Monday 15 April 2013

Reasons for voting YES - 1

Those who follow me on Twitter may be aware of my tweets stating reasons why I will be voting YES in Scotland's independence referendum on 18 September 2014. In this series of short articles I aim to explain and expand upon those short statements. The numbering of the articles should not be taken to suggest any order of preference or importance.

I'll vote YES, not because I am inspired by a great past,
but because I aspire to a better future.

People who campaign for Scotland's independence are often accused of harking back to the past. Accusations that are invariably accompanied by some reference to a certain romantic action adventure movie starring Mel Gibson. There is more than a little irony in the fact that such accusations invariably come from those who constantly make (highly selective) references to the history of the British state in their attempts to present something that might be mistaken for a positive case for the union. But the accusations are, of course, complete nonsense.

This is not to say that history is unimportant. By which I mean actual history and not the pish and piffle served up by Hollywood - however entertaining that pish and piffle may be. A nation is, in part at least, defined by its history. And since the right to self determination rests on Scotland's status as a nation we cannot do other than have some regard for the past events which brought about the existence of this nation called Scotland.

But a nation is not only defined by its history. It is also, and arguably more importantly, defined by its people - their values, their priorities and their aspirations. The nation is only to a very limited extent defined by what we were then. To a much greater extent it is defined by what we are now and what we want to be in the future. As Ernest Renan put it in his 1882 lecture on civic nationalism, What is a Nation?,
The existence of a nation (you will pardon me this metaphor) is a daily referendum, just as the continuing existence of an individual is a perpetual affirmation of life.
What this concept of an ongoing redefining of the nation helps to illustrate is the fact that the nation is not something fixed and immutable as it would be if it was solely or even principally defined by an unchangeable past. The nation is what its people choose it to be. We are not trapped in the present any more that we are stuck in the past. We can choose a different future.

The question then becomes one of how best we may be empowered to shape that future. Those intent on preserving the union would have us believe that we can do so within the context of the UK. But at the very core of the British state lies the concept of parliamentary sovereignty. A concept which is the antithesis of popular sovereignty. Parliamentary sovereignty denies the ultimate authority of the people and puts it instead in the hands of a political clique which needs no mandate from the people of Scotland and only rarely can be claimed to have one.

Only with independence can the people of Scotland fully exercise the sovereignty that is ours by right. Only with independence can we hope to build that future to which we aspire.

Scotland does have a great past. For such a small nation we have contributed much to the world. One can acknowledge this without dwelling on it or presenting it as an argument for any kind of Scottish exceptionalism.  The past is where we have come from. What is important is where we are going.
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For A' That 21 - On The Ex PM & Silence

I was honoured and delighted to join Michael Greenwell and Andrew Tickell in the For A' That podcast this week.

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Wednesday 3 April 2013

Independence: Day One not Year Zero

March 2016: Doomsday for Scotland?
The campaign to deny Scotland the normal constitutional status of a sovereign nation is inherently illogical. Independence is the default status of nations. It simply makes no sense to claim, as British nationalists do, that independence must be argued for. That a case must be made in order to establish that which, in respect of any other country, is simply assumed.

Logically speaking, it is for those who would preserve the union to explain why they hold that Scotland should be an exception to the rule. It is for them to sell the idea of the union. Their task is, or should be, to offer persuasive reasons why the people of Scotland should continue to forego that which is theirs by right. The unionists aren't even trying.

What inevitably follows from the fundamental illogic of the anti-independence stance is the inconsistency and contradiction that characterises their arguments. The recent wryly comic contortions on the matter of Scotland's oil wealth stands as a glaring example of this. With one face the British state tells us that the oil is a burden too great for Scotland to bear alone. That is is too volatile a commodity to be relied on to contribute to the Scottish economy. And that, in any case, it is in decline and won't be available to an independent Scotland.

Meanwhile, the other face is schmoozing the oil industry, talking up its importance to the UK economy and celebrating the very same "new oil boom" that face one denounced as a fabrication when it was referred to by the Scottish Government.

But there is another, arguably more fundamental contradiction that arises from the illogic of the anti-independence position. It goes like this. The union, we are told, is wonderful. The British state is a fine and glorious thing and this is equally true of all its institutions and processes. Better Together asserts that we are better together because we are thereby privileged to enjoy all the benefits of the British economy; British currency; British military might; British banking and financial services regulation; the British welfare system; British political administration and so on. All these things and more are held by British nationalists to be unalloyed blessings bestowed on the people of Scotland by a beneficent British state.

For the purposes of this exercise, let us assume that there is a measure of truth in all of this. I realise that this requires that we ignore British debt; the British banking collapse; the loss of the British credit rating and the decimation of the British welfare state, but please bear with me.

Having accepted, pro tem, this lauding of the British state and all its works, we cannot help but be struck by the mind-bending contradiction in Better Together's response to the suggestion of any kind of post-independence continuity. The Bank of England, for example, is pedestalled as the very exemplar of an independent central bank and, apparently, we should all be very grateful for its existence. But when it is suggested that an independent Scotland might continue to make use of this supposedly superlative institution, all of a sudden it's a very different proposition. While face one commends to us the good offices of what is, after all, as much Scotland's central bank as England's, face two issues dire warnings of  the catastrophic fate that would befall our economy if we entrusted the very same institution with the role of central bank after independence.

As if this wasn't confused and confusing enough, we have that self-styled ultimate authority in such matters, Alistair (Don't ask for my CV!) Darling, pontificating about how a monetary union such as has been suggested by the SNP would surely result in us being rapidly reduced to the penurious condition of Cyprus. Which is, when you think about it, not exactly a ringing endorsement of the British currency or the prudential capacities of the supposedly competent and reputable Bank of England.

And only a little digging uncovers yet more contradiction and inconsistency in the unionists' arguments. The basis of Darling's claims that a sterling zone would be an unworkable disaster for Scotland is the quite reasonable contention that, where the operation of separate and markedly different fiscal policies results in significant economic divergence, a common monetary policy becomes untenable. But that is where the reasonableness ends. Because what is it that the British parties are pretending to offer in the hope of fending off a Yes vote if not the very independent fiscal powers which lead to economic divergence.

What Darling and his British nationalist ilk fail to recognise is that Scotland is already in the position which he declares unacceptable. Insofar as the stultifying constraints of devolution allow, the Scottish Government is already operating fiscal policies that differ quite markedly from those of the UK Government - not least in terms of spending priorities. If the jam tomorrow promises of the British parties were worth anything at all then we presumably would have even more distinctive fiscal policies being applied in Scotland as these came to address the circumstances of the Scottish economy and respond to the democratic will of the people of Scotland. But we would still be in what is effectively a monetary union with the rest of the UK (rUK). The difference being that, without independence, we would have no choice but to remain tied to that monetary union and a monetary policy that would increasingly become incompatible with Scotland's fiscal policy.

So Darling is simultaneously telling us that, if we forego our rightful independence, the British state will deliver some kind of fiscal autonomy, and that this will eventually be catastrophic for our economy with no way out other than the kind of measure now being inflicted on the people of Cyprus.

Not the most tempting offer I've ever had.

The contradictions and inconsistencies referred to arise, as I have said, from the illogical premise of an anti-independence position that views independence as a privilege to be bestowed, subject to qualification, by a "higher power" rather than the normal status of any nation. But this does not explain how people like Alistair Darling can be so totally unaware of the confusion and disorder that permeates their arguments. For that we have to look at another aspect of the British nationalist mindset. The determination to portray independence as some kind of "Year Zero".

The term "Year Zero" is most commonly associated with the horrors of Pol Pot's regime in Cambodia back in the late 1970s. More generally, the term refers to the political notion of a new order that comes about by the elimination of all that has gone before. Year Zero implies the eradication of all culture, all traditions, all institutions and all social structures so as to start anew. I am not suggestion that Better Together are talking in quite such startling terms. But they are certainly contriving their very own Year Zero scenario for Scotland in the hope of frightening people away from voting Yes. And, let's be frank, because they have nothing else to say.

If the most dire of the British nationalists' prognostications were to come to pass then independence day would see Scotland cast adrift and isolated in the world. Machine-gun towers and razor-wire would appear along the border with England. Families would be torn asunder and alienated from one another. Relatives and friends would suffer that most appalling of all fates - they would become... foreigners!

Our economy would immediately collapse; all trade would cease; businesses would uproot overnight and move lock stock and barrel to the other side of what would inevitably be dubbed by the Daily Mail, "The Tartan Curtain".

TV and radio broadcasts would be cut off. The music of the Beatles and Billy Bragg would suddenly sound incomprehensible to the Scottish ear. Mobile phones would stop working and Scottish airports would be bombed by the RAF.

Scotland would be partitioned in the manner of Ireland with Orkney and Shetland becoming an rUK enclave laying claim to all the resources of Scotland's territorial waters - presumably backed by the might of a Royal Navy whose ships would be built anywhere in the world rather than in Scotland.

Scotland would, according to the unionists' Year Zero scenario, become an outcast nation, shunned by Europe and America alike. The offended dignity of the British state would, we are assured, find a sympathetic echo in corridors of power around the world. Scotland would be summarily ejected from the EU and other international bodies. All international treaties and conventions would be rendered null and void.

And, of course, Scotland would become a one-party state. A dictatorial regime would hold sway and we would all find ourselves toiling under the somewhat pudgy iron fist of a tartan-uniformed Emperor Eck as he sits enthroned in Salmond Palace (formerly Bute House).

If we are here straying into the realm of the ridiculous it is only to find that we are not the first to set foot there. The union flag is already firmly planted in the land of bizarre ideas.

A more sane, sober and sensible scenario would represent Scotland's independence, not as Year Zero, but as Day One. We will wake up after the celebration party to find the shops still open, with their shelves fully stocked. Those who are not too hung-over will wend their weary way to work in the same jobs they hated before. The trains and buses will run. Planes will take off and land at Scotland's un-bombed airports. The TV schedules will be little changed, if at all. People in Scotland will communicate with friends and family elsewhere just as they have always done.

Financial institutions will continue to function. If they view the new situation with some trepidation who can say that's necessarily a bad thing given their past record. But the hole in the wall will continue to disgorge cash for those who have it.

There will be no Year Zero. Outwardly, nothing much will have changed on Day One of independence. Under the surface, however, there will be much that is different. And the ensuing months and years will surely see Scotland find a better way. The fact that we can even hope for such a thing is a powerful enough incentive to vote Yes.
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