the same way it supposedly already does internationally. He backs up his arguments with the same emotive language he attacks nationalists for using but offers no solutions to the wider problems. A Yes vote has the potential to push back against the ills that face our (and in this I mean the whole of the UK) society, so far I have seen very little alternatives from those (particularly within Labour) who claim to also want the social justice part but disagree with the independence bit.
A vote for independence may have questions with answers you don’t find adequate, it may be a risk, it may be a leap into the unknown, but don’t try and attack it for not being progressive enough because we can easily see the alternative.
(All photographs copyright Lewis Brown)