Thursday, 22 November 2007

Breaking Away from a Debased Britain

A Scottish Spring for Independence

Gerry Hassan

Sunday Times (Scotland) article, 18 November 2007

In a week in which it became quicker to get from London to Paris by rail than Edinburgh to London it is not surprising that Scotland and England are beginning to feel more like separate worlds.
Alex Salmond this week made the prediction that Scotland will be independent by 2017 and set out to woo the waverers he needs to achieve this. He has made these sort of predictions before, but this time things are different with the SNP in power in the UK and wider world.
Britain in the Thatcher and Blair eras has become an over-centralised nation, where the centre has its finger in nearly every pie, despite devolution. The sad state of local government, which merely presides over central government diktats, is testimony to this. Even more, is the extent to which Westminster ministers decide the most minute local issues about what happens in relation to hospitals, schools, prisons and bridges. The centralism of the UK is combined with a narrow idea of politics and democracy. The three main parties at Westminster - Labour, Conservatives and Lib Dems - agree on everything (Iraq apart): the inequality and poverty which scars British society, the degree of corporate greed and irresponsibility, the fanatical commitment to the American relationship.
British politics have become debased in the last few years, under Thatcher and then under Blair. And there is no sign that the warm words from Gordon Brown about constitutional reform show any sign of bringing about fundamental change. Now we have figures from the respected Oxford Economics consultancy which show that the idea of Scotland being over-subsidised is just another myths - and that the part of the UK with the most public spending (Northern Ireland apart) is the apex of power: London. In terms of public spending the parts of the UK which do least well are the English regions outside London. None of these figures are really that surprising; we should know that the UK, given its state, politics and culture, has never really worked well for the majority of working people.
The interesting thing from these figures is that many of the Unionist arguments for Scotland remaining in the union were based on finances alone and Scotland being incapable of governing itself. Where do such people turn to now? In reality, whether Scotland become independent or not has never been about the money. This has always been a smoke screen. It was always the case that if Unionist politicians were to find that Scotland could be viably independent, they wouldn't turn around and say they'd got their figures wrong and change their views. The same is true of SNP politicians. If, post-independence, the Scottish structural deficit proved to be a chasm, they would not change their positions and settle for the Union. So independence has never been a money issue. It is also not about what happened in the past. The rights and wrongs of 1707 should have little bearing on whether Scotland should be independent. Instead, we should be looking to the future.
It is striking that those who now make the case for independence are internationalist and outward-looking whereas Unionists tend to cling to British insularism and the politics of fear. It never used to be so. Nationalists used to invoke couthy, romantic notions of Scotland, tartan and shortbread. The Unionists felt the UK was the future bringing poor Scots and poor English people out of poverty. Unionists such as Gordon Brown and Douglas Alexander love to wax lyrically about the progressiveness and uniqueness of the United Kingdom. They talk of a land that is a great big melting pot of multi-culturalism and multi-national values; a force for good at home and abroad. This is the kind of British chauvinism which the Labour Party has raised since its inception, ignoring other diverse countries in the world, and turning a blind eye to how we look after our own people, let alone the consequences of how we act in the wider world.
One of the worst arguments made by Unionists against Scottish independence is to invoke the age of 'globalisation' and 'interdependence' and patronise Nationalists with being out of time and out of tune with the modern world. This is a marvellously insular British argument which ignores what has happened beyond the shores of the UK. The last decade and a half has seen an unprecedented springtime for nations across Eastern Europe and Central Asia. From the Adriatic to the Baltic and Black Sea, an astonishing twenty-three new nations have become independent. Indeed, only days after the recent Scottish Parliament elections, the small, former Yugoslav republic of Montenegro became the latest entrant to this expanding club and 192nd member of the United Nations.
Small countries around the world - and particularly in Europe, whether newly independent such as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, or nations which became independent earlier in the 20th century such as Ireland and Norway - have all managed to be successes, economically, socially and culturally. When Unionists talk about these nations - and cite the Irish success story or what has happened in Estonia - they fascinatingly want to talk about every factor (church vs. state, public investment) bar one; the fact that they are independent. Independence has been a major impact in bringing about change in all these countries. It may have taken the Irish several decades to embark on the road to prosperity, but the Baltic nations and many others starting from a more rocky place than Scotland have succeeded in the
transition from being part of a transnational Empire to independent states.
The road to independence is as much about culture and psyche as it is about economics. Independence provides the Scots with an opportunity to develop a new national narrative and story - one which motivates and inspires us, including most elements of Scottish society, giving us a sense of purpose and mission. This would be exciting and emboldening for most people in Scotland - and not without some risk. However, the opportunities are so much more. Scottish independence would be good for Scotland and good for the United Kingdom, dealing a crucial blow to the deformed nature of Westminster and British politics. And it would be good internationally, weakening the Atlanticist nature of British foreign policy. I would like to contribute a small part to this.

Gerry Hassan has written extensively on Scottish and UK politics and was
Head of the recent Demos Scotland 2020 and Glasgow 2020 projects.

1 comment:

Davis said...

A nice article here and perhaps some kind of template for Cymru.

I'd also add-- I hope that the SNP and other Scottish nationalists continue to strongly emphasize mastery of the Scottish Gaelic language, and its reintroduction as a national tongue of Scotland in active and official use, as Irish Gaelic enjoys in Ireland. Language is one of the main pillars of a distinct culture and, if it is lost, then true independence is diluted and often in name only.

All of us who speak Celtic languages like Scottish Gaelic, Irish, Cymraeg and even Cornish, and who have resisted the English and the Normans for countless centuries, have a special stake here, since we are what remains of the great Celtic culture that once sprawled throughout Europe.

Some argue that this is difficult since English is "the world language." But that's not true-- French and *especially* German are also very critical world languages, and Chinese will soon be most important. The way to preserve your local language, if it has small numbers, is to ensure a multiplicity of international standards so that we're not forced to follow just one.

Like others have been pointing out-- write some sci/tech papers in German-language journals, since German is another big science language, or write cultural works and recipes in French-language books. That provides the best protection to ensure the protection and flourishing of the Celtic languages.