Independence vote day is set, now let’s recognise we are One Scotland

Leading thinker on Scotland and our long-time contributor, Gerry Hassan, sheds a tear as the Big Day is set. What we need now, he says, is a non-partisan debate on the potential of a self-governing Scotland.

Gerry Hassan
25 March 2013

The big day was finally announced. 

It was, when it came, an emotional moment and I will admit I had a tear in my eye but then I am a bit of a quiet sentimentalist, aided by it all occurring on my birthday. 

There has been a long journey to get to this point; but it is about us as a nation, what we aspire to, how we see our future, our values, and importantly, how we get on with each other even when we politically disagree. But it can be said that this says something about who we are, and what we have so far collectively decided as a nation.

There is also an immediate backdrop of division and sniping with the trading of insults between Labour and SNP dominating ‘the Big Day’. This illustrated that part of this debate is still about who speaks for the soul  of anti-Tory Scotland.

At First Minister’s Questions, Alex Salmond cited Labour MP Gordon Banks as having agreed with George Osborne on something, while Johann Lamont retorted by alleging that SNP MP Stewart Hosie had said something suspiciously pro-Tory.

Now apart from the fact that Labour spent the whole day pouring scorn on the Nats big moment, unable to comprehend how petty and point scoring they looked to all of us outside their bubble, this approach has wider consequences. It reduces part of the most important debate in recent times in Scotland to the level of the schoolyard, and cannot be allowed to succeed. It also doesn’t do Labour any favours in the long-term. 

That’s the day-to-day backdrop, but the debate has to acknowledge the bigger picture and have some substance. If we put this in its historic context, Scotland is engaged in a process of learning and growing which can be seen as one of maturing. This and other debates have shown that there are signs that we want to take more responsibility for our own actions. 

Then there is the psychological dimensions of all this. There is a prevailing sense that we need to stop falling for the easy option of blaming others, whether it be Westminster, the Tories, the English or something else external, and accept that the grievance culture debilitates and diminishes us. And that whatever else independence might or might not do, it would allow Scots to start to look more honestly at who and what we are.

There are many compromises involved in what is currently on offer in the SNP vision of independence, which people like the Greens and other radical opinions, are unhappy with.

Yet, what is urgently required in this, and can involve thoughtful Labour, Lib Dem, and even the occasional Tory voice, is a debate on the detail, potential and vision of what self-government is and what it can achieve. 

What this is can already be mapped out. First, it would embrace, post-bubble and post-crash, the need to talk about a different economy, one which is not dominated by the City, finance capital or property speculation. And it would explore the principles of a political economy different from the discredited Anglo-American capitalist model.

Second, it would begin to outline the contours of a more inclusive, compassionate welfare state and a sense of shared citizenship. It would be against the current punitive Westminster plans, but it also would address what we do about the missing Scotland, the generation lost in the 1980s, and the potential of it happening all over again.

Third, it would embrace the idea of the public realm which isn’t in hock to privatisers and outsources (take note SNP of what you have done with Serco on the Shetlands ferry service, or Labour’s costly legacy of PFI/PPP). But it would also address the power of producer interests (such as the pitfalls of the Labour-EIS alliance on education).

Fourth, this would entail devising a route, however difficult and long-term, and involving all sorts of short-term compromises, towards a nuclear free Scotland, and the removal of Trident and weapons of mass destruction from the Clyde.

Finally, there is the desire for a distinct Scottish voice at the international table, one which is very different from the increasingly discredited ‘punching above our weight’ mentality which has so ill-served the good ship HMS Britannia.

The above areas are ones about which we should be able to have an informed conversation, which occasionally rises above party divisions, and the understandable positioning on the independence debate. 

If this is even possible in a small way, it will be of assistance in dealing with the challenge of the increasing problem of how Westminster sees Scotland, and the long-term right wing turn of British politics.

There have been 30 years of Labour Government since 1945, elected in four separate periods, and these did many things of which they and Scots, are proud. Despite this, Britain is one of the most unequal places in the rich world; indeed, it could be said that this state of affairs is a creation of the Tory and Labour Parties and their appeasement of privilege and reaction. 

Then we have the problem with what we could call ‘Andrew Neil Scotland’ – the right wing Scots diaspora view that inhabits influential parts of the Westminster village.

This presents a powerful caricature of Scotland as a land of immaturity and wrong-headness, a world of ‘spend, spend, spend’, welfare dependency, and a cossetted, bloated public sector.

This grotesque account of modern day Scotland by Scots in places of influence in the Westminster world has two damaging consequences. It has an effect on part of the debate north of the border, reinforcing doubts and negativity in those places where such feelings exist; and crucially, it strengthens an English sense of incomprehension and lack of interest in the real debate, dismissing us with a belief we are all ‘subsidy Jocks’.

That right-wing account is slowly eroding the shared social compact that underpinned the United Kingdom; it says the solution, post-crash, is to cut deeper and faster to re-fashion the state and expectations, and relocate the UK somewhere in the mid-Atlantic. 

The growing grip of such thinking in Westminster in centre-right thinking, means that whether opinion here is pro, anti or agnostic on independence, we have to recognise what unites us: rejecting pseudo-market vandalism and the rigged capitalism of the City. And have some degree of measured debate about the realm of what self-government and independence can do to address the challenges and choices of Scottish society.

This piece was originally published in The Scotsman.

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