Shine A Light

Scotland, towards a more just and fair society

An independent Scotland could be the start of something even bigger: disaffected voters in England, Wales and Northern Ireland motivated to find a new society.

Molly Harvey and John Harvey
9 September 2014

Molly Harvey under arrest at Faslane Naval Base. Argyll & Bute, Scotland, February 2001

"Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are Anger and Courage; Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain the way they are." (St. Augustine of Hippo: 354 - 430 AD)

With only a few days to go before the Scottish Referendum, the divide between the Better Together and the Yes Scotland camps is becoming increasingly clear. The promotional videos produced by both sides encapsulate the difference. For the Better Together side, the emphasis is firmly on the achievements of the Union over the past 307 years (of which certainly there are many) and the safety, as seen from their point of view, of sticking with where we are, and hoping that things will improve. For the Yes Scotland side, the videos look to the future, and to the many ways in which it is felt that an independent Scotland, with its future much more in its own hands, can move forward into a different way of doing politics, and with a different vision of what a just and fair society can be like.

There are, of course, risks attached to both approaches. Vote NO, and the risk is that nothing very much will change — especially as the attention of most UK politicians is likely to shift rapidly to issues which will more immediately concern them, like the rise of UKIP, the future or not of Britain in the EU, and the 2015 General Election. Vote NO, and as far as Scotland is concerned, Holyrood may be given some more devolved powers (even as some present arrangements, such as the Barnet formula, may be considerably altered, possibly cancelling out any new offerings) but Enoch Powell's sobering dictum needs to be remembered - "Power devolved is power retained".

Vote NO, and the Scottish political parties, with the exception of the SNP, will continue to have to dance to the tune of their parent bodies in Westminster, whether they like it or not. Vote NO, and it is hard to see how there will ever be any serious and radical change in the way politics is done in Britain, despite the few voices beginning to be raised advocating more decentralisation from the South-East to the Regions. (In recent decades, two attempts to change things in a radical way — to have an elected Assembly in the North-East of England, and to move away from the first-past-the-post system of elections to a more PR system —have received lukewarm support and seem to have disappeared without trace.)

Equally, there are risks to voting YES. If, after Independence, we sit back and say "Job done", when it will only have just begun, then we could easily relapse into the easy, lazy way of expecting "them" to sort everything out, and blaming "them" if they fail. Too high expectations of "jam today" can easily lead to disillusionment when we have to face, as we surely will, the hard job of managing our own economy, quite likely facing a period of austerity (not that we won't have to face one if we remain with the UK!) and having to learn to live with some hard decisions, one of which may well be higher taxes for a while. We will need to face up to difficult negotiations with all our future partners — the rest of the UK, the EU, NATO — although experience should tell us that in these situations, pragmatism and common sense usually prevail.

We may not all be unequivocal supporters of either Alex Salmond or the SNP — this movement is far more important than either of them, and in the event of Independence we will of course then have the responsibility of choosing our own new government, with other parties, including perhaps some new ones, much more able to seek Scottish support. But we do have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

A country, it is said, is judged to be more or less civilised by the way it treats its most vulnerable and marginalised citizens. By current Westminster standards and values we are clearly failing miserably in this respect. And do we really want to keep on being ruled by Westminster parties (of whatever colour) who all seem to be content to continue to contribute to what has been estimated at £30,000 a day since the birth of Christ on weapons of mass destruction, when we can never conceive of using them, and they contribute nothing effectively to our defence, but simply serve to give us so-called prestige and "clout" in world affairs? (And moving Trident to England has been shown to be an impossibility, despite the protestations of the defence industry and Whitehall.)

We argue that the Westminster system of government is no longer fit for purpose. In a few days time we could, if we have a mind to, be part of creating a more just and fair society — and we believe that many disaffected voters in England, Wales and Northern Ireland may well take heart and encouragement, and be motivated to seek their own ways forward to a new society. As we have said, there are always risks — but "risks must be taken, because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing." (William A Ward, 1921 - 1994). Which is the bigger risk —  to carry on as we are  — or to risk real change, and take a stand for hope, rather than for despair?

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