Why Scottish independence deserves our sympathy
An abbreviated version of this article appeared in the newspaper's May print edition.
On September 18 the people of Scotland are set to vote on independence from the U.K. and at this point the vote could go either way. Some may be motivated to vote “no” in order to keep the British working class united as a counterforce against Britain’s ruling Conservative party. Other “no” voters may simply see independence as unfeasible. Meanwhile, the “Yes” campaign argues that Scotland, as a nation, has a democratic right to self-determination, and that it can use this right to make better use of its natural resources. Furthermore, the Conservatives have not won more seats than Labour in Scotland since 1955, yet in 35 of the years since then, Scotland has been subject to Tory rule from Westminster.
For Canadians, the thought of Scottish independence might instinctively trigger thoughts of Quebec independence. At face value, the analogy is legitimate, as both Quebec and Scotland have the complex statuses of being Western nations with colonial histories, while simultaneously being undermined by the more powerful colonial entities of Canada and England.
Despite this similarity, the two independence movements have very different ideologies. While the Quebec independence movement is currently lead by the Catholic-chauvinist PQ, the Scottish independence movement, led by First Minister Alex Salmond’s Scottish National Party (SNP), does not reject multiculturalism and instead presents Scotland as a progressive nation that could more fully assert itself if independent from the UK.
In an ad for the “Yes” campaign, the Scottish folk-rock duo the Proclaimers said “we’re voting yes for independence because we want to see a more equal society.” Indeed, just as Quebec independence still has genuine progressive support from Québec solidaire, the Scottish independence campaign is supported by the Scottish Socialist Party and the Scottish Green Party, as well as a faction of the Scottish Labour party.
A number of high profile progressives have also spoken out in favour of Scottish independence. While UK pop icon David Bowie recently said through a spokesperson “Scotland, please stay with us”, folk-protest singer Billy Bragg has since come out with a far more articulate statement, arguing that Scottish independence could encourage further devolution (the establishment of local governments) in England and put pressure on the Labour party to improve its policy proposals as it would no longer be able to count on gettings votes from Scotland. Pakistani-British historian Tariq Ali has also endorsed Scottish independence, arguing that the British union has only ever served the interests of Scotland’s ruling elite.
The Scottish independence movement is pacifistic and environmentalist, denouncing nuclear weapons, including Britain’s Trident program, and calling for Scotland to be a leader in the renewable energy industry. The movement is also inclusive and in support of a strong welfare state that, among other things, keeps tuition free.
Therefore, those of us living outside of Scotland should declare solidarity with, albeit not uncritical support for, the Scottish independence movement. Rather than employing the reactionary nationalism of hegemons and racists, Scottish nationalists frame their cause as a national-liberation struggle and a fight for social justice. As inhabitants of Canada, we also live in a country built on oppressed nations. If we can overcome the cognitive hurdles that impede us from supporting Scottish nationalism, then we can hopefully be more tolerant and supportive of socially-just national liberation movements in our own country.
This is not to say that Scots should necessarily vote “Yes.” George Galloway, a Scot and one of the most radical members of the British parliament has denounced both British and Scottish nationalism saying “my flag is red.” Indeed, one flaw in both the Québec and Scottish nationalist movements is that they are led by groups that feel a need to prove they are fiscally responsible to the establishment they supposedly oppose. In Québec’s last election, the PQ took this logic to an extreme, hiring radical-right-wing media mogul Pierre Karl-Peladeau as a candidate.
While the SNP has not necessarily sunk to that low, they do employ similar tactics. In an interview with Richie Venton of the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP), I was told that the SNP tries to be a party of “all thing to all classes.” While the SNP describes itself as social-democratic, it also panders to its wealthy donors and “tartan Tories” in the rural north by promising, for instance, to cut corporate taxes to be 3 per cent below British rates .
George Galloway further argues that Scottish independence would be meaningless as the SNP is committed to keeping Scotland in the EU and NATO, forming a pound currency union with the UK and keeping Elizabeth as its head of state. Galloway argues that this not only shows that SNP Scotland and Tory Britain are not as different as one would think, but that this difference could shrink further as Scotland loses control of the pound allowing it to fall prey to British austerity.
I brought up Galloway’s anti-independence argument in my interview with Venton, and he argued that Galloway and his supporters have falsely equated a vote for Scottish independence with a vote for SNP policy. In 2016 Scots will get a chance to elect a new government. Venton believes the SSP, which does not currently have Scottish parliamentary representation, could do well in new Scottish elections due to the roll it has played in the independence campaign. Venton emphasized that the independence campaign has won the support of many who have never been involved in politics before, and therefore the 2016 electorate could look very different from the 2011 electorate that gave the SNP a majority.
Jim Sillars, a left SNP member, has made a similar case to Venton’s, arguing that once the SNP achieves its aim of winning of independence, it will become obsolete and Scots will elect a left Labour government in its place.
Because of the constraints and assumptions of the capitalist system (which the SNP works within), an independent Scotland could easily disappoint many of its anti-imperial backers. Venton argues that the SNP has in fact been preparing Scots for disappointment by not emphasizing many potential benefits that independence could allow. What exactly independence will look like is a mystery, and that’s why Scottish voters have a difficult decision ahead of them.
We in Canada, however, do not have a difficult decision to make. It is not our position to decide Scotland’s fate. We simply must respect Scotland’s right to self-determination, and because of the nature of Scotland’s independence movement, we should do so enthusiastically. David Bowie can say what he likes, but Scotland’s rebel, rebels are ready for changes.comments powered by Disqus