What is to be learnt from the extraordinary momentum towards Scottish Independence? And what happens next?

On Scotland, Britain, power and fossil fuels.

James Marriot
18 September 2014

The scale of the ambition of the Independence movement is wonderful. The ambition is not just to draw more governmental rights to Holyrood but to assert the idea of independent nationhood, in opposition to the wishes of one the world’s most powerful states, and in contradiction to the assumed ‘inevitable direction of travel’ in the late 20th Century and early 21st Century, towards greater integration and a merging of state functions. This ambition is remarkable.

To assert this in the face of a powerful array of active public opposition is amazingly courageous. Arrayed against the Yes campaign has been the US Administration, the European Commission, the Pope, all three of the main UK political parties, the UK government, the Mayor of London, the British civil service, all the UK media except the Sunday Herald, the Bank of England, some of the UK’s largest financial institutions (RBS, Lloyds TSB, Tesco Bank, Clydesdale Bank, Standard Life), several of the UK’s corporations and major companies (Shell, BP, Kingfisher, Marks & Spencer, John Lewis Group, Asda, Timson, Next, The Weir Group), the collective opinion of the UK oil industry, the BBC (over the license fees)… And there’s doubtless pressure coming from behind the scenes in the form of the British Secret Intelligence Services, the Queen and Royal Household, and the British Armed Forces. The Yes Campaign must surely have expected this to happen, must have foreseen the scale of the opposition if they got close to winning. But to have the confidence to pursue this goal despite the likely opposition is inspiring.

If Scotland becomes independent it will be despite the efforts of almost the entire UK establishment. It will be because social media has defeated the corporate media. It will be a victory for citizens over the Westminster machine, for shoes over helicopters. That hope, marginalised at first, can spread across the nation, defying all attempts to suppress it. That you can be hated by the Daily Mail and still have a chance of winning’

George Monbiot 10.9.14 - The Guardian - ‘A Yes vote would unleash the most potent force of all’

The scale of ambition and the confidence is remarkable. For a social movement not to be frightened of that scale is inspirational.

The scale of the political involvement has been equally remarkable. There’s confident talk of an 80% turn- out in the poll, compared to 60% in recent general elections in Scotland; there have been queues at the registration offices; and active debate in pubs and on the streets, in the schools and in the old people’s home. This stands in opposition to the commonplace notion that ‘people are no-longer interested in politics’, that ‘politics has become reduced to voting-in whichever group of politicians can best manage the economy’ or ‘the most reliable pair of hands to steer the ship of Market Consensus, the neoliberal consensus through the stormy waters of the world’.

The No Campaign seems to have built it’s strategy on frightening voters with the idea that that Consensus, that Market, will be badly disrupted: that house prices will collapse, that the costs of loans and mortgages will rise, that companies and capital will flee the country and employment will nose dive, that prices will rise in the shops and supermarkets, that the value of pensions and savings will plummet. (The same dire threats were issued during the Devolution Referendum in 1979). But a substantial percentage of the population, perhaps as much as 50% of those over the age of 16, seem to be saying they don’t care or they are prepared to take the risk, and crucially, they care about something else even more than economic ‘stability’ or ‘prosperity’ - and that thing is Independence, or Self-Determination, or greater Democratic accountability, or ‘Not to be ruled over by those people who don’t understand or represent me’.

It feels like the return of politics … the return of a real debate after nearly three decades of ‘efficient management of the economy’ … something else is important.

It’s intriguing that in the debate over Independence, much of reasoned argument against it is the threat of the Market destroyed. This is in contrast to other times: in the 18th Century the voices against the Jacobites declared that they we’re ‘barbaric’, and would pull Scotland and England backwards away from the Enlightenment. Perhaps part of the panic and pain recently witnessed in the Westminster class and the UK Media is the recognition that 50% of the population of this part of the country put something else above ‘Managing the Market’, and the smooth running of the neoliberal Consensus?

Seldom can a single opinion poll have reverberated through the ranks of the elite as last Sunday’s news that the Yes campaign … had edged ahead. The poll prompted David Cameron to issue a call to action to UK business chiefs at a reception at Downing Street on Monday night, as well as the sudden journey north by the leaders of all the three main parties on Wednesday’

Sarah Neville & Clive Cookson - The Financial Times - ‘Ruling elite aghast as union wobbles’

There has been a remarkable display of loss of confidence by the British ruling elite in the past week. A shift from one social Settlement to another invariably involves the loss of confidence among the governing classes of the existing order with a rise in confidence among those who propose the new order. This shift can be seen in the late 1940’s and the late 1970’s and perhaps we are seeing it again now? Perhaps this is part of an unravelling. Part of the birth of something new. The birth of a new Settlement.

In September 2008 the Collapse of Lehman Brothers seemed to signal that the momentum of Financialised Capitalism had run into the buffers. The state had to bail out the private banks. The Eurozone Crisis raged across the continent. There was a sudden frenzy of opposition, expressed from Occupy New York and the Idignados, to the flurry of books that proclaimed the death of an era of Capitalism. However the Right used the political moment of uncertainty to drive forward an Austerity agenda, thereby ensuring that the poor carried the burden of change and the rich retained their position unscathed. Indeed the division, the inequality, between rich and poor only got deeper. Many said that by 2013 the system had righted itself, that growth in the US and UK was beginning to return, that the Eurozone was stabilizing, that things were getting back to ‘normal’.

But just as the Neo-Liberal economy seems to be righting itself, the Neo-Liberal polity is going through wild convulsions. The growing opposition to the European Project of the EU… and now the upswelling of support for Independence in Scotland. The potential demise of the UK, the end of the ‘status-quo’, is as much a part of this unravelling as the collapse of Lehman Brothers. We might not have expected the ‘Death of Neoliberalism’ to have been manifest in the ‘Break up of the Union’ - but perhaps here it is, the two forces intertwined.

Settlements are not only temporarily specific but also spatially specific. Furthermore they define space - the geography of the Inter-War Settlement (1920-1950) was the final phase of the British Imperial geography (witness the ‘space’ of the Boys Own books published in the 1930’s). The geography of the Social-Democratic Settlement (1950-1980) was that of the declining Empire (symbolised by the surrender of colonies and dominions). The Neo-Liberal Settlement (1980-2010) was about the struggle to assert a Neo-Imperial geography (from wars in the Falklands 1982 to Iraq 2003). What is the geography of the emerging Settlement?

The break up of the UK, a process that seems inexorable, has been underway, often hidden, for several decades, and the events of the current period are merely the emergence of these undercurrents into the light of political day. There has been pressure for independence in Scotland for over a century, but even in the 1960’s the Conservative & Unionist Party was still getting the support of over 40% of the electorate. However the Neoliberal Settlement catalysed the rapid erosion of the bonds of the UK: the rise of Scots anger at Westminster especially over the Poll Tax; the destruction of ‘national industries’ such as mining, shipbuilding, telecoms, and water; the concentration of wealth, power and population into London & South East. As many have said, that through this accumulation of wealth London and the South East have effectively been separating from the rest of the UK since the early 1980’s.

What next? ‘Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation’1

Many people are quite clear, they are voting yes because they want a new form of politics, better democracy and social justice. It’s a massive protest vote against the status quo.’ … ‘Benedict Anderson famously said nations are “imagined communities”. Scotland is busily imagining itself; England is slowly stirring to the same task, and with plentiful resources of radicalism and diversity from which to draw.

Madeleine Bunting 10.9.14 - The Guardian Comment - Scotland’s referendum is Britain’s reinvention

Whatever our views on the Referendum the challenge posed by the Yes campaign is that elsewhere in the UK we should match the scale of ambition and confidence. If the citizens of Scotland want ‘a new form of politics, better democracy and social justice’ then those of us living in London and the South East, for example, need equally to demand, and create such things. We need to imagine such things, ‘imagine ourselves’.

A new Settlement in the place that Platform is based and works will require change in a plethora of fields, and one of these is energy. There’s been constant debate as to how oil will or won’t play a role in the fortunes of an Independent Scotland. As Mika Minio explains Scotland can use the moment of independence to break from nearly 50 years of oil & gas playing a dominant role in the country’s politics and economy, and that independence does not mean that Scotland will inevitably become more dependent on the North Sea and the oil corporations. The country can (and will if desired enough) shift to having an energy system based on renewables. Not only will a shift in this direction require a new type of politics, but a new energy system will itself help determine a new form of politics.

The same understanding can be applied to London and the South East. Unlike so many parts of the British Isles, this region currently has virtually no indigenous fossil fuels production. The pits of the Kent Coalfield, at Tilmanstone, Betteshanger and Snowden, all closed by 1989. The oil & gas corporations have been trying hard to frack for gas in West Sussex, but have met stiff resistance at Balcombe, Wisborough Green and Fernhurst. However the region is a vital node in the global oil & gas business: London is the financial headquaters of two of the largest private oil corporations (BP and Shell), approximately 30% of the capital on the London Stock Exchange is invested in fossil fuels, the departments of the British government based in Westminster (DECC, BIS, FCO & MOD) provide essential assistance to the operations of private oil companies around the world. Furthermore many of the individuals who play key roles in these institutions live either in London or the surrounding Home Counties of the South East.

This region plays a vital role in global oil & gas, and conversely such is the economic and political weight of that global industry that it plays a vital role in determining the shape of the society and economy of London and the South East. If we are to create ‘a new form of politics, better democracy and social justice’ here, then part of that will be the application of such things to this extremely powerful industry that resides here. How do we go about imagining such things, go about imagining ourselves?

London’s role in the extraction of fossil fuels stretches back to the mid-16th century, at least to 1578 when Thomas Sutton acquired the lease of the manors of Whickham and Gateshead near Newcastle and began shipping coal from shallow mines down the North Sea and up the Thames. Sutton died in 1611 at the Tan House in Hommerton (adjacent to Sutton House) one of the richest men in the recently created realm of ‘The Union of the Crowns’ between England and Scotland.

The struggle to address the social and ecological impacts of fossil fuels has been taking place for at least as long. A large part of these struggles have been undertaken by those working within the industry - most obviously by those in the trades unions, such as the National Union of Mineworkers - and those indigenous and ‘front line’ communities most impacted by the industry. However in the 1960s resistance to the industry began to gain strength in civil society and environmental non-governmental organisations emerged. Social Movements and these NGOs have played a vital role in fighting specific battles against the coal and oil industries - preventing the dumping of offshore rigs, stopping the building of new coal fired power stations, challenging the construction of pipelines, slowing investment in offshore drilling programmes, demanding that polluted land is remediated, and trying to defenfing civil society activists imprisoned for taking a stand.

The events in Scotland and elsewhere suggest that a new Settlement is being born and that this will require new ways of acting. In this new context, this new ‘imagining’ the opposition to the fossil fuel industry needs to place such acts of resistance within a broader scheme, a clearly articulated broader programme to alter the structure of the entire carbon-based economy and to have the courage and confidence to do so.

Across the UK something much deeper and wider (is happening): what is happening north of the border is the most spectacular manifestation of a phenomenon taking root all over - indeed, if the splintering of politics and the rise of new forces on both the left and right across Europe are anything to go by, a set of developments not defined by specific national circumstances, but profound social and economic ruptures’

John Harris 12.9.14 - The Guardian - ‘It’s not just Scotland where politics as usual is finished’


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