2007 - 2021

State of Inter Independence: A Vision for Scottish Self-Determination

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in the future
And time future contained in the past.

T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets (1936)

This week the Scottish independence debate reaches new levels with the launch of the ‘Yes Scotland’ pro-independence campaign, the emergence of the shape of the pro-union campaign, and the spectre of Tony Blair hovering threateningly over Scottish politics.

Scottish independence has long been viewed by the British political classes as eccentric and unworldly. The Economist’s ‘Bagehot’ column made a revealing comment this week when it stated that ‘the SNP took control of the Scottish Government in 2011’ (1), showing that for many in London this debate (and the threat of Scottish self-government) only really began with the election of a majority SNP Government in May last year.

The week of the launch of the ‘Yes Scotland’ campaign has confirmed the problematic right-wing trajectory of British politics, the Conservative Party and the Westminster village. First, there has been the leaking of the Beecroft deregulation report (2), which proposed that small employers should be able to ‘hire and fire’ at will, and which has been met with derision from Lib Dems. Second, more impressively and worryingly, was the huge report from the Taxpayers Alliance and Institute of Directors, the 2020 Tax Commission (3) which brought together 19 ‘experts’ (18 men and a solitary woman) to propose the toxic mix of a 30% single income tax, abolition of corporation tax and inheritance tax, and the shrinking of the state as a percentage from half to one-third of GDP.

This backdrop has a massive impact on Scotland, as UK politics heads inexorably towards a deregulated, marketised, individualised fantasy world which aspires to be some kind of Singapore or Hong Kong sitting off the European continent. And of course, there is the now nearly inevitable in/out European referendum, posing the question: what kind of union is it that the pro-union forces want to defend?
No longer is it good enough for the pro-independence argument to be a ‘Big Tent’ approach which postpones all decisions to post-independence and attempts to encompass tax competition, reducing corporation tax, and world class public services. Instead, the pro-independence forces are going to have to be explicit, and to begin to imagine and create the Scotland of the future, including taking some of the first steps now.

Here are seven suggestions for an agenda for independence and self-government which goes beyond constitutional issues to embracing the economic, social, cultural, democratic and the international.

1. A Different Tradition of Political Economy
The Anglo-American model of capitalism, economic development and corporate governance has increasingly shown itself to be short-termist, fixated on global winners, widening inequality, and not connected to any real viable corporate social responsibility. The SNP and pro-independence forces have said little on this since the collapse of RBS and HBOS, and yet the crisis of the Anglo-American model has huge consequences for Scotland and wider afield. The UK is one of the most unequal nations in the rich world, its economic development aiding huge inequality across the UK, and this needs reflecting in a different economic debate north of the border. The land that gave the world both Adam Smith and Robert Owen must be able to have a debate about the moral dimensions of the economy and the limits of short-term, short attention span hyper-capitalism.

If we cannot imagine a post-capitalism at the moment, we have to envisage a different, better capitalism. And I have a radical suggestion. If we are to talk about ‘social justice’ we have to talk about the economy and break the post-Thatcherite Faustian path between globalisation and progressives, a path which both New Labour and the SNP have gone down. Otherwise we are just continuing the Scots tradition of focusing on ‘welfare nationalism’.

2. A John Smith Social Covenant
Scotland is scarred by deep, inter-generational inequality and poverty; this has marked our society for the last three decades since the bitter deindustrialisation post-1979. The difference across Britain between the top 10% and lowest 10% in incomes is 95.8:1 in England (aided by the grotesque levels of inequality in London of 273:1), but only slightly less in Scotland, 93.4:1 and Wales, 89.5:1 (4). Despite the pervasive story of modern Scotland that we are an egalitarian land the reality is that Scotland is the most unequal part of the UK after London and the North West of England.

It is now twenty years ago since the launch of the John Smith Commission on Social Justice which had a significant impact on the ‘New Deal’ and challenging New Right thinking on welfare. Scotland doesn’t need any more commissions but we should renew our ideals on social justice and take a reality check on the gap between who we think we are and what we actually do. One option is to bring together a John Smith Social Covenant to report in two years time, on the 20th anniversary of Smith’s death and the final report of the Social Justice Commission.

This Covenant should be mandated to articulate how we close the gap in Scotland’s most deprived communities within a decade. This would entail: understanding the complex story of success and failure in New Labour’s record on poverty, addressing child poverty in a way never before attempted, and emphasising that if you are in work you should not be poor. This would advance the notion of a Living Wage, but more importantly embrace an enlightened idea of what good work is, something which would have major implications for public bodies and business.

3. The Missing Scotland of Our Democracy
Many have applauded the credentials of ‘the new politics’ of post-devolution Scotland. There is sadly at the same time a widespread silence about an uncomfortable truth: our democracy is shaped by a truncated and manipulated politics, where those that vote are increasingly an affluent, older ‘selectorate’. Looking at the 2011 Scottish Parliament election, if we went back to turnout levels of only 25 years ago in the mid-1980s, nearly one million (977,742) Scots are now missing from the democratic debate (5).

The missing million Scots are mostly younger, poorer, and live in the West of Scotland and Central Belt and what were once called ‘traditional Labour heartlands’. We cannot have any meaningful debate about self-government without these voices being heard and included; the Scottish Government has to look at a voter mobilisation and engagement strategy to reconnect these people to our democracy. Most haven’t given up on society, but have given up on traditional party politics and a belief that their votes matter.

4. The Disconnection of Digital Scotland
The mainstream global debate now celebrates digital inclusivity and connectivity as the answer to all our problems as citizens, consumers and social beings. Technological determinism is everywhere in our lives from the ‘death’ of print media, books and physical records, to the role of ‘social media’ in the Arab spring.

Research by Ofcom presented to the Scottish Parliament last year showed a very different picture. Broadband and PC access in Glasgow and the West of Scotland was at shockingly low levels versus the rhetoric of digital liberation. Ofcom stated, ‘The reasons for this are complex but lower income levels and older age groups are less likely to take broadband services’ (6). Yet the same research showed that there was a ‘Scottish effect’ which went beyond material poverty: with lower income groups having 30% Broadband access compared to 55% across the UK; 16-34 year olds have 65% access in Scotland and 82% across the UK. And this digital divide has an even more pronounced ‘Glasgow effect’.

There is an alarming low level of awareness of this disconnect. One businessperson working in media related activities that I put this too replied ‘all the young people will be looking at their apps’. We have to bring centrestage to the public debate the disconnections and limitations which disfigure the lives of so many Scots, and address how public bodies such as Ofcom include within their remit a mandate to understand this and connect up the digitally disenfranchised part of our nation.

5. Where is Scottish Self-Government Going Geo-Politically?
Part of the story of any nation is where is situates itself geo-politically. Some nations at points in their history shift how they see themselves; Finland at the end of the Cold War or Turkey’s relationship with Europe and the Middle East are examples. In some respects, the ‘arc of prosperity’ was an attempt to address this, but also avoid the issue. Scotland will always have some influence from its Anglo-American heritage and the union, but can we talk about being a bit more Noric, and life in a northern nation? Can we imagine different geo-political futures, identities and unions?

6. A Little Bit Nordic Now
We can aspire to emphasise some of the characteristics of our Nordic neighbours but if we want this to be more than a vague hope we have to realise that we could begin to emphasis a little bit of Nordic-ness now (7). For example, Nordic societies have an embedded set of relationships between government, business and trade unions working in partnership towards long-term economic and social goals. There is nothing to stop the Scottish Government progressing some of this under devolution.

7. An Oil Fund for the Mind
The Norwegian Oil Fund is much referenced in Scottish debates but seldom understood. One thing it does which we could learn from and adapt is that a small percentage of the Norwegian fund is earmarked for international conflict resolution, and has played an important role in such conflicts as the Tamil Tiger-Sri Lanka civil war.

This could be an international statement of who we are as a society, that we develop a dedicated Oil Fund for the Mind which gives 1% of its income to supporting social justice at home and conflict resolution abroad. The Norwegian initiative has over the decades built up a reputation and expertise for aiding reconciliation in the world; wouldn’t it be empowering if we could do the same?

A Philosophy of Self-Determination

Finally, what draws the above together is that the Scottish independence project has to be about more than just nationalism. It has to have a societal project and a set of values which point towards and inform a different society and collective future. We have to embrace a more radical politics than that on offer in the current National Performance Framework, recognise trade-offs and conflicts between different goals, and that ‘smarter’ economic growth is not the painless panacea presented by some, but can come at the cost of social injustice and environmental degradation; the recent Oxfam Scotland ‘Humankind’ index showed some of the possibilities of such an approach (8).
Many of us find repugnant the actions and behaviours of the British state these last few decades, and Anglo-American capitalism, and a moral dimension has always been a major part of Scottish politics. But we cannot automatically assume that Scottish self-government is morally superior to the rotting edifices of the British body politic; we have to actively make it so.
This entails shifting the independence debate from self-government to self-determination, to embracing a philosophy, set of values and credos which inform how we act as a society (9). For too long, the Scottish establishment debate has been about what institutions will and won’t do, and what they let you do; even independence has often been framed this way. We need to shift to self-determination, which has a political practice as well as a psychological set of insights about change in terms of autonomy, resilience and control.

All of this: the general and specific suggestions above, developing a philosophy of self-determination, and being explicit about our rejection of Anglo-American capitalism, requires action and that necessitates resources. So far the election of a majority SNP Government hasn’t seen any real major mobilisation of resources by pro-independence forces, and in the last few decades, such sentiments have not had a good track record at nurturing and aiding into creation, new agencies, bodies and spaces.
Indeed, across the nationalist, self-government and social democratic traditions, there is a conspicuous absence of creating new spaces, voices and forces. If we are to have an independence debate which is genuinely about a different Scottish future, we have to put an effort into creating a genuine ecology of diverse, radical, challenging self-government/self-determination forces.
This will necessitate a philosophy and vision of Scottish society, a view of these isles post the current union, and an internationalist outlook. This will require a society project: that of self-determination, and a new language which isn’t obsessed with absolutes, sovereignties or separatism, but about a new relationship of equals and respect: a vision of interindependence, of self-government in the age of interdependence.
1. Bagehot, ‘The nightmare scenario’, The Economist, May 19th 2012, http://www.economist.com/node/21555564
2. ‘Adrian Beecroft work report not doctored, No 10 says’, BBC News, May 12th 2012, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-18155827
3. The Single Income Tax: The 2020 Tax Commission, Taxpayers’ Alliance and Institute of Directors 2012, www.2020tax.org/
4. Many thanks to Danny Dorling of the University of Sheffield for directing me to these figures, http://www.dannydorling.org/
5. Gerry Hassan, ‘The Missing Million Scots: What Do You Do When Democracy Fails You?’, The Scotsman, April 7th 2012, http://www.gerryhassan.com/uncategorized/the-missing-million-scots-what-do-you-do-when-democracy-fails-you/
6. Written Evidence from Ofcom to the Scottish Parliament, November 2011, www.scottish.parliament.uk/S4…/General%20Documents/Ofcom.pdf
7. Torben M. Andersen et al, The Nordic Model: Embracing Globalisation and Sharing Risks, The Research Institute of the Finnish Economy 2007.
8. Oxfam Scotland, Oxfam Humankind Index: The new measure of Scotland’s prosperity, Oxfam Scotland 2012, http://policy-practice.oxfam.org.uk/our-work/poverty-in-the-uk/humankind-index
9. Gerry Hassan and Rosie Ilett (eds.), Radical Scotland: Arguments for Self-Determination, Luath Press 2011.


Comments (0)

Join the Discussion

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Wullie says:

    No Shetland on this map, how no? no excuse for this.

  2. Morag Lennie says:

    Gerry, I joined the SNP many moons ago, for the very reason that I wanted a decent, just, egalitarian, socialist society. I am still keeping my powder dry, and awaiting the launch of the Yes Campaign tomorrow, but at the end of the day, it’s up to US to put pressure on The Scottish govt., of whatever hue, post Independence to come up with the goods that WE want, and the great advantage is that Edinburgh is not far away, so it should be easy for us to make our voices heard. Oh and, I think you’ll find that women have been talking to our Nordic cousins.

  3. David Moynagh says:

    A new state of interdependence ? As long as it does not model itself on a tory westminster idea of interdependence which is a one sided deal of inequity and cruelty to the unwashed classes of poor sick and disabled..

  4. bellacaledonia says:

    Good stuff Gerry I’ll take six of your seven, but I’m confused.

    You say in part 1 that we need ‘a different, better capitalism’ then wonder why we (in 2) why ‘Scotland is scarred by deep, inter-generational inequality and poverty’. The dynamic of capitalism is ‘grow or die’ and all previous efforts to make a better capitalism are scarred by appropriation, distortion and succumbing to the essential economic source.

    I’d suggest one of the reasons for this ongoing and deepening scar and divide is precisely the sort of language used about a ‘better capitalism’ that we’ve heard from Blair, Brown and Cameron.

    The opportunity for a new political landscape to emerge in Scotland is here but it won’t come from this terrain.

  5. Scott Cameron says:

    Gerry, I may have missed it but have you finally nailed your colours to the mast and come out for Scottish Independence? You make an excellent case and those who read this will quickly understand that what you propose – which is essentially a just and fair society – is not possible within the Union. Sure, there are arguments that the Union can change but in the never-ending merry go round of West Minister politics – Labour then Tory and then Labour again – who really believes that there will be required shift needed or indeed the appetite for change from London. Independence is how we get off the merry go round and take charge.

    One of the strongest arguments I believe for Independence is addressing ‘poverty’ and it should be a key pledge for all stakeholders in this yes campaign. Labour had their chance to at least make inroads into this…..instead of ploughing resources into illegal wars and bombing the sh*t out of countries they could have been looking at social housing, hospitals, Schools, addressing sectariansim….the things that keep people down in this country. For Labour to now conveniently forget what happened on their watch (or didnt happen!), albeit screened by their guradian angels in the media, shows a complete lack of respect for the intelligence of our people. Our inner cities, their core vote, were taken for granted….”dont worry they will always vote Labour, and besides we can always blame the Scottish Gov now”.

    Labour have middle England to appease afterall and in moving to the right they have failed to take Scotland’s people with them. For balance, for a better Scotland we must ensure a yes vote is realised otherwise this is one merry go round we will never get off.


Help keep our journalism independent

We don’t take any advertising, we don’t hide behind a pay wall and we don’t keep harassing you for crowd-funding. We’re entirely dependent on our readers to support us.

Subscribe to regular bella in your inbox

Don’t miss a single article. Enter your email address on our subscribe page by clicking the button below. It is completely free and you can easily unsubscribe at any time.