Over the next few weeks, I'm going
to publish 40 or so reasons to support Scottish independence. Here are
the first three. The next three are here.
“When we had a king, and a chancellor, and parliament-men o' our ain, we could aye peeble them wi' stanes when they werena gude bairns - But naebody's nails can reach the length o' Lunnon.”
Mrs Howden in Walter Scott's "Heart of Midlothian", 1818
It seems that there's a basic principle of democracy: keep your friends close but your MPs closer. It's easier to hold politicians to account when they aren't hundreds of miles away. And for many Scots, the people making the decisions about their lives are remarkably distant.
Inverness is further from London than any continental EU city is from its capital. Where democratic countries are bigger, they tend to be much more federal than Britain, and there are few cities in the Western world whose citizens have so many of their affairs run by people so far away as those in Scotland's more northerly cities. Each state house in the USA, for example, has significantly more powers than Holyrood, and Anchorage, Alaska, is the only American city further from its state capital than the capital of the Highlands is from Westminster.
If you're in Lerwick, of course, Edinburgh's is still a long way away - which is why the Scottish government is looking into devolution to the Northern and Western Isles if it is a yes vote. Shifting power from London to Edinburgh isn't everything. But it's a big step – more than 300 miles - in the right direction.
“It was amazing - they didn't have a line of police, and the environment minister even came out to talk to us!” - an English environmental activist after joining an anti-fracking protest outside the SNP conference
If we want politics to be more humane, it should happen at a more human scale. We can expect our democracy to function better if there are 5 million people who need to decide things together than if there are 63 million. The easier it is for a group of concerned citizens to get a meeting with a government minister, the bigger the portion of the population one small collection of friends or neighbours can mobilise in their spare time, the more engaged we can expect both the citizenry and the government to be.
Scotland is just about of a size that a small group of concerned citizens genuinely can change things. Britain is a bit too big for that. You really need a decent sized salaried NGO or lobby group or think-tank and the money to fund it if you want to influence anything. That automatically skews decisions towards the interests of those with cash.
Perhaps it's more simple than that though. Scotland's small enough that's it's the kind of country in which it's not abnormal to run into government ministers on the bus or in the pub. That has to be conducive to healthy democracy.
“Alienation is the precise and correctly applied word for describing the major social problem in Britain today” - Jimmy Reid - 1972
Confusing solidarity and centralisation was the greatest mistake of the left in the 20th century. Distant bureaucracies alienate and are less able to empower people. We are often told that the resulting refusal to engage is apathy. This is to imply that human beings don't care about their families, their neighbours, their communities. There is no discernable difference between this mis-diagnosed apathy and sociopathy. It's nonsense. Huge swaiths of the population aren't sociopaths. They are alienated. They don't believe they can change things through the available democratic process. The first step of any progressive political program must be to change this.
This hasn't happened by accident. Thatcher said that “economics are the method, the object is to change the soul”. Alienating structures leave alienated people, estranged from each other, with souls less tied to their communities and so more easily skewed towards her doctrines that greed is good and there's no such thing as society. But her method was more than economic. It was also constitutional. Yes, she divided people from each other by making labour markets so flexible they bend our social solidarity to the point of breaking, by cracking trade unions apart and by twisting communities into housing markets. But she also did it by stripping the power from local government, by taking it away from human sized communities, so we stopped learning that we can change things by organising together. She taught us to think that the only lever we have on the world is our spending power – that decisions are made by consumers, not citizens.
If we are to take that first step on the road from alienation, we need to adopt political, economic and constitutional strategies of empowerment. That means bringing power closer to people, to places we can influence by organising as citizens, not just through professional lobbyists. Because bringing power closer doesn't just change power. It also changes people. It help us learn that we're able to determine our collective destiny. It reconnects us with each other. This is about much more than whether fiscal and foreign policy, social security and sovereignty should be handled at one end of the A1 or the other. But that's the choice on the ballot on the 18th of September.
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