Independent glee; united action.
Nationalists in Scotland and Wales are rubbing their hands with glee thanks to the Tories’ elevation of ‘independence’ to the top of the media agenda. True to form, hundreds of column inches, tv time and internet blogs have pored over the crisis of the Union, the lack of detail on how Scotland will survive economically, on Britain’s nuclear missile bases, on the divvy up of oil, on Salmond’s political nouse – or his weaknesses.
In the week when their heinous Welfare Reform Bill progressed through parliament, Tory spin-doctors must have popped a few more bottles of Bollinger. What has the world – and Labour – come to, when we have to rely on the Lords to reveal the inhumanities? But there is no better boost to nationalism than an English public schoolboy sticking his nose into territory where, as one commentator put it this week, Tory MPs are outnumbered by pandas.
The British left, never a friend of nationalism, has rallied well. M.P. John McDonnell tweets (@johnmcdonnellmp), “Cameron raised the Scottish referendum as a spoiler for Miliband’s relaunch and as a smokescreen for the economy. So why is Labour falling for it and backing him?”
We are all, well most of us, independents now. Devolution has fostered a recognition that democracy, closer to the people, has been of great benefit. Wales’ former First Minister Rhodri Morgan used the phrase ‘clear red water’ to distance us from his own Labour, if Blairite, government in Westminster. In Scotland, voters were happy to give the SNP a comfortable majority as the only party willing at least to voice convincing resistance to the Tory coalition. To their credit, both Welsh and Scottish governments have given some protection to social welfare, health, student fees, prescriptions, fuel allowances, child-care and lots more, from Cameron and Osborne’s ideological rampage, not to mention Blair’s before.
But devolution is not independence, as is being currently touted. And neither is independence necessarily ‘separatism’. The lesson of the past 15 years has been that a degree of independence has been an important buffer against London. Most Welsh and Scots want for more.
So, for Scotland, when Labour immediately lets former New Labour Chancellor, Alastair Darling, loose from his public exile, to call for a united Tory-LibDem-Labour opposition to ‘independence’ and in favour of the Union, more than nationalist hackles rise against a politics that the English would have for us, were we not to provide a modicum of social responsibility in our small nations. As a Guardian correspondent put it this week, Why is Miliband not arguing for ‘responsible socialism’, rather than the unlikely ‘responsible capitalism’ he espouses?
When the call goes out for independence, the current political climate demands that we support it. With conviction. There are some principles involved – about democracy and the rights of nations and nationalities – that are worthy and merit greater respect for our national cultures and histories. After even this short experience of devolution, there are very few of us now who do not seek greater and closer control, greater rights and independence to make our own decisions on matters that affect our lives. We support independence. That is step one – independence, not separatism.
Separatism, if it is ever to come, if it is desirable, if it is feasible, is years, more likely decades away and we should studiously avoid allowing it to become the key issue right now. We can talk about it as we go. It is inconceivable that it will be resolved finally, as Cameron wants, by 2013 or by the June, 2014 commemoration of Scotland’s great independence Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, Salmond’s preference. The pressing issue of the moment is that we all agree to keep as much distance as possible between us and the Tory austerity plan that claims social welfare has to pay for the self-inflicted crisis of western capitalism. If independence is to prove a vehicle of resistance then so be it. With others, we should unite as a nation, as nations, and across Europe against that plan, in support of greater investment in our health service, education, transport system, public services, jobs and industries, in favour of new and greater taxes and regulation on the financial institutions and individuals that have plundered our economies, defrauded our tax coffers, and shifted all the costs and blame on to us. The EU plan to sacrifice Greek, Spanish and other peoples’ jobs and welfare, and prevent Euro-states increasing public expenditure (and the Tory posturing for even greater penalties) requires the same unified response.
The Tories, some nationalists and too many in the Labour leadership would have us focus on the proven, rotten, imperialist, monarchist, bankers’, boys’ Union, a union past its sell-by date, a ‘democracy’, like that in the U.S., not to mention the recently ‘freed’, now more corrupt soviet bloc states, or the Iraqi and Afghan peoples, ‘liberated’ by western war machines, a democracy that has long since ceased to offer political confidence, let alone policies we can believe in. Plaid’s socialists are being headed off into nationalism; Labour in Scotland, avoids Tory resistance by being anti-SNP; British Labour is anti-nationalist, pro-Union and largely anti-European.
Let’s unite around more independence and get on with the business of bringing all that lot down.
Now this may well be too much for Labour in Westminster, so too in Holyrood, despite reluctant gestures toward separate party organisation. It is probably too much also, I fear, for the increasingly male, careerist, Welsh Labour Party so, wise to have an eye on the nationalist parties, now home to many Labour-alienated socialists and campaigners in Wales and Scotland, to help provide some leadership, perhaps through the likes of Plaid’s Leanne Wood, for there is little sign of it coming from anywhere else. The nationalist parties also have their problems, still laden with many national rightists and some, more anti-Labour than anything useful, unlikely to savour unity, but we are all independents against the ConDems and the sooner we unify on that, the better.