On 18 September voters in Scotland will choose whether Scotland remains part of the United Kingdom or becomes an independent country. I am approaching this choice from the perspective of how best to democratise political and economic power and for me, the past 40 years of British politics and the recent financial crisis informs this choice. During this period the UK has undergone a massive transformation in the architecture of political and economic power.
As James Meek argues in his new book, Private Island. Why Britain now belongs to someone else, in a little over a generation the bones and sinews of the British economy – rail, energy, water, postal services, municipal housing – have been sold to remote, unaccountable private owners. In a long essay in the Guardian on Friday, Meek argues that,
“By packaging British citizens up and selling them, sector by sector, to investors, the government makes it possible to keep traditional taxes low or even cut them. By moving from a system where public services are supported by progressive general taxation to a system where they are supported exclusively by the flat fees people pay to use them, they move from a system where the rich are obliged to help the poor to a system where the less well-off enable services that the rich get for what is, to them, a trifling sum. The commodity that makes water and power cables and airports valuable to an investor, foreign or otherwise, is the people who have no choice but to use them. We have no choice but to pay the price the toll-keepers charge. We are a human revenue stream; we are being made tenants in our own land, defined by the string of private fees we pay to exist here.”
All of this was forecast by Jimmy Reid in his famous rectorial address – Alienation – in 1972.
“Let me right at the outset define what I mean by alienation. it is the cry of men who feel themselves the victims of blind economic forces beyond their control. it is the frustration of ordinary people excluded from the process of decision making. The feeling of despair and hopelessness that pervades people who feel with justification that they have no real say in shaping or determining their own destinies. Many may not have rationalised it; may not even understand, may not be able to articulate it. But they feel it.” (1)
Little has changed. Were Jimmy Reid to be alive today, much of his diagnosis would still stand. Despite the establishment of the Scottish Parliament in 1999 and the much good work it has done, the bigger picture remains one of elite capture of the democratic process, the alienation of the citizen, the cynicism of the ruling class and the impoverishment of the public realm. The threadbare democracy that passes for the UK Parliament is now in terminal decline – in hock to the hopes, fears, aspirations and prejudices of small numbers of voters in marginal constituencies. The ambitions and policies of the main political parties are now compromised by this narrowing of this bandwidth of political discourse.
In the film Scotland Yet a succession of speakers lament the failure of the Labour Government of 1997-2010 to use its majority to democratise Britain – to abolish the House of Lords, the aristocracy and the Monarchy, introduce a fair voting system, decentralise governance, and democratise the economy. Instead, the UK continued on a path where political and economic power is now no longer in the hands of the people but is exercised instead by unaccountable private interests of the kind identified by James Meek. The UK is now the most unequal country in the EU as the graph below illustrates (source: Eurostat Bulletin 29/2014).
In December 2011, at an EU summit in Brussels, the UK refused to back a new EU treaty to enshrine new rules on deficits and debt to chart a course out of the Eurozone crisis. As the novelist, Ian Rankin, noted in an acerbic tweet, the City of London exerts a disproportionate influence in political choices.
I believe in the capacity of people and communities to organise themselves in a manner that best addresses their needs. This potential has, for decades been crushed and demeaned by those who, on sunny days, pose as reforming politicians.
Readers of this blog will know of my interest in democratising land, the economy and society. These goals are what inform my choice on 18 September.
The referendum campaign, as highlighted in the Scotland Yet film, has energised wide swathes of the electorate. Whatever way the vote goes, this desire to play a more active role in how we are governed will not die. But there is a danger it may slowly wither away.
I want a Scotland with radically greater democratic control of land, economic affairs and politics. But I have no great faith in the state to deliver this. The nation-state is a relatively modern invention and, as I highlighted at the outset, it is increasingly irrelevant to the challenges we face in communities and around the world. Indeed, it could be argued that, given the ease with which it can be captured, it is actively hostile to genuine democracy.
And that is why the choice of yes or no doesn’t adequately addresses the great challenges of our time – peace, environmental degradation, human rights and social justice. The era of the nation state is, in my view over. It is a redundant idea. But it is not going to disappear in a hurry and thus I am interested in any opportunity that provides an opportunity to completely rethinking governance.
In an ideal world I want to see power located at a local level with authority for confederal relationships at regional and national levels being derived from the people themselves rather than through the apparatus of state power. These ideas are encapsulated in the political theories of libertarian municipalism and democratic confederalism. (2)
Confederalism, in particular, is a far more realistic framework within which challenges such as climate change can be addressed since it proceeds from the principle of co-operation and mutual interests rather than individual state interests. In the medium term, the future for the British Isles is in strong confederal relationships. Ditto for Europe and the world.
But confederalism is not on the ballot paper on September 18th. The choice is a binary one between independence and the status quo. It has become clear to me that the means by which to build a society within which economic and gender inequality can be reduced, where citizens can be empowered, and accountable, efficient and democratic organs of governance created – is by voting yes.
It should not need stated, of course, that such ambitions are not guaranteed by voting yes. But it is more likely that they can be advanced with the powers of independence than by sticking with the corrupted state that calls itself the UK. The only way to tap the energy that has emerged during this campaign is to provide it with the channels along which it can flow freely.
That is why I will be voting yes.
(1) Alienation. Glasgow University Rectorial Address by Jimmy Reid, 1972. Copy here (1.3Mb pdf)
(1) See, for example, Murray Bookchin, the Meaning of Confederalism and Abdullah Ocalan, Democratic Confederalism (1.7Mb pdf)
Andy this is great news. We seem to be getting the best people declaring for yes.
Brilliant choice 😉
Thanks Andy – almost thou persuadest me.
I agree about the federal solution and something like that is coming after the (likely) No vote in September.
The campaign has been too long and for me has been reduced to a dismal miasma of working out who is telling you the least lies, notably about the NHS.
Maybe ‘lies’ is harsh: watching Liz Lochead on BBC 4 a few weeks ago portraying Hugh MacDiarmid as some kind of symbol of modern progressive Scotland it occurred to me she was likely driven not by deceit but by desire – she wants MacDiarmid to be such a being, and the ugly side of the man’s politics is left to lie in a dark corner. It doesn’t fit so it didn’t happen. We need an end to all that myth-making.
All change anyway. The French in Quebec didn’t win their referendum because minorities (such as the Scots ahem) voted against it and even that seems to have all settled down, despite it being (I gather) an unpleasant campaign. Well, we will soon know.
Can you explain why you believe something like federalism is coming in the event of a No vote? None of the Unionist parties is offering anything approaching federalism or devo-max. What possible incentive would they have to deliver anything if we are daft enough to vote to disempower ourselves?
‘Can you explain why you believe something like federalism is coming in the event of a No vote? ‘
Indeed I can. I can’t guarantee this is going to happen, any more than you can guarantee that in an independent Scotland Holyrood will not be dominated by a pre-Salmond type SNP, ie a barely social democratic party wedded to the most parochial sort of conservatism.
Devolution, however (as Tam Dalyell said and everyone laughed at him) has demonstrated that creating institutions creates momentum and the fracturing is likely to begin – either Yes or No – with the Western and Northern Isles.
Our biggest problem whether Yes or No is the peoples’ apathy, so scarily shown at the 50% turnout for Holyrood. Scottish Nationalism is a top down movement, but then so is the campaign for the union.
But you do not explain why something like federalism is coming in the event of a No vote. Instead you attempt to distract with speculation about what the SNP might be like after Alex Salmond. I can’t see what that’s got to do with it. Neither am I clear what your reference to the Western and Northern Isles has to do with the reconstitution of the United Kingdom as a federation.
One of the most encouraging things about the referendum campaign has been the absence of apathy. There has been a tremendous level of public engagement and a great deal of Yes campaign activity has been grass-roots and bottom up.
‘Instead you attempt to distract’
As Amy Farrah Fowler puts it, we seem to have reached an impasse, Certainly with such rhetoric this exchange is going nowhere, so Good Day to you Mr Purves. I do my best to be polite and I require politeness in return.
But as I may have been unclear I will add that while the future of course cannot be pinned down, my opinion – my opinion – is that some kind of partitioning, of the UK is now inevitable, and that may well include fractures within the constituent nations. As I said, i suspect that Yes or No, the Western and Northern Isles will make the first moves.
Worth remembering also that while our eyes are on Scotland, as Tom Devine has just pointed out, there are unpredictable tremors in Northern Ireland also.
Thank you, Andy, for arriving at that decision.
Clear, concise and completely sensible.
As a Devonian, I congratulate you on opting for secession from London. The corporate buyout of the last shreds of our democracy is almost complete with the TPP and it will not be long before we are obliged to eat poisonous GM food or witness further assaults on our freedoms in the name of corporate profit. The unedifying spectacle of politicians sucking up to the Chinese despite their murderous suppression of the Tibetan people is just one example of capitalism and socialism colluding to betray humanity. Yes: politics and economics MUST be completely inverted. Emasculate the power of the corporates and eradicate the bureaucracy and gangsterism that is party politics. Compulsory voting with referendums will be essential to ensure power is exercised at the grass-roots level and not usurped by manipulative “leaders” with a hidden agenda.
Both you and Cameron McNeish tonight have expressed how I feel.
Independence is the only way forward.
35 years of tory government has made us this unequal,and we need to escape the cancer of the city of london.
Thank you for this thoughtful and inspiring piece
Very muddled thinking Andy. You think the era of the nation state is over, yet you will vote to create one, you believe in decentralising power, yet you will vote for a party which has reduced local democracy and control.
Well obviously the era of the nation state is not over as they still exist. Of course it is a paradox that one might create another one in such circumstances but I make clear that with a choice between yes and no, yes provides the better opportunity to advance more progressive forms of governance. Ideals often conflict. As for question of decentralising power, the referendum is not a vote for a party, it’s a vote on a simple constitutional question. I have said nothing about voting for the SNP. The argument for local democracy has, like any other idea, to be made. Whether the SNP embrace it or not I have no idea. On current form they are not the most enthusiastic advocates. Labour has made some encouraging noises and the Lib Dems and Tories likewise.
I can see that. There is also the James Robertson argument that we need to find out who we really are even if we won’t like the answer – for that James is suggesting full independence is the only way to go. I can see the appeal of that also.
With your good self coming out for Yes I am – perhaps paradoxically – more relaxed about the prospect of a Yes vote. It helps to have good neighbours the other side of the Referendum fence.
Outstanding and so glad i discovered this blog.
Just finished reading your “The Poor Had No Lawyers” book – superb..
Delighted to welcome you to the YES camp..
….disappointed that there has been virtually no discussion of Land Reform [or nature conservation] by the “big guns” in the referendum debate…but like you I see the only hope for sensible and sensitive progress on such matters is with Independence.
Never doubted you Andy. I share your vision as long as it doesn’t get sidetracked down an old left dead end of state ownership, unimaginative trade uion leadership etc. We will still need entrepeneurs who work on behalf of everybody as well as themselves. We also have to be outward looking and local. Centalising things in the Central Belt is no help at all. The words Independent Socialist Scotland chill my blood. It sounds like North Korea.
Yes is our best bet at the moment. Mind you, if Scotland were a reactionary enclave like Northern Ireland and UK a progressive state with a fair electoral and fiscal system I would be voting NO! As
Broadly agree. I see a country like Denmark as a guide – entrepreneurial, fair, decentralised etc.
well fair enough, though with other Fennoscandian models taken into account, but with a public revenue stream of 9% of the current UK population accessing the Land Rental Value of 30% of its terrestrial surface area, 50% of the marine solum and 70% of the coastline in a no tax/low tax economy together with the Byzantine inanities of the current welfare system, ( including state pensions) being replaced by a progressive graduated, universal, non means-tested Citizens Income.
A great pity that you too, Andy, have been hoodwinked by the Deep Greens concerning ‘climate change.’ Never was there such a nasty campaign. Jim Sillars the great ‘Yes’ man sees through that neo-Malthusian plot to destroy industry and impoverish us all. Pity that most others on the left have been hoodwinked. An independent Scotland which is pro ‘decarbonisation’ will be a sad and poor place.
I have been hoodwinked by no-one. I read the evidence and make my own mind up.
The limits of what one can reasonably claim about matters of science are defined by the set of published papers which have not yet been refuted. That’s it. When you step outside these limits you are entering a realm of speculation and ideologically-based opinions which do not relate to any observable reality except by sheer accident.
With regard to climate change, there is nothing in the literature which could support the idea that we’re not experiencing an unusually sharp warming pulse or that human activities are not the cause. Indeed, the evidence for both is not just at the level of “balance of probabilities” it’s “beyond any reasonable doubt” and has been for some time now.
Makes interesting reading, thank you. Although not with the same defined focus, I’ve broadly weighed up the arguments as you have and fallen on the ‘no’ side. There’s not all that much in it and it’s good to see a well-considered opinion based on your expertise rather than the endless tosh dealt out by the campaigning bodies!
As someone else expressed; if you’re not on ‘our side’ it is at least an endorsement for the alternative!
That’s grand. Everyone has to make up their minds. I have complete respect for those voting no and will hope to continue to work with all of those with whom I currently work and who will be voting no.
Thank you for articulating this vital message.
Forgot to add while waving handbag that on my way to Partick I actually cycled over the media cables back of Kelvingrove this morning, to gasps of horror from assembled crew – it is of course extremely improbable that i have done any damage but if the screen goes black during the latest Great Debate tonight, forgive me I didn’t mean it!
I agree very strongly with the importance of a fairer society. It’s been shocking to see how quickly and how far the UK has swung to the right. Take welfare policies for example where see a UK government deliberately starving its own people with a vicious sanctions system administered by people with quotas to fill (how do they get away with that…?). Not a word about soaring rents and house prices though – the real cost behind the benefits bill.
Greater equality – or rather limits on inequality – is better for everyone both rich and poor, left or right. The key principle of a fairer society is simply that income must be earned. In grossly unequal societies, vast sums of money are diverted to those who do nothing, or very little, to earn it while the people who do the real work get little reward. More people having more access to more resources diversifies and strengthens the economy. Even for those who don’t see tackling poverty as a good thing in itself, there is a huge potential “equality dividend” from the creation of a fairer society. For example, reducing poverty with a basic income might potentially save billions in health care costs.
I think the more you look into this the more evidence you find that gross inequality creates profoundly dysfunctional societies which do not operate at their full potential. Allowing arbitrary groups to form into self-entitled elites who grab un-earned wealth and power creates a society which is basically at war with itself – and wars always have casualties. Equality is so fundamental to the way human societies function this seems to me to be a basic truth which runs deeper than any political ideology. First equality only then politics.
And that’s why I’m voting YES. Governments in an independent Scotland will no doubt swing left and right over time but never so far to the right as the misanthropic, extreme right constituency which periodically manages to seize power in the UK. Scots are too humane and too down-to-earth for that. We’d have a real chance to build a fairer society in ways which seem impossible in the UK.
We’ve got plenty resources to do it. Provided we can make smart decisions and smart investments for the future, a small, agile, socially-cohesive society which isn’t afraid of change could have a lot to look forward to.
As I see it, the big challenge is to move towards a sustainable economic system. It’s an epochal moment in human history with climate change forcing us to confront the fact that we live on a planet with finite resources. Will we preserve our technological civilisation into the distant future or are we like a kind of algal bloom which grows just as fast and as greedily as it can, hoovers up all the available resources, and then dies back again?
A Smart Scotland blessed with significant renewable energy resources and creative thinkers just might show the world how to live in the 21st century as we help to usher in a new age of enlightenment and add a new chapter to the history of our nation.
We will need to keep warm – independent or not:
get your fossil fuel stocks in now.
I think that we would be better off if the United Kingdom was divided into four independent nations; Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England. The term British has become rather vague and is, for example, used to describe freedom fighters in Iraq. I identify myself as English, not British.
a plantation, an annexation, a back door colony and England—well we’ve got that already.
I have been a ‘YES’ voter since 1981 after a study trip to Iceland and an invigorated one since another study trip to Norway in 1984. Federal Britain might have worked, if given the chance, but the Westminster vested interests have long since put paid to the chances of that. We need to access the totality of the entirety of all our resources and direct them to the totality of the entirety of all of Scotland’s problems. There is no chance of that under Westminster rule, there’s a smidgeon of a chance after a YES vote.
Andy, your vote is a protest against the status quo, not a positive vote for Scottish independence. You’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
I cannot think of many countries better equipped to be independent but, like you Andy, my hope is that independence will bring about radical reform to build a fairer society. I’m sure there are a plethora of creative ideas out there on how this could be achieved, but here are a few of mine.
1) The land of Scotland should belong to the people who live here, and not be sold to anyone regardless of their wealth.
2) Land ownership should be restricted to perhaps one or two acres for domestic purposes, and all larger areas of land required for commercial purposes should be leased by the government until the land is no longer used for that purpose.
3) The Government would not be a political party, but a collection of individuals who have been interviewed and selected for their ability to perform a particular function of government, based on their qualifications, experience, and suitability (just like any other job applicant).
4) Government would be transparent
5) A web-site would be set up where ideas and suggestions from the public could be listed and considered.
I could go on, but I think you get the idea. I know there are more and far better ideas than mine out there and I welcome those who pull my ideas to pieces providing they come up with something better. Although I am a firm YES voter, my respect is for those on both sides who take the time to get the facts and then vote accordingly for the greater good.
how would the government you propose be invested, by whom, who would appoint the interviewers of possible candidates and on what basis would the interviewers be deemed qualified to interview the candidates? Sounds a bit like the ‘government of the godly’ tried by the Puritans in the 17th Century.
First things first Ron. We need to establish if the concept of having qualified people running the country is more desirable than members of a political party who may have no experience or qualifications whatsoever. Then, if the consensus is yes, we would find the appropriate selection process. If there is the will we will find the way.
So government by appointed technocrats all with the same philosophy—no need for elections. We’ll only need 3 actually: one to read the charge, one to write down the statement and one to keep an eye on 2 dangerous intellectuals.
Ha! like it, Hopefully that isn’t the full scope of our inventiveness though.
The sovereignty of the people which outlaws constitutionally illegal wars and hosting weapons of mass destruction; an unconditional basic citizens income for everybody living in Scotland, Land and Liberty and nae Trident – what a f….n chance We must legislate to take the land back from the Duke of Buccleugh, Sutherland and their likes, all “they rogues who gang gallous fresh an gay, Tak the road an seek ither loanins wi their ill-ploys tae sport and play!” Scotland was so speedily industrialised and the people thrown off the land, and with the recent subsequent swift de-industrialisation, that the people were left with a collective alienated trauma, the symptoms being poor diet, drink and drug abuse, high levels of suicide, violence amongst us ‘wretched of the earth’, early mortality, being exacerbated by widening inequality, has ensured Scotland has consistently been awarded the accolade of worst in the developed world in all these categories. Our way of life passed down through harsh, while at times radical, Presbyterian culture of repression and obsession to, in part, compensate and helped manage these traumas has left many feart to rid ourselves of the internalised oppressor or even contemplate about the Holy Loch. But now there is nae need tae be feart. We don’t have to march into the City Centre Post Office armed to the teeth and led by the Edinburgh born Scottish IWW taught Libertarian Socialist to make our Proclomation for Land and Liberty, we just stick the cross down and get the people tae gang wae us! The Spanish and Catalan CNT‘s paper and slogan in the 1930’s was “Tierra y Libertad”. They took over the factories under worker control and democratically collectivised the land. Production actually went up. For 3 years in their ‘hous aa the bairns o Aidam, .. fin bried, barley bree and painted room.’ Archived and witnessed by Scots such as Ethel MacDonald, CNT Radio operator from Motherwell! Just got the announcement just now that Toby Helm and Daniel Boffey, The Guardian – 06 September 2014 – “Shock new poll says Scots set to vote yes to independence”! Tiocfaidh ar la!